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Archive for December, 2014


Phil Noto Black Widow

The last day of the year is finally here, and with that the last of our reviews of the best content of 2014.

We’ve previewed comic books each month thanks to publishers like Dynamite Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, BOOM! Studios, and Image.  We sample the best of all that Marvel and DC Comics has to offer, too, and although we don’t have enough time to review everything we review those titles we think our readers might like to check out, especially those with a sci-fi, fantasy, or retro angle.  And we read plenty of books–sci-fi and fantasy, pulp and spy novels, movie and TV tie-ins, even Westerns and steampunk, as well as non-fiction books about movies, TV, and other genre topics.  This past month we have looked again at these titles, as we narrowed our selections to what we think are the very best.  So here are our picks for Best in Print for 2014.

Black-Widow-5

Best Comic Book Series — Black Widow, Marvel Comics.  We were wondering early on what would take the place of Fraction and Hollingsworth’s Hawkeye series for the most satisfying superhero fix.  It didn’t take long to see this other Marvel series looking at another superhero in a similarly personal–but very different–way.  It was a standout in a great year of comics.  Phil Noto’s art and colors were incredible and Nathan Edmondson’s story didn’t let up once.  Full of action, espionage, and intrigue.  A great series to catch-up on in a trade edition.  See our reviews of the series here and here.

AfterlifeWithArchie_07-0

Best Comic Book Mini-Series — Afterlife with Archie, Archie Comics.  Who would have guessed someone could make Archie and friends so accessible to any demographic in the 2010s?  And whose brilliant idea was doing it via a horror genre story of zombies taking over Riverdale?  Smart writing by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and spooky atmospheric illustrations by Francesco Francavilla made for a sumptuous series like no other.  Not technically a mini-series, it feels like one because of its staggered release.  See our earlier raves about the series here.

Wilds End issue 1

Best Comic Book Writing – Dan Abnett, Wild’s End, BOOM! Studios.  Abnett’s Wild’s End really caught us by surprise.  An incredible fantasy read that is truly unique from BOOM! Studios.  Anthropomorphic characters with incredible archaic dialogue that’s witty and smart.  A crazy mash-up of War of the Worlds, Christopher Robin’s neighborhood, and the dark edge and high stakes of Revival.  We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of this series.  Check out our earlier review here.

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Gruffudd star of ABC Forever

We love good TV.  Nothing is better than looking forward each week to a show you can trust to have great writing and great acting.  We’ve made our way through several series again this year, trying out pilots for new shows and adding them into the DVR queue–if they made the cut.  Many didn’t.  We also re-try series that didn’t prompt us to watch in prior years.  Most lose out because they rely on shock over substance and storytelling.  Where we ended up was a list of what we love, and what we have recommended all year.  These series are our Best of the Best for 2014.

Our biggest disappointments?  The cancellations of the brilliant, futuristic Almost Human and the reboot of the TV classic Dallas–these shows were written by the best script writers around and will be sorely missed.  We hope you’ll give some of the following shows a try next year, or catch them on streaming media, if you’re not watching already.

Forever De la Garza and Gruffudd

ForeverBest TV Series, Best TV Fantasy Fix, Best Actor (Ioan Gruffudd), Best Actress (Alana de la Garza), Best Supporting Actor (Judd Hirsch), Best Villain (Burn Gorman).  Contenders for the year’s best series were easy to spot:  ABC’s Forever or NBC’s Gotham.  In years past at borg.com we have favored cable programming, yet this year the networks surged ahead with these two superb series.  Forever nudged out Gotham for top prize because of its straightforward storytelling, small talented cast, superb dialogue, and fun situations.  Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Ringer, Fantastic Four) and Alana de la Garza (Law and Order) were perfect foils for each other in the lead roles, and each created compelling characters.  Judd Hirsch played son to younger Gruffudd’s unsinkable doctor and gave us the best father and son team on TV in years.  Burn Gorman’s chilling performances toward the end of this season were a great addition, setting us up for more fun next year.

Gotham clip

GothamBest TV Series Runner-up, Best Supporting Actress (Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney), Best Supporting Actor Runner-up (Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock).  NBC’s Gotham did many things we normally wouldn’t like, including taking source material and standing it on end and adding new characters to a classic story’s established cast.  Yet it all worked somehow with this intriguing re-imagining of Bruce Wayne’s backstory.  Catwoman and Batman were friends as kids?  The Penguin was a mole and stooge for key crime families?  Commissioner Gordon took Bruce Wayne under his wing as a child?  All of this worked, yet the best view into Gotham life was provided by Gordon’s partner, played by Donal Logue (Life, Vikings), and Jada Pinkett Smith’s sultry and ruthless gangster Fish Mooney.

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emily-blunt-edge-of-tomorrow

What a busy year!  We took in more content this year than ever before, reading more books, watching more TV series, and reviewing more movies.  Wading through all that Hollywood had to offer, we try to hone in on the genre films and TV series we think are worth our time.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual “Best of the Best” list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on movies.  Come back for more of our picks tomorrow.  If you missed any of these films this year, check them out when they arrive on video or digital release.

Edge of Tomorrow Omaha Beach scene

Edge of TomorrowBest Film of the Year, Best Science Fiction Fix, Best Action Fix, Best Actress (Emily Blunt), Best Supporting Actor (Bill Paxton).  The benefit of Blu-rays/DVDs is the ability to go back and verify whether a movie was as good as you remembered it in the theater.  Of all the top genre films of the year, including Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past, it was Edge of Tomorrow that became an addictive re-watch, to see all those great, funny scenes, like Tom Cruise’s demoted soldier rolling under the jeep, and Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski destroying all those aliens.  Rita was the best character we saw this year–anywhere–and Blunt provided the best performance.  Superb sci-fi components?  Check.  Superb action sequences?  Check.  With top-notch acting by Blunt and Bill Paxton.  This will be the movie of 2014 that we one day will re-watch just like we re-watch Aliens and Predator today.

Guardians in prison

Guardians of the GalaxyBest Superhero Fix, Best Actor Runner-up (Dave Bautista), Best Supporting Actress (Zoe Saldana), Best Villain (Lee Pace), Best Soundtrack, Best Rock Album.  It was the perfect blend of B-level superheroes and a space fantasy like we hadn’t seen since the original Star Wars.  A surprisingly fun ride.  Guardians introduced the world to Dave Bautista, who will likely get more and more popular in 2015 and beyond.  His serious but comedic Drax may have been the best part of a great cast of new characters.  Zoe Saldana created her best genre role so far and Lee Pace’s Ronan was a perfect comic book villain.  And those tunes on Starlord’s Walkman!  What was more fun this year than Rocket and Groot?

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Star Wars 5 cover   Dark Empire 4

The decade after Return of the Jedi premiered in theaters in 1983 was a dark period for fans of the Force.  The only place to get a glimpse of a possible future for the Star Wars universe was in Marvel Comics, but that fizzled out in 1986.  In that same year Mike Richardson’s Dark Horse began publishing comics and five years later, in 1991, Dark Horse published the exciting Dark Empire series, its first Star Wars title under its license with Lucasfilm.  The next year Timothy Zahn launched the first book in a trilogy, Heir to the Empire, and between Zahn’s books and subsequent novels and Dark Horse’s various titles, fans could at last revisit their favorite characters and places, in the same way fans of Star Trek had been able to enjoy that franchise for decades.

With Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney, Disney has already taken over the Star Wars novels, resulting in some fun reads in the past year (see our advance reviews here and here).  Beginning in January a new Star Wars series begins, back at Marvel Comics, throwing out the continuity developed over 23 years at Dark Horse.  Fans should have no fear, as writers and artists from the Dark Horse years are already creating the architecture of the Empire and Rebellion for Marvel.  What is uncertain is the fate of the hundreds of comic books in the Dark Horse catalog, since Dark Horse may not sell any of those after this Thursday, January 1, 2015.  Marvel Comics will likely re-publish the bestsellers under its new “Legends” brand, but it’s not known whether more obscure titles will be offered for years if ever again.

Star Wars mega bundle excerpt Dark Horse

So Dark Horse is going out in style, and as always, looking out for its readers, offering 50% off single-issue digital comics on its website, plus a “Farewell Star Wars Bundle,” all of Dark Horse’s digital Star Wars issues for $300.  At first blush this appears to be 568 issues of comic books, but if you delve deeper you’ll see it also includes the full run of Marvel’s Star Wars issues #1-107, plus a few dozen issues in each of 12 other included “Omnibus” editions.  You’d pay $1,000 easily for those in single issues of Marvel’s Star Wars run today.  So basically you’re getting hundreds of comic books, many with cover prices at more than $3.50, for less than 50 cents each.  But there’s more reasons this bundle is a real deal.

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THE IMITATION GAME

Review by C.J. Bunce

Math?  When am I going to use that in the real world?

Not every mathematician is eccentric like Alan Turing was.  Yet the standout math wizards that make it to the screen have included the likes of math geniuses John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), making you think a pattern exists–that quirky is a pre-requisite to mathematical genius.  We discussed before here at borg.com Andrew Wiles, the modern-day problem solving genius who solved Fermat’s Theorem.  Wiles seemed teetering on the edge of sanity as he locked himself away to solve a seemingly impossible math riddle, as documented in the brilliant NOVA film, The Proof.

The common tie between Nash, Hawking, and Wiles is the pursuit of the theoretical.  Fermat’s Theorem was merely a puzzle, sitting untouched for hundreds of years with no real-world application.  The average person doesn’t want to take the time to understand the practical significance of math theory, of solving math problems, and theorizing about scientific answers to the many ways we ask the question “why?”  The story of Alan Turing is different, and his story may be a key to spread understanding of what mathematicians can do to a wider reach, as explored in the holiday weekend release The Imitation Game. 

Mark Strong Benedict Cumberbatch

If you’ve studied World War II or seen the Gregory Peck World War II film Twelve O’Clock High, you’ll recall the unrelenting pounding Allied forces were taking in the middle of the war, losing bombers day after day, flying missions with no end in sight to keep up the momentum against Germany.  It was a job that had to succeed–failure was not an option.  While politicians strategized, generals planned raids, and soldiers fought and died, Alan Turing was trying to build a machine that would break the code machine called Enigma that the Nazis were using to communicate.  Hidden in the open, in front of the world, over encrypted radio waves, were instructions between German commanders and field forces on all their movements.  It’s the practical nature of what Turing accomplished that might sell some on the potential relevance of math.  The fact that his “Turing machine” was the predecessor to the modern computer should attract anyone to this fascinating story.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Annual 1

On the comic books shelves this month is Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1–one of those rare issues that matches a stellar cover artist with a stellar interior artist.  In this case both of those people are Frank Cho.  When Frank Cho creates a complete end-to-end book, he always provides something to attract readers, both with his stunning characters, action-packed panels, and subtle visual humor.  We saw this last year with his exciting run on the Savage Wolverine series.  That same quality of artwork is matched here with the comparable writing prowess of Marvel’s Guardians scribe, Brian Michael Bendis.  And the result is a fun, powerhouse read, and a darned-near perfect book.

Often annuals are quick stories that don’t offer much memorable.  They’re gimmicky efforts to sell another issue behind a monthly series.  The Guardians’ first annual is not like that.  It will stick with you as a story you want to know more about, with ramifications you would love to see play out in future books.

Guardians Annual 1 excerpt

The standard Guardians of The Galaxy team is here.  It’s a team both readers of the series and film fans will be familiar with, both in look and via their dialogue and mannerisms: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot.  Added here for great fun is Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers and Spidey-verse superhero Venom.  They encounter a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier in space, which prompts them to meet up with the likes of the classic Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and a team of other familiar heroes, who introduce a dark menace to the Guardians team.

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X-Files X-mas Special cover A

Review by C.J. Bunce

The X-Files Season 10 is one of IDW Publishing’s best series, following Mulder and Scully and friends in their ongoing exploits following the TV series and two films.  The spin-off mini-series The X-Files: Year Zero followed Mulder and Scully in the present day as they pursue a case first investigated by the original keepers of the FBI’s X-Files, Bing Ellinson and Minnie Ohio.  This year both of these series shared a combination of good storytelling, evocative imagery, and familiarity of the well-loved characters that made for required reading for genre fans.

This week IDW is releasing a rare, prestige format holiday one-shot: The X-Files X-mas Special.  It includes two unrelated stories, one about Mulder and Scully in the present day, and a second about the 1940s’ duo and their encounter with a creepy character that very well could be the vile holiday elf Krampus.

X-Files X-mas Special cover B

The first story, “Season 10 Greetings,” comes from the creative team of writer Joe Harris, artist Matthew Dow Smith, and colorist Jordie Bellaire.  The 1940s FBI team story “Merry Christmas, Comrade!” was written by Karl Kesel, with art by Matthew Southworth, and colors by Matheus Lopes.

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Funko Reaction logo

Last week we reported on Funko CEO Brian Mariotti’s “12 Days of Christmas” daily blog posts revealing the company’s new product offerings for 2015.  This included the increasingly successful Kenner-inspired, ReAction retro action figure line, which has spread like wildfire now that the various lines are hitting the masses thanks to Barnes & Nobles carrying the products in stores.  Mariotti revealed last week that 2015 will see new action figure series for the original Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Jaws, Terminator 2, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, Breaking Bad, and Boondock Saints.

Today Mariotti revealed the rest of the licensed properties that will be turned into carded 3 3/4 inch action figures by the end of next year.  As we had hoped, one of those properties is John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.  But now we know of twelve others.

Big Trouble in Little China movie poster

So what are the rest?  Drumroll, please…

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Star Wars Episode VII photo

We’ve just wound down another year of big movies–from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to X-Men: Days of Future Past to Guardians of the Galaxy to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. So what’s on the radar at borg.com for 2015? We think you’ll want to see several of these big sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and action flicks coming to a screen near you next year.

Vice movie poster Bruce Willis

Vice – Jan. 16 – The next in a long line of Bruce Willis action flicks.  This time it’s a sci-fi story about a future resort where humans freely pursue their vices–with artificial humans.

Wild Card movie poster

Wild Card – Jan. 30 – A story based on a novel by Academy Award winning writer William Goldman, starring Jason Statham as a gambler.

Kingsman movie poster

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Feb. 13 – This Colin Firth as spy action flick will tell us once and for all whether Firth would be a good choice to play James Bond.  With an all-star cast including Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Chappie movie poster A

Chappie – March 6 – Neill Blomkamp’s latest science fiction entry.  A Pinocchio story where a robot learns to live among humans.

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Kirk and Spock tunics

Star Trek is known for many things, but in its first run on television in 1966-1969 it was widely known for William Ware Theiss’s costumes, both the vibrant red, blue and yellow (or green depending on your television set) Starfleet uniforms, and the spectacular alien of the week outfits for a vast range of guest stars (especially the women).  But it wouldn’t end there.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 brought a new update to the costumes, and further revisions would occur throughout 11 more movies through 2013.  On a parallel track were the four TV series that continued the stories of the Federation and their friends and enemies: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, and Enterprise. 

Robert Blackman creator of TNG designs

Star Trek costume designer Robert Blackman looking at TNG first-season uniforms.

We learned earlier this year from a review of Facebook fans of Star Trek that their most desired costumes included the original series red Starfleet security tunic as worn by Scotty and the blue style worn by Mr. Spock, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s third-season two-piece uniform and his First Contact-style uniform, and the Horatio Hornblower-inspired red gabardine military coats worn by the original series cast between Star Trek II and Star Trek VII (and in flashbacks and parallel timelines throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation and Voyager). 

At long last, a single volume coming in 2015 will focus on the costumes of all the series.  It will also be the first time Enterprise will get some real attention in a non-fiction chronicle.

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