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Evan Shaner/Dynamite Entertainment

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Evan Shaner/Dynamite Entertainment

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. Flash Gordon #1

Written by Jeff Parker; art by Evan "Doc" Shaner; colors by Jordie Bellaire
Dynamite Entertainment

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Flash Gordon, Dynamite Entertainment is launching a new series with a rebooted, modernized version of the character. The new book is written by Jeff Parker who has already introduced this Flash Gordon in the pages of the recent Kings Watch mini-series which featured The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, heroes from the pulp era of the '30s and '40s.

This new Flash Gordon is a thrill-seeking, bungee-jumping cast-about who is an embarrassment to his father but adored by his fans (and sought after by reality TV producers). He's surrounded by the familiar supporting cast including Dale Arden, a television reporter on the science affairs beat and Dr. Zarkov, a hard-drinking Russian scientist. The first issue gives us a little glimpse of their backgrounds and their previous lives on Earth but otherwise jumps right into the action on the planet Mongo as the three are pursued by henchmen of Ming the Merciless.

Many Dynamite comics seem to have a particular "house style" with realistic and sometimes over-rendered artwork. For these, the publisher has been upping its artistic game. Evan "Doc" Shaner is a perfect choice for this comic; his style succeeds in balancing detailed realism with a more classic cartooning style that honors the look of old news strips by greats like Alex Toth, Al Williamson, and Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond. Jordie Bellaire, the book's colorist, deserves the same plaudits for straddling that line between retro and new with the color palettes she uses throughout. Even when viewed on screen, they look like they're seeping into newsprint.

Read a preview of the first few pages of Flash Gordon #1 here.

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2. All New Ultimates #1

Written by Michel Fiffe; art by Amilcar Pinna
Marvel Comics

In the aftermath of the recent Ultimate Cataclysm mini-series, Marvel's Ultimate Universe has been greatly altered. The world has been left in shambles after a disastrous attack by the world-devouring Galactus. Major heroes died and the teams that make up this long-running alternate Marvel Universe, The Ultimates and The FF, no longer exist as they once were. The appealing aspect of the Ultimate Universe is that dead is dead and change usually seems to stick, unlike in the regular Marvel Universe. With cities like New York now pretty much disaster zones, crime is running rampant, and a new team of Ultimates is needed.

If the original Ultimates were The Avengers, then this All New Ultimates seems to draw some cues from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's popular but recently ended Young Avengers. This new group is made up of a diverse cast of teenage heroes including: Spider-man (not Peter Parker, who is dead in this universe, but Miles Morales), Black Widow (not Natasha Romanov but a female clone of the dead Peter Parker), Cloak and Dagger, and reformed villain and former X-man Kitty Pryde. It's worth noting that there is not one white, male character on this team.

The creative team for All New Ultimates is made up of two up-and-coming talents: Amilcar Pinna, a Brazilian illustrator who's previously done the mini-comic Banana Frita and Michel Fiffe, a writer who created his own highly acclaimed superhero comic Copra (see the next item on this list), which has been lauded in the indie comics circuit.

Here's an unlettered preview of All New Ultimates #1.

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3. Copra #1

By Michel Fiffe
Self-published

The comic that put All New Ultimates writer Michel Fiffe on the map is a self-published, high octane superhero adventure called Copra. It's about a team of heroes-for-hire that go on the run after their last mission goes horribly wrong and leaves half their squad dead and an entire town obliterated. Inspired by DC Comics' classic Suicide Squad (the series was born out of a Suicide Squad fan-comic Fiffe made called Deathzone), Copra features a similar cast of expendable mercenary types working with a government handler who is very reminiscent of Squad's Amanda Waller.

Fiffe has been writing, illustrating, and coloring a new 24-page issue of Copra every month and selling them on his website. It has developed a huge fan following and has become a critical darling of comic bloggers, making plenty of best of the year lists in 2013. The first issue of Copra, with only 800 copies ever printed, is long sold out but Fiffe recently made it available to read for free as a webcomic. Unfortunately, most of the other issues are sold out as well but hopefully Fiffe will find more ways to get this book out there.

The best part about Copra is the DIY nature of its aesthetic. Fiffe's drawings seem rough at first glance but are wonderfully staged and remarkably dynamic. His action scenes are as good as any you'd see in a comic from Marvel or DC. The best part about it is his unorthodox but sparing use of color on top of cream-colored paper. It brings together the world of superheros and the aesthetics of indie comics in a really enticing way.

Read issue #1 of Copra here.

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4. Lumberjanes #1

Written by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson; art by Brooke Allen
Boom! Box

Boom! Studios recently created an imprint called "Boom! Box" to allow creators working on their licensed properties like Adventure Time to find a place to publish their own stories. The first comic in this imprint was Ryan North's The Midas Touch and this week sees the latest, Lumberjanes, from writers Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson and artist Brooke Allen. Stevenson is a popular webcomic creator known for her award-winning Nimona. Ellis worked with Boom! Editor Shannon Watters to develop this concept, which they have described in terms of mixing elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gravity Falls and Scooby Doo.

The series follows a group of girls at summer camp solving mysteries and saving the world from giant yetis, three eyed wolves, and other supernatural threats. Brooke Allen brings a lot of energy to this with her artwork which is very reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks in its manga-influence.

Here’s a preview.>

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5. Batman Eternal #1

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; art by Jason Fabok; colors by Brad Anderson
DC Comics

DC is a big proponent of the weekly comic, having had success with it in 2006 with 52. Lately, with the easy deliverability of digital comics, more and more comic makers are experimenting with a weekly schedule despite the high investment needed from the reader as well as staggering multiple art teams to keep up the pace. This year, DC plans two big new weeklies. The New 52: Future's End, is set five years into the DC Universe's future, and this week they launch the much anticipated Batman Eternal.

Batman Eternal will be a year-long series, shepherded by regular Batman series writer Scott Snyder but written by a team of writers who will alternate story arcs for the duration of the book. This series will start off with a time jump and then work its way towards showing you how things got to that point. The plan is to explore various aspects that make up the vast world of Batman: the "Bat Family", the assortment of villains, and Batman's relationships with supporting characters like Jim Gordon.

Here's a preview of the first issue.

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6. Cosplayers

By Dash Shaw
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics is typically known for their high-end, bookstore-friendly graphic novels and coffee table collections of classic comic strips, so it's nice to see them release an actual comic book. Cosplayers is a 32-page one-shot by Dash Shaw about two teenage girls who enjoy cosplaying and shooting guerrilla-style YouTube videos.

Shaw is known for his longer comics work like the 700+ page literary tome Bottomless Belly Button or his art comic endeavors like Bodyworld and last year's The New School, but this seems to be a more light-hearted, yet still artistically experimental, effort from him.

Fantagraphics has some preview images 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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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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