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Hugh Likes Comics: Ascender

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Ascender #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Lettered by Steve Wands
Published by image

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The Skinny: In a galaxy ruled by a despotic witch, a young girl dreams of freedom.

Even though I’ve never read Descender, the long-running science fiction series to which this book serves as a sequel, I’m still intrigued by the premise. In a galaxy where technology is outlawed, the universe is under the control of a powerful witch. Raised in isolation by her father, a girl
Most of the first issue of Lemire and Nguyen’s Ascender is table-setting. As someone coming in fresh, I was captivated by the world building, with hints of a growing rebellion and a compelling space fantasy premise. We spend most of the episode with the authoritarian Mother and her cronies and henchmen as she plots to keep her iron grip on the universe in the face of a mysterious opposition. The mystery here is strong enough to make up for the lack of movement in the plot, and we get a good look at how bad life is under this regime.
Nguyen’s art is the real star of the show, though. Everything is done in a beautiful watercolor style. it’s more intimate and graceful than your average story about space magic, and it lends something unique and resonant to the book. It contrasts the brutality of the regime by painting it in soft blues and grays. Each page has something surprising and gorgeous in the midst of horror.
Much like Star Wars, Ascender #1 starts at the lowest point of an ongoing story, but invites the audience in on a new adventure to save the galaxy from the forces of darkness. I’m 100% on board. You can find it in floppies at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Fairlady

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Fairlady #1
Written by Brian Schirmer
Drawn by Claudia Balboni
Colored by Marissa Louise
Lettered by David Bowman
Published by Image Comics

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The Skinny: A post-war pulp genre mashup that goes off like a well executed heist spell.

In the Harshlands, a war has come to an end. With the standing army disbanded, many soldiers became private investigators called ‘Freemen.’ Jenner Faulds works as the Feld’s one and only Fairlady, taking the cases nobody else will. When she is hired to find a missing woman,
Fairlady #1 is the first issue in a new series that combines pulp genres in compelling and inventive ways. Schimer leans in to pulp fantasy and detective tropes by teasing hints of a conflict as equally devastating as the two World Wars, and giving us hard-boiled character in fantasy clothing. He’s also unafraid to embrace earlier pulp traditions of telling short stories. The first issue is one complete case, and this seems to be the format going forward. In an industry that has embraced the trade collection so fully, it’s a nice change of pace.
Schimer’s writing has a nice mix of stock pulp noir and fantasy tropes at work, and he does a good job telling a compact noir tale that leaves a good impression in the space it has. The story feels complete, but I’m still left wanting to know more about Jenner and the other characters.
Claudia Balboni’s art is outstanding. In particular, her inventive architecture brings something unique to the book right up front. From a city built in the remains of a half-buried giant golem to a village of shell-like spiraling seaside buildings, the designs are unique and evocative. Marissa Louise’s colors are a bit brighter than I’d expect for this kind of story, but they provide a good contrast.
Fairlady #1 is an intriguing introduction to a new series. You can pick it up in print at your local comics shop, or digitally through Comixology.

Hugh Likes Comics: War of the Realms

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Written by Jason Aaron
Drawn by Russell Dauterman
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: A mythological army takes Times Square in the kick-off to Marvel’s latest event.

I’ve been notably mixed on “event” comics in the past, but Marvel’s latest, “War of the Realms” is a the very least starting on its best foot. Spinning out of a long-running series of events in “Thor,” the story involves Malekith, king of the Dark Elves, and the titular war that he has been waging, a war that has finally reached the last holdout realm: Earth. And it wouldn’t be a Marvel comic if it didn’t start in the heart of Manhattan.
This opening issue does a good job of avoiding the pitfalls of most of these sorts of books. The situation is cleanly and precisely explained without too much of an exposition dump, the characters all feel correct and act appropriately, and the action moves along at a brisk pace, feeling like a complete issue even if it just lays out the characters and the stakes.
It helps that Dauterman’s art is drop-dead gorgeous, with rich, dark colors by Matt Wilson. Scenes are detailed without being too busy, and all of these giants and heroes have a lovely dynamism to them. But ti’s the little touches that make this comic for me. For example, an opening graphic shows the Norse mythological world tree, with the various realms and their denizens, with a sketch of Spider-Man hanging over a city representing Midgard. Also, Malekith is at his David Bowie-best here, riding into Times Square with a manic grin atop a giant winged tiger.
War of the Realms #1 kicks off a six-issue limited series, along with innumerable spin-offs. You can find it at your local comics shop, or buy it digitally on Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Wargroove

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Wargroove
Developed and Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch
https://wargroove.com
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The Skinny: A turn-based strategy game with retro style and retro difficulty to match, but with some interesting innovations under the hood.

Wargroove is a strategy game with old school charm, and gameplay to match. On the surface, it takes most of its design and style from Nintendo’s ‘Wars’ series of games. These only came to the US as the Advance Wars titles, and have been absent for a decade, but they made a big impression on developer Chucklefish. If that name is familiar, they also published ConcernedApe’s well-loved Harvest Moon update, Stardew Valley.
Gameplay works like Advance Wars. Players take turns moving their units and capturing buildings to provide income, which lets them buy new units. The goal of each match is to either the enemy stronghold or defeat the enemy Commander, powerful units that each has a unique special ability, called a ‘groove.’ These each do something a bit different, from healing allies in a range, to creating new units, to attacks that do extra damage. They are a fun addition to the Wars formula, and are one of the ways the game really stands out. Also, one of the commanders is an adorable golden retriever, who is a very good boy.
The other way Wargroove differentiates itself is in its plethora of content and game modes. In addition to the standard single-player Campaign and multiplayer battles, the game offers an Arcade mode in which you can take each Commander through a series of five quick battles, a Puzzle mode, and even an impressive set of creation tools. The game lets players not just create maps, but also entire campaigns and cutscenes, and trade them freely through the game’s online modes. I haven’t been able to dive too deeply into it yet, but it is very cool and is supporting a new creative community.
Wargroove faithfully recreates the best of the turn-based strategy genre, but it also has the same flaws. Matches are long, and with two armies starting at opposite ends of a map and slowly building, they can take a while to get going. Also, this game is difficult. Updates have created more options for novice players, but you can still sink a lot of time into a map only to have to start all over again when the last wave of enemies gets a shot in on your Commander.
Wargroove is a charming and occasionally frustrating strategy game with old school feel and old school difficulty. If you’re up for the challenge, you can snag a copy from Steam or your choice of major console eshops.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Invisible Kingdom

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Invisible Kingdom #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Christian Ward
Lettered by Sal Cipriano
Published by Dark Horse Comics

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The Skinny: The captain of a space freighter and a religious initiate each make a startling discovery in the first installment of this gorgeous space opera.

Invisible Kingdom follows to seemingly unconnected space opera stories. The first follows freighter captain Grix as she and her crew are forced to make a crash landing on a desolate moon. The second follows Vess, a novice member of a religious order called ‘the Siblings of Severity.’ The book switches from one point of view to the other, seemingly at random, but using visually rhyming panels to transition from Grix to Vess and back again, and the reader doesn’t really understand the relationship until the end of the first issue, but when it all comes together, it works beautifully.
Wilson’s story is, for lack of a better word, very human. Confined to the point of view of the two protagonists, we only get teasing hints of the world building. Grix is trying to hold her ship together after Lux, the monopolistic shipping company she and her crew work for, fails to do her ship’s necessary maintenance. Vess faces ridicule both inside and outside the order she joins due to her heritage. Both parts of the story feel lived in and real as a result.
Ward’s talents are on full display here as we are treated to a world of floating monasteries and neon alien cityscapes. His design work is impeccable, and does so much heavy lifting for the story, as the arch of the inside of a ship’s hold echoes the dome of a floating monastery.
Wilson and Ward are both superstars of the current comics generation. Wilson co-created the groundbreaking Ms. Marvel, and Ward illustrated 2017’s critical smash Black Bolt. Invisible Kingdom has the potential to be truly great, and this first issue doesn’t disappoint. You can find it in print from your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Written by P. Djeli Clark
Audiobook read by Julian Thomas
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: A light fantasy adventure novella set in an alternate 1910’s Cairo.

What starts out as a routine haunting for two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities quickly expands in a plot involving smuggling rings, women’s suffrage, and the uneasy mingling of cultures in an alternate 1912 Cairo that is the center of the modern and magical world.
Never quite hard-edged enough to put the punk in its steampunk, Clark never the less wrestles with the concept of empire, if only by having the characters discussing how glad they are to not have the English in charge anymore. His Cairo is a cosmopolitan jewel, with a mixture of vibrant cultures and characters both real and mythical. Much like his earlier short story that shares the setting, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” Haunting evokes a deeply complex world that challenges both the reader’s and the characters preconceived notions.
And speaking of which, his characters are memorable delights, from sassy shopkeepers, to obsequious transit officials, and his two main leads, the tough, world-weary agent Hamed and the sharp, but soft agent Onsi. Clark skirts the line of some well-worn procedural tropes, but his dialog and realizations of the characters breathe unexpected life into them.
I listened to this book on Audible, and Julian Thomas gives an excellent, if a bit slow, reading. His performance of the characters makes each of them clearly recognizable, and to my inexperienced ears he handles accents well, making them distinctive but still easily understandable to a listener generally unfamiliar with the region.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is available in ebook, print and audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and your local independent book store. It’s well worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a well-realized historical fantasy that plays outside of the typical Western European sandbox. I’m eagerly awaiting Clark’s next entry in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional settings.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Calamity Kate

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Calamity Kate #1
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Corin Howell
Colored by Valenitna Pinto
Published by Dark Horse Comics

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The Skinny: A recent divorcee moves to California to start over in the high-stakes world of professional monster hunting.

Kate Strand’s life just fell apart. After going through a messy divorce and withdrawing into her shell, she’s ready to reinvent herself. And she’s going to do it by becoming the world’s greatest monster hunter, much to the chagrin of her former best friend and single-parent Vera, whose couch she’s going to be surfing on while she does it.
Visaggio has stated that this is an almost biographical story, dealing with her own divorce and the self-destructive urges that came with it. While the monsters may be metaphorical, who hasn’t been tempted to leave their messy lives behind and start again rather than face a scarier reality, even knowing that you’re carrying your problems with you?
The thing I love about this issue is the manic sense of tension that pervades every panel. The focus is less on the cool monsters than it is the consequences Kate is running from. This is best expressed in an early sequence where Kate asks Vera if she can stay with her until she gets back on her feet, and they are interrupted by a bunch of monster skulls toppling out of her duffel bag.
Howell’s art and Pinto’s colors sing. Howell does both great expressions and pleasantly scary monster designs. Pinto’s dark colors are a perfect tonal match. Even on a bright, sunny, morning, there is the pervading sense of impending catastrophe.
Calamity Kate #1 is a bold new first issue to another deeply personal story from a rising star in comics writing. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or grab a physical copy at your local comics shop!
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