Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

Along with reprinting some novels based on comic book stories from Marvel’s past, a few new stories were released last year (and reviewed here at borg) as part of Titan Books’ line of novel tie-ins, including Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover, Ant-Man: Natural Enemy, Deadpool: Paws, and Civil War.  Now the Spider-Verse character Venom has his own hardcover novel.  Venom: Lethal Protector joins Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover among the newly written novels, although unlike Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover‘s new story as prequel to the 2018 PS4 game, Venom: Lethal Protector is based on the very first Venom-titled six-part mini-series from back in 1993.

James R. Tuck writes a faithful adaptation to the original comic books by David Michelinie, Mark Bagley, and Ron Lim.  The story catches up after Peter Parker parts with the alien symbiote that looks like a dripping ink blot, after he makes an arrangement with the new host, Eddie Brock, to leave and do no harm.  But trouble comes looking for Eddie when he joins a group of underground people in San Francisco.  The father of a man killed by Eddie/Venom is determined to avenge his son.  He and his lackeys, the Jury, take him on, plus a mastermind arrives and creates five spawn from the symbiote, spawn that Venom must eliminate with or without the help of Spider-Man.

The comic books Venom: Lethal Protector is based on provided much of the source material for last year’s Marvel Venom movie, so fans of the character, the comics, and the movie will be familiar with this take on the villain as he more overtly switches away from villainy to the stuff of anti-heroes–much like Deadpool and Punisher.  In fact it’s difficult not to see Deadpool, Punisher, and Marvel standards like the Hulk in both Venom’s origin story and his ongoing handling.  Like Hulk’s Banner, particularly from the classic TV series, Eddie Brock is constantly moving from place to place to escape his past.  The book telegraphs what a Venom story in the vein of the 1980s The Incredible Hulk could be like.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When he first wrote a Deadpool tie-in novel back in 2015, writer Stefan Petrucha was still a year from the arrival of the movie Deadpool in theaters.  But he would have known Ryan Reynolds was cast in the title role.  Either Petrucha had a good idea forecasting Reynolds voice and view of the role, or both the filmmakers and Petrucha had a complete take on the famous “merc with a mouth” from the comic books.  Either way for most of the Marvel novel Deadpool: Paws, the author gets Wade Wilson–the cancer-battling Weapon X experiment who becomes the wisecracking anti-hero known as Deadpool–exactly right.  In fact there is only one scene in the novel that would have you step out of the voice of Ryan Reynolds’ incarnation of the character–when Petrucha has Wilson bad-mouthing Canada.

As part of Marvel and Titan Books’ release of a series of tie-in novels of the Marvel Universe (including Civil War, reviewed here at borg.com last month), they have issued a new paperback edition of Deadpool: Paws Deadpool: Paws combines all the cringeworthy ideas you’d expect from a Deadpool tale.  It’s a blend of Ace Venture: Pet Detective, John Carpenter’s The Thing, John Wick, and a twisted look at Dick and Jane, and, if you are a fan of Deadpool 2, take note:  You’ll find that same balance of over-the-top humor, in-your-face-action, and inappropriately placed melodrama right here.

Whenever an author takes on the job of writing a tie-in story for a well-known character, and especially when the writer crafts the story in first person, readers will know quickly with even a misfire of one phrase or sentence whether the author knows what he or she is doing.  If you read a lot of tie-ins you can catch the mistakes simply in dialogue.  But Petrucha (who has written tie-in series from Nancy Drew: Girl Detective to The X-Files) mastered Deadpool’s audacity, raunch, snark, sass, whine, inner-monologue, repeated breaking of the fourth wall, and strange charisma, in every action and retort.  He also throws in as many well-placed pop culture references as you’d find in an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You may know about Logan aka Wolverine via his movies as played by Hugh Jackman or 47 years of stories in comic books.  But did you know the mutant with the claws and regeneration abilities was part of the same program that gave Steve Rogers his powers as Captain America?  Steve was part of the project as Weapon I and the tenth project–Weapon X–was conducted by scientists in Canada who further tried to make a superweapon by upgrading Wolverine with adamantium, and this melding of the organic and metallic turned him into a cyborg.  That Frankenstein-inspired update to Wolverine’s origin was first written in comics by Barry Windsor-Smith in 2004 as Marvel’s first novel adaptation of comics for adults in Weapon X.  Now that novel is part of a three-part omnibus available from Titan Books as Wolverine: Weapon X–A Marvel Omnibus, part of its rapidly building library of Marvel novels.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comic book readers knew him first when he was created in 2011 from the mind of Brian Michael Bendis in the pages of Marvel Comics, then in 2018 Miles Morales took the world by storm in the groundbreaking animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, one of the best animated films that year.  A new novel for teens fleshes out the young superhero as he moves to a new neighborhood and experiences a new generation’s take on the teen angst once exhibited in the comics pages of newspapers everywhere by his mentor, Peter Parker.  Spider-Man Miles Morales: Wings of Fury is a prequel novel (not a comic book) to the new PlayStation game Spider-Man: Miles Morales from Insomniac Games and Sony, but it’s a story that can appeal to anyone beaten up and battered around by life and circumstance.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With Avengers: Endgame still in theaters, another adaptation of the same source material that inspired that movie and Avengers: Infinity War is now available.  It’s James A. Moore′s Infinity, a novelized adaptation of the Infinity comic book event from 2013.  Moore adapts the key story details from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer’s story across an array of comic book titles, drawn by several artists.  In most ways Infinity will seem completely foreign to fans who are only aware of the movies.  When people speak of the cosmic side of the Marvel universe they’re referring to the kinds of elements that form the backbone of this story.  The Inhumans, known many by the short-lived television series, are a major component of the story.  Like the graphic novel, the novel follows the Avengers and other superheroes of Earth trying to fight off ancient creators called the Builders, who believe that Earth would be better terraformed–leveled, destroyed, and rebuilt–than left as it is.  At the same time Thanos is looking for his son.  One of his loyal Children of Thanos (the Black Order in the novel), which consists of the same henchmen in the films plus a few others, ultimately finds him–his son, Thane–on Earth.

Fans of 1980s brief New Universe will recognize Star Brand and Nighthawk as major characters in this story.  Missing characters seen in the graphic novel that don’t end up here are Luke Cage, Power Man, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Wasp, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hank Pym, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Falcon.  New characters for movie audiences include Manifold, Captain Universe, and the Atlantean Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Black Panther and Doctor Strange are still key to the story, but in different ways.  Alien races include the Kree and the Skrulls, with Ronan the Accuser as a major player.  The novel adaptation is spread thinly across universes as was the comics version.  Keeping track of the characters without the benefit of seeing their unique costumes may be difficult for anyone not familiar with all the comics.

If you’re bothered by corporate guru Tony Stark as always the smartest guy in the room, which seems to be the thing in more recent years, especially with the popularity of the character from the movies, you’ll find some relief here.  Fortunately Moore also uses Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, Hulk Bruce Banner, and X-Men’s Hank McCoy aka The Beast–the three actual smartest legacy superhero characters–to work the moving parts of the problem.  Ultimately what the reader brings to the book will determine the level of enjoyment.  For anyone new to hundreds of tangent characters of the Marvel Comics, keeping track of Who’s Who is nearly impossible.  Moore takes strides to bring background characters to the fore, including a romantic sub-plot, but who they are and why they should be important isn’t tapped into enough.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of novels based on Marvel Comics characters is being published beginning this month from Titan Books, including reprints of past novels as well as entirely new works.  First in the series is Stuart Moore’s 2013 prose novel Civil War, based on the giant, 98-issue, comic book event from 2006 and 2007 (not a novelization of the Marvel Studios movie).  The release of the novels is well-timed to capture new readers drawn in by Avengers: Infinity War, and Moore’s Civil War is the perfect follow-up for fans of the movie looking for more stories featuring the majority of the publisher’s roster of superheroes.  Just like the movie Captain America: Civil War only loosely tapped into concepts from its source material in the comic books, this novel may be a little jarring to those who only follow the movies.  But Moore’s book is a great way to see even more characters than made it into Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War working together and against each other.  In short:  It’s a blast to read.

As in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War the novel features a split between Earth’s superheroes, pitting Steve Rogers’ Captain America against Tony Stark’s Iron Man.  But the similarities end there.  A devastating explosion that kills hundreds of people resulting from a failed attempt by the New Warriors (a young superhero team filming a reality show) prompts American citizens to fear the superhero community and push for an invasive regulation of superheroes.  Stark initially opposes the Act, but ultimately favors it as the lesser of two evils and the best way for superheroes to continue to serve and protect.  Captain America and those loyal to him see the new Superhero Registration Act as a fascist restraint on their freedom and refuse to comply.  In the conflict that ensues Moore streamlines the original story from the comic books into an exciting and engaging read, drawing together most of the Marvel universe’s major characters and many minor characters.

Thor, Nick Fury, and Scott Lang are dead, Hulk has been exiled off-planet, and Wolverine and the X-Men refuse to take sides, not participating in the story, except for Storm.  The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm and Doctor Strange remain neutral, but the rest choose sides, with Sue Richards, Hawkeye, and Spider-man switching sides throughout the story.  Falcon, Cloak & Dagger, Johnny Storm, Tigra, Prince Namor, Dr. Hank Pym, Black Panther & Storm, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Cassie Lang, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and newly appointed S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill all have key roles, with She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, and Black Widow actively involved as well.  But the bulk of the character development follows Peter Parker, revealing for the first time to the world he is Spider-man, by far the most engaging and endearing hero of this tale.  The leadership challenges of Captain America and Iron Man as they oppose each other and keep Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. at bay is the girth of the story with a great thread involving Sue Richards as she struggles to deal with her husband Reed who she feels is on the wrong side of the issue Act implementation.

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Omnibus 2

If you have a houseful of kids and both spouses at home, all for the first time for longer than a school break, it may start getting… close… soon, especially if you’ve exhausted your collection of games, and finished cleaning out your garage and basement for the second time.  If that’s the case, or you’re just looking for some good reads, Titan Books has just the thing, three new, big books that are sure to keep at least a few of you entertained for the coming weeks.  The theme is Marvel Comics superheroes, but they aren’t comics.  They are part of Titan Books’ ongoing series of paperback novels delving deep into your favorite superhero characters.  Each volume, called an omnibus edition, is a hefty volume featuring three novels by a frequent Marvel writer.

Choose from Diane Duane’s Spider-Man: The Venom Factor Omnibus, including the novels The Venom Factor, The Lizard Sanction, and The Octopus Agenda, Christopher Golden’s X-Men: Mutant Empire Omnibus, featuring novels Siege, Sanctuary, and Salvation, and Greg Cox’s The X-Men and The Avengers: Gamma Quest Omnibus, with novels Lost and Found, Search and Rescue, and Friend or Foe? 

Diane Duane’s 656-page Spider-Man: The Venom Factor Omnibus is the ultimate look at the life of Spider-Man.  For Peter Parker, it’s one counter after another with three major Spidey characters.  Each novel confronts a key adversary, Venom, then the Lizard, then Doctor Octopus.  But these aren’t the only familiar faces readers will encounter.  And it’s not called The Venom Factor for nothing–look for Venom in a key role throughout these three novels.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest novel re-issue from the Marvel universe is an adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original story arc from the pages of 1981’s series The Uncanny X-Men: X-Men: Days of Future Past You may have read the original classic comics, you may have seen the ground-breaking 2014 team-up movie, and now author Alex Irvine digs deeper into the original story that remains among comic book readers’ most acclaimed stories.  A recurring trope–the banning of individuals with superpowers–is the background for this story of a former member of the X-Men, Kate Pryde, who is sent back to the past from the dark, not-so-distant future on the brink of Armageddon.

Kate is sent back in time to try to change an event in the past, the murder of Senator Kelly by Raven aka Mystique, and the deaths of several others including Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert.  The deaths are the impetus to the creation and domination of Sentinels, giant robots that can track and destroy mutants–or anyone else–with ease.  X-Men stories tend to include so many characters that readers only get to view a few character arcs.  Writer Alex Irvine keeps his story crisp and constantly moving forward.  Here we see Kate Pryde returned to the past and in doing so she swaps consciences with her 13-year-old self–new X-Men recruit Kitty Pryde, begrudgingly taking the name of Sprite, who will one day embrace the code name Shadowcat.  She is sent to the past by the telepathic Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey aka Phoenix.

Irvine keeps his story to a core band of players.  In the future, it’s Logan aka Wolverine, Magneto, Ororo aka Storm, and Kate’s husband Peter Rasputin aka Colossus.  In the past, Kate in the form of Kitty must convince Storm, Logan, Colossus, Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, Moira and Charles to prevent Mystique, the Blob, and others from the Brotherhood of the Hellfire Club headed up by Emma Frost from wreaking havoc on Senator Kelly’s congressional hearing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix saga in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men has attained classic status in the eyes of comics readers, up there with The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Days of Future Past.  So adapting the story into another medium forty years later is one of those cultural mainstays, a modern analogue to creating a new Sherlock Holmes film, Frankenstein movie, or another generation’s interpretation of a Shakespeare play.  Marvel Comics itself has given this a go a few times now, usually as subplots or tie-in concepts, and at the movies Marvel tried it with X-Men: United, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Dark Phoenix, this year’s wrap-up to the X-Men films.  X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, the new hardcover novel from author Stuart Moore (Captain Ginger, Civil War, Thanos: Death Sentence) comes the closest so far to a faithful adaptation for Dark Phoenix purists.

We probably should blame Marvel’s bankruptcy and resulting character/universe splits and business decisions for the disjointed handling of the Dark Phoenix characters and plot points at the movies.  Dark Phoenix is an interesting story, but not the only X-Men story, so it would have been better revealed over five or six movies culminating in a Jean Grey-centered finale, since the character has been defined as Earth’s most powerful superhero as the Marvel universe is concerned.  She’s worth it.  Now with the successes of theatrical comic book adaptations, and the formula of long-term story development in the genre a proven commodity, maybe fans will see more loyal movie adaptations coming (hopefully only after we get to see some of the hundreds of other stories adapted).  But fans of the comics will be pleased here: Moore doesn’t play games with his novel.  Readers will find the classic game of chess and all the key pieces:  Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, Jason Wyngarde, Donald Pierce, Harry Leland, Lilandra, Moira MacTaggert, and X-Men Xavier/Charles, Kitty Pryde, Scott Summers and Logan & Co. (except notably Beast, who for some reason was not included).

Despite marketing to the effect of adapting the tale to the 21st century, if that’s true it’s only subtly handled.  The bones of the story are the same (including the awkward 1970s Harlequin romance subplot from the comics with Jean and a Regency era lover, every cringeworthy bit).  New readers, those unfamiliar with the story at all, will likely find some of those classic Claremont and Cockrum elements a bit jolting and distracting to the overall narrative, and episodic tangent shifts more typical to a monthly comic than longform story.  But Moore brings it all together with the key conflicts and outcomes of the source material falling into place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer Stuart Moore returns this month with a solid follow-up to his multiple superhero-spanning novel Civil War, reviewed here at borg Titan Books has released the tenth book in its Marvel Comics-based series of prose paperback novels, Moore’s Thanos: Death Sentence Originally published in 2017, this is its first paperback release.  If you’re after a story about Thanos, if you love the character and want to know what makes him tick, and the circumstances around wielding that kind of power during the events of Avengers: Infinity War, then Thanos: Death Sentence is for you.  Those familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Infinity War will find no spoilers for the film in this story, and it may just get you excited for the release of Avengers: Endgame in theaters next week.

It’s probably better knowing something about this story before jumping into the dense 336-page novel.  Exciting, brilliant detailed superhero crossover events highlight the novel’s first 100 pages.  In a parallel but different take on Infinity War, readers see Thanos kill off nearly every major superhero in the Marvel universe.  It’s quite fun to read how Moore has Thanos do it, not with a single snap and turn to dust for everyone, but a specific, tailored death sentence for each hero.  Wielding the Soul Stone Spider-Man gets relegated to re-live the death of his uncle through his own inaction, for infinity.  Ben Grimm gets separated into his component stones and dispersed throughout the cosmos.  With the Space Stone Thanos strands Captain Marvel beyond the solar system.  The Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Vision, Prince Namor, Black Panther, all snuffed out.  And then it’s all undone.  And that’s only where this story begins.  The method of the undoing is not something that seems remotely possible for the movies–with far more characters introduced than we’re met on the big screen (since the entirety of the films were made before the merger with Fox to wrap in the rest of the Marvel characters).

Once the deaths are undone, Thanos the Mad Titan is forced to fight his way back to power by Mistress Death using the Infinity Wardrobe, pressed into the bodies of tangent characters in the lives of the famed Children of Thanos–his minions seen in Avengers: Infinity War: Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, plus his adopted daughter Gamora.

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