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Hugh Likes Comics: Canto

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Canto1

Canto #1
Written by David M. Booher
Drawn by Drew Zucker
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by IDW

The Skinny: A boy with a clockwork heart ventures into a dark world in this grim steampunk fairytale.

Canto’s people live in chains. Denied freedom, identity and even hearts, they toil for cruel masters bigger and stronger than themselves. But Canto believes in two things: A fairytale about a boy who saved a princess, and the girl who gave him his name. When she is injured by the cruel slavers, he’ll do the only thing he can to save her: Leave the confines of their labor camp and bring back her heart.
A sinister but none-the-less charming steampunk fable, Canto #1 opens with a familiar fantasy theme, but plays it expertly. Booher and Zucker’s steampunk fable starts on all the right notes for a great series. The story flows around the gaps in the characters’ knowledge, the questions that Canto will have to find the answers for. It is also doesn’t flinch away from the horrors of its world.
Zucker’s designs are doing a lot of great work here. Canto and his people are little clockwork knights, and their is brutal and violent without being gory. They don’t have or lose blood, but Time. It’s a clever and occasionally devastating use of metaphor that works well on the page. The designs are all funhouse mirror, with the squat, dwarfish slaves and their towering, bestial masters. Even Canto’s face looks like a mask. Astone’s moody colors are dark but also deep and rich. The art and colors are what really elevates the story.
Canto #1 is an excellent start to a story that looks to take a critical, or at least subtextual eye the tired quest motif. I can’t wait to see how far it goes with its material. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or pick up a physical copy at your local comics shop!

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Hugh Likes Comics: The Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything

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The Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything
Written by Jeremy Wihitley
Drawn by Gurihiru
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: After escaping from the assassin school where she was raised and establishing a lab for teenage scientists, Nadia Van Dyne discovers that her greatest enemy may be herself.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the over-too-soon first volume of Unstoppable Wasp, I was delighted that Marvel revived the series. This book collects the first five issues of the second volume, and is even better than the first, mixing superhero action with personal drama and super-science in a way that is accessible and compelling.
One of the things that really drew me to Nadia as a character was her optimism and sunny personality. In a world filled with gruff badasses whose personal traumas made them into tough loners, Nadia relished the opportunity to finally live the life she was always denied. She was a constant delight in a grimdark universe.
But of course nobody can be happy all the time, and Nadia’s father, the original Ant Man Hank Pym, had a history of mental illness that wasn’t presented as thoughtfully or carefully as it maybe should have been. When an unexpected super-villain attack catches Nadia by surprise and puts her friends in danger, she cracks. But Whitley and Gurihiru do an amazing job in how they present and resolve Nadia’s mental health crisis, as well as the reactions of her friends and mentors. This is rarely handled well in a medium where so many rogues galleries are littered with the ‘criminally insane,’ and it is all the more an achievement that it was handled so deftly and so frankly in a comic with a YA audience.
Whitley has managed a rare comeback with a character: building on the first volume and raising the personal stakes without falling back on the status quo. That’s an easy trap for comics to fall into, and I’m glad that he not only avoided it, but vaulted it. Gurihiru’s art is a perfect fit for the book as well. Their style is fun and poppy but still has that edge to it that the book needs. This book is a must read for its hidden depths.
Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything is available digitally from Comixology, and you can also find it on Amazon and at your local comics shop.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Crowded

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Crowded Vol 1: Soft Apocalypse
Written by Christopher Sebela
Drawn by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
Colored by Triona Farrell
Published by Image Comics

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The Skinny: A contract bodyguard has her work cut out for her protecting her latest client from crowdfunded assassins.

In a future where anything can be crowd funded, and the gig economy has taken over, even assassinations can be crowdfunded. But when wild girl Charlie’s finds herself with a million-dollar bounty on her head, her only hope may lie in bodyguard for hire Vita. If they don’t kill each other, anyway.
Equal parts action movie, dystopian thriller, and buddy comedy, Crowded is a wild ride.But the character work is what really sets the writing apart. Sebela delivers a lot of depth to these characters with very simple strokes. He takes stock tropes like the world-weary bodyguard and transforms them into deep, complex characters that you come to care about. Even the villain of the arc, slimy livestereaming assassin Trotter, is if not sympathetic, complicated in his motivations.
Stein’s art, with inking by Brandt, is expressive, bold and easy to follow. Farrell’s colors are a mix of glaring digital neons and the grays and browns of urban decay. The art really sells the story, which walks a fine line between goofy action and cyberpunk horror.
Crowded juxtaposes over the top action sequences with the very real cyberpunk horrors of a rising gig economy, omnipresent digital surveillance, and collapsing American infrastructure. As ridiculous as it all seems, it is a frighteningly plausible near future.
Crowded: Soft Apocalypse collects the first six issues of the comic, and is available from Comixology, the usual digital retailers, or your local comics shop.
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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 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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