John Romita, Jr./Klaus Janson/DC Comics
John Romita, Jr./Klaus Janson/DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

John Romita, Jr./Klaus Janson/DC Comics
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.


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.


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.


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.


5. Super Secret Crisis War #1

By Louise Simonson and Derek Charm

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

Space Goat Publishing
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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