Archive for January, 2020


Review by C.J. Bunce

Goldfinger.  It’s surprising that a novel, a word, a song, and a character James Bond is so well known for didn’t arrive until Ian Fleming’s seventh novel in the series.  Goldfinger is a novel to revisit, one of the better of Fleming’s efforts, defining so much about what we know as James Bond today.  That prolonged car chase.  The requisite run-through of the spy agency’s cutting-edge techno-gadgets.  The over-the-top situations.  Already locked in 60 years ago when Goldfinger arrived on paperback racks in 1959 were the franchise’s womanizing, the liquor and dinner delicacies, Fleming’s ability to offend select groups with each subsequent novel (this time his target is Koreans and lesbians), and that same, cold-hearted, hardened spy.  Its film adaptation five years later would become one of the most popular, the third film to feature the British spy, the one that would cement a theme for Bond thanks to a song by John Barry (with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, memorably performed by Shirley Bassey), and a story most faithfully adapted in the popular comic strip of the 1960s (see our review of that version of the story here).

Although all the Bond novels can be read in any order, Goldfinger is a direct sequel to his first, Casino Royale, spinning a character out of the key baccarat game and a chance encounter at an American airport.  The first half of this novel parallels Casino Royale so much readers may think Fleming literally superimposed sections of this over his first.  In Goldfinger we view Bond in a lengthy, and fascinatingly compelling golf game, matching the import and stakes of his famous baccarat game in Casino Royale.  Who knew the anger and strategy that could go through the mind of Bond over a game of golf? And both novels begin with a similar cold, detached kill by Bond.  Chance and coincidence are focal themes.  One of Fleming’s clever strengths here, being aware of including so many coincidences that the story hinges on, is highlighting that fact unapologetically, even acknowledging it through the dialogue of Bond and his foe.

 

For those who viewed the movie version first, they should be pleasantly surprised as the stories track better than most Bond titles.  We meet this incredible villain, Auric Goldfinger, fascinated with and addicted to gold, bent on being the richest man in the world, a master architect of destruction and planning, yet also dumb enough to leave a brand on his own gold bars, and idly wasting his time duping a hotel guest on a game of canasta, which proves to be his downfall.  We also meet his henchman, Oddjob, the short, rotund Korean man with a rather sharp-brimmed bowler hat.

Continue reading

It’s easy to argue that the very best part of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels was Darth Maul.  All of his scenes in The Phantom Menace and especially his “Duel of the Fates” with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi were spectacular, a cut above the rest of the three films, thanks in no small part to the physical prowess (and facial expressions) of actor Ray Park.  The lightsaber scene is still unsurpassed as the best Jedi-Sith duel of all eleven Star Wars films.  Yet, as we learned for the third time this past December, just because someone knocks you down a vast Imperial chasm, it doesn’t mean you’re actually dead (we should have learned this lesson from Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).  The animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars resurrected Maul, first as a rebuilt man with robotic legs in season four (an amnesiac found on a “junkyard” planet like where Rey is later seen), then upgraded with more human-like cyborg legs.  Maul will return in a new 12-episode seventh season, voiced again by Sam Witwer, where he will have a rematch with The Clone Wars heroine Ahsoka Tano, former Padawan of Anakin Skywalker.  Maul will again be portrayed by Ray Park, this time using motion capture for the animation.

Somebody at Disney must know we love Darth Maul (we’re thinking The Clone Wars original director Dave Filoni, back again for this final season) because of Maul’s return in Solo: A Star Wars Story, revealed in the film’s climax as the ultimate villain behind the curtain.  Was Emilia Clarke’s Qi-ra intended to be Maul’s Sith student?  Was she about to be?  Will we ever find out?  Oddly enough, we didn’t/couldn’t learn the answer because the film Solo was made toward the end of Star Wars Rebels, which ended its run years after the events in Solo, although it takes place before the events in Solo.  What we do know is Darth Maul is still around for Star Wars Rebels, where he tricks the young series lead Ezra into being his student, and ultimately Daul dies at the hands of… Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is hiding Luke on Tatooine, something that could also be addressed in the forthcoming, yet-to-be-titled Obi-Wan Kenobi live-action series.  Confused yet?  This ordering might help:

  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • The Clone Wars
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars Rebels
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars/A New Hope
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Mandalorian
  • The Force Awakens
  • The Last Jedi
  • The Rise of Skywalker

Understanding The Clone Wars’ other fan-favorite character, Ahsoka Tano, voiced again by Ashley Eckstein, pretty much requires another viewing of both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels to get fully caught up.  Originally she was destined to die at the hands of her Jedi Master, Anakin aka Vader, but then in Star Wars Rebels there was some time travel and parallel world business that prevented her death, plus the return of Emperor Palpatine… even before The Rise of Skywalker.  Tano is considered by many fans to be one of the strongest heroines of the Star Wars saga (along with Leia Organa, Jyn Erso and Rey), appearing in a number of novels and comics outside the TV series.  Her spirit voice can be heard in the battle between Rey and Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, where fans learned she must have died off-screen sometime before the events in that film.

First disclosed at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, Disney/Lucasfilm is bringing 12 new episodes of The Clone Wars to pay streaming channel Disney+ beginning next month.  The series appears to follow the older, original series animation style versus the updated, more realistic characters and environments of Star Wars Rebels.  Here’s the first trailer for the series, followed by an earlier preview:

Continue reading

 

Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

Continue reading

 

The first major variant comic book cover event of 2020 launches tomorrow as the landmark 750th issue of Wonder Woman arrives at comic stores everywhere.  As with last year’s Detective Comics Issue #1000, DC Comics will feature a set of decade-inspired cover art variants plus a sketch cover version, joining an incredibly rendered Joëlle Jones standard cover with Wonder Woman holding the Earth on her shoulders (which might be the best of all), all available in most comic book stores.  Nearly 40 other variants will also be available if you’re willing to track them down, from retailer incentives to artist and store-exclusive issues.

Look for homage covers by Joshua Middleton (1940s), Jenny Frison (1950s), J. Scott Campbell (1960s), Olivier Coipel (1970s), George Perez (1980s), Brian Bolland (1990s), Adam Hughes (2000s), and Jim Lee and Scott Williams (2010s).

 

The first story features writer Steve Orlando and artist Jesus Merino wrapping the Year of the Villain arc.  DC announced previously that a story by writer Scott Snyder and artist Bryan Hitch will basically reboot the DC universe timeline, establishing Wonder Woman as the first DC superhero.  Other stories were created by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, Gail Simone and Colleen Doran, Marguerite Bennett and Laura Braga, Mariko Tamaki and Elena Casagrande, Kami Garcia, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks, Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Riley Rossmo, and Vita Ayala and Amancay Nahuelpan.  Readers will also find pin-up art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ramona Fradon, Bilquis Evely, Travis Moore, Liam Sharp, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

So which is your favorite cover?  Check out the final covers and original cover artwork below:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

Continue reading

 

Review by C.J. Bunce

Six have been chosen by their clans.  New dangers have arisen, and they must work together and learn to fight for each other to achieve their mission, ridding the land of new threats.  Unfortunately none of these chosen warriors trust each other.  We meet the cast of characters in the first chapter of Rising Sun, a new comic book series from IDW Publishing set in 12th century Japan, based on the 2017 CMON Limited tabletop board game Rising Sun, where clans must use politics, strength, and honor to rule the land.  The story was created by Skylanders writers Ron Marz and David Rodriguez.

Readers follow Chiyoku of the Koi Clan as she confronts a dragon who fells a fellow warrior.  The introductory issue paints Chiyoku like a cross between the DC Comics character Katana, Disney’s Mulan, or China’s Lotus Rong on a journey Red Sonja might take–It’s drawn in the style we’ve seen of Red Sonja on her bloody adventures with similar sweeping action.  Artist Martin Coccolo (Star Trek: Year Five) renders characters that are lifelike and recognizable from panel to panel.  The costumes and vibrant color work by Katrina Mae Hao bring along a realistic, historical vibe to the world of the game (check out the core Rising Sun game and expansion packs here at Amazon).

 

Readers encounter a similar pantheon of color-styled clans as we met in the movie The Great Wall, this time the red Koi clan, the orange Fox clan, the purple Lotus clan, the gold Bonsai clan, the blue Dragonfly clan, and the green Turtle clan.  As a bonus for gamers, the first issue includes an appendix with suggested game modifications.

It has vivid action and beautiful characters, presenting a good beginning for the series.  Here is a preview of the first issue of Rising Sun, plus some cover art (above) for the first three issues, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

Continue reading

You’ve all been selected as Agents of Nonchalance.

With its critically acclaimed series Lodge 49, which starred Wyatt Russell, Brent Jennings, and Sonya Cassidy, apparently canceled after only two series, the cable network AMC looked to fill the quirky drama niche it left behind.  It found Jason Segel′s quirky dramedy Dispatches from Elsewhere, releasing its first trailer this week.  This is labeled an anthology series, which typically means individual stories in each episode and different characters, yet it lists its five leads in all ten episodes.  So what’s going on here?  It’s an anthology to the extent that the series gets renewed–meaning you’ll likely only see the billed cast of characters in the first season, with a new story and characters in subsequent seasons.  It’s billed as “a transcendental series about a group of ordinary people who stumble onto a puzzle hiding just behind the veil of everyday life.”  That describes Lodge 49 perfectly, too, right?

Dispatches from Elsewhere has similar bits going for it compared to AMC’s departed Lodge 49.  It looks like it was filmed on the same paneled set and it, too, features a directionless guy lost in his own world, detached from a meaningful existence, with How I Met Your Mother and The Muppets co-star Segel in that role (along with serving as show creator, director, and producer).  And like Lodge 49, with its street cred of actors like Paul Giamatti, Bruce Campbell, Cheech Marin, Bronson Pinchot, and Brian Doyle-Murray, Dispatches from Elsewhere has its own style of actor cred, co-starring Academy Award winner Sally Field, Academy Award nominee (Doctor Who star, new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker villain) Richard E. Grant, and Grammy-winning musician André BenjaminMr. Robot’s Eve Lindley rounds out the main cast.

It looks strange in the vein of Lodge 49, Mr. Robot, Russian Doll, or Legion.  But is it the good kind of strange?  See what you think.  Here’s the first trailer for Dispatches from Elsewhere:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

We first met Rom the Spaceknight in 1979 in the pages of his own Marvel Comics series.  Rom’s first foes were the Dire Wraiths, evolved descendants of the same Skrulls from the Avengers stories.  Since 1979 the Wraiths have faced all sorts of familiar Marvel superheroes, including S.H.I.E.L.D., the X-Men, Silver Surfer, Power Man and Iron Fist, the Fantastic Four, and Doctor Strange.  Now, thanks to co-publisher IDW Publishing, Rom: Dire Wraiths–a new mini-series brings astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins at the launch of the Apollo 11 in 1969 face to face with the Wraiths.

But where’s Rom?  That’s covered in a back-up story by Chris Ryall (writer of previous Rom stories),  featuring art by Guy Dorian (Rom, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero) and comics legend Sal Buscema (The Incredible Hulk, Spectacular Spider-Man).  The primary story by Ryall features a vist from Earth Command, and it includes artwork by Luca Pizzari (Marvel’s Weapon X).  Some particularly striking variant covers are available for the first issue, drawn by Luca Pizzari, Corin Howell, and a collaboration between Guy Dorian and Sal Buscema.  The Wraiths, in both stories, are rendered with incredible detail, some of the best sci-fi/alien designs we’ve seen–one panel in the back-up story featuring the claws is almost three-dimensional.  Brilliant work.

You might recall Men in Black III took a similar approach, an alternate timeline with a visit to the day of the Moonshot, bringing that series’ Agent J back in time to meet a young Agent K at the Apollo 11 launch and face an alien threat, as Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who also accomplished in the episode “Day of the Moon.”  As with these other genre close encounters, in Rom: Dire Wraiths humans apparently knew more than the public was made aware back in 1969.  In as many crossovers as we’ve found that featured an appearance by the Dire Wraiths, this story also references the G.I. Joe universe via reference to cyborg Mike Power (and did they refer to The Ruby Files’ Rick Ruby?).

This is a science fiction story for fans of monster comics from the 1950s through the 1980s.  The artwork is truly top tier sci-fi.  Here is a preview of the first issue and look at some nicely creepy future covers from Rom: Dire Wraiths:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Usually a franchise tie-in novel or sequel will be able to serve as a standalone story to create a springboard into the story’s universe for new readers.  That’s not the case for readers of the new Gears of War prequel to the Gears 5 video game, Gears of War: Ascendance.  Author Jason M. Hough takes fans of the games on a journey back into field combat with a group of familiar characters battling close-quarters with the Swarm, with a backdrop focus on the political machinations of Coalition of Ordered Governments’ Minister Jinn and her reliance on Damon Baird and his robot army.  Unfortunately the story reads like the down day at a Dungeon & Dragon session, all about a group of characters getting from Point A to Point B, with little happening in between.

The entire novel is a set-up to bring the franchise’s first heroine to the lead position of gameplay, Kait Diaz.  The lack of development of the character is unfortunate, because it could have the potential for another alien bug fighter like Ellen Ripley, Rita Vrataski, Dizzy Flores, or Private Vasquez.  We meet Diaz following the burial of her mother.  She and her team are rescued from this planet only to return later so she can try to save a boy and a girl that she believed were dead when her group had abandoned their location.  So readers will be drawn toward her mission.  Backstory (available elsewhere) for the video games explains the significance of a special talisman she wears, yet each time it is discussed the reader is ready to learn more about it, but its purpose is ultimately skipped over in this book.  And readers don’t get to learn much about what makes Kait Diaz tick.  For that, readers will need to look to the game (which has been well-received by gamers).

So Gears of War: Ascendance is truly for fans already familiar with the game and its characters.  What a “Gear” even is, and what the opposing factions are and why, what one weapon is versus another–none of these concepts are ever explained (a Gear is a soldier, but is it an elite soldier or any foot soldier?).  The Swarm and other beasts are some kind of alien monster inspired by the Arachnid Bugs of Starship Troopers or that creature from Mimic, a kind of giant locust (it’s called the Locust Horde so I assume it looks like a locust) but all creepy like the Xenomorphs of Aliens, and telepathically connected like the hive mind of The Borg from Star Trek.  Why are they bad?  We don’t know, just as Heinlein treated his antagonists in Starship Troopers, although game players who dig in outside this novel will see they become more than that to Kait Diaz in the game.  Opening paragraphs in each section providing some backstory and setting, along with descriptions of characters would have been a welcome addition for those not familiar with the game yet.

Continue reading

The second Black Widow trailer has arrived (if you missed the first, we previewed it here).  Black Widow features the return of Scarlett Johansson as Marvel’s biggest and most seen screen superheroine, plus Stranger Things and Hellboy star David Harbour as the Soviet answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) as assassin Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden, Florence Pugh (The Commuter) as Yelena Belova, and de-aged Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, who started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe off in The Incredible Hulk, back as General Ross.

Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so it’s not really all that long ago.  The villain featured in the new trailer is Taskmaster, created in 1980 by writer David Michelinie and artist George Pérez. but the identity of the actor/actress has yet to be revealed.  Pugh’s character might be getting queued up to take over the Black Widow mantle later in this new phase (#4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as her character has been known to use the Black Widow title in the pages of the comics.

Along with the trailer, Marvel released a video looking back at Black Widow in the MCU so far.  Check out this new trailer and feature for Black Widow:

Continue reading