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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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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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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Never been to a comic book or pop culture convention?  Always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con but you don’t have the vacation time available or the funds?  Planet Comicon is next weekend in Kansas City and it’s the sixth year of the show at downtown Kansas City’s giant convention center at Bartle Hall.  Planet Comicon is a great way to get a complete three-day convention experience centrally located in the Midwest, ideal for a last-minute road trip for the family or a car full of friends.  Kansas City is less than 8 hours by car from Dallas, less than 7 hours from Minneapolis, a little more than 7 hours from Indianapolis, and a little more than 8 hours from Denver.  And you don’t need to buy advance tickets–you can purchase them at the door.

So why make the trip?  How about meeting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Firefly star Alan Tudyk?   Also from Firefly, as well as Doctor Who, Supernatural, Chuck, Leverage, Star Trek Voyager (and one of borg.com‘s actors we can’t get enough of), Mark Sheppard?  Want to get a photo with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” Yondu) and Pom Klementieff (Mantis), stars of last year’s biggest superhero hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2?  Are modern classics your thing?  How about seeing the star of fan-favorite movies like Say Anything, High Fidelity, and Eight Men Out?  Yep, John Cusack is returning to the Midwest for this year’s show (you can even bring your prized Rooker and Cusack Eight Men Out baseball cards for autographs).

Do you want to compare notes on The Walking Dead with stars Khary Payton, Rooker, and  Sonequa Martin-Green (also star of Star Trek Discovery)?  Maybe you’re a Game of Thrones fan.  You can meet both Jerome Flynn and Jason Momoa (also Aquaman in the DC Universe movies).  And speaking of fantasy, Planet Comicon is featuring a rare appearance by Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis, who played the beloved hero Neville Longbottom.  Want to meet the actor who has played the toughest badass characters you’ve ever seen?  Sling TV barista and Machete himself, Danny Trejo will be in the house.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ryan Coogler, the young writer-director of the excellent Rocky sequel Creed, has put his Creed star Michael B. Jordan against Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 and Thurgood Marshall in last year’s film Marshall.  The result?  The next great Marvel superhero movie, Black Panther, opening this weekend in theaters everywhere.  Boseman is back as King T’Challa, the suave and poised Black Panther of the comic books who audiences first met in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.  The new film fills in the blanks of T’Challa’s origin story, populated with a dozen of the best characters from any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, matched to some of today’s best actors.  On the heels of last year’s wildly successful surprise hit Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther is just as good if not better, but completely different.  It’s a more serious tale, a one-off in the MCU similarly spliced into the ongoing Avengers narrative as was done with 2016’s supernatural Doctor Strange.  It also supplies a new, rich superhero mythology populated primarily with black characters–a film first featuring a black superhero title character in a major studio release.  Coogler’s layered, multifaceted film is even more successful at accomplishing what Zack Snyder tried to do last year with the DC Universe film Wonder Woman, which first put a woman in a title role in a major superhero movie.  Coogler makes great strides with Black Panther, not just a mere first step.

Beginning with a father teaching his son about a hidden country in Africa called Wakanda, we learn that a powerful resource called vibranium gives the people of this land incredible power, which they hide from the known world.  The story is straight out of Shakespeare or Roman and Greek histories: three princes compete for the throne of Wakanda when the King dies in a terrorist attack at the United Nations.  Boseman’s T’Challa is the heir-apparent who is challenged for the throne first by Prince M’Baku (Winston Duke), then by Jordan’s Erik Stevens, a special forces soldier from the States whose death toll in battle earned him the nickname Killmonger.  Not just a one-note villain found so often in superhero movies, Erik has his own complex backstory that converges with T’Challa’s efforts to capture the film’s villain, Ulysses Klaue (pronounced “claw”), one of Marvel’s best villains yet, played by Middle-earth native Gollum and The Planet of the Apes’s series’ star Andy Serkis.  Although his antics are unique, here Klaue is the crazed villain you’d expect from a superhero story.  Erik also assumes a villain role, but his story and particularly his life in parallel to the new King is more biblical in its roots.  Erik’s father is N’Jobu, a compelling supporting character at odds with Wakanda, played by Marshall co-star and Supernatural’s Sterling K. Brown, and his past sets up a compelling tragedy arc within the film for Erik.

For those who go to superhero movies for badass superheroics, it’s the women of the film that fill that niche.  Our own early borg.com nominee for the annual badass heroine of the year goes to the fan-favorite actor from The Walking Dead, Danai Gurira, as Wakanda General Okoye.  Her steely resolve and loyalty alone is enough to get us to race back to the theater to watch her all over again in the theater tomorrow.  A Wakanda spy and confidante of the King is Nakia, played by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book star Lupita Nyong’o, a fierce and savvy ally.  But a favorite of the film for many will no doubt be T’Challa’s young sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright (Doctor Who, Ready Player One, Humans, The Commuter).  The film doesn’t completely find its voice and reach full throttle until Shuri lets out a howl in a conversation with her brother.  By that point the entire audience is onboard.  Shuri is very much derived from Q in the James Bond movies, supplying her brother with the latest tech.  After movie audiences got a peek at what a woman would look like as James Bond with South African actress Charlize Theron as a superspy in last year’s Atomic Blonde, those looking for the first black James Bond need go no further than Boseman’s smooth and stylish take on T’Challa Coogler even inserts a spectacular casino mission scene straight out of 2012’s Skyfall, and borrows another great character from the Bond playbook with The Hobbit and Sherlock actor Martin Freeman as a very, very Felix Leiter-esque American CIA agent named Everett Ross.  A scene pitting Freeman opposite Serkis again will be a fun reunion for fans of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like Jon Krakauer’s account of the May 1996 disastrous climb up Mt. Everest (Into Thin Air) prompted only more people in subsequent years to make the climb, and like Krakauer’s account of ill-fated adventurer Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) drove more adventurers into the Alaskan outback, more than 125 years earlier the tale of a man separated from his exploration party in Yellowstone for 37 days would prompt excitement across America that would result in President Grant naming the forest of geysers, hot springs, sulfur pots, geological features, and waterfalls the first national park.  The man lost in the wilderness was Truman Everts, and his first-hand accounts of his trials in Yellowstone (the longest anyone has ever been lost in the park and not discovered dead) is recounted in Lost in the Yellowstone (New Edition), a thrilling account of being lost and alone with only the clothes on his back with snow, storms, mountain lions, bears, wolves and coyotes.

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pizzaboy iii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

What comic book series would you like see adapted to film that hasn’t yet been tried?  The big superheroes–and many small ones–have now made their marks, along with the likes of stories from independent or creator-owned origins like From Hell, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Cowboys and Aliens, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Hellboy, RED, R.I.P.D., Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and even small screen shows like The Walking Dead, iZombie, and now Wynonna Earp.  Ask me what comic book series I would like to see translated to film the most and I won’t flinch:  It’s Portuguese writer/musician Felipe Melo and Argentinian artist/designer Juan Cavia’s The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy.  (I’d invest in that film right now).  It’s the most humorous and satisfying series since Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows.  Rich in pop culture references like you’d find in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Leverage, fanboys and fangirls of any franchise will find some all-out fun here.  Now the creators are concluding their series with the final act of an epic trilogy, The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy III –Requiem, available now from Dark Horse Comics.

Melo and Cavia (and colorist Santiago R. Villa) are the real deal.  Each of their three volumes has a foreword by a legendary film director fan:  John Landis, George A. Romero, and now Tobe Hooper.  Dog Mendonça (pronounced men-dōn’-sah) and PizzaBoy originally appeared in serial form in the pages of Dark Horse Presents.  João Vicente “Dog” Mendonça is an overweight, Portuguese werewolf operating out of a noir era private investigator’s office.  Mendonça has a lanky unpaid pizza delivery boy who becomes a client he calls PizzaBoy.  And he has an assistant–a 6,000 year old demon named Pazuul, who appears as a chain-smoking blonde girl who never speaks out loud.  They’ve saved the world more times than anyone can count, and are pretty blasé about it.

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We reviewed the first volume in the series, The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy, here at borg.com back in November 2012.  In the first book the reader becomes a character walking along with the duo as Melo breaks the “third and fourth walls” in a funny and beautifully drawn story.  Mendonça told the reader his own comic book creation story.  In flashback we saw Mendonça’s tumultuous past.  We learned that Mendonça’s father and six sisters were killed during World War II so that bad guys led by a Nazi could capture Mendonça and use his beastly werewolf powers for his owns ends– a tale full of bad circumstances, an epic journey in a small package, and revenge.

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Wizard World Des Moines

Convention planner Wizard World will hold its first pop culture convention in Iowa this June–one of dozens of Cons it is holding across the country this year.  Wizard World Comic Con will introduce Des Moines to sci-fi icon William Shatner (Star Trek), horror icon Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back), and Jewel Staite (Firefly), plus Emily Kinney and Michael Cudlitz (The Walking Dead), and a giant roster of other celebrity guests from film and TV, past and present.

Arrow Manu Bennett

Arrow’s Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, actor Manu Bennett.

Other familiar genre actors scheduled to attend include Manu Bennett (Arrow, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), J. August Richards (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Angel), Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Psych), Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), and both Sean Patrick Flanery and David Della Rocco from Boondock Saints.

Dean Cain Superman

Dean Cain, from Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Several well-known comic book writers and artists will be featured in Wizard World’s Artist Alley: Des Moines’s own Ant Lucia (DC Comics “Bombshell” covers and posters), Neal Adams (Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow), Mike Zeck (Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars), Iowa-based artist Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Flash), Michael Golden (Star Wars, The ‘Nam), and many others.

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prideprejudiceszombies

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic story in possession of fans must be in want of retelling.  Likewise, that if that story is a novel, it should also thence be made into a film.  And if you can find a way to put zombies in, wins all around.

Thus, writer/director Burr Steers’ new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, based on the eponymous 2005 novel “co-written” by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) and Jane Austen.  Cleverly packaged to release in time for Valentine’s Day, the film is a sure winner for date night: costumes; romance; actors in various states of fetching undress; violence; girls with swords; shambling, oozing undead in fetching period costumes; and powerful women with estates and eyepatches.  And Matt Smith.  Need I say more, really?

As a version of Pride and Prejudice, PPZ is probably below average, and relies on the viewer’s familiarity with the story, since much of the film’s 108-minute runtime must be given over to worldbuilding and action sequences (although fans of the 1995 A&E adaptation will be rewarded with plenty of homages, especially with respect to Mr. Darcy).  Prideful Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) and disdainful Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) have even less onscreen chemistry than Austen’s off-again, off-again lovers normally display–but they more than make up for it with their zombie-fighting prowess.  Lizzie’s intolerable-yet-lovable family is neither interesting enough nor loathsome enough to inspire much response from the viewer; thank goodness for the zombies to give us something to care about.

PPZ zombie

As a zombie film, it’s probably also less than what the average zombie flick fan is looking for.  There are the requisite scenes of shambling hordes, rotting flesh, and brain-eating, but it’s somewhat tame thanks to the PG-13 rating, and in comparison to so many other recent zombie properties.  In fact, it’s actually a credit to the filmmakers that they didn’t try to outdo the competition with their zombie horde, and instead showed a certain 19th century refinement and restraint in the presentation.

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Wizard World Des Moines

Convention planner Wizard World is holding its first pop culture convention in Iowa this weekend, introducing Midwest genre fans to sci-fi icon William Shatner (Star Trek), horror icon Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back), Alex Kingston (Doctor Who, Arrow), and Jewel Staite (Firefly), plus Emily Kinney and Michael Cudlitz (The Walking Dead), comic book writer/artist Mike Grell (Green Arrow), Iowa’s own Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, The Flash) and a giant roster of other celebrity guests from film and TV, past and present.

Arrow -- Image AR315C_ATOM_0001 -- Pictured: -- Photo: Cate Cameron/The CW -- © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Brandon Routh as The Atom and Superman

Other familiar genre actors scheduled to attend include Manu Bennett (Arrow, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), J. August Richards (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Angel), Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Psych), Cassandra Peterson (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), and both Sean Patrick Flanery and David Della Rocco from Boondock Saints.

Alex Kingston River Song Doctor Who

Alex Kingston, River Song from Doctor Who, and Dinah Lance from CW’s Arrow.

Several well-known comic book writers and artists will be featured in Wizard World’s Artist Alley in addition to Mr. Grell: Des Moines’s own Ant Lucia (DC Comics “Bombshell” covers and posters), Neal Adams (Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow), Mike Zeck (Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars), Iowa-based artist Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Flash), Michael Golden (Star Wars, The ‘Nam), our pal Jai Nitz (Dream Thief, Tron: Betrayal, El Diablo), and many others.

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