Leandro Fernández // Image Comics
Leandro Fernández // Image Comics

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Leandro Fernández // Image Comics
Leandro Fernández // Image 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. THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE

By Sonny Liew
Pantheon

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is about the life and work of "Singapore’s most famous comic artist," Charlie Chan Hock Chye, as told by his sketches, comics, personal newspaper clippings, and writing. The presentation of this book is so dense, thorough, and convincing that many early reviewers were fooled into thinking that Chan is a real person rather than a fictional character created by writer and artist Sonny Liew.

While the title character may be fictitious, much of what Liew explores in this book is rooted in the real-life social and political history of Singapore. From its beginnings as a British colony to its failed merger with neighboring Malaysia and struggle for independence, Liew explores these years through the types of comics Chan supposedly made at the time and how they reflected his own political persuasions. It also runs a wide gamut of comic book history, with Liew turning in a tour de force artistic performance to show Chan’s own style change with the popularity of different comic styles of the era, mimicking the work of artists such as Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks, Frank Miller, and others.

Liew, a native of Singapore, received a grant from the Singapore National Arts Council to create the book, only to have it revoked on claims that his work “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the government. This would prove to be a controversial move that led to the book selling out its first few print runs in that country. Now, it comes to the States, where Liew is known to many comics fans for his work on DC’s Dr. Fate and 2014’s acclaimed The Shadow Hero with writer Gene Luen Yang. This, however, may be the book that truly makes him a star in the U.S.

2. THE DISCIPLINE #1

By Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernández
Image Comics

In the first issue of The Discipline, an unhappily married woman meets a seductive European art collector and can’t help but fall under his thrall. By the end of the issue, the seduction has turned into a full-blown supernatural fight for her soul.

Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernández began work on their new series The Discipline a few years ago, originally intending it to be published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. DC declined to publish it, leaving the work in limbo for a couple of years. Now, it gets to see the light of day as Milligan’s first Image Comics-published series. It’s not known why DC passed on the book, but there is definitely a lot of graphic sexual content which might test the nerves of some publishers. Its depiction of dangerous, forbidden sex with a supernatural twist (think 50 Shades of Grey if Christian Grey was an incubus) brings to mind some of Milligan’s groundbreaking and edgy early Vertigo work like Enigma. Leandro Fernández’ deep, rich shadows and clear, slightly exaggerated lines provide a great complement to Milligan’s dark and witty writing.

3. THE COMPLETE WIMMEN'S COMIX

Edited by Trina Robbins
Fantagraphics

Franck Bondoux, the executive officer of the Angoulême Comics Festival, defended the decision to nominate only men for its lifetime achievement award, insisting that there just aren't many women in the history of comics art. "The Festival likes women, but cannot rewrite the history of comics,” he said in an interview with Le Monde.

There’s no better time than now for The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, a big, two-volume hardcover box set, to come along and prove Bondoux and his fellow festival organizers wrong.

Back in 1972, ten women cartoonists started the first comics anthology featuring only women comic creators called Wimmen’s Comix. The underground “comix” movement of the 1960s inspired different kinds of artists to make different kinds of comics with an anything-goes attitude. Cartoonist Trina Robbins had previously put out a one-shot comic called It Ain’t Me, Babe. It was the first comic made entirely by women, and it became the impetus for the Wimmen’s Comix collective to form.

Published by Last Gasp, Robbins and her fellow “founding mothers” made comics about subjects you never would have seen male cartoonists of the ‘60s broach: abortion, lesbianism, menstruation, and feminism in general. Over the next twenty years, Wimmen’s Comix would go on to publish a number of women cartoonists who deserve to be considered among the all-time greats, such as Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Melinda Gebbie, Phoebe Gloeckner, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and others.

This $100 box set from Fantagraphics contains an introduction by Robbins, the It Ain’t Me, Babe comic that started it all, and every issue of Wimmen’s Comix, many of which have never before been reprinted.

4. BLACK WIDOW #1

By Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Mathew Wilson
Marvel Comics

These days, Marvel has moved to a “seasonal” approach to publishing most of their series, in which titles are renumbered as if they were TV shows starting a new season. These frequent #1 issues are more enticing for new readers (and I guess they also hook people like me into writing about them more than, say, a 13th issue). The impetus for a relaunch is usually a new creative team coming in with a new storyline or direction, and that is exactly what is happening with Black Widow.

The previous series by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto was a moody espionage thriller with painterly, realistic art from Noto. The new creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee will be changing the tone much in the way they did a few years back with a similarly moody character—Daredevil. They excel at fun action, and that is exactly their plan for Widow, with this first issue consisting of a big chase scene as Nathasha Romanova goes on the run from her handlers at S.H.I.E.L.D.

5. STELA

Since Comixology launched in 2007, they have dominated the digital comics landscape with their expansive library and “Guided View” technology allowing for panel-to-panel reading on a smartphone. No one has come close to competing with their technology or selection, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something new.

An iPhone app called Stela launched last week with a different approach to digital comics. Unlike most digital readers, they are focusing on smaller screens rather than tablets and are commissioning original content that's created specifically to be read on their app. Stela comics are designed for easy legibility on screen, and you read them by scrolling vertically instead of tapping or swiping. This page-less approach to comics is something that has been embraced by many webcomic makers, and it feels more natural on the phone than even Comixology’s Guided View solution. Some of the comics on Stela, like Irene Koh’s Afrina and the Glass Coffin, cleverly use visual cues like word balloons that overlap the next panel down to guide you in the right direction.

Stela has recruited an interesting mix of up-and-coming creators like Koh and established veterans like Brian Wood to create original content just for the app. You can read the first chapters of any comic for free and then subscribe for $4.99 a month to get full access.

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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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