Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

You still have a month before visual effects artist-turned director Dave Wilson’s Bloodshot movie arrives as the next cyborg superhero from Marvel Comics to hit the big screen.  But if you want to get a jump on your friends, there’s Bloodshot: The Official Movie Novelization, just released from Titan Books, a  great read for fans of all things borg.  Readers will be pulled inside the story of Ray Garrison, a slain special ops Marine, who is resurrected thanks to Dr. Emil Harting, a (mad?) scientist who is perfecting his use of nanotechnology and cybernetics to create an unstoppable squad of super-soldiers.  Written by Gavin Smith and based on the Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer screenplay, Bloodshot creates the next step in the evolution of cybernetic technology stories that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, mixing the rage of The Punisher with the impact on the human psyche and dehumanization of turning from man to cyborg, as we’ve seen in stories like RoboCop (who was inspired by Judge Dredd and Marvel’s Rom).

As for the Marvel universe in film, Bloodshot is poised to stack up neatly beside the lab-created Hulk, the merger of body and “something else” of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, the mission and science of Captain America, Wolverine, and Deadpool, the determination of Cable, and it’s a fitting follow-up to the half-man/half-monster movie, Venom.  That’s a lot of Marvel characters with similar struggles, and there are certainly more, Marvel characters with the same vintage of origin story–an unlikely or involuntary super-soldier–so how do you spin this key Marvel trope in a fresh, new way?  As Smith, Wadlow, and Heisserer have done it, you go back to the human condition, and look to what has come before.

Bloodshot reads much like Martin Caidin’s original story of the first modern cyborg in his novel Cyborg, about Steve Austin, the Bionic Man–the Six Million Dollar Man–a military hero brought to death’s door and back via science.  In many ways Bloodshot–the program that pulls in the story’s hero and becomes the name of his new persona–is an update to Cyborg–what you could imagine the Bionic Man reboot with Mark Wahlberg to be like.  And it pulls in good mind-twisting sci-fi elements evoking Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and Duncan Jones’ Source Code.

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This week two brief videos will leave most people scratching their heads and asking, “Why bother?”  The first, for The Batman, released by writer-director Matt Reeves (who we hold out hope for because he wrote and directed the great vampire love story Let Me In), is a “camera test,” which appears more like an early lighting and costume test where you can glimpse new bat actor Robert Pattinson in his batsuit.  The second is from Netflix, and it’s an overly long scene of a Russian prison work detail resulting in the appearance of David Harbour as a thinner, gaunt, exhausted Jim Hopper, spoiling any surprise that the character was really killed in the final episode of the last season of Stranger Things (C’mon, you knew he wasn’t going to be dead for long).  Some will applaud one or both.  Others will sneer.  Where will you land?  (Psst.  There’s no wrong answer).

What are these things anyway?  Barely teasers, the purported “camera test” for The Batman is more “trial balloon,” an intentional vehicle for starting buzz, good or bad, so potential audiences get accustomed to yet another revamp of the batsuit and actor.  Literally thousands of podcasters have already manipulated the image of Pattinson in many ways to try to glean something worth discussing (not surprisingly with little to say).  We already knew it takes some effort to find an artist that has drawn Bruce Wayne that in any way resembles the co-star of The Lighthouse, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Twilight vampire movies.  And–big surprise–David Crossman and Glyn Dillon′s new costume design looks like another batsuit of the sharp-angled, action figure toy variety (toys = sales = more $) instead of something out of the comics pages.  And current movie go-to composer Michael Giacchino offers another repeated bass line with drum set in the background to back it all up.  Our wish?  We just want Warner Bros. to finally get the voice of Batman right and skip that goofy, dry, smoker voice and coughed-out dialogue.  Let’s hear him say, “I’m Batman.”

The Stranger Things video is out there to whet appetites of fans who won’t see the series return for another year.  But did the fans need to know Hopper wasn’t dead before the fourth season was ready to go?  Here’s an idea:  If you’re going to cast against type, as they’ve done for The Batman, why not really have some fun and give us David Harbour as Batman?  Sure, Harbour is playing a Russian superhero in the summer Black Widow movie from Marvel Comics, but audiences won’t care.  Let’s really have some fun.  Or give Pattinson the role of a superhero he really looks like: Wolverine.  They need a new younger actor for the role in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, right?

Oh, well.  Watch–or don’t–you’re not missing much!  Here are the two brief, too-brief videos for The Batman and Stranger Things:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Having escaped an Assassins brotherhood training camp in his youth where his mother is killed by the villainous Maxime Torm, 17 years later–in 2017–readers meet the escapee in the new graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone His name is Tomo, now a young man working in a video arcade in Tokyo.  With Hajime, the man that helped him escape, Tomo is now seeking to destroy the man that ruined their lives and murdered their brethren.  The Templars are now using DNA databases to track down the remaining Assassins.  Tomo and Hajime find a lead in far off France, a doctor named Nathalie Chapman, who Tomo believes will take them to Torm and the Templars.  But Tomo hasn’t finished his training.  He is not an Assassin yet.  He poses as a doctor and is hired to work for Chapman, when he gets closer to one of her patients, a young woman with amnesia named Elisa Adler.

The Animus, Abstergo, the Helix, and Pieces of Eden, the same trippy quests back through the generations, and an expanded tale of the Adler and Gorm families spinning out of Dorison’s 2018 graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Conspiracies mixes historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.  In a similar vein as Ready Player One, Bloodshot, and Dollhouse, you’ll join Tomo on a virtual reality ride back into the past of the Gorms that takes Tomo to the beginnings of the Vietnam War.  But what will Chapman and Hajime do when Tomo tries to help Elisa?

Rich, detailed worldbuilding by Guillaume Dorison (translated by Marc Bourbon-Crook) continues the Assassin’s Creed universe beyond the video games and nine prior graphic novel stories from Titan Comics.  Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone (the first book of a two-book series) has all the elements of the Jason Bourne saga: good action, intrigue, smart dialogue, and likeable characters.  Ennio Bufi′s artwork is gorgeous, a mix of the contrasts and shadows of Jock and the vivid, sweeping imagery of Bill Sienkiewicz.  Bufi is an artist readers can only hope to see more of.

Check out this preview of both volumes of Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone courtesy of Titan Comics:

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IDW Publishing, Dynamite, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics are getting into the holiday spirit this week for Valentine’s Day this Friday.

IDW Publishing has three books featuring the subject of love: Star Trek: Year Five, Transformers, and Napoleon Dynamite each with a romance tale.  DC Comics has its annual giant-sized issue for February, too.  This time it’s DC’s Crimes of Passion #1.  The 80-pager features ten stories by some good teams of writers and artists, including a Bat-story by writer Steve Orlando with fantastic artwork by Greg Smallwood.  And there’s even a Green Arrow and Black Canary team-up.  The Star Trek cover arrives in two variants, one (above) matching last year’s wraparound kids Valentine format that featured Kirk.

You need to think a bit to see what’s happening with Dynamite’s special Valentine’s Day covers, except maybe for the cover to Death to Army of Darkness #1 by Sebastian Piriz with its big red heart front and center.  Dynamite is presenting an odd assemblage of homages to Marvel Comics’ The Amazing Spider-Man covers of the past featuring Mary Jane Watson, which by themselves don’t scream chocolates and roses.  But if you collect homage covers, check out Piriz’s homage to the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, Lynne Yoshii’s Vampirella/Red Sonja #6 (matching The Amazing Spider-Man #59), and Sanya Anwar’s covers to Dejah Thoris #3 (matching The Amazing Spider-Man #601) and Red Sonja #13 (an homage to The Amazing Spider-Man #42’s final panel).  So along with Dynamite, Marvel Comics gets its own piece of Valentine’s Day attention (whether they wanted to or not).  Note: These are just variant covers for the holiday, not Valentine’s Day stories inside.

 

Check out more of the covers for this week’s books below. and a preview of DC’s Crimes of Passion:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The most twists and turns, the most clever story arcs, and the most faithful adaptation of a comic book series you’ve seen so far.  After a great first season but a ho-hum sophomore season, the creators of the third season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina kicked every aspect of the show into high gear, making for the best season of any series so far on the streaming provider (yep, including that first season of Stranger Things).  So often it’s easy to binge watch every new series.  But the best you reserve to savor, and each episode of the third season was like a good movie.  More magic, more of the supernatural, and more gold nuggets from centuries of folklore took these established characters and made them shine in exciting new ways, giving us the rare third season that bettered earlier seasons.  Great characters, great stories, great actors, and great writing as the witches of Greendale must fend off an attack by pagans that could mean the end for them and the mortals over eight action-packed episodes.  The season should put the series on anyone’s contender for best series of the year, even if we are only at February–it’s probably Netflix’s most riveting season of programming so far.

Has anyone done this before?  I’m talking about Robert Aguirre-Sacasa.  From the pages of Archie Comics, in 2014 Aguirre-Sacasa took Sabrina Spellman, a 50-year-old supporting character, and with a lot of love and dedication, and the visuals of artist Robert Hack, made her relevant for comic book readers in a new millennium in the pages of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Then he took her story to television and created a hit show to match, and kept it going for three seasons (with a fourth season due by year end).  Has any comic book series received this expert an adaptation and a singular champion of a classic character?

In front of the camera, Kiernan Shipka owns her title character and performs at the level of an actress who’s been doing it for 25 years.  Stunningly confident, she carries a swagger when called for as if Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other big movie star’s badass character walked onto the set.  Viewers believe her because she knows this character, able to flip from several versions of a put-upon, angsty high school teen to a genuine leader, fierce manipulator, and ferocious force to be reckoned with–even the forces of evil know to stay out of her way.

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Connoisseur of all things Star Trek, author Dayton Ward is back next month with his next in-universe look at what makes the Federation tick in Star Trek Kirk Fu Manual: A Guide to Starfleet’s Most Feared Martial Art It’s a comical look at everyone’s first (or second) favorite Captain, in his familiar 1960s (or 23rd century) uniform and scene stealing stances, rendered for the willing student or old-school fan by artist Christian Cornia.  Providing a how-to manual of some of Captain James T. Kirk’s more eccentric hand-to-hand combat moves, it gives you some step-by-step instruction in being cool like Kirk, complete with excerpts from his personal log.

Who exactly is the Kirk Fu Manual for?  It’s for those who listened to our recommendations of Ward’s past humorous inside looks at the franchise, seen in his Hidden Universe Travel Guide to Vulcan (reviewed here at borg) and his Hidden Universe Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire (reviewed here).  And it’s exactly the right gift for your office party swap when you can’t figure what to buy, but you know your boss is a Star Trek addict.

Readers better pay attention, as they’ll find a check-yourself test at the end.  And a certificate for those who pass.  If Kirk Fu is not your thing, don’t worry–Spock steps in with alternative suggestions in a bonus section.  Take a look at a preview of the Kirk Fu Manual below, courtesy of publisher Insight Editions.

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Coming this week is a new story from the steampunk crossover genre, those mash-ups featuring stories that blend the adventures of the real and the imaginary with Victorian charm.  It’s Adler–after Arthur C. Doyle’s Irene Adler, who he created for his story A Scandal in Bohemia, a popular character in his Sherlock Holmes stories and novels.  The new comic book series features Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Lady Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s original Amazon Queen in his 1887 novel She, her confidante Carmilla, a vampire from an 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella, The Dark Blue, and little orphan Annie, from the 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, plus real-life physicist/chemist Marie Curie and Queen Victoria, among others.

A follow-on to the 2014 Adler mini-series also written by Lavie Tidhar with artwork by Paul McCaffrey, the band of heroines are readying to again face their nemesis, also Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.  Artists McCaffrey and Jackson Guice will provide variant cover options, along with a silhouette cover series created by Andrew Leung.

 

Author Kim Newman (interviewed here at borg in 2013) has become the master of the crossover and mash-up genres, but the story device has been around for centuries.  Examples in recent comics history include Bill Willingham’s Legenderry, which merged Red Sonja, Six Thousand Dollar Man Steve Austin, Zorro, Vampirella, the Green Hornet and Kato, the Phantom, Ming the Merciless, and Doctor Moreau.  And then there’s Chris Roberson and Alex Ross’s Masks, including The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, the Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and the Black Bat, and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have included Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Tom Sawyer, and others.  Years before Moore, Newman’s several award-winning novels pulled together more than anyone else, literally thousands of characters, many real, historical people, many others fictional and from other famous works.  (We reviewed Newman’s characters in comic book mash-up form, Anno Dracula 1895, here at borg).  As with Willingham’s Legenderry, look for plenty of steampunk elements in Adler.

Here is a preview of Adler, Issue #1, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Merging art with science and technology the Victoria and Albert Museum in London put together an exhibition celebrating more than 100 years of the car.  That exhibition has been documented and is now available as a history of the car, combining historical objects from the museum with thirteen essays that show the impact of this cultural achievement (both the good and the bad) on people around the world.  Prepared by the museum’s researchers, the book Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is a history of the automobile and a nostalgic look at the marketing of cars through hundreds of reprinted advertisements and vintage photographs.

The book examines the need for speed looking at early and modern races, including early women in racing.  From the 1890s to the 2010s style has been supreme when it comes to the love of cars–it might seem obvious, but in one graphic readers can see a comparison of cars, planes, trains, phones, and even chairs, clocks, fashion, and swimsuits, all trending toward more streamlined forms across the decades.  Along with favorite cars is the quest for greater safety.  Manufacturing, assembly lines, industry, regulations, and the development of roads and highways, all led toward a key component that makes road travel possible: standardization.

As with everything else, the history of the car is interspersed with politics, profits, corporations, and The growth of an industry of cars for work tracked cars for personal use and even luxury purposes.  And along the journey was a new class of sales, marketing lifestyle and image to the consumer.  It’s also the movement from the stately black early cars to choice for the consumer via new, vibrant colors for interiors and exteriors.  One Saturday Evening Post excerpt champions new color combinations from DuPont in the 1920s.  Fashion plates compare what women should wear in their new cars in the early days of the automobile.

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Last night’s episode of CW′s Arrow brings eight seasons of one of DC Comics’ oldest superheroes to a close as the CW aired the show’s series finale.  Focused on Oliver Queen aka the Green Arrow–one of the costumed characters off to the sidelines over the years in the shadow of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman–the series would be a resounding success for the network and executive Greg Berlanti, sprouting several other DC Comics adaptations under the banner of the Arrowverse.  And what a long, strange trip it has been.  It’s been seven and a half years since I first watched the premiere of CW’s Arrow in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 at the panel featuring the creators and stars Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy (I reviewed the pilot first here at borg).  My initial reaction found the show a “refreshing, intriguing update to the superhero game,” and “even for a fan of the traditional character’s story, updates made for TV were well thought out and did little to detract from the core of what makes Green Arrow the unique character that has survived as a key comic book character for 70 years,” and that the pilot “deftly managed to alter far less of the source material than, for example, the Green Lantern movie released in 2011, and in doing so created a truer, more refreshing story with appropriate nods to the past, and one that promises to survive, should it find its fan base.”  Who knew that survival would mean greenlighting so many more superhero shows, including The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Batwoman, and the forthcoming Superman & Lois?

The series accomplished a lot even if it didn’t get everything right.  Arrow suffered when it veered too far from the DC Comics stories, or when it pursued too deeply the more arcane corners of the DC universe, the biggest side trip being the dominance of fan-favorite minor character Felicity Smoak in the series, ultimately knocking Dinah (or Laurel in this version) Lance aside to be Oliver’s romantic partner, which again took center stage in the finale episode.

This winter’s ambitious Crisis on Infinite Earth’s crossover event killed off Oliver Queen in the grand tradition of killing any superhero character (aka until his inevitable return, which we’ve seen in Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks’ comics story arc).  Although the finale itself, “Fadeout,” was much like an old 1980s “filler” episode (with many scenes spliced from past episodes) and like the final Crisis episodes it was about mourning Oliver and preparing for his funeral.  But the penultimate episode, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” (which aired last week), would make for a good spin-off.  That episode took Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance (the only actor we ever expected to be Black Canary in 2012), and teamed her up with Katherine McNamara’s Mia (Oliver and Felicity’s daughter trained by Oliver last year), along with Juliana Harkavy’s Dinah Drake, all in a future world of Earth in 2040 (introduced earlier in the series).  How long will the CW Arrowverse continue without its flagship series?  Only time will tell, but viewership already switched over to make The Flash the CW’s #1 watched show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rod Serling, eat your heart out.  Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone writers could take some pointers from Eddie Robson′s new novel, Hearts of Oak It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.  Borrowing its title from the popular, age-old song of the British Navy, here the cryptic “hearts of oak” says a lot about the rollercoaster ride for readers that lies ahead.

Taking a cue from the stark, detached, and quirky science fiction mysteries of Adam Christopher’s robot detective in books like Killing is My Business (reviewed previously here at borg), readers, and the protagonists, never quite know what is real and who is real.  What we do know is Iona Taylor has been an architect so long everyone knows her and respects her as the very best there is.  But she is having a particularly bad week as her colleague has died in the collapse of a building.  As she contemplates attending his funeral a new student inquires about private tutoring, and when the student leaves her hat behind the feeling of felt texture in the hat conjures something surreal for Iona–a strange feeling tugging at her, maybe even loosening some long forgotten memories.  After a strange event at the funeral and the destruction of yet another building, Iona is called by the authorities not for her advice, but for questioning, becoming a target of the investigation.  When the prospective student vanishes, Iona must play detective to clear herself, but she might not like what she finds.

Eddie Robson, a writer of Doctor Who and other radio plays and non-fiction works about movies, is a good storyteller.  His narrative reads like a fantasy fable of a king with a talking cat who advises him, in an enchanted city of expansive buildings and replenished resources centered around creating ever higher architecture so the king may relocate his rooms at the very top.  The book evokes parts of great science fiction stories and films of the past without pulling too much from any of them.  But fans of all these works will find some surprisingly good fun in Hearts of Oak: Planet of the Apes, Tron: Legacy, Humans, Alien, Snowpiercer, The Truman Show, Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a flip on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Matrix, and a few episodes of your favorite sci-fi TV shows, especially The Twilight Zone.

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