Archive for October, 2019


 

Writer/artist Ed Piskor broke new ground with his epic history of the Marvel universe in a tiny package, with his Grand Design and Second Genesis trilogy series (reviewed here at borg only last year).  A complete throwback in style to comics of the 1930s through the 1970s, Piskor’s series included small, tightly crammed panels allowing for only minimal detail, lots of content per page, bright classic colors, and good ol’ fashioned newsprint pages (mmm… just smell that newsprint!).  But Piskor covered only one segment of the Marvel universe in his books:  The X-Men.  This week writer/artist Tom Scioli enters the picture with his own take on Marvel’s Grand Design series, focusing on the Fantastic Four in the new series Fantastic Four: Grand Design.

In Issue #1 Scioli takes readers through an origin story of the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, as they become Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing, all in a similar style to Piskor’s series.  As expected, readers can look for a lot of history in 45 pages, including meeting one of the Watchers, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Mole Man, the Hulk, the Celestials, the Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, and lots of other characters tucked into the corners.  Since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I find it difficult to separate the comics from the movies, and every comic I read pulls me into the thought of how it might be adapted for the big screen.  If you haven’t been keeping up, along with the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Namor all moved over to Disney’s MCU, and Scioli lays out one possible way the Fantastic Four could be introduced into the reel world dominated thus far by the Avengers.  Could the first Fantastic Four movie, or a Fantastic Four sub-series of films (like the Avengers) segue moviegoers into the missing pieces never before seen on the big screen like Namor, and pull in the above heroes and villains?  We’ll know in a few years.

 

Look for two covers by Scioli for the first issue of Fantastic Four: Grand Design, and one variant, a very cool homage to Frank Miller’s second issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns featuring the Thing in place of Batman, re-created by Ed Piskor (shown above with Miller’s original).  Want to have a look inside the first issue?  Here’s a preview of #1, and a sneak peek at Issue #2:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chemist and author Kathryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic, reveals the results of a thorough investigation into the scientific knowledge available to young author Mary Shelley at the turn of the 19th century when Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel (and basis for the first horror movie), Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus The result is a detailed, marvelously interconnected picture of notable minds of the Enlightenment and their theories, a useful history of science and technology, and a worthy supplement to any reading or study of the classic story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was greatly influenced by noted authors of her era, beginning with her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (through her writings), and her long-time companion and eventual husband, the noted author and political thinker Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Mary Shelley lived in a world of scientific improvements, while also at only the barest beginnings of modern chemistry, biology, and medicine.  Author Kathryn Harkup looked back to writings of the late 1700s and earlier, where religion, politics, and culture were undergoing a radical shift, with old concepts like alchemy winding down its influence on the thinking world.  As Harkup writes, “Dark, discredited, ineffectual alchemy was contrasted with enlightened, rational, powerful science.”  She follows Mary Shelley’s travels as documented in letters and diaries Shelley and her contemporaries wrote to locate hundreds of opportunities that could have influenced the author’s story as well as Victor Frankenstein the character inside the world where he would create life from the dead.  In doing so the reader will get a snapshot of the world in 1800-1818 and a class in a major chapter of the history of science and technology–what someone in Shelley’s circumstances as a woman among affluent families living among vocal sharers of ideas including the likes of Erasmus Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Byron.

Harkup takes her research a step further in Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, locating the possible influences of not only Shelley but those around Mary Shelley like her father, her husband, and Byron, whose access to cutting edge science and free thought reached across the ocean and nations.  She references the ongoing relationships and likelihood of the sharing of ideas among these men and Mary Shelley, all leading to the famous trip during the rainy summer of 1816, where the world was overtaken by darkness thanks to the earlier eruption of Mount Tambora in far off Indonesia.  Mary Shelley, age 18, with boyfriend Percy visiting Byron and Dr. John Polidori at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, were hunkered down reading ghost stories to each other from the French book Fantasmagoriana, when Byron suggested each should write his/her own ghost story (Polidori’s story would become The Vampyre, the first vampire novel).  Along with the science, Harkup provides a complete background of each step of Shelley’s life before and after completion of her Frankenstein contribution.

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Is that Bossk?

The trailers look just like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which both reflected so much the original Star Wars from 1977 more than the other entries in the franchise.  It’s not so much that Disney and Lucasfilm put together a movie based on every kid in the 1980s’ favorite background character, because George Lucas already made a movie about that guy, his dad, and a whole army of lookalikes.  It’s hard to find a cooler character than Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, until Lucas delivered on the fan service and inserted him into the original, special edition of Star Wars.  It’s not only that.  Or that, like Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s clearly a full-fledged space Western.  Or that fans get to see familiar elements of the franchise again, like carbon freezing, speeder bikes, scout walkers, patrol dewbacks, familiar bounty hunters, and Imperial bunkers hidden in the forest.  And it’s not that the lead is played by its rising young actors known for badass characters, Pedro Pascal and co-star Gina Carano.  Or that the series features a story by genre favorite Jon Favreau, with a host of episode directors like Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi, or noted Star Wars animaster Dave Filoni, or Solo director Ron’s daughter, actor Bryce Dallas Howard.

Well, it’s that, but not only that.  It’s that added gravitas that Star Wars is better at than possibly any other franchise.  It’s adding those dynamic, major character actors in supporting roles who make the magic happen sometimes even from the corner of the screen, from the likes of Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Christopher Lee, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Linda Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Max von Sydow.  Would Star Wars be Star Wars without the characters these actors brought to life?  Definitely not.

For the second trailer for the new streaming series The Mandalorian, that means more Carl Weathers–who we saw in August’s first public trailer and April’s “sizzle reel” at the annual Star Wars convention.  Along with Giancarlo Esposito and that toughest of older tough guys in movies, director and Jack Reacher villain Werner Herzog, we have plenty to look forward to.  As the norm these days, unfortunately to watch this series you’ll need to subscribe to another streaming platform, this time that’s the Disney+ streaming service (or… once the Blu-ray arrives should you not want to feed the Disney machine any further).

So check it out–your next look at The Mandalorian, plus five new official posters:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Whenever you read a Colin Solter book, you know what you’re going to get.  Salter, author of 100 Speeches that Changed the World and the co-author of 100 Books that Changed the World, is bringing his next thought-provoking ideas to your bookstore next month, 100 Letters that Changed the World.  As with his prior entries in the series, Solter doesn’t really assemble the 100 best, 100 favorite, or even 100 most important items in each category, but he brings to light primary references from history.  In doing this he reminds readers as much as things change, they also manage to stay the same.  Having read his earlier books, I find I’m as intrigued to learn what he has selected from the obscure as much as more expected finds.

In truth, not all of these letters changed the world, if anyone, as might be the case with a few suicide notes from popular culture across the decades.  It also gives a bit more weight to letters that exist in their original form today, and letters that might fetch big dollars on the collector’s market.  The most intriguing of the letters is a note from Abigail Adams to husband John Adams from 1776.  Her letter decidedly did not change the world, because had Adams paid heed to her plea, women would have been included along with “all men” in the Declaration of Independence.  But it is a fascinating secret from history nonetheless.  Also fascinating is the final, jovial letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his wife Constanze, including references to his peer Antonio Salieri.

More obvious, important entries in 100 Letters that Changed the World include the telegram informing FDR about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s open letter from a Birmingham jail, Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison, and words of King Henry VIII’s affections to Anne Boleyn, which indeed would forever alter the course of history in Europe, Christopher Columbus’s first report back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1493, as well as Galileo mentioning his telescope whereby he first saw the moons of Jupiter and noted its military advantage for Italian naval efforts in 1610.  And from the historic, but perhaps not so critical to human progress is the last telegram message from the RMS Titanic, a telegram from the Wright Brothers to their father of their successful first airplane flight, and Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus describing the horrific deaths from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79.

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It’s not historical fact as much as a depiction of an era, but Amazon′s original movie The Aeronauts has a gorgeous look with plenty of historical elements.  We previewed the first trailer for the film two months ago, and Amazon just released the next.  The film is billed as biographical adventure, and that comes from its depiction of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts) as real-life balloonist James Glaisher.  Glaisher, with another British aeronaut named Henry Coxwell, beat the world flight altitude record by reaching nearly 39,000 feet with a hot air balloon.  For the Amazon production Coxwell is being swapped out for a fictional character played by Rogue One’s Felicity Jones.  Both Jones and Redmayne were nominated for Oscars for The Theory of Everything, with Redmayne taking home an award.  Jones’ character in this film will be an amalgam of the first woman who was a professional balloonist, Sophie Blanchard, and another famous aeronaut of the era, Margaret Graham.

Even if you dismiss the elements that aren’t historical, you’re left with a big budget steampunk era film, which is a rarity for fans of the genre, The Aeronauts had top designers re-create the 1860s.  Alice Sutton, who was production designer on Bohemian Rhapsody, is production designer on this film (as well as next year’s Emma adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy).  The historical costumes were created by Alexandra Byrne, Oscar-winner for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and she’s known for her work on Marvel movies Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, plus The Phantom of the Opera and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

Take a look at the new trailer for Amazon’s The Aeronauts:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not a lot of new movies strike the right balance between horror and comedy, but if you’re looking for a solid Halloween movie to watch with your spouse and older kids, The Babysitter is a good pick, and if you subscribe to Netflix, you don’t need to fork out a rental fee.  Actually a Netflix produced release from only 2017, The Babysitter has a great cast of rising stars, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and it doubles as a coming of age movie.  What it’s not, is a Clive Barker-esque slasher flick, or full of real-world slaughter and shocker scenarios like so many modern horror movies–it’s an easy fantasy to entertain you and the family for ninety minutes.

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol aka McG (Supernatural, Chuck, Terminator: Salvation, Charlie’s Angels), The Babysitter is a day in the life of pre-teen Cole, played by The Christmas Chronicles’ Judah Lewis (an absolute ringer for C. Thomas Howell in E.T. and The Outsiders), a kid who is probably too old to have a babysitter, but he doesn’t mind because she’s a much older and attractive teenage hottie,  played by Samara Weaving.  Weaving is fast becoming a big name in movies, after a string of horror roles including this summer’s Ready Or Not, last year’s series Picnic at Hanging Rock, and before that, Ash vs. Evil Dead (she’s also known for her role in the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and is soon to star in the Bill & Ted sequel and she’s playing Scarlett in Snake Eyes, the next G.I. Joe movie).  Weaving’s character Bee is a great friend to Cole–basically a big sister–who knows his friends are jealous of his relationship with a “hot” high schooler, but his real friend and love interest is the same-aged girl across the street, Melanie, played by young Emily Lind, a kid actor who has been making TV series (Medium, Revenge, Eastwick) and movies (Doctor Sleep, Replicas) for more than a decade.

One night while Bee is babysitting Cole, Melanie convinces him to stay up late and spy on what Bee and her friends are doing in the house after he falls asleep.  When Cole sneaks down to take a peek, he quickly learns that Bee and a group of teen friends (played by Robbie Amell (The X-Files, The Flash), Bella Thorne (Scream, Amityville: The Awakening), Andrew Bachelor (Angie Tribeca, The Mindy Project), and Hana Mae Lee (Pitch Perfect, Jem and the Holograms)) are conducting a ritual human sacrifice.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If only the movies since Aliens had been this good.

Wrapping up the year’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien, coming next week from author Tim Waggoner is the next novel of the Alien universe, Alien: Prototype.  I’ve read most of the Alien tie-in novels, and this novel is right on the heels of the best of them, Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows.  Three tough-as-nails female characters drive this story.  Readers first meet Tamar Prather, a master of corporate espionage and all-around resourceful spy.  Tamar is self-driven and self-serving, and she breaks into Weyland-Yutani to steal a stasis pod housing a valuable trade secret, with a buyer at an opposing corporation ready and waiting.

Several hundred colonists live in the testing facility on the planet Jericho-3, and they’re about to meet a threat even worse than your typical Xenomorph encounter.  To protect them is Zula Hendricks (first introduced in the Aliens: Defiance comic series), a member of the security staff who has been training her squad for just this kind of alien encounter.  Hendricks knows first-hand what works and what doesn’t in combat, having lost her last platoon from her own bad judgment.  Working for the new corporation is a new take on the franchise’s synthetics, an upgraded cyborg named Brigette, and Hendricks’ synth friend Davis, now assisting her but no longer in your typical synth bipedal form.

Despite Alien: Prototype′s requisite, nasty, sci-fi monster–and this time readers will meet an entirely new version of the Xenomorph even more difficult to defeat than her predecessors–the real villains of the Alien-verse continue to be the corporate wonks who refuse to heed the warnings of those who have encountered the Xenomorphs in previous clashes.  But for the first time it’s not Weyland-Yutani that is behind the decision-making leading to the next disaster.

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A little bit Robocop, a little bit Bionic Man, a little bit Deadpool and Venom, a bit of The Punisher, and very Vin Diesel, the comic book adaptation of the 1990s Valiant Comics Harvey and Eisner Award-nominated superhero Bloodshot is finally making its way to theaters.  Sony Pictures released the first trailer for the film this week, and it has all of those components we’ve seen in the past decade from movies adapting comics beyond the traditional superheroes of DC Comics and Marvel.  The inclusion of nanites as part of Bloodshot’s powers make him the latest borg to make it to the big screen.  Whatever Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola or anyone else wants to say about superhero movies, these films are an art form in their own right, with their own language, look, music, editing, and story–just like every other genre of film.  Fans will be the only judge that matters when Bloodshot arrives early next year.

Diesel, who somehow seems to be the pick for Italian characters despite his own northern European roots, is a smart casting decision for Ray Garrison aka Angelo Mortalli (which fits Diesel so well), the new incarnation of the cybernetic warrior whose modified blood gives him regeneration abilities (think Wolverine) but also makes him controllable by others (think Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).  He has the action hero role solidly on his resume from his role as fast car driver and ex-con Dominic Toretto in seven (so far) Fast & Furious films and Xander Cage in two xXx films, and he brings sci-fi street cred playing Riddick in the Chronicles of Riddick series.  And, of course, he’s one-half of our favorite superhero duo, playing the voice of Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The movie co-stars Guy Pearce (hopefully more LA Confidential and less Iron Man 3), Eiza González (Hobbs & Shaw, Alita; Battle Angel, Baby Driver), Lamorne Morris (New Girl, Game Night), Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fantastic Four, Planet of the Apes, Kong: Skull Island), Sam Heughan (Midsomer Murders, Outlander), and Talulah Riley (Doctor Who, Thor: The Dark World, Westworld).  Kick-Ass 2 writer Jeff Wadlow wrote this story, which will be directed by visual effects artists Dave Wilson.  Music was created by horror movie go-to composer Steve Jablonsky (Ender’s Game, Transformers series, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

As with Deadpool and Venom, this second tier character and footage is going to get superhero fans into theaters.  Here is the first trailer, with Vin Diesel starring in Bloodshot:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It was such a big deal to prepare for, and then it was over in an instant never to be heard from again.  That’s Y2K, or the Millennium Bug, and it’s a fun time to look back on especially if it’s part of that richly detailed Anno Dracula universe created by British author Kim Newman (who we interviewed six years ago for Halloween here at borg).  The third story in Newman’s Christina Light arc (after the comic series Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem and novel Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters), Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju gathers a team of real and unreal, dead and undead, at a giant skyscraper in Tokyo on December 31, 1999, for the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties.

Newman is the master of world-building and mash-ups, and he doesn’t disappoint in this new October release.  In what horror universe is both John Blutarski a U.S. Senator partying in Japan (remember John Belushi’s character in Animal House?), the Apollo 13 movie included the first vampire astronaut, and Charlie’s Angels reconvene years later?  Anno Dracula continues its mix of historic characters of pop culture and politics and those throwback tangent characters from literature, TV, and movies.  In Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju readers can remember what it was like to “party like it’s 1999” with an alternate history where Dracula and vampires have always been real.

One of many tangent characters in Kim Newman’s latest Anno Dracula novel.

Newman includes so many Easter eggs in his books that finding them all–probably impossible for anyone that isn’t Kim Newman–should be part of some kind of international contest.

The New Year’s party of this story is in honor of Christina Light, famed vampire princess.  But will she show, and will anyone even get through the labyrinthine skyscraper to attend on the 88th floor by midnight?  Who is the shadowy Jun Zero?  Is Y2K really a bug, or is it a person, or worse: that daikaiju in the title is the name of the tower in Tokyo that houses the offices of an international conglomerate, but it also means “big monsters.”  So get ready for anything to happen, including the appearance of a cyborg and maybe even Dracula himself, as distinguished guests, leaders of finance, tech, and culture, are held hostage by yakuza assassins and Transylvanian mercenaries.  Enter vampire schoolgirl Nezumi–agent of the Diogenes Club–who finds herself and her trusty sword named “Goodnight Kiss” pitted against the deadliest creatures the world has ever known.

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It started in the Summer of ’77 and ends this December.  Until someone makes an Episode X, XI, and XII.  (You know they will.)  Until then, we have Disney’s last trailer ever for the Skywalker saga.  If you don’t like that, Disney is ready for you with the very different looking series The Mandalorian in November.  You can’t… resist… the Dark Side (er, we mean Disney).

Lots of questions need answered in Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, like:

  • Will the loose ends J.J. Abrams created for Episode VII get addressed?
  • Will the ultimate villain of the final trilogy (Snoke) return or is the Emperor really the surprise villain of Episode IX?  Or is it Kylo?  Or Rey?  Or C-3PO?
  • How is Rey related to the Skywalkers, and if she isn’t related, why the three-film red herring?
  • Will Rey finally get a wardrobe change?
  • How much of Episode IX will Disney spend planting seeds for future movies?
  • Will Chewbacca and the Falcon survive?
  • Will there be an Emperor Rey action figure?

In August Disney rolled out a two-minute clip relying primarily on the nostalgia fans have for the original trilogy, but also carefully selecting other bits from the franchise’s past to get audiences ready for December’s last chapter, with lots of callbacks aimed at your heartstrings.  But don’t forget the last trailer, with that image of Rey with her Darth Maul/Count Dooku/Swiss Army Brand™ lightsaber, and those red lenses on C-3PO, seeming to illustrate Luke stored Darth Vader’s katra in good ol’ ‘3PO all those years ago at a secret off-camera/deleted scene rendezvous on Endor.  Or maybe we’re mixing our franchises.

Another official poster for the movie reveals more in what it doesn’t show: the heroes of the past replaced with the young trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe.  The poster includes some supporting characters from the original trilogy and new faces (or in Keri Russell’s case, masked face) from this last chapter.  Sorry, Merry the Hobbit did not make the poster, but if you look closely he did make the trailer.

Take a look for yourself:

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