Khary Randolph
Khary Randolph

The 6 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Khary Randolph
Khary Randolph

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. Spider-man #1

By Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Marvel Comics

One of the perceived goals of Marvel’s huge Secret Wars event is to give a “soft reboot” to their publishing line, allowing for alternate universe characters to ease into the main continuity. Because Secret Wars means the death of Marvel's Ultimate Universe, it allows Miles Morales a permanent spot in the canon. Since his first appearance in 2011 as the new Ultimate Spider-man (replacing Peter Parker when he was killed by the Green Goblin), the teenager has been a popular character and the first in Marvel’s attempts to bring diversity to their headline heroes.

In the post-Secret Wars, “All New, All Different” Marvel universe, Peter Parker is still Spider-man, but, now in his 30s, he acts as the elder Spidey to Miles's more classic teenage Spidey in Spider-man. Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote every issue of Ultimate Spider-man, retains creative control in this new series along with artist Sara Pichelli, who co-created the character with him.

2. Black

By Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith III, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph
Kickstarter

A Kickstarter campaign launched February 1 will run for the duration of Black History Month to fund a new graphic novel that takes place in a world where only black people have superpowers. When a young man named Kareem Jenkins survives being gunned down by police, his superpowers—and the biggest secret in the world—are revealed.

Written by Kwanza Osajyefo—a former editor at DC Comics and an instrumental player in their first digital comic initiatives—and co-created by digital designer Tim Smith III, Black will be a 120-page graphic novel released in six digital installments, starting later this year assuming they reach their funding goal (which, as of this writing, looks like a sure bet).

2011 Inkpot Award-winning artist Jamal Igle (no stranger to successful Kickstarters with his creator-owned Molly Danger) and cover artist Khary Randolph (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Boondocks) will provide the visuals, making this an exciting ensemble of black comics creators who are telling a story they’d probably not be able to tell with the “Big Two” publishers.

While Marvel and DC are going to great lengths to diversify their characters, there’s been a slower growth in diversity among the creators themselves. Even in the generally much more diverse world of indie comics, it seems like black creators are not getting their books noticed. This project, however, is off to a great start on its way to reaching its goal. If you’d like to support it, please go here.

3. The Tipping Point

By Various
Humanoids

Comics tend to be divided across three international boundaries: North American comics, Japanese manga, and European bande dessinée. Even though they all influence each other, it’s rare to see a book that brings together creators from all three sectors. That’s what esteemed European publisher Humanoids is doing with The Tipping Point, an interesting anthology that enlists 13 creators from across three different continents to tell stories that "explore the key moment when a clear-cut split occurs, a mutation, a personal revolt or a large-scale revolution that tips us from one world into another, from one life to an entirely new one.” Anyone who appreciates comics from an artistic standpoint will drool over the lineup for this book, which includes Paul Pope, Eddie Campbell, Boulet, Naoki Urasawa, Taiyô Matsumoto, Bastien Vivès, John Cassady and more.

It should be noted that the diversity of this lineup falls short at including any women. Coming on top of the controversy from France’s Angoulême festival, where 30 male cartoonists—and not a single woman—were nominated for a lifetime achievement award, this is an unfortunate oversight for a book looking to celebrate the world’s greatest comic creators. Still, you can’t say this isn’t a great lineup. If you happen to be a huge fan of all of them, there is a $500 “Ultra-Deluxe Limited Slipcase” edition that contains bookplates signed by each artist.

4. Prez Vol. 1: Corndog in Chief

By Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales
DC Comics

Last year, DC Comics launched a string of new titles that looked and read quite differently from the typical “DC House Style” they’ve operated with in the past decade or so. In an effort to reach younger readers, they brought in some creators from outside of their usual stable of talent and tried out a handful of books that offered a different spin. Maybe the best and by far the most unusual of these titles was Prez by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell. Revisiting a short-lived comic from the 1970s about a teenage boy who becomes President of the United States, this new Prez is set in the near future and is about a teenage girl who winds up as a write-in candidate in the presidential election after becoming Internet famous thanks to an embarrassing video involving a corn dog and a deep fryer.

In an election year where a reality TV star is leading the polls, this story doesn’t seem as outrageous as it was intended to be, but it is downright funny, with some looney social-political commentary like the cartoon dog mascot for the “Pharmaduke” pharmaceutical corporation and Carl, the robotic “End-of-Life Bear” who gives out hugs and marijuana for terminally ill patients. Being so unlike what the typical DC Comic buyer might expect, this six-issue series didn’t exactly burn up the sales chart, but hopefully it will get a second look with a collected edition hitting bookstores this week.

5. #HourlyComicsDay

Sarah Becan

February 1 was annual Hourly Comics Day, where cartoonists all over the world draw a short comic for every hour that they are awake and then post them to social media under the #hourlycomicsday hashtag. Most cartoonists treat it like a 24-hour journal, so you get a lot of material about the struggle to make hourly comics, and the immediacy of it gives you a great peek into their process.

Peruse the Twitter hashtag to find many examples.

6. Jenlagged

Starting on January 28, mental_floss was delighted to premier a brand-new comic from indie cartoonist Jen Vaughn as it was being created on location at the Angoulême comics festival in France. Vaughn’s Jenlagged gave us a peek into her travels, her love of bande dessinée, and her encounters with other cartoonists at the event. The final installment went live today and the finished comic will be made available for free on Comixology later this month.

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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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