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Category: Comics & Books


It’s a big week for Dungeons & Dragons players.  This Tuesday is the release date for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, the eagerly-awaited next adventure in the Fifth Edition of Wizards of the Coast’s original roleplaying game.  One city has fallen into hell, and it’s up to players to see that Baldur’s Gate does not meet the same fate.  The game takes players from levels 1 to 13 as they journey through Baldur’s Gate and into Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells.

And the biggest feature that fans have been waiting for is here: Infernal Machines, making this new journey a mash-up of dark fantasy and Mad Max.  The machines are battle-ready vehicles, which you can build and customize as your characters enter the Blood War.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a thick 256 pages, with an exhaustive, detailed history of Baldur’s Gate (popularized in the video game of the same name) taking up the first quarter of the book.  Look for lots of new creatures, several interesting NPCs, a pronunciation guide, and even a new lettering script to adapt for your own designed supplemental materials.

 

This new D&D volume features extensive artwork, and attractive maps by Dyson Logos, Mike Schley, and Jared Blando, including a giant double-sided foldout map.  You’ll also find a unique appendix featuring concept art sketches, designs, and characters, providing a peek behind the scenes at Wizards of the Coast.  Note: There’s even a disclaimer for anyone wary of the darker nature of this adventure.  The short version?  It’s all for fun (but you already know that).

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Illumination Entertainment’s movie The Secret Life of Pets was a surprise success back in 2016, and it saw a sequel in theaters this year, leading the box office in its opening week.  It turns out those cute neighborhood pets are just as fun even if you remove the voices of the famous actors who play the parts in the movies.  A new hardcover comic arriving at comic book stores this month translates Max, Snowball, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Mel, Buddy and the gang into a comic strip for all ages of animal lovers.  It’s all in The Secret Life of Pets: The Fast and the Furry

Writer Stéphane Lapuss’ and the artist known as Goum have combined to put together a new collection of behind the curtains antics that continue to show fans what the dogs and cats (and birds and pigs and rabbits and…) are doing when their humans aren’t at home.  That’s 100 pages of comic strip stories in a colorful, gift book-sized hardcover edition.  And if you like this book, you’ll be happy to hear another volume is in the works.

This isn’t an adaptation of either movie, but a collection of all-new tales.  Take a look at this preview of The Secret Life of Pets: The Fast and the Furry, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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You may have gulped it down in one sitting or maybe you think it’s so good you’re (like us) enjoying this new series slowly, but there’s no doubt Netflix′s original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will be a contender for the best series of the year in any category.  Lisa Henson and The Jim Henson Company have created something special here, and we’re now seeing some of the first tie-ins from this reboot of The Dark Crystal franchise, which began only two years ago with Caseen Gaines’ authoritative look at Henson, his inspiration, and his original Thra creations in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here at borg).  If you’re enjoying the new series, you’ll want to dive in to learn about the Hensons and how they created the world of Thra from the very beginning.

Funko has six 3 3/4-inch action figures to add to its earlier The Dark Crystal collection (first discussed here in 2016, these figures sell for top dollar on the aftermarket, with a few still on Amazon like Jen, Kira & Fizzgig, Chamberlain, Aughra, Landstrider, Garthim, and UrSol).  For the new TV series Funko’s first wave of figures have better sculpts and paint work than the prior series.  They feature gelflings Deet and Rian, Hup the podling, Aughra the Oracle, the Hunter Skeksis, and a Silk Spitter (see larger images below, and click on the names to learn more and order these at Amazon, currently about $10 each).

 

The tie-in books to choose from truly have something for all ages.  Look for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra, Heroes of the Resistance: A Guide to the Characters of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and Aughra’s Wisdom of Thra.  Below, check out a 10-page preview of the beautifully detailed behind the scenes art book The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra Each book is now available for pre-order from Amazon, and the publisher descriptions of each book is included below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

“The waters speak the truth, that they do.  Only now have you lived long enough to know the child that you shall always remain.  That which dwells in the heart can never be lost to the spirit.”

Some artists’ works are so brilliant, so evocative, so memorable, and so successful, that whenever they draw, sketch, or paint, it turns heads.  One of those artists is Bill Sienkiewicz.  His 1980s comic book artwork changed the way comic books are approached by artists and readers, forever.  His trademark abstract works and his recurring sketches of people making the news are regular features that can make you happy to open your social media application for the day.  Put Sienkiewicz together with a Santa Claus story?  It’s as good as it sounds, and it arrives in stores beginning this week.

We’ve seen some incredible work on Christmas stories in the comic book medium before.  Take for example the modern Batman opus, 2011’s Batman: Noel by Lee Bermejo (we reviewed it here).  Now this year we have Santa: My Life and Times, An Autobiography, a lavish, updated edition to a 1998 project.  It features a holiday story written by Jared Green (and Santa, of course), with vibrant and festive watercolor art, cover to cover, by Sienkiewicz.  As are all good storybooks, this is a shiny, over-sized hardcover.  You will get lost in the details of every page of art.  Marvel at all the wintry critters.  Peek inside windows.  The beauty of nature’s magic is everywhere.  By my count there are not only more than 100 illustrations by Sienkiewicz in this book, there are 100 poster-worthy illustrations.

The storytelling is very Victorian and grand, neither modern nor silly.  This is the same voice found in the classic 1823 Clement Clarke Moore holiday staple,  A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas).  Green’s voice of Santa is like a conversation in a good Dickens hero’s friendly voice.  Think Bob Cratchit.  This is a deep, rich, well-thought out fantasy.  The story spreads pure goodness and joy, the kind you’ll want to read to little kids (or adults, or cats), complete with Dr. Seussian sound effects peppered about.  No doubt this is the same Santa that influenced the likes of Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Steve Irwin, and Jim Henson.  The look and feel matches the spirit of the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics perfectly.

Here are some pages of the interior art and story from Santa: My Life and Times: An Autobiography, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ten Speed Press has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to begin a new series of adventurer books to get young readers involved with storytelling, fantasy worlds, and role playing games.  The Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide books have everything you need to create your own characters and stories, perfect for kids who aren’t advanced enough in their reading yet or readers not familiar with what D&D fantasy games have to offer.  Each lavishly illustrated guide is a primer on the key segments of gameplay or telling any kind of fictional story with friends.  About half the dimensions of the traditional D&D books and nearly as thick, these deluxe hardcover editions will fit right along with your 5th Edition books on the shelf should you decide to continue with D&D.

You can start off with Warriors & Weapons, where you’ll learn how to create your own hero and band of adventurers.  Begin with one of the fantasy races: robust dwarf, graceful elf, industrious gnome, charismatic half-elf, menacing half-orc, nimble halfling, powerful dragonborn, furtive beaked kenku, agile feline tabaxi, proud tiefling, reptilian tortle–or human.  Then learn about the classes: barbarian, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, or rogue.  Finally, you’ll assemble your outfit, armor, weaponry, and pack of gear that will help you as you head out into the unknown.  Along the way, the authors (Jim Zub, with Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler) describe what you’re doing, how to do it, and why it fits into the story, all spelled out so nearly any level of reader can understand.  And you’ll meet classic D&D characters for each of the races and learn what makes them tick.

Fans of the D&D Endless Quest books introduced last year (and reviewed here at borg) will find these new books a few steps more advanced.  With each volume of the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide you’ll be asked to consider for your story key worldbuilding elements:  Who? What? Where? How? When? and Why?  The adventure continues in the second volume, Monsters & CreaturesWhat dangers will your party of heroes face?  One-eyed beholder, vampire, owlbear, or sprite?  Frost giant, banshee, or dragon?  If you’re introducing someone to gaming with these books, think of this volume as a miniature edition of the Monster Manual or Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Below, take a look at previews of each of the first two volumes in the Adventurer’s Guide series, and a first look at the next volume, Dungeons & Tombs, courtesy of Ten Speed Press:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s as good as it gets for Michael Crichton fans.  Not only is The Andromeda Evolution a new thriller being released more than a decade after the author’s passing, it’s a sequel to a Crichton classic novel–his original science fiction cautionary tale The Andromeda Strain.  Created by writer Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse) in collaboration with Crichton’s estate (CrichtonSun LLC), The Andromeda Evolution is nicely timed to arrive 50 years after The Andromeda Strain was first published, the book that launched Crichton’s fame as master of the technothriller.  The Andromeda Evolution has all the components of Crichton’s best works–the trademark structure of a team of unique experts colliding to prevent catastrophe, the integration of cutting edge science to both inform the reader and carry the plot forward, and the surprising juxtaposition of the improbable and the unimaginable.  And the ripped-from-the-headlines timeliness is eerily creepy–it all begins with a disaster in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, complete with government clashes and misinformation campaigns, and ends with a surprise that will stop you in your tracks.

Nothing defines Crichton’s storytelling as much as his interaction of characters, always an unlikely grouping of personalities that some far-off puppetmaster thinks is the right team to solve problems.  A  mix of the wise, the pragmatic, the cerebral, the sensitive, and the reactionary, common to the Crichton elite team are individuals who must struggle to get along like any group trying to complete a project in the real world.  Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, but can everyone survive long enough to contribute their piece?  In The Andromeda Evolution that first means introducing us to Dr. James Stone, son of The Andromeda Strain bacteriologist Dr. Jeremy Stone.  The son is a late addition to a core unit assigned to investigate and prevent the spread of what appears to be that dreaded, fast-moving viral strain his father faced so many decades ago that almost destroyed Earth.  Haunted by a lifetime of living with the threat of the virus’s return, Stone has acquired expertise under his father’s wing.  With the alert of a new threat, on a moment’s notice he’s dropped at Ground Zero with only hours to collect data with other similar elite minds to try to save the world again.

In The Andromeda Evolution, everything you think you know about the constructs of modern science and technology was a lie, dating back to the original Andromeda Strain virus, documented in Dr. Michael Crichton’s original account (recall Crichton was in medical school when he began his career as author).  Hidden by world governments, never losing ground as the world’s primary threat to security and survival, the Andromeda Strain was real.  NASA, the Center for Disease Control, all the framework for technological initiatives we think about every day from the 1970s forward have been preparing humanity for the return of the dreaded AS-1 and AS-2.  And the biggest secret is staring us all in the face.

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Fans of CBS All Access’s Star Trek Discovery have a new series interlude to check out, and it follows the continuing exploits of a fan-favorite character.  IDW Publishing launches the new comic book mini-series Star Trek Discovery: Aftermath this Wednesday.  The series follows the ongoing exploits of Captain Christopher Pike.  The “aftermath” of the title?  The story looks into the crew of the Enterprise in the aftermath of the season two finale, featuring other series regulars including young Spock and Number One.

The three-part story is written by Star Trek Voyager novelist Kirsten Beyer and IDW’s longest-running Star Trek writer, Mike Johnson, with artwork by one of IDW’s top Star Trek artists, Tony Shasteen (his likenesses of Rebecca Romijn as Number One in particular are excellent) and colors by JD Mettler.  Old Federation rivals the Klingons take center stage in a bit of an homage and callback (call forward?) to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “A Matter of Honor.”  The art of Angel Hernandez is featured on the standard covers for the series, with an alternate cover for the first issue by George Caltsoudas, plus a photo cover.

 

Here is a preview of Star Trek Discovery: Aftermath, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix saga in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men has attained classic status in the eyes of comics readers, up there with The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Days of Future Past.  So adapting the story into another medium forty years later is one of those cultural mainstays, a modern analogue to creating a new Sherlock Holmes film, Frankenstein movie, or another generation’s interpretation of a Shakespeare play.  Marvel Comics itself has given this a go a few times now, usually as subplots or tie-in concepts, and at the movies Marvel tried it with X-Men: United, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Dark Phoenix, this year’s wrap-up to the X-Men films.  X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, the new hardcover novel from author Stuart Moore (Captain Ginger, Civil War, Thanos: Death Sentence) comes the closest so far to a faithful adaptation for Dark Phoenix purists.

We probably should blame Marvel’s bankruptcy and resulting character/universe splits and business decisions for the disjointed handling of the Dark Phoenix characters and plot points at the movies.  Dark Phoenix is an interesting story, but not the only X-Men story, so it would have been better revealed over five or six movies culminating in a Jean Grey-centered finale, since the character has been defined as Earth’s most powerful superhero as the Marvel universe is concerned.  She’s worth it.  Now with the successes of theatrical comic book adaptations, and the formula of long-term story development in the genre a proven commodity, maybe fans will see more loyal movie adaptations coming (hopefully only after we get to see some of the hundreds of other stories adapted).  But fans of the comics will be pleased here: Moore doesn’t play games with his novel.  Readers will find the classic game of chess and all the key pieces:  Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, Jason Wyngarde, Donald Pierce, Harry Leland, Lilandra, Moira MacTaggert, and X-Men Xavier/Charles, Kitty Pryde, Scott Summers and Logan & Co. (except notably Beast, who for some reason was not included).

Despite marketing to the effect of adapting the tale to the 21st century, if that’s true it’s only subtly handled.  The bones of the story are the same (including the awkward 1970s Harlequin romance subplot from the comics with Jean and a Regency era lover, every cringeworthy bit).  New readers, those unfamiliar with the story at all, will likely find some of those classic Claremont and Cockrum elements a bit jolting and distracting to the overall narrative, and episodic tangent shifts more typical to a monthly comic than longform story.  But Moore brings it all together with the key conflicts and outcomes of the source material falling into place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers began to take a shift in their superhero movie franchise with last year’s more adventurous Aquaman.  With Shazam! the studios proved that a movie based on DC Comics characters could be every bit as good as the source material, and more satisfying than their past big budget efforts.  True to the spirit of the characters and the story going back to the original Captain Marvel that was so successful in the 1940s, director David F. Sandberg found the sweet spot with Shazam!  Just as seen on the big screen, now on home video Shazam! balances good fun with the requirements of demanding modern audiences.  With the heart of the 1978 Superman and the Tom Hanks hit movie Big, the movie is the best of what DC has to offer in live action entertainment (check out my review of the film earlier at borg here).  Worthy of the film itself, the new home release offers a trove of special features.

The film’s first strength is screenwriter Henry Gayden′s lighthearted story.  It’s all about heart and family bonds, but it also has its action, and even for its comparatively modest $100 million budget, the movie relied extensively on practical effects for its key action sequences.  All of the scenes with Shazam, his extended family, and the villain Dr. Sivana featured a mix of actors and stunt professionals, with far less reliance on the CGI in so many recent DC and Marvel films.  So many of these scenes are showcased in the features that it’s apparent the 1,000 effects filmed for the third act in the final 12 weeks of shooting required something like the strength of Shazam to accomplish.  As director Sandberg remarks in the bonus features, the production had very little slippage in their timetable.  And the success can be seen in the final edit.

Some of the best content on the home release examines how the lead actors filmed their aerial scenes.  Comic fans and fans of stars Zachary Levi and Mark Strong will appreciate their knowledge of the history of the characters they played.  Levi initially submitted screen tests to play a grown-up version of Billy Batson’s foster brother Freddie, and it was apparent immediately to Sandberg he needed to take the lead role.  Strong, who already played a great Sinestro in the less well-received Green Lantern movie, continued to add to the wealth of powerful live-action supervillains, bringing gravitas to the production, reflected in the final cut of the film.  His acting prowess while being transported as if soaring across the sky with cables in front of a green screen (instead of rendering him entirely in CGI) reflects a versatile, impressive thespian who can do his craft in whatever environment is thrown at him.  But fans of the film will find more than 37 minutes of deleted scenes really make the home version a must-watch.

So what all is in the home release?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For most people making a hamburger, all you need to do is look to the McDonald’s basic menu to see what they’re probably grilling at home.  Bun, burger, ketchup, mustard or mayo, onions and/or pickles, lettuce and cheese.  The folks behind the Emmy Award-winning animated series Bob’s Burgers are trying to kick your routine up a notch with a new set of recipe cards spinning out of their successful book, The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers.  Series creator and producer Loren Bouchard has joined Cole Bowden, the guy behind the fansite The Bob’s Burger Experiment, to pull together a box set of burger recipes highlighting several of the joke burgers featured in the series in, The Bob’s Burgers Recipe Box: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers.

The box includes 35 recipes, each featuring a comedy burger variety Bob Belcher has featured as a “Burger of the Day” on the series, reference to the episode it was used in, a detailed recipe, and that familiar art style from the show.  The surprise?  The combinations of flavors throughout the recipe cards are legitimate–these are kind of ingredient combinations you’d find an iron chef putting together on the Food Network.  They’ve also included five bonus cards with Bob’s Burgers animation artwork on one-side and a blank side to catalog your own recipes for yourself or future generations of eaters.

Recipes include the “The Six Scallion Dollar Man Burger,” the “Onion-tended Consequences Burger,” “Chèvre Which Way But Loose Burger,” “Onion Ring Around the Rosemary Burger,” the “It’s Fun to Eat at the Rye MCA Burger,” and dozens more.   And for those who really don’t know what they’re doing, Bowden has included a starter card on how to begin.

So which burger did I try first?

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