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John Romita, Jr./Klaus Janson/DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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John Romita, Jr./Klaus Janson/DC Comics

Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, Kickstarter, and the web. 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. Superman #32

By Geoff Johns, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Laura Martin
DC Comics

Longtime Marvel artist John Romita, Jr. draws his first ever DC comic.

John Romita, Jr. was practically born in the office of Marvel Comics. His father, John Romita, Sr., defined the visual style of Spider-man and his supporting cast in the 1960s and was the Art Director for Marvel's entire publishing line throughout the '70s. Romita, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps in the '80s with career-defining runs on Uncanny X-men and Daredevil.

Now, for the first time ever, JR Jr. is going to draw a comic for DC. To put this in some perspective, this would be like if Derek Jeter had all of a sudden decided to start playing for the Mets. Plus, Romita is not working on just any old DC Comic. They’ve nabbed him for Superman, starting with issue #32, in what the publisher promises will be a new era for the hero. It is a sign of DC’s recent creative struggles, particularly with Superman, that there is a need to start undoing elements of a less than three-year-old reboot, but the creative team on this has generated more fan excitement than we’ve seen for a Superman comic in a long time.

Romita is paired with another fan favorite, DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Having written some highly regarded Superman stories in the pages of Action Comics (which happen to be on sale on Comixology this week), Johns has proven he gets the man of steel in a way that many other writers in comics (and Hollywood) do not. Add in veteran inker Klaus Janson and award-winning colorist Laura Martin and this is a star-studded creative team.

Some preview pages here.

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2. House Party

By Rachael Smith
Great Beast Comics

What happens when three friends try to relive their glory days by throwing an epic house party?

Rachael Smith’s debut graphic novel House Party is about three university friends — Michelle, Siobhan, and Neil — who are a few years out of school and find themselves unhappy with how their lives are going. To recapture the glory of the old days, they decide to throw a house party, just like they used to when they were in their prime.

Smith gets a lot of uncomfortable laughs from these 20-somethings quickly realizing they’ve outgrown this sort of thing. But then, in the third act, she does something unexpected. Veering away from comedy, she goes for an emotional punch. Her characters end up finding that their problem was not so much that they were looking back at their past but that they were not moving on from it.

Smith’s drawing style and character demographics are reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley (with a little bit of John Allison thrown in). However, she puts an emphasis more on real life versus the stylized storytelling devices of a book like Scott Pilgrim. You can get the whole 100 page graphic novel, published by British artist collaborative/small press publisher Great Beast Comics, for only $1.99 on the Sequential digital comics app. There are some preview pages there as well.

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3. Ritual #3: Vile Decay

By Malachi Ward
Revival House Press

An old woman in a post-catastrophe future reflects on her past

Malachi Ward is an interesting artist whose work has appeared in Study Group Comics, Nobrow, and Brandon Graham’s Prophet series for Image Comics. For a few years he has been publishing his own one-man anthology comic Ritual through a small artists collaborative called Revival House Press. In each issue of Ritual, Ward writes and draws a 24-page short story, usually sci-fi or horror in theme, and often experimental in nature. The third issue, titled Vile Decay, is out this week in most indie-friendly comic shops and is available online.

Vile Decay begins with an old woman recounting a tale to her grandson while traversing across a future seaside landscape desolated by environmental catastrophe. The story jumps back 60 years to show, we assume, the woman in her youth during a political protest.

Ward is an interesting artist who uses a mixture of organic pencil lines, subtle digital effects and an unusual 2-color printing process on oversized, high-quality paper that makes this a book you’ll want to spend some time trying to figure out.

You can order a copy of Vile Decay here.

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4. Outcast #1

By Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta
Image Comics

Robert Kirkman's highly anticipated new horror comic

You’d think The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman would have his hands full between his hit TV series and his other ongoing comic commitments, but his name equals money in the comic shops and Image Comics has already announced that the first issue of Outcast has sold out at the distributor level with a second printing planned.

Kirkman is a pretty well-rounded writer who doesn’t just stick with the horror genre (look at Invincible, Thief of Thieves, etc...) but some of the excitement around Outcast is that it does just that, being the first ongoing horror title he’s written outside of The Walking Dead. This time, instead of zombies, he’s writing about demonic possession. It's about a man named Kyle Barnes who has been plagued by demons his entire life — his own mother was posessed when he was a child — and he is now seeking answers. Joining Kirkman is artist Paul Azaceta who is probably best known for his work on the Image mini-series Grounded.

The first issue is a double sized 40 pages but at the normal $2.99 cover price. Oh, and the comic has already been optioned by Cinemax for a new TV series. Get to your shop early to snag a copy of the first issue.

Preview a few pages here.

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5. Super Secret Crisis War #1

By Louise Simonson and Derek Charm
IDW

A big crossover event with all your favorite Cartoon Network characters

IDW has had a lot of success adapting Cartoon Network properties, so why not throw them all together in a big superhero-style crossover event? Super Secret Crisis War obviously nods at this fine comic book tradition as it brings together characters from separate universes like the Power Puff Girls, Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Ben 10, and Ed, Edd and Eddy to fight evil robots who are under the command of the League of Extraordinary Villains and Samurai Jack’s nemesis, the demon Aku.

This six issue mini-series is written by veteran comics writer Louise Simonson who is best known for her classic runs on Marvel titles New Mutants and X-Factor. It’s drawn by Derek Charm who has worked on a number of IDW’s Cartoon Network books as well as his own small press comics like Demon Dog and Trip Fantastic.

Here’s a preview

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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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