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Hugh Likes Comics: Die

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Die #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Stephanie Hans
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image

Die

The Skinny: Less “Dungeons and Dragons” and more “It.”

In 1991, Dominic and his friends played a game, and then disappeared. In 1993, they returned, unable to tell a soul where they had been or what they were doing. And one of them, Dominic’s best friend and GM Solomon, never returned at all. Twenty-five years after that, Dominic receives a strange and chilling birthday present: A crystalline 20-sided die. The game isn’t over.
Writer Kieron Gillen’s first creator-owned project since The Wicked + The Divine tackles nostalgia, trauma, and the scars left by fantastical childhood journeys on adults. This isn’t untrodden ground, of course. It has been approached in all sorts of ways, from the Robin Williams movie “Hook” to Stephen King’s It. This tale hews more closely to the latter, as you might expect. Gillen makes things more interesting by incorporating another element: Dungeons and Dragons. His epigraph at the end of the comic makes the reference more explicit: The unfinished 80’s cartoon which transported six real-world kids to the roleplaying fantasy land. He’s also tapping into the 80’s “satanic panic” surrounding the game, with six kids who were literally swallowed and chewed up by the game. It’s an interesting twist on the concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Hans’s art is gorgeous, and impliments some cool tricks with light. The is dull, dark, and full of shadows. Not to spoil things, but this is reversed in a double-page spread late in the issue to great effect. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding logo design from Rian Hughes, which takes a D-20 and spreads it flat into a maze of triangular segments. Hans takes it and pulls off a neat trick on the cover, interposing the design for a character and her in-game persona.
Die #1 is an intriguing new fantasy horror series, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. You can find it at Your Local Comic Shop or digitally from Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Calculating Stars

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The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel
Written by Mary Robinette Kowal
Audiobook read by the author
Audiobook published by Audible, Inc.

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The Skinny: A calculator fights to become an astronaut in an alternate 1950’s where a meteor has hit Earth.

The Calculating Stars is a rare and remarkable apocalyptic novel that focuses more on solutions than on breakdown. In an alternate 1952, Calculator Elma York and her husband (and lead engineer of the nascent space program) barely escape the devastation when a meteor strike wipes out the east coast of the United States. While she and her husband get back on their feet thanks to the kindness of strangers, she quickly begins to believe there is a bigger problem: The earth will soon be uninhabitable for humans. They get to work ramping up a space program to get humanity into space before it’s too late, but Elma soon reaches a problem: How can all of humanity go into space if only men are allowed to be astronauts?
An incisive, extremely hard SF novel, Kowal does a lot of neat tricks with this novel, a prequel to her award-winning novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The author does an outstanding job of balancing the technical and social aspects of a novel. Dr. York can do orbital mechanics in her head and is a steady hand on a flight stick, but speaking in public terrifies her.
Kowal masterfully echoes the historical space race and civil rights movements as she lays out her story of Elma’s realizations of humanity’s fate, as well as what she comes to realize about herself and her society, and does what she can to change them. The story is essentially hopeful, but it never overlooks the inequality of American society.
The Calculating Stars is a brilliant Science Fiction novel about an alternate space program filled with unforgettable characters. I listened to the audiobook, read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and she brings her equal talent as a narrator to the text. You can find it in print, ebook and audiobook at Your Local Bookshop, Audible, and The Usual Suspects.

Fiction: Cat Hell

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“This is the place you made for yourself in life,” The fish said, swimming towards the rising figure in through the misty shadows. “This your hell, and it is filled with the ghosts of your sins.” His audience stared at him and said nothing. The fish swam closer through the thick air. “I am not your only companion here, either. Every victim of your cruel misdeeds is here, and we will be with you until the end of time. This is a crowded land. Do you even remember me, I wonder?”
“Mrow?” the cat said, and lunged at the fish.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Donut County

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Donut County
Created by Ben Esposito
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Played on PS4

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The Skinny: A charming and funny story-heavy puzzle game about stealing garbage.

The raccoons run Donut County. In a physics puzzle game that homages Katamari Damacy and is almost as strange, You play as BK, Donut County Delivery Raccoon, but your real job is stealing all the town’s garbage (and people, buildings, and geographical features) for the nefarious Trash King.
Each small, self-contained level puts you in the driver’s seat of a hole, which like in Katamari, starts out small and gets bigger the more stuff you grab. Each level has its own mechanical puzzle, from destroying an amusement park to making soup. All of these mechanics are intuitive and fun to use, if a bit on the easy side.
Controls on the PS4 used the buttons and analog stick. It is also available on Steam and Apple devices, and it feels like the game was meant to be played on a touchscreen. Not that it plays badly, in fact, just the opposite. The hole feels a little too responsive to the analog stick, and I was left wondering if playing with touch controls would’ve been a greater challenge.
The story is light-hearted and fun with a large cast of different denizens to hassle and eventually capture. The first half of the game is a sort of trial, as each of the town’s residents relate how BK stole all their stuff and trapped them underground, and then BK’s friend and coworker Mara figuring out how to fix everything. The visuals have a very PS2-era quality to them, but the designs are cute and the whole game is fairly attractive, even with blocky polygons. The soundtrack, by Daniel Koestner with Ben Esposito, is very chill and relaxing. This is a great game to unwind with.
While it isn’t the most taxing puzzle game I’ve played this year, Donut County is a great puzzle game to play with your kids, or to relax with. You can find it on Steam, the Playstation Store, or the Apple Store.

Podcast: NP28 – A Robot Horse’s Death Wouldn’t Mean Anything

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NP28Welcome back to Nostalgia Pilots!
This week, join Spence, Jurd, Jason, and Hugh as we watch episode 28 of Gundam Wing, Passing Destinies!

Click HERE to listen to the podcast track!

This is another recap episode, so watch along with us as we do a commentary track!
Watch along for free on Crunchy Roll!
You can also buy the series on DVD from Right Stuf Anime!

Then, settle in as the Nostalgia Pilots look back at the first half of the series, and Jurd and Spence make predictions about what we’ll see in part two!

Next week: High school is back in session. Princess high school that is.

Hugh Likes Comics: Bitter Root

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Bitter Root #1
Created by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene
Color Artists: Rico Renzi and Sanford Greene
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image

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The Skinny: Dieselpunk Monster Hunting in the Harlem Renaissance

Set in 1920’s Harlem, Bitter Root is the story of the Sangerye family, monster hunters who protect humanity from terrifying monsters called “Jinoo.” But they work in secret, and not without cost. As the older generation passes, the younger members of the family are called upon to step up, but trainee Cullen struggles, and Blink chafes at her role doing “women’s work.” But with the forces of darkness closing in around them, can they afford family tension?
Following their run on Power Man and Iron Fist in 2016, Walker and Greene are back, along with co-writer Chuck Brown, and they are killing it.
Pairing the monster hunting aesthetic with the Harlem Renaissance is a bold and brilliant move from this team. Greene’s designs and costuming are great, full of big chunky machines and a variety of period fashion that looks great on these characters. The night-time coloring is moody and atmospheric, and the period setting reminds the reader that we don’t have to visit fictional countries to see black excellence in comics.
Period punk sub-genres too often get caught up in the pomp of Empire and the glitz of Roaring Twenties, and forego the punk responsibilities for pulpier trappings. Bitter Root does an excellent job of bringing the shine and the shadow of the times to the front. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next. You can find it at Your Local Comics Shop or digitally via Comixology!

 

Fiction: The Deal

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“Serve me, and you will be provided for. You and all your children, for all of time. That is what I am offering you. To not die in the wet and cold, to never again be starving and afraid. Always will you have fuel, and you will be tended to.”
“And the price?”
“A few menial tasks, nothing that you couldn’t do easily. Cook my food. Warm my home. Give me light to see by.” The human smiled. The smoke shifted, and the Spirit of Fire seemed as though it tilted its head, considering him.
“You have a bargain, human.”

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