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Category: Comics & Books


Halo, Destiny, and Crackdown game writer and Spawn comic book writer Jonathan Goff is backing up this past weekend’s release of Xbox′s new Crackdown 3 with a new comic book series.  Dynamite Entertainment′s Crackdown Issue #1 arrives in comic book stores tomorrow, a science fiction-action book not requiring readers to know the game.  With artwork by Ricardo Jaime (The Shadow), the creators unlock a future world ruled by a conglomerate of world governments and the corporate power elite.  When four major gangs cease their conflicts to conspire against the law, it′s up to The Agents to destroy each new threat the gangs bring their way.

The Agents are part Colonial Marines, part CIA Special Ops, gung-ho, cocky, and probably over-confident.  They are led by a Guy in the Chair giving commands called VOA (not Voice of America, but Voice of the Agency).  Tha heroes and villains are new for the comic, all interacting in the common backdrop of the game environment, a mega-city new to the franchise called San Reno, up against a new element that blacks out the city and leaves The Agents without any resources but their wits.

Natália Marques provides those Tron-esque, futuristic colors.  Jaime’s colorful sci-fi visuals are very much the stuff of kids animated action shows, but the language and cops vs gangs narrative and language is for mature readers.

Here is a preview, courtesy of Dynamite:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Much like Hergé and his Tintin and Christin and Mézières’ Valerian and Laureline, another story read by millions of Europeans in the 20th century but overlooked by the masses in America is finally making its way overseas.  This time its the villain Fantômas who is coming to America, the star of a series of some 43 novels and 15 films, a popular crime novel readers in Europe have flocked to read about beginning in 1911 with Marcel Allain and Pierre Souverstre‘s team-written novel Fantômas, followed by a succession of comics and other adaptations.  Writer Olivier Bocquet and artist Julie Rocheleau pulled ideas from the original novel series for their award-winning 2013 work, The Wrath of Fantômas, which is being released in an English translation for the first time tomorrow.

First previewed by Titan Comics at the Diamond Retailer Lunch at San Diego Comic-Con last year, The Wrath of Fantômas is steeped in literary history.  The masked, black-gloved Fantômas has been said to have inspired the 1930s comic strip character The Phantom (1936), who in turn inspired Batman (1939), but Fantômas isn’t the first superhero character.  That designation traditionally goes to the title hero of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, created a few years earlier in 1905, who inspired, in turn, Zorro in 1919.  But it won’t take long for readers to pick up the same disdain for corrupted governments and leaders throughout the 19th and 20th centuries from the vantages of Fantômas, Sir Percy Blakeney, and others, that continued to spread across the world, reflected well into the 20th century with anti-heroes like the Guy Fawkes-masked V in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

Fantômas is pursued by the fiercely zealous and savvy Inspector Juve, a character that critic and author Kim Newman has cited as the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series.  Juve is as determined as Javert, and Victor Hugo’s chief antagonist from 1862’s Les Misérables was no doubt an inspiration for Juve–he’s Javert seen as noble and loyal, but also just, heroic, and good.  His nemesis Fantômas is merciless toward his targets and in his methods, killing for vengeance, and seemingly for no reason, and no woman or child or man is out-of-bounds for his fury.

Here is a preview:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Our look at the works of master crime writer Donald E. Westlake continues with his 22nd novel published under his own name and 75th (give or take) novel in all, Brothers Keepers, reprinted this month by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 30 years.  It’s a deeply human, thoughtful, descriptive, and humor-filled look at a monk named Brother Benedict living in a 200-year-old monastery in Manhattan in the mid-1970s. When a 99-year lease on the land on which his monastery was built expires, and no one can find the original lease contract, the monks’ lives are upended.  The problem is the land has become too valuable for the underlying owners–successors to the landowners that granted the lease during the American Revolution–not to cash out.  The crime is real:  Someone has stolen the lease from the monks, and worse for the Brotherhood, they believe one of the monks conspired with the landowners to hide knowledge of their rights until newly issued options to buy the land vest–meaning any rights the monks may have cease–on New Year’s Day, only a few weeks away.

You’ll hear the Jack Ryan line in The Hunt for Red October, “next time, Jack, write a memo,” as Brother Benedict becomes the monks’ bearer of bad news, only learning of the lease situation by reading the newspaper and seeing it mentioned as part of a story on the skyscraper set to replace the current buildings on the block.  Soon he is the designated instrument of solving the problem, requiring him to travel, a concept that is anathema to the Brotherhood: travel is to be avoided at all cost.  When he accompanies a more authoritative monk to confront one of the owners on his posh estate, a chance encounter with the owner’s attractive daughter prompts Brother Benedict to question his vows.  When another encounter finds the monk and the woman target of a mugging, Brother Benedict has no choice but to confront his curiosity and fears, taking on more and more of the burden to find the original lease, rumored to have an automatic renewal clause that grants his Brotherhood–The Crispinite Order of the Novum Mundum–the right to renew the lease for another 99 years in the Brotherhood’s sole discretion.

First edition of Westlake’s Brothers Keepers.

For those familiar with property law, there’s a nearly unimpeachable attention to the law of leases that becomes the through line of the story.  The rights of landowners, the public interest of preserving historical structures, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, all intertwine with an order of monks who simply want to live their repeated, weekly routine without interfering with–or being bothered by–the outside world.  The result is Brothers Keepers, a one-sitting read, a 300-page, laugh-out-loud (at least one laugh every other page) page turner that makes for the perfect follow-up to Hard Case Crime’s most recent Westlake reprint, Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, another highly recommended retro-read reviewed here at borg last year.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The third book in the new series of hardcover novels based on Batman stories from DC Comics, following The Killing Joke (reviewed earlier here at borg) and the Harley Quinn story Mad Love (reviewed here) is on its way to your comic book shop and other bookstores.  The Court of Owls is relatively new to Batman and DC Comics.  It’s a storyline that emerged from the New 52, the big DC reboot from seven years ago, created in the pages of Batman comics from writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.  Just as DC was re-creating origin stories and restarting some story lines for various characters, The Court of Owls became the latest subversive crime unit, a mix of a secret society like Skull & Bones and the mid-century Mob, infiltrating every part of Gotham City, controlling everything from the police to the banks, business, and the government.  It was an entirely new creation, so Snyder was challenged with establishing a foundation of events no reader had encountered in Batman’s then 72 years, but thenceforth became a part of established Gotham City history and lore.  This is the focus of a new novel edition of the storyline, Batman: The Court of Owls, written by tie-in author Greg Cox.

People are catching fire, human spontaneous combustion style, across Gotham.  As Bruce Wayne aka Batman investigates with Commissioner Gordon, it becomes clear crime scene information is similar to crimes of record from Batman’s past sleuthing.  An element is common among the remains, tying these deaths to a secret society that Batman previously encountered and confronted in the underground Labyrinth lair–The Court of Owls.  The Court of Owls consists of a small but far-reaching group of the wealthy and powerful who meet in secret and wear a sort of Eyes Wide Shut face mask system, and their henchmen, called Talons, also wear masks, and possess unnatural regenerative qualities.  They are fierce and possibly unbeatable.  Enter the missing Joanna Lee, rescued in a shoot-out in Gotham years ago by Batman, she was an art history student studying a historic Gotham sculptor when she vanished.  As Bruce, butler Alfred, and ally Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon piece together the history of the city and this sculptor’s strangely pervasive art, they learn the impossible has happened: This 19th century artist created works depicting future events decades before they happened.  What they have in common opens up a past that was in front of Bruce Wayne all his life.

As a standalone novel, Batman: The Court of Owls is a solid, worthy Batman story, a complete adventure that doesn’t require much prior knowledge from the reader.  It’s not an adaptation of the New 52 story, but incorporates various elements from the original, comic book version of The Court of Owls story, plus elements from related stories, Night of the Owls, City of the Owls, Fall of the Owls, and Scourge of the Owls

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s February, and for sports fans that can mean only one thing: Baseball is just around the corner.  Spring training is only a few weeks away, so why not get into the mindset for the game with a look back to a modern classic, W.P. Kinsella′s novel Shoeless Joe First published in 1982 and originally titled The Dream Field, Kinsella’s novel didn’t debut to overwhelming acclaim in the U.S., although it won the author the 1982 “Books in Canada First Novel Award.”  Kinsella had been writing about the Black Sox, the famous White Sox team that threw the World Series in 1919, and while attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop he decided to incorporate that event into a fantasy about Shoeless Joe Jackson returning to Iowa to play ball again.  The result is what you might call the Great American Novel of the 1980s, now with a legion of fans devoted to the story.  The novel includes two major character threads that were excised for the 1989 classic, Field of Dreams, a film that has been named to the Library of Congress as one of the greatest American films of all time, as well as included on two American Film Institute Top 100 lists, nominated for three others, and named the AFI #6 best fantasy film of all time.  The book and film are equally superb for different reasons.  The film is one of the finest attempts at magical realism on the silver screen, and the magic is at the core of the novel.  In the original Kinsella went further than the film, delving into why American love for baseball transcends other sports and pastimes, and he takes readers on an adventure into the intricacies of relationships and human nature.

Shoeless Joe follows Ray Kinsella, one of a set of twin brothers whose father died many years ago.  In their teens Ray’s brother Richard gets into an argument with his father and leaves home.  Ray gets married, settles in Iowa City and has a daughter named Karin.  He begins a life selling insurance, but one day he encounters an elderly man who starts talking baseball with him as he’s walking along the streets of Iowa City.  Ray learns that the man, named Eddie Scissons, is the oldest living Chicago Cubs player, and soon strikes up a friendship, ultimately leasing a farm the man can no longer work.  The next piece is familiar to moviegoers: Ray hears a voice from the corn, “If you build it he will come,” and understands it to mean he needs to build a left field for Shoeless Joe to return and play baseball again.  Ray levels the corn field, and Joe arrives.  Unlike the film, this happens over several months.  And there’s more: the voice directs Ray cryptically again, this time with the plea, “Ease his pain.”  Ray knows the message to mean he must go to find the reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger and take him to a baseball game.  Kinsella, the author, used the living Salinger as a character, but the author didn’t want his name used so the role was altered to the fictional writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) for the film.  Research by the studio determined potential audiences of the time were no longer familiar with Salinger and the swap did not affect the film.

But Kinsella had reasons to use Salinger in his novel, as Salinger had used two characters with Kinsella’s last name in different works in real life, hence Kinsella’s real-life fascination with Salinger, and the use of Ray and Richard in Shoeless Joe Unlike the film, whose key points are getting Shoeless Joe, Archie Graham, the famous author, and Kinsella′s father to come to the field, the key point of Shoeless Joe is getting Joe to the field in the first part of the story, but the pinnacle is getting Salinger to reveal his love of baseball, to go into the field, to learn what really lies in The Great Beyond, and hopefully return with a new novel for his fans after the many years of not writing.  In reality Salinger stopped publishing, but he didn’t quit writing, all the way to his death in 2010.  This week his heirs announced for the first time they would be releasing several of Salinger’s unpublished works after 2020 and over the next 10 years.

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It took more than four decades, but the classic Wonder Woman television series that aired between 1975 and 1979 is at last getting a 1:6 scale figure worthy of the fan-favorite series and beloved star, Lynda CarterTweeterhead, the collectible design studio known for high-end statues and busts from pop culture classics such as DC Comics, the Batman 1966 live action TV series, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, and Masters of the Universe, has created the most realistic collectible version of the superheroine so far.  Sculpted by Trevor Grove and Matt Black, with mold and casting by Michael Allen, print by SNL Creative, and paint by David Fisher, the limited edition figures are now available for pre-order at online pop culture store Entertainment Earth.

Lynda Carter made the comic book character a household name for a generation of TV viewers, and she seems to come alive as Wonder Woman again on these new sculpts.  At 1:6 scale the figures stand 13 inches high.  Early viewings at conventions last year revealed something greater than achieved before for the likeness of the actress and character.  Each variant has a head sculpt that looks like Lynda Carter as she portrayed the character in the 1970s, plus finely detailed, textured boots, highlighted and detailed life-like skin tones, shorts with seams and replicated fabric textures, realistic fabric wrinkles, sharp paint borders and color-matching nearly identical to stills from the series and promotional photographs.

  

Entertainment Earth is now taking pre-orders for three versions of the Tweeterhead figures at the following links:  Two versions reflect her costume from Season 1 in 1975, both with a star-spangled pedestal (one without a cape, available here, and one with a cape, available here) and a third variant sees her later in the series, posed in a stride, with a base in a bursting star pattern (available here).  Each is limited to 350 pieces, and includes a hand-numbered base and hand-numbered foiled certificate.

Take a look at these poses for all three designs:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Life in California is not all that sunny for everyone.  The fourth and last of our reviews of the initial release of graphic novels from new publisher TKO Studios looks at Goodnight Paradise, a peek into the day-by-day drudgery and dim chance of survival of the homeless.  When a homeless girl is found dead in a dumpster, the man who found her has enough information to find her killer.  Unfortunately his mind is addled through a rough life, alcoholism, and mental illness, and he’s struggling to put it all together.

Readers are introduced to a story “ripped from the headlines” like an old Law & Order episode, as real-world tech corporation Snapchat makes new millionaires and billionaires, and outside its doors across Venice Beach the poor and the homeless are getting shuffled away, the culture of the town turned upside down as real estate shifts and the past culture of the area is squeezed out.  The people living in the alleys all are at the end of their ropes, just to varying degrees.  As more young people hit the streets without income sources, those with mental illnesses run out of their prescription drugs to keep them in control, compounding their struggle as they spiral into confusion and anger.  Enter Tessa, a young woman who leaves home to come to the coast to see the ocean.  She befriends a small, tight group of people who protect each other.  When she videotapes a woman being drugged for sex by one of the new rich types at a party, she’s hunted down by his thug to protect the guy’s reputation.  But is everything as it seems in Goodnight Paradise?

Writer Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier, B.P.R.D.) creates a deconstructed superhero of sorts out of his homeless protagonist.  This man is like DC Comics’ Oliver Queen, but stripped of his money and his sanity, yet his sense of right and wrong remain intact.  Artist Alberto Ponticelli (Unknown Soldier), with colors by Giulia Brusco (Scalped), introduce readers to layered characters in scenes not using sleight of hand so much as revealing the realities of perception and bias.  Scenes that seem one way at first only are rediscovered by the reader to have their meanings changed when seen and explained from the perspectives of other characters–in a way Ponticelli shows the comic book medium can take advantage of.

Here is a preview of Goodnight Paradise:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the next inaugural TKO Studios series we’re reviewing here at borg, classic fantasy meets action-adventure in The Fearsome Doctor Fang A modern update to early 20th century mystery stories like The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, The Fearsome Doctor Fang blends elements from Doctor Strange, The Shadow, Tomb Raider, Allan Quatermain, Indiana Jones, and H.G. Wells’ sci-fi and fantasy novels.  No relation to the DC Comics Doctor Fang, readers meet this Doctor Fang in San Francisco–he’s a mysterious Chinese hero cloaked as a masked villain in pursuit of the location of the legendary treasure of Kublai Khan, all to save the world from a deadly menace.

Writers Tze Chun (Gotham, Once Upon a Time) and Mike Weiss (The Mentalist) create a story mixing stylistic influences from the likes of Alex Raymond and Alan Moore.  The Dr Fu Manchu comparison is obvious–the writers even incorporate the unusual character name Nayland from Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories).  Artist Dan McDaid (Firefly) provides the Amazing High Adventure look to the story, with layouts and close-ups reminiscent of Neal Adams, full of turn of the (20th) century exotic locations and historically costumed denizens bustling among the city streets.  Doctor Fang is a Zorro-esque hero for the people of China–and the world.

Readers will find great surprise twists and several funny scenes.  Think the 1999 big-screen version of The Mummy–the male and female leads darting between Doctor Fang and the book’s arch-villain have much in common with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in that film.  Bright period color choices by Daniela Miwa (Shaft) and interesting lettering by Steve Wands (Batman) support a unique look for the new adventure series.   Where the first two books from TKO Studios we reviewed feel more like standalone one-shots tales, this is a book you’ll no doubt want to see continued in subsequent series.  (*Editor’s Note:  Every time I type or say The Fearsome Doctor Fang, I hear the classic Dramatic Sound Effect).

Here’s a look at some covers and the first pages from The Fearsome Doctor Fang:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The second of the new TKO Studios titles we dived into this weekend is The 7 Deadly Sins.  Yesterday we reviewed Sara, which conjured scenes from Sands of Iwo Jima, and now The 7 Deadly Sins feels like a modern twist on the John Ford/John Wayne classics Stagecoach (celebrating its 80th anniversary this year) and The Searchers.  Despite the basic story building blocks from a John Ford movie, this isn’t a John Wayne film or Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, or something like more recent Western comic book series like Dynamite’s The Lone Ranger.  This is a far less traditional Western–far from Classics Illustrated, this is a story that could wrap up the trilogy of Quentin Tarentino’s bloody violent modern Westerns The Hateful 8 and Django Unchained. 

1867.  A post-Civil War frontier “cowboys and Indians” era tale, the story introduces readers to a white man raised as Comanche whose signature is a unique style of scalping homesteaders and U.S. Cavalry soldiers.  A priest wants to broker an unholy peace with the Comanche, and a black ex-Union corporal named Jericho Marsh is trying to find his daughters.  Marsh finds himself in jail and breaks out with a pregnant ex-slave, a cannibalistic ex-Confederate soldier, a Chinese prisoner, a well-known crack shot, and a woman mistaken for a man, and they bring on an orphaned mountain boy and a Comanche child along the way.  The story pulls from Three Godfathers and The Magnificent Seven–not so much derivative, it pulls on the strings of plenty of Western tropes.  A handful of strangers, all outlaws, must join to fight off the Cavalry, a wealthy landowner, and Comanches, and it’s anyone’s guess who might make it out alive.

The 7 Deadly Sins comes from writer Tze Chun (Gotham, Once Upon a Time), artist Artyom Trakhanov (Undertow, Turncoat) and if the color work looks familiar to Western readers that may be because it’s created by Giulia Brusco (Scalped, Django Unchained).  Letters are by Southern Bastards’ Jared K. Fletcher.  Parts of Trakhanov’s panels are drawn similar to the very traditional, archaic layouts of Stan Sakai’s Japanese motif Westerns, landscape shots reminded me of the stark feel of Moritat’s work on the Jonah Hex book, All-Star Western, and choreographed action sequences carry the more stylized influence of Frank Miller’s interiors later in his career.

Take a look at these great preview pages:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there was a Sergeant York or Audie Murphy on the Russian side of the fight in World War II and the soldier was a woman, you’d have the lead character in Sara, a new six-part graphic novel from TKO Studios, a new publisher for 2019 (more on that below).  In Nazi-occupied Russia, the Russian forces are losing.  A small band of skilled Russians snipers is making headway one kill at a time.  The undisputed best of the bunch is Sara, an ex-college recruit reputed to have 300 kills.  She soon becomes the target of Nazi Germany’s own best special military forces.  From Eisner Award winning writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, War Stories and Battlefields, Fury) and artist Steve Epting (Velvet, Batwoman, The Winter Soldier, The Avengers), with color by Eisner and Harvey nominated artist Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Rob Steen, the gritty realism, badass protagonist, and top-level artistry is sure to make Sara a contender come award season.

If you’re a fan of Russia or Soviet-era stories like Doctor Zhivago, From Russia with Love, and The Hunt for Red October, or graphic novels Nevsky: A Hero of the People, Red Son, and The Death of Stalin, there’s something in the Sara graphic novel that you’re going to like.  But that’s just the setting.  The real fun will be the callbacks readers will experience along the way.  With a Russian twist, expect the same kind of war experience from watching movie classics like Stalag 17, Sands of Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, To Hell and Back, and Sergeant York.  Ennis’s historicity and Epting’s adherence to detail anchors the story in a way that will have you feeling like you’re right there in the forest among the soldiers.  This is the story many of us were hoping for when we heard of the Russian espionage movie Red Sparrow.  

As with all new TKO Studios releases, the story is available as a graphic novel in a digital or print edition, or as six issues in a collectible box.  The six issue/chapter shifts are well plotted: an introduction of key characters in the middle of activity and flashbacks to Sara’s military training are all nicely paced to a vintage 1940s war movie style, and the battlefield threat increases gradually culminating in a nicely planned cliffhanger, followed by a satisfying payoff–it has all the beats in the right places.

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