Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel Comics
Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel Comics

The 3 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel Comics
Brian Stelfreeze/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. BLACK PANTHER #1

By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin
Marvel Comics 


In the early 2000s, it seemed like comics were always chasing legitimacy by courting writers from the outside. Sure, some of these writers created some good comics, like Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown or Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy, but there were just as many forgettable vanity projects and simple failures on the part of a prose writer or a filmmaker to grasp the visual language and pacing of comics. Today, as comics publishers seem to have relaxed about it, legitimacy has arrived on its own, as most people have come to appreciate the quality of today’s comics and the influence they have on our popular culture right now. This week sees one of the most significant and honored writers to enter this world from the outside, Ta-Nehisi Coates, give us his take on Black Panther, a character who is about to gain the biggest level of public awareness in his history.

Coates is the author of the National Book Award-winning Between The World And Me and is a national correspondent for The Atlantic who has won many awards for his 2014 cover story “The Case for Reparations.” He is considered one of the best writers on race, politics, and social issues in America and he’ll likely be bringing a lot of those issues into his work here. In addition to being a superhero, Black Panther is also King T’Challa, ruler of a technologically advanced but often-embattled fictional African country called Wakanda. Coates’s partner on the series, artist Brian Stelfreeze, approaches his depiction of Wakanda as a “melting pot” of different African cultures from the Zulu tribes to ancient Egypt.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Black Panther’s debut in Fantastic Four #52. It also marks his big screen debut in next month's Captain America: Civil War. Until now, T’Challa has more often than not been a guest star in other books or an occasional member of the Avengers. However, when he has had his own series, he has boasted some runs by writers like Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, and Reginald Hudlin that are still highly regarded by fans today. These are strong acts in the Black Panther library to follow, but Marvel couldn’t have picked a more interesting writer to capitalize on T’Challa’s big moment in the spotlight.

2. WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE VOL. 1. 

By Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Nathan Fairbairn 
DC Comics 


DC’s Earth One series of graphic novels introduce retooled, modernized versions of their most iconic characters, freed from the narrative confines of continuity. Considering DC already rebooted their whole line of comics a few years ago and we’re constantly seeing updated origins for big characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, it can be hard to see what the purpose of the Earth One books actually is. What makes them stand out, besides their straight-to-hardcover format, is that they give mostly free rein and a clean continuity slate to a set of all-star creators. The long-awaited first volume of Wonder Woman: Earth One is written by super star Grant Morrison and drawn by popular DC artist and frequent Morrison collaborator Yanick Paquette. Any time Morrison, who wrote one of the definitive takes on Superman in All-Star Superman, gives us his take on a character, expect a modern sheen with layers of history underneath.

Wonder Woman’s cinematic debut in this month's Batman v Superman seems to be the most universally liked aspect of that film, making this a great time for a bookstore-ready Wonder Woman book to hit the shelves. Interestingly, it comes out around the same time as another retelling of Wonder Woman’s origins that may stand in stark contrast to this one. The recent comic series The Legend of Wonder Woman uses a decidedly young adult fantasy approach to tell Princess Diana’s early years, whereas Morrison and Paquette lean more adult than young adult. With nods to the character’s roots in both violent Greek mythology and her early kinky bondage comics by creator William Moulton Marston, there are some scenes here that have already given certain Wonder Woman fans pause. Paquette’s style of drawing statuesque pin-up girls make the first half of this book, set on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, seem like it is aimed solely at straight male readers. There are reasons for everything Morrison does, however, as he attempts to use elements of Marston's early, sexualized comics and Wonder Woman’s roots as an early feminist icon to try to get to a contemporary and perhaps nuanced view of Diana.

3. POE DAMERON #1

By Charles Soule and Phil Noto
Marvel Comics 


When original Star Wars fans like myself were anxiously waiting for the release of sequels like Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Marvel Comics helped fill in those long, three-year gaps with their (non-canon) monthly Star Wars comic. Nowadays, Marvel is once again producing Star Wars comics, and this time they are officially in canon (until someone at Disney or Lucasfilm decides they’re not). However, the way J.J. Abrams ended Episode VII doesn’t leave a lot of story gaps to fill, with main players Rey and Finn’s plot lines being tied up in cliffhangers. It’s hard to imagine Abrams and company wanting to reveal those characters’ next moves in a comic book rather than the next film.

With that in mind, Marvel’s first Force Awakens-related comic is Poe Dameron, an ongoing series that will be set before the events of the last film and will tell the adventures of the heroic Resistance pilot and his droid pal BB-8. As they have been doing with all their Star Wars books, Marvel has chosen big-name creators for this title. Writer Charles Soule has already had his hand in some other Star Wars comics like Lando and Obi-Wan and Anakin and artist Phil Noto is also already working on a Chewbacca solo series.

If you’re more of a BB-8 than a Poe fan, the little droid has a cute backup feature in this comic drawn by Chris Eliopoulos in his Calvin & Hobbes-inspired style.

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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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