Archive for November, 2011


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fear Itself, the seven issue limited series that has taken over all the Marvel Comics titles for the past seven months, just wrapped.  Fear Itself was written by Matt Fraction, one of the Marvel Architects, those guys who are building the future of the Marvel franchise with superb art by Stuart Immonen.  No doubt with Fear Itself, the construction of a Herculean storyline that spans all titles must have taken a fair amount of coordination.  And it looks like it had to be fun to write and draw.

Fear Itself became the summer subtitle for Marvel, you couldn’t escape it, and even as someone who was not a regular Marvel reader I picked up the seven issues of the main title to read them once the series concluded, along with Seth Peck’s three issue run on Fear Itself: Wolverine tie-in, which I haven’t read yet.

Midway through issue two I was reminded of past Marvel world catastrophe storylines, like my first introduction as a kid in the 12-issue Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and follow-up Secret Wars II series, which I also bought and read as a set once the series had concluded.  Also, Marvel’s Civil War mini-series from only a few years ago, that resulted in Spider-man revealing his true identity and Captain America Steve Rogers’ death.  I was reminded because you can’t just casually read these series.  With all of these, a lot happens, there is a lot to absorb, and you only get full value by going back and re-reading each issue.  What helps with this series is each issue gives a Star Wars type summary crawl of where the story stands at the beginning of each issue–a re-cap– and a cast of characters, so you can keep track of the difference between Odin and the All-father, for example, two guys drawn similarly that had me only slightly confused until their storylines became finer tuned.

Spoilers!

The baddie of the series is the red-faced, ugly daughter of Red Skull named Sin.  In issue 1, fear has already gripped the world, with general strife, Wall Street uncertainty, economic disaster, protests, etc…. real world kinds of things.  Steve Rogers and his Avengers are trying to keep peace across the globe.  Iron Man Tony Stark has corporate solutions.  Meanwhile Sin seeks out a frozen Nazi stronghold buried far away by Red Skull, to find a powerful hammer that unleashes the beginning of the end of a great and horrible prophesy.  She unleashes on old, banished warrior called the All-Father from the depths of the ocean with the power of the hammer.  Odin learns of this and leaves Earth with other Gods, despite his son Thor’s protestations.  The fighting between Odin and Thor is not new, and a little humorous because you know how it always ends.  By the end of issue 1 the All-Father summons his “Worthy,” seven objects that come to Earth like meteors…

Issue 2 picks up with each meteor actually a hammer finding a hero on Earth and taking over each of them and turning them into seemingly indestructible beings devasting the planet.  The heroes become the villains, or at least, the tools of their destruction.  This includes Juggernaut, Attuma, Absorbing Man, The Hulk, and my favorite here, Titania, who becomes “Skirn: Breaker of Men.”  By the end of this issue Sin is marching on Washington, DC, destroying the capital building.

In issue 3 we learn that the last hammer ends up turning Ben Grimm aka The Thing into the last of the “Worthy.”  Bucky Barnes, donning the Captain America suit, leads the Avengers into a direct battle with Sin, only to be struck down and killed.

In Issue 4 Odin embarks on his journey to destroy all of Earth in order to ensure destruction of the All-Father–to ensure the terror will end as only he has faced this menace before and he knows the seven “avatars” are more powerful than anything the planet has yet faced.  Nothing trivial for Marvel in this storyline!  The All-Father seems to be thriving on the world’s fear, gaining power.  He summons a sleeping army of the dead, prompting a humorous line from Tony Stark “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  In a Luke and Darth moment, the All-Father reveals his true identity to Thor–that he is Odin’s brother and the true King of Asgard.  Thor is left to confront…

In Issue 5 Thor confronts none other than The Hulk and The Thing–sure, not themselves, but a fun brawl and circumstance nonetheless, setting up the money shot for this series in a nice knockdown.  Steve Rogers shatters his Captain America shield in battle and as he realizes the Avengers are going to lose the war in the end, he let’s Spider-man go off try to find his missing aunt.  Is all lost for our super-friends???

By this time, readers have read so many Marvel character ads you need a break.  Sleepwear, gum, even Marvel Slurpees…at least Twilight doesn’t get everyone’s marketing dollars!  Hmm…where’s my DVR for comics…

Issue 6!  The action picks up.  Having told off Odin himself, Tony Stark is allowed to help the Asgard fight, earning Odin’s respect, and gets to fight alongside Thor and Odin at Asgard.  A very cool moment for Iron Man and the second high point of the series.  The issue ends with Steve Rogers, Captain America, ready to have the final stand directly on Earth with the King of Asgard.

Finally, the end is here in a double-sized final issue called “Thor’s Day.”  Tony Stark has used the gods’ workshop to build mystic weapons to help the heroes fight on Earth.  Odin has given Thor the Ragnarok, a powerful sword, and a set of armor for battle…

OK, enough spoilers.  Iron Man brings magic weapons for everyone…except for Captain America, since Stark knows nothing is better than that shield, yet he didn’t know it was lost in battle.  But that doesn’t stop this 1940s era Cap from leading the Avengers anyway…  the rest is full of action, nice pacing all-around and what you’d call a “shocker” ending.

More valuable for the Marvel reader are the several denouements, more than even in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King….the seventh issue is a must read for anyone reading Marvel with the ongoing lead-ins for the rest of the Marvel Universe… like Sin’s fate to be revealed in The Fearless, a strange happening to the Hulk after he recovers in the new Incredible Hulk #1… and a lot more.

I am not sure where Fear Itself stands with respect to past Marvel cataclysm mini-series or even DC Comics big-event Crisis series, but it’s a a fun read and, for the hundreds of characters that the writers and artists attempted to incorporate into this series, the result was pretty successful.  A hardcover version is due out from Marvel soon and now available for pre-order from Amazon.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Borg.com readers, you mostly know me as the TV critic here at the ol’ genre stronghold, but you might have noticed that in my spare time, I’m also an author of novels for young adults.  I don’t normally talk about my reading here on borg.com, but I’ve just finished a critically acclaimed new YA novel–and y’all are really the only folks I can talk to sensibly about it.  But I can’t do it without spoilers, so let’s just come clean straight away.  I honestly don’t know what this is going to do to your experience of reading the book, so proceed at your own risk.

Nova Ren Suma’s gripping new YA novel Imaginary Girls doesn’t start off as science fiction or paranormal, but it slowly, ever so slowly (or, at least, as slowly as a book you devour pretty much in one sitting can do) pulls you over the edge, getting creepier and creepier, until *BAM!* Something You Can’t Explain hits you smack in the face.

And things just get weirder from there.

Sound like your kind of book?  Yeah.  So stop reading RIGHT NOW if you don’t want the spoilers.  You’ve been warned.

Imaginary Girls is a story about sisters, and a bond stronger than reason, stronger than logic, stronger than the laws of physics, and, apparently, stronger than death.  Ruby and her younger sister Chloe are all each other has, growing up together in a small upstate New York town on the banks of a giant reservoir.  There are ghosts in that reservoir, ghosts of the whole towns flooded when the dams were built (an idea also explored brilliantly by suspense master Stuart Woods in his 1987 novel Under the Lake). And ghosts of the summer Chloe was fourteen, when a night on the lake with Ruby’s friends ends in tragedy, the death of Chloe’s classmate London.  Chloe is sent to live with her father in Pennsylvania, but Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, make things just like they were before. Literally anything.

What if the little boy (Billy Mumy) from the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life” grew up, still with the whole town wrapped around his twisted little finger?  What if his powers over reality and life and death grew along with him?  What if there was someone–anyone–in his life he really, truly loved? Like… maybe a little sister?

These are the questions Nova Ren Suma explores (even if she wasn’t aware she was doing it) in Imaginary Girls.  She takes a character like little Anthony Fremont, and spins out the probable trajectory of such a being’s adolescence and young adulthood.  Just like in the Twilight Zone episode (and the undeniably sci-fi 1953 original story by Jerome Bixby, in which “Anthony” is not an adorable Billy Mumy, and the cornfield he wishes his enemies into is a much darker, scarier place), there is horror here, and it seeps in gradually, as the reader–and, ultimately, first person narrator Chloe–begins to understand what Ruby is, what she can do.  What she’s been doing, all her life.  What she did, the summer London died.  And every moment since.

But there’s also pathos, in Chloe’s impassioned and increasingly desperate defense of her beloved sister.  And I think this is where Imaginary Girls becomes so interesting.  Suma doesn’t just give us the premise and the horror of the omnipotent manipulator–she gives us the rest of the story, the pain and the consequences, and the wreckage left behind, when everyone is still trying to figure out what’s happened to them.

This isn’t a comfortable book, by any means, but it’s an un-put-down-able page-turner.  And I’m not alone; Imaginary Girls has scooped up starred reviews and awards buzz all fall.  Watch for it to hit shortlists and Year’s Best roundups soon.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

IF YOU PLAN TO READ THIS SERIES OF NOVELS, GO NO FURTHER.  SPOILERS ABOUND.

Ok, maybe not “spoilers” but just a spoiler, still, you don’t want to know.  It will spoil the surprise.

At some point in the last third of A Storm of Swords these exact words hit the page, “His axe took her in the back of the head.”  The Dog, Sandor Clegane, hits Arya Stark in the back of the head with his axe.

I immediately put down the book.  Then I picked it right back up and leafed through it until I saw one simple word heading up a chapter over 100 pages away.

“ARYA.”

Then, I knew I could continue reading.

I’m not sure if there has been a character that I’ve read about quite like Arya.  George R.R. Martin creates quite a few interesting narrators, fills them with traits that make them interesting to the reader and at times makes them frustrating.  I love to hear all of their sides of the story, except for maybe Cersei, but I’m sure there will be a payoff for her in A Feast for Crows.  However, Arya is different.  I don’t know why, but she is the character that I care about most.  We can see that she’s scared, but we also see how she screws up her courage and presses on.  Maybe it’s how she treats others with honor – she’s her father’s daughter and before he died, Eddard was pretty damn cool.  However, 11-year-old Arya is learning more about the world than he ever knew and how duplicitous it can be.

What makes a character a favorite?  Think about it.  Who are your favorite characters from literature, from television, from movies?  Off the top of my head, let’s go with Butch Cassidy, Yossarian, Sam Gamgee, Hermione Granger, Mr. Incredible, Yorick Brown, Inigo Montoya and The Dude.  I’m sure you could come up with some different people.  (I bet the folks of borg.com could each come up with their own list and they’d be pretty different.)  Just looking at the list, it’s not like there’s a common quality, but follow me as I jot down what I consider to be the overriding characteristic of each character:

Butch Cassidy: Adventurous
Yossarian: Hatred of bureaucracy
Sam Gamgee: Faithful
Hermione Granger: Intelligent
Mr. Incredible: Familial love
Yorick Brown: Dreamer
Inigo Montoya: Vengeful
The Dude: Easy-going

I’m sure you could probably find different characteristics for each of them and I could agree with you.  Still, I bet that even if you did come up with a different description, it would have something in common with this list.

They are traits we all aspire to have.

We want to jump off a cliff, even if the fall will probably kill us.  We want to fight against stupidity in all its forms, though it is much like tilting against windmills.  If our friend is going through a tough time, we want to be right there with them, giving them all the help they need.  We want to be the first in our class.  We want to know that deep down, no matter what obstacles we face, if our family faces danger we can rise up and face any danger.  We want to chase our dreams.  We want to be sure that there is justice in the world for those that are evil.  We want all of that and then roll with a clear head on league night because what has happened has happened and there’s nothing we can do but bowl.

I look at Arya and see someone I would aspire to be.  Yes, there is danger ahead and winter is coming, but I will figure out a plan and no matter the obstacles, I will try to see it to its end. If something gets in my way, I’ll adjust. I’ll keep trying even as I’m scared to death.

So, you can understand why I freaked out a bit when I read those words about Arya and the axe.  If she couldn’t succeed, it would sadden me.  Heroes die in the real world. I don’t like to see them die in fiction as well.

This week the Science Channel’s new series Prophets of Science Fiction featured a science fiction writer who truly seemed to prophesy future events.  With Philip K. Dick the series focus on envisioning the future couldn’t have used a more pervasive writer to make its point.

Ridley Scott serves as narrator for part of each episode, last week beginning with Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

With this week’s episode, we are shifted back and forth between a recreation of Dick’s life, segments on each of a half a dozen of his major works, and interviews with scientists describing how the author influenced or predicted modern technologies.

Beginning with his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the series discusses artificial intelligence and robotics, and how Dick asked the question: can a robot ever become sentient?  Using interspersed visuals from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner to the current Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? graphic novels, literature experts speculate on Dick’s purported schizophrenia and drug use as impetuses for some of his more surreal story ideas.

His book A Scanner Darkly is used to show how Dick predicted modern surveillance equipment, ideas Dick contemplated resulting from his own paranoia of government conspiracies.

His Hugo Award winning novel Man in the High Castle, a story about an alternate history where Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated during the Great Depression and Germany and Japan conquer and divide the United States, serves to illustrate string theory and current physics theories about parallel universes.

The short story “Minority Report,” using images from the movie of the same name, serves to illustrate concepts of time and space, and along with Total Recall, the movie based on Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” we see Dick’s descriptions of mankind being able to predict the future, and possibly even influence or change the past through memory manipulation.  We are told research on this very subject is currently underway.

As part of the discussion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the series discusses current android builders who have built a realistic android based on Dick himself (shown in the photo at the top of this story).

In thirty years Philip K. Dick wrote 44 novels, most science fiction, along with 120 short stories.  The episode ended with discussions by scientists about Dick’s dark vision of the future as reflected in his work and his role in science fiction literature as cautionary prophet.

Although the episode only scratches the surface of Dick’s writing using only his most famous creations, it provides a basic introduction to the man behind the stories, inviting readers to pursue the full library of his work.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

First of all, there needs to be some ground rules when you tackle a “best of” list for someone as talented as Frank Cho.  With Alex Ross, we took his entire body of work and picked our 15 favorite images, whether from cover art, interior pages, or marketing pieces Ross painted.

But with Frank Cho, the world renowned artist known for his voluptuous women characters and funny and sarcastic animals, it was a bit harder to choose.  In particular, his work on Liberty Meadows, and before that, his hilarious college series University².  Cho’s drawings of Brandy and her animal friends are so expressive and fun that we think they beat out all his other work.  And we think Cho would approve–he told us this summer that he doesn’t sell any of his original Brandy pages.  We wouldn’t either!  You can see some of the Liberty Meadows covers behind Brandy in the image above from Cho’s great website, full of his blogging and galleries, apesandbabes.com.  If you don’t know Frank Cho’s comic strip-turned-comic book, we suggest you start with University², available in a compilation of comic strip humor called University Squared: The Angry Years that is my personal favorite.  Beyond that, Liberty Meadows is available via Image Comics in Liberty Meadows: Book One, Eden, Liberty Meadows: Book Two, Creature Comforts, Liberty Meadows: Book 3, Summer Of Love, and Liberty Meadows: Book Four, Cold, Cold HeartLiberty Meadows is about Brandy, a animal psychologist at an animal sanctuary/rehab clinic, her animal friends, and Frank, a veterinarian, who is in love with Brandy…but won’t tell her.  It is funny in the vein of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, yet dramatic like Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.

So before taking on a “best of” or “favorites list” for the other comic books series Cho has created covers for, could we select one Liberty Meadows piece that stands for them all?  We came up with this cover, with Brandy sporting her Beltsville shirt.  This image is classic Frank Cho.  But even this is sort of a cheat, since it is a cover to Cho’s Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl compilation book, as opposed to a regular series comic, but it is the cover Cho chose for the book on his own covers.  Hey, you try and pick the best from Liberty Meadows!

Oftentimes we think you can see his Liberty Meadows characters Brandy the brunette and Jen the blonde as the superheroes in the mainstream comics he draws.  They are fun to watch for.

It’s probably easier to discuss Cho’s best cover art by referring to each series he has drawn.  And we’ll focus here on just a dozen of his cover projects that blow us away.   You’re dealing with a body of work that includes Shanna the She-Devil, New Ultimates, Fear Itself, Schism, Ms. Marvel, Red Sonja, and New Avengers, and his many variant covers, which often eclipse the regular issue covers of other artists.

First up is his work with “dinosaurs, Nazis, guns and babes” in Shanna, the She-DevilThis cover to Issue 3 is a standout, with Shanna in about as much danger as a human in the Jurassic era can get into!  If you like this also check out his Jungle Girlseries, his Red Sonja series, and, coming soon, his Guns and Dinos.

A lot of Cho’s work has the feel of 1940s pin-ups.  This Dark Horse Comics Hellboy: Weird Tales, Vol. 2 cover image has a great retro look, and shows that, like Alex Ross, Cho gets to work with a variety of publishers’ star characters:

We only wish we’d see Cho take on more DC Comics characters!

Cho hasn’t come close to hitting his full stride yet, with some of his best work coming out in 2010 and 2011.  Check out these covers for the Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn.  And his interior work is as good or better than the covers.  In fact, most of the cover work featured here reflects covers of books where Cho drew the interior art, too.  When you usually find a great cover but lesser art inside with other creators’ books, Cho’s books give you top illustrations, cover to cover.

   

Cho practically re-ignited Ms. Marvel through his drawings of this once minor Avenger.  Two covers with Ms. Marvel stand out:  the Mighty Avengers cover that was redone for the Irredeemable Ant-Man series, and this stunning cover for her own series:

  

The other Avenger Cho brought into the limelight was Spider-Woman, especially in this cover to New Avengers (left), yet check out this incredibly powerful image in the variant of Secret Invasion (right), with Cho showing his pre-Raphaelite influence:

 

Cho has said that his favorite superhero to draw is Spider-man.  Here he drew Spider-man in contrast to this dark, Gothic, seemingly medieval woodcut-inspired image in Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man, one of his best variant cover pieces:

  

The second piece above is the Scarlet Witch from Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch? (v. 1), and it is just another example of a great Cho female character.

Right now on the shelves, Cho returns to his Gothic imagery with the Fear Itself: The Fearless series with these two incentive comic covers from one original grand Cho artwork.  Contrasted with his beautiful Valkyrie on the left is his self-described “fugly” character Sin, daughter of long-time Marvel villain, the Red Skull.  Good luck to whoever gets in the way of either of these women.  Doesn’t look like anyone will stand a chance against either of them.

 

Keeping with the angel theme, this early Witchblade shows another, earlier Cho style, likely influenced by the paintings of Maxfield Parrish:

Finally, to get the full effect of this next image, Cho’s magnum opus of X-Men in X-Men: Schism, you’ll need a wide screen.  In the alternative, click on each image to see how nicely done this new pentaptych is close-up.  Again, Cho’s work gets the exclusive variant edition status…those comics that don’t easily get into readers’ hands, unfortunately, because they are issued in limited numbers to comic shop owners as incentives.  But no doubt the trade edition will include these images not long from now.  Pretty hard to pick a favorite just from these five covers:

Although the most recent work isn’t out in trade versions yet, a lot is still on the shelves as individual issues (see links in the series names above to check out what is available).  Original prints of Cho’s work and other cool stuff is available at Cho’s website.

So… what do you think?  Any glaring omissions?

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

*All images posted above are owned by Frank Cho or the respective publishers listed above.

 

 

 

Spoilers!

When the original Disney movie Tron arrived in theaters in 1982 it was a technological innovation.  Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron, a user and a program, interract in a fully realized alternate universe after Flynn is sucked into his own computer system.  Nearly thirty years later the Disney sequel Tron: Legacy revisited the computer world known as the Grid to show us what happened to Flynn and Tron.

But before the film’s release, Disney released a graphic novel in two parts that explains what happened between the two movies.  And the result is actually better than what we saw onscreen in the movie sequel.

Tron: Betrayal, written by Jai Nitz, takes us to the world that we wished had made it to the screen.  The graphic novel compilation includes a nice prologue to get the reader that missed the original film up to speed on the events of the original Tron film.  This was enormously necessary because Disney failed to re-release a DVD version of the film in the months leading up to the release of Tron: Legacy.  (A prior edition had been released more than a decade ago, but in classic Disney marketing style it had not been put back into release once it sold out).

Tron: Betrayal begins with Kevin Flynn revisiting the Grid.  He works with Tron and begins building a new world, a “perfect world”.  Flynn uses the same Tron movie laser technology to transport between realities, and in our world we learn his wife is pregnant with the son we will meet years later in Tron: Legacy.  Lori, whose avatar was Yori in the original film, is still with Tron’s user, Alan.

Kevin is addicted to the Grid and subtley Nitz reveals a man who each day becomes more and more obsessed, a man who can hardly pay attention to his life in the real world, his wife, his new son, his business he is supposed to be running.

Flynn needs to be in two places at once.  So he creates an avatar of himself to carry out his work on the Grid, called Clu.  Clu works with Tron and his loyal assistant Shaddox, who points out that Clu is doing all the work, with little help from Flynn, the creator.  And as a new pest called gridbugs infest the world, “life finds a way” (to quote Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park), and new gridpeople are spontaneously formed–isomorphs or “isos”–including a self aware female named Ophelia (in the film Tron: Legacy this would be revisited with the character Quorra).  Flynn declares all isos are to be protected by Tron and Clu.

The key conflict becomes clearer, the same conflict that would be revealed in the new film: Clu, just like a computer program would react in the real world, does not know what to do when confronted with ambiguity as Clu is given seemingly inconsistent direction from Flynn.  What is a perfect world?

In part 2, Flynn’s real life falls apart.  He has a son, but his wife has died and he is left to raise son Sam with his other obligations still pressing in on him.  His inlaws are there to help…but nothing works for Flynn.  Here Jai Nitz has set up relationships and realities that, despite being a fantasy story about a guy who gets sucked into a video game, reflect modern pressures of life in a believable way.

Beyond the complex story of priorities, faith, and duty, Jeff Matsuda and Andie Tong’s artwork is excellent, all locked into this dark world inside the computer sphere.  The cover by Jock is up to his typical cool style.  Neon cycles, including Flynn’s superbly crafted white light cycle we barely see in the new film, are a great extension from the perfect cycles of the original film.  It is here where the look is better than the final film, even though the final film looks great in its own right.  What is certain is that this story would have made a better film, for several reasons.

First, this story includes the title character, Tron, in a key role.  Tron: Legacy inexplicably barely used Tron, and when it did, we barely got to see the beloved actor Boxleitner be the Tron we loved in the original film.   The movie is called Tron, right?  Is Boxleitner’s fee greater than Academy Award winner Bridges?  Also, this is the story that happened following the events of the original film and this is the story most fans would want to see.  The Flynn of the new the film is washed up.  He is past the character most fans would want to dig into.  He is the Dude from The Big Lebowski right before he ODs.  The new film was subtitled Legacy and it is about Flynn’s son Sam.  Yet we as fans care for Kevin and Alan, the original characters that excited us.  This story also allows a greater depth of character than we were shown in the movie.

With the graphic novel Tron: Betrayal we get to see what that more ideal film could have been.  And that would have made a very cool movie.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Spoilers!

If you saw Star Trek, the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek universe with a new cast (except for Leonard Nimoy returning as Spock from a different timeline) you probably either liked it or hated it.  Those who liked it credited it with being another fun summer action flick.  Die hard Star Trek fans argued about where it stood with respect to the past series and movies, and took turns poking holes in the movie’s plot.

But imagine for a second a movie that bridged the Next Generation cast’s appearance in Star Trek Nemesis with this new slingshot back to the time before the original series.  Imagine a movie that brought Data back to life, that included the further adventures of Captain Picard, Worf, and Lt. LaForge, and what transpired for Ambassador Spock after the events of the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part “Unification” story arc.  Now imagine this movie was written by the same guys that wrote the 2009 movie that was released.  The fact is, this story was written and it was released in comic book form as a prequel to the actual movie’s release.  And that prequel, called Star Trek: Countdown, is a far better story than what made it to the screen, and it explains a lot that went unexplained in the reboot movie.  In fact, it is difficult to understand how anyone understood what happened in Star Trek 2009 without having first read the comic book prequel.

To be sure, the 2009 flick was fun, and pretty good, if you could overlook the blinding lens flare camera pans that seem to typify director JJ Abrams’ recent shooting style.  The cast was a lot of fun, especially with Simon Pegg as Scotty.  The ships looked great, and the changes to the original history timeline at least were explained to fit where the story was going.

But several things were not explained.  Except for a brief flashback, why was Spock so engaged with the Romulans?  What happened to the Remans after Star Trek Nemesis?  Why did the Romulans in this new movie look nothing like the Romulans we’d seen in numerous series over the past 40 years?  Why were the Romulans wearing Klingon clothing?  Answers to these questions were answered in Star Trek: Countdown and a follow-on series called Star Trek: Nero.  And more than that we got to see what happened to the crew of the Enterprise-E after Data died in Star Trek Nemesis.

Star Trek: Countdown begins with Spock as the Vulcan Ambassador to Romulus, a few years after the events of “Unification” in Next Generation.  A star is going supernova and Spock has a plan to prevent the star from destroying Romulus but Spock can get no support.  Spock befriends a leader of a mining group named Nero who can help Spock move along with his plans.  We learn Nero begins as a good guy whose life falls apart through decisions and lack of decisions of others.  How can all the anger create the character we see in the film?  The answers are made clear here.

Both Spock and Nero meet up with the Enterprise, now captained by Data. They also meet up with Picard, now an ambassador. Geordi LaForge, now a private ship builder, is enlisted to help Spock with his project involving red matter, the project that ultimately sends him back to the time before Spock met Jim Kirk.  And by the end of the story Nero confronts the Klingons, including one General Worf.

The story is the story fans of Next Generation wanted to see, even more than Star Trek Nemesis. For those wanting to know more about Nero including why Nero’s crew shaved their heads and got tattoos and why they were wearing Klingon clothing including cloven toed boots, Star Trek: Nero fills in some gaps.

Whereas the plot originated from film writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, self-professed Next Generation fans, Mike Johnson and Tim Jones scripted this complex prequel.  David Messina’s art is solid, covering the old Trek and new Trek equally well and giving superb new uniforms to the Starfleet crew post Star Trek Nemesis.  Check out that painting of Spot in Capt. Data’s quarters above!  Credit for much of the look of this book goes to the great color work by Giovanna Niro.

Ultimately two years after its release, you can’t help but wish the production had made this movie first as an appropriate bridge to the new cast, and that the movie we’re waiting for in 2013 would be the 2009 version.  At least with this written version we got a peek at a good story that would have tied everything together, and Roberto Orci hinted at Star Trek: Countdown as being considered Star Trek canon, at least until someone changes any of its story elements on film down the road.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

A lot has been written about “comic book adaptations”—taking a comic book character and making it into a movie, as has now been done extensively in the theaters with Superman, Batman, the Avengers characters and X-Men, and to a lesser extent with Hellboy, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, and on the small screen with Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and several others.  What hasn’t gotten as much attention is the art of successfully translating of a movie into comic book form.

For years, comic book publishers have teamed with movie studios to co-market a new film with a same-day or early release adaptation of the movie or to take advantage after the fact on the public’s desire to view the movie again later.  The recent term is the movie “tie-in”.  This has been done in fiction novelations as well, sometimes to positive effect and sometimes not.  A striking example is an early attempt to create a novelization for Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner, itself based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  That didn’t fly for the original creator and the novel issued with the movie release was actually a re-issue of Dick’s original work.  This lent some confusion to viewers of both the book and movie because of the many changes made for the film.

In comic books, studios and publishers have been cross marketing movies extensively back at least to the early 1950s, with the Dell Four Color comic books series, which included movie adaptations of John Ford’s The Searchers, Moby Dick with Gregory Peck, and dozens of others, to the Gold Key series of the 1960s, which delivered the popular Star Trek and other TV series adaptations in addition to movies, to Marvel Comics in the 1970s with adaptations of Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Logan’s Run, and even into the 1980s with adaptations of films like The Last Starfighter.  For some movies, rights issues prevent a movie from making it into comic book form.  This is the case with the James Bond movies and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Getting a comic book adaptation right involves the same sensibilities as that required for a good novelization. Story must always remain the key focus, but with comics you get the added bonus of the visual re-presentation of the film.  Often the writers get advance looks at what the filmmakers are doing, but sometimes they don’t get to see as much as would be helpful for rounding out the adapted work.  In the 1977 Star Wars comic book adaptation, one page featured a first look at Jabba the Hutt, who we would later meet in the movie Return of the Jedi and find to be a giant slug.  In the original Star Wars adaptation he is a yellow, whiskered biped, a humanoid–an example of preparation and timing not allowing for an accurate translation of what ends up on screen.

In 35 years I still have not seen a comic book adaptation that was as well done as Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson’s The Empire Strikes Back, published by Marvel Comics (cover at the top of this article).  Where the Star Wars adaptation was a stylized sci-fi epic, Empire featured a stunningly drawn adaptation of characters, aliens and places, and even characters that looked like the actors playing the characters.  The Empire adaptation was released in a giant over-sized book in the same way the Star Wars adaptation had been released.  As a kid, I had repeatedly checked out the hard-bound library version of the Star Wars adaptation—to get that taste of the movie in the days when you had to wait years to see a movie re-released in the theater, long before video tapes.  So when I got the Empire version in the same format for my birthday, it became a well-worn companion that stuck by me until Return of the Jedi premiered.  Incredibly it is still available for sale on eBay and at Amazon.com.

Why did the Empire adaptation work?  Preparation clearly played a key role, with the writers and artists having full access to the complete director’s version of the film, including scenes that eventually were cut from the film.  An artist who stuck to the film and refrained from unwanted elaboration also helped.  Clearly, compared to the Star Wars adaptation that had been quickly drawn, the Empire adaptation benefitted from on artist who had the time to include great detail.  And just as Star Wars was issued in single issues over a period of four months, so was Empire, and the plotting and chapter divisions also reflected a film that was paced well, lending itself toward a good adaptation.  What followed suit would be years of similar high-quality adaptations, including a superb three-issue Marvel Comics series adapting Raiders of the Lost Ark, and later, a four-issue adaptation of Return of the Jedi.  From then on adaptations would stick closer to the films they were adapting.

A few recent comic book projects will be featured in the following days.  These works are not adaptations as much as science fiction movie tie-ins, but they are also some of the most creative and interesting bridging between movies and comic books to ever hit the shelves.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

One-shot comic books—those issues that carry a complete story in typically about 24-30 pages, usually to fill a gap in a publishers current showcase of stories, remind readers of characters of the past, or even introduce a work in its own right with no intention of continuing on in a series—don’t often result in much that is memorable.  A book like Batman: The Killing Joke is an example of the best kind, and the recent Green Arrow Incorporated is an example of one that doesn’t stick with you very long after reading.

But the new series Avengers Origins has started off right with its volume of expected one-shot issues of more obscure Marvel Comics superheroes, beginning last week with Ant-Man & the Wasp.  Like all one-shots, the story must be told quickly and here writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has double-duty with two characters, albeit with an intertwined story.  He is pretty successful with Ant-Man and lesser so with the Wasp.  But the big takeaway from this issue is the almost dream-state painting style of French artist Stephanie Hans.  Her animal and insect work evokes David Petersen’s Mouse Guard work, and her depiction of Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, is both realistic and unreal.  In fact it is her creature drawings and work on Janet that counterbalances the lack of story and character development that Aguirre-Sacasa brings to Janet.

The story encompasses the back story of Dr. Henry Pym, seeking a grant to fund research into shrinking technologies after his wife is murdered, accidentally crosses paths with Janet Van Dyne, daughter of another scientist seeking grant money.  Henry is stodgy and over-focused on his work, Janet is free-spirited.  Their relationship slowly grows and doesn’t actually come together until literally the last panel. What is missing is chemistry…why she falls for him so quickly.  But all this is forgivable for the brief page count, as the rest of the story is packed with action and interesting curiosities.

Pym’s story is straight out of the classic film The Incredible Shrinking Man, although Pym takes a surprising turn at immediately taking toward liking the insects he is confronted with, experiencing no fear of horse-sized ants, and instead bonding with them and working on problems together.  That cornerstone of his character is nicely revealed.

Van Dyne’s story becomes a hurried vengeance origin that forces the reader to remember the Stan Lee school of obtaining superpowers: Sometimes you just have to accept gamma rays for what they are, a quick mechanism to move you along to focus more on character and relationships.  The how of becoming the Wasp is revealed so fast that you don’t really have time to scratch your head and question it.

Ultimately Aguirre-Sacasa and Hans come together to create a really good looking book, and the cover Marko Djurdjevic is a real eye-grabber.

If your only exposure to Ant-Man is the Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead), Phil Hester (Bionic Man, Green Arrow) and Ande Parks (Union Station, Green ArrowThe Irredeemable Ant-Man short-lived series, this issue is a good flashback to the original Ant-Man story, before the off-the-wall Eric O’Grady sneaked into Dr. Pym’s lab and got his own ant suit.  If you haven’t read The Irredeemable Ant-Man, then there’s no time like the present to check out that funny series, also known for its great covers, showing the little hero actually was present in a previously released, character-packed, Frank Cho cover.  And if you’re missing the other famous little superhero, the Ray Parker Atom character from DC Comics—who inexplicably doesn’t have his own series in the New 52—maybe someone at DC will get some inspiration from Hans’s drawings of a tiny guy in a big world to resurrect that character.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

This week the Science Channel, part of the Discovery family of networks, premiered a new series, helmed by producer Ridley Scott (Aliens, Blade Runner), celebrating the scientific foresight of masters of classic science fiction literature.  Prophets of Science Fiction will explore both the literary accomplishments of authors such as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick, as well as their influence on ongoing scientific advancement.  Here is the trailer for the show:

The series begins with a profile of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), credited with creating the science fiction genre as a whole.  With commentary from Shelley scholars and historians, the series premiere offers parallel storylines of Shelley’s life and literary career, the plot and themes of her seminal novel, and the scientific underpinnings that inspired her immortal work.  Interviews with scientists on the cutting edge of electrical medicine, genetics, and artificial intelligence round out the episode, with Shelley’s tale of science-without-responsibility providing the cautionary undercurrent.

A centerpiece of Science Channel’s rare original programming, Prophets of Science Fiction is getting due attention on their website.  Check out interviews with contributors including Ridley Scott, historical notes on the authors, and an episode guide, showing eight episodes that will air at least through February.

Future episodes will profile Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and borg.com favorite George Lucas.  Although the series begins with genre progenitor Mary Shelley, Episode 2 will feature Philip K. Dick, so it appears the series creators don’t plan a chronological exploration of their subject.  Watch on Science Channel Wednesdays at 10 pm (Yes, borg.com is aware this is the same time as Psych.  That’s why you have a DVR.).

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