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Archive for May, 2012


Review by C.J. Bunce

Put aside the hurricane that was 2012’s New 52 reboot from DC Comics, and one year ago if someone would have said that Barbara Gordon would have her own solo title again as Batgirl, and a successful title at that, most DC fans would have had doubts. Then with the announcement that Gail Simone was giving Barbara the use of her legs again, add controversy to those doubts.  Batgirl had an uphill climb, but with the changes DC had previewed before the launch, it also became the title causing the most curiosity for readers.  How would they give her back the use of her legs?  Where would she fit into the new DC universe?

If you haven’t read Batgirl, the first six issues of the groundbreaking DC series will be reprinted in a hardcover edition this July, titled Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection.  With 52 graphic novels coming out over the next few months, most readers will be selective about which to seek out.  Batgirl is one of the keepers.

Where Batgirl really soared in this story arc begins with the cover work by Adam Hughes.  One of the artists whose superheroine work is in a small league of the very best, his style conjures up a 1940s aesthetic, and his colors scream retro.  His Batgirl may very well be the best ever rendered, including when compared to the stunning Alex Ross revamped version that Hughes seems to work from.  If only he had the schedule to draw the entire book!  That said, Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf has developed his own style with Batgirl’s ongoing story as the interior artist on the series.  Syaf’s style is expressive and his action sequences are fluid and powerful.  If Hughes makes Batgirl look both innocent and beautiful, Syaf rounds out her character by showing her as feisty and wily.

From the beginning, writer Gail Simone proved she knew her character.  The new Barbara was funny and endearing from the first page.  She shares her inner voice with us to contrast with her Batgirl-costumed exterior.  We didn’t know what will come of it, but she found an inquisitive roommate and a place she could afford to rent.  Her inner voice always determined, she forced herself to be confident, even though we sensed a lot of doubt in her about her abilities.  She’s young, but not too young.  She is a straight arrow, not gritty and also thankfully not vapid.  She is successful, but she’s nervous.

Chapter 1 of the story arc begins with Barbara already away from her wheelchair and already crime fighting.  Is it too soon?  She questions herself, and she indeed makes her first mistakes.  And she never forgets the crime by the Joker that left her in the chair in the first place.  Barbara’s foe in the first round is a baddie who is called the Mirror, a grim reaper type who carries a list of the soon-to-be-dead around as a checklist.  She gets knocked down.  She gets right back up.  She makes mistakes.  She tries to recover from her mistakes—both the long-term lesson learning variety and the instant kind–a bad kick or punch here or there.  With a quick-moving story line her decisions are split-second choices.  She has no choice, she must be focused.  Having the use of her legs return only in the past several months, all indications are that this heroine is engaging in the secret crime fighting gig too soon.  This is the theme of her character’s growth.

Chapter 2 of Batgirl helps readers understand Batgirl’s Gotham City.  We see real-life reflected here, or at least the over-development, economic strife and questionable priorities that make Gotham the worst of what is real in any society. We also see a microcosm of the individual, living the single life, trying to get through the mundane tasks of daily life.  Barbara Gordon is a poster girl for the individual in the big world. Like all of us, she is forging ahead.  Writer Gail Simone continued in this chapter to deliver the satisfying and snappy, Buffy-esque dialogue, that reminds us we’re talking about Batgirl here.  What stayed strong throughout the entire arc is the first person narrative, in the same style as Batman from Jeph Loeb in Batman: Hush.  She smartly comes off as the almost-Batman.  Batgirl’s positive outlook is counter-balanced with a well-constructed bad guy.

A weaker part of the story arc is Chapter 3, which had a lot to live up to considering the work on Issues #1 and #2.  For the first section, Barbara Gordon became a bit of Sandra Bullock in Speed, in a psycho-orchestrated opportunity to save a train from a bomb. For the second, she had some awkward catching up to do with dad, Commissioner Gordon.  For section three, she goes to pick up her Batcycle, which had been impounded in Chapter 1.  There she runs into Dick Grayson-formerly-known-as-Robin-who-then-became-Nightwing-then-Batman-and-now-he’s-Nightwing-again.  And an old, teen romance is rekindled, veiled as an effort by the Bat-team to get Barbara to dial back on the dangerous derring-do.  Barbara gives in a bit, but ultimately recoils into that comic book cliché of the superhero—“I just want to be alone.”  It’s not a bad follow-up to Issues #1 and 2, but the obligatory romance issue just seemed a bit too soon for the series.  Unfaltering is the visuals–Batgirl is both agile and tough balanced with naiveté and some real street smarts, and we know this from how she is drawn on every panel by artist Syaf.

Chapter 4 finds Barbara continuing to have nightmares that she reads as survivor’s guilt.  She has a heart to heart conversation with her roommate finally, but Barbara remains at a distance.  Her escape is to continue the pursuit of the Mirror.  In that, she uses her confusion and anger to take on a stronger opponent.  But she also uses the events of the day to develop her own strategy.  This allows her to try again with her roommate.  In the end she is visited by a ghost from her distant past.

We meet a new villain in Chapter 5, Gretel, who is able to make others act as she wishes through hypnotic suggestion.  This leaves her victims and the tools of her actions mumbling the number 338.  As Barbara attempts to sleuth out what 338 means, she must also deal with the return of her mother, who walked out on her, her little brother, and her father, Commissioner Gordon, when she was young.  As she ponders what is behind Gretel, she believes Bruce Wayne may be the next target of this new villain.  As she tries to save him, it appears Bruce has also fallen for Gretel’s hypnosis.

The final chapter ties up all the loose ends.  Gretel is not a one-note villain, but instead a mirror of sorts of Barbara.  Batgirl must capture Gretel, but she learns from her past, and instead of going after her alone, she smartly shares her information with Bruce.  In a  partnership with Batman, we even get to see Barbara as the main partner of the ad hoc duo in the scheme to take down Gretel.  Was Bruce really under Gretel’s spell?  The payoff for Batgirl fans is great.  For readers of the collected edition, the entire six chapter story also works as a complete piece, not simply the typical assemblage of six sequential comic books.

DC’s female superhero characters continue to flourish 9 months after the big launch.  Batgirl’s story bridges a lot of territory–she is a superhero with a rich past in the DCU: as daughter to Batman’s main partner in fighting crime, Commissioner Gordon, as the former crime fighter in a wheelchair called Oracle and member of the Birds of Prey, she carved out a niche for herself as the younger side of hero work and the trials of being at the beginning of a heroine’s career.  There is a reason we have a Batwoman and a Batgirl.  Gail Simone made sure Batgirl gets the respect she deserves but does not forget that she is and should be all about being a girl, and being a girl–as opposed to being a woman or a man or a boy–creates its own advantages for both the character and for storytelling.

Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection is available July 17 at comic book stores and discounted pre-order now online.

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As the #1 Green Arrow fan around, I’ve just got to say I was blown away by the first trailer for Arrow, just greenlighted for the Fall season on the CW Network.  If I can’t have the TV series that I see in my mind, then I’m glad the one that is actually getting to the screen looks this good.  For the first time since the Flash TV series DC Comics is expanding its cinematic reach with a focus beyond the tier 1 Justice League superheroes.  Arrow very well could be DC Comics’ first step toward a future Justice League movie that could try to compete with the enormously successful new multi-superhero Avengers movie.

Check out this great first look at the series:

Stephen Amell looks like a good choice for a young Oliver Queen.  And out of nowhere one of the best genre actors around shows up–Paul Blackthorne–Harry Dresden himself from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.  Blackthorne, who was one of our top picks last year for the next James Bond, appears to be the second lead actor featured in the series, girlfriend Dinah Lance’s father, the man trying to find out who is behind the vigilante hero called Green Arrow.

As expected, the series is taking a Green Arrow: Year One approach, and Amell looks every bit the marooned Oliver Queen from artist Jock‘s visionary mini-series.  Amell is also reminiscent of artist Phil Hester’s initial Green Arrow tales written byKevin Smith, showing a shaggy bearded version of Ollie.

This second teaser focuses more on Oliver Queen, and gives us a look at Amell and how he plans to portray the character:

Nice arrow work with the tennis ball scene–a great idea for showing his skill.  And the cinematography doesn’t feel like the normal CW soap opera series we’re used to seeing.  I hope that trait carries through to the final product.

And check out his mini-Batcave-like retreat!  No question–I for one am looking forward now to this dark superhero series more than the new The Dark Knight Rises movie.

Finally, this mini-preview is a great snapshot of the show:

I initially didn’t care for the title, but the logo they are using with the target looks great.

Arrow stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Colin Donnell as Tommy, Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance, David Ramsey as John Diggle, Willa Holland as Thea Queen, with Susanna Thompson as Moira Queen and Paul Blackthorne as Detective Quentin Lance.  Based on the characters appearing in DC Comics, Arrow is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern), Marc Guggenheim (FlashForward, Eli Stone), Andrew Kreisberg (Warehouse 13, The Vampire Diaries) and David Nutter (Smallville, Supernatural, Game of Thrones).  Melissa Kellner Berman (Eli Stone) is co-executive producer.  The pilot was directed by David Nutter from a teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim, story by Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim.

Arrow will begin airing on Wednesday nights at 8 pm on the CW Network this Fall.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Half of Star Wars fans will tell you it’s the best of the entire series.  Although A New Hope quickly built up an amazing and beloved new galaxy, it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that we met a fully realized universe of diverse planets and complex, well-developed characters, personal stories of heroes we now knew well, risking their lives for each other.  Like The Godfather and The Godfather II, you can try to compare them and see the ways in which one out-performed the other.  For me, young Vito Corleone watching as a rug is stolen for him by Bruno Kirby’s Clemenza, the kiss of death with John Cazale’s poor, stupid Fredo, the tragic downfall of Michael Corleone–all of these stick out as the powerful pieces of the series and all happened in the sequel.  With The Empire Strikes Back, we met Yoda, we learned of Luke’s relationship to Darth Vader, we saw Han Solo really put the Millennium Falcon to its limits in that asteroid field, we saw AT-ATs devastate the Rebel Base, we saw romance develop between Han and Leia, and we saw the brief glimpses of the motley band of bounty hunters, and especially Boba Fett.  And it probably had the single best film soundtrack of any film, certainly any John Williams soundtrack, ever made.

A candid image of Harrison Ford on the Millennium Falcon set.

So it is no wonder that The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, published in 2010 for the film’s 30th anniversary, is an exceptional account of the behind the scenes herculean efforts required to make such a cinematic masterpiece.  The book uses contemporary interviews interspersed with archival notes from George Lucas’s own files, including pieces dating back to A New Hope, suggesting the source of the name Darth Vader (dark invader) and other interesting bits of trivia, and hundreds of photos both color and black and white, to tell the story behind the story.

Yes, he only had a cameo, but that really was one-day leading man Treat Williams as a Rebel soldier on the Hoth set with Carrie Fisher.

Focusing on the film’s director, the late Irvin Kershner, and piecing together bits from George Lucas’s own original visionary thoughts through author Leigh Brackett’s scripting and the key actors’ personal accounts, author J.W. Rinzler lets the past speak for itself (Rinzler also wrote the previously successful “Making of” books The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films and The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film.)  Little extraneous commentary is included, and instead quotes from the creative minds speak of poor filming conditions, too much to do in too little time, and the elephant in the room–could they really meet Star Wars fans’ expectations and continue the story of Luke Skywalker in another successful, ground-breaking blockbuster?

A king’s ransom, or at least the holy grail of any science fiction movie costume collector. So who lays out Boba Fett’s clothes for him anyway?

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back includes Mark Hamill’s own account of his near-fatal car crash and Lucas’s plan for the film had he died, the complete beginning to end planning of Boba Fett’s costume including incredible images back to the original incarnation as a “supertrooper,” planning and preparation of advance toy marketing, the late Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art, and the crazy filming of the Hoth scenes in a blowing snowscape.  Hurdles for the production included the single challenge the entire success or failure of the movie depended on: the design, construction and performance of Yoda, a muppet to replace the role originally planned for the aging Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.

A view of the boom in the shot as Harrison Ford watches Luke and Leia kiss. Having read the script, he looks like he is thinking “how could George show these two kissing?”

Also included are detailed descriptions of deleted scenes, including more extensive footage of tauntauns and the Hoth wampa and the rebels in the snow cave.

The book had been previewed in Entertainment Weekly, which had hinted at some of the never before published photographs from the book, but the magazine article only skimmed the surface of what can be found here.  For some readers it will be a perfect coffee table book, and for others it will be a reference and how-to manual for project managing an epic film.

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is available at Amazon.com and all other bookstores.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I’ve gotten in and out of reading comic books several times in my life.  I couldn’t tell you where the comic book store was when I lived in Columbia, MO.  I found one when I lived in Delaware.  There wasn’t one for miles when I lived in the mountains (but I found a baseball card shop).  I knew of and visited at least six comic book stores when I lived in Kansas City and I visit about the same number in Los Angeles.  I’ve visited them when I’ve made brief stops in London, England and Austin, Texas.  I had subscriptions to several Marvel titles when I was in junior high and didn’t have to worry about getting my parents to take me to the comic store.  One day a comic would arrive in my mailbox covered in the plain brown paper wrapping that I would later associate closely with either comics or porn.

A map of comic book stores across the U.S.

Still, every walk into a store is like a step into a colorful, inedible candy shop and I start to wonder, what I’m going to take home in my brown paper bag.  I like recommendations quite a bit when I look for new things (and that’s why on Free Comic Book Day as I went to a few of my favorite stores, I picked up All-Star Western and Justice League Dark) but since my time in Kansas City, my main focus for when I look on the shelves of whichever store I find myself in, is new material by past favorite authors.  That’s why on Free Comic Book Day I also picked up Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, who has entertained me in several stories like Pride of Baghdad, Runaways and Y: The Last Man.  Saga looks to be a great start to another captivating yarn as I ripped through both issues I bought as I curled up to relax on Sunday night.

However, I must ask myself, is using the past a logical way to pursue entertainment?  Are past performances indicative of future returns, unlike financial instruments?  How can you tell when to jump off the creative train of a favorite author?

This reminds me of a game a friend and I play every now again based on the Fellini movie, 8 1/2.  The film deals with the creative process and my friend and I used it as a jumping off point to analyze the careers of creative people by asking, “Does X have eight unarguable classics to their name?”

It’s tougher than you think.  To be able to create eight works of art is an accomplishment in and of itself, and to make eight super-duper terrific things, well, that’s a rarefied air.  Of course, everyone has a different opinion of what a “classic” is, but we generally know that Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both Steven Spielberg classics, where War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull don’t come close to reaching the same height.  Even though I’m not a huge Spielberg fan, he gets to eight relatively easily as you could add E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me if You Can to Jaws and Raiders and you get seven, though there are a few flaws, but I quibble.  Finding an eighth movie among The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Munich and Jurassic Park should be easy.  George Lucas on the other hand, I think he’s lucky to get two.  I suppose I’m saying that at this point, going to see a Spielberg film may be a bit more of a question mark than it was in the 90s, but if you gave me a choice between Spielberg and Lucas right now, there’s no question I would choose to see a Spielberg film.

Looking at my favorite movies over the past few years, Midnight in Paris has reinvigorated my belief in Woody Allen and I’m more likely to see his next film.  The quality of Marvel’s movies Thor, Captain America and The Avengers makes me more likely to go see non-sequels put out by Marvel Studios.  (Iron Man 2 still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. That’s what I get for licking the screen).  True Grit cemented my love of the Coen brothers, which I had before the movie as I’ve seen every one of their films.

My point?  If you like the creative work of a person, you’ll probably like their other work.  Looking at my bookshelf filled with several novels from Kurt Vonnegut, quite a few selections from Alan Moore and most every film by Wes Anderson, I probably didn’t need to do much thinking about it.  Still, it’s nice to come to that conclusion and know that when I roll into a comic store, I can find some Brian Michael Bendis, some Matt Fraction, some J. Michael Straczynski, some Neil Gaiman, some Jason, some Craig Thompson, some Daniel Clowes, some Kurt Busiek or many others and be happy when I get home, turn on the lamp and snuggle beneath my covers.  Plus, there’s always a chance I can stumble onto many more authors in the future through sheer luck, the recommendations of friends or the recommendations of the people I meet while wandering the aisles at my local comic book stores.

We have the technology… that could soon allow injured people to become fully autonomous again as cybernetic humans.  The future is closer than you might think.

Yesterday in an article in the journal Nature, researchers took another step forward in creating borg technology that one day may allow paraplegics and amputees to fully utilize advanced prosthetics to replace their missing limbs.  In their article “Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm,” Leigh R. Hochberg, Daniel Bacher, Beata Jarosiewicz, Nicolas Y. Masse, John D. Simeral, Joern Vogel, Sami Haddadin, Jie Liu, Sydney S. Cash, Patrick van der Smagt, and John P. Donoghue authored a study whereby two participants–years after their last productive use of their brains to control limb movement–were able to use an implanted neural interface, called the “BrainGate,” a pocket of electronic chips placed in the brain, to transmit commands to hard-wired three-dimensional devices to direct simulated limb movement.  A tetraplegic woman was able to use her own mind to move an artificial hand to allow her to drink unaided for the first time in nearly fifteen years.

Yesterday’s research was the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can practically control a prosthetic arm, using implants in the brain to transmit neural signals to an external computer.

Expanding on this research, it is easy to envision the possibilities of an advanced set of prosthetics attached to the human body that could one day serve as replacements for arms and legs–actual, useful borg technology to improve human life beyond that of current prosthetic arms and legs–for those people who have lost the functioning internal hard-wiring needed to complete even the most simple everyday tasks.

Study participant Cathy Hutchinson uses her thoughts to drink without anyone’s assistance for the first time in 15 years.

“Paralysis following spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other disorders can disconnect the brain from the body, eliminating the ability to perform volitional movements. A neural interface system could restore mobility and independence for people with paralysis by translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices,” the study reported.  “Here we demonstrate the ability of two people with long-standing tetraplegia to use neural interface system-based control of a robotic arm to perform three-dimensional reach and grasp movements.”

With little advance direction, a 58-year-old woman and 66 year old man who had suffered debilitating strokes were able to use a small group of neurons in their brain stems connected via a 96-channel microelectrode array to operate a hand and arm machine.  The 58-year-old woman, using a sensor implanted 5 years earlier, used a robotic arm to drink coffee from a bottle.  “Our results demonstrate the feasibility for people with tetraplegia, years after injury to the central nervous system, to recreate useful multidimensional control of complex devices directly from a small sample of neural signals,” the study said.

Charts from the study showing the BrainGate process.

The basic commands used electronic signal patterns to direct the machine to move “left,” “right” and “down”.  The interface was centered on the participants’ heads, but future research could include the sending of wireless signals, although this has not yet been realized.  The BrainGate2 project furthered an earlier 2006 study that allowed a man to use his thoughts to move a computer cursor as part of an early phase of this research project.  Although practical application is likely years away because of FDA approvals and necessary improvements, news of this study will hopefully cause other researchers to expand the reach of this work.

More information and the complete journal report can be found at Nature.com.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Every twenty years or so, some intrepid editor or assistant editor rummages through the files at DCHQ only to stumble upon an old comic book featuring the H-Dial.  And with a loud poof it becomes another attempt to revive a strange and cartoonish concept, a dial with symbols or letters and numbers.  When the finder dials the right order of symbols or letters, the dial transforms the dialler into a superhero–usually a strange superhero we’re never encountered anywhere before.

First seen the House of Mystery and later featured as secondary stories throughout Adventure Comics and other titles and featured as its own title starting in 2003 that lasted 22 issues, titled H.E.R.O., the H-Dial is a short story writer’s dream.  What Quantum Leap did with Sam Beckett, only the holder of the H-Dial gets powers to help solve an immediate problem (usually).  The result should be an unlimited source of stories for short-lived superheroes and their powers.

Like the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, the H-Dial carries its own brand of mystery.  We have never learned the story behind its origin, or how many H-Dials are circulating the past and present of this or any parallel Earths.

Clever gimmicks have often accompanied the H-Dial.  In Adventure Comics in the 1980s, Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino created a way for readers to create new heroes to appear in issues of the comic book–an early interactive way of engaging readers.

The longest user of the dialler was Robby Reed.  He has appeared from the 1960s to the past decade in full stories and cameos with the dial.  In the New 52 series titled simply Dial H, we find in Issue #1 the new finder of the H-Dial is a young guy named Nelson, who, visually, seems a bit like Hurley from the TV series Lost.  Nelson finds the dial and uses it to try to help his friend, creating two superheroes with the device: Boy Chimney, who can travel on smoke and do who knows what that a… um… chimney and smoke would do to stop bad guys, and Captain Lachyrmose, who makes people sad and gets more powerful through other people’s sadness.

These two first uses of the H-Dial sort of fall with a thud.  The ideas are bizarre, which can be a good thing when done the right way.  But first-time comic book writer China Mieville’s dialogue is clunky.  We cannot tell what accent his friend has–is he suppoed to have some accent or does he intentionally speak a little strangely?  If he is supposed to be of some ethnic group, then artist Mateus Santolouco isn’t clear enough of what we’re supposed to think.  It doesn’t matter to the story, but it’s just a bit difficult to understand what these friends are saying to each other.  Example: “Please excuse me while screw you… just damn luck there was no damage this time.”

That said, for the most part, Santolouco does a very good job of creating bizarre images to fit Mieville’s story.  His characters are creepy and this book does fall into the “Dark” line of DC’s New 52 series.  It’s just unortunate the story is difficult to follow.

As a fan of the concept and a reader of the Adventure Comics issues featuring the H-Dial and the 2003 H.E.R.O. series, I will give Dial H a few more issues to hook me.

I’ll take a tangent for a minute and mention what DC Comics didn’t do on this round that I think would be more fun.  In this world of reality TV, as DC featured as a device in the first issues of the New 52 Green Arrow series, Dial H is the perfect venue to try some new things.  Why not have readers submit stories on some type of Dial H blog?  Why not have DC Comics’ whole pantheon of writers and artists each get a crack at developing a story within the pages of Dial H, much like Top Cow did with the Eisner nominated mini-series Common Grounds?  I’ll stop there because I’m not a fan of people reviewing what they want to see instead of what is offered by a creator.  But I do think there are unlimited stories to be told with a device like the H-Dial, and I hope Mieville, once he gets his sea legs in his new medium, takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Review by C.J. Bunce

We reported earlier about the replacement of certain New 52 DC Comics titles that were launched last fall.  Men of War was one of those titles on the cancellation list.  If nothing else, low readership begs the question of whether war titles have a shot in the current state of the world.

Since the 1970s war titles seem to have had a rough time staying alive.  I am not sure how much of it relates to the topic of war as opposed to the spark of great storytelling grabbing and keeping readers.  Back in the 1980s I read Marvel Comics’ The ‘Nam series during Michael Golden’s stint as artist.  The ‘Nam was a success by any measure, surviving for seven years.  The stories were gritty and well done–they dealt with the daily trials of the foot soldier–and they survived almost miraculously despite dealing with no issues about drugs, and had no profanity because of the Comics Code.  They barely discussed the politics of the day, too.  But despite that, good stories caused readers to keep reading.

I also think readers will read anything good, regardless of genre category, and most regular comic book readers won’t shy away from any genre regardless of the subject, here “war comics”.  That said, I read Men of War and it didn’t work for me.  I think Issue #1 just featured too much action, too much sergeants yelling and the stereotypical movie “gung ho” vibe, and not enough character building.  Basically we saw a descendant of the classic Sergeant Rock of decades past himself become sergeant in today’s world.  It actually reminded me of the 1960s black and white TV series Combat!  an ongoing series of the daily trials of men at war.  The Sergeant Rock story was followed by a Navy Seals story, including an ending featuring a baddie who shockingly uses a woman as a shield.  The stuff of real-life war and the evening news.  If you like reality in comics then you may have liked that series.  If you see comics as escapism, well, this was perhaps not the best place to find it.

So last week saw the launch of G.I. Combat, as part of the New 52 Second Wave, which included both an ongoing G.I. Combat story and a second story reviving the unknowable super-soldier, the Unknown Soldier, a character derived in part from from the tomb of the same name in Washington, DC.  The character the Unknown Soldier has been around in various series for years at DC Comics, and he sees a short resurgence from time to time.

The first issue of G.I. Combat works for three reasons.

First, JT Krul and Ariel Olivetti sort of cheat here, because they added bacon.  I’ll explain.  If you ever watch competitive food shows like Top Chef or The Next Food Network Star, you often see judges jokingly tell contestants they cheated because they added bacon to a dish that may not have otherwise succeeded.  Here, the bacon is dinosaurs.  That’s right–if you can’t make your war comic succeed, throw in dinosaurs.  After all, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?  Frank Cho has been gearing up to release his own topic on the very same subject, Guns & Dinos, and his Shanna series also had military group taking on dinosaurs.  It’s hard to miss when you mix these together.

The alternate/incentive cover to Issue 1.

But to be fair, the second reason is the book works on its own merits.  JT Krul’s story is good, and Ariel Olivetti’s painterly style is just superb.  The story, “The War That Time Forgot” begins with a secret corps soldier on a live video chat with his wife.  The immediate focus on the personal creates a character that hooks the reader in quickly.  Scenes of the soldiers on an expected routine mission that ends up with pterodactyls surprisingly works, too.  Argentine artist Olivetti may be the next artist to keep an eye on.  You can see both some Adam Hughes and Mauro Cascioli in his work.  In fact, Olivetti has referred to fellow Argentine Cascioli, one of our favorites artists here at borg.com, as an influence on his style.

Some of Ariel Olivetti’s art from GI Combat.

The second story, “The Unknown Soldier” is also well written and well drawn.  I’m a little biased, however, as Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the writers on the second story, are also my favorite current comic book writing team, telling the adventures of Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham in DC’s All-Star Western.  Dan Panosian’s panels are classic Charlton Comics war images–the story just looks like a classic war series.

But my third reason to like the book comes from the Unknown Soldier story.  Gray and Palmiotti’s hero is the type of timeless war hero that you would see played in the movies by John Wayne or Arnold Schwartzenegger.  A phoenix of sorts, this soldier is strong and he is a survivor, something everyone wants in a soldier story.

Since there are apparently no real rules to building a successful new war comic, maybe expanding readers’ preconception as to what a war comic is will be the ticket to a successful ongoing series.

By C.J. Bunce

We highlight them all the time here at borg.com.  But some of them don’t naturally come to mind when you think of cybernetically enhanced organisms–cyborgs, or borgs for short.  What makes a borg?  An organism, human, alien, or animal, who has been modified by technology or uses technology as part of or in place of another biological function.  We use this broadly, encompassing not only a long-accepted group of borgs that are more metal than man, but also robots or androids modified with biology or biomatter, although taken to the extreme this would seem to include the bioneural starship USS Voyager from Star Trek Voyager.

Regardless of how you define it, meet our borg.com Hall of Fame, always ready for new honorees…

With Marvel’s big premiere of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, we’ll begin with Tony Stark’s Iron Man.  Tony Stark is not advertised as a borg, but if your power source involves techno-gadgetry via an arc reactor and you have his fully integrated armor, we think that makes you a borg.  Whedon is very familiar with borgs, having created the character Adam, the nasty, almost unstoppable foe of the Scooby Gang in Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

If Iron Man is a borg, should one of the oldest creatures of science fiction be considered a borg as well–Frankenstein’s monster?  How integral are those bolts and attachments to his survival anyway?  Does an external power source make a borg?  Did he ever have to regenerate?

And if Frankenstein’s monster makes the cut, maybe this spin-off fellow should, too:

Yes, Frankenberry, the only cereal mascot borg?  Are those pressure gauges on his head?  What functions do they serve?  Before we move forward very far in time, we also think we need to at least consider Maria’s doppelganger from Fritz Lang’s sci-fi film classic Metropolis as a possible borg.com honoree–a robot admittedly, but somehow transformed into a humanoid creation with flesh, used to replace the real Maria and wreak havoc across Metropolis:

From one of the biggest science fantasy franchises, Star Wars, Darth Vader began as Anakin Skywalker, but through his own rise to evil and subsequent downfall he became more machine than man:

He even caused his son to require borg technology by slicing off his arm and hand with his lightsaber, making Luke Skywalker a borg as well:

With Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, we met an interesting new villain, General Grievous, a four-lightsaber wielding almost lobster-like biological creature made up of techno-armor and, in close-up are those reptilian eyes?  His apparent disfigurement and breathing problems hint at a back story that must be not unlike Vader’s.

In The Empire Strikes Back we also briefly met Lando Calrissian’s majordomo who possessed some type of brain adapter technology–we learn from action figures, trading cards and comics his name is Lobot:

And probably the very first cyborg to be referred to specifically as a “borg” (by Luke Skywalker, even), Valance was a cyborg bounty hunter in the early pages of Star Wars, the Marvel Comics series:

Some borgs are more cybernetic than organism, at least at first appearance.  This would include Doctor Who’s Cybermen:

and we’d learn even the Daleks were cybernetic organisms:

and the Terminators from the Terminator movie and Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, very much more machine with a bit of organics (and even Arnold’s character called himself a “cybernetic organism”):

In Star Trek: First Contact the Borg Queen alters the android Lieutenant Commander Data in such a way so as to make Pinocchio a real boy:

giving real organic material to Data, (like Maria’s double above from Metropolis?) bringing him briefly into the realm of borg status, like Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man:

and this even suggests the Tin Man from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz may be a rudimentary variant borg being along the lines of Frankenstein’s monster:

All humanoids or aliens modified to become The Borg of the Star Trek franchise clearly are good examples of cyborg beings, the most famous of which are probably Patrick Stewart’s Locutus:

the seemingly innocent Hugh:

and Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager:

On Earth we encounter humans all the time with bodies improved by borg technology.  Because of the OSI Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers were rescued from near death with enhanced biology and appendages to become the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman:

The British agent James Bond had to take on Doctor No, an evil scientist who took on his own technological enhancements because of medical maladies, bringing James Bond into the fold of genre franchises investigating a borg character:

Featured in a 1980s movie series and soon to be the subject of a new movie, Robocop:

showed us a variant on Austin and Sommers, and a bit like Iron Man, we have the government creating technology to make super-humans, and here, a superhuman police officer.  This is taken even further, making three animals into borgs for military use in the Eisner-nominated comic book mini-series WE3:

 …a far darker take on the classic cartoon character Dynomutt from Scooby Doo:

Inspector Gadget:

and Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock) in Spider-man 2:

 

both were borgs that made it into big-screen films.

In the DC Comics universe we have a newer Justice League featured member Cyborg, a football player/student who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, when his father’s lab goes up in flames and his father uses his own research to save his son from death:

Before that, Frank Miller envisioned a disfigured future world Green Arrow who would need his own prosthetic cybernetic arm in The Dark Knight Returns:

Mr. Freeze was an early borg villain in the Batman series:

In Marvel Comics Rich Buckler created Deathlok the Demolisher, another cyborg creation, and one of the earliest borgs in comics:

Add to that Marvel characters like Ultron, the “living” automaton:

Ultron’s own creation, named Vision, the “synthezoid”–

and the borg called Cable:

In the 1990s Jim Lee created the Russian borg in the pages of X-Men called Omega Red:

Long before these Marvel characters the cyborgs Robotman and Robotdog graced the pages of DC Comics in the 1940s, and yes, they were not just robots:

The modern Cylons from the reboot Battlestar Galactica TV series are borgs in the Terminator sense, robots made to look and pass for human.  And there were a bunch, not just background, but named characters, the most famous of which was the seductive Number Six:

  

Years before, Philip K. Dick would create more than one borg character in his novels and short stories, revealed to us the best as the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner:

Several replicants appeared in the film:

 

…all indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye.

In the horror realm we have Ash, from Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, his arm a functioning chainsaw, and at least in the comic book, like the Star Trek borgs he has an interchangeable arm like a mega Swiss Army knife:

If we include Ash do we also need to include Cherry Darling from Planet Terror, since she has a rifle as a leg like Ash’s arm attachment?

Heck, even horrific camp troller Jason became a borg eventually in Jason X:

Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn comics had both the borg assassin Overtkill:

and the cybernetic gorilla Cy-Gor:

Speaking of borg beasties, even Japanese monster movies embraced borgs, having their hero Godzilla encounter Mechagodzilla:

and Gigan:

In the world of manga and anime we have Ghost in the Machine’s own borg girl Motoko Kusanagi:

leader of a group of borgs, and the villain Cell from Dragon Ball: 

Cowboy Bebop had the borg character Jet Black, which seems influenced by the design of Seven of Nine:

Akira had Tetsuo Shima:

And we have a new one to add to the list because of the film Prometheus, the creepy borg, David 8:

But he’s certainly not the first in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe.  Don’t forget Ian Holm’s Ash in Alien:

Lance Henrikson’s Bishop from Aliens:

and Winona Ryder’s Annalee Call from Alien: Resurrection:

But these are just the biggest examples of borgs in popular genre works.  Countless books, comics and short stories have introduced other borg beings, not to mention every other new video game.   What will be the next borg to enter the mainstream, with a new TV show or movie?

Should we add an Honorable Mention list to the borg.com Borg Hall of Fame, for beings resulting from the merging of humans with cyberspace?  Think of characters like Tron and Flynn from Tron and Tron: Legacy?  Or Neo and Trinity & Co. from the Matrix movies?  You can argue some of the above in or out of the list, but we’ll be visiting most of them here now and then.

Editor note: We’ll update this list from time to time and feature it as its own page on the borg.com home page.  Just click on “Know your borg” at the top of this page now for a full update!

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

After months of vigorous publicity, USA Network’s latest buddy cop dramedy Common Law debuted Friday night, with mixed results.  USA has long been teasing viewers with hints at the show’s premise: two quibbling homicide detectives attend couple’s counseling to work out their differences.  Starring Michael Ealy (Barbershop, Underworld: Awakening) and Warren Cole (24) and featuring veteran character actor Jack McGee as their lieutenant and Sonya Walger (Lost, The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the therapist, Common Law is an uneven mix of action, comedy, and police drama.  With the USA pedigree behind it, it has a long way to go to catch up to network winners like White Collar and Burn Notice.

Let’s start with the premise.  It’s good!  It’s funny, it’s got a great hook, and the framework of the rocky relationship is something that can easily span multiple seasons of a series (unlike, say, Prison Break).  We first meet our heroes in the middle of their first group therapy session, filling out personality questionnaires to prove how well the “partners” know each other.  The jokes initially hinge on the double entendres, but do manage to rise above the obvious, delivering a few funny moments and revealing some depth to both leads.  Therapist Walger is competent, although the pilot didn’t give her much opportunity to shine in the role; we’ll be watching to see if she becomes a memorable character in her own right like the late Stanley Kamel of Monk.

As a cop drama, the pilot was lackluster.  Again, remember twenty years of Law & Order, seven seasons of The Closer, and the short but brilliant Life.  This is a genre with savvy viewers who expect standout scripts and performances.  The murder was forgettable (literally; it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and I’m having trouble remembering it), the writing just average, and the guest performances all lacked spark.  They’ll need to raise the mystery and casting to the level of the premise for the show to keep my interest.

Strong performances by leads Travis (Ealy) and Wes (Kole) helped the pilot rise above its draggy plot and uninspired dialogue.  Both were nicely developed, with complex backstories.  Travis was raised in foster care, and Wes is a disillusioned former lawyer (although I would have liked to see those somewhat stereotypical histories reversed).  Travis is a freewheeling ladies’ man, Wes an uptight perfectionist, and the two have landed themselves in hot water when Wes drew his gun on Travis over an argument.  Enter Captain Sutton (McGee), who believes the same couple’s therapy that saved his marriage will do wonders for his best detectives.  Ealy and Kole have great chemistry (or, at the moment, an entertaining lack thereof) and set the tone for the show.  But McGee somehow feels out of step with the rest, adding an element of farce to an otherwise fairly dark humor.  There was something off there that didn’t quite work for me.

However, some standout moments give this viewer hope for the series.  A couple of really great action sequences featured clever twists on familiar police drama scenes (a convenience store holdup, the foot pursuit of a suspect).  The foot pursuit, in particular, combined great filming/editing and some truly awe-inspiring synchronized stunt work by Wes and Travis.  If Common Law features more of that in coming episodes, I will have a good reason to keep tuning in.

The taking of the U.S. hostages in Iran is one of the earliest events I remember, and it was the stuff of nightmares.  It was also the first big event I recall that started the daily newspaper counter, showing the days the hostages had been held.  What we didn’t hear on television were the stories of other Americans who had not been kidnapped but were stuck in Iran.

Based on actual events, Argo is the story of the Canadian Caper, the name given to a joint covert operation held by the governments of Canada and the United States whereby Canada sheltered six U.S. nationals who avoided capture as part of the larger group of hostages held under Ayatollah Khomeini.  Argo was the name of a fictional sci-fi movie concocted by CIA identity deception agent Tony Mendez.  If all would work as planned, he would sneak into Tehran, bringing new identification and other materials to create the new identities, then march the six hostages out in plain sight to the airport.

Editor’s Note: Check out our full review of Argo here.

Scene from Argo–the movie within the movie.

As told by Joshuah Bearman in a 2007 Wired Magazine article, nothing less than a stunning collaboration of unlikely Hollywood and entertainment names converged to create the ruse:  John Chambers, the Academy Award winning make-up artist for The Planet of the Apes, and Bob Sidell, the then Love Boat make-up artist who would go on to work on E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial.  Luckily a foundering production was under way that they could step into, a Roger Zelazny novel adaptation that had already seen concept drawings done by none other than Marvel Comics’ legendary artist Jack Kirby.  Chambers & Co. set up their offices in the facility just vacated by Michael Douglas, who had wrapped filming his own Oscar winner, The China Syndrome and began their work.

Several incredible stories have emerged from the international incidents of 1979 and 1980, not the least of which is the one-day presidential nominee Ross Perot, who led a successful rescue of employees of Electronic Data Systems from an Iran jail.  Perot’s story was most famously told in Ken Follett’s On Wings of EaglesArgo is another story of a similar effort.  The first movie preview is just out, and looks fantastic:

The preview alone really reflects some nice cinematography, art design, retro costumes, and make-up.  Will this be the big career defining next step for Ben Affleck?

Actual faked movie poster from the CIA concocted “film” Argo.

Affleck (Paycheck, The Sum of All Fears, Shakespeare in Love) directs and stars in the film, which is not surprisingly produced by George Clooney (the film has a lot of the look down from his movie Syriana), and Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) and Affleck.  Affleck plays Mendez along with an all-star cast: Alan Arkin (Catch 22, Gattaca, So I married an Axe Murderer, Edward Scissorhands), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), John Goodman (Roseanne, The Big Lebowski, Always, Community, The Artist), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York, Deep Space Nine), Richard Kind (Spin City, Leverage, The Station Agent), and Tate Donovan (Memphis Belle, Magnum, P.I.).

Can anyone say Oscar contender?  Argo hits theaters in October 2012.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

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