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Molly Ostertag

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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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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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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