Archive for April, 2020


loresmyrtle2

We have a cover reveal today for borg readers!  Take a look at this great cover by Brett Helquist, artist for A Series of Unfortunate Events and other great covers and picture books.  It’s for Elizabeth C. Bunce′s second novel in her Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries series, How to Get Away with Myrtle.  As a result of prioritization by distributors and national shipping companies of food and other staples due to the pandemic crisis response, How to Get Away with Myrtle will now join the first book in the series, Premeditated Myrtle, to launch together as Fall 2020 releases, debuting October 6 (both are now available for pre-order here at Amazon).  “I didn’t think I could love a cover more than Brett’s first for the series, and then… Wow!  Here we are with the cover for Book 2 already,” said Elizabeth.  “We shared some ideas back and forth through the Algonquin publicity team.  I love the complimentary color orange following that purple theme from Book 1.  Putting that great locomotive out front sets the stage for this adventure, along with the image of the seaside resort as if it were pulled right off the brochure for the excursion service referenced in the novel.  And, of course, Peony the Cat sneaked her way onto the cover again!  Now that we have two paintings from Brett, it’s really fun for me to see both covers side by side.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A little bit Robocop, a little bit Bionic Man, a little bit of every Marvel solo character origin story, and very Vin Diesel, the movie adaptation of the 1990s Valiant Comics Harvey and Eisner Award-nominated sci-fi/superhero Bloodshot was the first movie industry collateral damage from the pandemic because it arrived March 13 in theaters, the same weekend the U.S. federal government began responding and theaters began to modify their rules and ultimately close.   Which also made it the first for a studio to release at theatrical prices via the new “theater-at-home” option from Vudu and Amazon Prime.  The good news is it’s well worth full ticket prices, and would have been even better on the big screen.  It has all of the right beats we’ve seen in the past decade in the better movies adapting comics beyond the traditional superheroes of DC Comics and Marvel.  It also introduces fans of all things borg to the next squad of cyborg warriors worthy of sequels.

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mandalorian-ch2-7-

At first look “The Child in a cooler” doesn’t sound like something anyone should be selling at all.  But context matters!  Originally The Child–who the world has dubbed Baby Yoda–was couriered around in what looks like a modified Hamilton Beach ice cream maker (which, not coincidentally, has been selling out since the debut of the series).  Our secret sources tell us it is called a Camtono, a prop that made its first appearance in the Star Wars saga on Cloud City in Return of the Jedi.  Igloo–the company you’ve probably bought coolers from your entire life–has issued a new tie-in product available until April 20 only, inspired by the floating pod container (not the ice cream… er… Camtono…) the Mandalorian used to transport The Child after the bounty hunter discovered the truth of his bounty.

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Swamp Thing ad

When people with creativity and skill have their grasp on the reins of DC Comics properties, great things can happen.  Unfortunately it’s a rarity.  Although its Arrowverse on the CW Network were good efforts, DC at the movies hasn’t shown much promise until last year’s Shazam!, although Aquaman was another good effort.  But the big win of live-action DC Comics adaptations was last year’s Swamp Thing (above) featuring the titular creature and other Justice League Dark characters Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger.  The series was our own selection here at borg for top superhero series last year.  Shazam! and Swamp Thing prove that with good writing, production, and acting talent both movie and television adaptations truly worthy of the comic book source material are possible.

New streaming provider HBO Max announced this week its own team-up.  It will join J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions to produce a new live-action Justice League Dark series with Warner Brothers Television (in addition, a project related to Stephen King’s The Shining called Overlook was also announced).

Justice League Dark is, as the title suggests, a band of superpowered characters from the shadows of the DCU.  Spanish artist Mikel Janin was tasked with re-imagining the look of these more offbeat and occult characters from their earlier individual series and appearances for the New 52 launch in 2011, and for us Justice League Dark is synonymous with Janin’s designs, shown above and below (we interviewed Mikel about the new look here at borg back in March 2012).  The JLD then included Zatanna, Constantine, Deadman, Shade, Madame Xanadu, Swamp Thing, the Phantom Stranger, Frankenstein, and the Enchantress, and more as they would emerge throughout the series’ short 40-issue run.

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altered-carbon-resleeved

Review by C.J. Bunce

Audiences have seen some great animated films in recent years, with movies upping the ante on technology and visual magic, whether in Ferdinand or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse or Spies in Disguise or Klaus.  Netflix’s new anime movie, a sequel to its live-action, futuristic, sci-fi hit Altered Carbon, takes animation and visual effects even further.  Altered Carbon: Resleeved is part Blade Runner 2049, part Marvel’s The Punisher (season two), and part Wu Assassins.  Live-action action sequences are rarely as thrilling as those choreographed in this film.

As with the live-action Altered Carbon, the inspiration from Syd Mead’s trademark futurism is all over this film, and that world looks just as stunning in anime form.  The storyboarding and layouts, the surprise screen angles, wipes, and character movements are like nothing you’ve seen before, and the details are at times life-like and three dimensional.  The story and execution is a vast improvement on the second season of the live-action show, which was a really good season of episodes to begin with.

Gena

Two years after the end of season two we catch up with Takeshi Kovacs, resleeved and working a job for Mr. Tanaseda, who has him pursuing a girl named Holly, a tattoo artist with cybernetic eyes and pawn of the yakuza, who carries some critical secrets.  Working for CTAC is Gena, a badass agent carrying secrets, who clashes with Kovacs early on.  It’s two days from an ascension ceremony–the anointing of a new mob boss–and in that time Kovacs must figure out why Mr. Tanaseda has set him on this job.  The anime film, available with English subtitles or dubbed, has a new hotel and a new concierge named Ogai (voiced in the dubbed version by Chris Conner, who plays the concierge, Poe, and hotel manager in the live-action series).  Ogai is a holographic Japanese man loyal to the new boss, but fond of Holly.  Fans of the series will find his hotel to have equally exciting defensive feature’s as Poe’s hotel, The Raven.

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McHale stargirl

What’s more fun than the idea of Joel McHale as a DC Comics superhero, and Luke Wilson as his sidekick?  Unfortunately that’s not the focus of the CW’s next series of the Arrowverse, but it’s close, and if the volley of trailers are any indication, fans of the DC universe will see these two in recurring backstory in Stargirl, coming next month.  The other famous league of extraordinary superpeople, the Justice Society of America meets its demise, but that’s the starting point, as a young woman named Courtney Whitmore, played by 20-year-old actress Brec Bassinger (School of Rock), learns her stepdad is a superhero sidekick.

Make that “was” a superhero sidekick.   Luke Wilson, known best for his roles in Wes Anderson movies and an unforgettable spot on The X-Files, was once S.T.R.I.P.E, a mechanic in a powered armor supersuit, and sidekick to Sylvester Pemberton, aka Starman, played by Community, Ted, and The Soup’s Joel McHale (in the comics the Star-Spangled Kid from the 1940s aka Skyman).  Members of Seven Soldiers of Victory, the All-Star Squadron, and the Justice Society of America, these guys got around.  In the new series Courtney takes on Starman’s mantle, a cosmic staff that chooses her, and she’ll begin to assemble the next generation of superheroes.

Justice Society

Appearing at first blush a lot like DC’s Doom Patrol, the pantheon of superheroes includes Anjelika Washington and Henry Thomas as versions of Doctor Mid-Nite, Yvette Monreal and Brian Stapf as Wildcat, and Cameron Gellman and Lou Ferrigno, Jr. as Hourman, taking on Christopher James Baker as Brainwave, Joy Osmanski as Tigress, Neil Hopkins as Sportsmaster, Nelson Lee as Dragon King, and Neil Jackson as Icicle.

Here is the new trailer, and some recent trailers, for DC’s Stargirl:

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code-8-robot-cop

Review by C.J. Bunce

What appeared via advance marketing like it was going to be another film from the back side of the video store rack or film school-level sci-fi movie actually ends up as an acceptable sci-fi/superhero B-movie.  Code 8, which just arrived on Netflix, began back in 2016 as a short film project by Canadian cousins Stephen Amell, famous as CW’s Arrow, and Robbie Amell, who played CW’s Firestorm.  The project then went on to accumulate nearly $3.5 million of crowd-funding to make this feature length film, from first time writer-director Jeff Chan.  Ambitious is a fitting description of the film, which has overall low production levels, yet at points it offers some quality sci-fi tech via android cops and superpowered humans.  But its best feature is the promising young lead, as the more popular Stephen Amell takes a backseat to his cousin, Robbie Amell (ARQ, The Tomorrow People), whose charm and authenticity have him upstaging everyone scene after scene, including his cousin.

Robbie Amell plays 26-year-old Connor Reed, one of a rare breed of superpowered humans in a near-present day alternate Earth, with the story set in the fictional Lincoln City, some 90 years into a world of X-Men-inspired superhumans, all with varying types of powers.  Connor is a Class-5 “electric” meaning he can wield incredible jolts of power to use as a carpenter or to defeat high-tech security in a heist taking the form of android cops.  Connor’s mother, played by the versatile Kari Matchett (A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Leverage, Wonderfalls), is dying, and so he makes the decision to use his powers for evil to earn tens of thousands of dollars in gang money for a needed operation.  Class struggle is a theme handled here similar to District 9 and Elysium, with the discrimination beats of AlienNation and Bright, and the superpowers presented here bring out the vibe of Brightburn (minus the horror).

code-8-movie

The town has its own gangsters, centered around a drug called Psyke, including a mid-level, up-and-comer played by Stephen Amell named Garrett, who takes on Connor when he needs the extra power (literally) for a job.  The real-life cousins’ chemistry is instant, and Connor joins a crew of characters, one with the power to melt metal played by Locke & Key’s Laysla De Oliveira, a deaf superhuman with incredible strength played by Vlad Alexis (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a young woman with the power to heal played by Kyla Kane (Channel Zero).  Levels of crime lords mean power plays, and that makes everything messy for everyone.  Crime requires crimefighters, which sets the stage for the second best part of the movie, The Fast and the Furious’s Sung Kang with his always cool vibe, this time as the key cop on the case.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fifteen years after the last time we saw the crew of the Serenity, the next novel of Joss Whedon’s space Western universe is here to quench your thirst for more Firefly.  James Lovegrove’s third Firefly novel, The Ghost Machine, again takes place between the events of season one of the TV series and the Serenity film, but unlike his first two novels (Big Damn Hero, reviewed here, and The Magnificent Nine, reviewed here), which felt like movie prequels to the 2005 film, this new story feels like the next episode of the TV series.  It borrows a lot from the series, which will make Browncoats feel like they’re nestling back into familiar territory, while also tapping into tropes fans of science fiction will be familiar with.

The first act finds the crew on one of its trademark jobs to pick up for none other than Badger, the man in the bowler hat, certain strange cargo, that unknown quantity sealed in a can that we’ve seen the series pursue in episodes like The Train Job and The Message, and outside the stories of the ‘Verse in films like The Transporter (it’s not a person this time).  The second act reveals what is inside the crate with the Blue Sun label, which Captain Mal Reynolds ultimately decides is too risky to even take aboard his ship, and then wraps readers in a whirlwind of activity as the ramifications of the cargo are played out–sort of.  Recall that niggling feeling of the crew–and the viewers–from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect,” and the trapped in a parallel world vibe of the Voyager two-parter “The Killing Game” and dreamscape of “Bliss”?  But The Ghost Machine really kicks in with the third act, as everything you’ve read is taken to a different extreme, and a ticking clock propels the reader headlong into a gripping climax.  What will it take, and who is the right choice from the crew, to break the spell and reveal the truth behind this unusual Pandora’s jar?

Lovegrove, whose novels we’re reviewed previously here at borg–both from the world of Firefly and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries–is really good at endings, and that’s what makes this story a winner.  Along the way the author investigates each crew member’s ideal worlds–and their worst nightmares.  This is one of the darker tales from the Firefly ‘verse, on par with the episode “Objects in Space.”  Peppered throughout the novel, as you’d expect from anything sourced from the mind of Joss Whedon, who serves as consulting editor on these books, are the Easter eggs, particularly from the Western genre.

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Manara banner 1

One of the best artists around has shut down critics of his past works with his latest–and possibly most enduring–project yet.  The artist is the celebrated Italian painter Milo Manara.  Known as much for his brilliant depictions of women as superheroines–sometimes idealized, often powerful, and in countless fantasy scenarios–Manara from time to time is the target of naysayers maligning him for his talent (even labeling him sexist), specifically with respect to his depictions of beautiful women.  In many ways Manara’s latest project is more of the same, only his superheroines with capes have been replaced with real-life masked superheroines, further demonstrating why he is the real deal.

On his social media Manara has shared these stunning paintings as an homage along with notes of thanks for those countlesspeople who have created a broad, worldwide new “front lines” superteam in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In so doing Manara joins artists like Bill Sienkiewicz as one of the 21st century iconic artists who takes a break from the business craft from time to time to picture for his fans and followers the beauty and truth that lies around us in places both familiar and unfamiliar.

Manara 10

Beginning March 15 and continuing into this weekend, Manara has depicted essential, indispensable, risk-taking women on the job in his native Italy, one of the most ravaged of nations by the virus, including a truck driver, an emergency response technician, a grocery store clerk, a delivery service worker, cleaning workers, a police officer, security/traffic guard, and a doctor confronting the virus head-on in a multimedia video (all viewable on his Facebook page here).  He added to his collection this weekend with the image of a postal carrier.  The biggest surprise that many haven’t noticed?  A fascinating response to his paintings can be found on Facebook, where people have been tagging his artwork with the names of their own real-life friends and family reflected in the drawings.  His own comments on his works include simple thanks in many ways, including, “Thank you to those who work putting themselves in danger for our safety,” “Thanks to the invisible, hoping we’ll remember them even later,” and “These days, if Italy keeps working, it’s also thanks to them. — Milo.”

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Wild Fire

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anglophiles will be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing murder-mystery police procedure television series than with the five seasons (and soon to be seven seasons) of the BBC’s Shetland Douglas Henshall (who won a BAFTA for the role) plays detective inspector Jimmy Perez, a one-of-a-kind, conscientious and thorough cop who manages a small police department on the Scotland archipeligo.  The television series is based on a series of novels by British author Ann Cleeves, who chose to set her police story in the sparse, cold, austere setting in the far northern latitudes.  Altogether Cleeves explored the exploits of Perez in nine novels, the final of which, Wild Fire, has just arrived in its first paperback edition.

Wild Fire finds DI Perez on the case of a murder of a young woman named Emma, who is found strangled and hanged in the barn of a local family.  Among many quirks is the fact that this isn’t the first time someone was found hanged in their barn.  Cleeves’ last case for Perez finds him chasing leads across the country, piecing together the background of the victim, which is unveiled something like Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless in his novel Into the Wild.  Emma is not so interesting as McCandless, but by the time the reader catches up to the murderer, you’ll feel like you’ve interviewed plenty of witnesses, including a young autistic boy in the home she worked in, and more than a few self-absorbed quirky couples, most futile diversions from the key story.

For fans of the television series exploring the novels for the first time, expect many surprises.  Perez of the novels is not quite so engaging, instead a man of few words and emotions that keeps his thoughts close to his vest.  The only other main character common to the TV show is Perez’s reliable detective constable Sandy Wilson, who is completely the same put-upon, over-achieving character that he is on the small screen.  Perez’s daughter Cassie is only a child here at the end of Cleeves’ novels, who spends most of the novel being watched off-book by biological father Duncan, yet fans of the show know her and Duncan as key to the appeal of the TV series.

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