Sanford Greene // Marvel Comics
Sanford Greene // Marvel Comics

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Sanford Greene // Marvel Comics
Sanford Greene // 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.

1. Power Man and Iron Fist #1

By David Walker, Sanford Greene and Lee Loughridge
Marvel Comics

Sanford Greene // Marvel Comics

Luke Cage and Danny Rand (a.k.a. Power Man and Iron Fist) are, along with Cage’s wife Jessica Jones, the backbone of Marvel’s new Netflix-verse of original programming. The pair have a long history together dating back to the late 1970s, when their flailing individual series were combined in order to stave off cancelation.

In recent years, the two characters have operated mostly separately—Danny in his own Iron Fist book, and Luke as the leader of The Mighty Avengers. This new Power Man & Iron Fist series comes with the added visibility provided by Cage’s appearance in Jessica Jones and his own upcoming show, but it is also led by an exciting creative team who are at a pivotal breakout point in their careers.

Writer David Walker took critics and fans by surprise with his 2014 comic adaption of Shaft for Dynamite Comics, which led to a job writing DC’s new Cyborg series. Sanford Greene, like Walker, has been working in comics for a number of years, but his star has been on the rise recently, especially after a turn on the Secret Wars tie-in Runaways. Both men are black, which is worth noting because comics publishers have a history of claiming diversity among their characters while still hiring white, male creators to work the books.

2. Frontier #11

By Eleanor Davis
Youth in Decline

Elanor Davis // Youth in Decline

Youth in Decline’s anthology Frontier dedicates each issue to one indie creator to tell a single-issue story, and their latest showcases one of its biggest contributors to date. Eleanor Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of 2014’s How To Be Happy. She is an accomplished and versatile cartoonist who has created award-winning comics for children as well as thought-provoking and challenging comics for adults.

“BDSM” in Frontier #11 tells a short story about two adult film actresses and deals with some thorny issues surrounding sexual submissiveness. Victoria and Lexa meet while filming an S&M video, and their attraction is apparent even as it blossoms in front of an all-male film crew who instruct them to degrade and hurt each other. Davis’s minimalist black-and-white art packs a lot of “acting” into each spare pen drawing, and the reader knows exactly what Vic and Lexa are really feeling even when they are trying not to show it.

Frontier #11 is available only through Youth in Decline’s website. For fans of up-and-coming indie cartoonists, it’s worth subscribing to this anthology because they have some really exciting contributors coming up.

3. Tomb Raider #1

By Mariko Tamaki, Philip Sevy and Michael Atiyeh
Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics

Tomb Raider continues to be a multimedia hit twenty years after the first video game turned its main character, Lara Croft, into a cultural icon. The newest game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, came out this past November, and Dark Horse has been steadily releasing tie-in comics. These have featured an impressive lineup of talented female writers, which is fitting for a character that has evolved from her original iteration as eye candy for boys into a legitimate feminist icon for girls.

Corinna Bechko, Rhianna Pratchett, and Gail Simone have all written for the comic, and this new series boasts a highly interesting and exciting choice: Mariko Tamaki, the award-winning writer of young adult graphic novels like Skim and This One Summer.

Tamaki is joined by artist Philip Sevy, a relative newcomer who brings some dynamic layouts. This issue sees Croft get caught up in search of a mushroom that can grant immortality (it may sound silly but it is played pretty straight in the comic). Tamara picks up some threads from the Rise of the Tomb Raider video game and builds on what Simone, Bechko, and Pratchet have been doing in the previous comics.

4. The Outside Circle

By Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Kelly Mellings and John Rauch
Anansi

Anansi

In The Outside Circle, Pete and his brother Joey are Canadian Aboriginals who are victims of a system that leaves them prone to the dangers of drug addiction and gang violence. When Pete is sent to jail for killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend in an act of self-defense, he sets into motion a series of events that lead both his and his brother’s life to ruin. As Joey ends up in a group home, Pete works his way towards rehabilitation through a traditional Native healing circle.

The fictional hardships Pete and Joey experience are based on years of true stories that writer Patti LaBoucane-Benson has encountered over the years working at the Native Counseling Services of Alberta. LaBoucane-Benson is Métis (Métis are indigenous Canadians of mixed First Nations and European ancestry), and this book is a result of her PhD study of a healing program for Aboriginal men. An academic study turned into a comic may not sound like exciting reading, but The Outside Circle holds together pretty well as a work of fiction thanks to the accomplished artwork of Kelly Mellings and John Rauch. The Outside Circle was released last year but may not have appeared in your local comic shop. It continues to be available on Amazon and elsewhere online.

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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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