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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!

 

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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.

Hugh Likes Comics: Lake of Fire

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Lake of Fire #1
Written by Nathan Fairbairn
Drawn by Matt Smith
Published by Image Comics
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“Lake of Fire” is Aliens with Crusaders instead off Space Marines, and it’s perfect.  Set in a remote village in the French Pyrenees in the 13th Century, a crashed space ship releases monstrous aliens that the people of the time can only conceptualize as demons.  When a team of errant crusaders come to the village to root out heresy, they come face to face with the terrifying creatures.
What I find most interesting about this concept is how asymmetrical the understanding of the characters is.  Fairbairn and Smith do an excellent job making clear the nature of the ‘demonic’ threat in the opening sequence, with a huge panel of the massive ship passing overhead before crashing in the mountains.  Conflict between highly advanced and pre-enlightenment societies isn’t a new concept.  ‘Star Trek’ made a lot of hay out of it over the years.  But this is an intriguing perspective.  The reader perspective follows the superstitious humans rather than the Xenomorph-like aliens, which really increases the tension.  They have absolutely no idea what they’re up against.
Fairbairn’s story is well researched and detailed without getting too bogged down in historical minutia.  The action is well paced and the characters are well developed.  The interplay between the greenhorn knight and his friend and the more seasoned knights and noblemen was interesting, and it kept the story moving.
Smith’s art is less realistic than I would have expected, but he has a great mastery of expressions.  The page layouts are a bit cramped, with lots of small panels.  This also helps keep the story compressed and tense.  Colors by Fairbairn are vibrant and atmospheric.
Lake of Fire is a heck of a good read to tide you over if you’re still waiting for the next George R. R. Martin book.  You can find it on Comixology, or on the shelves of your local comics shop.

Thanks for reading this article.  If you enjoyed it, please share it!  You can also support me on Patreon for more content.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Wicked + The Divine

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The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Jaime McKelvie
Published by Image Comics

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Gillen and McKelvie are my all-time favorite team of comics creators.  Yes.  Even above Stan and Jack.  Deal with it.  I was impressed with their urban fantasy indie-pop black and white opus “Phonogram,” and their run of “Young Avengers” was my favorite comic of 2013.  So when they announced “The Wicked + The Divine,” I knew right away that it was going to be right in my wheelhouse.  But I slept on it, knowing that it would be there when I wanted it the most, and that graphic novels would be a better choice than single issues, for me.  This week I finally took the plunge.  And I was entirely right.
Every ninety years, twelve gods return to earth, incarnated as teenaged pop stars.  They spend the next two years inspiring humanity, then they die.  And the cycle repeats.  It’s called The Recurrence, and it’s happening right now.
Laura is a fanatic.  She’s seen every god that has appeared so far.  And when Luci, this incarnation of the Prince of Lies as filtered through the Thin White Duke, takes a shine to her and invites her backstage, she becomes enmeshed in the affairs of beings that are equal parts divine being, celebrity, and terminally-ill teenager.
The Wicked + The Divine is another moonshot high concept of a comic from Gillen and McKelvie.  A strange mix of pop culture and religious iconography, it is constantly shocking, melancholic, and larger-than-life.  McKelvie’s clean, gorgeous line work is once again perfectly suited, with a whole class of post-modern deities to accompany his work on Marvel’s Young Avengers.  Matthew Wilson’s colors once again provide a rich partner to McKelvie’s art.
The Wicked + The Divine vol. 1 is available in trade from your local comics shop or digitally from Comixology.  It’s a hell of a good read.

Thanks for reading this article.  If you enjoyed it, please share it.  You can also support me on Patreon for more stuff!

Hugh Likes Comics: Wayward

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Wayward Vol. 1: String Theory
Written by Jim Zub
Drawn by Steve Cummings
Published by Image Comics
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Rori Lane isn’t your typical teenager.  The daughter of an Irish engineer and a Japanese seamstress, she moves to Japan to live with her mom after her dad ‘didn’t work out.’  Before she can settle in, she begins to have visions of glowing red thread, and is soon drawn in to the dangerous hidden world of the Yokai, or Japanese monsters.  But she isn’t on her own.  She makes friends with other mythological denizens: An energetic cat girl, a classmate laboring under a curse, and a mysterious homeless boy with untapped powers.
Cummings’s art is gorgeous, and dispenses with pop-culture cuteness.  The Yokai in this book are by turns tough, terrifying, and absolutely disgusting.  There are no fuzzy-wuzzy kitsune mascots, and the kappa have a taste for human flesh, not cucumbers.  The gore is a little brutal at times, but the grown-up monster designs do a great job of just how deep and dark the well they they’ve stumbled into is.
The detail in the art is quite appealing as well.  Having worked as a English as a Second Language teacher in Japan, I noticed lots of little details in the background art that made the Tokyo of the book come alive.
“Wayward” is one of those odd little books that is too adult for YA based on the fact that the teenaged characters act a little too realistically.  Rori is foul-mouthed and psychologically damaged in ways that would make Katness Everdeen crap her pants.  Her mother is loving, but busy and at times distant.  Rori’s real teenage problems fitting in to a new environment are a nice parallel to her supernatural adventures.  While too much for youngsters, this is an excellent, but serious fantasy adventure for older teens.  Parental discretion advised, of course.