Advertisements

Archive for September, 2011


Review by C.J. Bunce

(With spoilers)

One of the promises by the editors of the DC Comics New 52 was that any new reader, young or old, could pick up any #1 of the new issues and be able to delve right in, without any prior knowledge of the characters.  This was a good opportunity for me to browse the racks for something different, something I might not normally check out.  So I picked up a copy of Animal Man #1. It’s a good example of a new title that gives you enough back story and dangles a bit of things to come to get a reader hooked.

What the first DC 52 issues demonstrate is that Marvel Comics should do the same thing.  Every time I check out a random issue of Spider-man, Thor, or Captain America, I either get the feel that I have read this character so many times before there is nothing new here, or that the issue is in the middle of some complicated Marvel Universe event that I would need to buy every tangent title before I could figure out what is happening.  But back to Animal Man.

Issue #1 begins with a New Yorker magazine type interview with Buddy Baker, a washed-up ex-stunt man turned superhero turned animal rights activist turned movie actor who recently acted a part like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, mirroring the phase of life Buddy is in.

Buddy appears to be near some life changing turning point, is involved in a lot of self-reflection, and by all accounts is teetering at the edge of some midlife crisis.  Buddy has a wife of several years, and kids, and hasn’t engaged in much of the superhero biz for a while.  But he hasn’t hung up his super suit just yet.

Like Mr. Incredible at the beginning of The Incredibles, Buddy decides to go out on a mission, but afterward gets indications that his powers are affecting him in a bad way.

At home, his daughter has a room full of stuffed animals and she just wants to adopt a pet dog.  And we get to learn why Buddy is a superhero after all.  And we get indications that this series may not only be about Animal Man–a family member may have inherited some of his super abilities.

The story unfolds nicely, written by Jeff Lemire.  But whereas I like Travel Foreman’s panels with Buddy in superhero mode, his dialogue panels with the family in conversation are very minimalistic and seem like filler pages included to get us to the next big story point.  Some of it may relate to the equally minimalist colors used.  And the cover is just wrong–it makes Animal Man look like he is in some kind of gory bloodbath.  What the image reflects is his tie-in to the lives of animals throughout the world.  The color is important, it just has a strange vibe compared to the actual story.

I like the idea of a superhero family tale in the DC universe like that used in The Incredibles.  I like Buddy’s powers–he seems to be one of the Wonder Twins from The Superfriends tv show who could take on the abilities of any animal when needed to save the day.

As a non-Justice League, non-main DCU character title, Animal Man has gotten off to a nice start.

Advertisements

Review by C.J. Bunce

Batwoman is a bit of an enigma. To one extent she is historically just another Batman in women’s garb.  If you really wanted to bring Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl up to date in a new universe, the logical way to do it would be to drop the dated “girl” reference and finally give the adult Gordon her due as the “woman” superhero.  By way of background, Batwoman was originally brought into the DC universe to show fans that Batman was straight, several decades ago.  With Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 1980s, she was virtually extinguished from the DC timeline.  She was only brought back a few years ago as part of the DC series 52.  To diversify readership DC made her of Jewish background and a lesbian.  So she is unique in the DC universe for several reasons, but her alter ego as Kate Kane was so interesting and integral to the storyline of 52 that DC left readers begging for more.

The new Batwoman #1 (written and drawn by J.H. Williams III, with co-writing credits to W. Haden Blackman) is so good, as was Batgirl #1, you’ll easily push any reservations you may have aside and embrace this fully realized, modern superhero.

Batwoman has a lot going for it.

A driven, smart, savvy, sexy heroine?

Check.

Stunning visuals, including two-page spreads with a floating trio of story panels that carries you across the pages, and a truly unique storytelling style that you won’t see in other books?

Check.

A great costume, highlighted by Dave Stewart’s eye-popping choice of colors?  And a redheaded superhero that wears a red-haired wig?

Check.

Romance–Batwoman’s love life–her relationships–are one focus of her ongoing story.

Check.

Women in all the leading roles, from the superhero, to the sidekick, to the police detective who is after Batwoman.  And we get one brief scene with Commissioner James Gordon for good measure.

Check.

I had flipped through recent graphic novel pages of J.H. Williams’s work on Batwoman and was bothered by the strange, unique art style.  I couldn’t place it but it was almost like someone wasn’t using enough black ink on the artist renderings.  For whatever reason it just didn’t work for me.  The new Batwoman doesn’t have that.  The style is not only unique it is stylish, from the covers to the flashbacks in black and white to the fight scenes and bridges between the main plot points.

For those new to the character, Kate Kane has a few pages that give us some back story–to bring us up to speed with her world from the 52 series to the present.  Kane has past relationships and current ones, both of the friend and romance varieties.  In the first issue she is after a criminal element that is taking the children of Gotham.

As Batwoman she appears as an equal to Batman.  She is no longer a secondary character relegated to fill-in roles in crossover series.  By making her not just a woman version of Batman, it seems to have opened up storylines and possibilities for this character.  Along with Batgirl this is at the top of the new DC series, for both its design, story and colors, to its interesting storyline.

Review by C.J. Bunce

(With spoilers)

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a dual role as estranged twin sisters in her new series Ringer on the CW network.  The “ringer” in the title is presumably Gellar as sister Bridget, who ends up as a pretender and “dead ringer” for high-class sister Siobhan.  The difficulty for Gellar will be getting viewers to forget she was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The pilot episode featured non-stop plot twists, so many that it the show is very engaging, but begs the question: Can the writers keep up the momentum, or will this ultimately fall flat like Buffy co-star Eliza Dushku’s overly hyped but short-lived series Dollhouse?

Ringer plays more like Gellar’s early soap opera work but there may be more here to stick around for.  As Bridget, the focal character of the series, Gellar shines as a weatherbeaten survivor of one or more 12-step programs, barely making it in the world, and currently plea bargaining a prostitution rap in exchange for turning states’ evidence on a local crime boss.  But Bridget is smart and clever and concocts a plan to go away with a long-lost sister, Siobhan, who no one in Bridget’s current world knows about, a classy and smarter sister who is wealthy and has a seemingly perfect life.  But Siobhan too reveals a more vulnerable side and we slowly learn her life is in shambles in various ways.

On a boat ride the sisters bond but Siobhan drugs Bridget and by all accounts Siobhan throws herself overboard.  This leaves Bridget to step into her life like in The Riches or Dave, but Ringer is no comedy.  Bridget learns her sister had a dysfunctional relationship with her husband, played by Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Fantastic Four).  She easily takes to her sister’s best friend, only to learn her sister (and now she) is having an affair with her friend’s husband.  Yet we get the feeling she likes Siobhan’s husband and could make her new life work as his wife.  See the soap opera-esque branches starting to form?

As almost an afterthought she learns the problem behind her sister’s marriage: their son must have met some early death. This is befuddling and we only know this from a brief reaction to a snapshot on a shelf.  Wouldn’t this son have come up in a prior conversation?  We must assume this was also held back for some reason as part of Siobhan’s planned death.

To leave us further hanging, Bridget picks up the phone to learn her sister’s test results are back, Siobhan was pregnant, and Bridget repeats this aloud so now her new husband thinks she is pregnant.

But wait–there’s more.  We see a last-minute murder attempt on Bridget’s life.  And the person behind the hit?  Flash to Paris, France and here is the real Siobhan, alive and well after all.

  

Ringer will be the ideal star vehicle for Gellar and opportunity for Emmy glory.  She gets to play a down-and-out fish out of water with Bridget, and Bridget’s opposite in jet setter, fashion forward Siobhan, both caught up in this complicated web of deceit, with Gellar onscreen for every minute of it.  Do they pay actors twice for playing two roles?  Do you think Gellar asked her agent this question?  (Buffy would have).  Viewers will find themselves asking:  which sister is Gellar more like in real life?

Except for the huge Buffy fan base that is eager to see the next new Gellar project, the cards are stacked against any show like this being successful.  Will each episode be about lies built on other lies, with Bridget skating through all the barriers thrown at her?  How long can that story last, or will they play up the soap opera plotting to make this go on forever?  With most series cancelled abruptly we may never learn where the story will end.  Ringer’s producers and writers will need to offer more than twists to keep viewers watching.

That said, episode one pummeled us, along with character Bridget, with a lot of material to digest.  Gellar’s acting is more nuanced than her Buffy days, and what she has to offer new each week is what will likely keep viewers coming back for more.

The famous planet with two suns was supposed to exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, a real-life Tatooine was discovered by scientists this year in our own galaxy, only 200 light years away.  That’s right, in our very own galaxy, which in relative terms, might as well be in our backyard.

Yeah, right, and pumpkins grow on trees.  (More on that later).

Luke Skywalker, and we would later learn, his daddy–the guy who would be Darth Vader–both grew up as farmboys, not in Iowa like Captain James T. Kirk, but on Tatooine, a desert planet with two suns “in a galaxy far, far away” according to the original Star Wars and its prequels.  Scientists on this planet revealed their findings yesterday in the September 16th issue of Science.   Using the Kepler space telescope, scientists found a giant planet in orbit around a pair of binary stars that make up what has been labeled the Kepler-16 system.  And it’s only 200 light years away.  Once scientists figure out a quicker way to travel in space, the planet called Kepler 16-b could be one of our first stops.

Quoted at space.com, Alan Boss at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, co-author of the study about the discovery, summed it up: “Once again, what used to be science fiction has turned into reality.”

When I was a kid, I remember a teacher saying it was impossible that a planet could have two suns.  I guess he was wrong.

Now we have proof that a planet can exist revolving around two suns.

Check out space.com’s coverage of this discovery for more info on the scientific detail of this planet.  The images above are artist renderings from the space.com website, and Luke looking at Tatooine’s twin suns daydreaming, and as Yoda said, not focusing on “where he was, what he was doing.”

And about those pumpkins…  And speaking of Iowa…

Last year on October 6, 2010, KCCI-TV, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, reported photos of orange pumpkins growing from a tree in Des Moines.  Don’t believe it?  Check out this link to the un-doctored photos.

And what do you know, but it’s October again and KCCI-TV reported again yesterday about more pumpkins in trees, this time a bright green pumpkin hanging alongside pears in a pear tree in Greenfield, Iowa.  Check out the photos at KCCI’s website.

What actually is going on?  The summer of 2010 in Iowa was a big rain year and so was this year.  Pumpkin vines made it 12 feet up and higher into the trees.  Still, it’s pretty incredible and it must have been awesome to be the first person to see these.

These are so strange looking I think everyone should start planting pumpkin seeds next to their trees.  It could be the next new landscaping idea.  This and Tatooine in the same week?  A sign of the apocalypse?  Probably not.  But think what would have happened if Isaac Newton had a pumpkin fall on his head instead of that apple.  Maybe he would have been the one to discover a planet with two suns (or had a heck of a bump on his head).

And on your way to I-Con in Altoona today stop off in Greenfield and send us some photos of that pumpkin tree.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Denny O’Neil, the genius who wrote the best team-up ever in the early 1970s will be the featured guest at the Comic Book I-Con Saturday, September 17, 2011, just outside of Des Moines in Altoona, Iowa at the Adventureland Inn.  The Iowa Comic Book Club has been hosting the convention for about ten years now, sometimes at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and more recently at the Adventureland venue.

O’Neil and artist Neal Adams both re-defined the modern superhero with their run on Green Lantern starting with Issue 76 back in 1971.  Along with Adams creating the modern look of Green Arrow with goatee and new costume, O’Neil brought us a new image of the modern hero, giving Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Green Lantern a new purpose: saving the world one problem at a time.  Their Hard-Traveling Heroes storyline and the team’s greater social consciousness beginning with that Issue 76 has been labeled time and time again as the beginning of the Silver Age of comic books.

O’Neil will be featured on a panel at I-Con at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Also headlining the event is long-time Iowa attendee and former Green Arrow artist Phil Hester, who has been drawing the Green Hornet series for Dynamite Comics and co-writing Bionic Man with Kevin Smith.

I-Con is a good local convention where visitors can get a lot of one on one time with comic book writers and artists.  Notable past guests include Mike Grell, the writer and artist on Green Arrow who re-defined Green Arrow for the 1980s generation.

The day’s events include:

10 a.m. Heroclix intro in the Game Room

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Spider-man available for photos, 501st Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, Dazzler

11 a.m. Panel from the Bullpen with Denny O’Neil

12 p.m. Cosplay Costume Cavalcade

12:30 p.m. Trivia Contest

1 p.m. Comic Book Writing 101.1 With Tony Bedard

1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Heroclix Tourney in the Game Room

2 p.m. Wave/Bluewater Comics panel

3 p.m. – 4 p.m. Portfolio reviews by Phil Hester (limited to six people and six pages each)

The show is one day only.  Check out the I-Con website and Iowa Comic Book Club website for more information, including a full list of other guest artists and writers scheduled to attend the event.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Although it didn’t get much fanfare, after years of fans waiting, and without even reruns to watch on Nick at Nite, The Six Million Dollar Man was released on DVD by Time-Life video last winter.  Part of the lack of attention is because of its price tag: $349.99 retail, and it has yet to be issued at true bargain pricing.  But if you watch for deal on eBay or Amazon it may be found for a lower price.

The Six Million Dollar Man, beyond its 1970s clothes, is surprisingly not as dated as one might think, compared to other genre series of the past.  In fact, it is not much different than watching reruns of Quantum Leap or The A-Team, and has the feel of shows like Quincy M.E.  One of our favorite borgs, Steve Austin and his adventures will be fun to get through with all 100 remastered episodes.  With the resurgence of interest in the Bionic Man, via the failed remake of The Bionic Woman a few years back and the new Bionic Man comic book reviewed here earlier, isn’t it time to get caught up on this classic sci-fi series?

The Six Million Dollar Man The Complete Series is as comprehensive as any series release.  It includes all three pilots, all three reunion movies, all crossover episodes with Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman, 17 feature shorts, audio commentaries, and all five seasons (1974-1978), uncut.  It also comes with a slick case that plays the famous intro bionic sounds and voiceover intro and music and includes a lenticular photo of Steve Austin running in slow motion.  It’s a great set and if you were only a kid when the series originally aired it will be like watching it for the first time.  One warning, the classic lengthy introduction everyone thinks of when you think of The Six Million Dollar Man did not air in the first season.  Instead, a really, really dated, somewhat cheesy intro song was featured.  A good reason to use the fast forward on the remote!

The first episodes to watch are obviously the pilots, which play well in each variation, including an early version with Martin Balsam (Twilight Zone, Psycho) as the original doctor that gave Steve Austin his bionics and Darren McGavin (The X-Files, A Christmas Story, KolchakL The Night Stalker) as Oliver Spencer, an early Oscar Goldman.

Next you’ll probably skip to the Bionic Woman crossovers, where you’ll remember why everyone loved Lindsay Wagner in this role.  She was probably the first modern, tough, strong, independent female lead in a sci-fi series.  And if you ignore Lee Majors singing over their early scenes together the two make a believable TV duo that is fun to watch.

Some trivia about the series:

The Bionic Man appeared at one time or another on all three major networks.

Harve Bennett, who produced Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, was the voice at the beginning of each episode from Season 2 onward that said “Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive.”

In addition to Martin Balsam and Darren McGavin, actors and actresses you probably don’t remember appearing on The Six Million Dollar Man include:

  • John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation), as an Air Force medic in five episodes
  • Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), as Major Kelly Wood, in four episodes
  • John Saxon, as Major Sloan in two episodes (Maskatron)
  • Malachi Throne (Senator Pardek in Star Trek: The Next Generation “Unification” and Commodore Jose Mendez, Star Trek “The Menagerie”), as Joseph Ronaugh in two episodes
  • Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride) as Bigfoot in two episodes
  • Ted Cassidy (Lurch, from The Addams Family) as Bigfoot in two episodes
  • Donald Moffat (Logan’s Run, The Thing, The Right Stuff, Clear and Present Danger, HouseSitter) as Dr. Martin Davis in two episodes
  • Robert Loggia (Men of a Certain Age, Independence Day, Necessary Roughness, Big, Opportunity Knocks) as Hendricks in two episodes
  • Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) as Dr. Leah Russell in two episodes
  • Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat in Deep Space Nine) as Williams in two episodes
  • Robert Walker, Jr. (Charlie X in Star Trek) as Bell in two episodes
  • Gary Lockwood (Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell in Star Trek, and 2001: A Space Odyssey) played John Praiser in two episodes and the Return of the Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man movie
  • William Campbell (Trelane and Koloth in Star Trek) as General Forest in the Return of… movie
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Cohaagen in the new 2012 remake of Total Recall) as Dr. Shepherd in the Return of… movie
  • Sandra Bullock (Demolition Man, Speed) as Kate Mason, bionic girl in the Bionic Showdown movie
  • Sonny Bono (singer), Larry Csonka (Miami Dolphins/NY Giants fullback) and Cathy Rigby (Olympic gymnast) also made appearances on the series

Because of the Time-Life release, as opposed to a standard boxed set through normal retailers, look around for a discounted version of this DVD set.  Copies for $270 are currently available at Amazon.com and we’ve seen used copies sell as low as $150 on eBay.  Editor’s update: Versions are available now much cheaper here at Amazon.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

Review by C.J. Bunce

If the pilot is any indication, Zooey Deschanel, the cute and quirky co-star of Elf, Jimmy Fallon’s girlfriend in his “Idiot Boyfriend” video, and the  gritty-sultry voice of the pop group She and Him, will be right at home in her new sitcom, New Girl, premiering September 20 on Fox.

The New Girl of the title is Deschanel’s Jess, who we meet shortly after she leaves after finding her boyfriend with another woman.  Jess quickly answers a Craig’s List ad for three guys seeking a fourth roomie, and despite her moody, post-boyfriend psychosis, the mention that her friends are all models causes the trio (or at least two of the trio) to bring her onboard after a brief interview process.

Jess is a school teacher, but the show isn’t about that, it’s about a young woman on the edge being brought back from the cliff by a group of good guys, and it is thankfully far more comedy than drama.  The leader of the roommates and apparent Scarecrow of Zooey’s Dorothy-like character is the often-shirtless Schmidt played by Max Greenfield, best known as the too-nice-for-his-own-good Leo, friend of Veronica on Veronica Mars.  Damon Wayans, Jr. who plays Coach only in the series pilot (to be replaced by Lamorne Morris as a series regular), is a serious fitness instructor with no understanding of women (clearly the Tin Man in our analogy) with Jake M. Johnson as Nick, who also lost his girlfriend recently, as the weepy other roommate and empathetic new friend (and gentle Lion).

Jess gives Zooey a chance to sing, including creating her own theme song amongst her roommates (did I say she’s a little quirky?), when depressed she watches Dirty Dancing sometimes six times per day, and she lacks a certain fashion sense, starting with her large, retro eyeglasses.  What must include some improvisation to focus on Deschanel’s back and forth from deadpan to Jack-in-the-box-quick, boisterous humor, the show has our lead well-settled in her role as if she had played this character for years.  The style of the setting of New Girl offers a certain romp and sillyness like the trendiness of Marlo Thomas’s That Girl, Mary Tyler Moore’s hat-throwing intro in the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Caroline Dhavernas’s dry humor and situation comedy antics from Wonderfalls.

For a half-hour pilot, the producers managed to pack a lot of story into the introduction of these characters.  If the writers can stick with the momentum and humor from the pilot, New Girl may be a new fall sitcom worth tuning in for.

Review by C.J. Bunce

I am a big fan of Jim Lee’s Hush series, which appeared as Issues 608-619 of the Batman title.  Jeph Loeb’s story and Jim Lee’s pencils, along with Alex Sinclair’s use of color and Scott Williams’s inks made a for a classic and definitive Batman story.  Both Loeb and Lee’s artistic influence can be seen with the feel, tone, even the inner thought fonts and speech boxes, of the new Batman in DC’s new 52, in both Justice League #1 and last week’s release, Detective Comics #1.

Detective Comics, back to issue 27 in the early 1940s, has always focused on the Caped Crusader’s real superpower (actually the absence of any superpower, to be correct), that of sleuth–as a modern Sherlock Holmes.  The modern Batman since at least Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One has remained a modern twist on Holmes, without all the necessary quirkiness of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective.  A brilliant series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is filming the role of Bilbo Baggins in next year’s The Hobbit from Peter Jackson), recently began airing from the BBC.  Titled Sherlock, that series, created by the great Stephen Moffat of the Doctor Who fifth series fame, will be reviewed here later.  Like the modern look at Moffat’s Holmes, you would expect similar treatment with a modern Batman in the new DC 52.

And writer/artist Tony Daniel and co-writer Ryan Winn do not fail to deliver on that expectation.  Not only is the new Batman in Detective Comics a smart, master detective fluent in modern sleuthing techniques, the villainy he must face is disturbingly real.  Back in the 1970s, true crime and real-life detective mags were everywhere, and they often had uncensored, shocking photos.  The new Detective Comics seems almost inspired by this old sub-genre.  Is the Joker more vile than ever, or no different from his past psychotic nature?  The art seems to be pushing the bounds here and the new Detective Comics is not for the squeamish.  If there are new DC Comics titles directed toward kids then this title definitely is drawn for the mature viewer.  In one panel, the Joker’s face has been surgically removed by a new villain, the Dollmaker, and the remains are left hanging on the wall.  The result is as grotesque and grisly as it sounds.  As the Joker’s characteristic insane laugh and killer jokes are how we’d expect to see the Joker, the treatment here hangs at the precipice of being over the top.

Beyond the pursuit of the crime element we get short shapshots of a classic Alfred Pennyworth, as true to his past form as ever.  Commissioner James Gordon is also the class-act we would hope him to be.  Readers can’t really have enough Commissioner Gordon, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more coordination between him and Batman.  Once we saw Gary Oldman provide such a definitive performance as the unflinching cop in The Dark Knight, fans just can’t get enough of this character.

As Bruce Wayne, our hero is consistent with past Batman and Detective Comics stories.  One thing is for certain, if DC Comics is changing the face of certain superheroes in its universe, Batman is the same as ever.  A very good thing for such a key figure in the new universe who is featured in nearly a dozen titles.  Will the Dark Knight continue in this title to be this dark, bleak and gritty?  We’ll check out the next issue to find out next month.   But if the story sticks to its current grisly path this may not be an ongoing ‘zine for this reader.

You may have seen the Star Wars vault, the Marvel Comics vault, or the DC Comics vault.  On October 1, 2011, we’ll finally get to see the Star Trek version of this book and fandom memorabilia series as Star Trek Vault: 40 Years from the Archives is released.   The 128 page book will be the first Star Trek retrospective book to include behind the scenes details of the last Star Trek series, Enterprise.

The book promises to cover all 40 years of the Star Trek franchise, but only the first ten feature films–Star Trek 2009 will apparently not be covered in this release.  It is available at Amazon.com before its release in October for a discounted price of $26.40.  The street release price after October 1, 2011, will be $40.00.

Star Trek Vault: 40 Years from the Archives is illustrated with 350 photos and art images.  The extra replicas memorabilia will feature 13 items, including set signage, hand-drawn story boards, blueprints for Picard’s captain’s chair, a vintage comic book, trading cards, patch, pennant, fan poster, Japanese poster for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and a vintage T-shirt transfer.  Look for a review of Star Trek Vault: 40 Years from the Archives after its release in October.

Past versions of the vault series have been popular and included both good information and fun extras.  The Star Wars Vault: Thirty Years of Treasures from the Lucasfilm Archives is probably the best of these released to date.  It includes removable reproductions of memorabilia, too, along with two CDs containing vintage radio ads, original cast interviews, George Lucas’ commentary, and Carrie Fisher singing in the Star Wars Holiday Special.  It also featured a questionnaire for the first and only test screening of the original Star Wars— and the invitation to attend it, George Lucas’ hand-written treatment for The Empire Strikes Back, Lucasfilm Christmas cards, an iron-on T-shirt transfer, the first concept sketch drawn for Star Wars and blueprints of Star Wars vehicles and sets.

The DC Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book with Rare Collectibles from the DC Universe is another great book in the Vault series, with lots of fun features, including never-before-published memorabilia, early sketches, covers, memos, press materials, a working reproduction of a 1942 Junior Justice Society of America decoder, a series of Public Service Announcements starring Superman and Batman, and the original pencils and inks for Wonder Woman #63.

Although it was the first of the bunch and includes a little less by way of memorabilia, Marvel Comics fans and fans of comic books in general will like The Marvel Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book with Rare Collectibles from the World of Marvel.

Hopefully the Star Trek version of the Vault will include the best of these past books in the series.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by Art Schmidt

If I ever meet Ernest Cline in person, I will either shake his hand or give him a big, fat kiss.  Not sure which, but I’m leaning toward the kiss.  Not on the mouth, but definitely in the facial area, along with a big ol’ bear hug. And unlike Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear, I am normally not a hugger.  Not ever.

But after devouring Cline’s first novel Ready Player One, I am inclined to embrace him and accept the ridicule and possible restraining order that might follow. Because I just loved this damned book.  It’s about the dangers of introversion, addictive technology, unregulated corporations, and overpopulation.  It’s about MMORPGs, TRS-80s, Star Wars and D&D.  It’s about Tempest and Rush and Zork and Transformers.  It’s about the Internet and comic books and 1980s pop culture.

But, mostly, it’s about nerd love.

Not two nerds falling in love, though there’s a bit of that thrown in. It’s about love of being a nerd.  Read this book and revel in it.  Nerd, love thyself.

Cline has constructed what might be the boldest, funniest, and by far the coolest tribute to the nerd sub-culture of the 1980s.  His writing is clear and crisp and full of good humor, incredible detail and sharp wit. Revenge of the Nerds was good in its time, but Ready Player One is nerd-tastic.  The opening quote of the book tells you all you pretty much all you need to know:

“Being human totally sucks most of the time.  Videogames are the only thing that makes life bearable.”

That quote is from one James Halliday, eccentric software game developer and multi-billionaire in the year 2044, when the book is set. Halliday is the creator of ‘OASIS’, a Massively-Multiplayer Online (MMO) ‘game’ which is like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Online, The Sims, and Second Life all rolled into one and injected with one-point-twenty-one gigawatts of The Schwartz.  I say ‘game’ in quotes because OASIS is portrayed as much more than a simple never-ending experience point crawl; the OASIS is a refuge for hundreds of millions of people around the globe, gamers and socialites and even workaday folks, an escape from an oppressive and depressing reality full of poverty, unemployment and homelessness.  Corporations set up strip malls and call centers inside the OASIS to both cater to the users there and so their workers can telecommute daily via the interface.  Public schools are run through OASIA; there is an entire planet (a no PVP zone, of course) where schools are built across the landscape and students attend high school online.

The OASIS contains an entire universe, full of thousands of worlds, places for people to adventure, socialize, or just plain hang out.  The rights to the massive MMORPGs and popular pen-and-paper games we have today are purchased and incorporated into the OASIS so that there is a small worlds called Greyhawk, Azeroth, Toril, Dorrak, Tatooine and even a planet called Gygax (I pumped my fist in the air in honor of the late Game Master General when I read that one).  Ancient video games, such as the Zork series, the AD&D Gold Box games, and every other adventure game world you can think of are also there, tucked away in small corners of the massive virtual reality.

By the way, the OASIS is free for everyone.  Profits come from selling space to businesses and virtual real estate to users who wish to build their own clothing, bling, homes, hangouts, and fortresses inside it. Some people even have their own asteroids and small planets.  But the user community at large can access it for free.  That James Halliday is one great guy.

But sadly, James Halliday is dead, and without heirs he has a titanic fortune and his software empire up for grabs.  But he had one last message for everyone, triggered on his website when he dies: he spent the last ten years of his life devising a challenge within the OASIS, a game within a game, wherein the first person to find three keys and open three gates and solve the puzzles that lie behind said gates will inherit his fortune, his company, and sole ownership and control over the OASIS.

And so the joyride begins. And what a ride it is.

The story follows Wade Watts, named by his comic book-loving father because he thought it sounded like a super hero’s secret identity.  Wade dedicates his life to solving the riddle of Halliday’s quest before anyone else.  His adventures are the stuff of legend, going from nobody to superstar, battling the forces of evil and trying to woo the hand of the girl of his dreams.  Or is she?  This is virtual reality, after all, and no one and nothing is what it really seems…

The clues for the grand quest are immersed in the deceased software designer’s favorite things: cult movies, video games, classic rock, Japanese monster flicks, and Dungeons and Dragons.  And if you like any two of those things, you will like this book. If you like any three of them, you will love this book. And if you love four or more, you should stop reading this and run out and grab this book.  I downloaded it to my Nook one afternoon and finished it the following night.  And I had a huge grin on my face the entire time. 

Irrelevant Tangent Warning: if you don’t like any of the things I mentioned above, you should just stop reading this immediately and forget the title of the book altogether.  That way you won’t be tempted to see the movie when it comes out.  Yep, Warner Bros. snapped up the movie rights mere hours after the book rights were sold.  Cline is writing the screenplay for the movie; he’s got experience with that as he wrote the screenplay for the movie Fanboys as well.

Complicating our hero’s conquest are the other ten million people he’s competing against.  Oh, and the rival software corporation that lies, cheats and steals to win the prize so it can monetize the OASIS and crush all other competition.  Oh, and the riddles themselves.  The first one takes five years to decipher, by which time most people have given up.  Wade discovers the clues to the riddle and embarks on a quest to find the first of the three keys.  He soon discovers and then adventures through a classic D&D module, ‘Tomb of Horrors’.

Watching Wade sneak around through the dungeon, his avatar ill-equipped for such a difficult journey, while he reads through the printed version of the module in another window to avoid all of the traps and monsters is an extremely clever scene and a nerd’s delight.  So is our hero jetting around in space in a modified Firefly-class starship he christened the Vonnegut wearing a +5 vorpal sword and contemplating the best use of an artifact which allows him to turn into Ultraman once per day for three minutes.

Then again, most of the book itself is a delight.  I would highly recommend Ready Player One
to anyone.  And you don’t have to be a nerd, or a child of the 80’s, to enjoy it. You don’t have to like Japanimation or John Hughes movies or The Empire Strikes Back or Space Invaders or Duran-Duran.

You just have to like to read, and to laugh.  What are you waiting for?