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Munchkin_001_coverA    Munchkin_001_coverE

Kick open the door.  Kill the monster.  Steal the treasure.  Any questions?

Munchkin is the popular role-playing card game created by Steve Jackson with its trademark cartoon fantasy heroes and monsters illustrated by John Kovalic.  A humorous parody on the role-playing genre, the card game has taken off with fantasy and non-fantasy fans alike, now available in expansion sets including Munchkin Conan, Munchkin Zombies, Munchkin Steampunk, Munchkin Adventure Time, and even Munchkin Cthulhu, among many other editions.

Tomorrow BOOM! Studios’ BOOM! Box division is releasing the first issue of a new comic book series featuring the characters, world, artwork and humor of the game.  And game players will want to add the series to their local comic book shop pull lists as each monthly issue will ship with an exclusive game card.  We have a preview of Issue #1, variant covers, and a peek at the first three game cards for you, courtesy of BOOM! Studios, after the break.

Munchkin_001_coverB    Munchkin_001_coverD

Written as an anthology, Issue #1 includes three stories.

Tom Siddell (Gunnerkrigg Court) is the writer of the first two stories with that familiar Munchkin art style drawn by Mike Holmes (Bravest Warriors, Adventure Time), with Fred Stresing colors, and Jim Campbell medieval lettering.  Story one asks the question:  What is a Munchkin?  Introducing readers to the nature of the characters in the role-playing game, and such vital concepts as the art and skill of betrayal and backstabbery.  If you haven’t played the card game you’ll discover quickly whether it is for you (it probably is).

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Masks 2 Ish 1 Hardman cover    Masks 2 Ish 1 Butch Guice cover

The sequel to one of the most successful independent comic book mini-series is coming soon from Dynamite Comics.  Masks 2 continues the retro mash-up of classic characters began in the original Masks series scripted by Chris Roberson with interior art by Alex Ross.  This time around writer Cullen Bunn and artist Eman Cassalos will be taking the adventures further with The Shadow, Green Hornet and Kato, Black Bat, Zorro, Miss Fury, and many others.

The Dynamite licensed characters from the comic book Golden Age will star in a story that will shift these superheroes through parallel worlds, with characters even meeting themselves in different timelines.

Masks 2 Ish 1 Worley cover    Masks 2 Ish 1 jae lee cover

Several artists will provide variant covers for the mini-series’ first issue, including Sean Chen, Butch Guice, Robert Hack, Gabriel Hardman, Jae Lee, and Colton Worley.

Masks 2 Ish 1 Hack cover    Masks 2 Ish 1 Chen cover

Check out this preview of some of the interior art for Masks 2, Issue #1:

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The Man in the High Castle Times Square

Review by C.J. Bunce

The more I read Philip K. Dick’s novels, and I’ve read roughly half, the more I want to take a highlighter to paragraphs throughout his works that keep me coming back for more.  Oddly enough, those tidbits I liked best from his Hugo Award-winning, 1963 novel The Man in the High Castle, didn’t make it into the Amazon Studios pilot released this month on their streaming service.  Enough of his framework is there, however, to make science fiction fans, especially alternate history fans, want the new studio to pick up the series and show us what more they can do with this unique work.

The Man in the High Castle generally is considered Dick’s best work.  The TV pilot and novel follow a small cast of characters living their average lives in a world where Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II.  The superpowers have divided America, leaving a neutral zone of sorts in between, and this arrangement is the key political focus of the story.  In the novel, life is more mundane and the vile realities more subtle.  In the TV series the theme is more like Red Dawn–the studio must think modern audiences need that over-arching theme of American rebellion for the show to take hold.  A key element missing from the pilot is the Japanese desire for American nostalgia.  A key character in the novel, an antique salesman named Robert Childan, is absent from the TV version.  It’s this character I was most fascinated with in the novel, so it was a strange watching the story progress without his contribution.

Davalos The Man in the High Castle

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The Missing Starz

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to pinpoint the fine line between a run-of-the-mill, contemporary real-life drama and a good thriller.  If it’s dry and boring, we give it the label of “drama” and are happy to skip over it.  But if it has a mystery or action component and something special, then we sometimes take a closer look.  Case in point: The Starz British-produced mini-series The Missing, which was just renewed for a second season.  The “something special” is a handful of actors we’ve seen in great genre film and TV.

If you can get past the dreary sounding plot–a real-life drama about the kidnapping of a British boy vacationing with his parents in France–you’re in for a compelling suspense-thriller on par with the best police procedurals, like the BBC’s Zen or the original Law and Order.

Hobbits dwarves Nesbitt and Stott in The Missing

Another British mini-series, Broadchurch, repackaged for U.S. audiences as Gracepoint, had much in common with The Missing, at least on paper.  Broadchurch starred Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Arthur Darvill, and Attack the Block and Marchlands’ Jodie Whitaker and also followed a crime about a little boy in a small community.  The Missing features two actors who starred as dwarves in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series, James Nesbitt, who played Bofur, and Ken Stott, who played Balin.  Mr. Selfridge and Timeline’s versatile actress Frances O’Connor plays the mother of the missing son, wife to Nesbitt’s determined and grim father.  A similar crime and genre actors are where the similarities end.  Where Broadchurch settled in as a passable melodrama, The Missing becomes a rich, engrossing, addictive tour of a place no one would want to go in real life.

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Big Trouble in Little China Rain Thunder Lightning

Last month the CEO for Funko released a hefty list of licenses that will be getting the retro-Kenner action figure treatment this year, as reported on here and here at borg.com.  The licensed properties include the original Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Jaws, Terminator 2, Aliens, The Dark Crystal, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Fight Club, Gremlins, Breaking Bad, The Fifth Element, V for Vendetta, Scarface, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Big Lebowski, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The A-Team, and The Munsters, among others.

For action figure collectors, one of the most requested films for the ReAction line, especially in light of last year’s release of Escape from New York figures, was that other John Carpenter film starring Kurt Russell, the cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. 

And Funko has just released final images of the figures and packaging for six figures from the film, and what great picks!  Best of all, 85-year-old, Minnesota-born, Golden Age of TV actor James Hong finally gets his own action figure, as Lo Pan!

Big Trouble in Little China Lo Pan ReAction Funko

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John Carpenter Christine Plymouth Fury

Director John Carpenter announced this week that Hot Wheels will be issuing a die cast metal version of his famous car Christine, the 1959 Plymouth Fury from his horror film based on Stephen King’s novel.  It doesn’t have a sound chip for playing Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin'” but it’s still going to be a cool mini-ride.  Other new releases include Richard Dreyfuss’s truck from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Emergency! red rapid response truck from the 1970s TV series.  Not familiar with the retro entertainment line from Hot Wheels?  It gets better.

Stripes Urban Assault Vehicle    Electric Mayhem School Bus

So far the Hot Wheels plant has rolled out something for everyone, coming up with a pretty broad array of vehicles.  Remember the green GMC mobile home “Urban Assault Vehicle” from Stripes?  It’s coming in 2015.  Remember Mr. Miyagi’s yellow 1948 Ford–the one he gives as a gift to Daniel-san for finishing his karate training in The Karate Kid?  They’ve got that, too.

Dreyfuss Close Encounters of the Third Kind truck

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Michael Keaton in Birdman

Review by C.J. Bunce

It always makes sense to be wary of movies that trickle out to the public in limited release.  If you’re not in the movie business, you may also want to be careful about seeing films about the movie business, especially shows about Broadway.  Sometimes knowing what is behind the stage door ruins the magic.  A Chorus Line, The Player, Barton Fink, are all about staging theater or film.  But it often seems like writers choose this topic as a crutch–these are the topics drama college professors praise, of characters full of angst, a script riddled with expletives and characters bantering long speeches full of dialogue and situations calculated to shock and surprise.  They hope the industry insiders will latch onto the movie even if the movie-going public could care less.  These movies come off as self-indulgent and trite, the stuff of drama school or Summer stock.  Birdman unfortunately is another one of those movies.

Michael Keaton plays an actor named Riggan.  You would never know Riggan was his name from watching Birdman as it sounds more like Reagan as uttered by the cast.  Riggan has some kind of schizophrenia, causing him to think he is being talked to by the Birdman, a costumed character Riggan played that once earned him fame.  There’s not enough of the Birdman in the film to understand whether Riggan simply has mental problems or he really has some magical power.  Or maybe it’s intended to be allegorical.  It’s hard to know.  Riggan is trying to produce and act in a play, doing something to get recognized, to make himself relevant, when in fact, he’s still a household name.

Keaton in Birdman

Behind Birdman is a variety of movie gimmicks, all arising out of an ambitious director.  Ambition is a great thing, to be certain.  Yet director Alejandro González Iñárritu throws too much at the audience at once, and although he is certainly getting noticed on the awards front, Birdman doesn’t have the balance to stand the test of time.  Slathered in tongue-in-cheek irony, Birdman relies on the misconception that Michael Keaton, who played Batman in real life, is a washed-up has-been who hasn’t had a good job in years and we will all have some nostalgic reaction to this.  (In fact, Keaton has hardly seen a year since he started in movies where he wasn’t in one film or another).

So the publicity folks want to spin this film as the next Sunset Boulevard, another story of a has-been actor struggling with self-worth.  It’s a mirror image of the New York film and theater industry looking back on itself.  A critique?  Poking fun?  Maybe actors care about that.  Maybe producers and movie moguls.  But why should audiences?  It just doesn’t come close to the subtlety and grand storytelling that made Sunset Boulevard so superb.

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Michael Keaton in Jackie Brown

With the popularity of Quentin Tarentino’s other writing and directing achievements, Jackie Brown tends to get short shrift. Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, it’s the exception in Tarentino’s film arsenal where the story concept didn’t originate from the mind of Tarentino.  Yet there are enough changes made by him to make 1997’s Jackie Brown a standout film for the heralded director, and it may very well be his best all-around film, full of style, suspense, and pulp cool.

The prime reason for that is his handling of the character of Jackie Brown as a tough, no-nonsense survivor, and Pam Grier’s ability to fill those shoes perfectly.  The cast of top Hollywood stars and character actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, and the great Robert Forster fills in the remaining blanks. But you may forget the key role played by Michael Keaton as straight-shooter cop Ray Nicolette.

Michael Keaton as Ray Nickolette

Keaton played a supporting role in a previous ensemble cast effort under a popular director, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, as Dogberry, the closest on-screen attempt at showing what Charles Schulz’s Pigpen would look like all grown up.  Part of the conceit of Keaton’s new film Birdman is the intended irony of a washed-up actor that once played a popular character called Birdman, and the obvious comparisons to Keaton’s Batman and lack of promising acting gigs in recent memory.

In fact Keaton has always been a working actor plugging away at film roles through the years and Dogberry, along with Jackie Brown’s Ray, may have helped fuel the vibe since Keaton was either content to join these ensemble casts with small parts, or that was all he was offered.  Either way, these weren’t major leading man roles as he has found with Birdman.

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Michael Keaton in Mr Mom

Classic comedy from the 1980s includes some of the most re-watchable films.  There are the perennial favorites from the creative talents of the original Saturday Night Live cast, like Caddyshack, The Blues Brothes, Stripes, and Ghostbusters.  Many of the best were written by John Hughes, with National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles among them.  But while these movies can be found all the time on cable, one of Hughes’ best comedy classics inexplicably rarely surfaces.  That film is Mr. Mom, the movie that solidified Michael Keaton as not only a comedic actor audiences loved, but a leading man who could hold his own as top name on the marquee.  The physical comedy Keaton uses in his latest film Birdman has its roots in Keaton’s performance as Mr. Mom’s put-upon co-worker, husband and dad.  In fact early on Keaton recognized his own talent at physical comedy, taking the stage surname Keaton because of Buster Keaton’s similar talents.

Keaton plays Jack Butler, recently laid-off from his Detroit auto plant job.  When he can’t find work, wife Caroline, played by Teri Garr, decides to dust off her marketing degree and take a job working for Ron Richardson, played by Martin Mull.  Jack is laid off with co-workers including one played by Christopher Lloyd, and his boss is played by Jeffrey Tambor.  Ann Jillian plays a single neighbor out to land the homebound Jack, and Carolyn Seymour, who will be familiar to Star Trek fans for her humorous guest appearances, is one of the people who works for Ron (and despises Caroline).  Until this year you could have said each of these actors was at the top of their game in Mr. Mom, although the newfound accolades for both Keaton and Tambor seem to qualify that assertion.

Garr Mull and Keaton in Mr Mom

If you saw Mr. Mom in theaters upon its release in 1983, you may be surprised when re-watching the film 30 years later how many lines you remember.  It’s not quotable to the extent of Caddyshack, but you may find you can quote lines along with the film.  Pop culture references to contemporary movies were a signature of Hughes long before Joss Whedon would perfect them in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Michael Keaton in Night Shift

In light of Michael Keaton’s Academy Award nomination for best actor in the new film Birdman, we’re launching Michael Keaton Week here at borg.com.  Last year Keaton played a dramatic role as a business executive trying to sell America on bipedal drone security and law enforcement that led to the creation of a well-known cyborg in the remake of RoboCop, reviewed here at borg.com.  Everyone first thinks of Keaton from his role as Batman in the original superhero film that re-launched modern superhero blockbusters.  Before that there was his over-the-top, ghost-with-the-most in Beetlejuice.  But how did he get here and what steps helped him become the beloved actor he is today?

Born Michael Douglas, he would use the stage name Michael Keaton on-screen in light of potential confusion with Academy Award-winning actor/producer Michael Douglas (Wall Street, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Coma, The China Syndrome, Romancing the Stone) and TV show host Mike Douglas (if Keaton wins this year for Birdman, he’ll be the second Michael Douglas to win the coveted prize).  The year 1982 was a perfect time for the entry of someone like Michael Keaton into popular culture.  A young Tom Hanks was on TV in Bosom Buddies and Robin William’s Mork & Mindy was in its final season–these kind of zany comedies were just what early 1980s audiences were after.

Michael Keaton Night Shift

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