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Archive for April, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer Stuart Moore returns this month with a solid follow-up to his multiple superhero-spanning novel Civil War, reviewed here at borg Titan Books has released the tenth book in its Marvel Comics-based series of prose paperback novels, Moore’s Thanos: Death Sentence Originally published in 2017, this is its first paperback release.  If you’re after a story about Thanos, if you love the character and want to know what makes him tick, and the circumstances around wielding that kind of power during the events of Avengers: Infinity War, then Thanos: Death Sentence is for you.  Those familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Infinity War will find no spoilers for the film in this story, and it may just get you excited for the release of Avengers: Endgame in theaters next week.

It’s probably better knowing something about this story before jumping into the dense 336-page novel.  Exciting, brilliant detailed superhero crossover events highlight the novel’s first 100 pages.  In a parallel but different take on Infinity War, readers see Thanos kill off nearly every major superhero in the Marvel universe.  It’s quite fun to read how Moore has Thanos do it, not with a single snap and turn to dust for everyone, but a specific, tailored death sentence for each hero.  Wielding the Soul Stone Spider-Man gets relegated to re-live the death of his uncle through his own inaction, for infinity.  Ben Grimm gets separated into his component stones and dispersed throughout the cosmos.  With the Space Stone Thanos strands Captain Marvel beyond the solar system.  The Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Vision, Prince Namor, Black Panther, all snuffed out.  And then it’s all undone.  And that’s only where this story begins.  The method of the undoing is not something that seems remotely possible for the movies–with far more characters introduced than we’re met on the big screen (since the entirety of the films were made before the merger with Fox to wrap in the rest of the Marvel characters).

Once the deaths are undone, Thanos the Mad Titan is forced to fight his way back to power by Mistress Death using the Infinity Wardrobe, pressed into the bodies of tangent characters in the lives of the famed Children of Thanos–his minions seen in Avengers: Infinity War: Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, plus his adopted daughter Gamora.

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It emerges from the nearly 20-year franchise about cars and action that began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious.  The ninth movie in the Fast & Furious franchise is on its way to theaters this summer, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Universal Pictures has released its second trailer–check it out below.  The five leads have ample action movie street cred, beginning with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, not only from their previous roles in the franchise.  In addition to his Time Magazine cover appearance as one of the most influential people of today, Johnson has busted heads in films including Walking Tall, The Mummy series, Get Smart, The Other Guys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Central Intelligence and the new Jumanji series, and, of course, there’s his wrestling days (and he wrestled Seven of Nine in a memorable Star Trek Voyager episode).  He’s already played Hercules, but coming soon look for him as Black Adam, Doc Savage, and he’s said to be in talks to play Jack Burton in a Big Trouble in Little China remake.  Statham’s own on-screen fight record goes back to three action movie series: The Transporter, The Expendables, and The Mechanic, plus The Italian Job, The Bank Job, and a bunch more, from Parker to last year’s The Meg. 

Although she hails from Plaza Sésamo, Eiza González earned her action film cred in Baby Driver, Alita: Battle Angel, and the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series.  Vanessa Kirby climbed the big peak in Everest and had her breakout performance just last year in Mission Impossible: Fallout.  As the film’s villain, you couldn’t ask for a better tough guy than Idris Elba, playing Heimdall in the Marvel movies, plus key roles in Star Trek Beyond, Prometheus, 28 Weeks Later, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Pacific Rim, and The Dark Tower).  And that’s Helen Mirren in the trailer, too, who also has a slate of badass roles in action films including the RED series, The Fate of the Furious, years of Prime Suspect, and the coming Luc Besson action movie Anna.

The Fast & Furious series has seen plenty of break-out performances along the way, including the span of the career of Paul Walker, and memorable roles for Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ted Levine, Ludacris, Lucas Black, Sung Kang, pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot in four of her first films, John Ortiz, Luke Evans, and Kurt Russell.  Former Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme stunt double-turned-director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) is directing this entry, bringing even more action movie experience to the film.

Check out the second trailer for A Ninth of Furious, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw:

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Dark Phoenix represents one of X-Men fans’ favorite classic X-Men stories.  We have already seen one take on the Dark Phoenix story, as Famke Janssen’s Jane Grey destroyed everyone she cares about in X-Men: The Last Stand, but after the timeline manipulation in X-Men Days of Future Past we learned again the lesson of the Terminator movies: The future’s not setThere’s no fate but what we make for ourselves–A common theme of comics, too, as characters are killed and reborn again and again.  Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg, and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain.  Kinberg has promised Dark Phoenix to be a more faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga.

For those of us who loved the X-Men movies, this is the winding down of a great era, highlighted by the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto.  Who will ever forget one of the finest adaptations to film of any superhero from any comic book as Evan Peters became Quicksilver, defending his fellow mutants in the Pentagon?  And the high point of any superhero movie (from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, or anyone else) must be the Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for Logan last year.  Like the competing films in the Avengers films, there were as many high as low points, but some greatness happened throughout X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

For Fox’s long string of connected X-Men films, this is the end.  Check out this final trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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If Classics Illustrated was ever your thing or you like peering into fantastical worlds, a new graphic novel series online will be worth checking out.  It’s not really about a fantasy setting as found in Black Panther or Flash Gordon or Tarzan or Conan, but it has the same appeal, the same visual cues, bold colors, and feel.  It’s Aztec Empire, by writer Paul Guinan (known for his time-bending mash-up Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and his participation in the documentary 24 Hour Comic) and comic artist David Hahn.  It features an incredible culture from the past along with good storytelling that will keep you coming back for more.  And it’s timed right, as this spring is the 500th anniversary of the events featured in the introductory pages of the series.

As with the Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Eric Shanower’s look at ancient Greece in his Age of Bronze graphic novel series, Aztec Empire is a heavily researched time travel voyage back into the daily lives of a people in history, in this case the period before the fall of the Aztec peoples to the Spanish in 1521, only three years after the arrival of Europeans.  Guinan researched dozens of primary sources (including contemporary writings from the 1500s) as well as secondary historical sources, and the end of each episode of his series provides six pages of equally fascinating explanatory annotations to the historical record to support each panel.  Some of these feature photographs of the source materials used to derive the look of references like glyphs on walls, or embellishments on character clothing.  In many ways Aztec Empire is an attempt to update the writings of the past with the benefit of today’s resources and knowledge, but its sources are very much contemporary to the events chronicled.  Human barbarism to other humans is also not reserved for only one side of the story–here the atrocities of each side of the conquest come to the fore.

Guinan is not only the series writer, he provides layouts, coloring, and lettering.  “In telling this story, my main challenge is keeping it as authentic as possible,” says Guinan.  “All the persons and events depicted in Aztec Empire are based on the factual record, with some extrapolation as to specific character motivations, dialogue, costume details, etc.  I’m cross-referencing primary sources from different viewpoints, looking at Mesoamerican and European sources with an awareness of their cultural biases as well as my own.”  Hahn designed the look of the characters and provides the finished pencil work and inks.  The combined artwork shares a style in common with the animated style of Doug Wildey and something of P. Craig Russell’s work on his illustrated novels.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

What’s it take to outperform a surprisingly successful supernatural series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina′s first season?  A core of fine writing in each episode of its second season and a returning cast of actors willing to immerse themselves unwaveringly into a strange world of the occult and the macabre, of witches and warlocks drawn from an expansive comic book universe.  That’s the sophomore season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which arrived on Netflix earlier this month, adapting the comic book series from the Archie Horror imprint.  Mainstream critics weren’t kind to the series in the first weekend of its release, and that may because the series is one best taken episode by episode–each chapter is its own mini-movie, weighty and twisty, dark and heavy–too heavy for one sitting–yet it’s still fun.  But it’s not recommended for binge watching.  Spread this one out over a few weeks and you may agree this is a fantastic series, steeped in mythology and lore, while also outlandish enough to not take too seriously.  And yes, it’s even better than its first season.

Two incredible actresses anchored Chilling Adventures of Sabrina again in the leading roles and two others provided gravitas in supporting roles.  Twenty-year-old actress Kiernan Shipka returned as a bolder and smarter 16-year-old Sabrina, facing off against her favorite teacher who is also the manipulative Lilith, played by Michelle Gomez, right arm of the Prince of Darkness.  It’s fair to say Gomez is fully the co-lead of the series–she is today’s master performer of villainy, following up on her performance as the villain we loved to hate, Misty the Timelord, in three seasons of Doctor Who.  If actors really love portraying villains more than any other type, then she is at the top of the league.  So it takes one heck of a performer to be able to stand firm against a performer like Gomez.  Shipka does it, never flinching no matter what the writers ask of her.  Kill (and play) her doppelganger?  Overpower everyone to save her cousin from the guillotine?  Discover and take down a trio of new demons in town?  Take on the devil himself?  Sabrina can do it all, but it’s only because Shipka never falters in every layered and surprising new script.

The stories this season pulled from past supernatural shows, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Harry Potter to Grimm, and incorporated all kinds of horror tropes (Hellraiser puzzle box?), peppered with clever pop culture references (Stepford Wives Zelda?).  It succeeded where its sister series, CW’s Riverdale, was unable this year, getting better with each episode.  Writers Donna Thorland, MJ Kaufman, Christina Ham, Oanh Ly, Ross Maxwell, Matthew Barry, Christianna Hedtke, Lindsay Bring, Joshua Conkel, and showrunner and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa stretched the boundaries of fantasy into a series like nothing anyone has ever seen on TV.

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After another day of Star Wars news via Star Wars Celebration 2019, including the teaser for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and leaked footage of Jon Favreau’s November series The Mandalorian on YouTube, Topps, the trading card company, has rolled out the first tie-in product for Episode IX, but you’ll need to act quickly if you want to get it.

Topps is the company that first issued Star Wars trading cards in 1977, eventually to include five different series of cards showcasing scenes from the film, puzzles, behind the scenes images, concept art, marketing images, stickers, and bubble gum.  In case you missed it, take a look at our past coverage of the history of Topps and the Star Wars franchise via our reviews at borg of these Abrams books: The Original Topps Trading Card Series books for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, plus Star Wars: Topps Classic Stickers, and Star Wars Galaxy.  We also looked at the great Rogue One Sketch Art Cards, The Force Awakens trading cards (similar to this set), and Mark Hamill′s creative autographs on Star Wars Topps trading cards across the years here.  Notably the first trading card series for Star Wars wasn’t issued by Topps at all, but via a Wonder Bread premium–a small set of 16 cards, available in marked loaves of the bread and via mail request.

A must for Topps Star Wars trading card collector completists, the first series for the final entry in the nine episodic Star Wars films is here: The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Set is the first look at the last installment of the Skywalker saga via Topps cards, and it includes ten cards featuring images from the film’s teaser trailer.  Collectors of Topps’ 1977 series will notice the homage design to that series on both the front and reverse of the cards.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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Crisis in a Half Shell is coming.

Nobody draws a tougher, more badass Batman than Freddie Williams II, and nothing shows that more than a trove of character images released this week from DC Comics and IDW Publishing for the next chapter in the artist’s series with writer James Tynion IV, the epic crossover Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  If you haven’t yet picked up the first two volumes, go out and get Volume One here and Volume Two here (then really dig into Williams’ work in the Director’s Cut here).  Nobody draws a better Batman in these 80 years of cowls and capes than Williams, and nothing will take you back like this series to Kevin Eastman′s first images of those crime fighting turtles introduced 35 years ago.

Thirteen new images by Williams provide a tease into what’s to come next month as Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Crisis in a Half Shell–the title disclosed by Tynion on his Twitter feed Friday–arrives in comic book stores.

  

Yes, that’s Splinter as Alfred.  And the Turtles become a league of Robins: Raphael as Red Hood/Jason Todd, Leonardo as Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Donatello as Red Robin/Tim Drake, and Michelangelo as Damian Wayne.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Williams merged Shredder with the Joker (complete with smiling minion goons, not as the Foot Clan, but the Smile Clan), Rocksteady into Clayface, Bebop into Killer Croc, and DC Comics super villain Anti-Monitor has been fused with TMNT supervillain Krang.

Take a look at these great character designs by Freddie Williams II:

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The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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The master of the assassin sub-genre is back again.  You may know him for writing and directing The Fifth Element (starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (starring Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan), but you may also know Luc Besson as the writer and director of the 1990 film Le Femme Nikita with Anne Parillaud (and its English remake, Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda), and the 1994 movie The Professional (Natalie Portman, Jean Reno).  He’s also written the screenplays for The Transporter starring Jason Statham (2002), Taken starring Liam Neeson (2008), and Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana (2011).  Then he tied together his science fiction sense with his trademark badass woman leading role in 2014 with Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansson.  That’s several assassins, spies, and action sequences in Luc Besson’s personal dossier.

Besson is writing and directing his next film, too.  It’s called Anna, and he’s tapped the actress behind the unforgettable alien woman from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Sasha Luss (who played the ill-fated Princess Lïhio-Minaa) as the title character.  From its first trailer (check it out below), Anna seems to be part Red Sparrow and part Atomic BlondeOr another La Femme NikitaBut it’s going to be very difficult for fans of spy movies to differentiate this latest entry from Atomic Blonde, especially if the film is really structured as revealed in the trailer.  It looks like it could be a remake, but it isn’t.

Some credibility and gravitas come from the presence of Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, whose own badass spy and assassin role in RED and RED 2 should come to mind.  Other actors in the film include Luke Evans (The Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit series) and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Tron: Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises).

Here’s the first trailer for Luc Besson’s Anna:

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