Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

A stroll through the spy units in movies like the 007s of James Bond, the Kingsmen of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the spies of Mission: Impossible, the dueling and partnering international agents of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even the heroine of Atomic Blonde all provide an avenue for fans of the spy genre to see how an actor could also portray a spy of another franchise.  An example of this is Pierce Brosnan’s run on Remington Steele as prep for his destined role as James Bond.  How would Colin Firth look as a Bond, or Charlize Theron?  A similar comparison can be found in the new film, Men in Black: International, and its new novelization by author R.S Belcher.

How would Chris Hemsworth, formerly Captain Kirk’s dad in the first Star Trek reboot movie, but now engrained in the psyche of moviegoers everywhere forever as Thor, especially after his character change-up in Thor: Ragnarok, which tweaked the character with the humor that the actor seems to infuse into his other films and public appearances.  As Men in Black’s London division Agent H, Hemsworth is this character–they are indistinguishable.  It makes sense–it’s how good casting works–but it will be impossible to read the character and not think of the actor’s persona, charm, and smile as you read it.  You may try, but the character of H seems to be one that only Hemsworth could play.  Not so much directly written for Tessa Thompson is the new Agent M.  The character is a solidly conceived rookie in a wild, fun, and faithful follow-on for the Men in Black franchise.  But even with roles in Veronica Mars, Heroes, Creed, and Valkyrie in the Marvel movies, she doesn’t have that same star power–yet.  But the novelization is quite a vehicle for that Hemsworth persona, and his fans will love the book as much as they loved the film.  How would Hemsworth appear in an Ian Fleming novel?  You’ll find out here in this new novel of the British spy genre.

Credit is due to the underlying screenplay written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, but the novelization of Men in Black: International also has some of the finest alien supporting characters of the series, and the story is every bit as consistently full of fun and futuristic science fiction as the first and third movies (far surpassing the second entry in the franchise).  The alien Pawn character Pawny is right up there with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin.  Pawny is lovable and loyal, a bit like Dobby from the Harry Potter movies.

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thousand dollar tan line rob thomas jennifer graham veronica mars novel

Fresh on the heels of the theatrical release of the Veronica Mars movie (reviewed last week here at borg.com), series creator and movie director Rob Thomas (along with writer Jennifer Graham) have just released its sequel, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line We’re reviewed several franchise tie-ins and this new novel is among the best.  All that you think you’d need, the familiar characters, setting, and mood are here, but the most important is that inner monologue of Veronica.  Who better to scribe the next story, the immediate aftermath of the events of the movie, and Veronica’s voice than Thomas?

If you’re not already a Veronica Mars fan, the novel has enough of a standalone detective story to make for a good entry point for the series that genre king Joss Whedon referred to as “Best. Show. Ever.  Seriously, I’ve never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn’t making, and maybe even more than those… These guys know what they’re doing on a level that intimidates me.  It’s the Harry Potter of shows.”

Veronica back at Mars Investigations

Picking up in the days after the events of the movie and taking place literally in March 2014, the novel allows Veronica and hacker pal Mac to use all the resources of social media and modern technologies to sleuth out two missing young women who vanished on Spring break in the seedy beach town of Neptune, California (as Piz says in the movie, there really is a Hellmouth under there).  Veronica’s dad Keith is slowly recovering from his car wreck injuries.  Logan is off on an aircraft carrier in the Navy.  And Veronica is dead serious about partnering with her dad full-time at Mars Investigations, to his disappointment.

We get to catch up with a character from the series from Veronica’s distant past, as well as a new character that will likely play a key role in future stories for both Veronica and Keith.

Hacker Mac Veronica Mars

Just as true to life as the original series was, Veronica’s relationship with her dad couldn’t be more believable.  She really isn’t going back to New York to become a lawyer.  And she lives at home again.  As much as we’ve cheered Veronica on, as successful as she could be, like Michael Corleone they keep pulling her back to Neptune.  And it turns out the success we hoped to see Mac achieve (shouldn’t she be CEO of a Google or Facebook by now?) is also on a backtrack, as she quits her prestigious job at Kane Software to work for Veronica as hacker and researcher.  How could all of this have gone so wrong for these two?  Rob Thomas’s choices, if disappointing for all who have cheered on these characters, does something important:  it creates the possibility of future movies and novels.

If the Veronica Mars movie and this first Veronica Mars novel is any indication, then fans will be begging for even more Veronica Mars, no matter the format.

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Arnold Terminator Genisys

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and as with last year we’re certain we reviewed more content this year than ever before.  This year was a big year for borgs in TV and film, so we had some difficult decisions to make.  All year long we sifted through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre TV, films, comics, and other books we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.

Today we reveal the entire list–the best genre content of 2015–with our top categories Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero FixBest Animated Fix,  and Best Borg selected regardless of medium.  A dozen properties garnered multiple mentions.

We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2016!

Killjoys

Best Sci-Fi Fix – Killjoys (Syfy).  Surprised?  Killjoys pulled together great worldbuilding, characters and actors in a year of a dozen new sci-fi shows to provide us the closest thing to the next Firefly we’ve seen in a long time.

Galavant

Best Fantasy Fix – Galavant (ABC); Runner-up The Librarians (TNT).  It aired early in 2015 but nothing surpassed Galavant’s medieval high adventure and all-out Princess Bride-style fun.

the-cw-arrow-flash-crossover

Best Superhero Fix – The Flash (CW).  Of all the Marvel movies and TV series from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Agent Carter and from Arrow to Supergirl, nothing had us coming back for more each week like the superhero world in The Flash.

Rebels season 2

Best Animated Fix – Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD).  Compare it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and see if you think this animated Star Wars galaxy had an even better story and characterization, along with the return of its own group of original trilogy actors, compelling visuals and rousing music.

Terminator Genisys image

Best Borg – Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Terminator Genisys (Paramount).  Schwarzenegger created yet another borg that could stand up against his prior successful characters from the series.  A cool, moving character in a big year for borgs on screen!

Ava from Ex Machina - borg

Best Borg Movie –  Ex Machina (DNA Films).  Incredible storytelling and a small cast of talented actors provided a classic science fiction story and Oscar-worthy film about our favorite subject.

Humans series

Best Borg TV SeriesHumans (AMC).  On television the most in-depth look at life as a borg and among borgs has never been portrayed more dramatically than on this year’s surprise sci-fi hit series from AMC.

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-Rey-Finn-BB8-running

Best Kickass Genre Movie Heroine – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney); Honorable Mentions: Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), Terminator Genisys (Paramount); Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Mad Max: Fury Road (Village Roadshow)

Liv Moore

Best Kickass Genre TV Heroine – Liv Moore (Rose McIver), iZombie (CW); Honorable Mentions: Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), Killjoys (Syfy); Helena (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black (BBC)

Want to know who we picked for best villain and best comic books of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

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Ant-Man

In case you missed the first full-length preview of Marvel’s Ant-Man at the end of the second hour of ABC’s Agent Carter Tuesday night, we’ve got it here.  Strangely we almost missed this one, since it was a billed as a teaser and Marvel Studios already released a teaser last week, shown here.  This is no teaser–it’s a hefty preview of the film.  Check it out below, after the break.

Some observations on this first trailer for Ant-Man.

1.  It looks like this is one of those stories where one superhero (Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym) hands the reigns over to the new generation (Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang).

2.  Doesn’t Michael Douglas looks a lot like his dad Kirk Douglas these days?

Michael Douglas in Ant-Man

3.  The likelihood of a movie being good improves when it takes place in San Francisco (Vertigo, Bullitt, Big Trouble in Little China, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Foul Play, Star Trek IV, Time After Time, Dirty Harry, Zodiac).

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Jem movie poster

G.I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu is transforming another 1980s animated television series into a live action theatrical release.  The series Jem ran three seasons and 65 episodes, between 1985 and 1988.  Jerrica Benton was the secret leader of the glam rock, all-girl band in the original series.  The band’s name, Jem and the Holograms, will soon be the title of the live action film.  The original Jem prompted a successful toy line from Hasbro, one of the companies bringing the series to the big screen.

The magical elements of Jem do not appear to have made it to the new movie.  In the animated series Jerrica projected a holographic image over her own to disguise herself.  Aubrey Peeples (Sharknado), who could almost be a ringer for actress/singer Zooey Deschanel, now stars as Jerrica, who takes on the persona of Jem as her career in music takes off, thanks to a music producer played by Juliette Lewis.  The 1980s brat pack star Molly Ringwald co-stars.

Ryan Hansen Jem and the Holograms

Isn’t that Ryan Hansen, Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars, at the end of the trailer, getting an autograph from Jem?

Check out this preview for Jem and the Holograms:

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season-7-opening-credits-buffy-the-vampire-slayer

The Renaissance of movie and TV tie-in action figures arrived in 2013 with Funko’s classic Kenner-style ReAction figure line.  Other companies focus on single licensed figures and getting the likenesses spot-on, but Funko’s diversification of lines meant everyone could find something that fit their personal niche at an affordable price point.  A true throwback series, one of the overlooked features of the line is the incredible variety of no-names-taken, classic kick-ass heroines represented.

In fact you can find here the top of the world’s best, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, genre heroines.  Buy them for yourself, for your friends, or get your favorite as a totem to inspire you each day from your desktop.  And where the early sculpts in Funko’s line admittedly looked nothing like the actresses that made the roles famous, the new lines have only improved.  And nobody has better packaging designs than the ReAction line.

Zoe Washburne scene

Who would you add to the Funko roster of heroines?  Compare your list to our more than 85 suggestions for future kick-ass women action figures below.

First, check out this Baker’s Dozen of our favorites in the current Funko pantheon:

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Westley The Princess Bride Cary Elwes

Oliver Queen, Supergirl, Firestorm, Captain Jack Harkness, Amy Pond, and Princess Buttercup’s Westley all set to appear

For more than a decade Planet Comicon has been one of the Midwest’s biggest comic book and pop culture conventions and that was no less so in 2014 when it became the largest attended event in the history of the Kansas City Convention Center.  Last year’s show featured William Shatner and the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and this year Planet Comicon is bringing in some of today’s biggest names from TV and movies featuring fan-favorite superheroes.

Stephen Amell Oliver Queen

The star of the CW’s Arrow, Stephen Amell will be attending the event along with cousin Robbie, who starred in Tomorrow People and is the new Firestorm on the CW’s The Flash.  Genre mega-star John Barrowman, Doctor Who and Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, will also headline the Con this year.  Barrowman played Arrow’s key villain from seasons 1 and 2, the Dark Archer.

Amy Pond

Most famous for playing the Doctor Who companion Amelia Pond opposite Matt Smith, Karen Gillan will make a rare convention appearance this year in Kansas City.  Gillan starred most recently in 2014’s blockbuster hit Guardians of the Galaxy as Nebula. Also appearing from Guardians of the Galaxy is Michael Rooker, who played the blue-faced mentor to Star-Lord, Yondu, along with Sean Gunn, who was the physical on-set actor as Rocket.

Guardians Michael Rooker

Rooker appeared on The Walking Dead, and also appearing from that series will be Scott Wilson, known to fans for his role as Hershel Greene.  Wilson has starred in plenty of TV shows and movies, including The X-Files, CSI, The Last Samurai, The Twilight Zone, and the adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Firestorm

We’ve reviewed several TV and movie franchise tie-in novels over the past several years.  As a matter of course, editors that select the writers for these novels tend to choose authors with a grasp of the universe and characters and the result is usually an adventure beyond the original that will please fans.  Such novels include Alien: Out of the Shadows, Grimm: The Chopping Block, and Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.  We’ve also seen plenty of stories in print that serve as prequels or bridge the film versions of franchise stories.  Star Trek: Countdown and Alien: Out of the Shadows are examples of these, with Star Trek: Countdown being among the best Star Trek stories I have ever read from any incarnation of the franchise.  Then there are the novelizations of movies.  In the review stack are novelizations of the new Godzilla, Pacific Rim, and a new edition of the original Alien.  In the Planet of the Apes franchise, historic novelizations of the classic series always served as a reminder of the adventure behind each film, and allowed readers to add a bit here and there from their own imaginations as they revisited the stories they watched on the big screen from the comforts of their home.

Coming soon to bookstores is a new novel by Greg Keyes that bridges the recent movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the coming summer release Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Known for its great, long titles, the franchise’s latest novel calls itself the official movie prequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm.  More than a novelization, Firestorm is among the best movie tie-in novels you’ll find.  It is much more than a quick read, and Keyes delves into social, political, and scientific issues in so many ways to provide a story steeped in the morality tales of classic science fiction, while carrying with it that wide scope of action and excitement that readers want.

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Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as everyone

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and we’re certain we read more and reviewed more content this year than ever before.  And that in no less way was true for TV watching.  At the same time we waded through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre films we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our 25 picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on the moving image, and tomorrow we’ll run through our picks for the best in print and other media.  We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2014!

Year’s Best Fantasy Fix — The Wizard of Oz in Theaters.  It’s a film that has been viewed on TV so many times you might take it for granted.  It’s historically been on many movie reviewers’ Top 20 movies of all time.  But when you watch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen in the middle of a year of modern blockbusters you realize how it can stand up against anything Hollywood has to offer today, even after 70 years.  Remastering the print for a new generation to see it in theaters was a highlight for movie watchers this year.

Almost Human partners

Year’s Best Sci-Fi Fix — Almost Human, Fox.  Like Continuum last year, the new series Almost Human created a future world that is believable and full of extraordinary technologies based in today’s science and touching on social issues of any day.  And even putting aside its buddy cop and police procedural brilliance, every episode plunged us into future police grappling with incredible technologies–DNA bombs criminals use to contaminate a crime scene, identity masking technology to avoid facial recognition video monitors–it was the best dose of sci-fi in 2013.

Best TV Series — Orphan Black, BBC America.  What rose above everything on TV or film this year was BBC America’s new series, the almost indescribable Orphan Black From its initial trailers that piqued our interest, to the surprise series consisting of one actress playing multiple roles that dazzled from out of nowhere, magical special effects, and a unique story of clones and X-Files-inspired intrigue propelled Orphan Black to be our clear winner for Best TV Series of 2013.

Sleepy Hollow

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

When I set about to pull together my Fantasy Casting Dream Team, I knew right away what it would look like: The characters I selected had to be drawn from various storytelling forms (film, TV, literature, etc). They had to stand the test of time–be true, perennial favorites (vs more recent character crushes).  And they had to be female.

That part was easy.  Actually picking the roster, however, took some deep thought.  It was far easier to say who wouldn’t make the list–no matter how much I may love, say, Charlie Crews (Life), Eliot Spencer (Leverage), or John Casey (Chuck), they were all missing one important trait (that second X chromosome).  Coming up with great female characters wasn’t a problem, either–it was narrowing down my choices (and worse, committing to them, as if I’m going to be quizzed on this later in life, possibly by St. Peter.  Ok, I guess that technically doesn’t happen in life… never mind.).  So.  How to choose among beloved characters from favorite childhood books (Anne Shirley or Mary Lennox? Sophie or Princess Aerin?  Sweet Hattie or dastardly Cruella de Vil?)?  Or narrow down iconic TV characters (I could name Buffy or Faith… but my actual favorite was Anya)?  Or plumb the depths of classical literature and the oral tradition to select among greats like Penelope or Guenevere?

Ultimately, though, with enough shaking, five I’m proud to commit to rose to the top.  There was a tiny glitch with my #1 spot; astute readers may notice that it missed my #1 requirement by rather a long margin.  But he really is so marvelous he makes up for it, and he was, after all, created by a woman (if you don’t know many Emmuskas yourself, the “Baroness” part probably gave that away).

So, like choosing sides for a playground game of kickball, from first pick to last, we have:

Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

We seek him here, we seek him there/Those Frenchies seek him everywhere….

When asked to come up with my five favorite characters, the only one to come instantly to mind was Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Genre fans already recognize the drama inherent in dual identities, and in the early days of the 20th century, Orczy gave us one of the best.  He is, without a doubt, my personal favorite superhero, and my favorite incarnation is the one pictured above, as played by Richard Grant in the 1990s A&E miniseries.  By day, he’s Sir Percy Blakeney, foppish and outrageous and shockingly clueless–a charming idiot obsessed with tying the perfect cravat.  By night, he risks everything to perform incredible acts of heroism as the Scarlet Pimpernel–rescuing beleaguered French aristocrats from the Reign of Terror.  Had she stopped there, Orczy’s hero would probably still have endured.  But she added depth to Sir Percy’s character in his troubled relationship with his wife, French-born Marguerite, who bears the guilt of having once unwittingly betrayed a privileged family to the revolutionaries.  Orczy showed us this story through Marguerite’s eyes, but Grant (and others before him, including the great Leslie Howard) gives us Percy’s side, and the pain of his love for her, tainted by her treachery, informs every one of their nuanced interactions.  He is a complex and layered character, deeply wounded yet no less driven, and able to sustain the most brilliant of aliases.  It takes a genius to play an idiot so convincingly, and so Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel, swashbuckles his way to #1 among my all-time favorite characters.

Dona St. Columb
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

The great Daphne du Maurier left us a legacy of unforgettable characters: the sinister seductress Rebecca and her creepy handmaid Mrs. Danvers; the ruthless smugglers of Jamaica Inn; The Birds that stormed the Cornish coast and went on to terrorize Hitchcock’s Bodega Bay.  But among that august company, my personal favorite is Dona St. Columb, the heroine of du Maurier’s brilliant Restoration-era pirate romp, Frenchman’s Creek.  Dona is a bored aristocrat whose first act in the novel is to steal her husband’s best friend’s clothes and rob a stagecoach.  Purely for the novelty of it.  Bored to death by herself, her husband, and her shallow life at court in London, Dona takes her young children and flees to Navron, her family’s seaside estate in Cornwall.  There she discovers that the home is being used as the base for French pirates.  Lured by adventure and romance, Dona falls in with the pirates and in love with their captain, whom she always refers to as the Frenchman.  This is the setup for dozens, nay hundreds, of insipid romance novels since–but du Maurier’s great skill and talent elevate both the novel and its delightful heroine well above the average.  Dona is smart, funny, sly, impatient, gloriously larger than life, and soberly self-reflective.  Her journey of languid awakening and swashbuckling adventure is tempered by a self-awareness and maturity that copycat romances lack, and the bittersweet conclusion to her affair with the Frenchman adds a sophistication and respect to our enjoyment and understanding of her character.  But it’s through her bright, delightful voice and her witty observations of life around her that we get caught up in her tale.  I adored Dona from the first, and felt bereft when her story was complete.  And that is exactly the sort of character we all want to create.  (It is a good thing that Dona and Percy never met, for the world might well have imploded.)

The Terminatrix (Sarah Connor, Terminator 2)

Long before Kristanna Loken appropriated (appropriately) the name, fans of Linda Hamilton’s kickass performance in T2 had dubbed her The Terminatrix.  Sure, she’s not an evil cyborg killing machine, but she doesn’t let that stop her.  Evincing one of the most dramatic (if unseen) character arcs in film history, Sarah Connor goes from scared suburbanite to one-woman army, giving us a whole new breed of action hero: a female one.  We had Ripley before and Xena, et al, since, but the mold was forever reshaped around Hamilton’s chiseled biceps and steely glare.  When an aging Ahnold is not sufficient to stop a next-generation Terminator, who can we turn to but… a really pissed-off mom?  Sounds about right.

Scheherazade
The Thousand and One Nights

Her tales have been captivating us for nearly a thousand years, and it was her amazing imagination that gave us Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad.  But it is Shahrazad’s own story of selfless and unusually daring heroism that makes her one of the best characters of world literature.  When ruthless sultan Shahriyar is betrayed by his wife (and his brother, it ought to be noted), he exacts a terrible, mad revenge: each night he marries a virgin, then slays her in the morning, so he can never again be wounded the same way.  For over three years this horror continues, unstopped by all the men of the kingdom–until the vizier’s young daughter steps forward and volunteers.  Shahrazad alone has the courage and conviction to end this mindless slaying of women–and a plan that is both audacious and baffling.  She’ll do it with bedtime stories.  Shahrazad is a natural storyteller who understands better than anyone the power of the cliffhanger–and the redemptive power of story.  Each night she spins her husband a new tale–but refuses to reveal the ending until tomorrow.  Thus is she spared her predecessors’ fate.  But more than that, Shahrazad’s tales are full of moral lessons and the wisdom and virtue of women, and gradually her stories cure Shahriyar of his madness.  For her courage to stand up where no one–no man–would, and declare the slaying of women unacceptable; for her brazen plan to stop a mass murderer in his tracks with nothing but half a fairy tale; and for her enduring legacy of literary skill and feminism, Shahrazad easily earns a spot on my roster.

Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars

I can say with total honesty that Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was the heroine I’d been waiting for all my life.  She came about 15 years late for me, but the smart, sassy teen (girl) PI was exactly the kind of character I craved as a kid.  She appeared on the scene in 2004, in the genre gap left behind by Buffy, but Kristen Bell did far more than just fill big sister’s shoes.  Veronica Mars not only gave us a YA heroine for the digital age, but created an entirely new genre: teen noir.  Daughter of the town’s disgraced former sheriff-turned-private investigator, the once-popular party girl now earns extra income by spying on her fellow students at Neptune High, in a community sharply divided along class lines.  Recovering stolen homework and restoring tarnished reputations is only her day job, however, for Veronica’s hardboiled exterior conceals a wounded past, and her driving passion is solving the murder of her best friend Lily.  It’s a brilliant genre mashup that gave rise to one of the very best YA heroines ever put on-screen.  Complex, smart, independent, and vulnerable–with a kickass cool job–characters don’t come much better than Veronica Mars.