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Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel Comics

The 3 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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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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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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