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Hugh Likes Comics: Fence

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Fence #1
Written by C. S. Pacat
Drawn by Joanna The Mad
Colored by Joana Lafuente
Published by Boom Studios

Fance

The Skinny: The by the numbers sports comic calls to mind “Yuri On Ice,” but is coy in the first issue.

Fence is the story of scrappy young fencer Nicholas Cox. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks and hasn’t had the best training, but he’s got raw talent. He also has the luck to face fencing prodigy Seiji Katayama in his first tournament bout.
“Fence” is a teen sports comic about, obviously, fencing, that dutifully hits the story beats it needs to in the first issue without much fanfare. We get a lot of the main character’s back story, a very nice competition sequence, and a last page setup for the series, and it all works. The comic has a very pure shonen sports manga vibe to it. It reminded me most strongly of “Yuri on Ice,” but the text doesn’t feel completely committed to the idea yet. Although based on the queer fantasy trilogy that are C. S. Pacat’s breakout work, one shouldn’t be surprised.
Fans of this subgenre will find plenty to like, though, and Joanna The Mad’s art is clean and expressive, lingering on emotional scenes notes. Her figures are fluid and dynamic, and Joana Lafuente’s colors bring them out well.
Fence #1 is now available from Comixology or your local comics shop. Time will tell if this sports manga inspired book will stand out from the crowd, but this is a solid, if not surprising, introduction.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Helena Crash

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Helena Crash #1
Written by Fabian Rangel Jr.
Drawn by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Published by IDW
Helena Crash
In the future, coffee is illegal. Highly skilled courier Helena Crash has the goods, but will a delivery to Rojo, the city’s second most powerful mob boss, cost her her life?
Helena Crash is a weird and wonderful Sci-Fi adventure comic for fans of Samurai Jack and Tank Girl. It’s a fast and breezy look into a smog-choked future filled with delightfully designed robots and mutants. Building this grim pulp future with coffee as the macguffin is a brilliant choice for an all-ages take on the sub-genre.
Rangel’s script is spot on and does just enough to let the art do the talking. Cadwell’s style is sketchy and has the perfect middle-school-notebook tone to match the action. The designs are all real winners, from a mutant punk with a blowfish for a head, to Rojo’s wolfman bodyguard. There’s always something cool to look at on the page.
Helena Crash has zoomed her way into my heart. You can find her in your local comics shop or on Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Comics: The Unstoppable Wasp

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The Unstoppable Wasp #1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Drawn by Elsa Charretier
Colored by Megan Wilson
Published by Marvel Comics
unstoppable-wasp1
I have never been a fan of The Wasp. Originally created by Lee and Kirby as a sidekick/love interest for Ant-Man in the ’60’s, I always thought of her as emblematic of the problems that plagued female characters in that era. She was a hanger on, a love-struck fool always in need of rescue, whose powers were weaker and less awesome than her male peers.  As time when on, Marvel addressed these tropes and even turned fellow Marvel damsels Jean Grey and Sue Storm into powerful badasses in their own right. But Wasp always seemed trapped in her roots. Even when her role was expanded and she led the Avengers, she was still ‘the girl.’ A fashion designer and socialite, she never really escaped the gender expectations placed on her by male writers.
Which is exactly why The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is such a breath of fresh air. The book stars Nadia Pym, teenage genius, escapee from a Russian super-soldier program, and long-lost daughter of original Ant-Man Hank Pym, because comics. Having studied her father’s work, she has come to America to live the life she never could before. But the thing about Nadia, even more than her intelligence, is her joyfulness. This is the exact antithesis of a grim and gritty superhero punch-up. The Wasp sparkles with light and energy. Nadia, despite her terrible upbringing, isn’t a brooder. She wants to make friends with everyone she meets. She wants to have adventures. She wants to dance with giant robots. This comic is fun, and beautiful and smart. It fits in right along with titles like Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel. (Who guest stars in this issue.)
Written by “Princeless” creator Jeremy Whitley, The Unstoppable Wasp is a delight. It carries over the positive messaging from his creator-owned work and sets its sights on a very important goal: encouraging girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There is even an interview with paleontologist Rachel Silverstein and and PhD Chemistry student Marina Chanidou in the back in lieu of a letters column. The script never gets bogged down in its message, and remains fun and engaging throughout.
Elsa Charretier’s drawing is similarly great, with kinetic, detailed panels and clever layouts. One of the things I love in particular is how she draws Nadia. She’s always moving, practically bouncing from frame to frame, and she’s always, always smiling. She is assisted by Megan Wilson’s bright, sunny palette, which contrasts The Wasp’s black and red suit with light, vibrant colors. This is not a world of shadows, and the coloring does a lot of legwork establishing tone.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is a great start to another fun, engaging, and smart Marvel book. If you love comics, pick it up. And be sure to share it with any budding young lady adventure scientists in your life.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is available from Comixology or at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Again!

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe!
Written by Ryan North
Drawn by Erica Henderson
Published by Marvel Comics

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I frigging love Squirrel Girl.  North and Henderson’s irreverent take on the Marvel Universe is the highlight of my pull list, and when I heard they were doing a graphic novel, I had to get on-board immediately.
A parody of a classic but ultra-serious Punisher story, USGBUTMU! features all  of my favorite things about North’s writing, and my favorite things about the Marvel Universe.  Mad science, morally gray villains, and Tony Stark’s utter disregard for lab safety.
When a device confiscated from a mad scientist accidentally creates a duplicate of Squirrel Girl, she couldn’t be happier with the result.  But duplicate Squirrel Girl Allene soon decides to save the Earth for Squirrels, and banish humanity to the moon.  After getting the Squirrel Girl and her friends out of the way, she quickly and efficiently goes about beating up and capturing anyone who could stop her.
Essentially a long-form version of a Squirrel Girl issue, North and Henderson use the extra room to really shine.  With a story just as silly and smart as the Squirrel Girl ongoing series, this graphic novel is a delight for fans, and a wonderful introduction to readers new to the character.  North’s writing remains sharp and absurdist, and Henderson’s art and coloring more than keep pace.  With gems like a unit of squirrels attempting to operate an Ironman suit, and Squirrel Girl using sorting techniques to plot her enemies’ downfall, this is just the perfect mix of crazy comedy I enjoy.
Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is available from Comixology, or your local comics shop, and makes a great gift.

Hugh Likes Comics: Doctor Aphra

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Doctor Aphra #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Kev Walker
Published by Marvel Comics
doctor-aphra
How do you write a good anti-hero?  Put them up against forces larger, and worse than themselves and always, always make the bill come due for their evil deeds, in one way or another.  This is just what Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker’s Doctor Aphra sets out in its first issue.
The scheming anthropologist accomplice of Darth Vader is back in her own series, and I couldn’t be happier to see her again.  Accompanied by her droids 000 and BT, dark-mirror analogues of C3P0 and R2-D2, she’s still out looking for big scores and outsmarting the Galaxy’s ever-present underworld.  Clever, deep in debt, and out to save her own skin rather than the galaxy, she’s the perfect update of all of Han Solo’s tropes.  Just don’t call it a redemption arc.
Gillen’s story ditches the Campbellian melodrama and delivers a story full of double crosses, brawling, badass wookiees, and grimly comic murder droids.  Walker’s art is fun, and expressive, with action-oriented layouts.  Colorist Antonio Fabela proves you can tell a dark story in comics without over-shading the page.
Aphra was one of my favorite characters from Gillen’s Darth Vader run, and I can’t see what shenanigans she gets up to away from the sith lord’s watchful eye.  Doctor Aphra #1 is available digitally from Comixolgoy, or in print at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Journey Into Misery

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Journey Into Misery
Hosted by Helena Hart and Keiran Shiach
JIMPodcast.com
JIMPodcast
Comics continuity can really suck.  With the  wrong writer, it can be a confounding mess that ruins favorite characters, and even in the best hands, it creates a barrier of entry for new readers.  But as media becomes more and more serialized, continuity becomes more and more omnipresent in entertainment.
Fortunately, The Journey Into Misery podcast is here to help.  Each episode, Keiran Shiach introduces a new character, event, or creator run of superhero comics to his cohost and partner Helena Hart.  In the wrong hands, this could come off as a dour, mans-plainy mess, hence the title, but the pair make every show a delight.
First of all the chemistry between the pair is immediately evident.  They each bring something to the podcast that makes it more than the sum of its parts.  Keiran’s breakneck descriptions are lightning-fast but still easy to follow.  He’s both patient and skilled at explaining some of the weirdest bits of DC and Marvel continuity.  And Helena’s enthusiasm and interest are infectious, elevating even the worst of comics concepts.  The pair has covered all sorts of topics from Batman: Knightfall and The Spider-Man Clone Sage to Runaways and Final Crisis.  They even did a delightful April Fools Day episode where they turned the tables and Helena explained the plot of one of her favorite bits of pop culture, Les Miserables.
Catching up on comics continuity can be a joyless, gate-keeping slog, but with podcasts like Journey Into Misery, you can still enjoy the ride.  Visit JIMPodcast.com or subscribe in your preferred podcatcher.

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Hugh Likes Comics: New Avengers

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New Avengers # 1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Gerrardo Sandoval
Published by Marvel Comics
newavengers1
With almost an entire line of new comics coming out, Marvel probably has most of my immediate attention.  Particularly after the variety of neat stories that came out of Battleworld.  There are a lot of new ideas and re-imaginings to come, but one of the books I’m most excited about is New Avengers.
The interesting thing about the book is that by most marketing standards, it shouldn’t work.  It’s a superhero team made entirely of legacy heroes, supporting characters, and C-listers.  And that is why I really hope it succeeds.
Organized by mutant billionaire Roberto Da Costa (A. K. A. Sunspot,) the team consists of former Master of Evil/Thunderbolt Songbird, the newest White Tiger, Power Man Victor Alvarez (not Luke Cage,) Wiccan and Hulkling from the Young Avengers, and Squirrel Girl.  Hawkeye is also presented as a potential recruit.  Da Costa tells him he was ‘hoping for the other one.’  Squirrel Girl’s sidekick Tippy-toe is also a member.  Together they represent Avengers Idea Mechanics, a global problem-solving team.
The thing that really works about this team is that writer Al Ewing really understands the voices of these characters and gives them all a chance to interact naturally with each other.  The writing for everyone is very on-point, with Squirrel Girl attempting to reason with the bad guys and Wiccan and Hulkling showing characteristic empathy and concern.  The whole concept of Sunspot trying to solve crises by throwing misfit teen superheroes at them from his Pacific Island Fortress is ludicrous yet so entirely in keeping with the character that I’m completely sold.
The art is solid, but not without its nitpicks.  Sandoval’s designs have a delightfully energetic Saturday morning cartoon feel, with exaggerated features and not-quite proportional limbs.  Stylistic choices aside, a few of the characters feel a bit off model, and occasionally drawn from unusual angles.  Squirrel girl seems to be missing her tail, for instance.  He feels a bit uncomfortable with the characters, but his style is charming enough that I hope he either relaxes or makes the designs more his own as the series goes on.
New Avengers is a delightful new comic that brings back some of my favorite characters without relying too heavily on an encyclopedic backstory to enjoy the book.  It’s a great introduction, and I can’t wait to see where their adventures take them next.  New Avengers is available from Comixology, the Marvel app, or your local comics shop.

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