Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

Moviegoers either love or hate Zack Snyder movies.  His latest, Netflix’s Army of the Dead (reviewed here), is very different from the typical movie he directs, which includes 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Justice League.   Despite taking on a heist movie and a zombie picture in a major action movie, he wrote, directed, and took over the camera for Army of the Dead.  The result was a mash-up that may appeal to regular Snyder fans or anyone else.  This month to accompany the film, Titan Books released Army of the Dead: The Making of the Film If you liked the movie, and especially if you’re a fan of the horror genre and zombie films, you will want to check it out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest Aliens novel will come as a surprise to fans of the Alien franchise and tie-in novels.  More of a video game tie-in than an outer space/sci-fi/horror tale, Aliens: Phalanx finds its confrontation with the gloss black, spike-tailed Xenomorphs on a planet much like audiences saw in the sister series, Predators, where individuals are plucked from across the universe and dropped on an undeveloped planet to survive being hunted by that franchise’s title creatures.  Like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, or the tie-in novels for Warcraft, Tomb Raider, or Gears of War, readers meet up with members of a pre-industrial culture fighting for survival.  Aliens: Phalanx arrives in stores everywhere today and is available to order here at Amazon.

Literally a society on the run, locals must strategize their movements to get from place to place, actually living among the Xenomorphs that they not surprisingly refer to as “demons.”  Writer Scott Sigler details in more than 500 pages–the longest Alien tie-in yet–his characters’ journey, all toward the ends of touching back into more of the familiarity of the Alien universe.  The conceit of the films is that humans could stand any chance against the Xenomorphs.  Readers’ suspension of disbelief will be pressed even further here, when those being asked to survive in the tale do not benefit from the full arsenal of Weyland/Yutani’s corporate-backed armament as found in the Aliens movie and prior stories.

Billed as a “medieval” tale, Aliens: Phalanx is probably more about “going medieval,” survival in the modern sense, more than anything that touches on the actual Middle Ages (as a historian I wouldn’t have guessed the Middle Ages presence here over, say, an early North or Latin America construct).  In fact, without the title and cover art, for most of the novel readers wouldn’t know they were reading an Aliens universe story.  The environment, the worldbuilding, the culture, the lack of naming convention all lend the book to have been readily adapted to an alien world of any sci-fi franchise, or even something like Cowboys and Aliens, as the vibe is more something out of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk–primitive culture but not so primitive antagonists in a horrifying, primal bid for survival.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The new Netflix series Cowboy Bebop, an adaptation of the 1999-2001 anime series, is so good, so well-written, so jazz-filled, stylish, cool, and sexy that you won’t deny it’s the best streaming series yet.  It’s not only the best science fiction series in years, but also solid noir, solid space Western, peppered with martial arts action.  If you loved the space life of Firefly, the dark future Earth noir of Altered Carbon and Blade Runner, and the lived-in future realism of Alien and Outland, you’re in for some great television.  Funny dialogue, actors inhabiting their characters, cool noir vibe, the drudgery of life as a space pilot and exploits of a space bounty hunter.  It’s as good as TV gets.  It’s as good as sci-fi and space westerns get.

But what’s the best part?  The music?  The style?  The characters?  The lived-in sci-fi world?  The dog?  Or the year’s coolest borg character?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not all TV shows are made for binge watching.  Case in point:  The Umbrella Academy, now streaming on Netflix.  The TV series is based on a six-issue comic book series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.  Most comic adaptations for the screen have more content to pull from, but there are exceptions, like Cowboys & Aliens, From Hell, A History of Violence, iZombie, Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Men in Black, Oblivion, Polar, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Timecop, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Wynonna Earp.  Just as most of these were able to hold up something substantial to the audience, some comics, like Cowboys & Aliens, Polar, Sin City, and 300, either didn’t have enough content, were insubstantial, or are simply too difficult to translate.  The Umbrella Academy falls somewhere in this last group.  The story is entirely derivative with nothing new to be found here, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing.  Slow moving, painfully so at times, pretentious in one story thread and over-dramatic soap opera in the other, at ten episodes this might be the most difficult series produced by Netflix to trudge through so far.  But some key elements are so well done it may be worth a try if you’re patient and have the extra time on your hands.  But don’t be afraid to have the remote control handy for fast forwarding.

Unlike timeless characters and worlds from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which have some benefit in not needing to be completely explained in each adaptation, The Umbrella Academy offers only a brief glimpse at its origin story, leaving many questions unanswered.  In October 1989, 43 women on Earth give birth unexpectedly.  Don’t expect to learn why.  It is never revealed.  Seven of these babies are purchased by a strange, wealthy, apparently Dr. Moreau type, played by an unrecognizable Colm Feore (Thor, Anon, Paycheck).  Do all 43 have superpowers?  It doesn’t seem so and we don’t learn why.  But these seven, or at least six of seven, do.  The wealthy man takes on the role of father in name only, turning them into the Jackson Five of superheroes, and the kids are provided a mother who is actually a life-like robot (Jordan Claire Robbins), and a sort of butler who is a talking ape (Lodge 49’s Adam Godley).  Why?  The story never tells us.  These are but a few of the frustrating parts.

The good–maybe even great–parts are found in four of the seven superpowered siblings.  Number Five is a boy who stepped out of time, deemed lost to the others, and lives into the distant future only to find a way back to his siblings looking like the very boy who left years ago.  Young Nickelodeon actor Aidan Gallagher steps into this role perfectly, playing a kid with life experiences of a 58-year-old with the authority and bravado of George Clooney.  Irish actor Robert Sheehan (Bad Samaritan) plays Klaus, one of the singularly unique characters of comicdom:  He is a mess, an addict, with no drive or direction, and he can see dead people, and maybe much more if he can only stay sober.  He is also the only one who can see the only brother who has been killed in action, off camera, years before, and with no explanation how or why for the viewer.  That’s Number Six/Ben, played by Justin H. Min.  Ben tries to guide Klaus onto the right path from the other side.  And then there is Number Two/Diego, played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado).  Diego has a history of being nervous about his powers, and he’s the only one who seems to want to save the world with his powers–the classic superhero character of the group that you’ll cheer for.  The special effects are a high point–as when Number Five, Klaus, and Diego get to use their powers.  Of all the characters in the series, only Klaus and Ben get a clear, satisfying character arc, but if you only watch The Umbrella Academy to catch these four characters and fast forward through the rest, you’ll witness some solid superhero performances and story elements.

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20th century fox cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

For a century, 20th Century Fox was a production machine, churning out volumes of motion pictures annually, but never achieving the greatness seen by the likes of MGM and Paramount.  Yet its key movie star assets, its box office successes, and award-winning films were few and far between.  In 20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio, writer Scott Eyman takes movie fans back to the beginning and introduces readers to sometimes successful, sometimes not successful businessmen who built theaters and the movies to screen in them, keying in on the mergers that brought William Fox, formerly immigrant Wilhelm Fuchs, to build a corporation that Darryl F. Zanuck would take through important decades of the 21st century.  Both film buffs and historians of the era of film’s Golden Age will find a history in Turner Classic Movies/TCM’s latest film production chronicle, connected by memorable films from its first Oscar-winner, 1927’s Sunrise, to its last, 2019’s Ford v. Ferrari, telling a story of the rise and fall of a movie empire.  TCM’s 20th Century-Fox is just out from publisher Running Press and available here at Amazon.

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It should be pretty difficult for someone not to get this right.  Right?  It’s a mash-up of sword and sorcery Transformers-esque robots and Frozen-inspired fairy tale princesses.  How can it not be the next best thing to a Pixar movie for animated movie fans?  It’s so simple, and yet the first issue of a new series arriving in comic book stores tomorrow shows that it works.  Writer Todd Matthy and artist Nicolas Chapuis have come together to create the next series from Dynamite Comics, Robots Versus Princesses.  Like Cowboys vs. Aliens?  Okay, maybe all these mash-ups all don’t quite work out, but this series has the heart of that new Bumblebee movie trailer and a similar design–a lovable fish-out-of-water robot and a girl looking for something different from the status quo.

Princess Zara doesn’t understand the significance of the upcoming recital.  The other princesses in the walled kingdom have their accompanist animals selected and ready to perform.  Zara wants something different, to be different.  What about the dragons warring outside the gates that no one has ever seen but all have heard?  Maybe is she sneaks out at night she could capture a baby dragon and show the others she isn’t the least of the princesses.

Matthy’s story is very modern Disney, complete with a mix of cheery characters and a snarky heroine.  A bit Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Cinderella, and even more Sleeping Beauty, Issue #1 of Robots vs. Princesses is a solid introduction to a story that should be a keeper for readers looking for their next fairy tale fix.  Chapuis’s artwork is perfect for the fairy tale realm, and his realm of robot warriors has a unique design that fuses well with the best modern animated movies.

Here is a preview of Robots Versus Princesses, Issue #1, courtesy of Dynamite:

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luke cage

Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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Suicide Squad crew

Now that you’ve watched it at a 45 degree angle through the lens of a fuzzy cell phone camera in the dark, it’s time to see what you missed.  It’s the motley band of DC Comics’ own Dirty Dozen (give or take), the Suicide Squad.  The trailer premiered at the DC Entertainment/Warner panel this past weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, and millions watched it before Warner Bros. & Co. decided to go ahead and release the real thing Monday.

If a little make-up throws you off a bit, here’s the line-up:  Jai Courtney (Terminator Genisys) is Captain Boomerang, Cara Delevingne (Anna Karenina) is Enchantress, Will Smith (Men in Black, Independence Day) is Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop) is Flagg, Margot Robbie (Pan Am) is Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez (Grindhouse) is El Diablo, Adam Beach (Cowboys & Aliens) is Slipknot, Karen Fukuhara is Katana, and our favorite, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost, G.I. Joe, Thor: The Dark World), is Killer Croc.  Oh, right, and Jared Leto (Urban Legend, My So-Called Life) is The Joker.

Suicide Squad clip

A pretty diverse group for a superhero universe hive of scum and villainy.

Here’s the trailer for Suicide Squad:

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Beasts of Burden cover

Another banner year for comic books has come and gone.  You can find something for anyone and everyone at your local comic book shop, and the diverse selection of winners of this year’s Eisner Awards illustrates that better than ever.  The latest round of winners were announced this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.

What’s better than to see winners that you would have selected yourself were you on the judging panel?  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson can’t publish enough of their Beasts of Burden stories, and we previewed this year’s winner for Best Single Issue, Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers, last year here at borg.com.  We couldn’t agree more with this win.  Are you listening, Hollywood?  It’s time for an animated movie from this series.

We also like to be in sync with the critics.  Remember when we picked Greg Smallwood as our Breakout Artist of the Year here at borg.com back in 2013?  Greg was given the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award at this year’s Eisners.  We’re glad others want to see more of his work, too.

It’s also fun to see the rare repeat winners.  Our own borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce shared a panel at Comic-Con with Raina Telgemeier, winner this year as Best Writer/Artist, when she won her first Eisner Award back at SDCC 2011.  Raina won this year for her book Sisters.

Lumberjanes_005_coverA

And our own local comic book shop couldn’t seem to keep the new Lumberjanes series on the shelves this past year.  Lumberjanes was a multiple winner this year, scoring Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens.

Here is the full slate of 2015 Eisner Award winners:

Best Short Story: “When the Darkness Presses,” by Emily Carroll

Best Continuing Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Limited Series: Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, by Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

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Little Green Army Men PC 2015

Plenty of fun was in store for everyone attending Planet Comicon 2015 this weekend.  With the Big 12 Championship basketball tourney between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Kansas Jayhawks, downtown Kansas City was booming Saturday.  At the third annual Planet Comicon at the Kansas City Convention Center at Bartle Hall, actors, writers, artists, cosplayers, vendors, and tens of thousands of fans of everything from comic books to toys and from Doctor Who to Walking Dead continued the convention tradition of sharing their common interests in a positive and exciting environment.

Elizabeth C. Bunce and your humble editor from borg.com were back again meeting up with creators and friends from past years (this year as Daniel Craig’s Jake Lonergan from Cowboys and Aliens and Kate Beckinsale’s Anna Valerius from Van Helsing).  Check out the great little green toy army men cosplayers at the show above.

Kent McCord PC 2015

Kent McCord, known best for his role on the classic TV series Adam-12, shared some great stories about working with Martin Milner, Jack Webb, Harry Morgan, and Stephen J. Cannell.  What better than to spend the day chatting with someone who has starred in shows like Dragnet and Unsub?

Pileggi PC 2015

We also had a great time with Mitch Pileggi, co-star of one of the all-time best genre TV series, The X-Files.  He talked about the possible renewal of his role of Director Skinner on a rebooted X-Files series and working with Judith Light on TNT’s reboot of Dallas as Harris Ryland.

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