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James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics
James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics

The 12 Most Interesting Comics Released in April

James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics
James Stokoe/Dark Horse Comics

Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics, and comics-related Kickstarter campraigns that we recommend you check out.

1. ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1

By James Stokoe
Dark Horse Comics

Timed to coincide with “Alien Day” on April 26th (the date was chosen because 4/26 matches LV-426, the name of the moon on which the film Aliens takes place), this highly anticipated new mini-series is James Stokoe’s next foray into popular movie monster territory. Previously, the visionary artist produced two astounding Godzilla books that showed off his attention to finely detailed destruction. Expect that same level of stylish intricacy being applied to H.R. Giger-designed spaceship technology and oozy Xenomorph anatomy. The first issue sets things up with your typical Aliens premise—a lone engineer is  trapped on a spaceship with a Xenomorph—and lets Stokoe just run with it in his own way.

2. BATMAN #21

By Tom King, Jason Fabok, Jay Leisten, and Brad Anderson
DC Comics 

When DC kicked off their line-restarting publishing event last summer with a one-shot comic called DC Rebirth, they dropped lots of hints that they were planning on bringing the characters of Alan Moore's Watchmen comic into DC continuity. There were allusions to Dr. Manhattan’s Martian palace and Batman even unearthed the iconic smiley face button from a wall inside the Batcave. Yet, almost a year later, DC has not done much to follow up on these teases. Now, in a four-part story called “The Button” that will run in two issues of Batman and two issues of The Flash, those two hero detectives will team up to solve the mystery of this smiley face button while DC will risk the ire of Watchmen fans who are likely still steaming from the 2012 decision go against Moore's wishes and make the Before Watchmen prequel books.

3. COLLECTING STICKS

By Joe Decie
Jonathan Cape Books


Collecting Sticks is a camping story for those who aren’t all that comfortable with outdoorsy activities. In it, Joe Decie describes what “glamping” (glamorous camping) is like with his wife and son: a drive to the woods to stay in a rented cabin that's furnished with beds and within walking distance of a grocery store. They wrestle with building a fire, sketch the scenery, argue about the lameness of Jango Fett, and, of course, collect sticks and other found objects (that can be sold on eBay later). Decie portrays himself as a bit of a nebbish, but he and his family are perfectly happy with their version of camping and their endearingly sarcastic-but-loving dynamic is infectious.

4. CATSTRONAUTS: MISSION MOON / CATSTRONAUTS: RACE TO MARS

By Drew Brockington
Little, Brown Books

Dogs have had their turn in space, so why not see what cats can do? Drew Brockington has debuted his first two graphic novels at once, and they mark the beginning of a delightful—and even educational—series set in a world populated by felines and starring an intrepid band of cat astronauts. Book one, Mission Moon, starts off with an energy crisis on Earth that requires the CatStronauts to install a solar power plant on the moon before the last bit of energy runs out. In book two, Race to Mars, they’re called upon again to compete against other countries to be the first cats to land on Mars. Like little cat versions of Matt Damon in The Martian, they must use some technical know-how and real science to complete their missions and get themselves out of some jams. Young readers will get a kick out of the cute cat jokes, but will also learn some simple facts about aeronautics along the way.

5. X-MEN: GOLD #1 / X-MEN: BLUE #1

By Marc Guggenheim, Ardian Syaf/By Cullen Bunn and Jorge Molina
Marvel Comics


Marvel’s X-Men franchise has been in an oddly diminished place for the past few years. Star players like Wolverine and Cyclops are dead, and mutants, in general, have seemed of secondary importance compared to Marvel Cinematic Universe-driven titles like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and even The Inhumans (the X-Men film franchise is controlled not by Marvel, but by Fox). Now, in an effort to harken back to an era of peak popularity, Marvel is returning to the informal Blue/Gold team structure that was used to differentiate the two main X-books during the 1990s, although with different rosters for each team. X-Men: Gold will be led by Kitty Pryde, who is fresh off a stint in space with the Guardians, and will consist of Old Man Logan (the inspiration for the new Logan film), Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Grey. X-Men: Blue will have the original teenage X-Men—Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, and Beast—who have been transported through time to find themselves stuck in the present.

This relaunch was saddled with some unintended controversy when online readers of X-Men: Gold #1 pointed out that the artist, Ardian Syaf, had hidden some anti-Christian and anti-Jewish messages in that issue’s artwork. Marvel has since released an apology, fired Syaf from the book, and even pulled the issue from Comixology’s digital storefront, promising that future printings of the book will feature revised artwork.

6. IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS

By Kristen Radtke
Pantheon Books


While in college, the path of Kristen Radtke’s life was influenced by two events: the death of her uncle from a congenital heart disease that she herself may share, and the discovery of some photos in a rundown building that would spark a years-long fascination with ruined places. Radtke’s first graphic novel is part travel memoir/part environmental journal/part philosophical exploration of the places that human beings leave behind. She explores coal mines, deserted American cities, an Icelandic town buried in volcanic ash, and even imagines a future New York City flooded by climate catastrophe. Her photorealistic illustrations give this book a documentary-like feel; her essay-like writing and her own presence throughout the story add a personal and emotional element.

7. NAMELESS CITY VOL. 2: THE STONE HEART

By Faith Erin Hicks
First Second


The middle volume of Faith Erin Hicks’s Nameless City trilogy comes on the heels of an announcement that the books will be adapted into a 12-episode animated series. This volume picks up where the last book left off, and continues to build on the friendship between Kaidu, the son of the leader of the invading Dao army, and Rat, the native orphan of the beleaguered Nameless City. That friendship becomes strained when Kaidu is made privy to a secret that could help his father bring order to the City, but at the cost of betraying the culture of its people. Hicks’s beautiful artwork is full of intricately drawn vistas and manga-style action, giving this story of political intrigue a snappy, addictive pace. 

8. THE INTERVIEW

By Manuele Fior
Fantagraphics



Manuele Fior’s 5,000 km Per Second, the winner of the prestigious Grand Prize at the 2010 Angoulême International Comics Festival, was released in English last year by Fantagraphics to wide critical acclaim. This year, we get to read his 2014 follow-up, The Interview, which takes 5,000 km’s knack for depicting brooding relationship drama and adds a tinge of existential sci-fi dread. Set in Italy in 2048, it follows a psychologist trying to hold his marriage together when he has a close encounter with a UFO, followed by an even closer encounter with a young female patient from a free love commune. This is a gorgeous and moody book that uses science fiction to explore the way the nature of relationships changes from generation to generation.

9. THE REALIST: PLUG AND PLAY

By Asaf Hanuka
Boom! Studios



Asaf Hanuka is well known for his collaborations with his twin brother, Tomer (their most recent graphic novel being 2015’s The Divine). But in his native Israel, Asaf is best known as the creator of The Realist comic strip, which has been running in the Israeli business magazine Calcalist since 2010. Boom! Studios is releasing the second collection of Hanuka’s strips which are short (sometimes even one-page), full-color observations about parenthood, achieving work/life balance, and the geo-political world around him. He has a comedian’s knack for pointing out the little, relatable moments we all share in life and his drawings burst with such creativity that you’ll chuckle with appreciation if you aren’t already chuckling with fellow parental commiseration.

10. BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW #1

By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Yona Harvey and Butch Guice
Marvel Comics

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes his Black Panther series from the African kingdom of Wakanda to the streets of Harlem and turns it into a team book comprised of prominent black superheroes like Luke Cage, Storm, Misty Knight, relative newcomer Manifold, and, of course Black Panther himself. Marvel Comics fans may recognize the name “The Crew” from Christopher Priest's short-lived 2003 series of the same name, about an all-black team of heroes. Coates has nodded to Priest as a comic book influence before—particularly his run on Black Panther in the late 1990s. Outside of comics, Coates is a famed writer on race relations and the black experience and will no doubt be addressing such issues in this new series, which begins with the Crew looking to solve the murder of a Harlem activist. Coates is joined by co-writer Yona Harvey (who worked with him on the Black Panther spin-off series World of Wakanda) as well as veteran artist Butch Guice.

11. SPENCER & LOCKE #1

By David Pepose, Jorge Santiago, and Jasen Smith
Action Lab Entertainment 

Calvin & Hobbes fans might just love this gritty crime drama about Detective Locke and his imaginary partner/stuffed panther Spencer (though I can also imagine some will revolt at seeing even analogs of Bill Watterson’s precocious young boy, his imaginary tiger, and their supporting cast depicted in such a bleak and adult way). Writer David Pepose, artist Jorge Santiago, and colorist Jasen Smith get a lot right as they age up this Calvin stand-in into a tough, slightly unhinged cop who has to revisit his past to solve the murder of his childhood friend Sophie Jenkins. 

12. WITCHLIGHT

By Jessi Zabarsky
Czap Books


The debut book from new publisher Czap Books (a company funded through a successful Kickstarter last year) is a beautifully illustrated, LBQT-friendly adventure by Jessi Zabarsky that originally ran as a Tumblr webcomic. Witchlight is about two women—innocent, naive Sanja and dark, adventurous Lelek—who are thrown together on a journey across a magical land. The two get to know each other and learn about themselves and the idea of growing close to another person in this sweet, manga-inspired fantasy.

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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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