Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic/Valiant Comics
Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic/Valiant Comics

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic/Valiant Comics
Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic/Valiant 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.

1. Beverly

By Nick Drnaso
Drawn & Quarterly

In Beverly, Nick Drnaso gives us stories of suburban dread, sexual longing, and the poor decisions people make when trying to deal with one another’s hangups. With a minimalist drawing style that looks like Chris Ware (if Ware directed a Cartoon Network show), Drnaso’s first major comics work shows that he is entering the scene already a very accomplished storyteller.

Beverly's interconnected vignettes are set in and around the same suburban town, and they include: a young woman dealing with sexual feelings for a childhood friend, a pre-pubescent boy whose sexual curiosity about his sister ruins a family vacation, and a teenage girl who finds the worst possible way of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Drnaso tells these stories at an almost languid pace and takes unexpected turns that keep you anxiously looking ahead. It’s a fresh and compelling book that I am mentally filing away for inclusion in my Best of 2016 list.

2. Faith #1

By Jody Houser, Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, Andrew Dalhouse
Valiant Comics

Since relaunching in 2012, Valiant Entertainment has been building a rich and compelling universe of comics. One of their most unique characters is Faith Herbert (codename Zephyr). Faith is a rarity in superhero comics—a plus-sized female heroine. She always wants to do the right thing, as evidenced by her short stint in the shadowy government-sanctioned superhero group Unity, which ended when the questionable moral nature of the work didn’t sit right with her. She’s an upbeat, confident, and fun character who has the potential to be the company’s breakout star if given the chance, which she’s getting now with a new four-issue mini-series to call her own.

In a funny, modern touch, she looks to get herself a secret identity as a reporter and ends up writing celebrity listicles for a Buzzfeed-like website. Writer Jody Houser and artist Francis Portela bring a lot of heart and laughs, and the amazing Marguerite Sauvage steps in a couple of times to draw the book’s multiple fantasy sequences.

3. Some Other Animal’s Meat

By Emily Carroll
www.emcarroll.com

Whenever Emily Carroll posts a new webcomic, it is an event worth mentioning. In "Some Other Animal's Meat" we follow Stacy, a middle-aged woman who seems to be in a state of melancholic self-reflection. Her marriage is loveless and her greatest joy seems to come from selling a skin-care product called Alo-Glo that she herself is afraid to try. Is she allergic to it, or is it causing her to slowly lose her grip on reality?

Carroll is one of the greatest horror cartoonists who has ever worked in this medium, and with each new comic she finds a way to push her work to become both more beautiful and more horrifying.

4. The Adventures of Supergirl #1

By Sterling Gates and Bengal
DC Comics

With so many superhero characters making the jump to TV and movies, comic publishers are grappling with “synergy” problems while trying to convert viewers into readers. Oftentimes what makes it to a TV show is a distilled version of a character that doesn’t really resemble the comic book version with its years of impenetrable backstory. Case in point is Supergirl. With the new CBS television show proving to be a success, DC seemed caught off-guard by not having an ongoing Supergirl comic already on the stands. Her most recent series was cancelled last year, and DC has decided to try a new series that exists in its own separate universe, one that more closely matches the show than the existing comics.

The result is something that fans of the TV show should enjoy. It carries its lighter attitude and is written by Sterling Gates, whose work on Supergirl in the past was an influence for the current TV iteration. He’ll be joined by a rotating stable of artists including Bengal, Emma Vieceli, Jonboy Myers, and Emanuela Lupacchino. DC is releasing this through their Digital First program on Comixology, meaning it will initially only be available in digital format at 99 cents an issue and will eventually make its way to print, but only in graphic novel (not “floppy”) format. For that added touch of “synergy,” each new issue will be released bi-weekly on Mondays, the same day the show airs.

5. Mean Girls Club

By Ryan Heshka
Nobrow Press

Ryan Heshka’s short comic Mean Girls Club begins with a call to order of the "113th secret meeting of the Mean Girls Club." What follows is a stylishly drawn parade of throwback “good girl" subversiveness that would make John Waters and Betty Page proud. Drugs, lingerie, euthanasia, mayhem, and ceremonial insect venom transfusions are all on display here. (None of it is really offensive unless you happen to be from the 1950s.) Heshka has the retro-exploitation vibe down perfectly and his artwork—printed all in black and white and hot pink—is a blast.

This is the latest offering in Nobrow’s 17x23 “graphic short story project” in which they give young cartoonists the opportunity to tell short, one-off stories in a beautiful yet affordable single-issue format. Heshka is an accomplished illustrator and has even published a couple of children’s books, but this is his first comics work outside of anthology contributions.

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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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