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Olivier Coipel/Marvel Comics
Olivier Coipel/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Olivier Coipel/Marvel Comics
Olivier Coipel/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. Thor #1

By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Marvel Comics

Thor’s a woman now. Deal with it.

In the first issue of the new Thor, the thunder god has fallen and been deemed unworthy to lift his mighty hammer, Mjölnir, which lies forsaken on the surface of the moon. The inscription (as you can see in the image below) suddenly changes to read, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if SHE be worthy…”

Yup, this is the issue you’ve been hearing about everywhere from ComicsAlliance.com to The View. By the end of this issue, a woman will pick up the hammer and become the new Thor, possibly signifying a major shift in how Marvel views the demographics of its readership. It’s also possible that it's just a short-lived publicity stunt. Only time—and sales—will tell if this is as big as Marvel wants us to think.

Whatever their intent is, the publisher seems hell bent on shaking up the status quo of their A-list heroes. They’re currently in the process of killing off Wolverine and will soon be handing the mantle of Captain America to an African-American hero. This has been a big year for diversity among the Marvel characters (even if the creative teams behind them are still mostly white and male).

Marvel has kept a tight lid on who this new Thor will actually be, but promises that she will be the real Thor (not a “Thorita” or “She-Thor”). They’ve signified this by not only keeping the name of the hero “Thor,” but also by keeping Jason Aaron who has been writing Thor since the last relaunch two years ago.

Here’s a preview.

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2. Gotham Academy #1

By Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Geyser, and Dave McCaig
DC Comics

Something a little different for DC Comics: a teen prep school drama set in Gotham.

Marvel is not alone this week in making some shifts in how they attract new (read: female) audiences. Gotham Academy is a new series that is set firmly in the “Bat-verse” but is otherwise very different from the type of books DC generally publishes. It is written and drawn to appeal to a younger and primarily female audience that other independent comics and webcomics have long proven is out there but that publishers like DC have been reticent to attract in the past. Paired with this month’s upcoming redesign and relaunch of Batgirl, DC is taking some steps, albeit in a somewhat different approach from Marvel, to make some comics that will hopefully appeal to this audience.

Gotham Academy takes place in Gotham City’s prestigious boarding school whose benefactor is local billionaire Bruce Wayne and whose school grounds seem prone to mysterious and supernatural happenings. The first story arc focuses on Olive Silverlock, a student who seems to have experienced something over the summer that has affected her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle. We also meet Kyle’s little sister, Maps, who follows Olive around, and Olive’s antagonist, Pomeline Fritch (if nothing else, this book is going to add some fantastically memorable names to the DC Universe).

While Marvel is diversifying their characters more than their creatives, DC seems to be making moves to do both. Gotham Academy is written by Becky Cloonan who is primarily known as an artist but has written and drawn some very impressive and award-winning self-published comics like The Mire and Demeter. She is joined by co-writer Brenden Fletcher who will also be working on the new Batgirl series and artist Karl Kerschl who is best known for his award-winning webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher. This is a young and interesting creative team that stands out markedly from what you might consider the usual DC “House Style.”

Here’s a preview.

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3. Maddy Kettle Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch

By Eric Orchard
Top Shelf Productions

A young girl sets out to change her parents back from being kangaroo rats.

If you follow Eric Orchard on Twitter, Facebook, or almost anywhere else, you’ve probably seen his progress on his series Maddy Kettle. Orchard is active on social media and uses it as well as any artist out there to engage with his fans and invite them into his process. Those fans are probably delighted to see the first book in this series hitting bookstores and comic book shops now.

In the first volume of this all-ages series, we meet young Maddy, an eleven year old girl whose parents have been turned into little kangaroo rats by the Thimblewitch. When the same creature steals her floating spadefoot toad Ralph, she goes off on her own to save Ralph and hopefully turn her parents back to normal. The story really picks up when she meets a couple of traveling cloud cartographers, a bear, and a raccoon named Harry and Silvio, who serve as the book's comic relief.

Orchard’s illustrations have a weighty simplicity that's mixed with an intricate, cross-hatched texture as if they were drawn from dramatically lit clay figurines. There is a weird darkness to his style that is not unlike the classic children’s horror stories of Edward Gorey, while Maddy Kettle's magical nature may remind some of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Maddy is a smart, resourceful heroine, which parents of young girls are always looking for more of. While this is the beginning of a future book series, this volume stands nicely on its own. Top Shelf has a preview here.

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4. The Hospital Suite

By John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly

A mini-comics and zine legend recounts his battles with OCD, tumors, and depression.

John Porcellino is one of the most influential cartoonists that most readers have never heard of. Like the old saying about the Velvet Underground—not many people listened to them at the time but everyone who did started their own band—Porcellino has influenced a whole generation of mini-comic and zine creators with his autobiographical series King-Cat. Started in 1989, it is the longest running mini-comic of its kind and Porcellino has used it to share some very personal aspects of his life. His new graphic novel, The Hospital Suite (published by Drawn & Quarterly), collects a group of his most harrowing and personal stories yet.

In 1997, Porcellino began suffering from stomach pains that doctors couldn’t explain. Repeat appointments eventually led to the discovery of a tumor in his intestines. But this is just the beginning of his troubles. From tumors to warts to debilitating cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, Porcellino’s life began to fall apart for the next few years. He lost almost everything—even, for a time, his ability to make comics.

This would be a tough book for those prone to health anxieties, but I think it will strike a chord with people who have suffered from illnesses that have upended their lives. The chapters where he recounts his OCD are especially affecting and upsetting in their sheer extremity. There’s a scene where he finds a Godzilla movie at the library that he’s been craving to see again since he was a kid, but he gets it in his head that watching the film may possibly conjure up the monsters in reality and he returns it, unwatched. It's a scene that is heartbreaking the way Porcellino tells it.

Porcellino’s cartooning style almost seems amateurish at a glance. Its simple pen lines do what they need to do in conveying his story but nothing more. The book itself is even printed with a stark white, no frills cover, much like his mini-comics. Drawn & Quarterly has a preview here.

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5. Underwhelming Lovecraft Comic Synopses

By Patrick Dean
UnderwhelmingLovecraft.tumblr.com

Various Lovecraft stories done in one comics page.

Earlier this year, Patrick Dean had been posting some great drawings of low-key, “underwhelming" creatures on his Tumblr that, if actually created by legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, would have ended up in his discarded ideas pile. Last month, Dean decided to take his fondness for Lovecraft down a different road by creating one-page comic synopses of some of the writer’s short stories. Keeping with the “Underwhelming” theme, he crams the essence of the stories into a few panels and often wraps them up with a punchline that conveys Dean’s own dry sense of humor. It's partly an exercise in concise storytelling and partly a way to have fun with Lovecraft's typically humorless tales of creepiness.

There are a handful up on his Tumblr so far; feel free to dip back into the archives to browse his Underwhelming monster drawings.

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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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