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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: I Walk With Monsters

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I Walk With Monsters #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Drawn by Sally Cantirino
Colored by Dearbhla Kelly
Published by Vault Comics

The Skinny: Hunting monsters, both supernatural and human

Jacey and David hunt monsters in rural America. Jacey grew up with her brother Jace on a farm, and they both knew what their father did with the hands who came to briefly stay and help out. That was until Jace was sent away to stay with “An Important Man.” Now, she searches the backroads and dark underbelly of the heartland, searching for a clue to what happened to him. David’s story is more complex.
Paul Cornell’s dialog is a treat here. It has a simple elegance that works really well to convey character. Jacey snaps with defiant boredom while in the clutches of a serial killer, and the short, rote dialog between her and David in the next scene quickly conveys that they have been at this a while. The extraordinary has become routine. And when that all falls apart, the flashback scenes deliver very effective menacing dread.
Sally Cantirino’s art with Dearbhla Kelly’s colors create a moody and oppressive atmosphere. Figures face the reader and challenge their notions of comfort and security. With a palate of browns and dark yellows, they evoke an endless autumn, a dark and dying world.
I Walk With Monsters gives an intriguing glimpse into a world of monsters, serial killers, and rich, deep characters. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or in print at Your Local Comics Shop.

Hugh Likes Comics: Heist

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Heist, or How To Steal a Planet #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Drawn by Arjuna Susini
Colored by Vittorio Astone
Lettered by Saida Temofonte
Published by Vault Comics

HLC Heist

The Skinny: A love letter to Science Fiction Noir and the start of something great.

Theirs something about Sci-Fi Noir that I find inexplicably cool. GIve me the rain-soaked neon of Blade Runner, the pitiless urban sprawl of the BAMA. Heist delivers a whole new world of grimy future crime, and it does it with a love for the grubby subgenre on its sleeve. Welcome to Grave City.
The planet Heist was the last Independent hold-out against the monolithic Dignity Corporation. Glane Breld took the fall when Dignity took over. And the man who set him up took his car. Now Glane’s a free man again, and he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to put together a crew skilled enough to steal the planet back again.
Heist #1 is one of those rare great comics where the writer and artists are working in perfect synchronicity. Tobin’s writing sets up the characters and the world well, without being too dense. Susini’s art is grimy and evocative of the great indie sci-fi comics of the 80’s and 90’s. This comic feels like how fans talk about 2000 AD. Astone’s colors wash the whole thing in a murky shadowscape that is absolutely perfect and sets the right level of menace for the underground of Grave City.
Heist #1 is a dirty, rotten jewel of a Sci-Fi Crime comic. This is going to be a big one, and you can pick it up at your local shop, or digitally from Comixology. Go out and get it.

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Hugh Likes Comics: Test

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Test01

Test #1
Written by Christopher Sebela
Drawn by Jen Hickman
Colored by Harry Saxon
Lettered by Hasan Orsmane-Elhaou
Published by Vault Comics

The Skinny: Aleph Null is a test subject on the run. But what is he running towards?

Laurelwood, USA is the town where They are making The Future. Runaway professional test subject Aleph Null is on his way there, as soon as they can figure out what state it’s in, and evade the corporate recovery teams on their trail. But Aleph is a self-surgery junkie with schizophrenic tendencies, and possibly an actual cyborg.
Test is a difficult first issue to wrap my head around. We get flashes and stutters of reality as Aleph wanders their way through a warped and twisted American heartland. The story plays in to the unreality, showing Aleph’s journey in disconnected panels over two distinctly different narrations. One is Alpeh’s semi-lucid narration as they make their way to and observes Laurelwood. The other are reports from the corporations they escaped from, detailing their mysterious past and trail of violence.
Hickman’s art does a great job of framing the story. Everything feels a little off and unreal, and the reader can never be completely sure what is happening, and how it connects to the narration. Everything feels a bit off, in the best way for the comic. Saxon’s colors assist tremendously in setting the mood.
Test #1 is a post-modern medical thriller that is the kickoff to something great. You can find it digitally on Comixology, or in print at your local comics shop.

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