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Hugh Likes Comics: Made Men

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Made Men #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Gonzalo Duarte
Published by Oni

mademen

Frankenstein Revenge Noir. It’s a beautiful concept, and Tobin and Susini pull it off brilliantly in “Made Men.” The book opens with a bloodbath, a hit on a team of police officers. The whole squad is mercilessly gunned down. But the squad’s leader isn’t exactly who she says she is. She’s a Frankenstein, and after one of her grandmother’s recipes allows her to survive the bullets, she’s entering the family business to get revenge.
Tobin’s script goes off at just the right clip to toss us into this revenant revenge tale. Susini’s art is a perfect tonal match, gritty and visceral with just the right level of gore. Duarte’s colors are muted and lurid, exactly like the old school pulp the story evokes.
As a collaborative medium, a comic works best when the art and text either support each other completely, or diverge in interesting ways. “Made Men” does the former, and it is exquisite. We get some outstanding montages, as Jutte Frankenstein narrates on top of the gothic-noir art. If you’re a fan of classic noir or classic horror, this is a fantastic start to something you won’t want to miss. You can find Made Men #1 at your Local Comics Shop, or digitally through Comixology!
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Gundam Wing Endless Duel

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HLV-Gundam Wing Endless Duel
Bandai
Super Famicom

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Invariably, Nostalgia Pilots’ deep dive into the series lead me back to the ephemera and tie-ins to Gundam Wing, including the Super Famicom fighting game. Bandai hasn’t had the best track record with Gundam games, but Gundam Wing Endless Duel turned out to be pretty great.
A late 16-bit era fighting game in the vein of Street Fighter II, “Gundam Wing Endless Duel” never made it to America. This is almost certainly because the anime it is based on wouldn’t be localized for another three years after it was released. But it’s also a shame, because it’s a great 2-player fighter, with tight controls, gorgeous pixel graphics, and a merciless difficulty curve.
Roughly following the plot of the show, the game features nine characters, plus a hidden playable boss. Each giant robot has a pair of light and heavy attacks, can rocket boost into the air, and fires machine guns from a distance. They also have a fuel meter, and all special and super attacks drain the gauge. Successfully blocking attacks or landing hits refills the gauge, but it doesn’t fill back up between rounds. This prevents a player from just leaning on special attacks for victory and provides some nice game balance.
The personality and capabilities of each pilot and robot are well displayed. Wing and Wing Zero have giant guns, their signature beam sabres, and can even transform into their jet modes to ram the enemy. Deathscythe is fast and excels at close-combat, Qatre has access to his army of bodyguards, etc. The stages are all pulled right from the show. Each one is incredibly detailed and downright beautiful. Heero fights inside a colony, Zechs’ stage is an Antarctic ice sheet, and Wu-Fei fights in the wilderness he spends most of the first half of the show moping in.
“Gundam Wing Endless Duel” looks and feels just right, but it isn’t a walk in the park. The computer A I is brutal and merciless. The challenge is further amped up by the fact that unlike other tournament fighters, players can hit their opponent when they’re down.
If you’re a serious fighting game player, and you need something to tide you over until the next big thing comes out, I recommend taking a look for this overlooked gem.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Lincoln in the Bardo

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Hugh Likes Fiction-Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo
Written by George Saunders
Full Cast Audiobook
Published by Penguin Random House

Lincoln in the Bardo is less a novel of The Civil War than it is a novel about life (and death) surrounding the war. It is set on the night following the burial of William Lincoln, the president’s son who died of Typhoid, and follows the many ghosts that dwell in Oak Hill Cemetery.
The ghosts, all trapped between life and death by their earthly desires and attachments, observe and interact with the spirit of the boy and the mourning Lincoln, who returns that night. A mixture of fantasy and historical record, Saunders intersperses the true event of the president’s mourning with the lives of his fictional ghosts and excerpts from memoirs and accounts of the period. The result is both cacophonous and elegantly executed. Much like the spirits who deny what is in front of them, the country is caught on the edge of monumental change, change that is nearly impossible, but necessary. Acceptance and reaction to those changes, both for the living and the dead, is the crux of the story.
The audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo is a full cast recording that really takes advantage of the nature of the book. a huge cast of actors create a chorus of voices. The dizzying variety of their opinions and backgrounds reflect the diverse stories of the characters very well. The mood is well established, and it really sets the atmosphere for the story. The cast is anchored by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and Saunders himself as three spirits who are most active in the story. The rest of the cast is a crowd of voices both recognizable and unknown, and is excellently produced.
Lincoln in the Bardo is available in audio and print from Audible and your local independent book store. I recommend giving it a listen, or a read.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Adventure Zone, Revisited

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The Adventure Zone
Hosted by Griffin, Travis, Justin, and Clint McElroy
http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/adventure-zone

The Adventure Zone Flat_7

When I originally reviewed The Adventure Zone in January of 2015, it was still in the midst of its first arc. Having just finished the first campaign of the show 69 episodes later, I wanted to go back and give it a second look. The show went from a enjoyably funny Dungeons & Dragons podcast to something altogether different, and I think there’s a lot to talk about here.
Serial storytelling is a thing always in motion. TV shows change show-runners. Comics change creative teams. Target audiences drift. Even when the artists stay consistent, real-world events swirl around them. Tastes are fickle. Long-running concepts have to be adaptable. The Doctor regenerates. Batman shifts from swinging sixties Caped-Crusaider to Frank Miller’s gritty vigilante and back again. Podcasts are no less susceptible to these changes. But I never expected four goofballs sitting around a microphone and joking about role playing to make me cry.
The Adventure Zone’s first campaign was a train that constantly picked up speed. The McElroys are comedians at heart. The podcast started as a goof, and it was entirely in their oeuvre. It was a lot of fun, but one of the characters was named Taako, and his quest was to invent the taco. This was a big part of the early episodes. But something happened along the way. Often, when something becomes popular, it is considered the downfall of the enterprise. It gets too big, expands beyond the original concept, or the creators get overwhelmed or carried away. But that isn’t what happened to “The Adventure Zone.”
Fans loved the podcast. They made fanart, they wrote letters, they tweeted, and crated animatics from the audio. And in showing how much they loved these silly adventures, the McElroys worked harder. They gave their creation depth and emotional resonance that it didn’t have for them, because they knew that it was there for the fans of the show. It’s a bit of a trite statement to say that a media property is ‘for the fans,’ but it’s rare that something is so beautifully communicated between creators and an audience.
The Adventure Zone didn’t abandon the goofy aesthetic so much as it became more sincere in it. Seeing the reaction fans had to the show, the McElroys put in the work. Production got better. Griffin produced an intricate plot that slotted in seamlessly to the pre-made adventure they started out with. He also composed entire soundtracks, and sculpted lush sound environments. The players carefully weighed their decisions, because, they realized, the characters were no longer just theirs. The Adventure Zone became something better than its beginnings because the creators and the audience respected one another in a way that’s rare in our media sphere. The results are remarkable, and worth listening to even if you’ve never opened iTunes or rolled up a character sheet.
The Adventure Zone recently finished it’s first campaign, “Balance,” with episode 69. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend going back and starting from the beginning. It’s a long road, but the transformation along the way is truly special. Art isn’t created in a vacuum, and sometimes, it sneaks up on you from the most unlikely of places. Just like three goofy heroes who wind up saving the world.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Downwell

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Downwell
Created by Ojiro Fumoto
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on PS Vita
Downwellgame.com

On the surface, “Downwell” is a very simple game. The Japanese indie shooter/platformer has very simple controls, a limited color palette, and low-resolution sprites. But there is something very charming about the mashup of ideas that comes together elegantly to make an experience that his easy to pick up, and extremely challenging.
The player controls a figure who jump into a well full of monsters with only his ‘gun-boots’ for protection. He can shoot monsters below him, and landing on ledges reloads. The randomly generated levels stretch down, with a few side caverns full of upgrades or shops to try and reach. Like in old-school shooters, the gun-boots can be upgraded to a number of different weapons, from spread-guns to shotguns, to lasers. Players also can snag upgrades like jetpacks and health refills between levels.
Even with these bonuses, the difficulty is very high, although not really cheap. Monsters such as bats and ghosts fill the well, and they all have their own patterns the player can learn. Sections are split into three levels each, but there isn’t really any save system, so players are booted back to the top with each death, which is a bit disappointing.
The player unlocks new palettes and slightly different game modes based on cumulative score, but most of these are just slight variations or aesthetic changes.
“Downwell” is a clever mashup that will certainly fill your time on the train, without sucking you in to a 100 hour adventure. But you may be surprised how long you think “Just one more run,” while playing. You can play it on Steam and a variety of platforms. It’s also available in Playstation Plus this month.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Rencor

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Rencor: Life in Grudge City
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown Publications

“Rencor: Life in Grudge City” is the Luchador Superhero Detective novella you didn’t know you needed in your life. The eponymous setting is a U.S/Mexico border town founded in the 1950’s as a sort of hometown for luchadores. But like all things, time moves on.
Ten years ago, Technico El Victor III and Rudo Mil Calavaras III fought their last, epic match in the ring at Coleseo Rencor. The climactic battle saw the defeated Calavaras banished from Rencor, a place where the rules of the ring and the rule of are one and the same, forever. It was the beginning of the end for Luchadores in Rencor.
Now, El Victor is scraping by in a world that doesn’t hold the enmascardos in the same esteem anymore, and Mil Calavaras works as a ‘reformed’ consultant to the FBI, successful but denied his home and revenge. But an unusual break-in at Museo Rencor will bring El Victor back to hero work, and Mil Calaveras back to his hometown. Will the former rivals solve the case, or kill each other first?
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is another fast-paced, inventive, and supremely entertaining novella from Matt Wallace. Steeped in the unique lore of the lucha libre and populated by his usual eccentric and elegantly sketched characters, the book draws in the reader and gives them everything they need, even if they’ve never heard of the likes of El Santo before. Wallace’s deep knowledge and abiding love of old-school wresting shines through in every page, and the work is elevated by it. His embrace of the super-heroic and mystical bits, in a graying world that is leaving such things behind makes for a not only entertaining read, but a moving one.
While Wallace’s action scenes are outstanding and for the most part easy to follow, I think a glossary for some of the more technical moves and terms would have been helpful. I was never really lost, but Wallace throws out a lot of wrestling terminology throughout the book. That’s honestly the only criticism I can say, although I will add that the novella ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Matt will return to Rencor soon.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is available in print and ebook. You can buy it via Amazon, or order it from you local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Shared Desk

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The Shared Desk
Hosted by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine
http://www.theshareddesk.com/

I can’t believe I haven’t covered this one before. Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine are the husband-and-wife team of authors behind The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. They are also long-experienced solo writers and podcasters, so obviously they have a writing podcast together in which they discuss the craft of writing and collaborating as a couple.
I will confess that Pip and Tee are dear personal friends and fellow Smoky Writers. One of the things I love about them is that they have an amazing energy as a couple, and that totally comes through on the podcast. They are a joy to listen to.
When they began the podcast, they were both working together on their Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk novels, now that the series has wound its way down, they have split off to their own projects again, but still gather to discuss the events of their lives, interact with their active fanbase, and opine on writerly discourse of the day. While the show began as a look at the shared creative process, it has morphed into a writing podcast focusing on work/life balance, how to comport yourself as a writer, particularly online, and of course, lengthy diversions into nerdery, video games, and beer, all topics near and dear to my heart.
One of the things I really like about it is the balance between work and play The Shared Desk has. Tee is never far from his soundboard of drop-ins, and they’ve had beer tastings, chatted with special guests, dissected tv shows and movies for writing craft, and even divvied up Loot Crate boxes on-mic.
Writing is usually a lonely business, but “The Shared Desk” revels in the parts of the job that aren’t, and the fun and friends you make along the way. Check it out at www.theshareddesk.com, in iTunes, or your podcatcher of choice.

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