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Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next six-issue series that is also released as a complete graphic novel from publisher TKO Studios is a science fiction story called Sentient.  Familiar comic book writer Jeff Lemire (Descender, Old Man Logan, Green Arrow) has a new story to tell that is a mash-up of this year’s earlier Grant Sputore-directed, direct-to-Netflix film I Am Mother (reviewed here at borg), the plotting and visuals of the gutsy Orbiter 9 (reviewed here), and the desperation of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s ill-fated transport ship story, Passengers (reviewed here).  As the idea of a human trip to Mars has gained interest, we’ve seen an uptick in the sub-genre delving into the actual work required to make such a far-off journey possible, along with a host of horrific possibilities that may confront us.  It’s materialized in films like Alien: Covenant plus the Lost in Space TV series reboot.  Sentient is also the latest take on Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s story of kids governing themselves without adult supervision.

 

Just as the space frigate USS Montgomery clears the barrier where communications are broken off from both Earth and their destination colony for an entire year, the ship is sabotaged.  The artificial intelligence on the ship, a female voice called Valarie, attempts to coordinate a recovery, but it becomes too late–all of the adults on the ship are killed as a result of the chaos caused by the saboteur, and what remains are the cordoned off children, who Valarie must train to continue the mission.  Even the A.I. has her own misgivings–she’s just not programmed to become a surrogate mother.  Fortunately the oldest, Lil (who just celebrated a birthday and could be 12 or 13 years old), and Isaac, the son of the saboteur, are young but smart, the kind of kids who probably went through Space Camp before their mission.  These aren’t naïve kids–they immediately understand the pressure and responsibility that falls on them.

Lemire’s steady and thoughtful pacing sets up artist Gabriel Walta (Doctor Strange) for a great visual showpiece, highlighting a style and colors that may have you thinking this is the next iteration of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series–even the character faces look like they were drawn by Kindt with his trademark clean and simple imagery and muted tones.

Here are some preview pages, courtesy of TKO Studios:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Sarah Jean Horwitz (Carmer & Grit) has conjured up the perfect middle-grade fantasy read… for all ages.  In The Dark Lord Clementine, a crisp, lively novel, she introduces us to a bold new heroine: Clementine Morcerous, heir to the Dark Lordship of the Seven Sisters Mountains.  Clementine’s Dark Lordling duties include tending to the frightful denizens of the Silent Farm: the magically-animated scarecrows, the venomous snakes in the snake pit, the fire-breathing chickens, and the nightmares.  Meanwhile, her father menaces the villagers below their mountain stronghold with curses, atmospheric phenomena, and other Qualifing Dastardly Deeds, to keep his status as Dark Lord active.

But the Seven Sisters hide a secret, and Clementine is sworn to protect it.  When Clementine’s father is cursed by a rival for his Dark Lordship, all the duties of the farm, including the dastardly deeds—as well as trying to save her father—fall to Clementine.  She gamely flings herself into the role of Dark Lord to Be, doing her level best to communicate with the cryptic Lady of the Lake, fend off witches, and wrangle an unexpected—and surprisingly loyal—band of knights.  Almost against her will, Clementine builds an army of friends determined to see her succeed in her Dark Lord ambitions.

The book is called The Dark Lord Clementine, however, and all is not as it seems.  Betrayal lurks among her newfound companions, and Clementine must decide whether being the Dark Lord is really all it’s cracked up to be.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TKO Studios is the new comic book publisher that surprised the industry early this year with an entirely new way to entertain readers.  They release four books at once in a binge format paralleling Netflix TV streaming shows, and they offer each story available in a trade paperback edition and as six separate comic book issues in a boxed set.  Readers buy whichever format appeals to them.  The last positive is the publisher’s slightly oversized format, a size that allows more artwork space per page while still feeling like a comic book.  But this is all formatting.  The substance doesn’t pull any punches, with TKO bringing in some familiar, beloved writers and artists for their first round (check out our reviews of those series linked below).  So does the second round measure up to the first? It was worth the wait, and fans will be pleased.

We’ll begin with Eve of Destruction, a zombie survival story in the vein of The Walking Dead, but mixing in several other influences and concepts along the way.  The story is written by TKO’s CEO and co-publisher Salvatore A. Simeone and Steve Simeone, with lettering by Ariana Maher.  The heavy lifting comes from artists Nik Virella, Isaac Goodhart, and Ruth Redmond who fill six issues with non-stop action.  And if you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, you might agree the creatures have more than a little in common with that horror film.

 

On the night of an important school dance, a girl’s separated parents, both women, are feuding over how each is contributing to the parenting the girl.  A hurricane is closing in off the coast, and with it comes a change in biology fueled by changes in the Earth’s environmental conditions that are triggered by this new storm.  The nature of the threat is specific and unusual–it is only targeting men and boys, and the results are on track to produce a kind of extinction forecasted in the title.  Although it could be a story about feminism, it doesn’t have any time to even broach the ramifications of this threat.  This is a story about survival in the first hour of a disaster.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Wizards of the Coast and Abrams ComicArts have come together to give Magic the Gathering trading card game players something they haven’t seen before, a high-end art book visual history of the game.  It all begins with Magic the Gathering: Rise of the Gatewatch–A Visual History, the latest of Abrams’ books highlighting the artwork of the best-known trading card series.  More than 25 years ago Magic the Gathering became the first ever trading card game, and this volume looks back to the Planeswalkers.

The first superhero-esque team of Gatewatchers is all here like you’ve never seen them before: Jace Beleren–the telepath with a mysterious past, Ajani Goldmane–the ferocious leonine, Gideon Jura–the reformed criminal who became a protector of the meek, Kaya–the rogue dualist, Chandra Nalaar–the pyromancer, Nissa Revane–the elf warrior and protector of nature, Liliana Vess–the necromancer, Nicol Bolas–the oldest Planeswalker, and Teferi–the formidable mage.   The book includes character histories and images of the actual cards, but more than that you’ll find concept art, original artwork created for the game, packaging art, and images only available in exclusive releases in the past.  If you loved specific cards and always wanted to see larger looks at the card art, this is your chance.

Each character is represented in dozens of images in roughly 30-page feature sections for the six primary Gatewatch characters, beginning with over-sized images of the character cards, plus a large section of combined Gatewatch imagery.  The highlight for fans of the game will be seeing cards they’ve never had in their hands before, but it will also be seeing the full artwork before it was cropped for the card.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest novel re-issue from the Marvel universe is an adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original story arc from the pages of 1981’s series The Uncanny X-Men: X-Men: Days of Future Past You may have read the original classic comics, you may have seen the ground-breaking 2014 team-up movie, and now author Alex Irvine digs deeper into the original story that remains among comic book readers’ most acclaimed stories.  A recurring trope–the banning of individuals with superpowers–is the background for this story of a former member of the X-Men, Kate Pryde, who is sent back to the past from the dark, not-so-distant future on the brink of Armageddon.

Kate is sent back in time to try to change an event in the past, the murder of Senator Kelly by Raven aka Mystique, and the deaths of several others including Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert.  The deaths are the impetus to the creation and domination of Sentinels, giant robots that can track and destroy mutants–or anyone else–with ease.  X-Men stories tend to include so many characters that readers only get to view a few character arcs.  Writer Alex Irvine keeps his story crisp and constantly moving forward.  Here we see Kate Pryde returned to the past and in doing so she swaps consciences with her 13-year-old self–new X-Men recruit Kitty Pryde, begrudgingly taking the name of Sprite, who will one day embrace the code name Shadowcat.  She is sent to the past by the telepathic Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey aka Phoenix.

Irvine keeps his story to a core band of players.  In the future, it’s Logan aka Wolverine, Magneto, Ororo aka Storm, and Kate’s husband Peter Rasputin aka Colossus.  In the past, Kate in the form of Kitty must convince Storm, Logan, Colossus, Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, Moira and Charles to prevent Mystique, the Blob, and others from the Brotherhood of the Hellfire Club headed up by Emma Frost from wreaking havoc on Senator Kelly’s congressional hearing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In art director and designer Roger Christian’s book Cinema Alchemist (reviewed here at borg) readers learn how the Oscar-winning set designer changed the way audiences see the future through intentionally distressed sets and props and the clever incorporation of real-world components.  In books like Dressing a Galaxy, Star Wars Costumes, and Star Trek Costumes, readers can see how costume designers create what we think of as the future.  Now writer Dave Addey takes science fiction fans back to visit how visionary filmmakers of classic science fiction used futuristic and sometimes even classic fonts and type styles to convey what lies ahead and in his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies, available now from Abrams Books.

At first focusing on what he believes to be the most pervasive font of the future, Eurostile Bold Extended–used in Back to the Future, Apollo 13, Battlestar Galactica, Independence Day, and hundreds of other films–Dave Addey highlights seven key science fiction films and how they used a wide variety of typeface designs to make us see the future.  2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Wall·E, and Moon (alas, no Star Wars, possibly because it is not technically science fiction per se) each get taken apart and dissected.  With numerous screencaps, and identification of several dozen font designs inside the films and used in marketing via posters and other advertisements, readers will be surprised what set designers came up with over the past 50 years.

Addey finds some of the fonts made famous in film have filtered into our daily lives as real-world corporate logos–Gill Sans Light, City Bold, Univers 59 Ultra Bold Condensed, Manifold, Futura Bold, Kabel Book, Computer, Micr, Data 70, Stop, Handel Gothic, Pump Demi, Swiss 911 Ultra Compressed, Gunship–these will all be familiar to you even if you don’t know them by name.  With his own pop culture knowledge and sense of humor, he has also built his own framework to analyze the success of these fonts, using manipulation via italic slant, curved lettering, straightening others, adding sharp points, adjusting kern or spacing, creating slices through letters, adding texture, adding a bevel or extrusion, and/or a star field background, although he says no title font has yet used them all to become the most futuristic of all.

Here is a look inside the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not every motion picture warrants a behind the scenes look at the production, cast and crew, but it’s easy to see why Gemini Man does.  Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ang Lee pushed moviemaking to its next level with this year’s film about the impact of cloning and clone technology bundled in a big-budget action film starring down-to-earth film star Will Smith.  Lee shot the film in 120 frames per second instead of the standard 24, and he used both 4K resolution and 3D, utilizing a unique camera rig.  Boasting the first major motion picture to star the same actor in two roles as the same man at different ages, required adapting current technology to get the job done, but the project steeped for several years for the technology to be ready.  Michael Singer′s new book Gemini Man: The Art and Making of the Movie digs into the film process with extensive interviews with Bruckheimer, Lee, and the key cast and crew, revealing the extensive work required to get the film from idea to screen.

Singer takes readers from the film’s inception 20 years ago as a Disney film to the first day of shooting last year when production finally began, to each major scene and set piece.  Fans of the movie will find it all here, from Will Smith’s scenes as an assassin spotting his target aboard a speeding train, to his character’s return home back in Savannah, Georgia, to the motorcycle action sequence in Cartagena, Colombia, to the castle in Budapest, Hungary, and Smith facing off against a younger version of himself, to the Gemini compound and secrets that bring the story all together and illustrate the humanity behind the futurism.

The best sections in the book recount the motion capture/performance capture process and Smith and his double playing opposite each other in key action scenes.  The author doesn’t leave readers to be guided by second-tier production staff, instead having the top filmmakers on the picture themselves discussing in their own words how they changed technology step-by-step to bring Gemini Man to life.  This includes interviews with producer Bruckheimer, co-producer David Ellison, director Lee, actors Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, and Douglas Hodge, Smith’s double, Jalil Jay Lynch, plus director of photography Dion Beebe, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer, technical supervisor Ben Gervais, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, and more.

Here is a look inside Gemini Man: The Art and Making of the Movie:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If a movie project languishes for twenty years, thee might be several reasons to explain why.  Gemini Man, in theaters now, has had both Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer involved in the idea behind the film, but the timing didn’t seem right for them–digital technology had not yet evolved where an actor portraying a 51-year-old could fight himself at age 23, in a believable way.  Now here we are in a Hollywood (New York City, Atlanta, Toronto, etc.) where motion capture performances are the norm.  It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the movie poster, and that’s the case with Gemini Man.  The movie is Will Smith, a retiring government assassin, who must face off against a younger version of himself, raised and trained for combat.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that Gemini Man: The Official Movie Novelization, is a character study of what might happen when an assassin meets himself.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, a rush of prior stories and films should come to mind.  First of all the novelization, which does not give an author credit, instead listing the screenplay writers, Darren Lemke, David Benioff, and Billy Ray, reads very much like an early Philip K. Dick short story expanded to be novel (or movie) length.  The spoiler (if you can call it that) is that there aren’t many surprises.  How would a trained assassin react when confronting a younger clone of himself?  This is a single sitting read, filled with some interesting characters (the kind you’d find in supporting roles in any film, like Mission: Impossible, the Bourne Legacy films, Tomb Raider, or even Dick adaptations like Paycheck.  It’s also heavy on the action, something that would be spotlighted with CGI in the film, leaving the characters in the novel to internalize what is happening on the big screen.  The story feels like it was written for Will Smith.  His character Henry Brogan is the same guy we’ve seen Smith play in Bright, Suicide Squad, I am Legend, Hitch, I, Robot, Enemy of the State, and Independence Day.  Which fortunately means we have a likable protagonist.

The novelization brings in bits and pieces from across decades of science fiction, from addressing the question of how you select who you clone (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), to how you control your newly minted human military weapon (from The Manchurian Candidate), to how you survive when the world is crashing in on you (from the Jason Bourne, Shooter, and Mission: Impossible movies), to how you react when you learn you are not really you (from RoboCop, Moon, and the new series Living with Yourself).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How do you get your kicks?  Maybe you buy them online, maybe at a mall shoe store, or a classic locally owned standalone shop.  Wherever you buy your sneakers, tennis shoes, running shoes, however you define them and whatever you call them, they are as personal a purchase as anything you need, jeans, T-shirts, socks, etc.  According to author and frequent writer on the shoe industry Elizabeth Semmelhack, a small but growing crowd of shoe buyers are looking for shoes that express their personality, in what has become an industry taking in billions of consumer dollars in a merger of haute and popular culture.  This week fans of exclusive shoe wearing–and collecting–have a new guide to this burgeoning trend, Collab: Sneakers X Culture, from Rizzoli/Electa books.

This is the latest of the high-end art books from Rizzoli that focus on style and culture in areas you might not have thought about.  This full-color hardcover with a textured leather shoe feel–and a book mark that is really a yellow shoe string–has photographs representing the spectrum of designer sneaker collaborations with a key focus on the 21st century.  Shoe companies have partnered with all sorts of “personalities of the week” to advertise, market and even influence the evolution of sneakers going back to the very first examples of the modern athletic shoe.  You can search your favorite shoe manufacturer right now on Amazon with the word “Collab” and find the latest combination of celebrity–usually the latest pop music icon or athlete, but sometimes including social media influencers, too–and shoe manufacturer that partnered with them because together they believed they had the right fit.

Concept artwork for the Pyer Moss x Reebok, DMX Daytona Experiment 2.

It begins with a smart foreword that sets up the background for anyone not familiar with this mash-up of two worlds by rapper Jacques Slade.  Author Elizabeth Semmelbeck takes readers back to the beginning, with shoe innovations conceived by Adi and Rudi Dassler, Josef Waitzer, Jack Purcell, Robert Haillet, Stan Smith, and Chuck Taylor.  She documents Walt Disney, Run-DMC, Chanel, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Eminem, 50 Cent, Wu-Tang Clan, Rihanna, and dozens of other shoe and artists “collabs” in the book’s 256 pages.

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