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Archive for November, 2019


Reviewed by Art Schmidt (with commentary from a few Ricks)

Today Wizards of the Coast is releasing two new supplements for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, one a hardcover sourcebook based on the Fourth Edition Eberron campaign setting, and the other a new boxed set themed after the popular Adult Swim cartoon Rick and MortyThe Eberron hardcover Rising from the Last War (available today here at Amazon) is sure to appeal to those folks who enjoyed playing in the dark, techno-magical, pulp fiction world of Khorvaire, but the Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons set (available here) may appeal to a broader audience, including fans of the show who may never have rolled a twenty-sided die before.

Similar to previous boxed sets, the Rick and Morty set is named for the popular comic Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons written by Patrick Rothfuss (author of the Kingkiller Chronicles and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle) and Jim Zub (Samurai Jack, The Young Adventurers Guide series and the upcoming run of Conan the Barbarian) and illustrated by Troy Little (Chiaroscuro, The Powerpuff Girls).  The boxed set contains a 64-page rulebook with the basic rules to get a group of players exploring, a set of five pre-generated characters for the players to use (or they can of course make up their own), a dungeon master’s screen to help the game master run things in relative secrecy, a set of eleven sickly-yellow polyhedral dice, and a 32-page adventure (written by the legendary D&D adventure writer Rick Sanchez of Earth C-141, himself), designed to take a group of up to five characters from first to third level.

Seriously, you game nerds should have seen this coming.  D&D, once little more than Satan’s Gateway to the Occult, is friggin’ everywhere these days.  A crap-ton of folks even sit around watching people live-stream their play sessions, which is, apparently, more fun than actually playing the game.  Think about that, Wizards of the Coast: ever heard of the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’?  Read a book!  The more popular the game becomes, the less copies you’ll sell!  You’re digging your own graves! – Rick C-137

Like the comic series, the game Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons is filled with self-aware and fourth-wall breaking commentary and dialogue, giving the characters an unsettling but hilarious point of view of being viewed while also knowing full well the world of the viewer.  The result is a gaming experience sure to please fans of the series and the roleplaying game equally, while introducing those who may be unaware of the other to new and enjoyable experiences.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Sixty-six years since readers first met Ian Fleming’s James Bond, there is no sign of the franchise waning.  The next film, No Time to Die, brings back Daniel Craig as the world’s most famous spy, arriving in theaters next April.  But if you want to get caught up on four decades of James Bond movies, there has been no better time to do it than right now.  You could buy digital copies of the 24 films so far, available on streaming platform VUDU for a bundle price of $149.99.  Or if you’re willing to watch commercials, you can view nearly all of them now and for a limited time, free.

That’s everything from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace, all the Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan installments, including both versions of Casino Royale and the off-brand film Never Say Never Again.  The two exclusions from the free-with-commercials offer are the two most recent films, Skyfall and SPECTRE, which are available at the regular VUDU pricing.

While you’re at it, you may want to check out the new Lyons Press release, Mark Edlitz’s 312-page hardcover look at the films, The Many Lives of James Bond, available now here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next six-issue series that is also released as a complete graphic novel from publisher TKO Studios is a science fiction story called Sentient.  Familiar comic book writer Jeff Lemire (Descender, Old Man Logan, Green Arrow) has a new story to tell that is a mash-up of this year’s earlier Grant Sputore-directed, direct-to-Netflix film I Am Mother (reviewed here at borg), the plotting and visuals of the gutsy Orbiter 9 (reviewed here), and the desperation of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s ill-fated transport ship story, Passengers (reviewed here).  As the idea of a human trip to Mars has gained interest, we’ve seen an uptick in the sub-genre delving into the actual work required to make such a far-off journey possible, along with a host of horrific possibilities that may confront us.  It’s materialized in films like Alien: Covenant plus the Lost in Space TV series reboot.  Sentient is also the latest take on Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s story of kids governing themselves without adult supervision.

 

Just as the space frigate USS Montgomery clears the barrier where communications are broken off from both Earth and their destination colony for an entire year, the ship is sabotaged.  The artificial intelligence on the ship, a female voice called Valarie, attempts to coordinate a recovery, but it becomes too late–all of the adults on the ship are killed as a result of the chaos caused by the saboteur, and what remains are the cordoned off children, who Valarie must train to continue the mission.  Even the A.I. has her own misgivings–she’s just not programmed to become a surrogate mother.  Fortunately the oldest, Lil (who just celebrated a birthday and could be 12 or 13 years old), and Isaac, the son of the saboteur, are young but smart, the kind of kids who probably went through Space Camp before their mission.  These aren’t naïve kids–they immediately understand the pressure and responsibility that falls on them.

Lemire’s steady and thoughtful pacing sets up artist Gabriel Walta (Doctor Strange) for a great visual showpiece, highlighting a style and colors that may have you thinking this is the next iteration of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series–even the character faces look like they were drawn by Kindt with his trademark clean and simple imagery and muted tones.

Here are some preview pages, courtesy of TKO Studios:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Sarah Jean Horwitz (Carmer & Grit) has conjured up the perfect middle-grade fantasy read… for all ages.  In The Dark Lord Clementine, a crisp, lively novel, she introduces us to a bold new heroine: Clementine Morcerous, heir to the Dark Lordship of the Seven Sisters Mountains.  Clementine’s Dark Lordling duties include tending to the frightful denizens of the Silent Farm: the magically-animated scarecrows, the venomous snakes in the snake pit, the fire-breathing chickens, and the nightmares.  Meanwhile, her father menaces the villagers below their mountain stronghold with curses, atmospheric phenomena, and other Qualifing Dastardly Deeds, to keep his status as Dark Lord active.

But the Seven Sisters hide a secret, and Clementine is sworn to protect it.  When Clementine’s father is cursed by a rival for his Dark Lordship, all the duties of the farm, including the dastardly deeds—as well as trying to save her father—fall to Clementine.  She gamely flings herself into the role of Dark Lord to Be, doing her level best to communicate with the cryptic Lady of the Lake, fend off witches, and wrangle an unexpected—and surprisingly loyal—band of knights.  Almost against her will, Clementine builds an army of friends determined to see her succeed in her Dark Lord ambitions.

The book is called The Dark Lord Clementine, however, and all is not as it seems.  Betrayal lurks among her newfound companions, and Clementine must decide whether being the Dark Lord is really all it’s cracked up to be.

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It all comes down to a single maxim:  Be careful what you wish for.

As often as not, in Fantasy Island’s seven seasons and 152 episodes, audiences never could be quite sure what Ricardo Montalban’s exotic island host Mr. Roarke was up to in his attempts to fulfill the desires of his exclusive guests on the remote Fantasy Island.  Sometimes that meant taking guests back to relive their worst nightmares.  So now that horror film company Blumhouse has their mitts on the franchise, it’s anyone’s guess what is in store.  At a minimum, the trailer for the new movie Fantasy Island looks like an easy to cultivate new horror franchise.  The horror movie industry has demonstrated the darker the franchise, the more big money it makes.  But for every The Conjuring, Saw, Paranormal Activity, Halloween, The Ring, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies, there’s the nearly successful horror sub-genre that includes a little less dark takes, more often with laughs, like Scream, Scary Movie, Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Happy Death Day.  Where will the victims, er, guests of Fantasy Island land?

Michael Peña (Ant Man) steps into the shoes of Montalban as Mr. Roarke.  Don’t look for the sidekick character Tattoo in this reboot–that role seems to have gone to Parisa Fitz-Henley (Luke Cage) as Julia.  Jeff Wadlow, Kick-Ass 2 director, and producer of The Strain and Bates Motel, is directing the picture, billed as a comedy/horror/mystery (putting it in the Scream camp?).  Other cast includes Lucy Hale (Katy Keene, Bionic Woman, Scream 4), Maggie Q (Nikita), Portia Doubleday (Carrie, Mr. ROBOT), Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars), Charlotte McKinney (Flatliners, Baywatch), and Austin Stowell (Colossal). Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, Eight Men Out, Tombstone) is said to be in this, too, but isn’t in the first trailer.

Here’s the first trailer for Fantasy Island:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TKO Studios is the new comic book publisher that surprised the industry early this year with an entirely new way to entertain readers.  They release four books at once in a binge format paralleling Netflix TV streaming shows, and they offer each story available in a trade paperback edition and as six separate comic book issues in a boxed set.  Readers buy whichever format appeals to them.  The last positive is the publisher’s slightly oversized format, a size that allows more artwork space per page while still feeling like a comic book.  But this is all formatting.  The substance doesn’t pull any punches, with TKO bringing in some familiar, beloved writers and artists for their first round (check out our reviews of those series linked below).  So does the second round measure up to the first? It was worth the wait, and fans will be pleased.

We’ll begin with Eve of Destruction, a zombie survival story in the vein of The Walking Dead, but mixing in several other influences and concepts along the way.  The story is written by TKO’s CEO and co-publisher Salvatore A. Simeone and Steve Simeone, with lettering by Ariana Maher.  The heavy lifting comes from artists Nik Virella, Isaac Goodhart, and Ruth Redmond who fill six issues with non-stop action.  And if you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, you might agree the creatures have more than a little in common with that horror film.

 

On the night of an important school dance, a girl’s separated parents, both women, are feuding over how each is contributing to the parenting the girl.  A hurricane is closing in off the coast, and with it comes a change in biology fueled by changes in the Earth’s environmental conditions that are triggered by this new storm.  The nature of the threat is specific and unusual–it is only targeting men and boys, and the results are on track to produce a kind of extinction forecasted in the title.  Although it could be a story about feminism, it doesn’t have any time to even broach the ramifications of this threat.  This is a story about survival in the first hour of a disaster.

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Which came first, Scooby Doo or Scooby Snacks?

Hey, Scoob!  It wasn’t enough they got to co-star on Supernatural.  We’ve seen them in a few live action movies, but now we get to see Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Fred, and Daphne on the big screen in animated form in their first full-length animated film The movie is titled Scoob! and it looks like we get an answer to the question about Scooby Snacks (psst… in real life they were for dogs only and colored red, gold, and green, not just gold as seen in the show, but now they are available gold-colored and only in a people version).   The animation is cranked up a few notches, looking a bit more like the modern animation style of The Incredibles, The Peanuts Movie, Toy Story, and Ferdinand.

The original voice actor for the entire four-decade history of Fred, Frank Welker, now takes on the voice of Scooby, with Will Forte as Shaggy, Zac Efron as Fred, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne, and Gina Rodriguez as Velma.  The slate of actors voicing supporting characters looks great, with Mark Walhberg as Blue Falcon, Jason Isaacs as Dick Dastardly, Ken Jeong as Dynomutt, and Tracy Morgan as Captain Caveman.

And, yes, not everything needs an origin story, but why not one for Shaggy and Scoob?  Check out this preview for Scoob!the new Scooby Doo movie:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Wizards of the Coast and Abrams ComicArts have come together to give Magic the Gathering trading card game players something they haven’t seen before, a high-end art book visual history of the game.  It all begins with Magic the Gathering: Rise of the Gatewatch–A Visual History, the latest of Abrams’ books highlighting the artwork of the best-known trading card series.  More than 25 years ago Magic the Gathering became the first ever trading card game, and this volume looks back to the Planeswalkers.

The first superhero-esque team of Gatewatchers is all here like you’ve never seen them before: Jace Beleren–the telepath with a mysterious past, Ajani Goldmane–the ferocious leonine, Gideon Jura–the reformed criminal who became a protector of the meek, Kaya–the rogue dualist, Chandra Nalaar–the pyromancer, Nissa Revane–the elf warrior and protector of nature, Liliana Vess–the necromancer, Nicol Bolas–the oldest Planeswalker, and Teferi–the formidable mage.   The book includes character histories and images of the actual cards, but more than that you’ll find concept art, original artwork created for the game, packaging art, and images only available in exclusive releases in the past.  If you loved specific cards and always wanted to see larger looks at the card art, this is your chance.

Each character is represented in dozens of images in roughly 30-page feature sections for the six primary Gatewatch characters, beginning with over-sized images of the character cards, plus a large section of combined Gatewatch imagery.  The highlight for fans of the game will be seeing cards they’ve never had in their hands before, but it will also be seeing the full artwork before it was cropped for the card.

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Three movies coming to theaters beginning in December feature actors known for their big-budget blockbuster superhero performances.  But this time they’re taking a more dramatic turn, with stories based on true events and heroics outside the realm of superheroes.

In the stylish trailer for the movie The Banker, it’s a new Marvel character team-up with Falcon actor Anthony Mackie and Nick Fury actor Samuel L. Jackson bringing in the X-Men movie franchise’s Beast, actor Nicholas Hoult, to change the face of banking and real estate in 1950s Los Angeles.

Just Mercy stars Black Panther and Creed’s Michael B. Jordan and Academy Award winner and Captain Marvel herself Brie Larson, opposite actors from the other side of the Marvel movies The Amazing Spider-Man 2 actor and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and The Incredible Hulk‘s Tim Blake Nelson in a story about justice on Alabama’s death row.

Burden stars Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker (Black Panther’s Zuri and Rogue One’s Saw Gerrera) as a preacher and Garrett Hedlund (Sam Flynn in Tron: Legacy) in a story about racial divisions in 1990s South Carolina.

Check out these trailers:

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