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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: 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!

Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2020

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This year was a rough one for Comics. Covid-19 forced a distribution shutdown, with ramification that were felt throughout the industry. But there were still a plethora of great books that came out this year, and while I don’t have enough space to expound on all the outstanding books I read this year, here are five of my favorites, in alphabetical order. Spoilers abound below!

Empyre
Written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Drawn by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics

At first glance, Empyre is just another Marvel Comics alien invasion story. The Earth is pushed to the brink of peril, and then saved at the last minute by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, etc. etc. But look past the surface, and there is so much more going on.Empyre concludes with a same-sex royal wedding in space, with all the Avengers and Fantastic Four as guests of honor. It reaches to the roots of Marvel Universe history, both in-story and in publication, and embraces that past while stepping into the future. The status quo for superhero comics is typically dark, putting the heroes on a never-ending back foot, with another crisis just around the corner. The end of this book does acknowledge that nothing good lasts forever. But today, the Kree / Skrull War is over, and Comics Are For Everyone. Make Mine Marvel!

Far Sector
Written by N. K. Jemisin
Drawn and Colored by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comic Young Animal

This rare gem of a book takes place in a distant corner of the DC Universe, far from the crises of the regular continuity, and also, I suspect, from editorial interference. Given their own canvas to work with, Jemisin and Campbell have built a beautiful, wondrous and troubling world in The City Enduring, a sparkling artificial super-metropolis where three distinct alien cultures live in apparent harmony, until Green Lantern Jo Mullein is called upon to solve their first murder in centuries, and uncovers a chilling web of oppression and dirty politics whose exposure may tear a civilization apart.Jemisin’s writing on this book is consistently amazing. It’s difficult to believe this is her first jump from prose to comics. Propelled by Campbell’s dazzling art, this ongoing title is not to be missed.

Heist
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

Gritty sci-fi crime dramas seems to be my jam this year, and Heist was another great one. After being set up by an evil executive and thrown in jail, Glaine Breld is out for revenge. There’s just two problems. One, the Dignity Corporation is so powerful it is completely untouchable. And two, everyone on the entire planet wants him dead. No big deal, because he’s got a plan to set everything right. All he has to do is get a crew together and steal the whole planet.
Full of twist, dark humor, and the blackest of cyberpunk high concepts, Heist is a hell of a ride.

The Ludocrats
Written by Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

This book is weird, and also weirdly horny, for the sake of weird. Delightful and strange, Gillen and Rossignol don’t merely break the fourth wall, but stomp up and down and pee on it for good measure. Stokely’s art is intricate and full of clever sight gags, and the nonsensical plot, which follows a pair of Aristocrats on the case to stop the Hyper-pope from turning the world boring, is a mad-cap romp. This comic is chock-full full of axe-wielding maniacs, nefarious betrayers, and cannibalistic gastronauts, and those are the good guys! The funniest book I read this year!

Slaughterhouse-Five
Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel by Ryan North
Art by Albert Monteys
Published by Archaia
Faithfully based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name, North and Monteys bring us along on Billy Pilgrim’s unstuck journey through time, from his capture in World War II and the battle of Dresden to his abduction to the alien planet Tralfamador and back. North’s script does justice to the story, capturing all the comedy and tragedy it evokes. Montey’s art is cartoonish and subtly colored, and is evocative and resonant. I knew going in this would be a book that I would either love or hate, and I’m glad it pulled off so ambitious an adaptation.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Ludocrats

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The Ludocrats #1
Written by Keiron Gillen and Jim Rossignol
Drawn by Jeff Stokely
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

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The Skinny: Weird for weirdness’s sake.

The Ludocrats #1 was delayed for nearly two months due to Diamond Distrobution’s shutdown over Covid-19, and I still wasn’t ready for it. The book reimagines the madness commonly found in aristocracy not as the unfortunate products of inbreeding and a system of hereditary wealth and power coupled with the intrigues that go with such, but as a purposeful system of government. And it goes all in with the concept.
The book opens with an epigraph: “We tried to imagine a better world. We failed. Instead, we did this.” Followed by one of the two main characters, Baron Otto Von Subertan, that he isn’t technically naked if he’s covered in blood. The other, Professor Hades Zero-K, remarks that by showing up to another important function sky-clad, he’s becoming predictable. And the book goes on from there without letting up its pace or frantic energy.
The book is helped enormously by Jeff Stokely’s art, colored by Tamra Bonvillain. The pages are crammed full of silly, wonderful, blink-and-you-miss them gags, such as a wedding attended by such diverse guests as a robot reading a newspaper and a sack of wheat, which the backmater assures the reader is both sentient and ‘the most emotionally intellegent being in the known universe.’
The pages reward careful study, but don’t detract from the manic pace of Gillen and Rossignol’s delightful script. This is a deeply weird comic, but it presents itself exactly as it is, without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. Deadpool wishes it could be this over-the-top.
The Ludocrats #1 is a strange and wonderful gem, and I’m not precisely sure what’s happening, but I can’t wait for the next issue. You can find it at your local comics shop. Call and see what their safe pickup options are. Or, enjoy digitally via Comixology!

Hugh Likes Comics: Top 5 of 2019

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Die

Die
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Stephanie Hans
Published by Image Comics

Gillen’s story of a group of adults returning to the magical world they escaped as teenagers is a mix of It and the ’80’s Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon. Hans brings a unique, painterly style that makes the world feel as strange for us on the readers. The comic itself is a deep, emotional examination of trauma and the rules we live and play by. But as the characters move across the fantasy world, Gillen repeatedly pulls off the trick of exposing the bleeding heart of what Fantasy is and why we make it.

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Fairlady
Written by Brian Schirmer
Drawn by Claudia Balboni, Shari Chankhamma, and Marissa Louise
Published by Image Comics

An intriguing mix of mystery and fantasy, Fairlady mixes a modern sensibility with pulp stylings to great effect. A sort of fantasy private eye, Jenner Faulds solves mysteries, bickers with her co-worker at her day job protecting an absent wizard’s tower, and gets bailed out of trouble by her seven-foot tall cat-man bestie. Each issue is a single mystery, and they’re all clever and interesting. Unfortunately, the book was canceled after issue 5, but the trade is available, and this isn’t a book to let pass you by.

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House of X / Powers of X
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz and R. B. Silva
Published by Marvel Comics

House of X and Powers of X were a big gamble, and it’s safe to say at this point that it’s paid off. After years of protecting a world that hates and fears them, the X-Men are trying something new, and approaching their enemies as a new force. The idea of a mutant nation has been tried and failed in the Marvel Universe, but this one has a lot of new, big ideas going for it. I can’t wait to see what Hickman and crew get up to next.

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Invisible Kingdom
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Drawn by Christian Ward
Published by Berger Books

The incisive writing of G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, Air) and the art of Christian Ward (Black Bolt, ODY-C)is a heady mix. And the intertwined story of a cargo ship captain working for a monopolistic space corporation and an acolyte in a religious order with dark secrets is a little bit Alien and a little bit Star Wars in all the best ways.

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Lois Lane / Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (Tie)

Lois Lane
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Mike Perkins
Published by DC Comics

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen
Written by Matt Fraction
Drawn by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Published by DC Comics

I couldn’t pick between these two standout books, both of which came out around the same time, but are only slightly connected. Both are deep studies of neglected characters that are very different in tone and style from D.C.’s usual fare.
Lois Lane is a hard-boiled story about the world’s greatest investigative reporter as she delves into a conspiracy that cost one of her colleagues her life, with help from Renee Montoya, AKA The Question. It plays the Journalist as superhero part to the hilt, and it is something worth cheering for.
Jimmy Olsen is a more comical and surreal update of the silver age teen sidekick, as he goes into hiding after thinking Lex Luthor put out a hit on him. But this is also the comic where Jimmy Olsen finds himself in a prank war with Batman. Fraction is writing at the height of his Hawkguy powers here, and it’s strange, fascinating, and hilarious.

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Hugh Likes Comics:

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Coffin Bound
Written by Dan Watters
Drawn by DaNi
Colored by Brad Simpson
Lettered by Aditya Bidkar
Published by Image Comics

Coffin Bound1

The Skinny: This tale of Action and Philosophy feels like how you remember 90’s Vertigo Comics.

Izzy Tyburn isn’t just going to die. She’s going to unlive. Living in a wasteland of philosophy and barbed wire, she has become the target of the unstoppable assassin known as The Eartheater. But rather than take the fight to the killer, she’s going to destroy her own existence first.
Coffin Bound is a comic about the ways we face or avoid entropy. It is intensely philosophical, and has a 90’s Vertigo vibe, which is not surprising, considering his other recent work is the relaunched Lucifer book from last year. The story features a figure whose head is a vulture skeleton, a strip club where the dancers don’t stop at their clothes, and an assassin who refers to himself, at length, as a ‘psychopomp.’ It is quite good, but it leans much more towards philosophers than action.
DaNi’s art also feels very reminiscent of 90’s Vertigo. There’s a particular panel of her lighting a cigarette which feels straight out of Sandman. I had a great sense of nostalgia for the period in reading the book, whether that was planned or not.
Coffin Bound is the start of a strange and Existential road trip that will feel almost nostalgic to longtime Vertigo Comics fans. You can buy the first issue from your local comics shop, or get it digitally from Comixology.

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.

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