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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!

 

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Hugh Likes Comics: Sparrowhawk

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Sparrowhawk #1and 2
Written by Delilah S. Dawson
Illustrated by Matias Basla
Colored by Rebecca Nalty
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny: Illegitimate daughter Artemisia must fight for a world that has always rejected her when she accidentally trades places with the Faerie Queen.

Artemisia Grey has had a difficult life. Born to a roustabout English nobleman and a slave, she was treated as no more than a servant to the rest of her family, serving as her older sister’s maid, until they needed a marriageable daughter to marry off, of course. Artemisia wishes for nothing more than the freedom to do as she wishes and for someone to love her as she is. The Faerie Queen uses her desires to trade places with her, trapping Artemisia in her realm and gaining a foothold in the human world. It is up to her family and her world, but when the time comes, will she even want to?
Dawson’s dark faerie tale is smart and well paced. Art’s trip through the looking glass from horrible situation to worse feels like an inverse of Alice’s story. Unseelie is a land here everything makes the most brutal kind of sense. Her guides through this world a Crispin, a monstrous little creature that is constantly urging her to acts of violence, and Warren, the only unloved son of the Unseelie Queen, and an avowed pacifist. Together they navigate a complex and mysterious fantasy world.
Basla’s art and Nalty’s colors create a vibrant but unsettling world, full of dutch angles and oversaturated and unnatural tones. It’s an excellent effect, and is contrasted with their much more constrained treatment of the ‘real’ world.
“Sparrowhawk” is a sharp and dark portal fantasy that delves into some fertile thematic territory concerning Love, Colonialism, and the moral hazards of both. You can find the first two issues online via Comixology, or in print at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Long Con

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The Long Con
Written by Dylan Meconis and Ben Coleman
Drawn by E. A. Denich
Colors by M. Victoria Robado
Published by Oni Press

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The Skinny: The Comic Con at the end of the world

What happens when The End of the World happens during a major Science Fiction convention? Five years ago, a cataclysmic event destroyed the city of Los Spinoza, and, presumably, the Los Spinoza Convention Center, home to Long Con, the world’s largest and greatest comic convention. But what makes a better bomb shelter than 600,000 square feet of Brutalist concrete? When evidence emerges that something survived, struggling reporter Victor Lai, who barely escaped from the Long Con minutes before the disaster, is sent back in by his editor to investigate.
The Long Con is a delightful look at the apocalypse through the lens of pop culture fandom. It’s a clever microcosm of fans, some of whom are literally eating each other once they get cut off and have to figure out how to survive. The book seamlessly shifts between the last day of the convention and Victor’s return, with his friend Dez guiding him though the twin mazes of Convention culture and the survivors. Meconis and Coleman’s wit is sharp, Denich’s designs are charming without being too cartoonish, and Robado’s use of color is spot on. The past is a riot of bright colors, and the future is just the right touch of grimy.
The story weaves in a third layer, a fictional Star Trek-inspired media property called “Skylarks” that does a lot of great storytelling work and a delightful piece of parody all on its own.
The Long Con just released its fourth issue, and you can find it on Comixology or at your local comics shop. I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics: Man-eaters

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Man-eaters #1
Written by Chelsea Cain
Drawn by Kate Niemczyk
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by Joe Carmagna
Published by Image

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The Skinny: A mutated parasite turns adolescent girls into were-panthers in this metafictional horror comic.

Not very many horror comics have sparkly, pink covers. But “Man-eaters,” is something special. From the creative team whose work on “Mockingbird” for Marvel drew the ire of what became comicsgate, and also became a best-seller in trade, this metafictional horror story is doing a lot of waving to their haters. And it is glorious.
Thanks to a mutation in toxoplasmosis, adolescent girls are subject to a terrifying transformation during their period. Maude, daughter of a single homicide detective, is left on her own while he investigates a grisly killing. But the crime scene indicates a large cat attack. And repaying anything else, would spoil the issue.
There is something to be applauded in not just facing controversy, but diving towards it with arms outstretched. When Cain was hounded from social media for the galling crime of having her polymath/spy/superheorine Mockingbird wear a t-shirt referring to herself as ‘feminist,’ she could have done the safe thing and wrote charming and inoffensive stories. Instead, she and Mockingbird artist Kate Niemczyk are doing a horror comic about menstruation, and the panels are filled with easter eggs, references, and downright middle fingers to their haters. This is a book that no one could accuse of being voiceless.
And the tone is so striking. Maude is a delightful, energetic twelve-year-old who comes through brilliantly on the page. She is a spotlight in a very dark world, which is constantly pushing at the corners. This is a horror book that doesn’t look like one at first glance. It is bubbly and unsettling in equal measure, and it works so well.
A lot of this first issue is world building, so we only have a few short scenes and character introductions, but Image seems to be banking on “Man-eaters as the next “Bitch Planet,” and it certainly has a strong start. I’m already looking forward to the next issue.
This is a book people will be talking about, and you can pick one up at your local comic shop, or get a digital copy from Comixolgy.

Hugh Likes Comics: Batman Damned

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Batman Damned #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Drawn by Lee Bermejo
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: It’s not bat-shaped. Disappointing.

“Batman Damned” is an absolutely gorgeous perfect-bound comic presenting some high test Azzarello nonsense. After an as-yet unseen grueling fight in which he has sustained a critical injury, Batman wakes to find himself in the care of smart-ass magician John Constantine. His wounds are healed, but he has no memory of the events, and someone has killed the Joker. Batman goes searching or answers, but he may not like what he finds.
Published under the DC Black Label imprint, this oversized and perfect bound comic is for mature audiences, and it is reflected in the writing and the art. Batman’s brush with death leaves him shaken and out of sorts, and sparks recollections of his father’s past, which is of course more sinister and tawdry than previous incarnations. He is also having dreams of a mysterious, demonic girl, leading to a crisis of faith for Batman. Did he break his one rule? Did he kill? And did he really make it out of the river himself?
Lee Bermejo’s art carries the weight in this comic. Gotham is an atmospheric watercolor hellscape that has never seemed more sinister.Angles are subtly off. Building loom. it’s all very engaging. Azzarello’s story is almost an annoyance by comparison. Narrated by Constantine in a slew of gothy cliches about angels and devils, the nature of redemption, blah, blah blah. It would all flow together nicely if the central figure weren’t Batman, and we weren’t seeing him from the outside. Batman’s central trait, his real super-power if you will, is that he’s prepared for whatever situation he finds himself in. This book where he fumbles around in madness feels off. Consider last year’s DC Metal, in which Batman kidnaps the space devil, albeit in a diminutive form, in order to try and travel back in time. This is a very different take on the character, and what we get of him is kind of thin and insubstantial. Azzarello lets the reader’s preconceived notions do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
In the end, in spite of the high quality production values, “Batman Damned” will be best known for its controversial nudity. In one scene, upon returning to the Batcave shaken and distraught, Batman removes his costume, only to have a vision of it loom over his nude form. It’s a nicely done scene, but Bermejo neglects to fully shadow in Batman’s crotch in one panel, giving the reader a semi-obscured view of his genitals. Uproar and controversy has already ensued, and digital versions have already updated to obscure his bat-junk, as will future printings. This makes the comic a bit of a collector’s item.
In the end, this is an absolutely gorgeous illustrated Batman story, although the story itself feels a bit lacking. You can find it at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

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.

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.

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