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Best of 7 | The best in comics from the last seven days

Out of the (Manga) Box thinking

Coming hard on the heels of Crunchyroll Manga is another new digital manga service, Manga Box, from the game publisher DeNA. Manga Box is a free iOS and Android app that serves up free chapters of manga that have not been published previously in English. The company has struck deals with two of Japan's largest publishers, Kodansha and Shogakukan, and the quality of the works and the translations looks good (not always the case with free manga apps--some are bootleg, some are just amateurish). The initial lineup of 28 titles, includes a gag-comic spinoff of Attack on Titan, one of top selling manga in both the U.S. and Japan. (Brigid Alverson)

University of Oregon's generous saint of comics

A private donor is giving $50,000 over the course of four years, for a total of $200,000, to the University of Oregon's Comics and Cartoon Studies program. Unlike many other educational institutes, the UO Comics Studies program doesn't focus on teaching artists how to make comics, but instead on studying and analyzing comics and their place in culture, just as is done with film, music and fine art. Students study how comics can help children express and process themselves, the sociological implications of superhero fantasy, a class on war in French comics taught entirely in French, and more. This is an important distinction, as it reflects the evolution of acceptance that comics have been enjoying. When educational institutions acknowledge the complexity, artistry and relevance of an art form, it gains further legitimacy in subsequent generations. It's an important part of the process of moving comics out of the ghetto.

As program director and English Professor Ben Saunders said in the announcement, "It’s a sign of faith in the cultural value of the comics form itself,” he said. “Comics constitute a remarkably successful mode of communication, with a history that is at least as old as print culture, and a global reach that includes most of the nations of the world." The program only started last year. Currently, only a comics minor is available. Hopefully in time, the University of Oregon will make comics available as a major as well. (Corey Blake)

New heroes, new tricks

Last week's Young Avengers #13 can be enjoyed on several levels; some reviewers focus on the plot and the directions of the teenage and young adult characters with their nuanced dialogue and development, and that's well and good and all, but for me the draw of this issue was the spectacle of Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen's depiction of the Young Avengers story as a comic series living in a distinctly comic universe. The duo go full on into their "page-twisting comic play," as Rich Johnston calls it, showing Wiccan use the full extent of his powers not only to walk between panels but to walk through moments in Young Avengers literally as walking on a sea of comic pages from the book. Ferris Bueller meets Chris Ware? I'd rather meet Gillen and McKelvie in a pub to get the "director's commentary" on this piece of magic. (Chris Arrant)

Isabel Greenberg dazzles with her all-new history of the world

The delightful The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg, looks like a book of folklore, but it's entirely original. The "Early Earth" of the title contains a number of different lands and traditions that are familiar and yet different at the same time. Greenberg blends allusions to scripture and folk tales with her own imaginative creations to make something entirely new. The art is done in a style reminiscent of woodcuts or primitive art, and Greenberg has a sure hand and a sophisticated sense of design that makes the book as beautiful as it is intriguing. (Brigid Alverson)

To Heaven and Hell and back again, with the Amazing X-Men

Although I'm still a little depressed about Jason Aaron's run on Wolverine and the X-Men coming to an end (sniff), I am thrilled that he'll continue to tell the adventures of the merry mutants, along with artist Ed McGuinness, in the pages of Amazing X-Men. The second issue hit this week, telling a story that combines the afterlife, demon pirates, surprise guest stars, the return of Nightcrawler and, of course, the X-Men. Aaron keeps the same irreverent, fun approach he's had to the X-Men in its (sniff sniff) sister title, but the smaller cast and different setting really let him cut loose with a fast-paced adventure story. McGuinness, meanwhile, takes the ball and runs with it, bringing a lot of energy to the battle scenes and style to everything else. Seriously, how can you not love a book that draws comparisons between Northstar and Peter Pan? (JK Parkin)

Wolverine and Captain America Get a Weapon Plus History Lesson in July

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