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Category: Comics & Books


Review by Art Schmidt

Premiering today, the next adventure sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons is entitled Ghosts of Saltmarsh, a title that evokes both the haunted nature of many of the adventures contained within it, including the titular Saltmarsh trilogy from D&D’s 1st Edition.  Saltmarsh is the first D&D adventure book to be officially set in the world of Greyhawk, the original D&D Fantasy world setting used in 1st and 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons before Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms captured the roleplaying community’s imagination, a fact sure to delight many long-time fans of the setting.  It includes a brief introduction of Greyhawk and provides some background information about the Kingdom of Keoland, where the coastal town of Saltmarsh is set.

The book also provides three alternate “factions”, in place of the standard five factions of the Forgotten Realms: The Traditionalists, the Loyalists, and the Scarlet Brotherhood.  Included are NPCs, motivations, and background information enough to provide players with the ability to use them in place of the standard factions.  Of course, the Realms factions can easily still be used with a little work on the DM’s part.

Similar to Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is primarily a collection of seven adventures set in a maritime area, rather than a full campaign in and of itself as with other hardcover books (such as Tomb of Annihilation and Dungeon of the Mad Mage).  The Saltmarsh adventures are designed to be inserted into an ongoing campaign and ran as independent adventures.  However, unlike with Yawning Portal, there is an outline provided in Saltmarsh which allows them to be stitched together into a campaign, with room for other published adventures or excursions of the DM’s design to be inserted in between.

Three of the adventures are based on the Saltmarsh Trilogy of D&D modules, first published in the early 1980s by TSR’s United Kingdom office (hence “U” in the original module designations “U1” through “U3”).  The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and The Final Enemy presented players with an in-depth plot, multiple twists in story and characters, and a deeper roleplaying experience than was available at the time from most other published adventures.  In fact, one entire adventure is designed to be roleplayed almost entriely through, with very few combat opportunities (unless the party started fighting with their potential allies), something rarely seen at the time.

Today the roleplaying populace at large demands a heavy, story-driven narrative for their gaming dollars, and the popularity of Twitch, YouTube and other streaming platforms have brought awareness to how enjoyable and accessible the roleplaying experience can be.  But 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons was dominated by the likes of The Keep on the Borderlands, the Slavers and Giants series, and the penultimate Tomb of Horrors, most of which were based around the same general idea: “Hey, there’s a hole in the ground and it’s full of monsters and treasure; see how far you can get without dying.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the realm of classic 1980s cartoons, is there a more iconic villain you love to hate than Skeletor from He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseSure–he’s evil.  He’s a schemer.  He’s diabolical.  He’s completely untrustworthy.  So who better to go to to seek advice?  Admit it: you’ve asked the question before:  What would Skeletor do?  At last you can find out, as Universe Publishing is releasing the ultimate how-to guide this summer and it’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon.  What Would Skeletor Do? Diabolical Ways to Master the Universe is your excuse to throw caution to the wind, and maybe change your destiny.

Need a new mantra?  Tired of being a good guy?  From advice on handling Families and Frenemies to Unwanted Houseguests, this book has it all, combining images from the television series with cleverly written advice from master in-the-know Skeletor (ghost written by Robb Pearlman and designed by Lynne Yeamans).  Love (and other evils), working on your career, and knowing what to do with your down time–whatever area of your life you’re having problems with, Skeletor can help.

Beginning with a disclaimer from Mr. Pearlman, followed by a harassing, heckling foreword by Skeletor himself just daring readers to emulate his magnificence, from there you’re on your own.  For those more level-headed readers, you may find several laugh-out-loud moments along the way.  Then again, like they say, the truth hurts and many a true word is spoken in jest.  With sage (more coriander) life advice, you may just decide to follow Skeletor’s lead (or not).  Start a rumor?  Maybe.  Cast a spell?  Why not.  Make overdramatic pronouncements about the quality of services provided at local businesses?  Bingo.  His best observation?  Probably “Nobody is worth going to Jared for.”  But his business wisdom is tried and true: “Always move your face as close as possible to the speaker during a conference call.”

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Warner Brothers continues to struggle with how next to turn the DC universe of films into a cash cow like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  First a report that Ben Affleck′s replacement will be Robert Pattinson, an actor known for both the lucrative Harry Potter franchise and Twilight franchise, was then followed by a report that Nicholas Hoult was being considered.  Hoult, co-star of the X-Men movies as Beast, among other roles, makes more sense, as first–he has the charisma and look to be both Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne, and second,–because he’d follow that common casting preference that already has seen two dozen actors playing superheroes flip from DC characters to Warner characters or vice versa.  These reports were followed by word that two other actors were on the Batman shortlist: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who already portrayed both Quicksilver in the MCU and Kick-Ass in his own series) and Armie Hammer.  Why wouldn’t they just stop with Armie Hammer?  If the studio has already ruled out Denzel Washington (just watch him in the Equalizer franchise, he’d be perfect!), then the closest to how Batman and Bruce have been drawn in the comics for 80 years is Armie Hammer.  He has that John Hamm suave manner and he’s already shown he can play a great hero opposite Superman Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  With the next new comics adaptation it does seem like Warner Brothers may be doing something right.  It’s on television instead of at the movies, where the Arrowverse group of series has seen greater success than the studio’s movie efforts.  It’s the new Batwoman series, and the CW released the first trailer for the series late this week (check it out below).

For whatever reason, Warner Brothers, the CW, etc. are hesitant to put their prime DC character–Batman–on the small screen.  Just like they were hesitant showing Superman on Smallville back in “the WB” days, or giving Batman his due within the Gotham series continuity.  But this new Batwoman series looks like it could be the closest viewers are going to get to a TV bat-hero.  Series star Ruby Rose proved she has the charisma and physicality for a major superheroine/action role in The Meg, Resident Evil, Vin Diesel’s XXX series, and the John Wick series.  Her character of Kate Kane aka Batwoman in last August’s CW Arrowverse crossover “Elseworlds,” the highlight of the event (along with John Wesley Shipp donning his 1990 Flash costume), was received well by viewers.  The new trailer seems as “Batman” in look and feel as anything Warner has produced for TV–or film.

Even better, the great Rachel Skarsten (former Black Canary of Birds of Prey and star of Lost Girl and Reign) plays a villain named Alice–Batwoman’s twin sister who took on the persona of an evil Wonderlander in the comics–who looks like she can run circles around Harley Quinn.

Batwoman has been one of DC Comics′ most fascinating characters since she was re-designed by Alex Ross for DC’s 52 series in 2006, but she really came into her own in 2009 in the Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series written and drawn by Eisner Award nominees James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli, and she was fleshed out further in 2010-2013 in the award-winning Batwoman solo series written and drawn by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.

Take a look at the first trailer for CW’s Batwoman:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of any character or universe love their fandom and often can’t get enough of it.  It’s why writers keep writing new versions of Frankenstein 201 years later and new stories featuring James Bond 66 years later and Sherlock Holmes 132 years later.  Fans of writer Mickey Spillane′s Mike Hammer novels (or the Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach television series) have not just the 13 novels Spillane wrote beginning 72 years ago, but now a full two dozen thanks to Spillane’s co-conspirator of hard-boiled crime and his successor, Max Allan Collins.  In last year’s centenary of Spillane’s birth, that meant the release of the unpublished first Mike Hammer novel Killing Town (reviewed here at borg).  Using the combined talents of Spillane and Collins, it’s a crime story as good as they get.  With the latest team-up of Spillane and Collins, Murder, My Love, Collins proves he has mastered the voice of the famous cop-turned-private eye.  This book is 100% end-to-end Collins, as the writer says he worked from Spillane’s notes but all of the prose is new material.  And that’s fabulous, because this book is all Mike Hammer at his best.

As with Killing Town, Collins’ Murder, My Love is a shorter Hammer novel and a quick read.  Personally at 200 pages I find it the ideal length–all pulp novels, classic paperback mysteries, true crime novels, etc. should be able to be gobbled up in a single trip (like on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati or a train from Omaha to Denver).  I soaked up Murder, My Love in two sittings, and it was an entirely satisfying read, complete with Hammer and his assistant/also cop-turned P.I., Velda, who Collins writes cleverly here first person in a few pages of “off-camera” playback that is some of the best material in the book.

Max Allan Collins signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018.

It’s a story set later in Hammer’s career, with Collins establishing a perfect picture of New York City from a few decades ago as he takes a U.S. senator on as a client, a senator with White House ambitions.  Unfortunately he and his wife have a history of extramarital affairs and now someone else knows, resulting in blackmail.  Hammer and Velda embark on the detective work, interviewing the subjects of the senator’s liaisons.  Once they find the schemer behind the blackmail, that’s when the body count begins.  One-by-one the possible suspects end up dead, and Hammer isn’t exempt from getting in the line of fire.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First of all it’s not really Bruce Lee.  The character’s name is John Lee, and he’s an agent after the same target but backed by a different government–the South Korean intelligence agency–and with different objectives than our title character, Mr. Bond.  Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 is smartly written by Greg Pak and drawn by Marc Laming, Stephen Mooney, and Eric Gapstur in a way that makes it easy for readers to imagine what could have been one great movie.  More as if Bruce Lee was portraying his Dragon than Kato, this Mr. Lee and Mr. Bond are well-matched adversaries.

Until they aren’t.

Taking some of the best bits from the spy trope, what will happen when MI6 teams up with South Korean spies against a common foe?  It’s Man from U.N.C.L.E meets Bond, as villains from MI6’s past start popping up, including Oddjob and Goldfinger.  A suitcase will explode if removed from, or taken too far away from, its handler.  One town of innocent people has already seen the potential of this new technology.

This series has everything.  Great tech gizmos, exotic women counter-spies, and locations across the globe.  Mooney’s artwork is fantastic, reminiscent of Mike Grell and Rick Hoberg’s pencil work during the spy years of the DC Comics Green Arrow comic book series (including a great new character similar to their Shado).  And Bond’s dialogue reveals Pak knows the character well.

 

Take a look at this preview, courtesy of Dynamite Comics:

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As HBO’s series Game of Thrones wraps with its final episode next week, Insight Editions is releasing four books highlighting the artwork of the series.  With photographs and interviews looking behind the scenes of what visually made the series stand apart from other fantasy series, these books will show how it was all done, keeping fans returning to the series for re-watching as pre-orders begin for the eight season set on Blu-ray.

Game of Thrones: The Costumes showcases what makes the actors look good, from the practical layered fabrics of Winterfell to the finery of King’s Landing.  Suits of armor, dresses, uniforms, capes, and robes all will be shown in detail.  Series costume designer Michele Clapton discusses her own creations, providing a view of never-before-published drawings and up close views of fans’ favorite wardrobe pieces and integral prop components.  Game of Thrones: The Costumes is available for pre-order now here at Amazon.

Series storyboard artist William Simpson takes viewers through his vast trove of concept art in Game of Thrones: The StoryboardsSimpson developed much of the show’s action, character, and environments through his thousands of sketches and designs.  Fans can watch how early imagery made its way to the final season layouts and the step by step formation of the series’ key scenes.  Simpson’s Game of Thrones: The Storyboards is available for pre-order here at Amazon.

Principal Game of Thrones unit photographer Helen Sloan showcases the as-filmed characters, locations, and key moments in The Photography of Game of Thrones (now available for pre-order here).  Writer Michael Kogge has put together an assemblage of behind the scenes imagery for this deluxe compendium.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

People have been colorizing photographs nearly as far back as the invention of photographs in the early 19th century.  Hand-painted photography took personal photographs from cold and lifeless to something more real, vivid and exciting.  Although methods for actually developing photographs in color existed as far back as the 1860s, it was rarely done.  Mid-twentieth century colorizing became a popular pastime, and so many people can look back to family portraits in color (by hand, with pencil or other coloring) regularly found in the 1940s and 1950s, just as color film became more available to the public.  Attempts of the past to accurately add color to historical images sometimes were made with reference to actual objects or people–such as matching eye color and hair color via reference to paintings or contemporary written descriptions–to ensure the accuracy of color choices.  But no single effort has been made to accurately colorize historical photographs until recent digital technologies made it more possible.  Brazilian artist Marina Amaral has become well-known for her coloring work, and she has teamed up with historian and journalist Dan Jones to create an extraordinary new history text, The Color of Time: A New History of the World, 1850-1960 It is a must-read for history buffs and anyone who could use a brush up on their history knowledge.

Readers first will be attracted to The Color of Time (titled The Colour of Time in European editions) first for Amaral’s 200 colorized images (she has colorized images seen in this book plus many more).  But the book’s value is equaled in Jones’s history text, which stitches together photographs of important subjects from the beginning of the tintype to 1960, when black and white was still prevalent, with a chronology of every major world event and figure in between.  So The Color of Time is, in a sense, a world history textbook (this one is ideal for teaching high school world history or as a supplement to a first year college history survey course) with the added benefit of bringing historical figures to life via color.  Amaral has noted it is nearly impossible to perfectly capture every color correctly (you’d need historical access to every item in the camera’s lens), but Amaral has researched the clothing, objects, and people who are the subjects of this book to get as close as possible.  Historical figures–many presented for the first time in color–include Darwin, Marx, Lincoln, Tolstoy, Edison, Stanley, Schliemann, Pope Pius IX, Sitting Bull, Barton, Twain, Mata Hari, Curie, Einstein, Villa, the Red Baron, Rasputin, Louis Armstrong, Lenin, Stalin, Michael Collins, Elie Wiesel, Hitler, Mussolini, Earhart, FDR, Mau, Gandhi, Churchill, Elvis Presley, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Castro, Guevara, and Mandela.

A surprising number of these photos take on a new life in color.  A spectrum of color in the Times Square photo of a sailor and a nurse in an embrace on VJ Day brings out the happy dispositions of nearby watchers.  The blue sky in a Wright Flyer image accentuates the fragile, finely geometric balance of the famous inventors’ first airplane.  A colorized image from 1900 of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid makes them look like movie stars of the Golden Age of cinema.  Perhaps nothing compares to the beauty of England’s Crystal Palace in 1854–you can almost smell the clear, blue water in the great pool.  Another image shows the tan wooden infrastructure of the Statue of Liberty’s hand, while being built.  The famous 1895 Montparnasse rail crash is even more jolting in color.  But the strangest jolt may come from an image of a handsome young man that could be a young Clint Eastwood–it is instead of a man days before his hanging, for stabbing President Lincoln’s secretary of state while his co-conspirator killed the President a few streets away.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

In the small-but-crowded field of Victorian true crime, Paul Thomas Murphy′s 2016 release Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder presents a notable installment in the genre.  Covering a lesser-known crime that was the sensation of its day, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane details the brutal murder of Jane Clouson, a sixteen-year-old London maid-of-all-work, and the legal fiasco that followed, including—but hardly limited to—the murder trial of suspect Edmund Pook.  Murphy begins his account like a thriller, a police procedural of a bygone era of evolving law enforcement and burgeoning forensics.  His heroes are the detectives, witnesses, and doctors who come forward to uncover the truth of Clouson’s attack—and the identity of her attacker.  Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is available now in a paperback edition.

In his riveting step-by-step analysis of the investigation, Murphy paints a vivid picture of 1870s London—its law enforcement, its residents, and the neighborhoods torn apart by the culture clash of young Clouson’s murder.  This section of the book really shines, offering both an excellent overview of period forensic science and police procedure, as well as enticing tidbits like the cost of a photograph or the unexpectedly fascinating workings of a ironmonger’s shop from the era.

The second part of Murphy’s tale, leading readers through the labyrinth of the 19th century English justice system, loses a bit of momentum, although that’s as much the challenge of presenting the welter of material about the case (four separate steps to the murder trial and all the attendant solicitors, barristers, judges, and witnesses) as the challenge of making the mystifying Victorian trial process understandable.  That said, it’s unclear who the audience for the book is meant to be—American readers wholly unfamiliar with the byzantine and confusing steps of a Victorian murder trial; or English readers who will find the basics—if not the details (which have changed substantially in the intervening 145 years)—relatable.  Readers brand-new to the subject will likely find themselves lost and confused by references to the Treasury Department (which handled many public prosecutions until the 1980s) and similar trappings, and may struggle to stick with the book through the legal morass.  It is not a spoiler to note that Pook was acquitted of the murder, but the legal battles surrounding him were far from over.  Murphy offers up a cast of characters who, beyond mere professional adversaries, become almost mortal enemies as the many facets of the case churn on.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Adding to a year that will see the final installment in the episodic Star Wars saga, a new book provides a chronological, pictorial essay documenting the step-by-step creation of the most recent Star Wars movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story. When original Solo: A Star Wars Story directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller tapped Rob Bredow as a producer and visual effects supervisor, he stepped onto the studio lot realizing he was the only person with a camera and photography access.  He got the approval of the directors and executive Kathleen Kennedy (and later, approval from replacement director Ron Howard) and was soon filming everything and anything related to the production, from location visits to candid shots.  Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story is a collection of selections of the best from his photo album, 25,000 photographs later, taken on his personal camera and camera phone.

Unlike the J.W. Rinzler “making of” books on the original Star Wars trilogy featuring comprehensive stories and analysis from the entire production teams, or other Abrams “The Art” of books featuring The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo full of concept art and design, Making Solo: A Star Wars Story is more of a visual assemblage showcasing one Star Wars crew member’s job (which included allowing his family on the film set to film in as extras).  The closest book like this is Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, a book piecing together photographs and accounts from the making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, only put together years later.  It has all those bits and pieces assembled into books from the original trilogy that fans would call rare gems today, the difference being this time someone was paying attention, in the moment.

More so than any other book released on the film, Making Solo: A Star Wars Story provides an account of the film’s production process from pre-production, production, and post-production, documenting how this film came to the big screen.  Readers will find never-before-seen close-up images of all the new worlds, aliens, droids, and vehicles, with emphases on making the train heist on Vandor, Phoebe Waller-Bridge′s droid L3-37, filming the Kessel Run, and deconstructing and re-designing an early version of the Millennium Falcon.

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The annual Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, is back again–an excuse to watch the movies again and meet up with friends and talk all things of a galaxy far, far away.  And again it is overlapping with Free Comic Book Day, a good excuse to visit your local comic book shop and get re-introduced to some series you may have missed.

You can’t beat the “gold line” of comics this year, with Jody Houser writing two free comics, Doctor Who and Stranger Things Jason Aaron serves as a writer on the Avengers issue (including a great Wolverine story), which is always a good FCBD title.  Archie Comics has a new Riverdale Season 3 FCBD story.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman is back writing the featured TMNT issue.  And fans of the Whedonverse won’t want to miss their copy of the BOOM! Studios twofer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, complete with a great cover by Moon Knight cover artist and Vampironica creator Greg Smallwood.  And for adults, Vampirella fans should check out its Issue #0/FCBD issue, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the character, complete with art by Bruce Timm and work by the late Forrest J. Ackerman.  Two other interesting titles for the older crowd worth checking out are Antarctic Press’s Punchline with great art by Matthew Weldon, and Shout Comics’ Midnight Sky.

 

The above issues are also good choices for kids, but some other titles are more targeted at the younger set including Casper the Ghost in Casper’s Spooksville.  Dear Justice League lets kids go one-on-one with their favorite superheroes.  Go Fish! is a great looking fish tale.  You can never go wrong with a new Little Lulu story.  Lumberjanes is back with another campfire story.  And last but not least, Star Wars Adventures is a great pick for any Star Wars fan this May the Fourth.

Take a look at some covers and previews to books available free (supplies may be limited) at Elite Comics or your local comic book shop today only:

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