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Hugh Likes Comics: Atomic Robo and the Dawn of the New Era

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Atomic Robo and the Dawn of the New Era #1
Written by Brian Clevenger
Drawn by Scott Wegener
Colored by Shannon Murphy
Published by IDW

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The Skinny: Atomic Robo returns with the most perilous action science adventure yet – Fatherhood.

I’m a sucker for mad science. Arcing Tesla coils, doomsday devices, snappy lab-wear and villainous monologues, give me the whole bit. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always found Clevenger and Wegener’s Atomic Robo so interesting. Being the robot son of Tesla himself, he is the very essence of pulp weirdness, but he constantly struggles to make sense of the world, be it through rigorously mapping non-euclidean spaces or just punching out his velociraptor arch-nemesis, Dr. Dinosaur. He’s the product of mad science, but for the most part he is trying to straighten the field back into something sensible.
This is very much the case in the latest issue, which starts a new story arc, and is a great place for new readers to jump on. Throughout his adventures, Robo has gone from pulp-style adventurer to solider to scientist to tech mogul. But this story puts him in a very different role, that of a father. Through a series of events, he is now the caretaker of ALAN, a networked AI from the 1950’s that has lost its memory, and is effectively a new person. The original ALAN was willing to destroy the world, but Robo has a chance to give it an education, and hopefully a different future.
Clevenger’s writing is as spot-on as it’s ever been, and Wegener’s art remains appealingly chunky. Fans of the character will find plenty to enjoy, and this is a great issue for new readers to pick up. You can find Atomic Robo and the Dawn of the New Era on Comixology or at your local comics shop. And if you like it, there are plenty of back issues to pick through for free over at Atomic-Robo.com.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Conan the Barbarian #1

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Conan the Barbarian #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Drawn by Mahmud Asrar
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: A perfectly CROMulent return to comics for the archetypal antihero.

With much fanfare, Conan the Barbarian has returned to Marvel Comics, and his first effort back is pretty good, I think? I should begin this review by saying that I’m not very familiar with the Marvel run that began in the 70’s and added so much to the character’s mythos. I am more well-read on Robert E. Howard’s original short stories, however.
And this comic, to me at least, is good. Aaron tells a nice little Conan story that doesn’t stray from the path of a Conan story. Conan kills a dude for reasons, meets a sexy lady that ALSO kills people and is super into him. Conan sleeps with her even though it is a SUPER OBVIOUS TRAP, and cuts his way out of trouble after the trap is sprung. Aaron’s signature here is in tying King Conan and Barbarian Conan together. It is reminiscent of writing on Thor, contrasting the brash youth with his scarred older self. It works well, and I’m onboard to see where he goes with it.
Asrar’s art is downright gorgeous, all rippling muscle and larger than life figures that can’t be contained by their panels. Matthew Wilson’s coloring is also outstanding, bringing a brightness that echoes the 70’s origins of the comic. The art team has big shoes to fill here, as the comic opens with a double-page collage of Smith and Buscema art.
The comic also includes a serialized prose novella as backup material, written by John C. Hocking, which feels very much in the vein of the original, but it is a bit too early to tell.
Conan the Barbarian #1 is a return to good old fashioned sword and sorcery, with a simple plot and bold and bloody art that leaps off the page. It knows exactly what it is and doesn’t push too far beyond it, but if you’re looking for a simple fantasy adventure for adults, you can find it at your local comics shop or in digital from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Comics: 2018 Top 5

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Eternity Girl

Eternity Girl
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Sonny Liew
Published by DC/Young Animal

After losing control of her powers and being suspended, superhero Caroline Sharp, A. K. A. Chrysalis, has become suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, her powers make her functionally immortal. But the shade of her greatest nemesis appears with a solution: If she destroys all of reality, Caroline can finally be at peace. Eternity Girl starts out as a meditation on classic trope but quickly blossoms into something much more extraordinary. The surreal, shifting story is both personal and grand in a way few comics manage to pull off, and Liew’s art steals the show, including a breathtaking sequence in which reimagines the characters in a multitude of comic styles, from Peanuts to Watchmen. If you liked Into the Spider-Verse but wished it was more philosophically meaty, this is the comic for you.

Immortal Hulk

Immortal Hulk
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Joe Bennett
Published by Marvel Comics

Superheroes get reinvented all the time, but this new take on Marvel’s Angry Green Giant is the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time. By day, Bruce Banner wanders the back roads of America, hitching his way across the country. But night belongs to The Hulk. Ewing uses Marvel’s latest death and resurrection of the character to tell a clever horror stories about guilt, secrets, and self-delusion.

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

Five years ago, a disaster convinces the attendees the world’s biggest comic convention that the world had ended, and the world thought the convention center had met the same fate as Los Spinoza, CA. But the Long Con is still going. When proof of survivors surfaces, reporter Victor Lai, one of the last reporters to escape the city, is sent back in. But without protection, and more importantly, without a badge, how long will he survive? This comic is a delightful skewering of post-apocalyptic, nerd culture, and sci-fi tropes.

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk
Written by Delilah Dawson
Drawn by Matias Basla
Colored by Rebecca Nalty
Published by Boom! Studios

Art, the illegitimate daughter of an English lord, has always lived at odds with the world she was raised in. But when the Faerie Queen switches places with her in a plot to take over the human world, she’ll have to try and save it anyway. But little does she understand what that will cost her, and every choice has devastating consequences in Faerie. Gorgeously illustrated and dream-like, Sparrowhawk is a Victorian portal fantasy with modern sensibilities.

WCA

West Coast Avengers
Written by Kelly Thompson
Drawn by Stefano Caselli and Daniele Di Nicuolo
Published by Marvel Comics

Sometimes you just need to read something unabashedly fun! This relaunch feels less like The Avengers than a new take on the themes of classic Excalibur. As the title suggests, the series is set in Southern California, far away from Marvel’s NYC, and is more than willing to embrace sillinessess. The first volume stars best Hawkeye Kate Bishop and friends as they form a team to save Los Angeles from B.R.O.D.O.K. and his army of 200-foot tall monster women.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Octopath Traveller

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Octopath Traveller
Developed by Acquire
Published by Square Enix
Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: This retro-styled JRPG creates a miniature clockwork world to explore.

I love me some Old School Japanese Role Playing Games. As a kid, I looked on with envy as my friends talked about the then mind-blowing scope of Dragon Warrior, and the Unprecedented drama of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. When I grew older and had the means to play them myself, I lost myself in their fast maps and intricate mechanical systems. But trends come and go in gaming, and while these classics are remembered fondly, they just don’t make them anymore.
Except, of course, when they do. Octopath Traveller is a return to subgenre form, complete with pixelated sprites and tangled leveling systems. But it brings a lot of new stuff to the table as well.
The player chooses their starting character from a cast of eight protagonists, from erudite but occasionally naive scholar Cyrus to cynical thief Therion. After playing through the character’s ‘Chapter’ you leave your starting town and recruit the other characters, and play their stories as well. While you can have up to four characters in your party, each character’s story plays out as though they were alone, although you can access character asides where the others will give that character advice, or other dialog that doesn’t impact the scene.
Octopath Traveller is a remarkable success in so many ways. The visuals, a mix of pixel art and modern particle effects serve to create the illusion of a miniature world on the switch’s screen. Sand, snow and water all sparkle, and shimmer on the screen, creating not exactly realism, but an almost tactile effect. The locations look like vastly complex models. The music is gorgeous and cleverly constructed. The writing is smart, engaging, and doesn’t suffer from the bowdlerization so often present in 90’s translations. Combat is strategic and tricky. It is a joy to play.
But as much fun as it is, the game never quite breaks its illusions. The systems never let the player forget that it is a game. Its use of story as another system is interesting, and fun for me, but I found myself wishing that the characters had a bit more interaction with one another. If I have a Healer in my party, why can’t he heal the Cleric’s ill adoptive father? If another character is looking for a criminal, why can’t the Thief use their contacts to speed the process along? These barriers were a distraction to me at times.
Also, having one character that never left the party made them way more powerful than anybody else. There didn’t seem to be a reason to alway have them in the group, and by the end there was a huge gap. These are both aspects I hope they address in any potential sequels.
Octopath Traveller is an incredible JRPG experience for Nintendo Switch that is both full of warm, gooey nostalgia, and genuinely unlike anything else out there. If you have a Nintendo Switch and a hundred hours to spare, this is a must play.

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.

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.

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.

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