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.

You Can Get Paid $1000 to Watch All 20 Marvel Movies Before Avengers: Endgame Hits Theaters

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Marvel fans in need of a little cash, listen up: CableTV.com, an online resource for finding the best TV, internet, and phone services, has posted a listing for what they've deemed "The Marvel Movie Marathon Dream Job." Just ahead of Avengers: Endgame's arrival in theaters on April 26, the company is looking for an individual to watch all 20 released Marvel Cinematic Universe movies back to back.

“Do you have the endurance of Iron Man?," the listing reads. "The tenacity of Captain America? The leisure time of Ant-Man? Then CableTV.com has a mission for you." The best part? The chosen individual will get paid $1000 for their time and will receive a bundle of MCU merchandise as well.

You may be asking: Why would a company want to pay someone to binge-watch a handful of movies they're probably already planning to watch on their own? Well, they’re also requesting that the selected viewer live-tweet their experience in collaboration with CableTV.com, then meet up after the MCU marathon and “share your takeaways from the movies so we can make some beautiful, badass rankings together.”

The competition is bound to be fierce for this job, and the application period will end on April 15, 2019—so don't delay in submitting yours here.

Batmania: When Batman Ruled the Summer of 1989

JD Hancock, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
JD Hancock, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

“Flop” is how marketing research group Marketing Evaluation Inc. assessed the box office potential of the 1989 Warner Bros. film Batman. The big-budget production, directed by Tim Burton and co-starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, was expected to be one of the rare times a major Hollywood studio took a comic book adaptation seriously. But according to the marketing data, the character of Batman was not as popular as the Incredible Hulk, who was then appearing in a slate of made-for-television movies. And he was only a quarter as appealing as the California Raisins, the claymation stars of advertising.

That prediction was made in 1988. The film was released on June 23, 1989, and went on to gross $253.4 million, making it the fifth most successful motion picture up to that point.

While Marketing Evaluation may have miscalculated the movie’s potential, they did hedge their bet. By the time profits from the movie’s merchandising—hats, shirts, posters, toys, bed sheets, etc.—were tallied, the company said, Warner Bros. could be looking at a sizable haul.

When the cash registers stopped ringing, the studio had sold $500 million in tie-in products, which was double the gross of the film itself.

In 1989, people didn’t merely want to see Batman—they wanted to wear the shirts, eat the cereal, and contemplate, if only for a moment, putting down $499.95 for a black denim jacket studded with rhinestones.

Batmania was in full swing. Which made it even more unusual when the studio later claimed the film had failed to turn a profit.

 

The merchandising blitz of Star Wars in 1977 gave studios hope that ambitious science-fiction and adventure movies would forever be intertwined with elaborate licensing strategies. George Lucas's space opera had driven audiences into a frenzy, leading retailers to stock up on everything from R2-D2 coffee mugs to plastic lightsabers. It was expected that other “toyetic” properties would follow suit.

They didn’t. Aside from 1982’s E.T., there was no direct correlation between a film’s success and demand for ancillary product. In 1984 alone, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were smash hits. None of them motivated people to flock to stores and buy Gizmo plush animals or toy proton packs. (Ghostbusters toys eventually caught on, but only after an animated series helped nudge kids in their direction.)

Warner Bros. saw Batman differently. When the script was being developed, producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber were urging writers to make sure scenes were aligned with planned merchandising. They scribbled notes insisting that no onscreen harm come to the Batmobile: It should remain pristine so that kids would want to grab the toy version. As Batman, millionaire Bruce Wayne had a collection of vehicles and gadgets at his disposal—all props that could be replicated in plastic. Batman's comic book origins gave him a unique iconography that lent itself to flashy graphic apparel.

In March 1989, just three months before the film's release, Warner Bros. announced that it was merging with Time Inc. to create the mega-conglomerate Time-Warner, which would allow the film studio to capitalize on a deep bench of talent to help drive the “event” feel of the film.

Prince was signed to Warner's record label and agreed to compose an album of concept music that was tied to the characters; “Batdance" was among the songs and became a #1 hit. Their licensing arm, Licensing Corporation of America, contracted with 300 licensees to create more than 100 products, some of which were featured in an expansive brochure that resembled a bat-eared Neiman Marcus catalog. The sheer glut of product became a story, as evidenced by this Entertainment Tonight segment on the film's licensing push:

In addition to the rhinestone jacket, fans could opt for the Batman watch ($34.95), a baseball cap ($7.95), bicycle shorts ($26.95), a matching top ($24.95), a model Batwing ($29.95), action figures ($5.95), and a satin jacket modeled by Batman co-creator Bob Kane ($49.95).

The Batman logo became a way of communicating anticipation for the film. The virtually textless teaser poster, which had only the June 23 opening date printed on it, was snapped up and taped to walls. (Roughly 1200 of the posters sized for bus stops and subways were stolen, a crude but effective form of market research.) In barber shops, people began asking to have the logo sheared into the sides of their heads. The Batman symbol was omnipresent. If you had forgotten about the movie for even five minutes, someone would eventually walk by sporting a pair of Batman earrings to remind you.

At Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles, 7000 packs of Batman trading cards flew out the door. Management hired additional staff and a security guard to handle the crowds. The store carried 36 different kinds of Batman T-shirts. Observers compared the hysteria to the hula hoop craze of the 1950s.

One retailer made a more contemporary comparison. “There’s no question Batman is the hottest thing this year,” Marie Strong, manager of It’s a Small World at a mall in La Crosse, Wisconsin, told the La Crosse Tribune. “[It’s] the hottest [thing] since Spuds McKenzie toward the end of last year.”

 

By the time Batman was in theaters and breaking records—it became the first film to make $100 million in just 10 days, alerting studios to the idea of short-term profits—the merchandising had become an avalanche. Stores that didn’t normally carry licensed goods, like Macy’s, set up displays.

Not everyone opted for officially-licensed apparel: U.S. marshals conducted raids across the country, seizing more than 40,000 counterfeit Batman shirts and other bogus items.

Collectively, Warner raked in $500 million from legitimate products. In 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that the studio claimed only $2.9 million in profit had been realized from merchandising and that the movie itself was in a $35.8 million financial hole owing to excessive promotional and production costs. It was a tale typical of creative studio accounting, long a method for avoiding payouts to net profit participants. (Nicholson, whose contract stipulated a cut of all profits, earned $50 million.)

Whatever financial sleight-of-hand was implemented, Warner clearly counted on Batman to be a money-printing operation. Merchandising plans for the sequel, 1992’s Batman Returns, were even more strategic, including a tie-in agreement with McDonald’s for Happy Meals. In a meta moment, one deleted script passage even had Batman’s enemies attacking a toy store in Gotham full of Batman merchandise. The set was built but the scene never made it onscreen.

The studio was willing to give Burton more control over the film, which was decidedly darker and more sexualized than the original. Batman Returns was hardly a failure, but merchandising was no longer as hot as it was in the summer of 1989. Instead of selling out of shirts, stores ended up marking down excess inventory. McDonald’s, unhappy with the content of the film, enacted a policy of screening movies they planned to partner with before making any agreements. By the time Warner released 1995’s Batman Forever, the franchise was essentially a feature-length toy commercial.

It paid off. Licensing for the film topped $1 billion. Today, given the choice between a film with Oscar-level prestige or one with the potential to have its logo emblazoned on a rhinestone jacket that people would actually want to buy, studios would probably choose the latter. In that sense, the Batmania of 1989 endures.

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