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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.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Coda

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Coda #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Drawn by Matias Bergarda
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny – A cynical wanderer navigates a lost magical world in this beautifully illustrated post-apocalyptic dark fantasy.

It is a given in a certain field of fantasy fiction, from Lord of the Rings to “The Legend of Zelda” that when a good, magical, noble fantasy kingdom is faced with annihilation from a Dark Lord, Good will, no matter the odds and no matter how long it takes, triumph in the end. But what if it doesn’t?
This is the central concept behind Spurrier and Bergarda’s “Coda.” A cynical wanderer, and former Royal Bard is searching the wasteland for his missing wife, until he stumbles across Ridgetown, a seeming oasis of magical and technological might out of the ‘old days.’ And they have the enchanted cannon to prove it. But where is their magic coming from? And what would happen to them if they were to lose it?
Coda is “Mad Max” with magic. Or more accurately, with a drought of magic. Just like water and gas running short in that series, we see how the world has fallen apart when the source of magic, a race of magical beings, are wiped out. And a world that seems to have been a black-and-white battlefield between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is revealed to be a lot more complex as the survivors struggle to keep on living.
Spurrirer’s writing is intriguing, but it is brought to life by Bergarda’s sumptuous art and colors. The panels have a flow to them that carries you through the story at a disquieting rhythm. The colors have this soft-focus wash to them that establishes the fallen glory of the world perfectly.
Coda is available now from Comixology and Your Local Comics Shop. If you’re looking for something a bit different to tide you over until the next season of Game of Thrones, I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics – Ghost in the Shell FCBD 2018

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Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network Free Comic Book Day sapmple
Written by Max Gladstone
Art by David Lopez
Colors by Nayoung Kim
Published by Kodansha Comics

The Skinny: This single issue adventure gets a lot right in this Free Comic Book Day release.

When I first heard of “Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network,” I was skeptical. Western reinterpretations of manga and anime have a tendency to lose something in the translation, and the less said about the live-action film, the better. But I was pleasantly surprised by this single-issue story, distributed as a teaser for an upcoming anthology for Free Comic Book Day.
Gladstone’s story could be a slice of Masamune’s original manga, or a single-episode story of Stand Alone Complex. The Major accompanies Director Aramaki to a trade conference, where he immediately gets kidnapped, and she runs into an old war buddy while tracking him down. The characterization is spot-on from the two old spies philosophically discussing their natures to Aramaki glibly critiquing his interrogator’s technique.
The art is a bit rougher, and the only real flaw of the issue. Lopez’s technical art is spot on, reproducing the Masamune’s design elements and the 90’s cyberpunk aesthetic of the original comic. The character art is lacking, however. His faces in particular feel dated, as though he were copying off a circa-1990’s model sheet. Kim’s grimy colors are atmospheric and serve the story well.
Free Comic Book Day may be past, but if you can find a copy of this one-and-done story, and the character designs don’t throw you, this is a fun little cyberpunk tidbit.

Hugh Likes Comics: Abbott

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Abbott #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Drawn by Sami Kivela
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny-A black woman reports on a series of bizarre killings with occult significance while battling institutional racism in ’70’s Detroit.

Abbott is a remarkable comic, with a remarkable first issue. Its most impressive flourish is the sense of place, and its tension, that Ahmed and Kivela bring to the page. They do a standup job of bringing the powder keg of 1970’s Detroit to life. Enter Elena Abbott, a match if there eer was one. A reporter for the Daily Press, she is an unyielding force for truth in a city reluctant to face its own demons. Abbott is under pressure from her bosses and the police after she reported on the killing of a child in police custody. When she investigates a series of gruesome killings with occult significance, she becomes the target of a killer who may bring down both Detroits.
Abbott #1 is a master class of a first issue. In a few scant pages, we’re introduced to the complex world of 70’s Detroit, Abbott, her few allies, and her numerous enemies. Kivela skillfully leads the eye, and colors by Jason Wordie provide a gritty, evocative palate. The panels are interspersed with the text of Abbott’s articles, only giving the reader snippets of phrases. It is an efficient trick to build the world and also raise the tension on the page.
Abbott #1 is the start of a brilliant new series. Pick it up digitally from Comixology, or find a copy at Your Local Comics Shop!

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Hugh Likes Comics: X-Men: Grand Design

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 & 2

Written and Drawn by Ed Piskor

Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Ed Piskor X-plains the X-Men.

“X-Men: Grand Design” is a comic with a very ambitious goal: Straighten out the tangled history of Marvel’s X-Men, and do it in such a way that it tells a coherent, interesting story. But if anyone is up to the task, it is indie comics creator and the man behind Hip Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor.

Piskor’s distinctive style feels somewhat strange applied to Jack Kirby’s designs, but the book goes all in, even being printed on a thicker, more rough paper for that truly indie feel. And this book does indeed cover plenty of space, opening in the dawn of the Golden Age and following Charles Xavier through the foundation of the X-Men and their Silver Age adventures. It does a great job of feeling both cosmically important, and personally intimate. There’s so much crazy backstory, retcons, and downright bizarre editorial decision-making in X-Men history that this book exists at all is an accomplishment. That Piskor pulls it off so effectively is a coup.

The first issue really only gets as far as the founding of the team, but it sets a solid continuity in a few simple strokes, and it makes The Phoenix a central figure going back to origin, which is  a good retcon. Issue two covers the team’s Silver Age adventures up until Giant Size X-Men #1, and does a bit more work retconning the original run into a cohesive whole that is appealing to a modern sensibility.

X-Men: Grand Design is available online from Comixology, and in print at Your Local Comics Shop! If you want a crash course, or just would like to see a different take on characters you’ve loved for years, its well worth a look!

Hugh Likes Comics: Top Comics of 2017

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It certainly has been a year of comics. As with a lot of media this year, the conversation in comics has felt dominated by the twin specters of Politics and Scandal. But while the Overton Window gets pulled around by various groups, I’ve come to understand better what I love about the medium. I love comics that take risks. I love comics that reinvent old concepts and characters in exciting and surprising ways. And I love comics that are unafraid of the great melding of genres and tropes that the medium allows. Originally, this was only going to be a Top Five list. But some jerk on the internet opened their mouths about how ‘there weren’t ten good comics this year,’ and now I’m angry. This is what you get for looking at social media. And here are my TEN favorite comics from 2017:

The Backstagers
Written by James Tynion IV
Drawn by Rian Sygh
Published by Boom!

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A wonderful comic of age comic about the stage crew at an all-boys high school, and the magical, dangerous world behind the stage. As a nerdy kid in black who ran a spotlight in his time, this really connected with me. It’s Resonant, touching, and adorably cute.

Black Bolt
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Drawn by Christian Ward
Published by Marvel Comics.

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Black Bolt was never a character I felt much about in comics. As the king of the Inhumans, he always felt like a political part of the universe rather than an interesting character. But by striping him down to his lowest point and throwing him in space prison, Ahmed and Ward have lit a spark under him, and put him in one of the most visually striking comics of the year.

Dark Knights: Metal
Written by Scott Snyder
Drawn by Greg Capullo
Published by DC Comics

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This is another comic that dredges up the weird bits of superhero continuity and welds them together into something strange, exciting, and delightful by turns. By truly embracing METAL, as in heavy metal aesthetics, the grim nightmare batman antagonists are given an energy and sense of album-cover awesomeness that these comics tend to eschew in attempt to lend their darkness unnecessary gravitas. Plus, this is a series where Batman tries to time travel with an evil baby, so it’s got that going for it.

Helena Crash
Written by Fabian Rangel Jr
Drawn by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Published by IDW

Helena Crash

An all-ages heist adventure in a dystopian future where coffee is illegal. This comic is a non-stop action story with all the energy and inventive art stylings of the margins of a middleschool composition notebook. Helena’s adventures are silly, fun, and frantic. The best kind of escapism.

Kim & Kim: Love is a Battlefield

Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Eva Cabrera
Published by Black Mask

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I slept on the first volume of Kim and Kim, and boy was I missing out! This comic is a constant delight of genre mishmash. Following the titular Interdimentional bounty hunters as they chase the big score and deal with their bad decisions with a combination of hitting people with guitars, amateur necromancy, and the occasional giant robot before hitting the club to do it all over again. Fun isn’t just for kids anymore.

Made Men
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Published by Oni Press

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Another genre mashup, Made Men takes a gritty noir revenge story and injects a whole bunch of Universal Horror. When a swat team gets taken down in a surprise hit, the last surviving member, Jutte Frankenstein, returns to the family manor in Europe to literally get them back together and get revenge. It’s a really great twist on both concepts.

Mister Miracle
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Mitch Gerards
Published by DC Comics

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This intense, unrelenting, and unflinching look at depression and mental health is heavy but beautiful. It’s also the best take on the fourth world stories since Kirby. It’s not always easy, but it is absolutely brilliant.

Swordquest
Written by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims
Drawn by Ghostwriter X
Published by Dynamite

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The creative team of Down Set Fight reunites for a tie-in comic for an unfinished Atari game. But this canny story finds the magic in things we loved as children, even if we see their flaws as adults. This is a story about unfinished business, facing regret, and learning that it’s never too late for an adventure.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Written by Ryan North
Drawn by Erica Henderson
Published by Marvel Comics

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This year Squirrel Girl flew to the Savage Land to save an endangered biome with computer science and ended up fight a T-rex version of Ultron. I feel like I should just put ‘nuf said and end here, but Squirrel Girl has been a consistently charming, fun, and witty comic that if you aren’t reading it, I don’t know what to tell you.

The Unstoppable Wasp
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Drawn by Elsa Charretier
Published by Marvel Comics

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Much like Black Bolt, Unstoppable Wasp brings a fresh take on an older Marvel hero that I never much cared for. But giving the suit to bubbly survivor and girl genius Nadia is a masterstroke. It is unfortunate that Marvel didn’t give this book more of a push, because it is a fantastic comic about Science, Friendship, and escaping abuse.

 

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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