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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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

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