Archive for March, 2018


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you only could choose one book to represent the potential–maybe even the highest form–of the comic book medium, a new book hitting the stands today may be on your short list.  IDW Publishing is releasing a stunning anthology of the history of the Holocaust as seen in comic books of the past, presented with an introduction and afterword by Stan Lee, the creator who broke more stereotypes in his stories than anyone in comic books’ first century.  In We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust, artist Neal Adams, who changed the way comic book stories were told in the early 1970s with his Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman series, Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff, and comics historian Craig Yoe have compiled what is arguably the most noble use of comic books–educating kids in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s on a subject of history virtually ignored in mainstream circles.  Along with Congressman John Lewis’s March series about the civil rights movement, We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust should be in every library and taught in every history class.

My high school history teacher was astonished to learn none of us knew the details of Watergate–we were only infants at the time–and I recall the realization he saw of what he and his peers were not teaching. This weekend my eighteen-year-old nephew mentioned watching the footage of 9-11 in school this year for the first time.  In the 1980s only the last paragraph of the last chapter of our World History textbooks discussed the Holocaust, yet we at least spent a week talking about the subject.  But not until the 1990s was the Holocaust taught in most of American school systems.  Even today only 35 states require education in the subject in school curriculums.  Certainly the most important lessons in history can be taught with its study, and in that light We Spoke Out should serve as a wake-up call to everyone, citizens, educators, and leaders.  Oddly enough, for generations of American kids, the only place they learned about the murder of six million Jews, the stories of concentration camps, of the atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazis, was in the comics pages.

   

The stories in the anthology present the atrocities of World War II without the overdone blood and gore of many 1950s “horror” comics.  In an April 1955 story from Impact Issue #1 we meet a Jewish man post-War still haunted by his memories in what would now be called PTSD.  In the pages of December 1951’s Frontline Combat, Issue #3 story the then-lauded Nazi general Rommel is dressed down, revealing the villainous truths of his leadership in the face of contemporary efforts to re-invent Rommel as a military hero.  Based on the real-life Nazi Ilse Koch, in a story from Beware! Terror Tales, Issue #4, we are reminded of the vilest of humans who made household goods from the tattooed skin of captured Jews–a real-life horror some may think is only the stuff of fiction from Silence of the Lambs.  Among these stories ripped from real life, Adams, Medoff, and Yoe fill in the blanks of time with historical context, including details of what the stories leave out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Already taking in more than $1 billion at the box office, Marvel’s Black Panther is one of the biggest and most successful movies to come out of any genre or studio.  This is the third day and final look at the major tie-in books that have been developed for Black Panther fans here at borg.com.  The first book (reviewed here) consists primarily of concept art for the film, the second book (reviewed here) features the history of Black Panther in the comic books, and this next book, Black Panther: The Official Movie Special showcases the film in photographs with a behind the scenes view of the making of the film.

Fans of the film will love the many 8″ x 11″ stills featuring key characters and scenes.  The book includes interviews with actors Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, and Winston Duke, stunt/fight coordinator Clayton J. Barber, costume designer Ruth Carter, special effects coordinator Jesse Noel, Marvel Studios president and “mastermind” Kevin Feige, and director Ryan Coogler.

Part souvenir book, part photo guide, Black Panther: The Official Movie Special also includes sections on the setting of the film in Wakanda and on the film’s newly designed fantasy-world props.  The section on Ruth Carter includes images of costumes and some of her early concept designs.  Other interviews are interspersed throughout the book with behind-the-scenes set photos.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The most rewarding and epic read of all the new Black Panther movie tie-ins is Marvel’s Black Panther: The Illustrated History of a King–The Complete Comics Chronology from Insight Editions, an enormous over-sized look at the history of the superhero in Marvel Comics.  Author Dennis Culver recounts the character from its origin up to the new film, including descriptions of the superhero’s classic story arcs, with full-sized reproductions of cover art, full-page copies of key pages, and even some larger-than-life panels and splash page art.

Culver’s history of the character doesn’t miss a beat or classic creator reference.  Created by Stan Lee himself as the first black superhero, drawn by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott and first appearing in the pages of Fantastic Four.  He became an adversary of the team and would return facing off against Captain America in Tales of Suspense and then the Captain America monthly.  What may surprise those only familiar with the film is that with only some minor tweaks to the character, the origin story is as reflected in the new film:  T’Challa is king of Wakanda, who must face an arch-enemy named Klaw who has stolen some of the rare substance called vibranium.  Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Vince Colletta would take over creative duties as Black Panther joined the pages of The Avengers, with other creators working on the books including Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, Bob Brown, and Ron Wilson.  Don McGregor would write Black Panther into the pages of Jungle Action with a huge roster of artists including Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson, P. Craig Russell, and Bob McLeod.  This would also be the introduction of the villain Erik Killmonger in the lauded “Panther’s Rage” story arc.  The movie got this right as well, with Killmonger taking over and throwing Black Panther to his near-death over Warrior Falls.  Some call this story arc the first of the mature, graphic novel stories that would later usher in books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

Jack Kirby would write and illustrate Black Panther in his own solo title finally in January 1977.  A decade later Ed Hannigan would bring back the hero (after Kirby’s title wound down) in the pages of The Defenders, with Black Panther facing Namor the Sub-Mariner (who would clash with each other  over the next two decades).  T’Challa had appearances in Marvel Team-Up, two limited series, and Marvel Comics Presents–including a run with Gene Colan and Denys Cowan art–in the 1980s and early 1990s.  As the millenium closed, Christopher Priest would write a new update to the character, inserting more humor into the stories, followed by stories from creator Reginald Hudlin and art by John Romita, Jr.–with a return of Klaus Janson, all under the Marvel Knights banner.  This series would bring in characters Everett Ross and T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who would appear in the film, and love interest Storm from the X-Men.  From there the character was subsumed into myriad Marvel crossovers with the rest of the publisher’s pantheon of heroes, including Civil War, Secret Invasion, and more recent series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With this year’s hit blockbuster film Black Panther, Marvel Studios has offered superhero genre fans a truly original movie in its 18-film arsenal of live-action adaptations from the comic book world’s best-loved superheroes.  A few new books on Black Panther that we’re reviewing here at borg.com delve into everything from the comic book history of T’Challa in Marvel Comics to a photographic review of the best scenes from the film.  The concept artwork behind the film takes center stage in The Art of Black Panther from Marvel Publishing, compiled by Eleni Roussos, and featuring a foreword by director Ryan Coogler.

The Art of Black Panther reveals all the ways the hidden country of Wakanda might have looked, giving fans insight into the process taken by the production designers, set designers, and digital artists.  The environmental designs for the hidden world of Wakanda, including several versions of concept art created for each set and location, make up roughly half of the book.  The rest features multiple incarnations of costumes, jewelry and cultural props considered for both key cast and background characters.  The book consists mostly of digitally created art, but plenty of painted work and pencil studies are included, too.  As with previous books in Marvel’s film artbook series, don’t look for much explanatory text as this is primarily a visual compilation of the concept art without reference to the final as-photographed images from the film (if photos of actual sets and actors in costume are what you’re after, come back later to borg.com as we review another new book that features photos from the film).

Nicely designed with gorgeous concept art, The Art of Black Panther is a 240-page hardcover welcoming readers to Wakanda in a glossy binding, housed in a slipcase holder featuring artwork from the film.  Readers can see how production designer Hannah Beachler and her team of artists went beyond the source material for the inspired designs that became Marvel’s newest fantasy world, incorporating Jack Kirby and decades of his artistic progeny from the comic books.  Each of the key characters you’d expect get plenty of coverage.  Readers will find hundreds of images of Ruth E. Carter’s costume designs for King T’Challa, Killmonger, Nakia, Okoye, Shuri, W’Kabi, Queen Ramonda, Zuri, T’Chaka, the Tribe Elders, and more.

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Ten years in the planning.  Eighteen movies.  All of it the brainchild of master Marvel universe coordinator Kevin Feige.  Yet it’s still only halfway through the third act or Phase III of the grand Marvel Cinematic Universe saga.  Marvel Studios has promised to tie everything together, including every magical talisman holding the six Infinity Stones–in directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, the first of a two-part story, originally divided into simply parts 1 and 2.  The studio released a new trailer this weekend explaining more about the plot, plus a new poster for the movie that somehow crams in every key hero that will be packed into the movie.  Call it a St. Patrick’s Day present for Marvel fans.

And that’s a roll call that includes headliners Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Spider-man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackey), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wong (Benedict Wong), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Sean Gunn) and Groot (Terry Notary), Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt).

Presumably the poster and trailer don’t tell all, so we’ll be looking for most of the support team to have an appearance, too, including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), The Collector (Benicio del Toro) and Heimdall (Idris Elba)–both listed on the poster in fine print, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Aunt Mae (Marisa Tomei), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Happy (Jon Favreau).  And they will all face off against Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Black Order members/Thanos’s children: Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary) and two characters expected to be voiced by familiar, but as yet unnamed, actors: Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight.  And a new name: Peter Dinklage is listed at the bottom of the poster.  Who will he portray?

So check out this trailer where the Marvel Cinematic Universe–The Avengers, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy–come together in one film: Avengers: Infinity War: Continue reading

It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films.  Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story.  In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area.  The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films.  Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time.  Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese have heralded the film.  Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo.  And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.

Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film.  Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on.  And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past.  You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).

Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie.  John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence.  Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes.  The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.

But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorsese summed up the music his way:  “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again…  And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair.  Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”  Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a new generation, the new adventure-thriller Tomb Raider may be an entry point into the adventure genre.  If you like the concepts in Tomb Raider, you’re likely to love adventure classics like that other “raider,” Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy, and Disney’s National Treasure series.  Tomb Raider borrows much from these movies, even key sequences that serve as the high points of the film.  The film itself?  It’s all about that upper-body strength and holding on for dear life.  (How many action films feature the hero holding on to the edge of a precipice with one hand anyway?)  It’s good, not great, but a fun enough popcorn flick for a late winter release, particularly to see someone the size of Alicia Vikander racing through all the required harrowing action scenes.  She leaps, fights, sprints, and dodges pitfalls, and gets kicked, punched, and bruised in a part typically reserved for the likes of Dwayne Johnson.

In the role last explored by Angelina Jolie, Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ex Machina, Jason Bourne) becomes video game heroine Lara Croft, only this version of the story is more rooted in the real world, with less heroine posing and no cocky catch phrases–and more sweat.  The new Tomb Raider definitely fits alongside past video game adaptations, better than the prior films in the franchise, and nudging out more recent video game adaptations Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed.  Unfortunately it comes on the heels of the immensely entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which opted for humor instead of drama.  This isn’t a comedy, but would have benefited from some more levity along the way.

For an adventure about secrets and riddles, it doesn’t present much for the audience to sleuth out, as was done so well in the entertaining National Treasure movies But to its credit it has some good special effects and exceptional chase sequences that are best viewed on the big screen.  And this Lara Croft is always being chased or running from something.  A bicycle race early on and a foot chase across boats docked off the coast of Hong Kong are filmed like a riveting James Bond opener.  And an escape through raging rapids at the edge of a waterfall is perfectly executed and full-on exciting (in a good theater your acrophobia and claustrophobia may even kick in).  The overall plot is a bit thin–Lara receives a key left by her father as she is about to sign an affidavit acknowledging his death and her inheritance, and she pursues clues to his secret work that leave her stranded on a secluded, legendary island housing an ancient tomb.  This is about a fantasy video game character, so if you can push aside reality you may have a really good time.

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Harry Potter fandom shows no signs of slowing down, thanks in part to J.K. Rowling herself.  Just when we thought the Harry Potter universe had come to an end with Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she took her layered fantasy world across the ocean and introduced fans to Newt Scamander and a legion of new creature creations in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Now she’s giving her fans even more with the next chapter in the world of wizards and muggles, and giving us an early look at one of her most beloved characters.

That’s right, the 2018 sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald stars Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, who is teaming up with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander against a new foe we only got a sneak peek at in the finale of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindlewald.  Warner Bros. has just released the first trailer for the new film and it looks like it might just rival the last chapter in the saga.

Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol will return as the adorable couple Jacob and Queenie, and Katherine Waterston is back as the magical auror Tina Goldstein.  Newcomers to the series include Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange (who seems to be a likely relative of Bellatrix later on) and Ezra Miller (Justice League) as Credence Barebone.

Check out this first trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you don’t follow international politics you may find it a strange thing when the current affairs of a country far away has eerily similar relevance to the affairs of your own country.  Americans will see that in a big way as “four days in the life” of local government and police affairs in London is the theme of a new four-part British mini-series called Collateral, just released on Netflix.  Sporting that “ripped from the headlines” vibe of the short-lived series Law & Order: UK, Collateral is probably not as thrilling as Homeland or State of Play, but it’s far more compelling and interesting than most recent detective mystery fare like the dreary but ambitious series Broadchurch.  It’s enough that Collateral is worth watching for the showcase of acting talent it features.  Not particularly gritty or fresh as all the police procedurals that have come and gone, and not full of any real surprises for a mystery series, Collateral feels less like a limited, finite series and more like the beginning of a new TV drama.  And it’s a good beginning.

Headlining Collateral is a Doctor Who fan’s dream team: Star of the best reviewed Doctor Who episode of its 50-year run, Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go, Mudbound) played Sally Sparrow in the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” and here she stars as an eight-year veteran of the police force, now pregnant (since Mulligan was pregnant while filming) and recognizable to locals in the city as a professional pole vaulter who ended her career with a well-televised bad landing.  It’s this level of character backstory that doesn’t add much to the plot of this four-episode arc, but provides prime fodder if the BBC were to pick up a full-series run.  Mulligan takes to the role quite well–her character is not quirky or much of a stand-out, just another detective working a case–and that fits the story.  The Master from Doctor Who, John Simm (Life on Mars, Intruders, State of Play) seems to fit well in any role and he’s perfect again here, starring in at least his third series featuring human smuggling.  He portrays a local official who is pulled into the murder of a Syrian pizza delivery boy.  His ex-wife was the pizza boy’s last stop, and she is played by Billie Piper, who portrayed the long-time Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler.  We get to see Piper in a very different role for her here, as a rather nasty mother of two who is a bit of a disaster herself even before the crime appeared in front of her apartment, in part due to her drug use and inability to move beyond her ex-husband.

The series is directed by S.J. Clarkson, well-known for many episodes of quality mystery television.  Clarkson knows her turf well, and she deftly handles what complexity and interconnected subplots the script provides.  She has directed great television from Life on Mars to Heroes, House, M.D. to Bates Motel, plus both The Defenders and Jessica Jones.  So viewers can trust they’re in good hands with this show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two and a half years since we first met Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones in Marvel’s television universe.  Although we saw her as just one of the many super-powered characters packed into Marvel’s The Defenders last year, despite all she’s been through not much has changed with the private investigator.  That same angry, tough, bitter, and unhappy anti-hero is the same person we meet at the beginning and at the end of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, now appearing on Netflix.  For fans of the fringe of the Marvel superhero world where little fun is to be had, Ritter’s gritty heroine stands alongside The Punisher (our favorite superhero series last year).  Yet despite its heavy dramatic component, it’s very much a superhero show, providing a complete picture of the downside of possessing superhero powers created by chemicals in a lab–a key fact of life for so many Marvel creations, including The Hulk, Deadpool, Luke Cage, the Fantastic Four, the Winter Soldier, etc.  For those viewers that thought Jessica Jones’s first season was the best TV had to offer, good luck comparing which is best after watching the second season.

But it’s not really Jessica who shines in Season 2 as much as the supporting characters, and the series doesn’t really reach its stride until Episode 7.  The real standout for Season 2 is a new super-powered character created by the same mad scientists that created Jessica Jones, actor Janet McTeer’s new complex antagonist Alisa.  Alisa is a driven, unstoppable human machine attached to a fantastic, layered core.  Alisa is older and wiser and far more powerful than Jessica or anyone else we’ve seen from the Netflix Marvel realm.  Two scenes with Alisa playing the piano really reveal what viewers are in for (and the cast of characters is up against).  Unfortunately for Alisa and everyone that she touches, she’s been pushed to the extremes, resulting in a decisively volatile foe.  As with Marvel’s Killmonger in this season’s big screen movie Black Panther, calling Alisa the villain of the show omits much about the character.  A cold-blooded killer?  Sure.  But even the worst can still have hope for redemption, especially if what made them bad in the first place was never their fault.  Or can it?

Right along with Alisa, Jessica’s step-sister Trish “Patsy” Walker–Jessica’s rather bland supporter and confidante in Season 1–really leaps into action in a breakaway performance that aims toward Linda Hamilton’s tough-as-nails heroine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Credit the acting range required of actor Rachael Taylor this time around and a stellar character arc created for her by the writing team of Melissa Rosenberg, Jack Kenny, Aïda Mashaka Croal, Gabe Fonseca, Lisa Randolph, Jamie King, Raelle Tucker, Hillie Hicks, Jr., Jenny Klein, and Jesse Harris.  Viewers may want to strangle Trish by the halfway mark in the season, but just wait–she only gets in deeper as the series progresses.

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