Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

Your next creepy movie for fall is waiting for you now on Netflix.  It’s director Stacie Passon′s 2018 adaptation of award-winning author Shirley Jackson′s 1962 mystery thriller, We Have Always Lived in the Castle And although it is not technically a story about one of our favorite horror tropes, creepy little girls, you will meet two very creepy young adult sisters who live alone on the hill at the edge of town with a secret that may not be all that secret.  Taissa Farmiga (The Nun, American Horror Story) stars as Mary Catherine Blackwood, called Merricat, the stranger and younger of two siblings, with Alexandra Daddario (White Collar, True Detective) as the older sister, Constance.  No doubt inspired by the acquittal in the murder trial of Lizzie Borden, the movie (as with the original novel) takes places six years after the poisonings of the sisters’ parents, with Constance as the sole suspect.  Who really poisoned them?

Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Alice in Wonderland) delivers possibly his finest performance as Uncle Julian.  Present at the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Julian was also poisoned, but survived with an addled mind and failing body.  Constance seems to have never recovered from the accusations, and the townspeople certainly will not let the family forget.  Constance has a smile fixed as she goes about surviving each day, a PTSD victim ready to snap at any time.  Merricat is left to venture out once a week to get groceries and get lambasted by all those that looked down upon the family for their wealth and scandal.  Yet Merricat is happy with the status quo, burying her father’s possessions to ward off evil spirits and bad fortune.  As she tells us as narrator, Constance is the most precious person to her in the world.

But the sisters’ world comes crashing down as a cousin, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier), appears in a sports car and begins taking over the house.  Worse for Merricat, Constance seems to be falling in love with him, and the new couple begins to make plans for the future.  In a world of oddities out of Great Expectations, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, can anyone in the house find normalcy or have any hope of getting their lives back?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Steeped in the Dungeons & Dragons foundations of R.A. Salvatore′s new novel, the adventure becomes so much a journey of a thousand skirmishes inside the stories of Waterdeep and the Forgotten Realms that the biggest surprise is no D&D branding graces the cover.  Although it’s accessible for anyone without reference to Timeless (last year’s first book in the series), Boundless is the next chapter in Salvatore’s trilogy of novels following his well-known hero of the genre Drizzt Do’Urden.  Boundless has everything you’d expect from the character and his world, from demogorgons to psionics, armored dwarves to unicorns–and humans.  It’s now available for pre-order here at Amazon and arriving in bookstores September 10.

Boundless′s breakneck pace is why fans of Salvatore will find themselves jumping in and holding on tight for the entire novel.  The only time it comes up for air is in a series of diary-like entries by Drizzt that begin the novel’s four sections.  As it turns out, the leads of the story aren’t really Drizzt himself but his father, the resurrected weapon master Zaknafein, and the wise mercenary Jarlaxle, both swashbuckling schemers with skills and political connections–characters that make you want to skip over the subplots to see what they do next.  Despite a few subordinate heroes, like Arathis Hune, the giant Wulfgar, the psionicist Kimmuriel, and the dwarf Thibbledorf Pwent, shifting the stakes from the shadows are the story’s female characters, with the priestess Dab-nay and the elf Dahlia as key players.

All the good fantasy tropes are here, a very Tolkien journey that may have readers plugging actors from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies into key roles, with the kind of twisty but grounded machinations you’d find in The Godfather, Part II and Amadeus, and dramatic evil queen-types as in The Huntsman.  Readers will find as much of the more comical-aside conversations of The Princess Bride school here as dead-serious high fantasy despite plenty of darkness.  The novel provides a favorable dice role for its heroes more often than not, but despite seemingly endless triumphs and last-second getaways by a half a dozen heroes, Salvatore leaves room for some real jeopardy for its characters, including serious carnage before book’s end.

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Classic favorite trading card company Topps is teaming up with Dynamite Entertainment to bring back your favorite little creepy aliens.  Mars Attacks is back again, this time in a new series from writer Kyle Starks (Rick and Morty, Rock Candy Mountain) and artist Chris Schweizer (The Creeps, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl).  It’s coming this Fall to a comic book store near you.  Dynamite released the covers for the first issue as part of its San Diego Comic-Con announcements.

The pairing of Topps and Dynamite promises to reflect the tone of the original 1962 trading card series.  It all begins again when a kid named Spencer approaches his dad for a loan.  They wind up on the run from those helmeted fiends from space and their famous space rays and flying saucers.

    

Look for several cover variants for the series’ first issue.  Tom Mandrake (The Spectre), Ruairí Coleman (KISS/Army of Darkness), Eoin Marron (James Bond: The Body), Robert Hack (Dr. Who), Chris Schweizer (The Creeps) all have created covers (see above and below).

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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.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the rare show that tries to be many things and actually succeeds at them all.  If you are looking for the ideal way to spend this Halloween, absent a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, you’re not going to find a better TV pursuit than this new Netflix series.  It features a captivating lead in its teenage witch Sabrina, played perfectly by Kiernan Shipka, who shows every frustrating feeling, emotion, and indecision any teenager must go through, reflected in a mythology-rich world with enormous stakes.  Sabrina is a kid–a smart kid, but still a kid–so she makes the kind of mistakes teenagers make.  Raised in the occult world by a family of witch aunts and a warlock cousin, Sabrina is a half-breed (her mother was human, her father a high priest in the dark arts), but viewers will see she shares some commonality with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books–she’s loyal, she’s book smart, she’s street savvy, and conscientious, dabbling in the magical world.  She also is trusting and able to be manipulated by the adults around her.  She may not be the fully realized, badass, confident heroine everyone wants to see–just yet–but by the end of Season 1 she’s well on her way.

The series protagonist is actually not Sabrina, but a demon who takes over the body of Michelle Gomez‘s Ms. Wardwell, a teacher at Sabrina’s mortal-realm high school, an ever-present mentor steering her out of dilemmas when Sabrina’s aunts fail to give Sabrina the help she wants.  Gomez, who played Doctor Who’s #1 nemesis The Master, is even more engaging here, fully inhabiting a character whose motivations are hidden by a fog–a blurred reality paralleled by a clever fuzzy tweak in cinematography throughout each episode.  Sabrina’s aunts, played by Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings #1 heroine who saved Middle-earth (“I am no man!”) and Lucy Davis, the #2 female lead in the WWI era of the movie Wonder Woman, unite to create a classic duet in the spirit of Arsenic and Old Lace.  Otto’s Zelda is strict and a devout believer in her dark religion, Hilda a sweet and doting aunt who gets excommunicated for her support of Sabrina.  All three actresses bring their genre star power to the series, providing a jolt of heroine gravatas to support the title character.

Sabrina is approaching her 16th birthday, when she must choose between the world of mortals and the world–and protections–of the witching world.  She must decide whether she will relinquish her decision-making from then on to the devil himself or take her chances as a mortal.  She is surrounded by those she thinks she can trust and others whose motivations are hidden in a dark world of several levels of good and evil.  Making sense of the darkness and evil and placing a pantheon of 56-old comic book characters he rejuvenated in the pages of Archie Horror comics four years ago onto the screen for a new audience is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics, and executive producer and writer for the comics and CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s Sabrina.  Quite shrewdly, Sacasa doesn’t comment on the dark religion of the series or any political stance his characters may reflect, instead letter the viewer bring their own value set to the show and making their own analysis.  Who do you want to cheer for, the equivalent of Darth Vader or Princess Leia in science fiction, or Sauron or Eowyn in fantasy?  Sacasa pulls from age-old classic stories, like Cain and Abel from the Bible, W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, John Carpenter’s films including The Fog, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and a classic horror film mirrored in the comics that might be a spoiler for Season 2–so we’ll hold that title back for now.

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The first instinct of diehard fans of any classic book, song, TV show, film, or anything else, is to flinch at the notion of a remake or reboot of a beloved original.  For years we here at borg.com have included The Watcher in the Woods as a favorite recommendation of a ghost story.  It’s a Disney film unlike any other Disney film–the rare instance of a movie being stronger than its source material (the novel by Florence Engel Randall), a Gothic ghost story (or is it?) that may be the creepiest and scariest story the studio released, certainly the spookiest of the 1980s.  So a remake that is being released this year for the Lifetime channel being previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year is going to hit our radar.

As a kid, the film bridged being surprising enough to get you to jump out of your seat without being an adult horror movie. As an adult, I have recommended The Watcher in the Woods to friends for children’s Halloween parties, and it’s proven still to be a hit for kids into their pre-teens.  Melissa Joan Hart, known best for her Sabrina, the Teenage Witch series, is directing the remake, and as with the original, she enlisted one of the best to ground the film, Anjelica Huston, who takes on the role made famous by Bette Davis.

The result?  Hart has at a minimum completely nailed the trailer.  In an interview below she discusses concepts kept and concepts updated.  But when you get to the trailer, any concerns for the remake pretty much vanish, like the key image of the trapped, blindfolded girl in the film.  And the creepy woods as a singular character.  In the original, “Bond girl” actress Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only, Ice Castles) and Kyle Richards played the sisters with Richards at the height of her child-actor career between Halloween and Little House on the Prairie.  In Hart’s new movie, these roles are played by young actors Tallulah Evans and Dixie Egerickx.

Even if you don’t agree Hart gets this one exactly right, you’re going to watch it because it’s on cable, and why not?  Check out this nicely spooky trailer from Comic-Con:

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It’s time again for our annual photos of the best cosplay costumes from the San Diego Comic-Con.  Lots of good costumes this year and we had no contender for worst costume of the show like we had last year.

How do you judge the best when anything goes?  You’ve got traditional Star Trek and Star Wars uniforms you will find at any pop culture convention.   You also have a huge following of video game and animated series characters.  I saw several people light up at many Korra costumes waiting in line for panels Friday.  Many others were from shows I never heard of.  What makes Comic-Con great is that there is something for everyone, no matter what your age and interests.  So another “best of” list from an attendee may be full of video game and animated series costumes.  The costumes below are just the ones that made me stop in my tracks.

First up is this brilliant idea–the crusader from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who guarded the Holy Grail.  The classic line from the entire series is echoed in his placard “Choose Wisely.”  This is an example of a great idea using a relatively obscure yet instantly identifiable character I’d never seen portrayed at a Con before.

If you’ve read borg.com for very long you will recognize these two aliens from one of my favorite movies by one of my favorite directors: John Carpenter’s They Live.  If you’ve seen this movie you’ll know this man and woman nailed it, both with perfect masks but also with messages reflecting the symbolism throughout the movie.  Of course, I was not wearing my sunglasses so I walked right past these guys.  This photo was taken by my friends William and Sean from Elite Comics.  Star of the movie Roddy Piper was at last year’s show in a They Live shirt and I bet he would have loved these guys.

I would wager this furry fellow is from one of those anime or animated shows.  I have special affection for cosplayers who torture themselves for their art.  This guy had to be hot to the point of passing out.  Having worn only a prosthetic head last year I can say for certainty this guy was not comfortable, yet he was quick to perform beautifully for a kid in the hall.

The best subgroup of cosplay is the mash-up.  Nail a good mash-up and you’ll please two sets of fans at the Con.  This “leasure suit Boba Fett” takes the mash-up in a new direction and caused instant laughs.  I loved the red 1970s Adidas Dragon shoes.  You just couldn’t walk past this Mandalorian giving you a toast as you approached him.  Yeah, baby!

I’m a sucker for Muppets and Sesame Street characters.  I still have yet to run into Super Grover but keep looking.  Meanwhile this great Big Bird could not move three feet without being asked to get in a photo.  He couldn’t look any better.

Like the crusader above this human-sized walking Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters was a creative idea–exactly what you hope to see at a Con.  This outfit was nicely made and you couldn’t tell how this guy was able to breathe in this inflated suit.  Give him a hug, it’s OK.  Just don’t squeeze too hard.

I’m not sure if these two were at the Con together or just stopping for a snapshot but they sure matched.  I love Predator and this costume was as good as you can get at a convention.

I was stopped in a line for about 40 minutes across from this group.  They were so quiet, yet they harbored this vile little superheroine.  Hit Girl, from Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass comic book series.  This little girl actually looked better than the girl who played the role in the movie.  Nothing is more terrifying than creepy little girls, yet this group seemed pretty calm about it.

One thing you might not know about San Diego is that the entire town gets involved in Comic-Con.  Every other restaurant will have servers wearing some kind of homage to a comic book character.  Most have unique convention week menus with things like Captain America burgers, or as my friend Sean discovered, the Mighty Thor burger, complete with beef and barbecued pulled pork, or even gooey Iron Fries.  But this Spider-man at Starbucks was the only employee I saw over the weekend in full supersuit.  And he made a pretty good peppermint mocha.  Way to go, Starbucks!

As I said earlier this week, at the 2012 Comic-Con so many great Star Wars cosplayers walked the exhibit floor halls that they really seemed to dominate the convention.  Most could hardly be distinguished from the screenused originals.  But this costume outdid them all, a full hairy Chewbacca like no costume I’d seen before, complete with a built-in sound system that allowed the person inside to play certain Chewbacca sounds from the movies.  Check out the changing color of the hair, like a real animal would look.  The bandolier looks great.  The face looks better than the original mask being sold in the next Profiles in History auction.  And the wearer has the height right.  Stunning suit.  So this one makes the top of my list for SDCC 2012.

Nice job, cosplayers, for entertaining those of us who wimped out this year and attended in normal clothes!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Chasing the Dead cover 1 Chasing the Dead cover 2

Chasing the Dead is a 2007 supernatural thriller novel by Joe Schreiber.  Schreiber has written several genre novels including Star Wars: Red Harvest, Star Wars: Death Troopers, Star Wars: Darth Scabrous, and Supernatural: The Unholy Cause, as well as No Doors No Windows, Eat the Dark, Perry’s Killer Playlist, and Au Revoir Crazy European Chick.  IDW Publishing writers Matthew Scott and Tim Westland have begun to adapt Schreiber’s Chasing the Dead into a monthly comic book series.

Chasing the Dead  takes readers for a very intense ride.  We meet Susan Young, now separated from the man she married who was a childhood friend.  They both shared a secret, and now their secret has impossibly returned and their daughter is now thrust into what reads like a suspenseful horror movie plot.  A 13-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl are playing at a park in a town that has a rash of child murders.  A strange car slowly pulls up and instead of another abduction the little boy grabs a knife and strikes back at the attacker, killing him, but not before noticing something unworldly about the killer.

Tomorrow Issue #3 is being released and we’re previewing the first seven pages below.  Want to get caught up?  Keep reading for an overview of Issues #1 and #2, and why you might want to check out this series.

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