Gary Frank/DC Comics
Gary Frank/DC Comics

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Gary Frank/DC Comics
Gary Frank/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. DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1

By Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, and others
DC Comics

DC Comics

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is a giant-sized special issue that marks a new era for DC Comics. This latest event seeks to reset the status quo of their comic universe, but don’t call it a reboot; DC already did that in 2011 with the publishing initiative dubbed “The New 52.” Five years later, they are relaunching their main titles without throwing away previous story continuity. Instead, they are reinstating backstories and characters from the discarded pre-New 52 continuity.

Much of this 80-page comic is structured as a series of check-ins with various characters to tease future storylines in upcoming books. The thread that ties them together is Wally West, who became the Flash after the death of his mentor Barry Allen during 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and was erased from continuity during 2011’s Flashpoint. It turns out that Wally still exists but is trapped outside of reality, forgotten by his friends and family. In fact, ten years of reality has been wiped clean from everyone’s memories, replaced by everything that has happened in the last five years of comics we know as The New 52.

These kinds of course corrections DC makes to its continuity are themselves a long-standing tradition. They seem to be caught forever in a struggle between appealing to new readers while still pleasing older fans. However, this comic runs the risk of alienating a whole swath of fans by indicating that it will be bringing Alan Moore's Watchmen into the main DC Universe continuity, a move that many will feel dishonors the legacy of that highly revered book.

2. SUPERMAN #52

By Peter J. Tomasi and Mikel Janin
DC Comics

DC Comics

As DC Universe: Rebirth opens the door for a new status quo, another book out this week closes the door on the old one. Superman #52 is the final issue in this series (all the current DC books will be ending with their 52nd issue). It's the conclusion to an eight-part story that has been running through all the related Superman titles, called “The Final Days of Superman.” While we’ve seen many a "Death of Superman" story before, this comic seems as if DC is legitimately and permanently killing off this version of the character that has been the subject of comics for the past five years.

It's the culmination of a number of recent storylines that have seen Superman infected with a Doomsday virus, drastically weakened, and exposed to lethal doses of Kryptonite. Yet, even at the very end, he has to defeat a powerful enemy one last time.

The New 52 Superman has proved mostly unpopular with fans since his debut in 2011, despite the efforts of superstar writers like Grant Morrison, Gene Luen Yang, and Greg Pak. It was probably the risky changes to his character and backstory that created a distance with fans (his romance with Wonder Woman and simply platonic friendship with Lois Lane; the drastic reduction in his powers; and his brooding, inhuman demeanor). Taking his place will be a predecessor from the previous DC continuity who has been lurking around the New 52 universe for the past year, hiding out with his wife Lois and their son Jonathan.

3. COMIXOLOGY UNLIMITED

Comixology

This week, Comixology unveiled a new “Unlimited” subscription service that grants access to thousands of comics, graphic novels, and manga for $5.99 per month. This move has been anticipated for a long time, but it comes with some caveats and some potentially large implications for the comics industry.

Digital subscription services like Netflix and Spotify have transformed the music and movie industries in both positive and negative ways, and its been expected for a while that comics would eventually follow suit. Marvel made an early jump into this arena with their Marvel Unlimited service which gives access to their entire library of digital comics (with new releases delayed by six months). Comixology is setting more limits on their “Unlimited" service. Not only are Marvel and DC comics not included, but most of the Unlimited offerings are limited to initial issues and first volumes in a series, not complete runs. What is and isn’t available will change over time, much like the regular changes Netflix makes with their content.

In theory, a full unlimited digital library on Comixology would be a tricky proposition for the comics industry, which is built atop a precarious network of brick-and-mortar retail shops. That said, many readers who haven’t made the jump to digital cite the cost for digital files, many of which are not DRM-free, so the idea of a low-cost subscription fee might actually make more sense to those readers. This is a big move for Comixology—one whose impact on the digital comics market may take some time to bear out.

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1

By Nick Spencer and Jesus Diaz
Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics

Two years ago, during the seventh volume of Captain America, the super-soldier serum in Steve Rogers’s body was neutralized during a battle with The Iron Nail, causing him to revert to his natural age of 90. While still pretty buff for a nonagenarian, he soon retired the mantle of Captain America, passing it on to longtime friend and colleague Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon.

Having an African-American take over as one of Marvel’s most high-profile heroes is a big deal and part of Marvel’s diversification efforts. However, change is tenuous in comics, and it would only be a matter of time before the original Captain American returned. While that day has now come, Rogers is not replacing Wilson, but rather getting his own title outside of the main Captain America series, with Wilson continuing to be the “real” Cap and brandishing the standard circular shield (Rogers will now have a new costume and shield-shaped shield).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios