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Hugh Likes Comics: The Sandman Universe

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The Sandman Universe #1
Story by Neil Gaiman
Written by Simon Spurier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters
Drawn by Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara
Colors by Mat Lopes
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Vertigo

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The Skinny – Vertigo returns to The Dreaming to introduce a quartet of Gaiman-inspired comics.

“The Sandman” was one of those pieces of culture that came into my life right when I needed it to. I read it in my early twenties, after it had ended, and had been collected into trade paperbacks. Ultimately a story about storytelling, it was very different from DC’s four-color Superhero offerings, even though it shared a setting, or at least a common world.
The Sandman Universe #1 brings back that type of storytelling with a fresh start. Essentially, this serves as a reboot and introduction to four Vertigo books all reaching back to Gaiman’s seminal ’90’s work.
The current incarnation of Dream is missing (following the events of DC’s Metal event) and dream raven Matthew heads out to the mortal realm to find him. Along the way encounters various other stories without being much involved in them. The stories as presented are a bit thin, but feel very authentic to the original Sandman and Vertigo comics, and they’re gorgeous to look at. Mat Lopes’s coloring ties them all together, and they have that distinct soft palate that set Vertigo apart from its four-color contemporaries.
The Sandman Universe #1 is a small aperitif after so many years away from these stories, but it’s a tease for some series that do have the potential to reignite that particular spark. You can take a look for yourself at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Comics: X-23

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X-23 #1
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Drawn by Juann Cabal
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: Laura and Gabby are back in a new comic with an old name.

I fell in love with Tom Taylor’s take on Laura Kinney, and was sad when All-New Wolverine ended, only to be rebranded with the character’s original hero name, X-23. I picked up the first issue with a bit of apprehension, but Mariko Tamaki’s story is still character-focused and full of heart, and it is going in some very interesting directions.
Laura is the clone of Logan, the original Wolverine. She was created to be a weapon. Recently, she met her sister Gabby, a younger clone of herself created for the same purpose. Now they’re out in the world, hunting down the rogue operations like the ones that created them. But their operations may put them into conflict with Laura’s old acquaintances, and fellow clones, the Stepford Cuckoos.
Stories about clones are stories about what it means to be human. They are also often, in the case of movies like “Blade Runner,” about people forced to deal with things that they are not prepared for, children in adult bodies. Tamaki has this down pat, picking Laura and Gabby up where Taylor left them and putting them in a situation they can’t cut their way out of. She very elegantly shows her understanding of the two leads personalities and puts her own spin on them. Taylor’s Gabby was light, silly, a spot of comic relief with the barest hint of the shadow a comic like “Wolverine” calls for. Tamaki carries all that over, but also zeroes in on the concept of Gabby as a child, and Laura as a young woman, barely out of her teens, thrust into the role of caregiver. It leads to some really nice moments that deepen both characters.
Juann Cabal, who worked on All-New Wolverine, does a great job on pencils, and Woodard’s coloring is excellent. Particularly the way he colors Gabby, with little cartoonish spots of color to highlight her changing moods. I also liked the conceit that the art hanging in the X-Mansion is all based on classic X-Men covers. It added some fun little background details for long-time fans.
X-23 #1is on sale now at your Local Comics Shop or available digitally from Comixology. It’s a great place to jump on if you missed All-New Wolverine, and a welcome return for fans of Laura and Gabby.

Hugh Likes Comics: Plastic Man

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Plastic Man #1
Written by Gail Simone
Drawn by Adriana Melo
Colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: Simone and Melo breathe new life into a Golden Age hero.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect opening Plastic Man #1. The character is one of those ones that has been bouncing around the DC Universe forever, but that I haven’t read much of. Purchased under one of DC’s buyouts of their rivals after the end of the first great wave of superheroes, he faded into their ever-growing C-list bench for me, although he did go on to have his own cartoon in the 70’s.
The story is still very golden age, but this remixed origin has some nice modern touches. Eel O’Brian was a safecracker until a job in a mysterious chemical factory left him shot, doused with something caustic, and left for dead by the rest of his gang. But in the classic tradition, what should have killed him in fact gave him super-powers, in this case, the ability to stretch and change his shape. But coming back from the dead with powers just leads him to a whole new set of problems as he tries to piece together what has happened to him.
Simone (Deadpool, Domino) is perhaps the best possible choice for a book like this. Her mastery of the different story elements lends a subtlety that is indicative of her style. She invokes crime elements without being salacious, even with a scene set in a Justice League-themed gentlemen’s club. She invokes pathos without being schmaltzy, and the humor of the character doesn’t quite cross the line into goofy. She nails the balance. Her Plastic Man is a criminal with a conscience, a hero with a healthy distrust of the forces of law and order, and a goofball struggling to stay this side of sane. It’s territory she’s explored before, and she hits all the markers beautifully.
Melo’s art and Fitzpatrick’s colors are also well suited. Melo’s expressions are spot on, and she keeps up with Simone beat for beat. Fitzpatrick’s colors do just as much work, with characters in too-bright suits popping against the brown and gray of a crime-ridden urban blight. It’s all delicately done, and I want to see where this team takes them in future issues.
Plastic Man #1 is a modern-day reinvention of some classic comic book characters and tropes, and it’s a heck of a good time. You can find it on Comixology, or at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Coda

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Coda #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Drawn by Matias Bergarda
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny – A cynical wanderer navigates a lost magical world in this beautifully illustrated post-apocalyptic dark fantasy.

It is a given in a certain field of fantasy fiction, from Lord of the Rings to “The Legend of Zelda” that when a good, magical, noble fantasy kingdom is faced with annihilation from a Dark Lord, Good will, no matter the odds and no matter how long it takes, triumph in the end. But what if it doesn’t?
This is the central concept behind Spurrier and Bergarda’s “Coda.” A cynical wanderer, and former Royal Bard is searching the wasteland for his missing wife, until he stumbles across Ridgetown, a seeming oasis of magical and technological might out of the ‘old days.’ And they have the enchanted cannon to prove it. But where is their magic coming from? And what would happen to them if they were to lose it?
Coda is “Mad Max” with magic. Or more accurately, with a drought of magic. Just like water and gas running short in that series, we see how the world has fallen apart when the source of magic, a race of magical beings, are wiped out. And a world that seems to have been a black-and-white battlefield between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is revealed to be a lot more complex as the survivors struggle to keep on living.
Spurrirer’s writing is intriguing, but it is brought to life by Bergarda’s sumptuous art and colors. The panels have a flow to them that carries you through the story at a disquieting rhythm. The colors have this soft-focus wash to them that establishes the fallen glory of the world perfectly.
Coda is available now from Comixology and Your Local Comics Shop. If you’re looking for something a bit different to tide you over until the next season of Game of Thrones, I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics – Ghost in the Shell FCBD 2018

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Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network Free Comic Book Day sapmple
Written by Max Gladstone
Art by David Lopez
Colors by Nayoung Kim
Published by Kodansha Comics

The Skinny: This single issue adventure gets a lot right in this Free Comic Book Day release.

When I first heard of “Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network,” I was skeptical. Western reinterpretations of manga and anime have a tendency to lose something in the translation, and the less said about the live-action film, the better. But I was pleasantly surprised by this single-issue story, distributed as a teaser for an upcoming anthology for Free Comic Book Day.
Gladstone’s story could be a slice of Masamune’s original manga, or a single-episode story of Stand Alone Complex. The Major accompanies Director Aramaki to a trade conference, where he immediately gets kidnapped, and she runs into an old war buddy while tracking him down. The characterization is spot-on from the two old spies philosophically discussing their natures to Aramaki glibly critiquing his interrogator’s technique.
The art is a bit rougher, and the only real flaw of the issue. Lopez’s technical art is spot on, reproducing the Masamune’s design elements and the 90’s cyberpunk aesthetic of the original comic. The character art is lacking, however. His faces in particular feel dated, as though he were copying off a circa-1990’s model sheet. Kim’s grimy colors are atmospheric and serve the story well.
Free Comic Book Day may be past, but if you can find a copy of this one-and-done story, and the character designs don’t throw you, this is a fun little cyberpunk tidbit.

Hugh Likes Comics: Abbott

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Abbott #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Drawn by Sami Kivela
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny-A black woman reports on a series of bizarre killings with occult significance while battling institutional racism in ’70’s Detroit.

Abbott is a remarkable comic, with a remarkable first issue. Its most impressive flourish is the sense of place, and its tension, that Ahmed and Kivela bring to the page. They do a standup job of bringing the powder keg of 1970’s Detroit to life. Enter Elena Abbott, a match if there eer was one. A reporter for the Daily Press, she is an unyielding force for truth in a city reluctant to face its own demons. Abbott is under pressure from her bosses and the police after she reported on the killing of a child in police custody. When she investigates a series of gruesome killings with occult significance, she becomes the target of a killer who may bring down both Detroits.
Abbott #1 is a master class of a first issue. In a few scant pages, we’re introduced to the complex world of 70’s Detroit, Abbott, her few allies, and her numerous enemies. Kivela skillfully leads the eye, and colors by Jason Wordie provide a gritty, evocative palate. The panels are interspersed with the text of Abbott’s articles, only giving the reader snippets of phrases. It is an efficient trick to build the world and also raise the tension on the page.
Abbott #1 is the start of a brilliant new series. Pick it up digitally from Comixology, or find a copy at Your Local Comics Shop!

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Hugh Likes Comics: X-Men: Grand Design

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 & 2

Written and Drawn by Ed Piskor

Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Ed Piskor X-plains the X-Men.

“X-Men: Grand Design” is a comic with a very ambitious goal: Straighten out the tangled history of Marvel’s X-Men, and do it in such a way that it tells a coherent, interesting story. But if anyone is up to the task, it is indie comics creator and the man behind Hip Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor.

Piskor’s distinctive style feels somewhat strange applied to Jack Kirby’s designs, but the book goes all in, even being printed on a thicker, more rough paper for that truly indie feel. And this book does indeed cover plenty of space, opening in the dawn of the Golden Age and following Charles Xavier through the foundation of the X-Men and their Silver Age adventures. It does a great job of feeling both cosmically important, and personally intimate. There’s so much crazy backstory, retcons, and downright bizarre editorial decision-making in X-Men history that this book exists at all is an accomplishment. That Piskor pulls it off so effectively is a coup.

The first issue really only gets as far as the founding of the team, but it sets a solid continuity in a few simple strokes, and it makes The Phoenix a central figure going back to origin, which is  a good retcon. Issue two covers the team’s Silver Age adventures up until Giant Size X-Men #1, and does a bit more work retconning the original run into a cohesive whole that is appealing to a modern sensibility.

X-Men: Grand Design is available online from Comixology, and in print at Your Local Comics Shop! If you want a crash course, or just would like to see a different take on characters you’ve loved for years, its well worth a look!

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