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Hugh Likes Comics: Wonder Twins

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Wonder Twins #1
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Stephen Byrne
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: DC revives two Saturday Morning Cartoon c-listers for a funny and heartwarming YA series.

High School is difficult. Especially when you’re a transfer student from another planet. DC has revived 70’s and 80’s cartoon sidekicks the Wonder Twins in a lighthearted new monthly book as a part of their Wonder Comics imprint, and the first issue is utterly delightful.
At a time when DC’s books feel like they are at their darkest and most complicated, this feels like a breath of fresh air. Russell delivers a fast moving and engaging script that gives readers that weren’t alive during the Raegan administration everything they need to know. These new versions of Zan and Jayna are well realized and interesting. The humor is always rooted in their characters and never relies on them being z-list sidekicks from the silver age. And they actually land quite well. Skilled but self-conscious Jayna dresses like a young Clark Kent, and awkward but overconfident Zan gets into all kinds of trouble. I won’t spoil any of the really good gags in the issue, but we also learn Batman and Superman’s most embarrassing high school moments, and that Diana is the mean girl of the Super Friends.
Byrne’s art is colorful and engaging, and makes the issue a joy to read. The whole package feels like DC finally has an answer to Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a charming, comedic book that dusts off some young, goofy characters for light-hearted superheroic hi-jinx. This book isn’t going to reshape the multiverse, but it’s a welcome relief from DC’s latest crisis. You can find it online through Comixology, or in print at your local comics shop!
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Hugh Likes Comics: Naomi

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Naomi #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker
Art by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: DC’s newest imprint opens with a surprisingly quiet, but beautiful, introduction

What is it like to live as an adopted teenager in a world where someone like Superman exists? When a fight with a super-villain sends him hurtling through the small town of Port Oswego, Naomi is left grappling with how she feels, and the nagging doubt that something about her suburban, middle-class life is off. And after the fight, and even the cleanup is over, she’s left wondering, what other extraordinary events is the town hiding, and why won’t anyone talk with her about the day she was adopted?
Bendis and Walker do a great job of approaching a stock comics trope from a new angle. The lens of this issue is focus squarely on Naomi, instead of the marketable superhero. There isn’t a lot of tension for a first issue, giving us a real taste of what Naomi’s normal life is like. This is likely to change, but for a first issue to let us simply meet this new character is both unexpected and refreshing.
The real standout here is Jamal Campbell’s art, though He really breathes life into what could be a staid, and honestly, boring comic. His Port Oswego is vibrant and dynamic, while still retaining its small-town atmosphere. He does a lot of great work with layouts and panels as well. We get a pair of sequences where townspeople respond to Naomi’s questions, and she sits outside the panel grid, but also underneath it. There is a lot of subtle characterization in those tight frames.
Naomi #1 is the start of something really interesting. You can buy it digitally from Comixology, or pick it up in print from Your Local Comics Shop.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Batman Damned

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Batman Damned #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Drawn by Lee Bermejo
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: It’s not bat-shaped. Disappointing.

“Batman Damned” is an absolutely gorgeous perfect-bound comic presenting some high test Azzarello nonsense. After an as-yet unseen grueling fight in which he has sustained a critical injury, Batman wakes to find himself in the care of smart-ass magician John Constantine. His wounds are healed, but he has no memory of the events, and someone has killed the Joker. Batman goes searching or answers, but he may not like what he finds.
Published under the DC Black Label imprint, this oversized and perfect bound comic is for mature audiences, and it is reflected in the writing and the art. Batman’s brush with death leaves him shaken and out of sorts, and sparks recollections of his father’s past, which is of course more sinister and tawdry than previous incarnations. He is also having dreams of a mysterious, demonic girl, leading to a crisis of faith for Batman. Did he break his one rule? Did he kill? And did he really make it out of the river himself?
Lee Bermejo’s art carries the weight in this comic. Gotham is an atmospheric watercolor hellscape that has never seemed more sinister.Angles are subtly off. Building loom. it’s all very engaging. Azzarello’s story is almost an annoyance by comparison. Narrated by Constantine in a slew of gothy cliches about angels and devils, the nature of redemption, blah, blah blah. It would all flow together nicely if the central figure weren’t Batman, and we weren’t seeing him from the outside. Batman’s central trait, his real super-power if you will, is that he’s prepared for whatever situation he finds himself in. This book where he fumbles around in madness feels off. Consider last year’s DC Metal, in which Batman kidnaps the space devil, albeit in a diminutive form, in order to try and travel back in time. This is a very different take on the character, and what we get of him is kind of thin and insubstantial. Azzarello lets the reader’s preconceived notions do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
In the end, in spite of the high quality production values, “Batman Damned” will be best known for its controversial nudity. In one scene, upon returning to the Batcave shaken and distraught, Batman removes his costume, only to have a vision of it loom over his nude form. It’s a nicely done scene, but Bermejo neglects to fully shadow in Batman’s crotch in one panel, giving the reader a semi-obscured view of his genitals. Uproar and controversy has already ensued, and digital versions have already updated to obscure his bat-junk, as will future printings. This makes the comic a bit of a collector’s item.
In the end, this is an absolutely gorgeous illustrated Batman story, although the story itself feels a bit lacking. You can find it at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Sandman Universe

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The Sandman Universe #1
Story by Neil Gaiman
Written by Simon Spurier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters
Drawn by Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara
Colors by Mat Lopes
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Vertigo

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The Skinny – Vertigo returns to The Dreaming to introduce a quartet of Gaiman-inspired comics.

“The Sandman” was one of those pieces of culture that came into my life right when I needed it to. I read it in my early twenties, after it had ended, and had been collected into trade paperbacks. Ultimately a story about storytelling, it was very different from DC’s four-color Superhero offerings, even though it shared a setting, or at least a common world.
The Sandman Universe #1 brings back that type of storytelling with a fresh start. Essentially, this serves as a reboot and introduction to four Vertigo books all reaching back to Gaiman’s seminal ’90’s work.
The current incarnation of Dream is missing (following the events of DC’s Metal event) and dream raven Matthew heads out to the mortal realm to find him. Along the way encounters various other stories without being much involved in them. The stories as presented are a bit thin, but feel very authentic to the original Sandman and Vertigo comics, and they’re gorgeous to look at. Mat Lopes’s coloring ties them all together, and they have that distinct soft palate that set Vertigo apart from its four-color contemporaries.
The Sandman Universe #1 is a small aperitif after so many years away from these stories, but it’s a tease for some series that do have the potential to reignite that particular spark. You can take a look for yourself at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Comics: Plastic Man

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Plastic Man #1
Written by Gail Simone
Drawn by Adriana Melo
Colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: Simone and Melo breathe new life into a Golden Age hero.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect opening Plastic Man #1. The character is one of those ones that has been bouncing around the DC Universe forever, but that I haven’t read much of. Purchased under one of DC’s buyouts of their rivals after the end of the first great wave of superheroes, he faded into their ever-growing C-list bench for me, although he did go on to have his own cartoon in the 70’s.
The story is still very golden age, but this remixed origin has some nice modern touches. Eel O’Brian was a safecracker until a job in a mysterious chemical factory left him shot, doused with something caustic, and left for dead by the rest of his gang. But in the classic tradition, what should have killed him in fact gave him super-powers, in this case, the ability to stretch and change his shape. But coming back from the dead with powers just leads him to a whole new set of problems as he tries to piece together what has happened to him.
Simone (Deadpool, Domino) is perhaps the best possible choice for a book like this. Her mastery of the different story elements lends a subtlety that is indicative of her style. She invokes crime elements without being salacious, even with a scene set in a Justice League-themed gentlemen’s club. She invokes pathos without being schmaltzy, and the humor of the character doesn’t quite cross the line into goofy. She nails the balance. Her Plastic Man is a criminal with a conscience, a hero with a healthy distrust of the forces of law and order, and a goofball struggling to stay this side of sane. It’s territory she’s explored before, and she hits all the markers beautifully.
Melo’s art and Fitzpatrick’s colors are also well suited. Melo’s expressions are spot on, and she keeps up with Simone beat for beat. Fitzpatrick’s colors do just as much work, with characters in too-bright suits popping against the brown and gray of a crime-ridden urban blight. It’s all delicately done, and I want to see where this team takes them in future issues.
Plastic Man #1 is a modern-day reinvention of some classic comic book characters and tropes, and it’s a heck of a good time. You can find it on Comixology, or at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Movies: Gotham By Gaslight

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Batman: Gotham By Gaslight
Produced by DC Entertainment
Directed by Sam Liu

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The Skinny: The graphic reimagining of the Batman mythos in the 19th century pits the Dark Knight against Jack the Ripper.

Superhero movies by their nature feature alternate versions of comic book characters. They compress plots that run for moths or years into digestible stories that audiences can enjoy in only an hour or two, without having to rely on previous knowledge of the hero’s adventures. “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” the latest direct-to-DVD animated feature from DC Comics, takes this truism a step further.
The dark but lushly animated film reimagines Batman’s one-man war against crime as taking place in the 19th Century, with him taking on none other than Jack the Ripper himself. In fact, the movie spends a lot more time on the case than with the origins of the character, which makes for a much darker and more explicit take on Batman’s world.
The overall effect is more gothic than steampunk, although most of the fight sequences take place on a burning airship, a burning ferris wheel, and a slaughterhouse that, inexplicably, hasn’t caught fire. The story is pretty much what one would expect from a Batman vs. Jack the Ripper story, and it hits all the broad points you would expect well enough. There are a few plot twists fans who haven’t read the original graphic novel might not see coming, but the story is mostly concerned with showing how these pulp characters fit into a slightly more antiquated Gotham City.
I will say that I felt the movie leans a bit too heavily on the Ripper-ology. The viewer is invited along with a few very nasty killings, and we get a good dose of Jack’s vitriol in the form of villain monologue. It all feels a bit voyeuristic, and lands on the other side of good taste in parts. This certainly isn’t the next film to go to after your child finishes watching Lego Batman.
Although this superhero isn’t for kids, older teens and adult Bat-fans may find something to like in this risqué and violent alternate take on the character and his world.

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Hugh Likes Comics: New Super-Man

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New Super-Man #1
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Penciled by Viktor Bogdanovic
Published by DC Comics
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Superman is a cultural icon that carries a lot of cultural baggage.  A staunch defender of Truth, Justice, and The American Way, DC Comics has often struggled against the massive amount of inertia this creates for a character.  Superman as a flawless, heroic figure who rescues kittens from trees and never steps a toe out of line becomes dated, boring, and even corny.  But attempts to ‘modernize’ the character can likewise be criticized as feeling forced, too dark, or just plain not fun.  Which is why I find Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic’s “New Super-Man” so interesting.
The eponymous character isn’t Clark Kent at all, but Kong Kenan, the teenage son of a Shanghai mechanic.  Kong isn’t quite the heroic figure we’ve come to expect.  He’s a downright selfish, arrogant bully.  But when a video of him standing up to a super-villain goes viral, he’s recruited by a secretive government ministry to become a superhero.
The story itself is a bit rushed in the first issue, but Yang lays down a lot of groundwork for future stories.  Mostly we get a character sketch of Kong, but the Shanghai he inhabits feels vibrant and authentic in a way that seems like a step forward for comics, even if it is literally the least they could do.  Bogdanovich’s expressive, detailed art is outstanding, and really keeps the otherwise basic origin story moving along.  He’s helped by gorgeous, eye-catching coloring by Hi-Fi.
“New Super-Man #1” is a somewhat cookie-cutter first act of a super-hero origin story, but there are enough neat twists to get me looking forward to where the story goes next.  You can pick it up now from Comixology or your local comics shop.

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