Category: Comics & Books

A Curse Dark as Gold cover Elizabeth C Bunce

The trees are turning red and orange and it couldn’t be setting up for a more perfect autumn, and Halloween is only a week away.  If you’re looking for a ghost story to get you into the mood of the season, check out writer Elizabeth C. Bunce’s novel A Curse Dark as Gold, available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and E-book editions from and other booksellers, first reviewed here back in 2011.

A Curse Dark as Gold is set in the Gold Valley in that far away land where fairy tales reside.  Charlotte Miller is a girl in her late teens whose father dies and leaves her the town of Shearings’s woolen mill, which serves as workplace for most of her community, along with the care of Charlotte’s younger sister Rosie.  Unwanted responsibilities fall into the lap of this young woman from page one.  From a framework standpoint A Curse Dark as Gold is a spin on Rumpelstiltskin-type helper tales of the past, but this story takes on its own life.  Shearing is at once lovely and pastoral, yet dark and creepy doings begin to permeate the corners of the town.  A mysterious uncle arrives and begins to interject himself into the girls’ lives, pecking away at their sanity.  As if sick itself, the mill begins to respond to the death of Charlotte’s father, with boards crashing down, textile machines failing, and the fabric of Shearing seeming to unravel.

A Curse Dark as Gold audio Elizabeth C Bunce told by Charlotte Parry

The story is set at the dawn of an Industrial Revolution.  Water wheels are about to be replaced with steam power and the smoke-filled cities that come along with that new technology.  Charlotte quickly finds she has inherited her father’s acumen as a savvy businessperson, yet real life pressures including competition from big city wool firms, and unfair attempts to squeeze Shearing’s mill out of the marketplace, cause the mill to lose its workers.  The economic issues are only the beginning of Charlotte’s problems.  A strange neighbor lady is a follower of old world ways, superstitions and magic, and Rosie attempts to fix things by dabbling in this world.  Charlotte, a non-believer, weighs her options and soon a helper appears with an impractical but decisive solution.  Charlotte makes a bargain with this man and Shearing is safe for a time, but as more problems hit the town and the stakes are raised, Charlotte is left to make further bargains, and one, last unthinkable deal that could prove to be her undoing.  Charlotte is steadfast and stubborn, relying only upon her own intuition she turns away from everyone near her, including sister Rosie and her new husband.

The rustle of the wind, the creaks of the mill building, the thump of the belts on the mill wheel, all come alive.  Thoroughly creepy images of the mysterious stranger manipulating Charlotte’s uncle will stick with you long after you’re done reading.  And at the heart of the novel is a dark ghost story, that will force you to decide whether Charlotte’s mill really is cursed.  Elizabeth’s exquisite prose, and the determined and believable voice of narrator Charlotte, will leave you believing you didn’t pull a work from 2008 off the bookshelf, but a classic work written in the 1800s. You will be hard-pressed to find another book that will better get you in the mood for the coming holiday and its hauntings.  The audio book as read by British actress Charlotte Parry, known for her roles in Tony Award winning Broadway plays, is a great way to immerse yourself in this ghost story.

A Curse Dark as Gold has won several national awards, including being listed on the Smithsonian Institution list of notable books, Oprah Winfrey’s recommendation list for YA, the American Library Association recommended reading lists including best fiction, listed on the Amelia Bloomer Booklist (honoring strong female roles), and winner of the first William Morris Award (honoring first time authors).  It was also included along with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and In Cold Blood on the Kansas sesquicentennial 150 Books/150 Years list.

C.J. Bunce


Old Man Logan is one of those great comic book ideas that surprisingly took such a long time to come around.  It would be like seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger come back in Conan the Conqueror to play an elder King Conan, a film that always seems in the works but never quite in a moving-forward state.  In the X-Men movies it means Hugh Jackman, in supposedly his last of nine films portraying the steely clawed X-Man, gets a rare chance to complete a character study 17 years in the making.

The first trailer for Logan, the next X-Men movie following this year’s hit films X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool, reveals more than what we expected to see of Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier.  Hugh Jackman looks the right age as Wolverine years after the villains take over Earth.  The other universe of Marvel films outside the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been well-established to bounce around, in parallel worlds, and has resulted in the most satisfying movies in the superhero genre, particularly with the spectacular X-Men: Days of Future Past. 


And something new and exciting:  We meet a new X-Men character from the comic books, Wolverine’s clawed clone X-23.  Will Logan be as good or better than past X-Men entries?  Check out this first trailer:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It will take fans of the earlier editions of The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, Revised and Expanded Edition less than a dozen pages of browsing to realize the enormity of the material–and the effort–required to update the previous 1999 edition for this 50th anniversary boxed, hardcover, two-volume reference published this week.  Enterprise–the series that has been virtually ignored in Star Trek reference publications, finally gets its due, as does the later seasons of Voyager, the last season of Deep Space Nine, and the films Star Trek Nemesis, Star Trek (2009), and Star Trek Into Darkness. 

An invaluable reference until the creation of the online fan-run Memory Alpha, the original three editions of the The Star Trek Encyclopedia were the only place for fans to get quick Star Trek data with the last update in 1999.  The advent of the Internet seemed to have spelled certain doom for any hope of a revised and updated edition.  Memory Alpha has more than 40,000 pages of detailed Star Trek reference data.  How could a 1,056 page two-volume edition compete?  For one, long-time fans of all or many of the Star Trek series likely appreciate the ability to pull a reference book off the shelf.  Memory Alpha’s recent updates make the website difficult to navigate and website TrekCore’s value is very much in its screen captures.  Star Trek reference works have been very sporadically released in the past 20 years, so fans are always clamoring for a new book.  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is very much an encyclopedia, and many may not remember the days of pulling a volume of an encyclopedia off the shelf and reading it through for entertainment.  This is a great set of books to do just that.  And the detailed content is what fans want.

Excluding this summer’s release Star Trek Beyond, original edition creators (and former Star Trek art department creative gurus) Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda craftily and seamlessly weaved the J.J. Abrams’s movies–called the Kelvin timeline now– into this work as explained in their foreword (only Star Trek (2009)’s villain Nero’s entry, for example, bridges both the Prime timeline and the Kelvin timeline in The Star Trek Encyclopedia).  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is also the first publication that thoroughly addresses the nuts and bolts of Star Trek Into Darkness. 


I came up with a list of my favorite items: references, characters, objects, and places that did not turn up in the past editions, to see if they all were now included.  They were, except for entries and images of certain key alien weapons, uniforms, and artifacts from the Kelvin timeline (like John Eaves’ beautifully designed Klingon weapons, Romulan disruptors and rifles, or the new Klingon uniforms and helmets).  These types of updates are present across the board for Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  Artist Ian Fullwood updates Doug Drexler’s artwork quite well, adding to his work updates with the same look and feel as Drexler’s original creations.  Don’t expect past entries to be updated other than some have updated photographs–the research and preparation was clearly all about the new series and movies, also what the fans want and expect.

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One of the best in-universe, sci-fi, tie-in books that we have come across is part of this year’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Insight Editions’ Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report is not only a great idea–a book that could have been a movie prop used by the likes of Paul Reiser’s junior executive Carter Burke–its execution is superb.  Remove the title wrap and you have a mock leather-bound, heavy duty field guide that you might see passed around by the corporate types in the next Alien movie.

Written by Aliens, Star Trek, and Resident Evil tie-in novelist S.D. Perry with lavish artwork and designs by Markus Pansegrau and John R. Mullaney, The Weyland-Yutani Report pulls out all the stops to deliver a comprehensive Board of Directors summary guide to the findings and technology uncovered with the Alien movies beginning with Ridley Scott’s prequel Prometheus in 2012 to 1979’s Alien, to Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1986), and through to Alien: Resurrection (1997).  (The Predator crossovers are not covered in The Report). 


The most eye-opening data ties together–in a manner more clearly than portrayed in the films–Weyland-Yutani corporation and its founder Sir Peter Weyland, from details available in the films and information that was only character background that didn’t make it into the films.  The goals of the corporation that were the fabric that connected all the films is investigated with some top secret findings (and some redacted), including the hierarchy and gross (as in chestburster) anatomy of the Xenomorphs, groundbreaking (future) scientific achievements of “The Company,” as well as weapons, ships, tools, and theories of alien beings and their connections to early Earthlings.  (Learn even more about “The Company” at the corporate website here).

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The Jungle Book.  The Hobbit.  Winnie the Pooh.  The Last Unicorn.  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  The Dark Crystal.  Mouse Guard.

There is an exclusive royalty of fantasy tales featuring non-humans in fantastical realms.  These books and movies should be on the bookshelves of everyone with an imagination.  Strange worlds familiar and yet unfamiliar.  Steeped in tradition, filled with myths and legends and populated by extraordinary creatures.  These are fantasy masterpieces that make us look beyond our humanity.

Based on a world of characters he created in college in 1996, in May 2005 artist and writer David Petersen self-published the first of several stories of his micro-universe called Mouse Guard.  In 2006 Archaia started publishing Mouse Guard issues  books.  Petersen earned the 2007 Russ Manning Award for Most Promising Newcomer, and in 2008 he earned Eisner Awards for Best Publication for Kids (Mouse Guard Fall 1152 & Winter 1152) and Best Graphic Album – Reprint (Mouse Guard Fall 1152 Hardcover).  We at have been bragging up Petersen’s Mouse Guard series from the beginning.


This month Archaia is releasing the first Mouse Guard Coloring Book, and we have previews of the book below.  It is a fantastic book to go crazy with crayons or pencils.  But it’s even more.  The more than fifty black and white illustrations in a format larger than what is printed in the Mouse Guard series shows the intricate detail of the environments, cities, and characters from across the Mouse Territories.  Although some images are printed smaller than the original artwork behind these previously published works, this is the closest you may come to getting your hands on an affordable gallery of Petersen’s original pencil and ink drawings.  At a convention commissioned inked 7×7 works from David Petersen go for $500.  Original Mouse Guard pages sold for that amount a decade ago but would sell for at least triple that today.  So this coloring book serves also as a look at what Petersen sees with his original art pages, as well as a great convention sketchbook.  And costs less than $15.

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The first entry in Insight Editions’ new Hidden Universe Travel Guides series will prompt you to book your next vacation early, and a bit better informed.  Dayton Ward provides his take on the Lonely Planet and similar travel guides with the target of our first Final Frontier pleasure trip–not to Risa–but to Spock’s home planet Vulcan.  Don’t worry, it’s not just shrines, volcanoes, and caves.  You’ll find Vulcan the planet is more fun than most Vulcan people you know.

This in-universe book works because of Ward’s humor and his creative choice of content, tapping his extensive Trek expertise from his decades of producing Star Trek novels.  Ward’s travel guide is loyal to the format of Earth destination books (I compared it to my travel guides to Jamaica), which to some extent requires repetition.  But Ward makes that work, too, coming up with clever examples derived from Star Trek canon that will test your knowledge of the planet, the people, and the culture.  So you’ll see for each of eight selected regions how to get around, sights and activities, shopping and entertainment, dining and nightlife, and lodging, but you’ll find a broad variety of events to keep each chapter fresh (try Spring Break at Lake Yuron, orbital skydiving at Vulcana Regar, or re-enactments of prison life at the Veklar Prison Museum), plenty of different bars and (primarily) vegetarian cuisine to choose from (I crave some plomeek soup, but no Whataburger?), including the familiar now-franchised Quark’s Bar (but don’t try to steal the menus!).


Like Earth guides, you’ll learn helpful information about local culture and customs (want to try out a lirpa at a Vulcan marriage ceremony?), etiquette, warnings (how to get rid of an unwanted katra), and safety information like tourist traps, and souvenirs to avoid (buying fake Vulcan ears is tacky).  I particularly like the idea of the B’jinglan Air and Space Museum, including the displayed starship Ni’Var, now suspended in the same drydock in which it was built.  Definitely some detailed thought went into this book.

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In comic books featuring decades old characters, years of monthly stories stack up, build up to allow characters to get fleshed out, defining plots ironed out and redone until they are synonymous with the characters, and those stories sculpt characters and worlds that fans feel they know very well.  Well enough to defend the characters if a modern adaptation doesn’t get it quite right.  Although Marvel Studios adaptations have done well at the movies, its television shows haven’t measured up so well.  Until now.  The Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage is full of so many elements that make it a quality series you can expect it to be a contender at next year’s Emmy Awards.  And the successful 13-episode Season One of the famous Power Man of Marvel Comics’ past is readying us for the next Marvel series, featuring Luke Cage’s martial arts partner Iron Fist.  We’re previewing the first trailer for Marvel’s Iron Fist here at below.

Marvel’s Luke Cage succeeds in two unique ways.  First, Luke Cage is completely loyal to its 1970s origin.  Carl Lucas, played by Mike Colter (reprising the role he began in Marvel’s Jessica Jones), is a man from Harlem, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  A very Stan Lee-style, comic book experiment gone bad much like that found in the origins of The Incredible Hulk, Spider-man, and Deadpool results in Carl gaining incredible physical strength, cellular changes in organs that allow his skin to deflect bullets, and rapid body repairing, all thanks to a mad scientist named Dr. Noah Burstein (played in the series by Michael Kostroff).  Lucas escapes and changes his name to Luke Cage.  Key characters from the comic books fill in the blanks of his life, including Dr. Claire Temple (a role reprised from the other Netflix Marvel series by Rosario Dawson), Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley), Misty Knight (played brilliantly by Simone Missick), nemesis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey), and a mobster named Shades (played by Theo Rossi).  The story hails from the Blaxploitation era, with Cage similar in cool toughness to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, and female characters that could all have been portrayed by Pam Grier if this were a contemporary adaptation.


The other indicator of success for this adaptation is the ability to update the story to today, for today’s viewers, and to make the story timely.  Set in a New York City neighborhood with a gritty tale like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (with Harlem swapped for Bedford Stuyvesant), the rough-and-tumble Harlem of the series encounters the same class warfare, the same friction between police and minorities, and the same political corruption that is, as once professed by the original Law and Order series, “ripped from the headlines.”  Luke Cage is a mix of plenty of good genre moments we’ve seen before, yet, thanks to the likeable and believable series star Mike Colter, it succeeds on its own merits.  It is at once a mix of the M. Night Shyamalan hooded superhero played by Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, and yet its first season follows a modern mobster-based story much like that of Fox’s current DC Comics-inspired television series Gotham.  And it all starts with that local barber shop we see in so many inner-city-based stories-unlike the typical superhero story the hero is not trying to save the world, he’s trying to save his neighborhood.


Luke Cage is dark, darker than other Marvel properties, just as it was when the comic book first appeared.  This New York City is not a sparkly comic book Metropolis or even a Batman-grim Gotham City.  It was rough like real life is rough.  And where this adaptation could otherwise land in the PG-13 realm since it lacks the volley of F-bombs from most pay channel series, because of some nudity, Deadpool-level violence, and prevalence of the N-word in street talk, this is one for the adult audience.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t some great fun here, to be found in the viewers’ empathy for this anti-hero/vigilante as he takes his lumps and their subsequent cheers as he “gains justice” from those who wrong both him and those he cares about.  The throwbacks to the original are also quite fun, throwbacks like those used in the G.I. Joe movies, like Cage’s tagline profanity replacement “Sweet Christmas,” a phrase Colter gets exactly right and somehow makes work completely in 2016, plus references to his “Power Man” comic book title as well as his “hero for hire” tagline, and in one scene he disparages his outfit when he finds himself in one of his comic book era outfits.  Woven into the series are Easter eggs to listen for, including many indirect cross-references to Netflix’s previous Marvel series Daredevil and Jessica Jones that are relevant to this story.  This adaptation of a 1970s comic book series reveals the producers can stick to the original elements and still make this story relevant in 2016.

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Where DC Entertainment has been limping along in its efforts to bring superheroes to the big screen in recent years, it has ruled the airwaves on network television thanks to the CW Network and the creative team of Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg.  What Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan have failed to capture–the same interesting, exciting, rich stories, character development, action, and fun of comic books–these guys have delivered, tapping into what fanboys and fangirls want most.

Are their shows perfect?  Definitely not.  The budget for television series doesn’t allow the freedom of big budget movies.  The stories adapted to the small screen have also changed many things from the comics and when the characters themselves have fans of multiple versions of each character… well, you can’t be all things to all people.  Yet, DC on TV has fared better than on film.  We’d all rather see the relationships build between superheroes, even if they are the B-team superheroes, than costly explosion-filled disaster movies posing as superhero stories.  Yes, we’re talking about you, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and The Dark Knight Rises.

The CW Network has cornered the market on the best of DC on TV.  And this Fall with the addition of Supergirl from ABC, we now will have a superhero series every night from DC and Warner Bros.  If DC really had its act together it would see that Fox’s Gotham switched from Monday nights to Fridays, for a full weekday schedule, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.


This past week, to preview the new season and what characters we can look forward to, including–at last–Martian Manhunter (the last remaining key Justice League character to make it to the modern live-action DC Universe) the CW released a follow-up to last year’s Superhero Fight Club video.  Check it out:

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he-man-2   he-man-1

Are you a fan of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats from the 1980s?  Were they a part of your afternoon cartoon line-up?  Did you pit your action figures of He-Man and Lion-O, in an epic battle against Skeletor and Mumm-Ra on your parents’ living room floor?  If so, a new series from DC Comics and Mattel may be your next favorite comic book.

An outgrowth of the Big Jim action figures and toy line, Masters of the Universe toys first appeared in 1981.  Four years later we met the ThunderCats in a Marvel Comics series and animated television series.  Flash forward thirty years and Mattel’s Rob David and Lloyd Goldfine have written a limited series bringing together the two worlds with interior artwork and covers supplied by Freddie E. Williams II.  The artist had a big year with another big crossover, his Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, a huge hit for fans of both franchises and for DC Comics.

Advance publicity for the series gives us a look at what’s to come: In his eternal desire to destroy the mighty ThunderCats, the evil Mumm-Ra quests for a weapon that can rival the legendary Sword of Omens: He-Man’s Sword of Power!  But his dimension-spanning scheme launches a cataclysmic crisis that will, for the first time ever, unite Lion-O, Cheetara, Tygra, Panthro, WilyKit and WilyKat with He-Man, Battlecat, Teela, Man-At-Arms and the rest of the Masters of the Universe.


This week the six-issue series begins.  We have a preview of the series below for readers.

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The best artwork in a graphic novel you will find this year is at your comic book store this week.  Seven-time Eisner Award winner Jill Thompson has created the definitive Wonder Woman origin story with Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, written and painted in the spectacularly vibrant manner only America’s most acclaimed writer-artist could create.

You may be familiar with Diana, Amazon Princess, and her ancient origin story, but this new version is a keeper–a storybook you’d read to your kids with lush colors and mythology steeped in classic folklore.  The action and storytelling are similar in execution to the best work of Alan Moore and his bold layouts, as well as the action and story development in Frank Miller’s 300–an easy comparison because of the setting and theme–yet Thompson’s story and art is far richer.  Thompson’s watercolor-painted comic pages and layout work is up there with the 1980s-1990s work of Mike Grell, and Wonder Woman: The True Amazon may very well be not only looked back on as the benchmark for all Wonder Woman: Year One attempts to come, it’s very possibly the best looking graphic novel from DC Comics since Grell’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.


Best of all, Thompson’s story is surprising.  For much of the tale Diana is anything but heroic.  An early subtitle was The Very Selfish Princess–should that give you a hint.  Thompson looked deep into the mythos of Wonder Woman–celebrating her 75th year this year–and asked “what did Diana go through to become this iconic figure?”

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