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Gary Frank/DC Comics

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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).

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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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