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Hugh Likes Comics: A.X.E. Judgement Day

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Written by Keiron Gillen
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Marvel’s big crossover event for the summer dives deep into Superhero Politics

Spinning out of The Eternals and Destiny of X, Guillen and Schiti deliver the opening salvo in a summer event comic that promises to be a bit more than your typical hero vs. hero slugfest. Because this isn’t just a book about superheroes. It’s a book about superhero international relations.
 The Mutant Nation of Krakoa continues to dominate the world stage by doing the impossible. After terraforming and colonizing Mars last year, the secret of their ability to resurrect dead mutants has become public knowledge. The fact that they are unable to bring back humans has led to a public backlash and mistrust.
 Meanwhile, the Eternals have been facing some societal shake-ups of their own. The tumult has left scheming Druig in charge as the Prime Eternal, and many of the other immortal heroes unsure of their purpose after being abandoned by their creators, the Celestials.
 Oh, also the Avengers are using the hollowed-out corpse of a dead celestial as their new base. For reasons.
 With Druig on shaky political footing, he comes up with a plan to unify his people and secure his power by convincing them that the Mutants are byproducts of their ancient enemies, the also Celestial-created Deviants, and thus they must be eradicated. Not unfamiliar with attempted genocide against them, the Mutants on Krakoa fend off the assault. The ones on Mars aren’t so lucky. As Druig moves through more and more of his fantastical arsenal of ancient Celestial technology to use against Mutantkind, sides are chosen. But who wins in a war where both sides are effectively immortal? And will anyone else still be standing when the dust settles?
 Obviously, the answer here is going to be ‘yes’ because this is a superhero comic, but I am enjoying the way this event is spinning out less from Action-movie cliches of previous events and the more cerebral moments from Eternals and Immortal X-Men. The first issue is mostly scene setting and getting the characters where they need to be, but it’s still a strong first issue, with great writing by Gillen. The scene between Druig and Moira X, and the whole thing with the protesters (no spoilers) is just chilling.
 Schiti and Gracia’s art is excellent. I love the opening pages, which juxtapose Iron Man and Sersi having brunch against the human protesters surrounding the X-Men’s treehouse headquarters. The colors are rich and the characters are all expressive and dynamic. This feels more like a political thriller than a superhero dustup, and the art sells it when the pages are mostly talking heads.
 A.X.E. Judgement Day #1 is now available in print from your local comics shop or digitally from the usual sources.  

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Hugh Likes Comics: Sins of the Black Flamingo

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Sins of the Black Flamingo #1
Written by Andrew Wheeler
Drawn by Travis Moore
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image

The Skinny: A sun-drenched, cynical heist story about a mystical gentleman thief.

The Black Flamingo is a gentleman thief, although they would follow up the description with a clarification that they are non-binary and all property is theft. A fabulous melange of Arsène Lupin, Harry Dresden, and Dorian Gray, they recover rare and unusual artifacts from people worse than themself, and looks great doing it.
During a mission retrieving a Jewish relic from a secret Nazi shrine underneath a private museum, they uncover designs for a magical object of great power, setting off a series of events that will lead the cynical thief on an adventure that will test all of their skills and break all their rules.
Sins of the Black Flamingo #1 is a great start to this cynical urban fantasy series from Image. We get a great introduction to the main character, and a vivid setting in Wheeler and Moore’s depiction of Florida, including a bizarre full-page sequence that includes, among other things, a stolen urinal and a wedding ceremony with a gator.
Moore’s art with Bonvillain’s colors are delightful. They nail the sun-drenched horror and strange imagery, but also render the quiet tenderness of a sort of reunion scene that I won’t spoil here, but feels like the centerpiece of the issue. This is a dark and cynical book, but I think that perspective will be shattered, or at least greatly challenged, but the last issue of the miniseries. Maybe this world isn’t so bleak as the Flamingo believes, and the ultimate choice they will have to make. Is it enough simply to keep the worst from happening, or is the Black Flamingo obligated to do more?
Sins of the Black Flamingo #1 is now available in print from your local comics shop, or digitally wherever you buy comics. It’s the start of an intriguing, no-holds-barred sort of indie book  and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics: Free Comic Book Day 2022!

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Hello readers! One of my favorite holidays is again upon us. Yes, that’s right! It’s Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow, May 7, 2022! And this year I will be at my favorite local shop to peruse the offerings and help support local business and some of my favorite creators! Free Comic Book day started in 2002, the free promotion has grown over the years, and is always celebrated on the first Saturday in May. There are a staggering number fo comics to choose from, from well-known superhero franchises, to kid-friendly cartoon tie-ins, and serious indie titles., all free for the taking.
Just remember they’re free for customers, not the shops, so please be sure to buy something and support your local business!
Here is a selection of the books I’m looking forward to this year:

Galaxy: The Prettiest Star FCBD Edition
Written by Jadzia Axelrod
Art by Jess Taylor
I have been a fan of Jadzia Axelrod’s writing for years, and I am beyond excited for her upcoming graphic novel from DC Comics. Always clever and full of charm and heart, I can’t wait to see her writing for ‘the big two.’ in this story of a intergalactic princess in hiding. And the art is gorgeous as well.

Avengers / X-Men / Eternals Judgement Day FCBD
With a whole bunch of talented creators, this one tees up Marvel’s big ‘summer blockbuster’ of popular superheroes dusting up for reasons. But this year’s scuffle revolves around the desecration of the corpses of Dead Space Gods, so it should at least be interesting. I’ve been a big fan of the swerve X-Men took in the past few years, as well as the Eternals relaunch, so I am looking forward to this one.

Barbaric #1 FCBD Edition
The story of a barbarian cursed to do good and his sentient battle axe with a drinking problem, Barbaric plays fast and loose with the tropes of low fantasy. I have an issue or two of the ongoing series, and if that’s your style of fantasy, I recommend giving it a look.

Marvel Voices FCBD #1
The Marvel’s Voices anthology series has been an excellent collection highlighting marginalized creators along with characters, and this FCBD collection seems to be a collection of some of the best of those stories. It doesn’t look like it has the one where Mystique kills Professor Moriarty, but still a worthwhile pickup.

FCBD 2022 KAIJU NO 8 & SAKAMOTO DAYS
I have heard great things about both of these manga series, and I’m looking forward to picking up this sampler of both to get a better fix on whether they’ll be joining my to-be-read pile.

There is an incredible variety of books coming out this year for Free Comic Book day. You can check them all out, along with their handy Local Comics Shop locator at their website: FreeComicBookDay.com

Hugh Likes Comics: Immortal X-Men

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Immortal X-Men #1
Written by Kieran Gillen
Drawn by Lucas Werneck
Colored by David Curiel
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: The X-Wing
The next ‘season’ of X-Men comics kicks off with this banger of a book focusing on the Quiet Council, the ruling body of the Mutant Nation of Krakoa. And while this book is a who’s who of A-list comics characters, Gillen puts the story in the shoes of his favorite villain, Mr. Sinister.
 As a new number one, Immortal X-Men #1serves as a good jumping-on point for readers who missed the X-Men’s glow up from a boarding school with teachers who shoot lasers from their eyes to international and even interplanetary politics. It reintroduces the status quo and the major players. The council is a mixture of white and black hats, the issue opens with a big one hanging his up. Magneto is stepping down from the council, and most of the issue is spent on the debate over who should replace him.
 It’s a risky move to start a comics story with so little action, but one of the strengths of the X-line has always been the way the books fit together, using varying tones to tell complex stories that appeal to different audiences. X-Force and Excalibur are books in the same line, with very different tones from the ‘core’ X-Men title. And Immortal X-Men is an extension of that idea, a book that focuses on the politics of running the mutant nation. The X-Wing if you will. Gillen pulls it off by focusing on Sinister’s twisted perspective. A supervillain’s supervillain, he plots and schemes and seems to know everybody else’s secrets. Except for Destiny, the precognitive mutant recently back from the dead. The book opens with the two sparring in post-WWI Paris, and a hundred years later, not much has changed.
 The issue is further saved from being a collection of talking heads by Lucas Werneck’s excellent art, which is stuffed not only with gorgeous, expressive characters, but delightful background images as well. The X-Men, and Mr. Sinister in particular, has leaned into its own weirdness in the last decade. Werneck is serving that weirdness up with cool body horror and bizarre monsters. I can’t wait to see what else is up the sleeves of this artist and writer pair.
 If you’re into comics for the fight scenes, this isn’t the book for you, but this book takes the central political conflicts of the X-Men and turns the tension up to eleven. If sci-fi politics is your jam, you owe it to yourself to check out Immortal X-Men. You can find the first issue at your local comics shop or online from Amazon. (R.I.P. Comixology)

Hugh Likes Comics: Crowded Vol. 3

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Crowded Vol. 3: Cutting-Edge Desolation
Written by Christopher Sebela
Drawn by Ro Stein & Ted Brandt
Colored by Triona Farrell & Diana Sousa
Lettered by Cardinal Rae
Published by Image Comics

Crowded Vol. 3 Cover

The Skinny: The Near-Future Dystopian Mayhem reaches its finale.
Crowded is one of the comics of recent years that floored me with how of the moment it was. Originally published as a monthly series in 2018, The pandemic and resultant shortages shifted the last volume from a monthly comic to a graphic novel format, but it has been worth the wait.Charlie Ellison, human disaster and the famous $3 Million Dollar girl, may have made the last mistake of her life. Having fired her bodyguard Vita after a brief but passionate fling, she’s now being defended by Circe, the assassin who has been following the pair since the beginning of their disastrous road trip. But with the organizers of the assassination campaign against her in her sights, will she turn the tables on them, or will Vita, not to mention everyone else in America, get to her first?The final act of Crowded continues with the elements that made the first two volumes such a joy to read. The over-the top characters and setting remain horrifyingly engaging. From a drone-army of weekend warriors to a a staggering number of wrecked self-driving cars to a queer utopia in Oklahoma City of all places, the trail of destruction crosses the U.S. as the story rushes towards its conclusion.Sebela’s writing is as sharp and incisive as ever, with all the shouting and explosions pierced with quiet scenes of actual depth and emotion that caught me off guard.Stein and Brandt continue to impress with their skills on art. Aided by Triona Farrell and Diana Sousa on colorist duties. Their skill at facial expressions in particular is a driver of the story, and if you go in thinking how many ways could they possibly have to draw Vita looking angry, it’s an impressive list.While I would’ve liked to have been able to pick this book up monthly from my local shop, I’m glad we got this final volume, which is a very satisfying conclusion. While new readers should start with volume one, I highly recommend this series. You can order digital or print editions from the your local bookstore or comics shop!

Hugh Likes Comics: Rockstar & Softboy

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Rockstar and Softboy
Written & Drawn by Sina Grace
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics

Rockstar & Softboy

The Skinny: Sina Grace’s latest oversized one-shot is a paen to queer friendship mixed wit and wackiness.

I was not sure what I was getting into with Rockstar and Softboy, but I’m glad I picked it up. On the surface, it is an autobiographical slice-of-life comic. When Softboy is having trouble dealing with the stress of his day job, Rockstar convinces him to throw a party. With the help of their shapeshifting, talking cat.

 Inspired by his real-life friendship with fellow comics creator Josh Trujillo, This oversized, super-gay one-shot story deftly blends the fantastic and the mundane to create a lovely tribute to the power of queer friendship. Grace’s writing is lovely and constantly surprising. This is certainly a book full of surprises, and I found new delights with each turn of the page. His madcap and unabashedly queer energy infuses the book and render his characters in a charming light even when it highlights their flaws. By the time the book reached the inevitable Sailor Moon parody, I was giggling in my chair, drawing curious stares from my husband.

 The art is whimsical and transformative, keeping pace with the story and helping to ground the reader in the off-the-wall antics.

 At a hefty sixty-seven pages, this book is a bit too long and a bit too short for the story it is telling. I would’ve like to have spent either a little bit more time with these characters, or maybe pared the story down a bit. There are quite a few data pages and explainers mixed in, which occasionally break the story’s flow. Cramming this story into a single issue also raises the price tag, so I’m not sure if I can recommend this book if you’re unsure if you’ll like it. But if you like queer slice-of-life stories that also take big swings, this book is for you.

 At the end of the day, this book isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and at $8.99, I can’t recommend that you give it a try if you’re unsure if you’ll like it. But the world could use more unironic stories that believe in the power of friendship and being your true self. And also the power of power bottoms. You can purchase it online or at Your Local Comics Shop!

Hugh Likes Comics: We Ride Titans

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We Ride Titans #1
Written by Tres Dean
Drawn by Sebastian Piriz
Colored by Dee Cunniffe
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Published by Vault Comics

We Ride Titans #1

The Skinny:  Evangelion meets Dynasty.

Kit Hobbs doesn’t get along with her family. So when her brother has a breakdown and Kit is called back home, she’s upset. But as much as she hates her family, she’s still willing to step into his shoes to pilot the family giant robot and protect the city of New Hyperion from monster attacks.
We Ride Titans #1 is one of those comics that fits squarely into my wheelhouse. Queer angst and messy family drama set against giant robot vs. daikaiju action? Sign me up. So I had a feeling this book would be an easy sell for me. And while the first issue doesn’t do much more than limn the characters and the setting and set up their relationships, it’s still an appealing introduction to the story and the setting.
Dean’s writing and dialog are as sharp as a monster’s claws, as we get a contrast of Nexus Command’s outward presentation versus the mess they are struggling to keep in. Giant monsters are a fun metaphor for this sort of chaos, and Kit being completely unable to handle it is very human. Her shaky relationship with her partner Jen is also interesting, as we see her consistently trying to do right, but just not having the tools. And when Kit’s mom shows up to bring her back after her brother fails, we get a clean, crisp look at her world falling apart. These sorts of stories really only work when the story outside of the SF elements is compelling in its own right, but so far, We Ride Titans delivers.
Piriz and Cunniffe also deliver on the art. The backgrounds all have a very sharp, angular, and modern feel to them. Everything feels like it was just rebuilt on the cheap yesterday. We see lots of struts and exposed brick. The world doesn’t feel lived-in so much as hastily rebuilt. Cunniffe’s colors are warm but not pleasant, they’re muted and bruise-like. The book exudes a feeling of papered over trauma, shakily standing but ready to collapse or explode at any moment, just like the characters.
One detail I loved was a page of Kit driving through the desert. She passes a city in the middle of nowhere, and we see a battle being fought in the background. A robot being helicoptered in, a shot of two massive figures battling amid towers that must always be under construction. Kit just adjusts her mirror and keeps on driving through the night.
We Ride Titans #1 is the setup to something that I think is going to be something special. It is available now from Comixology and Your Local Comics Shop!

Hugh Likes Comics: Cable Reloaded

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Cable Reloaded #1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Bob Quinn
Colored by Java Tartaglia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Maybe the real Time-Traveling Cyborg Super Soldier was Friendship all along.

Cable has never been one of my favorite Marvel characters. In a lot of ways, the cybernetic super-soldier from the future represents a lot of the problems that crept into 90’s Marvel Comics. His backstory is a complicated mess, his design is unpleasant, and his plots center around the hyper-masculine dourness that dominated the comics industry at the time. In short, I think he’s just not a lot of fun.
 Cable recently returned to his status quo after he was murdered and replaced by a teenage version of himself because Comics and this solo one-shot integrates him back into the Marvel Universe. Since I didn’t read Teen Cable’s solo series, I would’ve given this issue a pass if it weren’t written by one of my favorite writers, Al Ewing. I’m glad I didn’t skip it because it turns out, this is a great single issue.
Cable Reloaded is also a tie-in to Al’s Last Annihilation storyline going on right now in Guardians of the Galaxy and S.W.O.R.D. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much about either book to be brought up to speed. Cable’s new mission is to infiltrate the infamous Breakworld, previously seen in Astonishing X-Men. But again, that’s not anything you need to know because this is actually a comic about Cable reestablishing his connections and friendships after being gone. Because he’s a time traveler, it’s been a lifetime for him since he’s been in this era, but only a month in everyone else’s time, including the reader.
Cable gets a few nice moments with Cannonball and Boom-Boom, his mentees from when he was leading X-Force, as well as with the staff of S.W.O.R.D, where his younger self was working as Security Chief. 
We also see a fair bit of Cable’s internal monologue throughout the issue, and it is an interesting peek into the thoughts of a normally taciturn and laconic character. One of the fun things you can do with a character like Cable in the context of a crossover is to use him to build up the importance of an event or put over another character. There’s a fun scene in which Cable meets Guardian of the Galaxy Rocket, and is awed by meeting such a famous and brilliant historical tactician. Rocket is clearly one of Ewing’s favorite characters, but it’s still a nice scene.
Bob Quinn’s art is also very good in this issue. He evokes a 90’s aesthetic without falling into the failings of the era, and he is a steady hand at making complex action easily understandable. The issue’s page layouts have a particularly nice flow to them. java Tartaglia’s colors are warm and glossy, also evoking Cable’s origins while remaining easy on the eyes.
I picked up this issue not knowing what to expect, but I’m glad that I did. Cable Reloaded #1 is a self-aware and oddly sweet return to form for the character, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this creative time and this character in the future. Cable is a character of excess in a lot of ways, but this issue hits all its points without overindulging. If you’re at all curious about Cable, S.W.O.R.D., or The Last Annihilation, do yourself a favor and pick this issue up from Comixology or your Local Comic Shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2020

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This year was a rough one for Comics. Covid-19 forced a distribution shutdown, with ramification that were felt throughout the industry. But there were still a plethora of great books that came out this year, and while I don’t have enough space to expound on all the outstanding books I read this year, here are five of my favorites, in alphabetical order. Spoilers abound below!

Empyre
Written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics

At first glance, Empyre is just another Marvel Comics alien invasion story. The Earth is pushed to the brink of peril, and then saved at the last minute by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, etc. etc. But look past the surface, and there is so much more going on.Empyre concludes with a same-sex royal wedding in space, with all the Avengers and Fantastic Four as guests of honor. It reaches to the roots of Marvel Universe history, both in-story and in publication, and embraces that past while stepping into the future. The status quo for superhero comics is typically dark, putting the heroes on a never-ending back foot, with another crisis just around the corner. The end of this book does acknowledge that nothing good lasts forever. But today, the Kree / Skrull War is over, and Comics Are For Everyone. Make Mine Marvel!

Far Sector
Written by N. K. Jemisin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comic Young Animal

This rare gem of a book takes place in a distant corner of the DC Universe, far from the crises of the regular continuity, and also, I suspect, from editorial interference. Given their own canvas to work with, Jemisin and Campbell have built a beautiful, wondrous and troubling world in The City Enduring, a sparkling artificial super-metropolis where three distinct alien cultures live in apparent harmony, until Green Lantern Jo Mullein is called upon to solve their first murder in centuries, and uncovers a chilling web of oppression and dirty politics whose exposure may tear a civilization apart.Jemisin’s writing on this book is consistently amazing. It’s difficult to believe this is her first jump from prose to comics. Propelled by Campbell’s dazzling art, this ongoing title is not to be missed.

Heist
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

Gritty sci-fi crime dramas seems to be my jam this year, and Heist was another great one. After being set up by an evil executive and thrown in jail, Glaine Breld is out for revenge. There’s just two problems. One, the Dignity Corporation is so powerful it is completely untouchable. And two, everyone on the entire planet wants him dead. No big deal, because he’s got a plan to set everything right. All he has to do is get a crew together and steal the whole planet.
Full of twist, dark humor, and the blackest of cyberpunk high concepts, Heist is a hell of a ride.

The Ludocrats
Written by Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

This book is weird, and also weirdly horny, for the sake of weird. Delightful and strange, Gillen and Rossignol don’t merely break the fourth wall, but stomp up and down and pee on it for good measure. Stokely’s art is intricate and full of clever sight gags, and the nonsensical plot, which follows a pair of Aristocrats on the case to stop the Hyper-pope from turning the world boring, is a mad-cap romp. This comic is chock-full full of axe-wielding maniacs, nefarious betrayers, and cannibalistic gastronauts, and those are the good guys! The funniest book I read this year!

Slaughterhouse-Five
Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel by Ryan North
Art by Albert Monteys
Published by Archaia
Faithfully based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name, North and Monteys bring us along on Billy Pilgrim’s unstuck journey through time, from his capture in World War II and the battle of Dresden to his abduction to the alien planet Tralfamador and back. North’s script does justice to the story, capturing all the comedy and tragedy it evokes. Montey’s art is cartoonish and subtly colored, and is evocative and resonant. I knew going in this would be a book that I would either love or hate, and I’m glad it pulled off so ambitious an adaptation.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Union

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The Union #1
Written by Paul Grist
Drawn by Andrea Di Vito, Drew Geraci and Le Beau Underwood with Paul Grist
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: This comic feels a lot like Jack Staff, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

The Union, Marvel’s (mostly) new team of British superheroes debuts at a rocky time for the island nation, both in the real world and the Marvel universe. On our Earth, Brexit continues, while on Earth-616, their most prominent superhero, Captain Britain, has been replaced by his sister, Betsy Braddock, who is a mutant. While neither of these issues are explicitly addressed in the comic, both loom large over the book as it introduces a new government sponsored team lead by Britannia, a character who feels very familiar to the absent hero.
The one familiar member of the team is Union Jack, who fills the role of a Captain America-like super-soldier on the team. Grist wrote a long-running indie comic Jack Staff, about a similar character who was based on a rejected pitch to Marvel. This opening chapter has a similar feel, and artist Andrea Di Vito literally has him holding onto a flag for most of the issue in a likely homage.
The Union looks like the start of a clever superhero satire. Let’s just hope it can survive being tied-in to Marvel’s latest event, King in Black. You can download it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a print copy at your local comics shop.

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