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Hugh Likes Comics: House of X

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House of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz
Colored by Marte Garcia
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Hickman’s first X-Men book is a bold first step. But where exactly is he taking us?

For decades, X-Men comics have been firmly situated in the ‘mutant metaphor,’ the idea that mutants, unjustly hated and feared for their superpowers, corresponded to real-life marginalized and oppressed people. Notable examples include Magneto being a holocaust survivor, and the island of Genosha, an apartheid state which enslaved mutants to provide lives of luxury to their human citizens. Usually, this metaphor brings the reader in and establishes sympathy for the characters. With his first X-Men issue, Jonathan Hickman is doing something completely different.
House of X takes a much more outsider perspective. It barely spends any time at all with familiar heroes, and when it does, there’s something decidedly off about them. They are truly outsiders to the readers in a way that they haven’t been since their inception. The story instead follows a group of Ambassadors taking a tour of a new ‘mutant embassy’ established in Jerusalem. Mutants have unified under Xavier’s banner and established a new nation on the Island of Krakoa, a sentient being that was the villain way back in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. Led by Magento, and assisted by a pair of characters that were previously dead, the humans get a tour of the plant-covered building. The rest of the oversized issue are vignettes and infographics that provide background details but also further establish the otherness of this new Mutant Nation.
Xavier’s motives and endgame are still very much up for interpretation, but the whole thing is decidedly sinister.
Laraz’s art is top-notch, and the graphics, designed by Tom Muller, really add to book and establish the stakes. This is, without a doubt, a well-written, drawn, and executed book. But I worry. For over fifty-five years, the mutants were the good guys, and a direct metaphor for oppressed people. If Hickman is flipping that script, what does that say for the politics of this story, and for the Marvel bullpen in general? Marvel has always made a firm stance on where it stood on oppression, right from the beginning. With the state of the world as it is today, this is exactly the wrong time for them to soften it.
I’m not sure where this book is heading, but I can’t deny that I’m hooked. You can get your own copy from your local comics shop, or digitally through Comixology.

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Hugh Likes Comics: The Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything

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The Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything
Written by Jeremy Wihitley
Drawn by Gurihiru
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: After escaping from the assassin school where she was raised and establishing a lab for teenage scientists, Nadia Van Dyne discovers that her greatest enemy may be herself.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the over-too-soon first volume of Unstoppable Wasp, I was delighted that Marvel revived the series. This book collects the first five issues of the second volume, and is even better than the first, mixing superhero action with personal drama and super-science in a way that is accessible and compelling.
One of the things that really drew me to Nadia as a character was her optimism and sunny personality. In a world filled with gruff badasses whose personal traumas made them into tough loners, Nadia relished the opportunity to finally live the life she was always denied. She was a constant delight in a grimdark universe.
But of course nobody can be happy all the time, and Nadia’s father, the original Ant Man Hank Pym, had a history of mental illness that wasn’t presented as thoughtfully or carefully as it maybe should have been. When an unexpected super-villain attack catches Nadia by surprise and puts her friends in danger, she cracks. But Whitley and Gurihiru do an amazing job in how they present and resolve Nadia’s mental health crisis, as well as the reactions of her friends and mentors. This is rarely handled well in a medium where so many rogues galleries are littered with the ‘criminally insane,’ and it is all the more an achievement that it was handled so deftly and so frankly in a comic with a YA audience.
Whitley has managed a rare comeback with a character: building on the first volume and raising the personal stakes without falling back on the status quo. That’s an easy trap for comics to fall into, and I’m glad that he not only avoided it, but vaulted it. Gurihiru’s art is a perfect fit for the book as well. Their style is fun and poppy but still has that edge to it that the book needs. This book is a must read for its hidden depths.
Unstoppable Wasp Unlimited Vol. 1: Fix Everything is available digitally from Comixology, and you can also find it on Amazon and at your local comics shop.
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Hugh Likes Comics: War of the Realms

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Written by Jason Aaron
Drawn by Russell Dauterman
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: A mythological army takes Times Square in the kick-off to Marvel’s latest event.

I’ve been notably mixed on “event” comics in the past, but Marvel’s latest, “War of the Realms” is a the very least starting on its best foot. Spinning out of a long-running series of events in “Thor,” the story involves Malekith, king of the Dark Elves, and the titular war that he has been waging, a war that has finally reached the last holdout realm: Earth. And it wouldn’t be a Marvel comic if it didn’t start in the heart of Manhattan.
This opening issue does a good job of avoiding the pitfalls of most of these sorts of books. The situation is cleanly and precisely explained without too much of an exposition dump, the characters all feel correct and act appropriately, and the action moves along at a brisk pace, feeling like a complete issue even if it just lays out the characters and the stakes.
It helps that Dauterman’s art is drop-dead gorgeous, with rich, dark colors by Matt Wilson. Scenes are detailed without being too busy, and all of these giants and heroes have a lovely dynamism to them. But ti’s the little touches that make this comic for me. For example, an opening graphic shows the Norse mythological world tree, with the various realms and their denizens, with a sketch of Spider-Man hanging over a city representing Midgard. Also, Malekith is at his David Bowie-best here, riding into Times Square with a manic grin atop a giant winged tiger.
War of the Realms #1 kicks off a six-issue limited series, along with innumerable spin-offs. You can find it at your local comics shop, or buy it digitally on Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Daredevil

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Daredevil #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Drawn by Marco Checchetto
Colored by Sunny Gho
Published by Marvel Comics

Daredevil(2019)

The Skinny: After recovering from dying (again,) Matt Murdock returns to crime-fighting, but things aren’t so easy anymore.

Matt Murdock is tired. After having come back to life, although in a bit more medically plausible fashion this time, he is hitting the rooftops as Daredevil, but finding that things aren’t as easy as they used to be. With Wilson Fisk the elected mayor of New York, NYPD has standing orders to stop vigilantes, with Daredevil being a major target.
Plus, Matt is rushing things. He’s impatient, and isn’t back to his old self. Like an old boxer, he is wondering if her ever will be, and how long he can rebound before physical injury and infirmity catch up to him.
Chip Zdarsky is hitting it out of the park with another more serious book at Marvel. I’ve already reviewed his writing on The Invaders, and this is a similarly thoughtful take on a character who has seen horrors and how they have internalized them. My favorite line of the issue is when he tells the woman he takes home from a bar not to fetishize his disability. There is a bone-tiredness there that speaks volumes about Matt’s experiences both in and out of his superhero identity.
Marco Checchetto’s art and Sunny Gho’s coloring both serve the story well. I liked Checchetto’s cramped, overlapping page layouts and Gho’s dark and gritty colors both do a great job of establishing an atmosphere and pace to the issue that would be a little unclear without them.
The issue also has a four-page backup story by Zdarsky that is a nearly-wordless short about Matt saving a kidnapping victim that does a great job of showing the events first from an outside point of view, then from Matt’s, using a great visualization of his sensory powers.
Daredevil #1feels very reminiscent of the Netflix series, but this is a very strong return for the character, and I can’t wait to see where this team goes with this direction. You can pick up a copy from your Local Comics Shop, or get the digital version from Comixology.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Invaders

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Invaders #1
Written by Chip Zdarski
Drawn by Carlos Magno with Butch Guice
Colored by Alex Guimarães
Published by Marvel Comics
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The Skinny: A new story of Marvel’s Golden Age heroes rooted in the trauma of war.

Invaders #1 is a comic out of time. The retconned compilation of Golden Age Marvel, then Timely Comics, The Invaders were a team of patriotic superheroes fighting for the Allies in World War II. This included Captain America, but also Timely’s two biggest heroes of the period: The original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner. This story of the team is split between the war and the present, as Hammond interviewing Cap and his fellow soldiers for a book he’s writing, and Namor, as king of Atlantis, is preparing to start another war.
This book walks a perilously thin line, but I think it manages it beautifully. This isn’t just a superhero soap opera, but an earnest look at the trauma of war. This kind of subject hasn’t always been handled well by comics as a medium, but Zdarski, better known for his humor writing, is evocative and realistic, balancing genuine pathos with the more fantastic melodrama. In one scene Captain America is talking with Hammond about his own complex feelings about reliving the war over speaker phone, while battling a Tony Stark-designed arming of training robots. It should come off as goofy, but Zdarski’s writing, and the art, sells it.
The art is stand-out here. Using two art styles, and in this case two artists to denote different time periods isn’t a new innovation, but Magno and Guice are both distinctive, and each style is well suited to its respective period. Giuimarães’s colors are also a sharp division, with muted browns and yellows for the war contrasting with more vivid colors for Steve’s training session and Atlantis.
Invaders #1 is the start of a story that is so far doing an excellent job of balancing two different storytelling extremes. I’m very much interested in seeing how it plays out. You can find it digitally from Comixology, or pick up a physical copy from your Local Comics Shop.

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Hugh Likes Comics: X-23

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X-23 #1
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Drawn by Juann Cabal
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: Laura and Gabby are back in a new comic with an old name.

I fell in love with Tom Taylor’s take on Laura Kinney, and was sad when All-New Wolverine ended, only to be rebranded with the character’s original hero name, X-23. I picked up the first issue with a bit of apprehension, but Mariko Tamaki’s story is still character-focused and full of heart, and it is going in some very interesting directions.
Laura is the clone of Logan, the original Wolverine. She was created to be a weapon. Recently, she met her sister Gabby, a younger clone of herself created for the same purpose. Now they’re out in the world, hunting down the rogue operations like the ones that created them. But their operations may put them into conflict with Laura’s old acquaintances, and fellow clones, the Stepford Cuckoos.
Stories about clones are stories about what it means to be human. They are also often, in the case of movies like “Blade Runner,” about people forced to deal with things that they are not prepared for, children in adult bodies. Tamaki has this down pat, picking Laura and Gabby up where Taylor left them and putting them in a situation they can’t cut their way out of. She very elegantly shows her understanding of the two leads personalities and puts her own spin on them. Taylor’s Gabby was light, silly, a spot of comic relief with the barest hint of the shadow a comic like “Wolverine” calls for. Tamaki carries all that over, but also zeroes in on the concept of Gabby as a child, and Laura as a young woman, barely out of her teens, thrust into the role of caregiver. It leads to some really nice moments that deepen both characters.
Juann Cabal, who worked on All-New Wolverine, does a great job on pencils, and Woodard’s coloring is excellent. Particularly the way he colors Gabby, with little cartoonish spots of color to highlight her changing moods. I also liked the conceit that the art hanging in the X-Mansion is all based on classic X-Men covers. It added some fun little background details for long-time fans.
X-23 #1is on sale now at your Local Comics Shop or available digitally from Comixology. It’s a great place to jump on if you missed All-New Wolverine, and a welcome return for fans of Laura and Gabby.

Hugh Likes Comics: X-Men: Grand Design

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X-Men: Grand Design #1 & 2

Written and Drawn by Ed Piskor

Published by Marvel Comics

The Skinny: Ed Piskor X-plains the X-Men.

“X-Men: Grand Design” is a comic with a very ambitious goal: Straighten out the tangled history of Marvel’s X-Men, and do it in such a way that it tells a coherent, interesting story. But if anyone is up to the task, it is indie comics creator and the man behind Hip Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor.

Piskor’s distinctive style feels somewhat strange applied to Jack Kirby’s designs, but the book goes all in, even being printed on a thicker, more rough paper for that truly indie feel. And this book does indeed cover plenty of space, opening in the dawn of the Golden Age and following Charles Xavier through the foundation of the X-Men and their Silver Age adventures. It does a great job of feeling both cosmically important, and personally intimate. There’s so much crazy backstory, retcons, and downright bizarre editorial decision-making in X-Men history that this book exists at all is an accomplishment. That Piskor pulls it off so effectively is a coup.

The first issue really only gets as far as the founding of the team, but it sets a solid continuity in a few simple strokes, and it makes The Phoenix a central figure going back to origin, which is  a good retcon. Issue two covers the team’s Silver Age adventures up until Giant Size X-Men #1, and does a bit more work retconning the original run into a cohesive whole that is appealing to a modern sensibility.

X-Men: Grand Design is available online from Comixology, and in print at Your Local Comics Shop! If you want a crash course, or just would like to see a different take on characters you’ve loved for years, its well worth a look!

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