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Archive for December, 2013


Miss Fury Dynamite Comics

We tried on for size almost every new book that was released from comic book publishers like Dynamite Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, Archaia/BOOM!, and Image.  We tried to sample the best of all that Marvel and DC Comics had to offer, too, and although we didn’t have enough time to review everything we did try to put out there for your consideration those titles we thought our readers might like to check out, especially those with a sci-fi, fantasy, or retro bent.  Our pull list included issues from Afterlife with Archie to Django Unchained, from Liberator to Larfleezeand from Velvet to The X-Files.  This past month we have reviewed the year-long run of the best of these titles, as we narrowed our selections to 21 of the very best entries in genre entertainment outside of TV and movies, which we revealed here yesterday.  So here are the rest of our picks for the Best of 2013.

Kane Starkiller borg by Mike Mayhew

Best Borg Appearance — Kane Starkiller, The Star Wars.  Borgs showed up everywhere this year, from the lead characters on Almost Human, to Doctor Who, to countless comic book series including Justice League and RoboCop.  Our favorite appearance came from the young mind of George Lucas as he created the original script that would later be edited into the original Star Wars trilogy.  And through Dark Horse Comics’ The Star Wars monthly comic book event we learned one of his best ideas was merged into other roles and one of his best characters entirely cut.   That character was Jedi Kane Starkiller, who would reveal his cyborg chest implants that kept him alive, later to heroically give up this life-saving technology to save his friends.

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Best Comic Book Series — Miss Fury, Dynamite Comics.  A uniquely crafted tale, a compelling and seductive superhero, great action panel after panel, sourced in a long-shelved classic character of the Golden Age of comics.  Rob Williams and Jack Herbert’s Miss Fury is a carefully rendered update that rings true to the edgy spirit of the world’s first female superhero.  Beautiful panels set up an ever-changing time and place and pull readers along for the ride.  And stuck-out-of-time Marla Drake and her alter ego Miss Fury could not have looked better, whether carving out her place in the 1940s or as she was teleported into the future.  It’s a series no one should miss.

Clint Barton Hawkeye by Fraction

Best Comic Book Writing – Matt Fraction, Hawkeye.  Last year revealed one of the best comic book series we ever read, focusing on that “other” superhero archer, the second tier Marvel Comics superhero Hawkeye.  Matt Fraction gave us the most interesting set-up and look into the daily life of a superhero who isn’t Captain America or Iron Man.  This year he kept up the momentum in his Hawkeye monthly series, providing stories that challenged readers, each issue taking a different peek into Clint Barton, another costumed superhero called Hawkeye, and their trusty dog.

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Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as everyone

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and we’re certain we read more and reviewed more content this year than ever before.  And that in no less way was true for TV watching.  At the same time we waded through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre films we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our 25 picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on the moving image, and tomorrow we’ll run through our picks for the best in print and other media.  We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2014!

Year’s Best Fantasy Fix — The Wizard of Oz in Theaters.  It’s a film that has been viewed on TV so many times you might take it for granted.  It’s historically been on many movie reviewers’ Top 20 movies of all time.  But when you watch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen in the middle of a year of modern blockbusters you realize how it can stand up against anything Hollywood has to offer today, even after 70 years.  Remastering the print for a new generation to see it in theaters was a highlight for movie watchers this year.

Almost Human partners

Year’s Best Sci-Fi Fix — Almost Human, Fox.  Like Continuum last year, the new series Almost Human created a future world that is believable and full of extraordinary technologies based in today’s science and touching on social issues of any day.  And even putting aside its buddy cop and police procedural brilliance, every episode plunged us into future police grappling with incredible technologies–DNA bombs criminals use to contaminate a crime scene, identity masking technology to avoid facial recognition video monitors–it was the best dose of sci-fi in 2013.

Best TV Series — Orphan Black, BBC America.  What rose above everything on TV or film this year was BBC America’s new series, the almost indescribable Orphan Black From its initial trailers that piqued our interest, to the surprise series consisting of one actress playing multiple roles that dazzled from out of nowhere, magical special effects, and a unique story of clones and X-Files-inspired intrigue propelled Orphan Black to be our clear winner for Best TV Series of 2013.

Sleepy Hollow

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Sassy, smart, and seductive.  It applies to Marla Drake, the Miss Fury of the 1940s and of today in Dynamite Comics’ time-hopping series Miss Fury.  And it applies to Drake’s masked persona and the series itself.  Writer Rob Williams and artist Jack Herbert have provided their response to the much-lauded Batwoman team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.  And just as the Williams III and Blackman team-up created one of the best comic book series in its first year out of the gates, so has team Williams and Herbert with their first year of Miss Fury.

Catsuits and pointy ears aside, Miss Fury is a unique take on the world’s first superheroine.  Writer Rob Williams concocted the surprise hit of the year–a book that might not have been on pull lists yet it was swiped off the store shelves every week as readers couldn’t get enough of the series.  Among many classic titles emerging from the publisher known for licensed works from the past like The Shadow, the Green Hornet, and the Bionic Man, Miss Fury is a non-stop, action-filled, fun read–it’s a comic book series that will remind you why you love comic books in the first place.

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As a comic book artist that excels at the feminine form, Brazilian artist Jackson “Jack” Herbert is well on his way to becoming the next Adam Hughes.  His Marla Drake is a sophisticate back in the 1940s.  In 2013 she is a provocateur, an agent of an untrustworthy manipulator, murdering as he directs, because she believes she can save America from a dreadful alternative reality.

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Arrow Volume 1 trade

This week Stephen Amell, star of CW’s Arrow, again expressed his interest in being part of the movie version of the DC Universe, and that he could stand up against Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and fans would be good with it.  We agree, and in fact, we think Season Two has so far exceeded our expectations, and Amell’s performance as Oliver Queen far surpassed what Cavill did with Superman this summer in Man of Steel, that the producers would be wise to consider including Green Arrow in the Batman vs. Superman movie.  Much of Amell’s success in his role comes from his visible belief in his character, his physical skill and acting ability, all which comes through on the small screen. The rest of the series’ success is the good writing, and fans of the TV series who can’t get enough each Wednesday have had another option this year via a weekly comic book digital tie-in series that was reprinted in twelve monthly issues.

Grell Arrow art panels

Consisting of 37 chapters that read like short stories, Arrow the comic book was created by writers from the TV series including Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg as well as guest writers, and drawn by classic Green Arrow artist Mike Grell and a host of other DC Comics artists including Sergio Sandoval and Eric Nguyen, and photo covers and new art covers by Mike Grell, Phil Hester, and others.  The book expanded the series by giving fans insight into each week’s TV episode.  One week you could find backstory on Helena Bertinelli, the next a flashback of John Diggle’s experience as a soldier, and some weeks featured Oliver’s encounters back on the island.  With so many opportunities to touch on Oliver Queen and the series supporting characters, the title turned into an anthology series with plenty of potential.

Grell interior art Arrow series

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The first year of Dynamite Comics’ spin-off of NBC’s Grimm TV series has taken Nick Burkhardt, a cop and one of a family of Grimms who fight cloaked monsters living among us, and plucked him from his native Portland, Oregon of the TV series and spun him across Europe.  He’s in search of his mother, Kelly—also a Grimm–and three gold coins that have the power of influence akin to the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books.  He’s brought along his partner, Detective Hank Griffin and Blutbad friend Monroe, and their quest to find Nick’s mom becomes woven into a political battle for control of the coins, first introduced in the TV series.

A whole bevy of writers, plot by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt and script by Marc Gaffen and Kyle McVey, create a believable tale far away from the events in Portland in the series’ first eight issues.  This means the comic book is a true spin-off—it doesn’t interfere with the fact that Nick’s girlfriend had amnesia for most of the overlapping timeframe, or that Monroe’s girlfriend is away caring for a sick relative.  It also means the writers can introduce yet a third Grimm, a fighter named Maya who is a pawn of those elements that oppose Nick’s efforts.  Or is she after the coins, too?

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An escape via a deep dive into an oceanic cave, chases through the streets of Spain and Italy, droves of attacking Wesen–all of these things would cost plenty for a TV series in location shoots and make-up expense, so the comic book medium allows an expansion in scope of the world of Grimm into corners that might not otherwise be easily visited.

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The Star Wars cover art 1

If you really want to see the best of popular comic book publishing titles in 2013, you need look no further than Dark Horse Comics’ series The Star Wars.  You have a great independent publishing house with the enviable license to the greatest genre franchise, add in an original script by a young, pre-fame George Lucas, an adaptation by Star Wars expert J.W. Rinzler, and the best interior art panel work in the industry, and you have the first four issues of a sci-fi classic in the making.

Regular comic book readers, and diehard Star Wars fans already know about The Star Wars, first a 1974 script that is the stuff of sci-fi legend that has sat in a file drawer for nearly four decades–Lucas’s first draft of Star Wars, before editing, when all the big fantasy ideas first danced around his mind, and now a limited edition monthly series.  What is amazing is that your average passing Star Wars fans may not be aware of this new comic book series that is bringing the original source material to the public for the first time in dense, colorful, action-packed pages.  We’re no doubt that the hardcover edition that will ultimately bring together the eight-issue series and a director’s edition due out next week (“The Official Guide to a Different Galaxy”) will be a mainstream bestseller.  Dark Horse Comics just needs to get this series in readers’ hands.

the-star-wars-1 cover

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hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug Bilbo

Review by C.J. Bunce

Like Star Wars or the first of any good trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was almost a standalone story, to be watched over and over again.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug jumps rights into the adventure and doesn’t relent until the final cliffhanger at film’s end.  The Desolation of Smaug’s triumph may be a sweeping and epic inclusion of more fantastical settings and strange, new worlds than any film before it, some beautiful in their colorful grandeur, others in their dark creepiness.  And more story and subplots are fit in to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the whole two hours and forty minute tour.

Dwarves The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug

It’s hard to say if this installment of The Hobbit is better than the first.  It’s a wondrous tale in the same way as the Harry Potter series included the stand-out episode Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Sure, it needs to be seen in the context of what comes before it, but wow, what a great ride in and of itself, almost literally.  We’d seen previews of the great dwarf barrel escape scene, but director Peter Jackson didn’t just squeeze in river ride as an afterthought.  It’s full of good humor and action, something like what we imagine George Lucas intended in his pod race scene, but this effort is successful, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of dwarves and elves alike, as they dodge the grotesque and foul Orcs under the leadership of two particularly nasty fellows, Azog (Manu Bennett) and Bolg (Lawrence Makoare).  Most of the action is over-the-top, but if you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound, and the arrows flying and dragon fire ablazing are what any fantasy fan could hope for.

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Star Wars 3 Ross cover

“In the Shadow of Yavin” is a great subtitle for this year’s regular monthly Star Wars series from Dark Horse Comics, although it inexplicably seemed to vanish from the series introductions after Issue #5.  Written by Brian Wood, the Star Wars monthly comic book series goes back to a key, relatively unexplored segment of the Star Wars universe–the period between the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and The Empire Strikes Back.  In 13 issues spanning this past year, readers could take a look back to their own vision of the future of Star Wars in the 1970s when all we knew were the events of that first movie and later, three novels by Brian Daley.  Of course this isn’t altogether new territory.  This period was examined by Marvel Comics following on their own adaptation of the first movie, the now classic comic book series created by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin, along with Carmine Infantino, Donald F. Glut and Rick Hoberg.

So how did this series fare?  The new Star Wars monthly (not to be confused with The Star Wars limited series or the several other Dark Horse Comics Star Wars Universe titles), is to comic books what “popcorn movies” are to cinema.   It’s a great mag that you can pick up and enjoy each month for what it is–images of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Darth Vader when their roles were much simpler.  Full of X-Wing and Tie-Fighter battles, it’s a print edition action movie, thanks to pencillers Carlos D’Anda and Ryan Kelly, and movie poster quality covers by Alex Ross.  We even get some fun exploration of Darth Vader’s banishment by the Emperor for losing the Death Star, and appearances by Boba Fett, who back in the day we wouldn’t meet until The Empire Strikes Back, and Mon Mothma, who we would not meet until Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars cover by Alex Ross

The addition of these key characters by Wood makes sense here.  They are inserted in the story in ways that don’t take away from their later introductions in the movies.  The addition of Boba Fett and Bossk may feel like a cheat to some, like adding bacon to your Iron Chef tourney meals, since it was their cloaked past and brief encounter in The Empire Strikes Back that created their mystique.  But this series isn’t about canon and detail as much as creating a fun serial.  This includes Luke and Wedge Antilles hanger deck scenes that may be inspired by the knuckledragger sequences of the Syfy Channel Battlestar Galactica TV series.

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Bionic Man Issue 20 cover by Mayhew

If you like action-centric stories then in 2013 you couldn’t get much better than Dynamite Publishing’s Bionic Man series.  Beginning first as co-writer with Phil Hester then continuing the series as solo writer, Aaron Gillespie quickly made Steve Austin his own, bringing forward the best of the 1970s TV series and updating Austin, O.S.I. chief Oscar Goldman, and Bionic Woman Jaime Sommers for a new generation of fans.

The Six Million Dollar Man, and Austin’s experiences as the world’s first real-life cyborg, is a great franchise for today, and Gillespie has taken advantage of modern technologies in his Issues #12 through this month’s Issue #26.  The Bionic Man has encountered everything from good uses for bluetooths to unexpected side-effects of cyber-hacking, and the introduction of hacker Floyd was one of Gillespie’s great updates to the franchise.  He knows his characters and story, enough to play with the characters in a light-hearted way, while keeping with the spirit of the original source material.

Bionic Man 15 cover

Some of the best additions to Austin’s story include Floyd hacking into his brain computer and appearing as a pink My Little Pony inspired avatar that keeps perplexing the cyborg spy.  It’s a great (and hilarious) device to allow the characters to give jabs at each other, and it provides a relaxed moment for Jaime Sommers’ lost memories of her relationship with Steve to slowly begin to return.

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Almost Human partners

This year’s TV series Almost Human had the potential to be a big hit, with movie star Karl Urban as one of the two lead actors, and a classic sci-fi plot that looked like it would mix RoboCop, Alien Nation, Blade Runner, and Total Recall.  After a fun but uncertain pilot episode, it has managed to deliver each week the kind of science fiction stories that are stuff of classic TV.  Almost Human isn’t just sci-fi, it’s a full-blown police procedural drama, and a good old-fashioned buddy cop show to boot.

The series centers on megastar-film actor Karl Urban’s future cop, Detective John Kennex.  Kennex is a grumpy guy with baggage, a past encounter gone bad resulted in the death of his partner and the need for a cybernetic leg.  Early detractors of the series likened his Kennex too much to his similarly gruff Doctor McCoy from the new Star Trek movies.  It’s a fair comparison.  But we don’t care.  They are both great characterizations and the miserable, tough guy routine is separable and fun to watch, especially Kennex’s banter with co-star Michael Ealy as almost human robot cop Dorian, an android of a decommissioned type who has become Kennex’s partner.  In fact, the buddy cop routine will make you think of your favorite buddy cop shows, in the league of Alien Nation, Adam-12, Life on Mars, Hot Fuzz, Dragnet, Life, White Collar, and Starsky and Hutch.

Almost Human buddy cops

This week’s episode was emblematic of why the series is destined to continue as long as the network will let it.  The writers basically took the plot from a classic episode of Law and Order about pacemakers being refurbished and placed in new people.  Here, that concept is blended with a current political item: what happens if there is no Affordable Care Act in the future, and a current element of technology some people use every day: the prepaid cell phone.  So how did the writers put it all together?

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