Frank Cho/Marvel Comics
Frank Cho/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Frank Cho/Marvel Comics
Frank Cho/Marvel 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.

The Sheriff of Babylon

By Tom King and Mitch Gerads
DC Vertigo 


DC Comics is in the midst of launching 12 new titles to Vertigo, their mature readers imprint, hoping to breathe life into the once groundbreaking publishing line. The most promising of these new titles might just be Tom King and Mitch Gerad's The Sheriff of Babylon, which begins this week. Set in Iraq in 2003, it follows three characters looking to solve the murder of an Iraqi police recruit.

Tom King is a former counter-terrorism operations officer for the CIA who was stationed in Iraq, which is an experience he draws on for this comic. (King has said in interviews that he has to submit every issue to the CIA’s publication review board for approval.) This has been a breakout year for the writer whose other DC books, Omega Men and Grayson, allowed him to apply his knowledge of espionage and insurgencies to the world of superheroes.

Perhaps it’s how this comic explores the underworld of an embattled, post-war country, or the gritty realism of Mitch Gerads' artwork, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to a great comic DC published in the early ‘00s called Winter Men. Fans of that series, which explored post-Cold War Russia through the eyes of a superhero-turned-policeman, will probably want to see what King and Gerads do here. Winter Men artist John Paul Leon is even providing the covers for this series.

The Abaddon

By Koren Shadmi
Z2 Comics 


Koren Shadmi’s The Abaddon was a webcomic that began in 2011, and it comes to print this week courtesy of indie publisher Z2 Comics. The compelling mystery reads like a dream: creepy, sexy and laden with cryptic meaning. It begins when a man named Ter, recently returned from an unnamed war and still bearing the bandages, attends an open house in an old, two-story apartment occupied by four roommates. Once he accepts their offer to live there, he finds that there is no way to actually leave, and what proceeds is like MTV's The Real World on an acid trip.

Since most of the action takes place inside the apartment (at least for the first half of the book), The Abaddon reads like a play. (It is loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play No Exit, about a group of people locked in a room that turns out to be hell.) The Abaddon deals with death, karma, and the afterlife, but it's not all that bleak. It will make you laugh as often as it makes you cringe. An Israeli cartoonist based in Brooklyn, Shadmi's expressive pencil drawings are reminiscent of the great animator Bill Plympton, and the tones of green and red he uses with them add to the unreal, dreamlike nature of the story. 

Totally Awesome Hulk #1

By Greg Pak, Frank Cho and Sonia Oback
Marvel Comics


As Marvel Comics comes back from the other side of their Secret Wars event, they have promised that everything will return “All New, All Different.” The most different of these returning comics may be the new Hulk series (now called Totally Awesome Hulk) which stars not Bruce Banner but Amadeus Cho, a teenage Korean-American “boy genius.” This is the latest move in Marvel’s attempt to diversify their A-list heroes, following the new female Thor and the African-American Captain America.

From the perspective of new storytelling opportunities, Bruce Banner as the Hulk had long ago lost his punch. There have been other Hulks recently like Rick Jones and Thunderbolt Ross, but none have added much interest to the concept. Amadeus Cho has been a popular supporting character in the series for a number of years and is a logical successor to Banner. He was created by writer Greg Pak who returns for this series along with fan-favorite artist Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows, Shanna the She-Devil).

Pak and Cho plan to bring a sense of humor and fun to the Hulk, a character that has become too often about joyless aggression and angst. The fact that Amadeus Cho can turn into the Hulk at will because he wants to, unlike Banner who always dreaded the transformation, is a nice wrinkle that readers looking to enjoy some good “Hulk Smash” might appreciate.

The End of a Fence

By Roman Muradov
kuš! 


Latvian publisher kuš! (pronounced “kush”) has been on a mission since 2007 to introduce comics to the adult reading audience in their home country through magazine anthologies like the eponymous kuš! and its sister-publication š! (pronounced "shh"). Before they came along, comics were unpopular in Latvia, but kuš! has been responsible for helping the medium by showcasing an international array of cartoonists, as well as some up and coming Latvian ones.

Now, kuš! is making the move into publishing graphic novels, and their first book is a beautiful little 100-page comic called The End of a Fence by Russian illustrator Roman Muradov (he currently lives in San Francisco). With a mixture of geometric shapes, brushy textures, pixelation, a beautifully soft color palette, and an almost alien-looking typeface, Muradov explores humanity’s relationship with technology in a way that is like watching a wonderfully designed graphical interface degrade and break apart.

This is Muradov’s second graphic novel, his first was the Ignatz-award nominated (In a Sense) Lost and Found. You can order a copy of The End of a Fence through the publisher.

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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.

ENTER: THE BIG RED CHEESE

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.

MARVEL CLAIMS ITS NAME

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.

CAPTAINS IN DISPUTE

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.

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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.

1. LEWIS WILSON

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.

2. ROBERT LOWERY

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

3. ADAM WEST

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.

4. MICHAEL KEATON

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.

5. VAL KILMER

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."

6. GEORGE CLOONEY

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.

7. CHRISTIAN BALE


© 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.”

8. BEN AFFLECK

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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