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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. The Wrenchies

By Farel Dalrymple
First Second

A group of children fighting to survive in a future where all the grownups have become monsters.

It’s immediately evident how much Farel Dalrymple put into all 350+ pages of The Wrenchies, a graphic novel he has been toiling over for 5 years. Not only is nearly every page fully painted and filled with intricate drawings of futuristic landscapes, but the story itself is so dense and multi-layered that you’ll probably want to go back and re-read it in order to piece together what’s real and what isn’t.

The plot of The Wrenchies is hard to synopsize. The Wrenchies themselves, a group of kids fighting demons in a dystopian future where all the adults have been transformed into monsters, are not even really the main characters of the story. The book is really about a boy named Sherwood and his brother Orson–self-professed demon hunters–whose innocence is forever taken when they enter a cave to find a horrifying, fedora-wearing monster called a Shadowsman. The two brothers are traumatized by the event and become separated on some sort of pan-dimensional level.

Sherwood grows into a troubled adult who creates a comic book called The Wrenchies that contains a hidden message meant as a call for help in his search for his brother and the battle against the Shadowsmen.

This only scratches the surface and doesn’t even get to the most compelling members of the cast–a kind-hearted but simple-minded mama’s boy named Hollis who dresses like a superhero and a giant golem with the brain of a scientist who transports Hollis to the apocalyptic world of The Wrenchies and leads them all on their ultimate mission.

Dalrymple is part of a generation that, along with people like Brandon Graham, Jim Rugg, and Ross Campbell, rose up in the early 2000s and brought an art school sensibility to genre-centric comics. From his award-winning first book Pop Gun War to his collaboration with novelist Jonathan Lethem on Marvel’s Omega The Unknown, Dalrymple has gravitated towards stories about kids finding themselves in the middle of unexpected fantasy. The Wrenchies perfectly mixes the fun with the scary. In Hollis’ case, the separation anxiety that permeates his grand adventure is more than just a longing for his mother. He spends his time in the world of The Wrenchies writing letters to God, implying that the all-knowing being he prays to is not present at all in this world.

Here’s some images of the book on Farel’s blog.

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2. Death of Wolverine #1

By Charles Soule, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
Marvel Comics

Not a dream. Not an parallel universe. Marvel is killing off Wolverine.

Death of Wolverine is a 4-issue mini-series unfolding this month that will bring to a head the events that have been unfolding since the 2013 “Killable” storyline from the ongoing Wolverine comic. In that story, Logan lost his mutant healing power and now he is vulnerable to his enemies. As the title suggests, Marvel will be killing off a character who is, besides Spider-man, their most popular (Spidey, you’ll remember, was also killed off in 2012, but now he’s back). They’re doing this just in time to celebrate his 40th anniversary. No one who regularly reads comics actually believes Wolverine will stay dead, but that doesn’t mean that Marvel and the top-notch creative team behind this series aren’t treating this like it’s going to stick so they are looking to tell a story that they see as a proper send-off for this legendary character.

In just a few short years, writer Charles Soule has gone from obscurity to comics stardom, writing a number of major titles for both Marvel and DC, and is now helming one of the biggest event comics of the year (Marvel just announced that they've signed him to an exclusive contract). He’s joined by artist Steve McNiven who is best known for his work with Ed Brubaker on Captain America and, more relevantly, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, which took more of a non-canonical look at Logan’s declining years.

The question raised by this series is not whether or not Wolverine will stay dead but why Marvel is choosing to kill him. There are lots of big changes afoot in the Marvel Universe (Captain America will soon be a black man, Thor will soon be a woman); is Marvel simply looking to shake up the status quo of their publishing line? Are they testing the public's appetite for how much they can change a character before they head into costly contract negotiations with the movie stars that play these characters? Or is this just what you have to do to sell comics these days? It’s worth pointing out that Marvel is pricing these weekly issues at $4.99 each, with some bonus material like sketches and interviews to help justify the extra cost.

Here’s a preview

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3. An Age of License

By Lucy Knisley
Fantagraphics

One of the best diary cartoonists out there goes on a romantic adventure across Europe.

Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License begins unassumingly as a simple travelogue about an American cartoonist off on her own in Europe. In 2011, Knisely–who is known for her diary comics which focus on travel with a flair for culinary details–received an invitation for a free trip to appear at a comic book festival in Norway. As if that wasn’t enough of an incentive to go, she recently met a boy from Norway while he was visiting New York and makes plans for a romantic rendezvous with him while she's there.

Soon, she is traversing Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France on a romantic journey that forces her to step outside herself and think about where she should be and what she should be doing with her life. Hence the title, which refers to a French saying about the need to take some time when you’re young to figure yourself out.

Fantagraphics has printed this book at a nice, petite, travel journal size that really feels right for the material (although it might be a tad small to truly appreciate the artwork). Knisley’s drawings are primarily in crisp black and white ink with a good number of beautiful, full color watercolor paintings that act as interludes between scenes. What makes her so good at diary comics is that she not only captures the essence of the scenery and events happening around her but she also finds visually inventive ways of depicting her own ideas and emotions. She taps into the doubts and insecurities that young people feel when questioning whether or not they are in love and whether or not they love what they’ve chosen to do with their life.

Fantagraphics has a preview on their website.

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4. God Hates Astronauts #1

By Ryan Browne with Jordan Boyd and Chris Crank
Image Comics

Someone needs to stop farmers from launching homemade rockets into space and NASA has just the right people for the job.

Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts began its life six years ago and its popularity led to it becoming one of the comic world's biggest Kickstarter successes. The crowdfunding success led to a deal with Image Comics to publish the next phase of the comic, a new ongoing series which begins this week.

It’s hard to describe God Hates Astronauts because it prides itself on its random, anything-goes nature. The “heroes” of the story are a narcissistic collection of jerks called “The Power Persons Five” whose main goal seems to be preventing astro-farmers from going into space (when they're not bickering or cheating on one another). The new series begins with one of these farmer-made rocket ships crashing into a spaceship commanded by Admiral Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger, a humanoid with the head of a Tiger that is always depicted taking a bite out of a cheeseburger. If that doesn’t sound hilarious to you then this book may just not be your thing.

Here’s a preview.

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5. Sex & Violence  Vol. 2

By Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Romina Moranelli, Rafa Garres and Paul Mounts
Paper Films/Kickstarter

A sexy crime noir anthology with an interesting team of up and coming artists.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have pretty much got this Kickstarter thing down. As PaperFilms, they have been successfully funding one book after another and they've been using the platform to produce adults-only comics that may not have easily found a home with traditional publishers. One of these books is the crime noir anthology Sex & Violence Vol. 1, which doubled its goal upon completion of its 2012 campaign. Now they’re back for Volume 2 with three new stories drawn by three new up-and-coming artists.

The first story about a mother/daughter team of seductive con artists is drawn by Italian artist Romina Moranelli. She was a contributor to Marvel’s 2010 Women of Marvel anthology. The second is a WWII-era tale of a sniper and a dog trainer in the Soviet army drawn by Spanish artist Raga Garres who has worked on various DC and 2000 AD titles. The third effort is about a killer reflecting on his life and it's drawn by Cuban artist Vanesa R. Del Rey who has done recent books like Hit and The Empty Man for Boom! Studios (and who I think is one of this year’s most exciting new artists).

There are plenty of censored previews of the artwork on the Kickstarter page and they’ve already passed their goal with less than 20 days to go.

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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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