Category: Comics & Books


Last week we discussed here at borg Titan Comics’ first volume of stories spinning out of History’s Vikings series.  Vikings finished the 10-episode first half of its sixth season and the second half of its final season is expected late this year.  The next graphic novel tie-in fans of the show should check out is Vikings: UprisingThis second book in the series features even more deception, strategy, and bloodshed than in the first.  You’ll want to soak up these characters while you can.  A rumored TV spin-off is expected to come to Netflix in the future, but that show will be a 24-episode series called Vikings: Valhalla, set a century after the original series.  So the characters won’t be the same, but it will look similar as it will be filmed in the same location.  Its focus is adventures of Leif Erikson, Freydis, Harald Hardrada, and the Norman king William the Conqueror.

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As we look back on ten years of the best content we’ve covered at borg, it will be difficult to imagine the History channel’s Vikings not making our list of top television series for its faithful portrayal of historical and lore elements and its exciting drama.  Vikings season 6 has wrapped up the 10-episode first half of its season and as the wait continues for the second half of its final season, Titan Comics has two graphic novels to keep fans’ thirst for more quenched.  The first we’ll cover and preview today is Vikings: GodheadIf you like the characters developed in the show, or haven’t caught the series yet but are called to the Norse stories of axes, swords, and shields, this book is for you.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After World War II, in essence a world stunned with death and destruction emerged to try to forge its way into the future after one of the planet’s most trying challenges.  Inspiring tens of millions was the true-life voyage of Norway’s Thor Heyerdahl, a pioneer made of the same mettle as Shackleton and Hillary.  Heyerdahl was a student in Oslo who spent a year in Polynesia, where he developed the idea that peoples like the ancient Incas could have traveled across the Pacific Ocean and settled the area easier than saling from the west.  After a decade trying to prove his hypothesis, Heyerdahl assembled a team of six men, five Norwegians and a Swede, and built a balsa raft consistent with parts and construction the Polynesians would have had available centuries before, which he named Kon-Tiki after an Incan sun god.  His challenge?  To complete the voyage from South America to Polynesia without assistance from modern technology.

Heyerdahl’s 1948 account of the voyage, Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft, became one of the best-selling books of all time (selling more than 56 million copies), his 1950 documentary of the voyage, Kon-Tiki, earned an Oscar, and an impressive 2012 theatrical adaptation, also named Kon-Tiki, was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film.  Both of these films are now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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If Neil Gaiman’s prose adaptations of historical works haven’t held your interest, perhaps this new visual adaptation of his novelistic collection of stories in Norse Mythology may be a better entry point.  Adapted by writer-artist P. Craig Russell (whose adaptation of Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung should be required reading for all graphic novel enthusiasts), this new series is sure to get those with Viking heritage their needed fix for all things Nordic.  Thanks to key visual contributions from Russell and artists Mike Mignola, Jill Thompson, David Mack, and Jerry Ordway, and color work by Dave Stewart and Lovern Kindzierski, get ready to get immersed in some ethereal, surreal, classical surroundings with the stories of Thor, Loki, Odin, and more.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This week a cat from outer space joins author Ellie Patterson (formerly known as Ellie Bethel) and artist Alexandra Columbo′s successful kids’ picture book series Michael Recycle IDW Publishing is moving back into more normal production of comics and books, including the publication of the Michael Recycle Meets Borat The Space Cat, the latest 24-page, colorful hardcover book to help kids learn the importance of protecting the environment.  You need only look out the window to see the lack of jet trails in the sky, cleaner looking and smelling air, and flowers flourishing like never before to see the significance of reducing pollution.  Borat the Space Cat has come to Earth–and brought a few friends–to help earthling Michael Recycle spread the message of saving the planet high and far before it’s too late.

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If Classics Illustrated was ever your thing or you like peering into fantastical worlds, a new graphic novel series online will be worth checking out.  It’s not really about a fantasy setting as found in Black Panther or Flash Gordon or Tarzan or Conan, but it has the same appeal, the same visual cues, bold colors, and feel.  It’s Aztec Empire, by writer Paul Guinan (known for his time-bending mash-up Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and his participation in the documentary 24 Hour Comic) and comic artist David Hahn.  It features an incredible culture from the past along with good storytelling that will keep you coming back for more.  And it’s timed right, as this spring is the 500th anniversary of the events featured in the introductory pages of the series.

As with the Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Eric Shanower’s look at ancient Greece in his Age of Bronze graphic novel series, Aztec Empire is a heavily researched time travel voyage back into the daily lives of a people in history, in this case the period before the fall of the Aztec peoples to the Spanish in 1521, only three years after the arrival of Europeans.  Guinan researched dozens of primary sources (including contemporary writings from the 1500s) as well as secondary historical sources, and the end of each episode of his series provides six pages of equally fascinating explanatory annotations to the historical record to support each panel.  Some of these feature photographs of the source materials used to derive the look of references like glyphs on walls, or embellishments on character clothing.  In many ways Aztec Empire is an attempt to update the writings of the past with the benefit of today’s resources and knowledge, but its sources are very much contemporary to the events chronicled.  Human barbarism to other humans is also not reserved for only one side of the story–here the atrocities of each side of the conquest come to the fore.

Guinan is not only the series writer, he provides layouts, coloring, and lettering.  “In telling this story, my main challenge is keeping it as authentic as possible,” says Guinan.  “All the persons and events depicted in Aztec Empire are based on the factual record, with some extrapolation as to specific character motivations, dialogue, costume details, etc.  I’m cross-referencing primary sources from different viewpoints, looking at Mesoamerican and European sources with an awareness of their cultural biases as well as my own.”  Hahn designed the look of the characters and provides the finished pencil work and inks.  The combined artwork shares a style in common with the animated style of Doug Wildey and something of P. Craig Russell’s work on his illustrated novels.

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In-person cancellations have not kept every event this summer from canceling entirely.  One of those is typically one of the summer’s biggest events, San Diego Comic-Con.  Events for SDCC 2020 are proceeding ahead beginning Wednesday, but this time providing an opportunity for fans of all things pop culture a chance to sit through the kinds of panels you might see were you to attend in person in any regular year–without standing overnight in lines.  You can even grab a lanyard off the rack, print your own badge (for you and your pets), cosplay with your family, and load the panels up on as big of a screen as you have.  It’s 350 panels over five days, beginning Wednesday, July 22, and wrapping up Sunday, July 26.  Check out all our suggestions for building your own fun convention week experience below.

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This Friday fans of the science fiction TV series The Expanse get their wish: a fourth season and new studio commitment that may yield even more seasons.  Dropped by the Syfy channel more than a year ago, Amazon Studios is breathing new life into the series, taking over right where the third season left off (check out a preview for the new season below).  Based on the James S.A. Corey series of novels (eight with a ninth in the works), the show has earned a fan following much like that of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, in part because of its similar dark and gritty look at the future of Earth.  And as a bonus, unlike most TV series, The Expanse now has its own behind-the-scenes book digging into the production, full of concept artwork, ship and costume designs, and all the future tech that goes into a visual effects-filled show.

The Art and Making of The Expanse was created by Titan Books editor Andy Jones and Alcon Publishing’s Jeff Conner.  It doesn’t skimp on the photographs, giving fans both a treasure trove of screen images while also showing how those final shots came to be.  It recounts how the series made its way from video game to roleplay game to novels before getting picked up for TV.  Showrunner Naren Shankar and producers Mark Fergus, Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck tell the whole story with contributions from actors Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Cas Anvar, Thomas Jane, and Sadavir Errinwright, production designer Seth Reed, costume designer Joanne Hansen, construction coordinator Robert Valeriote, senior VFX supervisor Bob Munroe, and concept artist Tim Warnock.

Readers will see all the key sets, spacesuits and other costumes, props, designs, ships, ship signage, and more from the first three seasons with a look at the fourth season’s concept art.  Look for layouts on each main character, the major ships and space stations, and a lot more.

Here is a preview of season four of The Expanse, with new cast members Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Forever, The Man in the High Castle), Lyndie Greenwood (Sleepy Hollow, Nikita), Jess Salgueiro (Orphan Black, The Strain), Michael Benyaer (Deadpool, Magnum PI), Chai Valladares (Star Trek Discovery, The Boys), and Kris Holden-Reid (Vikings, Lost Girl), and a new cyborg or two:

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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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Fans of pop culture and comics have one more day to attend the fourth annual Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines this weekend.   Held at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines, thousands of attendees from Iowa and neighboring states toured the halls and giant celebrity autograph and photo-op room, many in cosplay garb Friday and Saturday.  Even more people are expected to turn out for the show Sunday as Wizard World rolls out a “bring a friend free” promotion.  The show continues today 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Check out the event website here for more information.  Wizard World continues its national presentation of comic book and pop culture conventions next week as the show moves on to Columbus, Ohio.  After the success of the first two days of this year’s event in Des Moines, the fifth Wizard World Des Moines show is already being planned by show organizers for next year, to be held May 10-12, 2019.

Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Black Panther’s Winston Duke, and many other celebrities talked with fans in the show’s celebrity row signing area.  Comic book creators talked about books, and autographed books and art for fans.  We loved this new Green Arrow print from guest comic book creators Phil Hester and Ande Parks (with color by Mouse Baumann):

Even more than 20 years after the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters (Spike) maintained a steady stream of fans waiting in line to meet him all day Saturday:

Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols returned to the Midwest.  Here she is being interviewed at the event for a local radio station:

Genre actor Jim Beaver (Supernatural, The X-Files, Deadwood, Enterprise) met and signed autographs for crowds of fans:

Nationally-known comic book creators were well-represented at this show.  Artist Phil Hester returned to Wizard World–here he is featured on the creator stage demonstrating illustration techniques:

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