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Hugh Likes Comics: America

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America #1-3
Written by Gabby Rivera
Drawn by Joe Quinones
Published by Marvel Comics

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America Chavez is one of my absolute favorite superheroes. She’s tough, strong, brassy and bold. She gets the job done and never says die. All typical traits of a comic-book protagonist. But more than that, America is a Queer Latina here to save the world from another universe. One time she got arrested for fighting a shark TOO WELL. I love her, and Marvel is finally giving her her own solo series.
But where do you take a character who owns so hard and literally kicks holes in the universe? In this case college. But not just any school of higher ed will do for Ms. Chavez. After a tearful falling out with her girlfriend, she’s piling her stuff into Reb Brown’s old Captain America van and heading to Sotomayor University, premier learning institution to the multiverse. But what lessons will she absorb, and will she stay still long enough to learn them?
Novelist Gabby Rivera brings good work to her first comics outing. Her take on the character is interesting, and nothing like your usual four-color fare. The text is a bit cerebral, but by issue three, she has found her groove. America is a character whose powers and origins feel more Silver-Age DC than Marvel, despite how thoroughly modern she is in design and personality. Rivera threads that line in unexpected and gratifying ways, while giving America something more to do than just punch what’s in front of her.
I like Joe Quinones’ art, which is just as full of motion and energy as a heroine like America demands, even when she’s sitting in class.
America is a bold new comic, and in my opinion, exactly the sort of book that Marvel should be putting out right now. You can find it online at comixology.com, or in print at your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Rocket #1

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Hugh Likes Comics: Rocket

Rocket #1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Adam Gorham
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There are two ways to look at Rocket #1. On the one hand, this is the second “Rocket #1” to hit shelves this year, and it isn’t even June. Readers could lay that at the feet of Marvel editorial’s constant cycle of resets and reboots, in this case an attempt to catch the wave of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. On the other hand, it’s Rocket doing heists in space with Technet. Technet, you guys!
Technet is one of the lovely bits of obscure Marvel goofiness that just warms my heart. They are a wacky team of Space Mercenaries that served as antagonists for Captain Brittain and Excalibur in the late ’80’s. They all have unusual designs and strange powers, and are just about perfect for a Rocket book that pulls him away from the Guardians.
This comic works because it has a perfect voice and it knows how to use it. This is a beat for beat heist that doesn’t apologize for the over-the-top characters. It opens with Rocket drinking alone in a bar, when a dame in white walks back into his life. The fact that this is a space bar filled crazy aliens, and the dame is an anthropomorphic otter named ‘Otta Spice’ is treated as a given.
The layout and art really make this comic work. Each page is accompanied by a a column of spare prose on the left side that reads like a Parker novel. And the slick suit-and-sunglasses look for Rocket and his crew sells the genre conventions.
Rocket #1 could’ve just been another tie-in cash grab, but by so seamlessly blending archetypal genres, and bringing back some genuinely weird Marvel characters, Ewing and Gorham are starting something special. In the words of Technetter China Doll, it’s “Fun-fun-fun!” You can find it at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Black Bolt

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Black Bolt #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Christian Ward
Published by Marvel Comics
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Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, wakes up in jail. Obviously an en-medias-res opening like this leads to a lot of tantalizing questions, such as who the hell is Black Bolt, what are the Inhumans, and why should I care? But Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward have plucked the character our of obscurity and polished it to a mirror shine.
Black Bolt is a difficult character for a number of reasons, most prominent of which is that he is such a strange character himself. Originally a Fantastic Four villain, He was the King of a hidden civilization in which a superhero royal family which ruled over a powerless underclass. His powerful voice could kill anyone who heard it, which made him effectively mute. In his appearances since, he is always paired with another character who talks for him on the page. As you can imagine, this would make a solo book difficult, but the creators have done a fantastic job with the character.
The first thing we see is Black Bolt returning to himself as he is imprisoned and tortured. Over the first five pages, we see him struggle and finally rise up. Ahmed’s writing is lyrical and affecting. The script reminds me of “Lone Wolf and Cub,” The narration boxes that accompany Black Bolt as he wanders through his cyclopean prison aren’t spare, but they are perfectly worded and paced to evoke that feeling. But Ward’s art is the real star here.
The labyrinth Black Bolt wanders through is huge, and it dwarfs the character. It is filled with odd angles and strange bits. The security cameras are disembodied red eyeballs. Blackagar wanders through arched cathedrals and Escher-esque staircase towers, with images of his past and family painted on the walls. The color palate is likewise perfect, with moody blues and blacks offset by searing pinks, the only light on the page the white highlights on the prisoner’s black costume.
Black Bolt #1 is a brilliant piece of graphic storytelling. In a market of serialized slugfest and paper-thin fables, this feels like the start of something important. Whatever your concerns with Marvel Publishing’s other work right now, I urge you to find and read this comic. Black Bolt #1 is available digitally through Comixology, or in print from your local comics shop.

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 Once and Future Queen

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The Once and Future Queen #1
Written by Adam P. Knave and D. J.  Kirkbride
Drawn by Nick Brokenshire
Published by Dark Horse Comics
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The Legend of King Arthur evokes  a particular place in the imagination of Western Literature. It’s a foundational document of Chivalry, Knights and Ladies, and the pacification of Pagan Britain by more ‘civilized’ Christian forces. And like all canon literary myths, it has been shaped and reshaped over the centuries to fit that era’s taste. From Malory’s Le Mort Darthur to Disney’s kid-friendly adaptation of “The Sword in the Stone,” to “Monty Python And the Holy Grail.”
“The Once and Future Queen,” from the creative team behind the “Amelia Cole” Urban Fantasy series leaves yet another modern stamp on the legend. The story centers on 19-year old Portland chess champ Rani Arturus. In Cornwall for a tournament, she quickly catches the eye of a local girl, loses the tournament, and pulls The Sword from The Stone. The story proceeds from there, spilling from slice-of-life drama to full on fantasy epic. It comes complete with some decidedly un-cute fey planning an invasion and visions of Merlin speaking in riddles on the nature of time while wearing a spacesuit.
Knave and Kirkbride are having fun with the source material, and Brokenshire’s art has a sketchy quality that likewise feels relaxed and quickly draws the eye across the page. But like the chess metaphors that litter the comic, they’re still setting up their pieces. We get a glimpse of Morgan, a YA author who is clued in to the magical goings on, and a hint of tragic past and Merlin maybe exceeding moral boundaries in setting up his new/old Queen.
The game is just starting, but I’m onboard for this super-heroic, speed-chess take on the classic legend. You can pick up a copy at your local comics shop, or in digital at Comixology.com.

Hugh Likes Comics: 2016 Top 5

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Hugh Likes Comics Top 5 of 2016

The year is finally over, so here is my top comics picks for this year, in no particular order.  Not all of these comics started their runs in 2016, but all of them were read and enjoyed by me in the last twelve months.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
W-Ryan North
A-Erika Henderson
P-Marvel Comics
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Ryan North and Erika Henderson continue to kill it with their solo series focused on Marvel’s favorite C-List powerhouse.  In addition to the stand alone “Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe,” they also continued to do outstanding work in her ongoing series.  Flouting Super-Hero comics conventions, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a rich blend of smarts, silliness, and action that casts a satyrical lens on The Marvel Universe.  Squirrel Girl beats her foes with a combination of empathy, inner strength, and even her computer science knowledge. Plus, they did a crossover with Howard The Duck that included Kraven the Hunter driving around in a panel van with a picture of himself on the side. So there’s that.

New Super-Man
W-Gene Luan Yang
A-Viktor Bogdanovic
P-DC Comics
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Set in Shanghai with an all-Chinese cast, this book is something truly new from DC. Yang is taking a risk and delving deep into the superhero genre. By taking traditionally American iconography and placing it in modern China, he brings a freshness to plot elements which can feel a bit stale elsewhere. Young Kong Kenan’s struggle with heroism and authority follows familiar beats, but has new life. Bogdanovic’s art and designs are likewise familiar and new in ways that invite the reader. The first arc just finished, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

The Wicked + The Divine
W-Kieren Gillen
A-Jamie McKelvie
P-Image Comics
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The Wicked + The Divine also didn’t begin its run in 2016, but that is the year I finally picked it up. I am a huge fan of Gillen and McKelvie, so this was a no-brainer.  The story of twelve teenagers elevated to godhood for two years, it explores the dynamics of youth, pop culture, and religion in intriguing ways that only these two could come up with. This book is an emotional roller-coaster; by turns shocking, funny, and heart-breaking. Gillen and McKelvie continue to work in perfect harmony as they discuss the dynamics of power, celebrity, and exploitation.

Power Man and Iron Fist
W-David Walker
A-Sanford Greene
P-Marvel Comics
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This is a truly great, modern street-level superhero comic. Power Man and Iron Fist threads that tiny needle of including years of backstory without getting bogged down in little details. It manages to include a cast of D-list bronze age gangsters and not only keeps modern readers interested, but evokes empathy. It examines what it would really be like to struggle at the bottom in a world like Marvel’s New York, where aliens and magic are commonplace. Walker’s exploration of the idea of street-level magic is both charming and chilling. Greene’s art is well-matched, and he even turns Luke Cage into a fashion plate.

Lake of Fire
W-Nathan Fairbairn
A-Matt Smith
P-Image Comics
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Something a bit different to close out this list, “Lake of Fire” is one of those pure, elegant speculative fiction stories that I love. Set during the Crusades, it focuses on how pre-enlightenment Europeans might react to an alien invasion. It is essential knights vs. zenomorphs, but the execution is well-thought out and historically detailed. Fairbairn and Smith take an action-movie concept and expand it into a living, breathing world.

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
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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.

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