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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: Die

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Die #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Stephanie Hans
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image

Die

The Skinny: Less “Dungeons and Dragons” and more “It.”

In 1991, Dominic and his friends played a game, and then disappeared. In 1993, they returned, unable to tell a soul where they had been or what they were doing. And one of them, Dominic’s best friend and GM Solomon, never returned at all. Twenty-five years after that, Dominic receives a strange and chilling birthday present: A crystalline 20-sided die. The game isn’t over.
Writer Kieron Gillen’s first creator-owned project since The Wicked + The Divine tackles nostalgia, trauma, and the scars left by fantastical childhood journeys on adults. This isn’t untrodden ground, of course. It has been approached in all sorts of ways, from the Robin Williams movie “Hook” to Stephen King’s It. This tale hews more closely to the latter, as you might expect. Gillen makes things more interesting by incorporating another element: Dungeons and Dragons. His epigraph at the end of the comic makes the reference more explicit: The unfinished 80’s cartoon which transported six real-world kids to the roleplaying fantasy land. He’s also tapping into the 80’s “satanic panic” surrounding the game, with six kids who were literally swallowed and chewed up by the game. It’s an interesting twist on the concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Hans’s art is gorgeous, and impliments some cool tricks with light. The is dull, dark, and full of shadows. Not to spoil things, but this is reversed in a double-page spread late in the issue to great effect. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding logo design from Rian Hughes, which takes a D-20 and spreads it flat into a maze of triangular segments. Hans takes it and pulls off a neat trick on the cover, interposing the design for a character and her in-game persona.
Die #1 is an intriguing new fantasy horror series, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. You can find it at Your Local Comic Shop or digitally from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Comics: Bitter Root

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Bitter Root #1
Created by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene
Color Artists: Rico Renzi and Sanford Greene
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image

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The Skinny: Dieselpunk Monster Hunting in the Harlem Renaissance

Set in 1920’s Harlem, Bitter Root is the story of the Sangerye family, monster hunters who protect humanity from terrifying monsters called “Jinoo.” But they work in secret, and not without cost. As the older generation passes, the younger members of the family are called upon to step up, but trainee Cullen struggles, and Blink chafes at her role doing “women’s work.” But with the forces of darkness closing in around them, can they afford family tension?
Following their run on Power Man and Iron Fist in 2016, Walker and Greene are back, along with co-writer Chuck Brown, and they are killing it.
Pairing the monster hunting aesthetic with the Harlem Renaissance is a bold and brilliant move from this team. Greene’s designs and costuming are great, full of big chunky machines and a variety of period fashion that looks great on these characters. The night-time coloring is moody and atmospheric, and the period setting reminds the reader that we don’t have to visit fictional countries to see black excellence in comics.
Period punk sub-genres too often get caught up in the pomp of Empire and the glitz of Roaring Twenties, and forego the punk responsibilities for pulpier trappings. Bitter Root does an excellent job of bringing the shine and the shadow of the times to the front. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next. You can find it at Your Local Comics Shop or digitally via Comixology!

 

Hugh Likes Comics: Man-eaters

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Man-eaters #1
Written by Chelsea Cain
Drawn by Kate Niemczyk
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by Joe Carmagna
Published by Image

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The Skinny: A mutated parasite turns adolescent girls into were-panthers in this metafictional horror comic.

Not very many horror comics have sparkly, pink covers. But “Man-eaters,” is something special. From the creative team whose work on “Mockingbird” for Marvel drew the ire of what became comicsgate, and also became a best-seller in trade, this metafictional horror story is doing a lot of waving to their haters. And it is glorious.
Thanks to a mutation in toxoplasmosis, adolescent girls are subject to a terrifying transformation during their period. Maude, daughter of a single homicide detective, is left on her own while he investigates a grisly killing. But the crime scene indicates a large cat attack. And repaying anything else, would spoil the issue.
There is something to be applauded in not just facing controversy, but diving towards it with arms outstretched. When Cain was hounded from social media for the galling crime of having her polymath/spy/superheorine Mockingbird wear a t-shirt referring to herself as ‘feminist,’ she could have done the safe thing and wrote charming and inoffensive stories. Instead, she and Mockingbird artist Kate Niemczyk are doing a horror comic about menstruation, and the panels are filled with easter eggs, references, and downright middle fingers to their haters. This is a book that no one could accuse of being voiceless.
And the tone is so striking. Maude is a delightful, energetic twelve-year-old who comes through brilliantly on the page. She is a spotlight in a very dark world, which is constantly pushing at the corners. This is a horror book that doesn’t look like one at first glance. It is bubbly and unsettling in equal measure, and it works so well.
A lot of this first issue is world building, so we only have a few short scenes and character introductions, but Image seems to be banking on “Man-eaters as the next “Bitch Planet,” and it certainly has a strong start. I’m already looking forward to the next issue.
This is a book people will be talking about, and you can pick one up at your local comic shop, or get a digital copy from Comixolgy.

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.

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