Category: Comics & Books


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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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

Is there a more likeable superhero in all of the DC Comics and Marvel Comics extended universe than Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers on CW’s Supergirl?   New this year from Abrams/Amulet Books is Jo Whittemore’s latest novel in her CW Arrowverse tie-in series, Supergirl: Master of Illusion.  Readers will catch up with Kara as she teams up with J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, sister Alex, James Olsen, CatCo tech genius Winn Schott, and her boyfriend Mon-El against her next foe, vintage DC Comics supervillain Felix Faust, an illusionist, manipulator, and hypnotist.  He’s out to gather some ancient artifacts to unleash a trio of demons on the world, and he has plenty to distract the protectors of National City.  As Kara assembles her team to help, she meets up with another oldie-but-a-goodie, the multi-talented Princess Tlaca and Justice League Dark favorite Madame Xanadu.

Kara’s self-effacing inner monologue said out loud (“did she really just say that?”) makes her the most accessible protagonist of any of the recent slate of superhero novel adaptations of comics, TV series, and movies.  Nice, kind, and never snarky (and always seeming to be hunting down her next snack), she accomplishes all she needs without acting like an all-powerful, infallible god like Superman and Wonder Woman, or her all-powerful counterpart named Danvers from that other comic book universe, Marvel Comics’s Captain Marvel.  Supergirl doesn’t forget the “girl” in Supergirl–she’s cute but not cutesy, and she’s smart and has her own skills, but a key component of her character is her lack of confidence.  She’s learning, but she makes mistakes along the way, like every young woman (or man) or girl (or boy), and that’s a great way to get readers on her side.

Felix Faust seems like a good guy at first, helping Kara get her way out of a fix as she’s schmoozing the local city elite at a gala event.  But his real agenda soon becomes clear.  How does the mysterious princess from the ancient Aztec civilization fit in?  It’s up to Kara to maintain her alter ego as a journalist, get a story and keep her job, and save National City before it’s too late.

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Morbius novel cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

As each new superhero gets his showcase in Marvel movies, we’re getting more and more lesser known characters pulled from the history of Marvel Comics to meet on the big screen.  As we stray away from the actual superhero headliners, the obscure come to the fore.  Probably the best of the darker, horror comics can be found in DC Comics, members of Justice League Dark, in recent years including Constantine, Swamp Thing, Zatanna, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, and Shade.  But it’s the feel of JLD you’ll find in Brendan Daneen’s Morbius, The Living Vampire: Blood Ties, a new novel in the Titan Books library of novel adaptations of Marvel Comics.  Taking place after the origin story of Marvel’s take on a “bat-man,” to be adapted in the pandemic-delayed, big-screen debut of Marvel’s latest monstrosity Morbius starring Jared Leto, this story gives an accounting of that “living vampire” first created 50 years ago in the pages of Spider-Man comics by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane.

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firefly_brandnewverse_001_cover_a_main (1)  Firefly_BrandNewVerse_allltt

It’s been a little more than two years since BOOM! Studios took over the Firefly comics license from Dark Horse Comics.  Since then BOOM! has offered up the twelve-part Unification War story arc, a second twelve-part New Sheriff in the ‘Verse arc in compilation editions (Vol. 1Vol. 2, and Blue Sun Rising so far), and the one-shots The Sting and Watch How I Soar BOOM! has also followed Marvel Comics’ template after acquiring Star Wars and is reprinting the Dark Horse classics in new omnibus “Legacy” editions.  For its next series BOOM! is shooting ahead 20 years, long after the crew of the Serenity has departed, and the ship is now captained by someone entirely new:  Emma, the child of Wash and Zoe.  Meet the same ‘Verse in different time periods–the future and a look to Earth before the TV series–in the new six-part series Firefly: Brand New ‘Verse Can there really be a Firefly without Jayne?  Find out in this new series.

Check out a preview of the first issue, and some variant and future covers in the series below.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fitting into the CW television series’ fourth season, the first book in Amulet Books’ series of novels based on the DC Comics famous speedster, The Flash: Hocus Pocus, takes readers through an all-new middle-grade adventure mystery.  Barry Allen works with Team Flash, Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow, and H.R. Wells fka Dr. Wells (aka Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, H. Lothario Wells, H. Wells, Harrison H.P. Wells, Harrison Wells, Harrison Wolfgang Wells, etc.), plus Joe, Iris, Wally “Kid Flash” West, and Captain Singh to try to find the cause of a recent series of deaths in Central City.  But while Cisco and Caitlin try to take a break from work at S.T.A.R. Labs at an old amusement park, a new villain rises calling himself Hocus Pocus (Cisco hates it when villains name themselves).

This mad magician takes control of Barry as he tries to save his job, protect Wally, save the city and have more time for he and Iris to move on with their lives together.  But this magician has found a way to control and direct anyone’s movements, and once Hocus Pocus can control Barry he can control anything, even kill a stadium full of innocent baseball fans.  Along the way Barry finds himself in front of the storefront of a psychic reader, the strange Madame Xanadu, who seems to have foreseen cryptic steps ahead in Barry’s future.  But Barry isn’t a believer.  Can he use science to find his answers, or will he need to meld both science and magic to take down this murderous magician?

 

Author Barry Lyga, who also penned the two follow-on books in the series, The Flash: Johnny Quick, and The Flash: The Tornado Twins, knows his characters well, creating a good story full of pop culture references, quips, and science–enough real science to prompt middle-grade readers to investigate some of the concepts used to solve this mystery on their own.   Continue reading

Flash crisis

Review by C.J. Bunce

If the CW’s 2019 take on DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline was your thing, you may enjoy the Barryverse version of events in a sequence of six novels featuring The Flash.  The television tie-in wove several CW Arrowverse series of DC Comics adaptations into a single story for a few weeks, in what was probably the closest we’ll see to Marvel Comics’ Avengers: Endgame for the live-action superheroes of DC Entertainment.  The Flash Crossover Crisis: The Legends of Forever debuts next week here at Amazon and at booksellers everywhere.  The sixth of Lyga’s time traveling, there-and-back-again speedster tales, and the third in his Crossover Crisis trilogy, reaches its finale as The Legends of Tomorrow take over from Green Arrow and Supergirl as guests of The Flash aka Barry Allen and supporting characters of The Flash–the series–as they prepare to go to the End of Time… to save all the worlds of the Multiverse.

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Browncoat alert! 

It’s been 15 years since we last saw the Serenity crew on the big screen.  If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying every new Firefly tie-in novel since the first debuted in 2018.  Author James Lovegrove is a frequent mention on our borg annual best-of lists, and for the Firefly series he has penned Big Damn Hero (reviewed here), The Magnificent Nine (reviewed here), and The Ghost Machine, reviewed here earlier this year.  Fan-favorite author Tim Lebbon (whose work has been frequently reviewed here at borg, and we interviewed Lebbon about his Alien tie-in novel here five years ago) is stepping in for the fourth book in the series, Generations, available now here for pre-order.  And now we have a cover reveal below for the fifth Firefly novel.  James Lovegrove’s Firefly: Life Signs is now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

I reviewed the movie on its opening weekend in October here at borg.  The movie is a true triumph for fans of director John Carpenter.  Of the ten (yep, ten) prior sequels to the 1978 original that set off an entire genre of movies, Halloween Kills is the most faithful to the original story.  On the screen it was great fun seeing Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her starring role as 1970s survivor Laurie Strode, along with  actors like Charles Cyphers back as the sheriff, Nancy Stevens as the doctor’s assistant, and Kyle Richards as the grown-up little girl.  In Halloween Kills: The Official Movie Novelization, author Tim Waggoner digs into this great story, amplifying the characterization, and making everything that flashed quickly past the movie audience have deeper implications.  He digs into the timeline of events in 1978 as the modern-day return is revealed moment by moment on that single day in 2018 that is spread over this final trilogy of movies.  You’ll be hard pressed to read a better horror tale or movie novelization this year.

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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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