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Darwyn Cooke // DC Comics
Darwyn Cooke // DC Comics

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Darwyn Cooke // DC Comics
Darwyn Cooke // DC 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. FUTURE QUEST #1

By Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner, Jordie Bellaire, and Darwyn Cooke
DC Comics

DC Comics

DC Comics recently announced a deal with Hanna-Barbera productions to bring a number of their classic cartoon characters to comics, joining their already successful Scooby-Doo books. One of the first new series to launch is a big one, and it arrives with the unexpected weight of tragedy.

Darwyn Cooke inspired the book’s concept and contributed designs (like the splash image you see at the top of this page). Comic fans everywhere this week are mourning the loss of Cooke who passed away this past Saturday, May 14. His involvement with Future Quest will be among the last of his published works, adding to an influential career that includes books like DC: The New Frontier, Catwoman, and the Parker graphic novels.

Future Quest marks the return of Jonny Quest to comics for the first time in 20 years. In a move that seems inspired by the recent “shared universe” trend in cinema, this book will see Jonny team up with other Hanna-Barbera action heroes like Space Ghost, Harvey Birdman, the Herculoids, and more. Unlike DC’s plans for other upcoming books, there will be no modernizing or reimagining of these characters. This series will retain the classic look created by legendary artists like Alex Toth and the sincere adventure that Cartoon Network spoofed when they remade many of these characters in the 1990s with series like Space Ghost Coast to Coast. To capture the original feeling, DC brought in the team that specializes in rebooting classic adventure heroes: Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire.

2. HILO VOL. 2: SAVING THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD

By Judd Winnick
Random House

Random House

Hilo is about a contagiously enthusiastic robot alien boy who falls to Earth and befriends DJ, an ordinary kid from a family of annoying overachievers. DJ, along with his friend Gina, try to teach Hilo how to act like a normal Earth boy, and the trio become fast friends. The first book was a colorfully illustrated fish-out-of-water tale with some great one-liners and catch phrases your kids will enjoy repeating. My own six-year-old daughter has been anxiously awaiting volume two which hits stores this week, six months after volume one ended on a cliff-hanger.

Former Real World cast member and award-winning cartoonist, Judd Winnick, was a regular writer at DC Comics for many years working on comics that leaned towards adult subject matters. In 2012, as a new parent, Winnick stepped down from the books he was writing at DC to create comics that he would actually be able to let his own kids read. Hilo is the first book he has drawn himself since his award-winning graphic novel Pedro and Me in 2000 and his first all-ages series The Adventures of Barry Ween in the late 1990s and it seems like this is what he was born to do, making you wish that he had jumped off that DC ship much sooner.

3. UNFOLLOW VOL. 1

By Rob Williams, Michael Dowling, RM Guera, Quinton Winter, and Giulia Bausco
DC Vertigo

DC Vertigo

In the new DC Vertigo series Unfollow, the dying head of a social media empire randomly selects 140 people to inherit his $18 billion net worth and divide it evenly. Each recipient receives an app on their smartphones with the number “140” on it. If one of the recipients dies, the others' cut of the money increases. When the number on their apps drops almost immediately, the implication becomes clear: Their lives are in danger and no one can be trusted.

Vertigo launched a slew of new titles at the end of 2015, and Unfollow is one of the strongest. It boasts a large cast of 140 characters (get it?). The first volume focuses on just a handful, each cleverly introduced with a Twitter-like bio. There’s a young black man from post-Ferguson St. Louis, a thrill-seeking heiress trying to get back at her father, an Iranian photo-journalist, a highly eccentric Japanese novelist, and a religious zealot. The highlight of the series is the realism of Michael Dowling’s artwork and the way he makes these characters distinct and believable.

4. UPLAND

By Tiggy Upland
TiggyUpland.com 

Tiggy Upland

When someone who is not a traditional artist has an idea they want to see come to life in the form of a comic, they usually either find someone else to draw it for them or do it themselves the best they can with crude drawings. Jen Bonardi (aka Tiggy Upland), meanwhile, got a little more creative and tells her story through carefully staged photographs of custom dolls in a miniature doll house.

The setting in her webcomic Upland is intended to be a hostel in Boston run by Tiggy herself, and it allows her to tell stories based on her real-life experiences. Each episode is primarily conversations between Tiggy and her friends and hostel guests about LGBTQ issues (Bonardi is a strong advocate and also writes an advice column ... as Tiggy).

Upland is full of sharp, witty dialogue that covers interesting topics like gender identity, in-fighting within the LGBTQ community, pronoun usage, bi dating, and David Bowie. The photographed miniatures are charming and full of personality, and, while the layout of the word balloons can be confusing at times, the strength of the natural conversations in each story make these comics delightful, funny, and informative.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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