Category: Comics & Books


Peanuts movie clipIt’s something that fans of Charlie Brown and Snoopy have been waiting for, for several reasons.  The Peanuts Movie hit theaters late last year, but it was lost in the movie season among the spectacle that was Star Wars released just weeks later.  Yet if you saw it in the theater, you realize this movie was a keeper.  The Peanuts Movie is what all family movies strive for:  classic characters, good-natured humor, something to enjoy for every moviegoer.  The very young will love Snoopy and understand the relationship of the Peanuts kids that we older folks have known and loved for years, in newspaper funnies, in paperback editions, and the many Peanuts specials.  The Peanuts Movie does something else–it provides the best version of Charlie Brown and friends we’ve seen since the original 1965 favorite A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Peanuts Movie gets it right from the beginning, in its pedigree.  It’s written by Craig Schulz, Charles M. Schulz’s son and a writer on the Community comedy series, and Charles’ grandson, Bryan.  So, unlike the onslaught of lackluster adaptations that have plagued the Dr. Seuss properties after his death, the same heart and soul of Charles’ creation is as powerful as ever.  The writers have turned to the source material for many interactions in the film, like Lucy’s converted lemonade stand/psychiatry office and the famous wall where Charlie and Linus ponder the worlds’ problems, and yet they have updated the story in subtle and important ways that are both loyal to the original and still give loyalists a satisfying pay-off.  And don’t worry, the updating ends with the inclusion of standardized tests–you won’t find any cell phones, smart phones or texting issues for the kids in this movie.

The story centers around Charlie Brown’s attraction to the little red-haired girl who moves in across the street and the lengths he will go to to try to impress her.  This love affair was the core of many original Peanuts comic strips, based on Charles Schulz’s real-life attraction from afar with a red-haired girl.  Snoopy’s parallel exploits in this movie mirror this love affair, as he pursues his own love story on paper, revealed to us as a story of a dog trying to win over air pilot Fifi in his World War I Sopwith Camel fighter plane on a mission in France, also taking on the famous Red Baron.

Peanuts blu-ray

The Peanuts Movie hails from Blue Sky Studios, who brought us the Ice Age franchise.  Even without a 3D television the depth of field here is spectacular, and with the 3D effect director Steve Martino does not shell out standard 3D gimmicks, but lets the characters simply float off the comic strip and into their own full-color, beautiful “real” world.  The backgrounds look like the homes and backyards of any American town cul de sac.  And if you look close enough you’ll see Snoopy finally has fur.

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This year one of the world’s best children’s books will come to life as author Munro Leaf and artist Robert Lawson’s 1936 book The Story of Ferdinand is adapted for the big screen as Blue Sky Studios’ Ferdinand.  Life magazine once called Ferdinand, “the greatest juvenile classic since Winnie the Pooh”.  The Story of Ferdinand even outsold Gone With the Wind to be 1938’s number one bestseller.

Ferdinand is a bull in rural Spain, a pacifist who only wishes to enjoy the idyllic life and smell the flowers in the pasture.  But he is thrust into the world of bullfighting because he is seen as an enormous, fierce creature.

John Cena (Psych, Parks and Recreation) stars as the voice of Ferdinand, with co-stars Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters 2016), David Tennant (Doctor Who), and Anthony Anderson (Law and Order).  So far we’ve seen nothing but great films from Blue Sky Studios, like Titan A.E., the Ice Age series, Rio, and The Peanuts Movie.  These are the same guys that created computer animation for Alien: Resurrection and Star Trek: Insurrection.

Check out this fun trailer for Ferdinand:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of a book about the popularity of Fawcett Comics‘ original Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal–the superhero renamed Shazam and featured in a new movie this month starring Zachary Levi–will be the perfect trip through time for fans who have enjoyed the character in his many stories going back to his debut in 1939.  My personal favorite Captain Marvel stories can be found in the original Whiz Comics (all in the public domain and available to read online now here) and as drawn by Alex Ross in his landmark graphic novel with Mark Waid, Kingdom Come.  For the first time in a softcover edition, Chip Kidd’s Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal has been reprinted by Abrams ComicArts just in time for the release of the film, Shazam!

For those not in-the-know, this is the Captain Marvel who now goes by Shazam (the word that causes him to bring forth his powers)–the one owned by DC Comics today, and not the one owned by Marvel Comics and also in theaters now in the movie Captain Marvel (reviewed here at borg).  Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal is a historical work, and it doesn’t hesitate to use the name he’s always been known as by his fans.  As told by writer Chip Kidd, the Captain Marvel fan club had 400,000 people in it in its best year in the 1940s, and Fawcett projected 40 million followers of the character in books and film.  Captain Marvel books sold 1.3 million copies per month, not a common feat even today.  Does anything approach that kind of fan club status today?  At the height of the character it was more popular than Superman and Batman, and so of course the character had hundreds of tie-in products.

Readers will marvel over a reprint of the entire story from Captain Marvel Adventures, Issue #1–created by two then unknowns: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, and reprints of several colorful covers from Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel Comics, WOW Comics, Master Comics, America’s Greatest Comics, Spy Smasher, and even Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, plus pages of scans of original comic pages from ex-Fawcett staff.

The book uses photographs from a collection of some of the scarcest superhero collectibles known, including images of books, toys, and paper ephemera for Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel Family–superhero kids like Billy Batson–the boy who turns into Captain Marvel–and his friends who use the Shazam powers but remain as kids.

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Charlie Brown and Snoopy in 3D

What better way to bring in Spring than news of a new Peanuts movie.  Don’t you hope they get this right?

It’s Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters in 3D, called simply Peanuts.  The franchise that gave us each of the best holiday specials of all time–A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), It’s the Great Pumpkin (1966), Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), and Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975)–is back, more than 30 years after four prior big-screen efforts that didn’t quite live up to the TV shows: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (1980). 

And the first teaser trailer is here.  The voice of Chuck seems right and the overall look is pretty good, despite being so different from the classic four-color comic strip feel of the TV specials from the 1960s to 1970s.  But the key ingredient–if they can deliver what they need to deliver– will be the “heart”.  Can a new team of creators get it right?  Please?

Check it out for yourself:

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Franklin, Schroeder, Pig Pen.  We’re hoping they all are back again.  And maybe, just maybe, Lucy won’t pull the football away this time.

Look for Peanuts in theaters after a long wait–November 6, 2015.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Itty Bitty Hellboy Issue 1 cover   KISS Kids Issue 1 cover

Of all the kids comics titles out there how could we possibly pass up previewing a title like Itty Bitty Hellboy?  Dark Horse Comics’ new five-issue mini-series hits comic book stores in two weeks, August 28, 2013, but we’ve previewed it so you have time to order it from your local shop or add it to your pull list.

Itty Bitty Hellboy at first blush has the look of My Little Pony or Adventure Time–bright and cheery colors and fonts and wacky-styled characters and stories.  The difference is that the title character is a demon with an irregular-sized arm who is almost a caricature of the Hellboy in the standard monthlies.  (Where’s that broken horn?)  He’s that feisty little spawn we saw in Hellboy the movie, yet he fits right in with this crowd of a neighborhood of kids, much like you’d find in Peanuts or The Simpsons.  His lifelong friend Liz is here, as well as some rather unusual friends you wouldn’t find in Springfield.

HBYIB-1-PG-04-7d1b3

Broken into multiple stories that help develop our understanding of Hellboy and his friends, Itty Bitty Hellboy feels like a cross between Calvin and Hobbes and Spy vs. Spy.  It’s good, innocent fun any kid will like and any parent should approve of.

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Stuck On Star Trek Cover Joe Corroney

Back in December I tracked down and discussed here ten retro toys you could still buy as gifts for the holidays.  In that list I included Colorforms–those reusable, thin plastic stickers that you could use to re-create scenes on a cardboard backdrop. As a kid I went crazy for these–I had every Colorforms set from Star Trek to Peanuts, The Fonz, Marvel Superheroes, Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo, Evel Knievel, and an awesome oversized set called Castle Dracula where you could house all of the classic Universal Studios monsters under one roof.  The Star Trek Colorforms playset came with a backdrop of the bridge of the original Enterprise and white, yellow, blue, and red colored stickers featuring crew, hand weapons and aliens.  It was a popular set and provided hours of fun.

Stuck on Star Trek bridge background

Colorforms still exists but doesn’t license a lot of movie and TV properties, but I recently saw in a toy store playsets for young kids with Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora the Explorer, and Spongebob Clearly with all the high-tech toy options for kids these days it’s the littler kids that are the Colorforms target consumer.

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What makes a great character?  The USA Network has used “character” as its marketing focus for the past few years, even using it to make advertising dollars by making their character of the week the Priceline Negotiator when William Shatner was guest starring as the father of Maggie Lawson’s character Juliet O’Hara on the TV series Psych.  In genre fiction, especially in popular sci-fi vs serious science fiction, whether it is in TV or film or books, sometimes character gets swallowed up by setting.   More than anywhere else, in science fiction or fantasy or mysteries you need a good balance between character and place, but if you don’t have characters that grow and change you probably have a weak story altogether.

So what makes a great character a favorite?  Is it their job?  Their passion?  Something they did?  Their reaction to their environment?  Beyond what makes him or her, or it, great, what makes a character something you form a personal attachment to?   How do you determine who your favorite characters are?

Maybe you’re drawn to favorite archetypes.  A lot of what I watch on TV and in movies are detectives to some extent or another.  Is there a more long-lived and admired character than Sherlock Holmes, for example?  My favorite incarnation of all the film versions is the current Sherlock series on BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  This is followed second closely by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law’s Sherlock Holmes movie series.  But Holmes has been injected in other incarnations, too.  Batman is Holmes in a cape with crime-fighting gadgets.  Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House on House M.D. is Holmes as a modern genius of medicine.  Psych‘s Shaun Spencer is Holmes as master sleuth posing as a psychic.

We like Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman.  Why?  Are they really just modern versions of Frankenstein’s monster?  Same for Robocop?  These characters challenge what it is to be human.  More than any other character in sci-fi, Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation sought out his humanity, but even he was a modern version of Pinocchio, a puppet trying to be a real boy, and Mr. Spock, who was part Vulcan, part human, had the same struggle discovering who he was.  Maybe we just like them because, like the Fonz, they are just plain cool to us?

Characters all fall into the classic struggles, of one or more conflicts, of a struggle between man and himself, between man and other men, or between man and society.  Is it that struggle that grabs our attention?

Popular characters get made into books, TV shows, movies, franchises.  Like Batman, Superman, James Bond, Doctor Who, Jack Ryan, John McClane, Buffy Summers, Indiana Jones, Alice in Resident Evil, Lara Croft, Harry Potter, Hobbits.  Other characters you might just get a glimpse of, but then you’re hooked and they become your favorites for life.  Like Boba Fett, Tron, Yoda, Gimli, Johnny Fever, Chewbacca, Theoden King.  And your favorite characters may not be humans or even human-like.  Maybe they are animals, like Benji or Lassie.  Or something not exactly human or animal, like Grover from Sesame Street, or Cookie Monster, Eeyore the long-eared donkey from Winnie the Pooh, Calvin (or Hobbes!) from Calvin and Hobbes, Ferdinand the Bull, E.T., Snoopy from Peanuts, Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Foghorn Leghorn, Scooby Doo.  Some characters have the classic hero role, like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Dorothy Gale, Captain James T. Kirk, Scarlett O’Hara, Hiro Nakamura, Captain Kathryn Janeway, Ivanhoe, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Snow White, Eowyn, Mace Windu.  Some favorite characters serve as villains, often villains we love to hate, like Darth Vader, Maleficent, Sark, the Wicked Witch of the West, Colonel Nathan Jessup, Sauron, Commander Kruge, Willie Stark, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Khan, the Terminator, The Borg.  Maybe they are hard to fit into any category, like Billy Pilgrim or John Casey.

What makes a character your favorite?  As opposed to the question “Who is the greatest character in any genre work?” what is your “favorite” is purely subjective.  Maybe there is little great to be said about your personal favorite.  Maybe your favorite is a well-meaning screw-up like Al Bundy or Homer Simpson.  Maybe it’s someone clueless, like Cher, Alicia Silverstone’s character in the movie Clueless.  Maybe it’s someone who can’t get a break, like George Bailey or Joan Wilder or  Clear in Final Destination 1 and 2.  Maybe it’s someone as innocent as can be, like Buddy the Elf in the movie Elf, or purely good, like Santa Claus, or Fred Gailey, the lawyer who represented Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.   Or maybe it’s people like Fred who protect and defend others, like Ben Stone or Archie Goodwin or Inigo Montoya or Jack McCoy or Thomas Magnum or Frozone or Robin Hood or Atticus Finch.

Who are our favorites?  Starting tomorrow and for the next four days we’ll ask the borg.com writers to reveal their top five favorites from genre fiction, from any media, books, film, TV, or anything else with characters they can come up with.

Check out the Editor’s picks here.

Check out Art Schmidt’s picks here.

Check out Jason McClain’s picks here.

Check out Elizabeth C. Bunce’s picks here.

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