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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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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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