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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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Hugh Likes Comics: Black Bolt

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Black Bolt #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Christian Ward
Published by Marvel Comics
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Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, wakes up in jail. Obviously an en-medias-res opening like this leads to a lot of tantalizing questions, such as who the hell is Black Bolt, what are the Inhumans, and why should I care? But Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward have plucked the character our of obscurity and polished it to a mirror shine.
Black Bolt is a difficult character for a number of reasons, most prominent of which is that he is such a strange character himself. Originally a Fantastic Four villain, He was the King of a hidden civilization in which a superhero royal family which ruled over a powerless underclass. His powerful voice could kill anyone who heard it, which made him effectively mute. In his appearances since, he is always paired with another character who talks for him on the page. As you can imagine, this would make a solo book difficult, but the creators have done a fantastic job with the character.
The first thing we see is Black Bolt returning to himself as he is imprisoned and tortured. Over the first five pages, we see him struggle and finally rise up. Ahmed’s writing is lyrical and affecting. The script reminds me of “Lone Wolf and Cub,” The narration boxes that accompany Black Bolt as he wanders through his cyclopean prison aren’t spare, but they are perfectly worded and paced to evoke that feeling. But Ward’s art is the real star here.
The labyrinth Black Bolt wanders through is huge, and it dwarfs the character. It is filled with odd angles and strange bits. The security cameras are disembodied red eyeballs. Blackagar wanders through arched cathedrals and Escher-esque staircase towers, with images of his past and family painted on the walls. The color palate is likewise perfect, with moody blues and blacks offset by searing pinks, the only light on the page the white highlights on the prisoner’s black costume.
Black Bolt #1 is a brilliant piece of graphic storytelling. In a market of serialized slugfest and paper-thin fables, this feels like the start of something important. Whatever your concerns with Marvel Publishing’s other work right now, I urge you to find and read this comic. Black Bolt #1 is available digitally through Comixology, or in print from your local comics shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Again!

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe!
Written by Ryan North
Drawn by Erica Henderson
Published by Marvel Comics

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I frigging love Squirrel Girl.  North and Henderson’s irreverent take on the Marvel Universe is the highlight of my pull list, and when I heard they were doing a graphic novel, I had to get on-board immediately.
A parody of a classic but ultra-serious Punisher story, USGBUTMU! features all  of my favorite things about North’s writing, and my favorite things about the Marvel Universe.  Mad science, morally gray villains, and Tony Stark’s utter disregard for lab safety.
When a device confiscated from a mad scientist accidentally creates a duplicate of Squirrel Girl, she couldn’t be happier with the result.  But duplicate Squirrel Girl Allene soon decides to save the Earth for Squirrels, and banish humanity to the moon.  After getting the Squirrel Girl and her friends out of the way, she quickly and efficiently goes about beating up and capturing anyone who could stop her.
Essentially a long-form version of a Squirrel Girl issue, North and Henderson use the extra room to really shine.  With a story just as silly and smart as the Squirrel Girl ongoing series, this graphic novel is a delight for fans, and a wonderful introduction to readers new to the character.  North’s writing remains sharp and absurdist, and Henderson’s art and coloring more than keep pace.  With gems like a unit of squirrels attempting to operate an Ironman suit, and Squirrel Girl using sorting techniques to plot her enemies’ downfall, this is just the perfect mix of crazy comedy I enjoy.
Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is available from Comixology, or your local comics shop, and makes a great gift.