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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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. Supreme: Blue Rose #1

By Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay
Image Comics

After the success of Brandon Graham’s neo-Euro-comic take on Prophet, reimagining characters created by '90s comics icon Rob Liefeld has become something of a cottage industry. Supreme itself is no stranger to reinvention by other creators, most famously by Alan Moore and his now-classic 1997 run on Liefeld’s Supreme comic. Now, Warren Ellis and artist Tula Lotay give us a 21st century spin on Liefeld’s creation.

In Supreme: Blue Rose, Ellis and Lotay take Liefeld’s Superman analogue into a more mysterious, science fiction direction full of strange dream sequences, elliptical dialogue, and odd-looking characters with no faces. Investigative reporter Diana Dane (think Lois Lane) is hired by billionaire Darius Dax (think Lex Luthor) to find out who Ethan Crane is (take a guess). Longtime Supreme readers will dig the links to past stories but newcomers will enjoy its compelling mystery just as much.

This book will be the first place most people will see the art of Tula Lotay. She has been wowing social media followers with her paintings of glamorous women that have a unique half-finished look to them. She brings that same quality to this book where mysterious blue lines and scratches sit underneath gorgeously drawn characters, giving the entire comic a dream-like quality. Lotay is about to become a major star in the comics world and this is where it all begins.

Here's a small preview of the first issue.

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2. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1

By Tom Scioli and John Barber
IDW Publishing

Normally, a comic that takes two licensed properties and mashes them together is not noteworthy outside of the initial nostalgic glee. This isn’t even the first time that Hasbro’s two most popular toy franchises have shared a comic together, but IDW’s new ongoing series Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is worth calling out because it looks like it is going to be absolutely insane.

Rather than playing it safe by putting an artist on the book that has the type of slick, detail-oriented style you’d expect, IDW has brought in an idiosyncratic artist who is not afraid to put his own creative vision into the work. Tom Scioli is known for his graphic novel American Barbarian and his work with Joe Casey on the Image Comic series Gødland. He has a style that is like Jack Kirby on crack — retro, dynamic, tongue-in-cheek and very over the top. Scioli is also co-writing this series with John Barber.

Each issue will be exactly what the title advertises, with Joes fighting alien Cybertrons in a series of stand-alone stories that will build into a larger narrative. Scioli is looking to take everything he loved about these toys (and comics) as a kid and crank it up to 11 in hopes that a kid picking it up today will have his or her mind blown. IDW released a preview of this series to lots of acclaim on Free Comic Book Day in May. You can see some preview images and read an interview with Scioli and Barber here.

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3. Blood Blokes

By Adam Cadwell
Great Beast Comics

Despite over-saturation, vampire stories keep coming nowadays, perhaps because they’re so easily applied to different types of genres. In Adam Cadwell’s Blood Blokes, he drops vampires into a British slacker comedy about four twenty-something flatmates who bond together through their mutual thirst for blood.

There are no hard and fast rules for how vampires work, allowing for lots of storytelling leeway. Our protagonist Vince is a newly turned vampire and his three new friends show him the ropes and demonstrate how Cadwell’s own version of vampires work (they’re kind of just like us except they tend to suck on blood popsicles; they can even go out during the day since it’s often so cloudy in Manchester). His cast of characters have a very likable rapport which makes this a fun read, even if vampires bore you to tears.

Cadwell is a cartoonist who really knows how to work in black and white. His crisp inking and snappy panel sequencing are reminiscent of Jamie Hernandez when he is in his most Dan DeCarlo-inspired mode.

Issue #4 of Blood Blokes comes out this week but you can buy a bundle of all four issues to date here.

Here’s a preview of the fourth issue.

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4. Street Angel

By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Adhouse Books

In 2004, a little five issue miniseries called Street Angel took the indie comics world by surprise and put artist Jim Rugg on the map. Set in the fictional ghetto of Wilkesborough, it featured the adventures of the world’s greatest homeless skateboarder, twelve year old Jesse Sanchez. Using her skating and martial arts skills, she fights to keep the streets clean from “evil, ninjas, and nepotism.”

As a funny, often ludicrous, sendup of both superhero comics and action films, Street Angel had plenty of appeal for indie comics fans, while its expertly drawn action scenes appealed to sincere fans of those genres. The fifth issue of Street Angel featured a “blaxploitation” character named Afrodisiac that Rugg and Maruca would later spin off into the award-winning graphic novel of the same name, making Rugg a sought-after star in the comics world.

Rugg has brought the original Street Angel to Adhouse Books to give this new reprint the same hardcover design treatment they gave to Afrodisiac (which Adhouse also published). Since the book is in all black and white, Rugg researched the paper that was used to print Charles Burns’ black and white masterpiece Black Hole in order to get the same contrast and quality. A new cover has been designed that utilizes the trademark pink hue that adorned the original softcover release.

If you’re new to Street Angel, Adhouse has a pretty great PDF preview you can download here.

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5. Ragnarök #1

By Walt Simonson with colors by Laura Martin
IDW Publishing

Walt Simonson is probably the definitive Thor artist in most people’s minds. His classic run on Marvel’s The Mighty Thor in the 1980s brought the superhero back to his Norse roots, creating a dynamic fantasy adventure that – at the time – did not look like anything else out there. His ornate costumes and epically-sized monsters gave the comic a mythic and alien look while the angular abstractions of his effects became elements of his signature style.

Now, at the age of 67, Simonson is launching Ragnarök, his creator-owned series in which he returns to Thor (the god, not the superhero) to tell the story of the Norse mythology's end times. Simonson is joined by veteran colorist Laura Martin who brings a modern richness to Simonson’s art that we’re not used to seeing.

Here’s a preview of the first few pages of Ragnarök.

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6. 100th Anniversary: Avengers

By James Stokoe
Marvel Comics

A couple of weeks back I wrote about the first issue in Marvel’s month-long “100th Anniversary” event. I mentioned the standout book from this series was going to be James Stokoe’s Avengers and, now that it is out, I figure it's worth mentioning again.

Stokoe is an exciting, unique voice and seeing Marvel let him do his thing with their number one property – even if only for an out-of-continuity one-off – is refreshing. He excels at designing pages that are crammed with miles and miles of monsters and destruction, showing a sense of scale you can only really get in comics. In 100th Anniversary Special: The Avengers, he shows us an America lost to the Negative Zone, a reincarnated Doctor Strange, an immortal Rogue, Beta Ray Bill standing in for Thor and a sentient Stark Tower. It’s going to be a wild comic.

Here’s a 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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