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.


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.


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.


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.


30 Minutes To Live

By Greg Thelen and various artists

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.

Marvel Entertainment
The Litigious History of DC and Marvel’s Rival Captain Marvel Characters
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Marvel Entertainment

Behind-the-scenes struggles and legal wrangling have played just as big of a part in the history of comic books as the colorful battles on the pages themselves. And one of the most complex and long-lasting disputes in the industry has focused on Captain Marvel—or at least the two distinct versions of the character that have coexisted in a state of confusion at both Marvel and DC for decades.

Like many comic book tangles, this dispute was made possible because of the debut of Superman. Soon after his first appearance in 1938's Action Comics #1, there was a deluge of knockoffs from publishers looking for a piece of the Man of Steel pie. Though most of these were fly-by-night analogues, Fawcett Comics’s attempt at its own superhero wasn’t an inferior model—it quickly became real competition.


Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was created in late 1939 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and debuted in Whiz Comics #2. On his first cover, Captain Marvel is shown carelessly throwing a car against a brick wall, as two criminals bolt out of the windows. In Action Comics #1, Superman made his debut by hoisting a similar car over his head and driving it into the Earth, as the criminals inside fled.

The similarities were unmistakable: Here were two caped strongmen with heroic squints and circus tights leaping around cities and battling mad (and bald) scientists. But while Clark Kent got his powers from his Kryptonian physiology, Captain Marvel was, in reality, a young boy named Billy Batson who would receive his powers by shouting the magic word “SHAZAM!” If Superman was the straitlaced Boy Scout, Captain Marvel earned his moniker of "The Big Red Cheese" through sheer camp, a wink, and a nod.

Seniority mattered little to young comic book readers, and once Captain Marvel found his footing, he was outselling Superman at the newsstand and beating him to the screen by receiving his own live-action film serial in 1941. But as Captain Marvel reached larger audiences, DC was in the midst of legal action against Fawcett for copyright infringement. The claim was simple: Captain Marvel was a bit too close to Superman for DC's comfort.

DC wanted Fawcett to cease production of the serial and comics by the early 1940s, but Fawcett fought to delay a court battle for years. It wasn’t until 1948 that the case actually went to trial, with the dust finally settling in DC's favor in 1954. Legally, Fawcett would never be allowed to print another Captain Marvel book. By now, though, the superhero market was near extinction, so for Fawcett, it wasn’t even worth it to appeal again. Instead, the publisher closed shop, leaving Superman to soar the skies of Metropolis without any square-jawed competition on the newsstands.


The next decade would see a superhero revitalization, beginning with DC’s revamped takes on The Flash and Green Lantern in the late 1950s, and exploding just a few years later when Timely Comics changed its name to Marvel Comics and launched a roster of heavy-hitters like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, all by 1962.

Marvel was a buzzword again, and in 1966, a short-lived company called M.F. Enterprises tried to capitalize with a new character named Captain Marvel—generally considered one of the worst superheroes ever put to paper.

Marvel now needed to stop inferior comics from using its name on their covers, so it obtained the trademark for the Captain Marvel name and went about protecting it by introducing yet another character named Captain Marvel. This new alien version of the hero made his debut shortly after in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12.

The character was born purely for legal reasons. According to comic book veteran Roy Thomas, Stan Lee only created a Captain Marvel at publisher Martin Goodman's insistence: "All I know is the basis of the character came from a resentment over the use of the ‘Captain Marvel’ name."

Comics are nothing if not needlessly confusing at times, and by the early 1970s, Superman wasn’t quite the sales force he used to be. In need of some fresh blood, DC turned to an unlikely source for help: Fawcett. The company had reemerged in the late 1960s as the publisher of Dennis the Menace comics, but its hands were tied when the superhero business revived since it was legally forbidden from producing new Captain Marvel books. So they did the next best thing by agreeing to license the character and his supporting cast to DC in 1973.


Now the world’s two biggest publishers both had high-profile characters named Captain Marvel. But there was a catch: Since Marvel owned the rights to the name, DC couldn’t call its new Captain Marvel comic Captain Marvel. Instead, all of his comics went by the title Shazam, as did the character’s live-action TV revival in the mid-1970s. Oddly enough, the name of the character himself was still—wait for it—Captain Marvel. So DC could retain the character’s name in the stories but couldn’t slap it onto book covers or TV shows. Only Marvel could monetize the name Captain Marvel.

Right after Captain Marvel’s first DC book launched in 1973, there was an immediate hiccup. The full title of the series was the slightly antagonistic Shazam: The Original Captain Marvel. That lasted all of 14 issues before a cease and desist order from Marvel turned the series into Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal. Marvel, on the other hand, found itself in the position to keep its trademark by continuously pumping out more books with Captain Marvel on the cover, which is why the company’s history is littered with reboots and new versions of the character turning up every two years or so.

By the 1990s, DC had outright purchased its Captain Marvel from Fawcett, but it could barely promote him. There are only so many times you can put Shazam on a comic cover but refer to him as Captain Marvel on the inside without confusing your readers. So in 2012, DC and writer Geoff Johns decided to end the decades of confusion and simply rename the character Shazam, because, as John said, “everybody thinks he's called Shazam already.”

In 2019, these two characters that are seemingly forever linked will have another shared milestone when they both make their big screen debuts. Marvel’s Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8, 2019, with Brie Larson playing the Carol Danvers version of the character. And after nearly 80 years of switching publishers, changing names, and lengthy legal battles, Zachary Levi will play the title role in Shazam! a month later on April 5.

Evening Standard/Getty Images
8 Actors Who've Played Batman (and What Fans Had to Say About Them)
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Batman is one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, which has made playing him a difficult task for more than one actor. (Playing characters with rabid fan bases can be a double-edged sword.) Here, take a look back at eight actors who've donned the Batsuit—and how fans and critics reacted to their performances.


Lewis Wilson as Batman
Columbia Pictures

Lewis Wilson was the youngest person to play Batman. He appeared in the 15-part 1943 Columbia serial. Critics complained about everything from his weight to his accent.


Robert Lowery took over the role in the 1949 follow-up serial, Batman And Robin. He was a forgettable actor in this role.


Adam West at 'Batman'
Evening Standard/Getty Images

West played the Caped Crusader from 1966 through 1968 in the Batman television series in addition to a film spin-off. Fans were torn: Either they loved his campy portrayal or hated it.


Michael Keaton's casting in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film caused such controversy that 50,000 protest letters were sent to Warner Brothers’s offices.


Val Kilmer in 'Batman Forever' (1995)
Warner BRos.

Val Kilmer put on the suit in 1995 and received mixed reviews. Director Joel Schumacher called the actor “childish and impossible."


It's safe to assume Clooney regrets his decision to star in Batman & Robin. It was the worst box-office performer of the modern Batman movies and Clooney once joked that he killed the series.


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though Christian Bale is largely favored as the best actor to play the Dark Knight, he was not without criticism. NPR’s David Edelstein described his husky voice as “a voice that's deeper and hammier than ever.”


Most recently: Fans immediately took to the internet to decry the decision to cast Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), recalling his previous roles in the poor-performing Gigli and Daredevil.


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