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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews (though sometimes they are) but more pointing out noteworthy new comics that you may want to seek out. 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. Original Sin #1

Written by Jason Aaron; art by Mike Deodato; colors by Frank Martin
Marvel Comics

Someone has killed the Watcher and now every dark secret he knew about the Marvel Universe is out there.

It’s event week as both Marvel and DC are launching two major mini-series today that promise shocking revelations which will “forever” change their respective universes.

Original Sin is an eight-issue series that delves into some deep dark secrets lurking at the heart of the Marvel Universe. It begins simply enough with a murder, except it’s a pretty big murder. The Watcher, the bald demi-god who has been watching over mankind from the very beginning (or at least since his first appearance back in Fantastic Four #13 in 1963) is the victim and apparently everything that he has ever seen has been stolen with his eyes.

The original Nick Fury comes out of retirement to find the culprits and the book ties into pretty much every Marvel comic out there. In these books, expect to find some sort of payoff to the tagline of the promotional teaser: “Original Sin: Everyone Has One.”

From the moment this series was announced, some obvious comparisons have been made to DC’s Identity Crisis and Watchmen, but writer Jason Aaron, known for his crime-centric comics like Scalped and the newly released Southern Bastards, is simply following an age-old noir trope of an investigator trying to solve a murder and uncovering a conspiracy that is too big to handle. For those who enjoy a little synergy between comics and movies, the main players in this series will include future film stars like Ant Man, Dr. Strange, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Here’s a preview.

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2. New 52: Future’s End #1

Written by Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Jeff Lemire; art by Patrick Zircher
DC Comics

A new weekly series set 5 years in the future, featuring the DC Universe debut of Batman Beyond.

DC, in many ways, is going back to the kinds of things that have worked well for them in the past: a weekly event series and a brief jump into the future to set up a mystery that asks, “How did things get this bad?"

In New 52: Future’s End, we get a weekly glimpse into a bleak future where everyone is recovering from a war with an alternate Earth, only to suddenly get attacked once again by some new invading force. This book will focus primarily on Terry McGinnis, a.k.a. Batman Beyond (the future Batman from the animated series of the same name), and Grifter (originally from the Wildstorm line of comics which was folded into DC proper a few years back), among others. Oh yeah, and a member of the Justice League is going to die.

This is one of three weekly series DC is rolling out this year, using them to replace some recently cancelled monthly books in their lineup. They have assembled a number of their star writers, each familiar with various aspects of the DC Universe, to collaborate and juggle the multiple plot threads that will weave through the nearly year-long mini-series. In addition, there will be a stable of artists taking turns throughout the series.

Both Marvel’s Original Sin and DC’s Future’s End have released “zero issues” (a prequel issue numbered with a “0”) in the past couple of weeks, but zero issues are industry code for “you don’t need to read this to know what’s going on" so don't even worry about them.

You can read a preview of Future's End #1 here.

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3. Image Comics Humble Bundle

www.humblebundle.com

If you've ever been curious to try out some of Image Comics' best titles, this is the week to do it.

If you’re not already an avid reader of Image Comics books but have been curious to try some, there’s never been a better time than this week. Through the digital sale site Humble Bundle, Image is giving you the opportunity to get up to 12 of their top books for any price you feel like paying. You can pay as little as a dollar to get 4 of the books but need to pay over $10 to get the next 6 and more than $15 to get the whole set of 12. That’s still nothing, and as an added bonus, proceeds go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit dedicated to aiding the first amendment rights of comic book creators and retailers.

The books being offered here are all outstanding, from highly acclaimed and top selling phenomena like The Walking Dead (vols. 1 and 20 are available here) and Saga (vols. 1 and 2), to newer books like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s future sci-fi epic East of West and Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian near-future drama Lazarus. Image is currently at the top of their game, putting out some of the best genre comics on the market and they’re all "creator-owned."

There is a week to go on this offer so jump on it now.

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4. The Complete Peanuts 1950 - 1952 (Vol. 1) - Paperback Edition

By Charles Schultz
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics begins releasing their bestselling and much loved Peanuts archives in affordable softcover volumes.

When Fantagraphics began their decade-long (and counting) project of releasing the entirety of Charles Schulz’ classic Peanuts comics in beautifully designed hardcover archives back in 2004, they sparked a whole cottage industry for publishing coffee table and library-friendly definitive collections of old newspaper comic strips. While they still have a few more hardbound volumes to release before they complete the project (volume 21, which begins collecting strips from the 1990s, also comes out this week), they’re now starting back at the beginning by releasing new lower-priced softcover editions.

Volume one collects the very first Peanuts strips from 1950 through 1952. We get to see Schultz figuring out what he wanted to do with this strip and how he wanted these characters to look and interact. Some of the kids, like Linus, Schroeder, and Lucy, start out as infants before Schultz decides to make them the same age as everybody else. There is some biographical material included as well as an introduction by Garrison Keillor.

Find out more 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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