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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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The Dark Knight Is Returning to Theaters for a 10th Anniversary IMAX Re-Release
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Believe it or not, today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knight, the second entry in Christopher Nolan’s game-changing superhero movie trilogy. To mark the occasion, Warner Bros. is bringing the movie back to four IMAX theaters for a limited one-week engagement in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto, beginning on August 24th, Variety reports.

Many people consider The Dark Knight the best film in the Batman franchise (Tim Burton and LEGO-fied movies included). The film currently holds a 94 percent “fresh” rating with both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated movie in the Batman universe.

Much of the film’s acclaim came from Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as The Joker—a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (making him the only actor to win that award posthumously). Even Michael Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s ever-dutiful butler and BFF Alfred, admitted that he wasn’t sold on the idea of bringing The Joker back into Batman’s cinematic universe, after the character was so ably played by Jack Nicholson in Burton’s 1989 film, until he found out Ledger would be taking the role.

“You don’t try and top Jack,” was Caine’s original thought. But when Nolan informed the actor that he was casting Ledger, that changed things. “I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ My confidence came back,” Caine told Empire Magazine.

The film will be screening at California's AMC Universal Citywalk Imax, New York's AMC Lincoln Square Imax, San Francisco's AMC Metreon Imax, and Toronto's Ontario Place Cinesphere Imax. Tickets for the limited engagement go on sale on Friday, July 20th.

[h/t: Variety]

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