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Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Mighty Avengers #1


Written by Al Ewing; art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics

Fifty years and a day after the very first issue of Marvel Comics' The Avengers and spinning out of the events of the recent Infinity crossover event, comes a new volume of Mighty Avengers featuring a new, more racially diverse team than we've ever seen in a major Marvel book. Granted, the team that Jonathan Hickman has assembled over in the main Avengers title has added a number of women and "superheroes of color" to the roster, but here we have a team that is comprised mostly of African American and Hispanic heroes with just a couple of white characters rather than the other way around. On this new team, we see heroes like Luke Cage (formerly known as Power Man), Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and now using the name Spectrum), a new Power Man (Victor Alvarez, empowered by "the spiritual ferocity of five boroughs"), White Tiger (Ava Ayala, the first Puero Rican superhero), and The Falcon (Sam Wilson, longtime Avenger and sometimes partner to Captain America). Filling out the ranks is She-Hulk, Spider-man (who, if you've been following the Superior Spider-man comic, is actually Spidey's old nemesis Doctor Octopus in the body of Peter Parker) and a mysterious character wearing a garish Spider-man Halloween costume.

With the regular Avengers team lost on the other end of the universe and Thanos taking advantage of their absence to attack Earth, this new Avengers team forms to hold back the invasion. However, this first issue introduces us to these new characters as they're mostly fighting B- and C-list villains which sets them up as more of a rag-tag, street-level team of heroes. This isn't too far removed from what Brian Michael Bendis used the the New Avengers comic for during his run which also included Luke Cage and Spider-man. That said, their first mission is to take on the most cosmic of all villains, Thanos, and characters like Spectrum are pretty up there in terms of power levels compared to most other superheroes.

There are a number of reasons for people to get excited. Certainly, we haven't really seen a major team book from either Marvel or DC with a cast of characters that is this racially diverse but also with the balance of diversity leaning away from the white, male heroes. There's also the inclusion of some real fan favorite characters like Cage but especially Monica Rambeau who has been an underused character since Warren Ellis brought her off the shelf to be the team leader for his Nextwave series in 2006. Also, British writer Al Ewing has done a number of highly regarded stories for 2000 AD and Judge Dredd and his fans have been waiting for him to finally get a shot at a major superhero comic. Early word on this book says he knocks it out of the park. You can read a preview here.

2. RASL


By Jeff Smith; color by Steve Hamaker
Cartoon Books

RASL is Jeff Smith's post-Bone graphic novel which he began releasing in black and white, 32-page installments back in 2008. Bone, one of the most cherished and influential all-ages fantasy comics of our time, was completed in 2004 and made Smith into the kind of creator whose next move everyone would be anticipating. Like many artists who become associated with a particular, highly successful individual work, Smith decided to push away from certain aspects of Bone with his new book, notably making it a story geared more towards adult readers.

A dark, noirish tale about an inter-dimensional art thief, RASL deals with heavy sci-fi topics like string theory, parallel universes and the works of Nikola Tesla. It also treads in violence and sex, making it a definite departure from the Scholastic-friendly work Smith is known for. After studying the physics of string theory and spending two weeks out in the desert of the American Southwest back in 2000, he developed the idea that would become RASL, a work that would take him most of the next decade to complete. 

Now, for the first time, RASL is being published in one complete edition, but it is also appearing in color for the first time. Much like Bone, which was initially published in black and white and eventually released in successful color editions, Smith has brought in colorist Steve Hamaker to add a new level of richness to his line work. RASL has won numerous awards and has garnered glowing reviews during its serialized run. Now, it can finally stand alone on a book shelf as Smith's next great completed work.

You can see a 10 page preview of the full color pages here.

3. Boxers & Saints


By Gene Luen Yang
First Second

Boxers and Saints is a set of two separate graphic novels that tell two sides of the same story. They can be bought separately or together in a slipcase edition but each stands on its own. Set during the Boxer Rebellion in late 19th century China, both stories look at the conflict between Chinese villagers and Western Christian missionaries. Boxers focuses on a young boy named Bao whose village is destroyed by Western invaders and joins the uprising against them. In Saints, a young girl named Vibiana is taken in by the missionaries and finds herself caught between her loyalties to Christianity and to her native land.

Both books are written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning creator of 2006's American Born Chinese which also used overlapping and connected narratives, albeit in a different approach. Yang became a big star in the "bookstore comics" world after the success of American which has since been used in schools to help struggling and disabled readers find ways to relate personally to books. Yang has been very active in advocating for the use of graphic novels as teaching tools and this book, with its historical perspective and themes involving young persons finding their place in their own world, will surely be considered another potential resource for instructors.

You can see more about these two books here.

4. The Best of Milligan & McCarthy


By Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy
Dark Horse

The creative partnership of writer Peter Milligan and artist Brendan McCarthy produced some of the craziest, psychedelic, thought-provoking and ultimately influential comics of the 1980s that most people have probably never read. Dark Horse is now collecting a number of their comics, many long out of print and one that was immediately banned upon release, in this new hardcover collection.

Milligan is pretty active in the American comics scene these days, most recently writing Red Lantern and Justice League Dark for DC. He's perhaps best known for his run on Marvel's X-Statix in the early 2000s or his Vertigo series Shade The Changing Man in the '90s. His American comics always have a strange, satirical edge to them but his early comics for 2000 AD and Eclipse are just plain out there and weird. Especially when he was collaborating with McCarthy whose hallucinatory layouts and overactive imagination made for some hard to comprehend but downright intriguing comics.

The work collected here includes: Paradax, a superhero story, of sorts, about a man who can walk through walls and objects while wearing a bright, yellow spandex suit; Rogan Gosh, a mind-bending story of "Indian science fiction"; Freakwave, a post-apocalpytic tale where the world is submerged by water (a story that Milligan and McCarthy shopped around to Hollywood at one point only to later see a very similar story appear in the form of Kevin Costner's Waterworld); and Skin a story about a thalidomide baby turned skinhead that the book's original publisher found too disturbing to actually print.

You can see more about this book and read a preview of Paradax here.

5. S.H.I.E.L.D. by Steranko: The Complete Collection



By Jim Steranko and various
Marvel Comics

Continuing the theme of rare psychedelic comics becoming more readily available, Jim Steranko's classic run from the late '60s on Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the run on Strange Tales that started it all, is being collected together for the first time in S.H.I.E.L.D by Steranko: The Complete Collection. With Marvel's new S.H.I.E.L.D TV show about to air this month, we're likely to see a flood of the market with related bookstore merchandise. However, these comics probably bear little resemblance to what Joss Whedon will be doing on that series. Instead, they stand as a treasury of the early groundbreaking work of one of Marvel Comic's most interesting creators.

Jim Steranko is the comics world's own Most Interesting Man. If you follow him on Twitter (@iamsteranko) he tends to hop on late at night and regale his followers with incredible, multiple-tweet tales about his early days as an illusionist and escape artist or the time he "bitch-slapped" Batman creator (or credit-stealer, if you will) Bob Kane. Back in 1968, he was working in advertising and moonlighting at Marvel when he took WWII character Sgt. Nick Fury and brought him into the future as a James Bond-style secret agent. Steranko was one of the few auters working at Marvel in those days where he wrote and drew his own stories and was mostly left alone enough by the publisher to try new things in sequential storytelling. He used photographic backgrounds, psychedelic patterns and designs, unexpected wordless scenes (pretty unfashionable in comics at the time) and even a sequence extended to a 4-page spread (the first time this had probably been done in comics). His work on this series is considered some of the finest comics of its era and has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, particularly among comic book artists and designers who still find themselves influenced by the visual tricks Steranko performed here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Kings Watch #1
Jeff Parker and Marc Laming bring together Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom for this new book from Dynamite. Parker (recently named the new writer for Aquaman) is everywhere these days and artist Marc Laming is a star on the rise. His detailed, realistic style is the kind of thing most fans of superhero and genre comics just eat up. Some preview images are here.

Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives
Another one of these collections devoted to one particular artist from the early days of comics. This one is all Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner and co-creator of Daredevil. This reprints a number of rarities from the '30s and '40s that have never been reprinted before. Preview it here.

Cyborg 009
The original Cyborg 009 was a 1960s manga series by Shotaro Ishinomori that was recently redistributed on Comixology's platform. This new series is a Western adaptation of the material for Archaia by F.J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp and Marcus To. It's about a team of 9 heroes turned into cyborgs who rebel against the nefarious arms dealer who created them. An interview with the creators and some preview images are here.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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literature
7 Lost and Rediscovered Literary Works by Famous Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A number of literary works by famous authors that were once thought lost have recently been rediscovered. Some were found in private collections, others within vast archives, and one was even uncovered in an attic. A few of these works have delighted readers and scholars alike, while others may have gone unpublished for a reason—yet all offer fresh insight into the development of the writers who wrote them.

1. “TEMPERATURE” // F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

In July 2015 Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand magazine, was searching through the rare book archive at Princeton University when he uncovered a previously unpublished short story by Princeton alum F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gulli makes something of a habit of searching for lost and unpublished works by famous authors, and in the past has uncovered a story by John Steinbeck, which was also published for the first time in The Strand. Fitzgerald's 8000-word short story, entitled “Temperature” and written in 1939, features a hard-drinking writer with a heart problem. In a sad echo of real life, just a year after he wrote it Fitzgerald himself died of a heart attack.

2. WHAT PET SHALL I GET? // DR. SEUSS

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at a desk covered with his books
Library of Congress, Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 2013, the widow of Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) rediscovered a pile of manuscripts and sketches that she had set aside shortly after her husband's death in 1991. The papers contained the words and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get?, which was published by Random House in July 2015. It is thought the book was likely written between 1958 and 1962, since it features the same brother-and-sister characters found in Seuss’ 1960 bestseller One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

3. “SHERLOCK HOLMES: DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS AND, BY DEDUCTION, THE BRIG BAZAAR” // ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden, Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Sherlock Holmes short story supposedly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uncovered in the attic of historian Walter Elliot in 2015. The strange little story was written by Conan Doyle to be included in a collection of stories entitled The Book o' the Brig, which aimed to raise funds to rebuild a bridge across Ettrick Water, near Selkirk in Scotland, which has been destroyed during floods in 1902.

No sooner had the story been rediscovered, however, than some were expressing doubts about whether it had been written by Conan Doyle himself, especially since the flowery language doesn't seem in keeping with the renowned author's pared-down style. The full text of the story can be read (and puzzled over) here.

4. "THE FIELD OF HONOR" // EDITH WHARTON

Photo of author Edith Wharton, wearing hat with a feather, coat with fur trim, and a fur muff
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Alice Kelly, a researcher from Oxford University, was studying Edith Wharton’s papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in November 2015 when she discovered a previously unpublished short story. The unfinished nine-page story was stuck to the back of another manuscript, and is entitled "The Field of Honor." It centers on the First World War and is critical of the women who only superficially helped with the war effort, perhaps explaining why it was not published at such a sensitive time.

5. "POETICAL ESSAY ON THE EXISTING STATE OF THINGS" // PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Crayon drawing of poet Percy Shelley circa 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Percy Bysshe Shelley was in his first year of university at Oxford in 1810/11, he wrote and published a poem critical of the Napoleonic wars under the pseudonym “a gentlemen of the University of Oxford.” The 172-line poem was printed in a 20-page pamphlet entitled “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” and was not attributed to Shelley until 50 years after his death. All copies were thought lost until 2006, when one was found amidst a mysterious private collection and offered for auction. Only scholars had access to the poem until 2015, when it was purchased by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to add to their world-famous collection of Shelley works and papers. The poem became the library’s 12 millionth book to be acquired and is now available online for all to read.

6. EARLY STORIES // TRUMAN CAPOTE

A black-and-white photo of a smiling Truman Capote
Evening Standard/Getty Images

A Swiss publisher poring over Truman Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library several years ago rediscovered a variety of short stories and poems the author had written before the age of 20. While four of the stories had been published in Capote’s school literary magazine, The Green Witch, the majority of the pile was brand-new to the reading public. In October 2015, Penguin books released the stories as The Early Stories of Truman Capote.

7. THE TURNIP PRINCESS

While looking through the archives of the city of Regensberg, Germany, researcher Erika Eichenseer uncovered 30 boxes containing more than 500 German fairy tales, which had lain unnoticed for 150 years. The stories had been collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, who traveled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz recording folktales, myths, and legends in order to preserve them. He published the results of his research in three volumes between 1857 and 1859, but his matter-of-fact accounts of the stories were somewhat overshadowed by the more artful stories of his contemporaries the Brothers Grimm, and his book fell into obscurity. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales contains 72 of the lost tales and was published by Penguin in February 2015.

A previous version of this story ran in 2015.

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Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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