Hugh Likes Comics: Batmanga

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Batman: The Juro Kuwata Batmanga Volunme 1
Written and Drawn by Juro Kuwata
Published by DC Comics

The Skinny: The Other ’60s Batman

During the height of the 1960s Batman TV show, Juro Kuwata a manga-ka who brought the Dynamic Duo to Japan with his own unique spin on the Caped Crusader.
 The resulting collection was not available in English in a complete format until 2014, but it is well worth your time and consideration. The art is a delightful mix of Golden Age DC and classic manga aesthetics, riding high on an international wave of the live-action Batman TV show’s success. The stories are all fairly straightforward and of their time, but also take some interesting swings. Eschewing the Dark Knight’s well-known rogues gallery, Kuwata turned his hand to making his own villains, opening with the very strong and exceptionally well-named “Lord Death Man” and setting Batman and Robin against a super-intelligent gorilla (not Gorilla Grodd) with a fun twist, a powerful mutant that echoes the creation of Marvel’s X-Men while looking like a weird space alien, and The Human Ball, which probably sounded less hilarious in the original Japanese.
 Kuwata’s art is striking and iconic, although the stories feel somewhat poorly served by manga’s black-and-white format. Several insert sections also include red tones for a deluxe feel, but one of the key clues for one of the villains includes the fact that his powers were color based. Which came out of left field in this black-and-white comic
Batman and Robin also have a distinct feel to them in this version, with Batman being much more of a man of action rather than a detective, and this Dick Grayson is delightfully sassy.
 While not exactly ground-breaking, this collection of ‘lost’ Batman comics feels both classic and astonishingly different. Kuwata’s style is distinct and iconic, while still highly recognizable, and Batman and Robin’s adventures don’t feel too far removed from his live-action TV Adventures. It is a curious little oddity that is well worth the time of fans of both anime and Batman, if only as a reminder of where the character has gone in his many years of publication history. Batmanga Volume 1 is available digitally from Comixology or in print from your local comics shop.

The Mountain’s Shadow is now available from Amazon and Smashwords!

Hugh Likes Video Games: Marvel Snap

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Marvel Snap
Developed By Second Dinner
Published By Nuverse
Played on Android OS

The Skinny: Marvel – The Gathering
Marvel Snap is a mobile collectable card game based on the Marvel comics, movies, and TV shows. Players build decks of twelve cards of heroes and villains from across the Marvel Universe, and attempt to hold up to three locations, much like the table-top card game Smash Up. Players use either their cards raw strength or tricky abilities to gain the upper hand at each location. There is a surprising amount of strategy and depth involved.
Over six rounds, players gain energy points to play cards, increasing from a base of one. One cost cards are weaker but often more versatile than expensive cards that can only be played later. Cards also have other various abilities, and these are clever and tie into the powers of each of the cards. For example, Colossus, being tough and invulnerable, can’t have his power reduced by enemy cards or from location effects. The assassin Electra can remove a one-cost card from the same location.
There is a nice big pool of cards to draw from, each with different kinds of effects. The combat took some time to grow on me, but now that I have gotten the hang of it, matches are fast and addictive. Its the sort of game you can easily stay up too late playing just one more round.
 Marvel Snap also maintains good card balance and combats ‘rich kid syndrome.’ Because the cards are in sets released as the player upgrade their decks, new players are encouraged to try out different combinations, and receive their rewards randomly. While there is a ‘Premium tier’ that grants certain exclusive cards and does feel a bit heavy-handed, players do not buy cards, just variant illustrations and other cosmetic rewards. And part of the fun is chasing that next card you need to make your deck stronger.
 And the art is the star of the show. Since this is a online only game, the art is upgraded in ways that only a video game can produce, breaking their card boarders and animating. There’s even a nice 3D effect. Every card has unique animations when played as well. Ant-Man shrinks when you place him on the board and Cyclops is laid down with an accompanying optic blast. As cards are ‘upgraded,’ which is the heart of the advancement mechanic, the central illustrations break the borders of their cards, get small animations, and even upgraded logos. A variety of variant cards exist as well for each character. Some recreate iconic designs or character moments, while others are more whimsical, such as pixelated or ‘chili’ variants.
 Marvel Snap is an intuitive and addictive battling card game available now on IOS and Android app stores.

Hugh Likes Comics: Waller Vs. Wildstorm

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Waller Vs. Wildstorm #1
Written by Spencer Ackerman & Evan Narcisse
Drawn by Jesus Merino with Vicente Cifuentes
Colored by Michael Atiyeh
Published by DC Comics

The Skinny: Cold War spy craft meets ’90s superhero excess in this unique miniseries.
I’m the biggest fan of DC’s Black Label comics. I found previous comics in the line oversized, overpriced, and all too often reliant on shock value and gimmickry rather than their story. (See Batman: Damned for more hot tea on Batman’s junk) But Waller Vs. Wildstorm is a book that I have been looking forward to, and it did not disappoint.
 Written by famed political journalist Spencer Ackerman, and Evan Narcisse, the book is a taut reimagining of Checkmate, one of the DC universe’s metahuman government organizations, as a late Cold War-era spy agency, doing shadowy deeds in war-torn proxy states. But with super-powers. The whole issue serves as a framing device, with Stormwatch leader Battalion meeting cub reporter Lois Lane in the hotel bar of one of DC’s many fictional third-world countries. He is trying to get her to dig into the past of a black site operative who is gaining control of Checkmate, an ambitious young woman named Amanda Waller. 
 My background with the Wildstorm universe and Stormwatch is spotty, having only picked up the books during The Authority and having seen little of the line’s reinvention as a part of the already overly stuffed DC Universe. But this issue gave me the relevant information without needing a degree in DC lore or becoming too much of an information dump. This issue serves primarily as an introduction to the story and universe, so I’m interested in where the book goes from here.
 Jesus Merino’s art is showcased by the DC Black Label large print size, and looks absolutely gorgeous paired with Cifuentes’s inks and Atiyeh’s rich, vibrant colors. The more grounded, serious story really pops against the colorful era-accurate designs for these ’90s heroes. 
 Waller Vs. Wildstorm is a prestige miniseries being released episodically from DC Black label. The first issue is available now digitally through Comixology, or in print at Your Local Comics Shop. If you are in the mood for some late Cold-War nostalgia, or want a superhero comic with a bit more bite to it, I recommend you give it a look!

Hugh Likes Fiction: Even Though I Knew the End

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Even Through I Knew The End
Written by C. L. Polk
Audiobook Read by January LaVoy

The Skinny: A quick mix of Fantasy and Noir that hits hard and fast.

Helen Brandt is a Private Investigator living in 1940’s Chicago. She’s also a lesbian, and a warlock. She takes on magical work for her mysterious clients, gets paid well for her work, and doesn’t ask questions. But when she’s recruited to investigate a notorious serial killer whose murder scenes have a magical connection, she turns the job down. There’s too much risk involved, and people she cares about could get hurt, including her estranged brother and her girlfriend. But she changes her mind when her client offers her something she can’t refuse: Her soul.Even Though I Knew The End is a delightful little jewel of a fantasy noir novella. Polk’s recreation of 1941 Chicago, layered with a tantalizing hint of a rich magical world, is stunning and vibrant. The city breathes, and you can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke and stale coffee on the narrator’s breath. The combination of enticing fantasy world and impending doom with palpable and exciting. Polk’s well-researched noir prose is spot on, giving just enough to bring the story to life without turning purple.The audiobook, read by January LaVoy, is outstanding. Her narration brings the characters to life, and her performance of Brandt brings out the perfect amount of hard-luck noir sympathy for a protagonist who has undoubtedly done awful things for awful people (Marlowe in particular) but we want to root for her anyway, even though, well, we know how things are fated to turn out. Her performance of the rest of the cast is also excellent, giving otherworldly touches to the characters where appropriate and garnering sympathy when necessary.Even Though I Knew the End is a brilliant Fantasy Noir novella. You can find it in Print and eBook from the usual marketplaces, and as an audiobook from Audible.

Hugh Likes Comics: Chainsaw Man

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Chainsaw Man Volume 1: Dog and Chainsaw
Written & Drawn by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Published by Viz Media

The Skinny: Three chainsaws and one brain cell.

Chainsaw Man is a delight of a manga that is taking the world by storm, and I can see why. It follows Denji, a young man saddled by the Yakuza with his father’s debts. Forced to pay an impossible sum, Denji’s only companion and source of income is his pet Pochita, a dog-like devil with a chainsaw for a snout. Denji uses his monster pup to hunt other demons for cash. But when his yakuza debtors turn on him, Pochita sacrifices itself, merging with Denji to make him the eponymous Chainsaw Man, a powerful combination of human and devil.Chainsaw Man is one of those manga that sits squarely in the Venn diagram of a number of genres. It isn’t quite a horror comic, and it has a lot of comedic elements, and Denji sort of, but doesn’t quite fit into a superhero mould. The book sits somewhere uncomfortably between all three genres, allowing the tension of that placement to drive the story.In a world where devils walk the Earth, this is the type of story that examines the humanity, or lack thereof, of its characters. From the abusive Yakuza who hounded Denji’s father to suicide to his new boss Makijima, who threatens to have Denji executed if he doesn’t produce results, the humans take advantage of Denji’s situation as a half-devil for their own ends, leaving him to suffer. But Denji isn’t without flaws himself, as he uses his newfound freedom to support his one goal in life: To ever touch a boob. Largely the inhumanity of these characters is played for laughs or pathos rather than as a serious societal critique. Denji is a character raised outside of civilization, and becomes a lens to view civilization’s flaws, ramped up to eleven by the threat of marauding devils. Denji himself is so simple that he is played as a sort of a noble savage, alongside zombie-like devil girl Power. In other situations, this could be very uncomfortable, but Fujimoto pulls the trick off, for the most part.
Fujimoto’s art is detailed, and often grotesque without being overly complex or difficult to read. I read the manga on my tablet, and it came through very legibly, and is easy to follow. His monster designs are clever and unexpected, and manage to never cross the line into being too gross.
Part horror reflecting man’s inhumanity to man, part workplace comedy, part gristly spectacle, Chainsaw Man walks a thin line, but the fresh writing and fast pace propel it along fast enough that it never falls into any pits. If you’re looking for something new to read, it’s well worth your time.

Hugh Likes Comics: Sins of Sinister #1

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Sins of Sinister #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Various Artists
Colored by Bryan Valenza
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Speed-running into a dark timeline
Ever since the X-Men’s soft reboot into the current era with 2019’s House of X/Powers of X, the heroes have had a problem. It was never a question of if evil eugenicist Mister Sinister was going to betray them, but how. While he’s been sitting on the ruling council and biding his time, his plans have accelerated since the start of Gillen’s Imortal X-Men.
Sins of Sinister #1 is the wig reveal for the diabolical mastermind’s ten-year plan, serving as a sort of a speed-run start to the event. Sinister isn’t one person, more of a system of clones, and he’s secretly corrupted the Quiet Council in order to bring about his larger goal of turning the entire Earth into a Mister Sinister hive-mind. The result is that this is less of a kick-off and more of a guided tour of ten years of a Marvel Comics history that is likely to be completely undone at the end of the event.
Gillen has put all his cards on the table for this event. By leaning into the fact that this won’t be the status quo going forward, he gets to take bigger swings with the story. The event is spaced out in powers of ten, with the first books set ten years after Sinister’s takeover, then one hundred, and finally a thousand years into the future. This unique structure is a lot of fun, and this volume gives us a whole lot of cool splash pages and hypothetical events as the corrupted X-Men help take over the world. Sometimes it’s fun to watch the bad guys win.
With a huge number of artists drawing the book, the art varies, but it’s all good, and Bryan Valenza’s colors tie the different sections together. The book has a dark palate, which fits the sci-fi dystopia that Sinister is trying to bring about.
Sins of Sinister #1 is less a puzzle box and more of a explainer video of a comic, a wig reveal of machinations that have been threaded through the last four years of comics. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m most looking forward to the individual books, and seeing how the unusual structure for the event plays out. You can pick up a copy for yourself at the usual digital retailers, and from your local Comics Shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Young Men in Love

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Young Men in Love: A Queer Romance Anthology
Edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner
Published by A Blue Wave World

The Skinny: A sweet collection of short gay romance comics
A pair of pirates just looking for a bit of privacy, a pre-teen looking for his own identity, and a new couple still figuring out their boundaries are just some of the stories in this sweet, romantic anthology. Created by Queer writers and artists across the comics industry, this anthology of six-page pieces runs the gamut from the fantastic to the mundane and from the melancholic to the exuberantly joyful. There is a story here for everyone.
Young Men in Love is a book of stories that go on separate journies but arrive at the same place. Gay love and Queer relationships are more varried than you often see in media, particularly comics, and this book breaks the mold by telling personal, diverse stories that each have a life of their own. This book is as long on charm as the stories are short. There are low-stakes stories about first love, self discovery, and loneliness, and more fantastical stories about discovering your partner is a superhero or a couple falling into a virtual world while replacing a lamp. YMiL isn’t just about love but about acceptance and more importatnly, self-acceptance.
 Joe Glass tells a story which feels deeply personal. It follows a fat person as he deals with his body issues as a gay comics fan, coming up against not only the societal expectation that he should be ‘thin’ but also potential lovers that fetishize his weight. Dead End creator Hamish Steele tells a poignant story about loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts during the holidays. While not all the stories are so personal,, they all feel important. There is something deeply uncommercial about this collection.
 These aren’t love stories about the stereotypical gay characters you would see on a sitcom or in a romance novel written for the female gaze. YMiL is a book of our stories, for us, and that feels vital to me. If you want to see more diverse stories or find new, brilliant creators, writers and artists not on the radar of big-2 comics, you need this anthology.
Young Men in Love is available in print and digital editions from your local comics shop or the usual monopolistic book outlets. It is a deeply personal, highly original, and honest collection of stories that need to get out into the world. I give it my highest recommendation.

Hugh Likes Video Games: The Cult of the Lamb

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Cult of the Lamb
Developed by Massive Monster
Published by Devolver Digital
Played on Nintendo Swtich

The Skinny: This is one animal you don’t want to cross.

With the rise in popularity of roguelikes, horror games, and cute animal life sims, it was only a matter of time before a developer combined all three.
 Much like SNES classic Actraiser, Cult of the Lamb alternates between simulation and action gameplay and does an excellent job of using the two modes to create a satisfying gameplay loop. The player is thrust into the role of The Lamb, sacrificed by The Bishops of the Old Faith, four dark gods who rule over a sinister forest full of adorable cartoon animals, like a theocratic Animal Crossing. But death is only the beginning, as you are chosen by their imprisoned sibling, The One Who Waits, to build a cult, slay the four bishops, and free him.
Gameplay consists of two phases. In roguelike action sequences, players attack the lairs of the four bishops fighting enemies, rescuing prisoners, and gaining supplies. The rewards feed into a management sections, in which you grow your cult in order to use their faith to empower your supernatural abilities in combat. Players can also explore the world, completing side quests and playing mini-games.
 The gameplay loop is challenging and satisfying, as you must balance your follower’ needs and venture out in the dark to find your enemies. If you neglect one, the other will suffer. Players need to go out to gain gold and other supplies, but if you neglect your cult, they will abandon you and you won’t have the required population levels to unlock later areas or the upgrades needed for end-game challenges.
 The game’s art reminds me of ‘Happy Tree Friends,’ Taking a light, cartoonish style and mixing it with some seriously messed up stuff. The cartoony nature sands the edges off of some of the more despicable actions you are able to take as cult leader. The game gives you a lot of options. Will you sacrifice your followers for a quicker boost in power or nurture them in order to gain more resources? It’s all fun and games until you summon that tentacle from the farthest planes of reality to crush their little bones.
Combat is challenging and intuitive and will be familiar to anyone who has played games like Hades or The Binding of Isaac.
While both parts of the game are fun and feed into each other well, both feel a little shallower than if the game were more tightly focused.
Cult of the Lamb is available for Steam along with major console eShops.

Hugh Likes Fiction: Fevered Star

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Fevered Star: Between Earth and Sky Book 2
Written by Rebecca Roanhoarse
Audiobook Read by Christian Barillas, Darrell Dennis, Cara Gee, Nicole Lewis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett
Published by Simon and Schuster, Inc
Listened to via Audible

Spoilers for Rebecca Roanhoarse’s previous novel, Black Sun. Also, I listened to the audiobook, so please forgive any misspelled names.
The sequel to 202’s Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhoarse returns to her Pre-Columbian America inspired epic fantasy world of the Meridian, expanding the focus of the story from the canyon city of Tova to encompass its neighbors, as the fallout from the first book’s climax reveals the charactersWith both the Crow God’s champion of Serapio and the Sun Priest Naranpa having unexpectedly survived, but the city itself in a shambles, the new year dawns in Tova with the sky frozen in an eclipse, as Shadow and Light struggle for dominance. While the office of the Watchers has been destroyed, the Sky-Made clans and their matrons still plot, and Serapio and Naranpa both return home to their clans and families, unsure of what to do next. But as the sorcerers who engineered Serapio’s rise plan their next move, so to do the disaffected masses of Clan Carrion Crow, and the clanless criminal underclass of Coyote’s Maw. While it is difficult to say much about the book without getting into spoilers, I really enjoyed this epic fantasy. Roanhoarse is a master of the dramatic irony and pacing that are the life’s blood of the sub-genre. The unique setting of the Meridian, with its pre-Columbian America vibes is a delight to return to. I’m glad this book gives the characters more figurative and literal room to breathe. The first book was a race towards the climax, which coincided with a solar eclipse and a big festival for the city. This book feels less like an impending crash and is a bit more quiet, as the characters recover and consider their next moves. The Sun Priest and the Crow God’s avatar spend the book circling one another, looking for advantage, or a way out.That isn’t to say this book is dull. There’s plenty of drama and action, and cool magical powers and fights. Everything that was great about the first book returns here, and is enhanced. With more cliffhangers at the end, I am fully invested in this series, and can’t wait for the next entry.The audiobook features five different narrators, each of whom brings one point-of-view character to life. I enjoy this style of narration for epic fantasy, and it works well here. The different voices highlight the different points of view of the characters to great effect. I just wish that the producer had made sure all of the readers were on the same page for pronunciations, as some of the proper names and places would shift depending on the narrator.Fevered Star is available in print, ebook, and audiobook from your local bookseller or internet-based megastore.

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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