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DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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DC Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews insomuch as they are me pointing out new comics that are noteworthy for one reason or another. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. Caliban #1

Written by Garth Ennis; art by Facundo Percio
Avatar Press

Fans of deep space horror such as Alien or Prometheus will want to check out this new series written by Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher Max) called Caliban. Set in a universe in which mankind has spent years exploring the galaxy without finding any evidence of other life, missions proceed uneventfully and by the book. That makes it all the more shocking for a crew on a routine exploratory mission when, out of nowhere, they suddenly crash directly into an an abandoned alien spacecraft.

Both Ennis and the publisher, Avatar Press, are known for stories with high shock value and disturbing levels of gore, so think of this as Prometheus if it were made by Quentin Tarantino. Facundo Percio, having previously worked with Alan Moore and Warren Ellis on Avatar books Fashion Beast and Anna Mercury, completes some sort of shocking writer hat trick by teaming with Ennis here.

Here's an unlettered preview of the first issue.

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2. Aquaman And The Others #1

Written by Dan Jurgens; art by Lan Medina
DC Comics

Probably the most unexpected hit of DC's "New 52" relaunch of their line of titles has been Aquaman. Geoff Johns revitalized the character by making him a bit of a bad-ass while also embracing the idea that everyone thinks he's kind of a joke. That said, it's a little surprising that DC seems to believe there is a market for two simultaneously ongoing Aquaman titles but, considering at one point last year Aquaman was outselling every single Marvel comic, maybe they're on to something.

The Others are also a New 52 success story. Apparently, before the formation of the Justice League, Aquaman had another team he used to hang out with. Each member of the team–Ya'wara, Sky, The Operative, Prisoner-of-War, and Aquaman himself–possesses an artifact from Atlantis that gives them their powers.

With their own book, written and drawn by DC regulars Dan Jurgens and Lan Medina, these new characters will be given a chance to develop a little and we'll see what kind of staying power (and selling power) they have.

Here's a preview.

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3. Study Group Comics

By Various Cartoonists
Kickstarter

Study Group Comics is perhaps the premier art-comics collaborative out there. They publish a variety of interesting webcomics from a range of talented creators such as Farel Dalrymple, Sam Alden, Malachi Ward, Sophie Franz, publisher Zack Soto, and more. They experiment with the capabilities of comic art and storytelling without being so "out there" as to turn off your average reader. The Study Group collective has been publishing magazines with work from various contributors as well as print editions of webcomic contributions. To help fund their Spring 2014 catalog they've taken to Kickstarter to allow readers to pre-order the books.

Study Group Magazine #3D will contain a special 3D section and feature work from some of the creators mentioned above as well as others like Jim Rugg and Kim Deitch. In addition, they are planning to publish print editions of Farel Dalrymple's It Will All Hurt #2–printed on newsprint with risographed covers–and Sam Alden's 96-page, wildly colored Haunter. Both works have been serialized online.

There are lots of reward levels to choose from in the Kickstarter including a very cool Study Group t-shirt designed by Michael Deforge. Check out and consider pre-ordering at the Kickstarter here.

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4. Inhuman #1

Written by Charles Soule; art by Joe Madureira; colors by Marte Gracia
Marvel Comics

Inhuman, the long-delayed mini-series event from Marvel, finally hits comic shops and digital devices today. After original writer Matt Fraction was taken off the series due to months of creative disagreement with editorial, new writer Charles Soule was brought on to start from scratch. We'll have to wonder what Fraction's rejected plans for this book were as they are probably locked away in some drawer. It's notable that one of Marvel's biggest creative stars could not find a way to come to terms with his editors and yet, unlike the PR fiascos we've seen when similar problems arise at DC, everything about this change has been amicable—at least in public. Soule—who is a rising star and is known for managing to write more comics at once for both Marvel and DC than pretty much anyone—now gets the opportunity to make a huge mark with a story that will set the course for the Marvel Universe for the immediate future.

The plot of Inhuman revolves around a family of characters called The Inhumans, first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in their original run on The Fantastic Four. However, the focus will be on new characters who, as a result of the detonation of a bomb that releases a cloud of what is known Terrigen Mist, are suddenly turning into super-powered Inhumans. What the Terrigen Mist actually does is unlock genetic DNA that was implanted in mankind back in the prehistoric era by an alien race known as the Kree. The implications of where Marvel is going with this series could be big. Is this a shift from the mutant gene being the typical go-to origin? Are they setting the stage for a big push for the Inhumans to be a driving force in both the comics and future Marvel movies? After having greatly expanded the number of mutants in the universe at the end of the Avengers vs. X-men series, will there be any normal humans left in the Marvel Universe?

Anyway, fans of X-men comics from the 1990s will be excited to see artist Joe Mad (Joe Madureira) coming back for a stint on this book. Here's a preview.

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5. The Field #1

Written by Ed Brisson; art by Simon Roy
Image Comics

Dead Letters #1

Written by Christopher Sebela; art by Chris Visions
Boom Entertainment

Both The Field and Dead Letters are new comics that begin with their protagonist waking up with amnesia and find themselves being pursued for reasons they don't understand.

In The Field, the four-issue mini-series from Image, a man wakes up in the middle of a wheat field wearing only his underwear. Suddenly, he finds a cell phone on the ground next to him and a text message from an unknown caller who tells him only to "run." Written by Ed Brisson (from the excellent Image series Sheltered) and drawn by Simon Roy, who is perhaps best known for his work with Brandon Graham on Prophet, this crime noir story takes our underwear-clad hero on a weird ride involving meth, "dirty sex," and Christian rock.

Preview the first few pages of The Field here.

Meanwhile in Dead Letters, the new ongoing series from Boom Entertainment, a man wakes up in a hotel room in a strange city that is overrun with gang violence. Like the guy in The Field, he also has no idea who he is or how he got there. This protagonist has on more than underwear but for some reason he's wearing hospital scrubs and both his arms are bandaged. He also finds himself suddenly being pursued by people he doesn't seem to know. While also very much a noir-ish thriller, this one has a little bit of a supernatural bent to it that will reveal itself over time.

Dead Letters is written by Christopher Sebela who is on the verge of becoming a big star. His digital comic series High Crimes, a thriller set on top of and around Mount Everest, is one of Monkeybrain Comics' most acclaimed series and has led to him co-writing Marvel's Captain Marvel with Kelly Sue DeConnick. Artist Chris Visions is an illustrator with a very energetic, painterly style. The pieces on his website are well worth your time to browse (although some of it is NSFW) and you can read a preview of Dead Letters #1 here.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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