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Hugh Likes Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Hugh Likes Movies
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sony/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Having finally ponied up to see Spider-Man Homecoming, I have some thoughts on Sony’s third launch of the character, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh take on the character, and it does a lot of things right that the previous movies have avoided.
The most obvious change is that Spider-Man is now firmly hooked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the previous reboot was an attempt to keep the character walled off, the movie’s open-armed embrace of the setting was surprising, and cleverly done. Having an ongoing narrative to hook into also gives the movie the additional leg up of not having to retell Peter Parker’s origin! Director Jon Watts does everything he can to avoid it, in fact.
We get a short origin of the villains, small-business construction contractors who turned to a life of crime when they were pushed out of the cleanup of New York from the aftermath of “The Avengers.” From there, we have a short sequence of video footage showing his cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view. Not only is this everything the audience needs to be up to speed, it also highlights the other great change about this version. This Peter Parker is a dork.
The previous franchises paid lip-service to the idea, but never fully embraced this aspect. They try very hard to impress a faux-cool onto the character, either through The Amazing Spider-Man’s self-indulgent skateboarding sequences, or the best-forgotten dance sequence in Spider-Man III. Those versions of the character are still hard-luck heroes, but they try and put a gloss of hollywood polish where it simply doesn’t belong.
This character is as young as he was when he first appeared in comics, and at age fifteen, he still makes all the mistakes you would expect. He tumbles awkwardly to a stop at the end of his swings, and he bites off more than he can chew, a constant irritation to his at-arms length mentor, Tony Stark.
Spider-Man Homecoming is the best version of this character by a long shot, but the movie does stumble here and there. The soundtrack is possibly the laziest of its kind that I have heard in a long time. Composer Michael Giacchino even records a cover of the 1960’s cartoon theme song in booming Marvel brass. In a previous movie review, I made a joke about him doing orchestral Ramones covers, but I never thought I’d actually see it happen. There is also a lot of teen drama in this movie, which can drag the film down, but is brightened by co-stars Jacob Batalon and Zendaya, who fill these scenes with teen-like enthusiasm and cynicism respectively. Also, well-done on the casting director for filling Midtown High with actual teenage actors. This is the first one of these movies in a long time that felt like a real place, and the spot-on casting had a lot to do with it.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is a refreshing swing through new territory that brings the MCU to life in ways that Marvel’s own properties have failed to do. You can catch it in theaters now.

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Hugh Likes Comics: America

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America #1-3
Written by Gabby Rivera
Drawn by Joe Quinones
Published by Marvel Comics

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America Chavez is one of my absolute favorite superheroes. She’s tough, strong, brassy and bold. She gets the job done and never says die. All typical traits of a comic-book protagonist. But more than that, America is a Queer Latina here to save the world from another universe. One time she got arrested for fighting a shark TOO WELL. I love her, and Marvel is finally giving her her own solo series.
But where do you take a character who owns so hard and literally kicks holes in the universe? In this case college. But not just any school of higher ed will do for Ms. Chavez. After a tearful falling out with her girlfriend, she’s piling her stuff into Reb Brown’s old Captain America van and heading to Sotomayor University, premier learning institution to the multiverse. But what lessons will she absorb, and will she stay still long enough to learn them?
Novelist Gabby Rivera brings good work to her first comics outing. Her take on the character is interesting, and nothing like your usual four-color fare. The text is a bit cerebral, but by issue three, she has found her groove. America is a character whose powers and origins feel more Silver-Age DC than Marvel, despite how thoroughly modern she is in design and personality. Rivera threads that line in unexpected and gratifying ways, while giving America something more to do than just punch what’s in front of her.
I like Joe Quinones’ art, which is just as full of motion and energy as a heroine like America demands, even when she’s sitting in class.
America is a bold new comic, and in my opinion, exactly the sort of book that Marvel should be putting out right now. You can find it online at comixology.com, or in print at your local comics shop.

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: 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: The Unstoppable Wasp

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The Unstoppable Wasp #1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Drawn by Elsa Charretier
Colored by Megan Wilson
Published by Marvel Comics
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I have never been a fan of The Wasp. Originally created by Lee and Kirby as a sidekick/love interest for Ant-Man in the ’60’s, I always thought of her as emblematic of the problems that plagued female characters in that era. She was a hanger on, a love-struck fool always in need of rescue, whose powers were weaker and less awesome than her male peers.  As time when on, Marvel addressed these tropes and even turned fellow Marvel damsels Jean Grey and Sue Storm into powerful badasses in their own right. But Wasp always seemed trapped in her roots. Even when her role was expanded and she led the Avengers, she was still ‘the girl.’ A fashion designer and socialite, she never really escaped the gender expectations placed on her by male writers.
Which is exactly why The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is such a breath of fresh air. The book stars Nadia Pym, teenage genius, escapee from a Russian super-soldier program, and long-lost daughter of original Ant-Man Hank Pym, because comics. Having studied her father’s work, she has come to America to live the life she never could before. But the thing about Nadia, even more than her intelligence, is her joyfulness. This is the exact antithesis of a grim and gritty superhero punch-up. The Wasp sparkles with light and energy. Nadia, despite her terrible upbringing, isn’t a brooder. She wants to make friends with everyone she meets. She wants to have adventures. She wants to dance with giant robots. This comic is fun, and beautiful and smart. It fits in right along with titles like Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel. (Who guest stars in this issue.)
Written by “Princeless” creator Jeremy Whitley, The Unstoppable Wasp is a delight. It carries over the positive messaging from his creator-owned work and sets its sights on a very important goal: encouraging girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There is even an interview with paleontologist Rachel Silverstein and and PhD Chemistry student Marina Chanidou in the back in lieu of a letters column. The script never gets bogged down in its message, and remains fun and engaging throughout.
Elsa Charretier’s drawing is similarly great, with kinetic, detailed panels and clever layouts. One of the things I love in particular is how she draws Nadia. She’s always moving, practically bouncing from frame to frame, and she’s always, always smiling. She is assisted by Megan Wilson’s bright, sunny palette, which contrasts The Wasp’s black and red suit with light, vibrant colors. This is not a world of shadows, and the coloring does a lot of legwork establishing tone.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is a great start to another fun, engaging, and smart Marvel book. If you love comics, pick it up. And be sure to share it with any budding young lady adventure scientists in your life.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is available from Comixology or at 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.

Hugh Likes Comics: Doctor Aphra

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Doctor Aphra #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Kev Walker
Published by Marvel Comics
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How do you write a good anti-hero?  Put them up against forces larger, and worse than themselves and always, always make the bill come due for their evil deeds, in one way or another.  This is just what Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker’s Doctor Aphra sets out in its first issue.
The scheming anthropologist accomplice of Darth Vader is back in her own series, and I couldn’t be happier to see her again.  Accompanied by her droids 000 and BT, dark-mirror analogues of C3P0 and R2-D2, she’s still out looking for big scores and outsmarting the Galaxy’s ever-present underworld.  Clever, deep in debt, and out to save her own skin rather than the galaxy, she’s the perfect update of all of Han Solo’s tropes.  Just don’t call it a redemption arc.
Gillen’s story ditches the Campbellian melodrama and delivers a story full of double crosses, brawling, badass wookiees, and grimly comic murder droids.  Walker’s art is fun, and expressive, with action-oriented layouts.  Colorist Antonio Fabela proves you can tell a dark story in comics without over-shading the page.
Aphra was one of my favorite characters from Gillen’s Darth Vader run, and I can’t see what shenanigans she gets up to away from the sith lord’s watchful eye.  Doctor Aphra #1 is available digitally from Comixolgoy, or in print at your local comics shop.

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