Category: Comics & Books


Living Dead cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

“By removing the head, or destroying the brain.”

It’s the message delivered to England residents in Shaun of the Dead by the news service on how to deal with the impending zombie threat.  And the same rule applies to the killing of zombie ghouls in the long-awaited sequel to the original zombie classic, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.  That’s right, writer Daniel Kraus picked up a story begun by George A. Romero decades ago to create a behemoth of a follow-up to the movie series in a 654-page novel, The Living Dead: A New Novel It’s scheduled to arrive in bookstores and online June 9 (update: moved to August 4), and borg has previewed an advance copy thanks to publisher Tor Books.  Romero, who passed away in 2017, was the modern horror auteur, known as the “Godfather of the Dead” for his works including the films Creepshow, Monkey Shines, and an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Half, in addition to several zombie/ghoul sequels.  He inspired countless horror directors, including Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead.  But his 1968 black and white creepshow is what he is known best for.  In conjunction with Romero’s estate, Kraus wrote the bulk of the novel based on more than 100 pages of story and notes from the acclaimed horror writer and director, described in an author’s note to the novel.

The nuance and 1960s style of Night of the Living Dead is long gone in The Living Dead, replaced with a fully modern zombie spectacle–think 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead.  But its framework of characters destined to have intersecting paths is like a Quentin Tarentino movie, and this is the kind of story anyone could see him adapting to the screen.  Kraus takes a Romero story treatment of what starts as “some kind of bird flu thing” and attacks it from numerous vantage points, including the unique viewpoint of the thoughts of the dead as they re-emerge as zombies.  Characters that take center stage in separate encounters include: Puerto Rican squadron pilot Jennifer Pagán, who fights off “turned” military personnel aboard the USS Olympia aircraft carrier, Karl Nashimura, a master helmsman aboard Pagán’s ship, Chuck Corso, an ambitious journalist who has never been taken seriously until he intercepts a White House internal communication reflecting a frightening turn of events, Etta Hoffman, an archivist worker in a Census Bureau records center, whose access to death data documents what could the final years of humanity, and Greer Morgan, a young resident of a mobile home park in rural northwest Missouri who knows how to use a bow and arrow.

But the best of the novel tracks the actions of Luis Acocella, an assistant medical examiner in San Diego who experiences the first encounter with a patient affected by a strange new virus that seems to be reanimating the dead.  The story of he and his assistant Charlene, would have made a superb story, even if the rest of the chapters had been stripped away.  Although many zombie tales are strictly fantasy horror, the author makes some effort to provide a science fiction basis for the virus’s study.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TKO Studios is the new comic book publisher that surprised the industry early this year with an entirely new way to entertain readers.  They release four books at once in a binge format paralleling Netflix TV streaming shows, and they offer each story available in a trade paperback edition and as six separate comic book issues in a boxed set.  Readers buy whichever format appeals to them.  The last positive is the publisher’s slightly oversized format, a size that allows more artwork space per page while still feeling like a comic book.  But this is all formatting.  The substance doesn’t pull any punches, with TKO bringing in some familiar, beloved writers and artists for their first round (check out our reviews of those series linked below).  So does the second round measure up to the first? It was worth the wait, and fans will be pleased.

We’ll begin with Eve of Destruction, a zombie survival story in the vein of The Walking Dead, but mixing in several other influences and concepts along the way.  The story is written by TKO’s CEO and co-publisher Salvatore A. Simeone and Steve Simeone, with lettering by Ariana Maher.  The heavy lifting comes from artists Nik Virella, Isaac Goodhart, and Ruth Redmond who fill six issues with non-stop action.  And if you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, you might agree the creatures have more than a little in common with that horror film.

 

On the night of an important school dance, a girl’s separated parents, both women, are feuding over how each is contributing to the parenting the girl.  A hurricane is closing in off the coast, and with it comes a change in biology fueled by changes in the Earth’s environmental conditions that are triggered by this new storm.  The nature of the threat is specific and unusual–it is only targeting men and boys, and the results are on track to produce a kind of extinction forecasted in the title.  Although it could be a story about feminism, it doesn’t have any time to even broach the ramifications of this threat.  This is a story about survival in the first hour of a disaster.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

You really need to read the promotional information for AMC’s new series NOS4A2 to understand what happened in the first episode, which premiered this week.  A slow-starter that meanders more than it should to introduce characters, place, and conflict, NOS4A2 has enough going for it that it should get viewers to at least return to give the second episode a try.  The mood is horror, beginning with the murder of a woman and her boyfriend and the kidnapping of the woman’s son.  The kidnapper is a take on Krampus, played at first by an unrecognizable Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Hotel Artemis, Heroes), who tells the kid he is taking him to a place called Christmastown, and he de-ages over the course of the episode as he drives north in his vintage Rolls Royce.  The show screams Stephen King, complete with Easter egg throwbacks to King’s many stories, the overall feel of IT, and a setting reminiscent of his classic coming of age werewolf movie, Silver Bullet, complete with an old covered bridge as a central plot element.

What does this NOS4A2 have in common with the 1922 horror film Nosferatu?  Nothing yet, and so far it has no vampire appearances, although Quinto’s Krampus-esque villain appears to be sucking the life force slowly from his child victims.  There is a reason for the throwbacks and similarity to Stephen King’s works–it’s because the series is based on the novel NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 in the UK) written by King’s son, Joseph King who writes under the name Joe Hill (also known for the IDW Publishing comic book series Locke & Key and the book and film Horns).  Unfortunately the first episode takes its time getting anywhere, and before you know it the hour has run and viewers are left with a vague introductory picture of what is happening.

What do we learn?  The kidnapping takes place in Iowa.  A local librarian who knew the missing boy, played by new actress Jahkara Smith, divines supernatural messages through Scrabble game tiles, which looks like it will soon connect her with an 18-year-old young woman in Massachusetts named Vic McQueen, played by 27-year-old actress Ashleigh Cummings (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).  As her character’s name would indicate, she drives a motorcycle and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks.  She favors her wife-beater father, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Punisher, Medium)–who encourages her to follow her dreams of being an artist–over her mom, a bit of a caricature of the disinterested parent, played by Virginia Kull (Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks). 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

An overlooked 2018 sci-fi adventure mini-series is making its way to a trade collected edition tomorrow.  The six-issue story arc in Image Comics/Skybound’s Stellar is a mix of good sci-fi concepts and action-adventure imagery.  You’ll find big-eyed aliens similar in design to the villainous hunter Zando-Zans of The Last Starfighter, a rundown future world bent on destruction like in Firefly, fast-paced action and characters like that of Syfy’s Killjoys, and a lead heroine called Stellar who is stuck out of time, with a past and future hidden from her, evoking recent years’ Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel stories.

Writer Joseph Keatinge (PopGun, Shutter) takes on a surprisingly complex idea created by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Marc Silvestri (Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine) and delivers the kind of story that belongs in the graphic novel format.  Stellar moves from place to place, from time to time.  She pursues the evil Zenith, an alien monster she believes to be the cause of destruction in her future.  Or is he pursuing her?  She’s moving through time, encountering those who may be able to help her unravel the twisted time loop she seems to be stuck inside.

The pretty, futuristic stylings and color choices by artist Bret Blevins result in a standout read visually.  And Keatinge pulls elements in from all kinds of sci-fi stories to create uncertainty and doubt.  Readers will ask “what’s going on here?” more than once, with an ending that is both satisfying and interesting.  It’s not the kind of tale that needs a sequel, the complete story is right there.

Here are some preview pages of Stellar, courtesy of Image/Skyborne:

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With Amazon Studios releasing a new, full-length trailer for its six-part series Good Omens, showrunner Neil Gaiman discussed his creative process for the book and the show at this weekend’s South by Southwest (SXSW 2019) conference and festival in Austin, Texas.  Check out his panel interview below, with Gaiman discussing the series and his creative process.  Gaiman co-wrote the novel Good Omens on which the series is based with Terry Pratchett way back in 1989.  Pratchett passed away in 2015, and now, led by Gaiman’s efforts, twenty-nine years after its creation the book is on its way to a TV adaptation later this spring.

In Good Omens the end of the world is coming, and opposite personalities in the form of an Angel and Demon are brought together to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon.  They have lost the Antichrist, an 11-year-old boy unaware he’s meant to bring upon the end of days, sending the pair to find him and save the world before… The End.  The series combines the talents of Douglas Mackinnon, who directed episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it stars David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Viva Blackpool) and Michael Sheen (Passengers, Doctor Who, Tron: Legacy, Frost/Nixon, Alice in Wonderland).  Other big names appearing in the series include Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness), Jon Hamm (Baby Driver), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Muppets Most Wanted), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Michael McKean (Clue, Laverne and Shirley), David Morrissey (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead), Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards, Isle of Dogs), and Brian Cox (Shetland, RED, Doctor Who).

First, take a look at the new full-length trailer for the series, followed by the discussion with Neil Gaiman this weekend at SXSW 2019, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette:

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Two of television’s best genre actors are soon going to be donning superhero garb for the two major comic book movie franchises.  First, earlier this month Disney+ announced Emmy-winning Orphan Black lead actress Tatiana Maslany will be expanding the realm of the Marvel Universe as She-Hulk in her own series.  Then today Black Adam star Dwayne Johnson announced Leverage co-star Aldis Hodge will be joining him to fill bring into the fold one of the last members of the classic Justice League of America to have a major series or movie role.  Hodge will play Hawkman in the Black Adam movie.  Both will be live-action shows.

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Heroes is the subject and title of a new gallery show featuring artwork of nationally-recognized artist Ande Parks.  Parks, a professional comic book inker and artist, as well as a comic book writer and novelist, created ink drawings and watercolor works for the exhibit, which showcases some of his own personal heroes, both real and imaginary.  Celebrated for three decades as an inker of superheroes for all the major comic book publishers–he was nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for his work–Parks has established his own grand, heroic style.  An artist reception for the show is tonight at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Expect to see from the imaginary side works featuring Green Arrow (Parks created a groundbreaking run of the famous longbow hunter series with actor/director/writer Kevin Smith and artist Phil Hester beginning with the story Quiver), Uncle Slam (an “out-of-touch patriotic superhero” who, along with sidekick Fire Dog, were both created by Parks in the pages of Action Planet Comics), and Batgirl (Parks and Hester worked with writer Devin Grayson on bat-family tales in the Nightwing series).  Works from Parks’ real life heroes will include icons like Truman Capote (Parks wrote the graphic novel Capote in Kansas, chronicling Capote’s days in Kansas writing In Cold Blood).

We’re speculating the show may (or may not) include characters Parks is also known for, like El Diablo (Parks worked on the origin of the character in The Haunted Horseman with Hester and writer Jai Nitz), Ant-Man (Parks and Hester created a zany series featuring the irredeemable superhero a decade ago with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman), and Kato, Lone Ranger and Zorro (Parks has written comic book series featuring all these classic characters), and maybe even J. Edgar Hoover?  (Parks wrote the historical graphic novel Union Station with artist Eduardo Barreto, featuring a massacre in Kansas City that influenced the FBI director).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its first episode back in 2015, we called it “your next favorite TV series.”  This week iZombie saw its last episode.

Rob Thomas hasn’t directed the blockbuster movies or gained the same fame, but he’s filled in the gaps on television for genre fans where Joss Whedon left off.  Along with giving us Veronica Mars (and refusing to let the world of Neptune, California, fade into TV history), Thomas brought Liv Moore and the post-apocalyptic zombie world of iZombie to life, a bigger and better heroine than the one found in the original Chris Roberson and Michael Allred comics.  That was thanks to New Zealand actor Rose McIver, whose versatility and charm took her from roles in Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Legend of the Seeker to create one of our newest favorite superheroes.  And with Thursday night’s fifth season and series finale episode it’s all over now, yet still leaving plenty of opportunity for future episodes, series, a film, or novels, just as Thomas has provided for his sleuth Veronica Mars.

Can the middle–the place of reason our heroes are striving to fight for–survive the extremism from both sides of the ongoing struggle?  In the finale, “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Thomas brings everything full circle, wrapping up every last plot thread for Liv, Major, Clive, Ravi, Peyton, Dale, Blaine, and Don E.  But he throws an eleventh hour wrench into the plot–the cure for zombies won’t help the kids with Fröhlich’s syndrome.  Are they doomed either way?  As always, Thomas leaves plenty of room for fun–the actors and characters, the banter, and that chemistry, that made iZombie so good for five seasons.  Along with McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley, Rahul Kohli, David Anders, Aly Michalka, Bryce Hodgson, and Jessica Harmon formed probably the best ensemble cast on network genre TV.

A perfect series finale is a reminder of how iZombie matched the success of Grimm in so many ways, and filled the void left by that show so well.  iZombie also improved with each of its five seasons, and exponentially improved in its final season–as Grimm did–once the end of production was in sight, complete with the year’s best hour of TV, the noir send-up episode “Night and the Zombie City.”  Series like these prove that when ratings aren’t the only driving force and creators have freedom to take characters in new directions, audiences are in store for a real treat.

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Tomorrow one of TV’s best and funniest shows adapted from a comic book returns.  iZombie enters its fourth season on the CW with the episode, “Are You Ready for Some Zombies?”  When we last left Rose McIver’s Dr. Liv Moore and her friends, Seattle became open for business to zombies, complete with food stands to feed the newly-exposed zombie population.  Showrunner Rob Thomas’s former Veronica Mars leading man Jason Dohring joined up in season three as Chase Graves, and when we saw him last he infected the flu vaccine with the zombie strain, furthering spreading the zombie population of Seattle, with included Det. Dale Bozzio (Jessica Harmon), the ex-girlfriend of Rose’s partner-in-crime solving, Det. Clive Babineaux, played by Malcolm Goodwin, our borg.com best TV actor of 2017.  Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley) convinced Graves to scratch him, making him a zombie yet again, after Natalie and his crew were massacred.  And Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) went forward and shot himself with his experimental vaccine, leaving anything and everything open for this new season.

But what may be the most fun to look forward to this season is the return of the unlikely pair of David Anders’ Blaine DeBeers and his former, disloyal, sidekick Don E (Bryce Hodgson), back again as the show’s bad guy element.

If you miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, iZombie is the only series that comes close, with that clever dialogue and those great scripts we once thought only Joss Whedon could turn out.  The TV series is loosely adapted from the comic book series iZombie, created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, and published by DC Comics under its Vertigo imprint.

Here is a preview of Season 4 of iZombie:

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