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Skottie Young/Marvel Comics
Skottie Young/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Skottie Young/Marvel Comics
Skottie Young/Marvel 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. Rocket Raccoon #1

By Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel Comics

This summer, Marvel Studios will release Guardians of the Galaxy, a film based on a comic that most people — even many comics fans — have never read. Inside speculation has it being a surprise hit and the standout star is probably going to be an all-CGI character (voiced by Bradley Cooper) named Rocket Raccoon. He’s a trash talking, gun-toting alien that very much resembles what we here on Earth call “raccoons.” Longtime comic fans are still trying to fathom how this oddball, under-used character may soon become as well known as Wolverine.

Marvel is ramping up its Guardians-related offerings ahead of the movie’s release, and this week sees the first issue of Rocket Raccoon, a new ongoing series featuring the Looney Tunes-style exploits of Rocket and his talking tree sidekick, Groot. Regardless of how the movie ends up performing, this book is going to find a sizable audience because of the creative talent behind it: Skottie Young. He's an artist who came on the scene in the early 2000s and has become a major star thanks to his adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series. This is his first comic for Marvel where he is both writing and drawing, so it will be a great opportunity to see Young creatively in charge of a comic.

It should be noted that Rocket co-creator Bill Mantlo has fallen on hard times and has been in hospice in recent years. Here’s some info about him and how you can help.

Here’s a short preview

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2. Carriers

By Lauren Weinstein
Nautil.us

Cartoonist Lauren Weinstein wrote and illustrated a 5 part comic called Carriers in which, during her pregnancy, she and her husband learn they are both carriers for the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. As she anxiously awaits test results from her doctor, she ponders the nature and history of this disease and the future that may be in store for her unborn child.

In a series of loosely colored, journal-like drawings, Weinstein visualizes the science behind the disease and the data surrounding the genetic demographics. She also conveys the agony that expecting parents go through while waiting for an answer that may affect their family’s future. The comic is tense, but it's also funny at times and very informative.

Weinstein creates short, memoir-based works that have been collected in anthologies such as Kramer’s Ergot and The Best American Comics as well as her own collections like Girl Stories and Inside Vineyland. Carriers was published this past week on the topic-based online science magazine Nautil.us and was also picked up on Robert Krulwich’s NPR blog.

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3. Twelve Gems

By Lane Milburn
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics, the venerable publisher of works by cartoonists such as Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and the Hernandez brothers, is not a company that you’d associate with low brow science fiction adventure comics. Twelve Gems, a new graphic novel by Lane Milburn, is a “space opera” about three mercenaries enlisted by a mad scientist type named Dr. Z to search for the fabled Twelve Gems of Power. There’s the sultry and deadly warrior Venus, the monstrous tough guy Furz, and the gentle canine technician Dogstar. Each has a mysterious past that is revealed in flashbacks throughout the story.

Twelve Gems is like a low-budget ‘80s sci-fi epic made by the kid in high school who was always drawing Dave Mustaine on his notebook. It’s both heavy metal and Heavy Metal in terms of where it draws its inspiration. Milburn is from the same artist collective — Closed Caption Comics — as Conor Stechschulte whose The Amateurs was also just published by Fantagraphics (I talked about it here recently). Both are cartoonists that make genre comics using the non-formalist sensibilities you’d normally see in art comics. Milburn’s drawing style is unpolished in a DIY/punk kind of way but full of enthusiasm and manic energy. This is not going to be for everyone, but it will likely appeal to readers who love cheesy one-liners, over the top violence, and tropes pulled from action films, video games, and manga from the 1980s.

Fantagraphics has a preview here.

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4. 100th Anniversary Special - Fantastic Four

By Jen Van Meter and Joanna Estrep
Marvel Comics

Marvel has decided to jump the gun and spend the month of July celebrating the imagined 100th anniversary of some of their main comics. (Is this a sign that they don't expect comic books to still be a thing in 50 years?) Most of their characters have just recently passed their 50th year in comics but each week in July, a new 100th Anniversary comic will be released as if we’re currently in the year 2061. This week starts it off with 100th Anniversary Special - Fantastic Four.

Jen Van Meter and Joanna Estrep reimagine the FF as a team of teenage "science heroes" led by the twin children of Valeria Richards and Bart Banner (presumably Bruce’s son) and joined by Victoria Harkness (the granddaughter of Doctor Doom) and a new Human Torch.

In the weeks ahead there will be 100th Anniversary comics for Spider-man, X-men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers. The Avengers comics will be written and drawn by James Stokoe (Orc Stain, Godzilla: Half Century War and Wonton Soup as seen in the next item).

Marvel and the creators involved have chosen to allow nearly the same amount of proposed time to pass within the comics as would have passed in the real world (something we know they don’t actually do within their previously published comics). We will see plenty of children and grandchildren of familiar characters as well as appearances by immortal and slow-aging heroes. For instance, Stokoe's Avengers team will consist of a magically young Dr. Strange, Beta Ray Bill (the alien space horse version of Thor), and Rogue from the X-men who has absorbed Wolverine’s regenerative healing and anti-aging powers.

In the FF, Van Meter and Estrep are also trying to approach the book as if they themselves are some future creative team that would be looking to tell a story that honored the past 100 years of that comic’s history. That angle makes these books a little different from your standard alternate future “What if?” stories.

Marvel has a lot more detail about each book here.

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5. Wonton Soup: Big Bowl Edition

By James Stokoe
Oni Press

Speaking of James Stokoe, Oni Press is releasing an omnibus edition of Wonton Soup, the comic that first brought him to everyone’s attention about ten years ago. It’s an odd, crazy comic about Johnny Boyo, the galaxy’s premier chef who gives it all up to become a space trucker in order to explore what other culinary dishes might be out there. Along the way he’s confronted by ninjas, pirates and an ex-girlfriend, Citrus Watts.

This so-called “Big Bowl Edition” collects the two previously published volumes of Wonton Soup together for the first time and includes an introduction by Stokoe’s friend and contemporary Brandon Graham. Stokoe is an exciting and unique artist who puts a bewildering amount of energy into his work. His style mixes the action and expression of Japanese manga with the design and composition of American graffiti art.

Wonton Soup may be his early work but it shows how confident and assured he was right out of the gate.

For the curious, Oni Press has a whopping 39 pages you can preview.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
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.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
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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