Zander Cannon // Oni Press
Zander Cannon // Oni Press

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Zander Cannon // Oni Press
Zander Cannon // Oni Press

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. Kaijumax Season 1

By Zander Cannon
Oni Press

Zander Cannon // Oni Press

Kaijumax is one of the most off-the-wall concepts to get published in recent memory. It’s basically Orange is the New Black but with Kaiju, set on a Pacific Island that has been transformed into a massive Supermax-style prison. The prisoners are the type of giant monsters you see in classic Japanese monster films, and the guards wear Ultraman-style suits that allow them to grow to monster-height when they need to step in and rough up a prisoner. In this ongoing series, Zander Cannon takes every Hollywood prison trope and adds in every Japanese monster movie trope: the guard dealing drugs to prisoners (in this case, radioactive isotopes); the uncomfortable prison shower scene (in this case, the shower is a waterfall); and the prisoner who has found religion (in this case, a Mechagodzilla preaching the word of technology).

Cannon is a skilled cartoonist who draws in a colorful, cartoony style that may mislead some parents into thinking this is a kid-friendly book (it’s not). His drawings offset the sometimes heavy content and, most of all, it playfully captures the man-in-rubber-suit spirit of those old monster films. Kaijumax recently completed serialization of “Season One" and it hits stores in an affordable collected edition this week.

2. Big Kids

By Michael DeForge
Drawn & Quarterly

Michael DeForge // Drawn & Quarterly

In Michael DeForge’s latest graphic novel, Big Kids, a teenage boy wakes up after being dumped by his boyfriend and starts to see the world as a place where he and everyone around him are actually trees (or, DeForge’s psychedelic, nearly unrecognizable version of trees). As a “tree”, the young teen has heightened senses and experiences mundane activities like swimming in a public pool with a euphoric state of awareness. People who used to cause problems in his life are now inconsequential “twigs.” However, with all of this new capacity for understanding, memories of his life before he “treed” are fading quickly.

Printed in a tiny 4 inch by 6 inch hardcover with eye-popping colors set against delicate lines, the book is trippy and surreal, containing DeForge’s typical preoccupations with nature, transformation, and the beauty and horror of living within your own body. It’s a metaphor for puberty and growing up that is poignant but also not afraid to portray its young protagonist as self-involved.

3. Octopus Pie Vol. 1

By Meredith Gran
Image Comics

Meredith Gran // Image Comics

Meredith Gran’s long-running Octopus Pie is one of the most popular and influential webcomics to come out of the 2000s, an important decade in the maturation of that format in which creators like Gran, Kate Beaton, Ryan North, Danielle Corsetto and others found large audiences online by self-publishing. At that time, mainstream book publishers began scooping up quirky small press and web comics, looking for the next big hit, only to very quickly give up when sales couldn't reach the threshold they were used to. Octopus Pie was originally caught in this publishing net when Villard Books put out a collection in 2010, but decided not to collect the subsequent strips.

This time out, Gran is moving her book to Image Comics, the premier publisher of creator-owned comics. Image has been pushing out of their usual boundaries of sci-fi, horror, and crime comics with selections like this. Octopus Pie follows the (semi-fictional) Brooklyn-based adventures of sarcastic Eve and happy-go-lucky stoner Hannah who were in pre-school together and are reunited by Eve’s mom to become roommates after Eve breaks up with her boyfriend. This first volume collects the first two years of strips with stories involving hipster art scenes, crazy exes, and witty observations about being at an age when adulthood becomes reality.

4. Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1

By Neal Adams, Tony Bedard and Alex Sinclair
DC Comics

DC Comics

When Neal Adams came along in the 1960s, his realistic drawing style—influenced more by traditional figurative illustrators like Robert McGinnis than by traditional cartoony comic book artists—was a revelation. If you grew up reading comics in the 1970s, you’re probably familiar with Adams, particularly his iconic run on comics like Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

At 74, Adams is still working and is given carte blanche by DC Comics to do the occasional project of his choice. This includes 2011’s Batman: Odyssey, a deeply odd, almost incomprehensible exploration of Batman’s history featuring flying dinosaurs and a fourth-wall breaking Bruce Wayne. It garnered its fair share of scathing, bewildered reviews.

This time, with the six-issue series Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, Adams is playing in the Superman sandbox along with some of Jack Kirby’s creations like Darkseid and Kalibak. The oddness of Odyssey may be dialed down a little with this book, but it still looks like it's going to be pretty weird (for example, Superman and Darkseid intermingle with modern Middle East affairs).

While Adams’ late-era period may threaten to alter public opinion of his work, Comixology is running a sale this week of his classic work from the ‘70s if you want to see how he changed comics forever.

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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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