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Molly Ostertag
Molly Ostertag

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Molly Ostertag
Molly Ostertag

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.

Strong Female Protagonist: Book One

By Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag
Top Shelf Comix

A former teen super heroine wrestles with concepts of social justice and making a difference in the world.

A common criticism of the superhero genre tends to go something like this: If Bruce Wayne really wanted to help Gotham City, he’d use his fortune to invest in schools, healthcare, public housing, and infrastructure needs rather than spend it on Bat-Planes and Bat-Cycles. And he wouldn’t waste his time beating up the same criminals over and over. In Strong Female Protagonist, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag have taken this angle and given us a smart, fresh look at superheroes that doesn't stomp out all the fun. As a result, they’ve created one of the best superhero comics of the year.

Alison Green is the most powerful of a group of people referred to as “bio-dynamic anomalies.” As Mega-Girl, she wore a costume, fought other super-powered anomalies, and even joined a group called The Guardians. At sixteen, in a spectacular coming-of-age moment, she publicly unmasked herself and proclaims that she had wasted her teenage years punching bad guys rather than going to school in order to better understand the world she was trying to help. Now, attending college and falling into a unique relationship with a former “villain”, Alison is constantly wrestling with what it means to be a hero and to save the world.

The name of the book may lead you to believe that this is a feminist manifesto about the depiction of women in comics, but it really sets its sights on much bigger concepts. That said, it definitely attaches a very feminine viewpoint to some standard trappings of the genre which makes it unique. The book is a lot of fun and features plenty of fights and some fresh, new ways of depicting familiar super powers. There is a particularly fascinating and heart-wrenching scene involving a female stand-in for Marvel’s Wolverine who finds a way to use her regenerative powers to help people in a way that Wolverine would have never considered.

Strong Female Protagonist Book One collects 220 pages of what began as a webcomic (and still is). This past July, Mulligan and Ostertag ran a Kickstarter to raise funds to self-publish the book. They blew past their goal by more than $50,000. Top Shelf Comix has stepped in to help with the distribution, leading to an official release in bookstores and comic book shops this week. Here’s more info on the book as well as a preview. You can also buy it directly from the creators here.

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All New Captain America #1

By Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen
Marvel Comics

Sam Wilson, an African-American, becomes the new Captain America.

The latest in Marvel’s 2014 push for greater diversity within their heroes (following the introduction of a Muslim teenage Ms. Marvel and a female Thor) is the All New Captain America. Sam Wilson—formerly The Falcon—will take over the name and don a new costume that incorporates some legacy aspects of his own past outfits. Wilson, an Avenger and longtime partner to Cap since they shared billing in the 1970s series Captain America and The Falcon, is probably at his most recognizable to a broad audience since appearing in the Captain America: Winter Soldier film. He’ll be following in the footsteps of original Cap Steve Rogers, but will be bringing to the job his own experiences and skills both as the Falcon and as a social worker who is in touch with a different America than Rogers has known.

Unlike the last time the mantle changed hands in 2007’s Death of Captain America (that time to another longtime partner, Bucky Barnes), Steve Rogers is still alive and will continue to appear in this series. However, after having the Super-Soldier serum drained from his body by a villain called The Iron Nail, he has rapidly aged to his 90-year-old state. It will be interesting to see how long this change sticks within the Marvel Universe—big status quo changes are usually overwritten within a couple of years, but, it’s a lot easier to undo something negative like a death than something positive (at least as many people perceive it) as making a black man one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe.

Rick Remender has been writing Captain America since the last relaunch of the title two years ago and will likely be continuing a number of the threads he has started in this title. He’s joined by artist Stuart Immonen who has been doing some of his best work recently on Marvel’s All New X-men. Here’s a preview.

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The Kitchen #1

By Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle
DC Vertigo

Three housewives of imprisoned Irish gangsters decide to keep the business going while their husbands are away.

Set in 1970s New York City—when the area once known as "Hell’s Kitchen” lived up to its name by being ripe with crime and gang activity—The Kitchen finds a new angle for telling a Scorcese-like gangster story. Three mob wives—Kath, Raven and Angie—decide they should be out collecting payoffs in the absences of their Irish gangster husbands who are serving time in prison. Even though they’ve been mostly sheltered from the business, they find they take to it easier than they would have thought.

This new 8-issue mini-series comes from two up-and-coming creative talents. Ming Doyle has worked on a number of comics for various publishers like Image Comics and Boom! Studios including many anthology contributions in the past few years in addition to having a successful career as an illustrator. She is an artist who seems poised to hit the big time. She’s working with newcomer writer Ollie Masters and together they seem to be reveling in bringing ‘70s New York (the fashion, the hairstyles and the Times Square seediness) to life.

Here’s a preview.

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Drifter #1

By Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein
Image Comics

A space western from the guys who previously gave us a viking crime drama.

Abram Pollux survives a spaceship crash on a strange backwater planet only to get shot in the back by a mysterious masked gunman. When he wakes up in this strange, desolate world, he’s itching for revenge.

Drifter is yet another new science fiction series from Image Comics and, like the recent comic Copperhead, is another that mixes sci-fi and western genre tropes. When Pollux revives from the shooting, he finds himself in a frontier town inhabited by a marshall, a man of religion, a saloon full of rough characters, and of course some non-humanoid creatures. The first issue ends on a very intriguing note that will surely appeal to fans of high-concept, mind bending sci-fi.

Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein previously collaborated on Viking, a mashup of crime and Norse drama. In mashing up sci-fi and westerns they seem to be pulling specifically from the European variety of both genres with the pathos and existential drama of Sergio Leone’s westerns and Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’ space epics. Klein, most recently the artist on Marvel’s Captain America, sets the tone for this book with his rich, moody, painterly artwork.

Here’s a preview.

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30 Minutes To Live

By Greg Thelen and various artists
30minutestolive.com

The sun has exploded. What do you do with your last 30 minutes on Earth?

The frightening concept behind Greg Thelen’s webcomic anthology 30 Minutes To Live is that the sun has just exploded and everyone on Earth has just learned that the blast—and the end—is coming in 30 minutes. What do you do? Thelen explores this over ten short stories with ten different artists. The opening story shows two friends in a girls’ boarding school sitting on the roof pondering life, death, and sex. Others check in on situations showing soldiers in the Middle East, expectant parents in a hospital, inmates in a prison, and an old woman in a nursing home. In addition to having different artists, each story has a different tone—solemn, funny, horrific, heartbreaking.

Thelen and his artists began posting their stories back in December of last year with the last one being completed this past September. Each is a short and some are more engaging than others, but it’s well worth reading them in the suggested order. You can check them out here.

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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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