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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Frank Miller/DC Comics

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, 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.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race

By Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson
DC Comics

Thirty years ago, Frank Miller changed comics forever with The Dark Knight Returns, maybe the most famous Batman comic of all time. It helped usher in a grim and violent era for superhero comics that still hasn’t left us. Fifteen years later, Miller dumbfounded many of his own fans with the deeply weird sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which was a garish, lowbrow satire of the superhero genre and the original DKR itself. It seemed to kickstart a disconcerting second phase to Miller’s career that alienated many of his original fans with off-putting books like the raunchy All-Star Batman & Robin and the anti-Islamic rant that is Holy Terror.

Now, another fifteen years later, comes the third installment with a name that makes Miller critics cringe: Dark Knight III: The Master Race. This time out, DC may be hedging their bets a little by pairing Miller with known quantities like co-writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and veteran artists Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson (Miller’s original inker on DKR).

It’s a little unclear how much involvement Miller has in this book beyond providing the basic plot, but each issue of this series will be packaged with a mini-comic, and the first one is written and drawn by Miller himself and features The Atom. Both the mini comic and the main comic are set three years after DKSA. The main story, drawn by Kubert with heavy Miller influences on the layout, focuses primarily on the women on the Dark Knight universe: Carrie Kelley, Commissioner Ellen Yindel, and Lara, the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman.

DK III is being billed as the “epic ending” of the Dark Knight series, but Miller has already announced that he plans to write a DKIV.

The Eternaut

by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano Lopez
Fantagraphics

The Eternaut is a revered science fiction classic in Argentina, though it is mostly unknown in the States, having never been translated to English until now. Serialized weekly in the Buenos Aires newspaper Hora Cero from 1957 to 1959, it was written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld, a staunch leftist who structured the story with political allegories about collective strength triumphing over military might. Along with his biography of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara, The Eternaut made Oesterheld and artist Francisco Solano Lopez enemies of the state. In 1977, Oesterheld and his family went into hiding and were never seen again, believed to have been disappeared by the Argentinian government. In order to avoid such a fate, Lopez fled Argentina for Spain.

The comic begins with a mysterious, phosphorescent snowfall that immediately kills anyone who comes in contact with it. A group of friends playing a card game notice what is happening outside and manage to seal themselves off from the danger and rig protection suits out of SCUBA gear. What appears to be a nuclear winter soon reveals itself to be an alien invasion, and one dangerous situation leads to another.

Mixing post-apocalyptic drama, aliens, and even time travel with political subtext and a literary sophistication that American science fiction comics of the era couldn't match, this is an absolutely gripping page-turner that holds up all these years later, thanks in large part to the care Fantagraphics has taken in translating and repackaging the material.

Here is some more information about the Fantagraphics edition, including an excerpt.

Apartment 3G

By Margaret Shulock and Frank Bolle
King Features Syndicate

For 54 years, Apartment 3G has appeared in newspapers and on the web via the King Features Syndicate, but on November 22 it ran its final strip. It was an anti-climactic, bordering-on-incoherent finale that, if you had been following this comic recently, you would've known to expect. As this AV Club article notes, a small collection of blogs sprouted up over the years dedicated to following this strip and cataloging just how odd it was becoming.

In 1952, psychiatrist Dr. Nicholas P. Dallis and artist Alex Kotzky created this soap opera strip about three unmarried working women sharing an apartment in New York (a novel subject at the time). Kotzky was an exquisite illustrator who gave Apartment 3G a fashionable look equal to any of the great "realistic” strips of that era. Dallis and Kotzky kept working on it up until their deaths (Dallis in 1991 and Kotzky in 1996). Kotzky’s family handed the strip over to writer Margaret Shulock and artist Frank Bolle who continued it until the very end. At some point, however, Shulock and Bolle brought the strip (unintentionally, but who knows?) to a level of absurdism that no one would expect.

Dialogue became incoherent, and the now 90-year-old Bolle's artwork seemed to only show talking heads and the barest indication of backgrounds.The increasingly bizarre plot lines introduced over the years seemed to never amount to anything and, in the final stretch, Shulock and Bolle jumped the story ahead four weeks in order to avoid tying up any of the loose threads. The very last strip combined disparate scenes from the previous week (as many of the Sunday strips tended to do). The addition of a never-before-seen dog peering over Margo’s shoulder perplexed anyone who had been following this strip.

Comics journalist Tom Spurgeon has a puzzled yet positive write-up that describes the path the strip ended up taking as containing a "what-we-call-Lynchian quality.” You can go back and read the final strips here, but I’d recommended reading them through one of the hilarious commentary blogs like The Lovely Ladies of Apartment 3G. A comic strip wandering off to a shaky end like this after half a century of daily output is sad and, perhaps, is a symptom of a greater extinction threat to daily comics. If you're looking for a silver lining, at least it seemed to entertain the few people that were still paying attention.

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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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