Hugh Likes Comics: Batmanga

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Batman: The Juro Kuwata Batmanga Volunme 1
Written and Drawn by Juro Kuwata
Published by DC Comics

The Skinny: The Other ’60s Batman

During the height of the 1960s Batman TV show, Juro Kuwata a manga-ka who brought the Dynamic Duo to Japan with his own unique spin on the Caped Crusader.
 The resulting collection was not available in English in a complete format until 2014, but it is well worth your time and consideration. The art is a delightful mix of Golden Age DC and classic manga aesthetics, riding high on an international wave of the live-action Batman TV show’s success. The stories are all fairly straightforward and of their time, but also take some interesting swings. Eschewing the Dark Knight’s well-known rogues gallery, Kuwata turned his hand to making his own villains, opening with the very strong and exceptionally well-named “Lord Death Man” and setting Batman and Robin against a super-intelligent gorilla (not Gorilla Grodd) with a fun twist, a powerful mutant that echoes the creation of Marvel’s X-Men while looking like a weird space alien, and The Human Ball, which probably sounded less hilarious in the original Japanese.
 Kuwata’s art is striking and iconic, although the stories feel somewhat poorly served by manga’s black-and-white format. Several insert sections also include red tones for a deluxe feel, but one of the key clues for one of the villains includes the fact that his powers were color based. Which came out of left field in this black-and-white comic
Batman and Robin also have a distinct feel to them in this version, with Batman being much more of a man of action rather than a detective, and this Dick Grayson is delightfully sassy.
 While not exactly ground-breaking, this collection of ‘lost’ Batman comics feels both classic and astonishingly different. Kuwata’s style is distinct and iconic, while still highly recognizable, and Batman and Robin’s adventures don’t feel too far removed from his live-action TV Adventures. It is a curious little oddity that is well worth the time of fans of both anime and Batman, if only as a reminder of where the character has gone in his many years of publication history. Batmanga Volume 1 is available digitally from Comixology or in print from your local comics shop.

The Mountain’s Shadow is now available from Amazon and Smashwords!

Hugh Likes Comics: Chainsaw Man

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Chainsaw Man Volume 1: Dog and Chainsaw
Written & Drawn by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Published by Viz Media

The Skinny: Three chainsaws and one brain cell.

Chainsaw Man is a delight of a manga that is taking the world by storm, and I can see why. It follows Denji, a young man saddled by the Yakuza with his father’s debts. Forced to pay an impossible sum, Denji’s only companion and source of income is his pet Pochita, a dog-like devil with a chainsaw for a snout. Denji uses his monster pup to hunt other demons for cash. But when his yakuza debtors turn on him, Pochita sacrifices itself, merging with Denji to make him the eponymous Chainsaw Man, a powerful combination of human and devil.Chainsaw Man is one of those manga that sits squarely in the Venn diagram of a number of genres. It isn’t quite a horror comic, and it has a lot of comedic elements, and Denji sort of, but doesn’t quite fit into a superhero mould. The book sits somewhere uncomfortably between all three genres, allowing the tension of that placement to drive the story.In a world where devils walk the Earth, this is the type of story that examines the humanity, or lack thereof, of its characters. From the abusive Yakuza who hounded Denji’s father to suicide to his new boss Makijima, who threatens to have Denji executed if he doesn’t produce results, the humans take advantage of Denji’s situation as a half-devil for their own ends, leaving him to suffer. But Denji isn’t without flaws himself, as he uses his newfound freedom to support his one goal in life: To ever touch a boob. Largely the inhumanity of these characters is played for laughs or pathos rather than as a serious societal critique. Denji is a character raised outside of civilization, and becomes a lens to view civilization’s flaws, ramped up to eleven by the threat of marauding devils. Denji himself is so simple that he is played as a sort of a noble savage, alongside zombie-like devil girl Power. In other situations, this could be very uncomfortable, but Fujimoto pulls the trick off, for the most part.
Fujimoto’s art is detailed, and often grotesque without being overly complex or difficult to read. I read the manga on my tablet, and it came through very legibly, and is easy to follow. His monster designs are clever and unexpected, and manage to never cross the line into being too gross.
Part horror reflecting man’s inhumanity to man, part workplace comedy, part gristly spectacle, Chainsaw Man walks a thin line, but the fresh writing and fast pace propel it along fast enough that it never falls into any pits. If you’re looking for something new to read, it’s well worth your time.

Hugh Likes Comics: Sins of Sinister #1

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Sins of Sinister #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Various Artists
Colored by Bryan Valenza
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Speed-running into a dark timeline
Ever since the X-Men’s soft reboot into the current era with 2019’s House of X/Powers of X, the heroes have had a problem. It was never a question of if evil eugenicist Mister Sinister was going to betray them, but how. While he’s been sitting on the ruling council and biding his time, his plans have accelerated since the start of Gillen’s Imortal X-Men.
Sins of Sinister #1 is the wig reveal for the diabolical mastermind’s ten-year plan, serving as a sort of a speed-run start to the event. Sinister isn’t one person, more of a system of clones, and he’s secretly corrupted the Quiet Council in order to bring about his larger goal of turning the entire Earth into a Mister Sinister hive-mind. The result is that this is less of a kick-off and more of a guided tour of ten years of a Marvel Comics history that is likely to be completely undone at the end of the event.
Gillen has put all his cards on the table for this event. By leaning into the fact that this won’t be the status quo going forward, he gets to take bigger swings with the story. The event is spaced out in powers of ten, with the first books set ten years after Sinister’s takeover, then one hundred, and finally a thousand years into the future. This unique structure is a lot of fun, and this volume gives us a whole lot of cool splash pages and hypothetical events as the corrupted X-Men help take over the world. Sometimes it’s fun to watch the bad guys win.
With a huge number of artists drawing the book, the art varies, but it’s all good, and Bryan Valenza’s colors tie the different sections together. The book has a dark palate, which fits the sci-fi dystopia that Sinister is trying to bring about.
Sins of Sinister #1 is less a puzzle box and more of a explainer video of a comic, a wig reveal of machinations that have been threaded through the last four years of comics. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m most looking forward to the individual books, and seeing how the unusual structure for the event plays out. You can pick up a copy for yourself at the usual digital retailers, and from your local Comics Shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Young Men in Love

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Young Men in Love: A Queer Romance Anthology
Edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner
Published by A Blue Wave World

The Skinny: A sweet collection of short gay romance comics
A pair of pirates just looking for a bit of privacy, a pre-teen looking for his own identity, and a new couple still figuring out their boundaries are just some of the stories in this sweet, romantic anthology. Created by Queer writers and artists across the comics industry, this anthology of six-page pieces runs the gamut from the fantastic to the mundane and from the melancholic to the exuberantly joyful. There is a story here for everyone.
Young Men in Love is a book of stories that go on separate journies but arrive at the same place. Gay love and Queer relationships are more varried than you often see in media, particularly comics, and this book breaks the mold by telling personal, diverse stories that each have a life of their own. This book is as long on charm as the stories are short. There are low-stakes stories about first love, self discovery, and loneliness, and more fantastical stories about discovering your partner is a superhero or a couple falling into a virtual world while replacing a lamp. YMiL isn’t just about love but about acceptance and more importatnly, self-acceptance.
 Joe Glass tells a story which feels deeply personal. It follows a fat person as he deals with his body issues as a gay comics fan, coming up against not only the societal expectation that he should be ‘thin’ but also potential lovers that fetishize his weight. Dead End creator Hamish Steele tells a poignant story about loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts during the holidays. While not all the stories are so personal,, they all feel important. There is something deeply uncommercial about this collection.
 These aren’t love stories about the stereotypical gay characters you would see on a sitcom or in a romance novel written for the female gaze. YMiL is a book of our stories, for us, and that feels vital to me. If you want to see more diverse stories or find new, brilliant creators, writers and artists not on the radar of big-2 comics, you need this anthology.
Young Men in Love is available in print and digital editions from your local comics shop or the usual monopolistic book outlets. It is a deeply personal, highly original, and honest collection of stories that need to get out into the world. I give it my highest recommendation.

Hugh Likes Comics: A.X.E. Judgement Day

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Written by Keiron Gillen
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Marvel’s big crossover event for the summer dives deep into Superhero Politics

Spinning out of The Eternals and Destiny of X, Guillen and Schiti deliver the opening salvo in a summer event comic that promises to be a bit more than your typical hero vs. hero slugfest. Because this isn’t just a book about superheroes. It’s a book about superhero international relations.
 The Mutant Nation of Krakoa continues to dominate the world stage by doing the impossible. After terraforming and colonizing Mars last year, the secret of their ability to resurrect dead mutants has become public knowledge. The fact that they are unable to bring back humans has led to a public backlash and mistrust.
 Meanwhile, the Eternals have been facing some societal shake-ups of their own. The tumult has left scheming Druig in charge as the Prime Eternal, and many of the other immortal heroes unsure of their purpose after being abandoned by their creators, the Celestials.
 Oh, also the Avengers are using the hollowed-out corpse of a dead celestial as their new base. For reasons.
 With Druig on shaky political footing, he comes up with a plan to unify his people and secure his power by convincing them that the Mutants are byproducts of their ancient enemies, the also Celestial-created Deviants, and thus they must be eradicated. Not unfamiliar with attempted genocide against them, the Mutants on Krakoa fend off the assault. The ones on Mars aren’t so lucky. As Druig moves through more and more of his fantastical arsenal of ancient Celestial technology to use against Mutantkind, sides are chosen. But who wins in a war where both sides are effectively immortal? And will anyone else still be standing when the dust settles?
 Obviously, the answer here is going to be ‘yes’ because this is a superhero comic, but I am enjoying the way this event is spinning out less from Action-movie cliches of previous events and the more cerebral moments from Eternals and Immortal X-Men. The first issue is mostly scene setting and getting the characters where they need to be, but it’s still a strong first issue, with great writing by Gillen. The scene between Druig and Moira X, and the whole thing with the protesters (no spoilers) is just chilling.
 Schiti and Gracia’s art is excellent. I love the opening pages, which juxtapose Iron Man and Sersi having brunch against the human protesters surrounding the X-Men’s treehouse headquarters. The colors are rich and the characters are all expressive and dynamic. This feels more like a political thriller than a superhero dustup, and the art sells it when the pages are mostly talking heads.
 A.X.E. Judgement Day #1 is now available in print from your local comics shop or digitally from the usual sources.  

Hugh Likes Comics: Sins of the Black Flamingo

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Sins of the Black Flamingo #1
Written by Andrew Wheeler
Drawn by Travis Moore
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image

The Skinny: A sun-drenched, cynical heist story about a mystical gentleman thief.

The Black Flamingo is a gentleman thief, although they would follow up the description with a clarification that they are non-binary and all property is theft. A fabulous melange of Arsène Lupin, Harry Dresden, and Dorian Gray, they recover rare and unusual artifacts from people worse than themself, and looks great doing it.
During a mission retrieving a Jewish relic from a secret Nazi shrine underneath a private museum, they uncover designs for a magical object of great power, setting off a series of events that will lead the cynical thief on an adventure that will test all of their skills and break all their rules.
Sins of the Black Flamingo #1 is a great start to this cynical urban fantasy series from Image. We get a great introduction to the main character, and a vivid setting in Wheeler and Moore’s depiction of Florida, including a bizarre full-page sequence that includes, among other things, a stolen urinal and a wedding ceremony with a gator.
Moore’s art with Bonvillain’s colors are delightful. They nail the sun-drenched horror and strange imagery, but also render the quiet tenderness of a sort of reunion scene that I won’t spoil here, but feels like the centerpiece of the issue. This is a dark and cynical book, but I think that perspective will be shattered, or at least greatly challenged, but the last issue of the miniseries. Maybe this world isn’t so bleak as the Flamingo believes, and the ultimate choice they will have to make. Is it enough simply to keep the worst from happening, or is the Black Flamingo obligated to do more?
Sins of the Black Flamingo #1 is now available in print from your local comics shop, or digitally wherever you buy comics. It’s the start of an intriguing, no-holds-barred sort of indie book  and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics: Free Comic Book Day 2022!

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Hello readers! One of my favorite holidays is again upon us. Yes, that’s right! It’s Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow, May 7, 2022! And this year I will be at my favorite local shop to peruse the offerings and help support local business and some of my favorite creators! Free Comic Book day started in 2002, the free promotion has grown over the years, and is always celebrated on the first Saturday in May. There are a staggering number fo comics to choose from, from well-known superhero franchises, to kid-friendly cartoon tie-ins, and serious indie titles., all free for the taking.
Just remember they’re free for customers, not the shops, so please be sure to buy something and support your local business!
Here is a selection of the books I’m looking forward to this year:

Galaxy: The Prettiest Star FCBD Edition
Written by Jadzia Axelrod
Art by Jess Taylor
I have been a fan of Jadzia Axelrod’s writing for years, and I am beyond excited for her upcoming graphic novel from DC Comics. Always clever and full of charm and heart, I can’t wait to see her writing for ‘the big two.’ in this story of a intergalactic princess in hiding. And the art is gorgeous as well.

Avengers / X-Men / Eternals Judgement Day FCBD
With a whole bunch of talented creators, this one tees up Marvel’s big ‘summer blockbuster’ of popular superheroes dusting up for reasons. But this year’s scuffle revolves around the desecration of the corpses of Dead Space Gods, so it should at least be interesting. I’ve been a big fan of the swerve X-Men took in the past few years, as well as the Eternals relaunch, so I am looking forward to this one.

Barbaric #1 FCBD Edition
The story of a barbarian cursed to do good and his sentient battle axe with a drinking problem, Barbaric plays fast and loose with the tropes of low fantasy. I have an issue or two of the ongoing series, and if that’s your style of fantasy, I recommend giving it a look.

Marvel Voices FCBD #1
The Marvel’s Voices anthology series has been an excellent collection highlighting marginalized creators along with characters, and this FCBD collection seems to be a collection of some of the best of those stories. It doesn’t look like it has the one where Mystique kills Professor Moriarty, but still a worthwhile pickup.

I have heard great things about both of these manga series, and I’m looking forward to picking up this sampler of both to get a better fix on whether they’ll be joining my to-be-read pile.

There is an incredible variety of books coming out this year for Free Comic Book day. You can check them all out, along with their handy Local Comics Shop locator at their website: FreeComicBookDay.com

Hugh Likes Comics: Immortal X-Men

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Immortal X-Men #1
Written by Kieran Gillen
Drawn by Lucas Werneck
Colored by David Curiel
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: The X-Wing
The next ‘season’ of X-Men comics kicks off with this banger of a book focusing on the Quiet Council, the ruling body of the Mutant Nation of Krakoa. And while this book is a who’s who of A-list comics characters, Gillen puts the story in the shoes of his favorite villain, Mr. Sinister.
 As a new number one, Immortal X-Men #1serves as a good jumping-on point for readers who missed the X-Men’s glow up from a boarding school with teachers who shoot lasers from their eyes to international and even interplanetary politics. It reintroduces the status quo and the major players. The council is a mixture of white and black hats, the issue opens with a big one hanging his up. Magneto is stepping down from the council, and most of the issue is spent on the debate over who should replace him.
 It’s a risky move to start a comics story with so little action, but one of the strengths of the X-line has always been the way the books fit together, using varying tones to tell complex stories that appeal to different audiences. X-Force and Excalibur are books in the same line, with very different tones from the ‘core’ X-Men title. And Immortal X-Men is an extension of that idea, a book that focuses on the politics of running the mutant nation. The X-Wing if you will. Gillen pulls it off by focusing on Sinister’s twisted perspective. A supervillain’s supervillain, he plots and schemes and seems to know everybody else’s secrets. Except for Destiny, the precognitive mutant recently back from the dead. The book opens with the two sparring in post-WWI Paris, and a hundred years later, not much has changed.
 The issue is further saved from being a collection of talking heads by Lucas Werneck’s excellent art, which is stuffed not only with gorgeous, expressive characters, but delightful background images as well. The X-Men, and Mr. Sinister in particular, has leaned into its own weirdness in the last decade. Werneck is serving that weirdness up with cool body horror and bizarre monsters. I can’t wait to see what else is up the sleeves of this artist and writer pair.
 If you’re into comics for the fight scenes, this isn’t the book for you, but this book takes the central political conflicts of the X-Men and turns the tension up to eleven. If sci-fi politics is your jam, you owe it to yourself to check out Immortal X-Men. You can find the first issue at your local comics shop or online from Amazon. (R.I.P. Comixology)

Hugh Likes Comics: Crowded Vol. 3

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Crowded Vol. 3: Cutting-Edge Desolation
Written by Christopher Sebela
Drawn by Ro Stein & Ted Brandt
Colored by Triona Farrell & Diana Sousa
Lettered by Cardinal Rae
Published by Image Comics

Crowded Vol. 3 Cover

The Skinny: The Near-Future Dystopian Mayhem reaches its finale.
Crowded is one of the comics of recent years that floored me with how of the moment it was. Originally published as a monthly series in 2018, The pandemic and resultant shortages shifted the last volume from a monthly comic to a graphic novel format, but it has been worth the wait.Charlie Ellison, human disaster and the famous $3 Million Dollar girl, may have made the last mistake of her life. Having fired her bodyguard Vita after a brief but passionate fling, she’s now being defended by Circe, the assassin who has been following the pair since the beginning of their disastrous road trip. But with the organizers of the assassination campaign against her in her sights, will she turn the tables on them, or will Vita, not to mention everyone else in America, get to her first?The final act of Crowded continues with the elements that made the first two volumes such a joy to read. The over-the top characters and setting remain horrifyingly engaging. From a drone-army of weekend warriors to a a staggering number of wrecked self-driving cars to a queer utopia in Oklahoma City of all places, the trail of destruction crosses the U.S. as the story rushes towards its conclusion.Sebela’s writing is as sharp and incisive as ever, with all the shouting and explosions pierced with quiet scenes of actual depth and emotion that caught me off guard.Stein and Brandt continue to impress with their skills on art. Aided by Triona Farrell and Diana Sousa on colorist duties. Their skill at facial expressions in particular is a driver of the story, and if you go in thinking how many ways could they possibly have to draw Vita looking angry, it’s an impressive list.While I would’ve liked to have been able to pick this book up monthly from my local shop, I’m glad we got this final volume, which is a very satisfying conclusion. While new readers should start with volume one, I highly recommend this series. You can order digital or print editions from the your local bookstore or comics shop!

Hugh Likes Comics: Rockstar & Softboy

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Rockstar and Softboy
Written & Drawn by Sina Grace
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics

Rockstar & Softboy

The Skinny: Sina Grace’s latest oversized one-shot is a paen to queer friendship mixed wit and wackiness.

I was not sure what I was getting into with Rockstar and Softboy, but I’m glad I picked it up. On the surface, it is an autobiographical slice-of-life comic. When Softboy is having trouble dealing with the stress of his day job, Rockstar convinces him to throw a party. With the help of their shapeshifting, talking cat.

 Inspired by his real-life friendship with fellow comics creator Josh Trujillo, This oversized, super-gay one-shot story deftly blends the fantastic and the mundane to create a lovely tribute to the power of queer friendship. Grace’s writing is lovely and constantly surprising. This is certainly a book full of surprises, and I found new delights with each turn of the page. His madcap and unabashedly queer energy infuses the book and render his characters in a charming light even when it highlights their flaws. By the time the book reached the inevitable Sailor Moon parody, I was giggling in my chair, drawing curious stares from my husband.

 The art is whimsical and transformative, keeping pace with the story and helping to ground the reader in the off-the-wall antics.

 At a hefty sixty-seven pages, this book is a bit too long and a bit too short for the story it is telling. I would’ve like to have spent either a little bit more time with these characters, or maybe pared the story down a bit. There are quite a few data pages and explainers mixed in, which occasionally break the story’s flow. Cramming this story into a single issue also raises the price tag, so I’m not sure if I can recommend this book if you’re unsure if you’ll like it. But if you like queer slice-of-life stories that also take big swings, this book is for you.

 At the end of the day, this book isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and at $8.99, I can’t recommend that you give it a try if you’re unsure if you’ll like it. But the world could use more unironic stories that believe in the power of friendship and being your true self. And also the power of power bottoms. You can purchase it online or at Your Local Comics Shop!

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