Advertisements

Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

Continue reading

Advertisements

   

Eighty years ago Superman first hit neighborhood newsstands in Issue #1 of Action Comics–an issue that if you kept your copy could pay off your house, car, and retirement.  The cover was dated June 1938, but it was in kids’ hands first on April 18, 1938.  DC Comics is celebrating Superman’s big anniversary this week with a celebratory issue of Action Comics numbered 1000, created by some of DC’s top writers and artists, an anthology of stories just as you’d find in Action Comics’ first 500 issues.  The 1,000 issues is spot-on with the number of Action Comics issues released, but those counting the months since 1938 will come up short:  Action Comics shifted from a monthly to a bi-weekly once upon a time, and you won’t find numbered issues #905-956, which were replaced by 52 issues of the New 52 reboot numbering 1-52.  For American comic book fans, there’s something special about holding this issue in your hands.  It’s no small feat seeing such a truly undisputed iconic character get to this point.

The 80-page giant issue is one not to pass up.  For current fans, it’s a ramp-up to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing run beginning with the complete issue #1001.  For everyone else, it’s a nostalgic trip via variant covers and dozens of classic and modern creators offering up stories about the Man of Steel.  The writers?  Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Paul Levitz, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer, and Brian Michael Bendis.  The artists? Dan Jurgens, Pat Gleason, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Jerry Ordway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, John Cassaday, Jim Lee, Norm Rapmund, Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Williams, Hi-Fi Color, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin, and Alex Sinclair.  Cover artists include Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Michael Allred, Jim Steranko, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, Lee Bermejo, Dave Dorman, George Perez, Neal Adams, Jim Lee (providing the main cover and two variants), Curt Swan, Felipe Massafera, Nicola Scott, Jock, Oliver Coipel, Jason Fabok, Kaare Andrews, Gabrielle Dell’Otto, Artgerm, Tyler Kirkham, Pat Gleason, Francesco Mattina, Ken Haeser, Doug Mahnke, and Tony S. Daniel.  Check out images of all the variant covers below.  Our favorite?  Danielle Dell’Otto’s take on Christopher Reeve at the Fortress of Solitude, and Pat Gleason’s cover, which includes Krypto.

   

Some comic book stores are holding events to celebrate the Man of Steel’s big day.  This Saturday if you’re in the Kansas City area head on over to Elite Comics, where you can pick up copies of Issue #1000 plus a limited exclusive Superman print (shown above) by artist Bryan Fyffe, a nationally-recognized artist whose licensed works include projects for Disney and Star Wars.  Or check out your own neighborhood store.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Bradley W. Schenck’s sci-fi-meets-retro novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, was our favorite read of 2017.  Schenck created a unique story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom handled science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same imagination and fun, Schenck is back again in Retropolis with a new book of short stories, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of PatentsAll but one of the stories were originally published in 2016 and 2017 in Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, and the new story ties together the other stories in the volume, which all really read like a single narrative with clever titles to the chapters.  As with last year’s novel, it’s all great fun and smartly written.

Readers again revisit Retropolis’s day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary, but this time Schenck hones in on one segment of the city, the Registry of Patents and new heroes of the office: Ben Bowman, investigator of patents, and secretary to the Registrar, Violet the humanoid robot.  Ben does not have aspirations of greatness, he’s content to do his job, but Violet is a robot who knows she was built to be an investigator.  The problem is that she’s gone through more than 14 bosses now–the Registrars–and still hasn’t been promoted.  Is it because they leave each other notes in the locked safe in the Registrar’s office about Violet?  And is it possible the office keeps losing Registrars because Violet is working her way through them?  Nah.

Big, bright, and detailed, like Tron, Logan’s Run, Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland, a bit Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, a larger dose of Metropolis, and an equal dose of Office Space and The Office–readers won’t find anything like Scheck’s world elsewhere.  The final story in the volume, “The Enigma of the Unseen Doctor,” is as compelling, rich, and poignant as any other master of science fiction’s take on what it’s like to be a robot.  Scheck turns the tables as we meet a robot with compassion for what it’s like to be human.  Patently Absurd provides the next step in science fiction’s investigation of the soul.

Continue reading

First premiering at a film festival in Toronto last September, a new costume drama biopic will be slipping into theaters in the U.S. next month and UK theaters in July.  Mary Shelley is a film from a story by Emma Jensen, looking at Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romance with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including the famous contest in which Shelley would write in the year 1816 what has been called the most influential science fiction and horror story of all time.  Saudi Arabia’s first woman filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, is directing, with Elle Fanning in the lead role.

The first trailer for the film unveils a historical drama, presenting a young cast for a new generation of Regency romance moviegoers.  Portraying 16 to 18-year-old Shelley is 18-year-old Elle Fanning (as of filming), who has impressed audiences in her short career with star roles in films Super 8, Maleficent, and the remake of The Beguiled.  Co-star Maisie Williams will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fans.  Mary Shelley has the look of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but without the fantasy and horror elements.  That may be thanks in part to co-star Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley, who appeared in both films, as well as Jupiter Ascending and a few historical TV dramas.  Mary Shelley also features Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd) as Lord Byron, and Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse).

Actor Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux, Mansfield Park) composed the film’s musical score.  Kevin Downey, who worked in the art department on The Terror, Ripper Street, Little Women, and Penny Dreadful, is the film’s set decorator.  Caroline Koener is costume designer.

Here is the first trailer for Mary Shelley:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Comparable in every way to the team-up with Green Lantern and Black Canary in the famed Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams run on Green Lantern in the early 1970s beginning with Issue #76, Mike Grell would take over the artwork on the O’Neill/Adams run sporadically for the next ten issues and create more than 80 issues about the bow-wielding superhero for the next two decades.  A four-issue series featuring Green Arrow would prove relatively unnoticed in 1983 (without Grell onboard), but in 1987 everything in comic books would change as Grell returned to Green Arrow with his three-issue series The Longbow Hunters Hot on the heels of the previous year’s groundbreaking, prestige format series The Dark Knight Returns, The Longbow Hunters was the perfect dark and gritty follow-up story only this time it presented the superhero lead inside the ongoing narrative of the DC series at the time.  It was Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, relocating from Star City to Seattle, and the DC Universe became more grounded in reality.  The success of The Longbow Hunters gave Grell the opportunity to take Oliver Queen (referred to in-story as Green Arrow only once in his stories) to the next level in the late 1980s, cementing the superhero as a title character in his own right.  DC Comics has reprinted The Longbow Hunters, and in recent years it has been peppering the market with reprints of Grell’s fantastic storytelling and sometimes artwork for 80 issues from 1988 to 1993.  DC Comics has now released the last of Grell’s incredible run on the Green Arrow monthly in its ninth collection from the series, Green Arrow: Old Tricks.

Green Arrow: Old Tricks is an even greater DC release because it also bundles in Grell’s last work of the era on Green Arrow in the 1993 four-part mini-series Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.  Unlike the past few years of the monthly series, which was illustrated primarily by Rick Hoberg and inker John Nyberg, Grell both wrote and illustrated the official Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin story in this mini-series along with inker Gray Morrow.  Along with the origin story that would stand until writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock’s mini-series Green Arrow: Year One in 2007, we see a flashback of Oliver Queen in the heyday of his 1970s “man of the people” political activism.  As for the story at the end of Grell’s run on the monthly comic and the mini-series, Grell went out with a bang.  The stories both hone in on the women in Queen’s life, primarily Dinah, but also Shado and a fling with a local woman half his age, all while Queen is out battling bad guys inside and outside of the city.   Grell’s story is great and the artwork by Hoberg and Grell equally vivid and compelling.

In the section of Green Arrow: Old Tricks reprinting the monthly ongoing series are four stories: the two-part “Trigger,” the single-issue “Auld Acquaintance,” the three-part “Killing Camp,” and the two-part “New Dogs Old Tricks.”  The most memorable to readers of the series will be the New Year’s Eve story “Auld Acquaintance.”  After 80+ issues of Oliver Queen messing up his romance with Dinah Lance, she finally says “goodbye” for good in the series pretty 75th anniversary issue.  Oliver then gets away from it all thanks to a story that calls back to Grell’s own real-life intelligence work, as Queen teams up with Eddie Fyres in a good ol’ James Bond-inspired adventure.

Continue reading

   

Review by C.J. Bunce

At first blush it’s hard to wrap your head around, after decades of seeing (and buying) variant comic book covers, learning that the first goes back only so far as 1986, with DC Comics releasing two covers for the first issue of The Man of Steel.  Variant covers–those alternate editions of a comic book where the only difference is one or more optional covers are made available for that issue, the economics behind them, and a high-quality look at many of the often rare artistic works that DC Comics has published since it created the idea, is the subject of a giant, over-sized, coffee table book coming your way this month.  DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History offers up many full images of the artwork that became variant covers over the past 30 years, printed on the type of thick paper with vibrant ink reproductions that may prompt some to (carefully) pull out pages and frame them.  It’s like a book full of frame-worthy art prints.

Comic book and film writer Daniel Wallace has tackled the task of selecting highlights from DC Comics’ long run of variant covers–the “Complete” in the title is about the scope and range of variant projects that the publisher has taken on.  He opts to show large images, often full-sized and even double-page spreads of many pieces of cover art, instead of an edition with hundreds of thumbnails of every DC Comics variant that’s seen print.  Compiled in a single book, it will make many a variant collector shudder at the thought of just how many variants exist from all the comic book publishers.  But the images, many familiar, some rare and sought after in comic book form, and some not-so-rare, get their own showcase here, most reflecting the artwork without the title, logos, and other text and branding.  As readers will learn, variant cover collecting has become its own niche for collectors–some books have been bought and sold for thousands of dollars.  Readers will also learn the types of releases that determine rarity and why DC Comics has evolved its strategy for variant covers over time.

The best sections of DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History spotlight the covers of Darwyn Cooke (it’s incredible to marvel at six of his images over-sized in the late artist’s bright color palette), Ant Lucia’s DC Bombshells, homage series featuring Mad Magazine, movie posters, Looney Tunes team-ups, convention and store exclusives, and many variant covers from Alex Ross, Frank Cho, and Frank Miller.  Some of the most eye-popping images reprinted include cover art for JSA Classified #1 featuring Power Girl, by Adam Hughes, Batman (Vol. 2) #51, and Superman, #33, by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, Wonder Woman (Vol. 5) #1 by Frank Cho, and Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peele #1, by Cat Staggs.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Director Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Godzilla and the mecha genre in 2013’s Pacific Rim continues with del Toro producing the sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, directed by Steven S. DeKnight.  As you’d expect, that means bigger and better Jaegers–those enormous fighting, armored machines initially only manned and newly created as flying drones to defend Earth–and some bigger and more terrifying Kaiju–humanity’s nemeses in the form of terrifying, alien, Godzilla-inspired monsters.  Fans of the franchise can see the development of the next generation of both creations, and how their development relied upon getting the right look and sound effects together, in the new book The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising.

Director DeKnight, showrunner of Marvel’s Daredevil, and producer of genre favorites Smallville, Angel, and Dollhouse, provides a foreword to the book and takes readers through each step of the development of the film from idea to fleshing out the look of the film’s giant-sized spectacles and its several new human characters.  Screenwriters T.S. Nowlin and Travis Beacham provide insight into the direction of the story, and DeKnight and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang (Star Trek Beyond, Godzilla, Total Recall, John Carter, The Chronicles of Riddick, Labyrinth, Highlander, Krull) explain the look and rationale for each element of the film.  Author Daniel Wallace incorporates interviews with cast members John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Charlie Day, and others, plus costume designer Lizz Wolf describes her concepts behind the signature look of each character.  We also meet the next generation of cadets, with a young slate of international performers: Wesley Wong, Rahart Adams, Karan Brar, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriquez, Ivanna Sakhno, and Levi Meaden–a group of up-and-coming actors that will be fun to watch emerge in films in the next few years.

But for most fans it will be the concept art for the Jaegers that are of key importance for a book like this, and they should be happy as most of the content is devoted to these designs, including discarded concepts and rejected variants.  Production designer Stefan Dechant (Kong: Skull Island, Alice in Wonderland, Minority Report) talks about his influences for design elements of each Jaeger (like F-16 Fighters for Guardian Bravo, the Millennium Falcon for Bracer Phoenix) and how the massive weaponry was developed.  Color was a key design factor for the Jaegers and the Kaiju, and the large icons were also defined by their sounds.  More so than most behind-the-scenes looks into films, The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising may provide the most attention to the incorporation of sound effects.  Supervising sound designer and editor Erik Aadahl (Transformers, Godzilla, Terminator Genisys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) shares many of his secrets to help create the foreboding presence of the monsters and machines.

Key for fans of the franchise will be the book’s incorporation of tipped-in scrapbook materials, reproductions of original artwork like unused Jaeger concept art, storyboards, a monster/machine size comparison chart, a glossy, full-color pull-out blueprint of Romeo Blue, and several other reproductions of the designers’ concept art.

Check out these images from The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising:

Continue reading

Probably no other visionary from the 19th century except Mary Shelley and Jules Verne is as synonymous with the genre of science fiction as H.G. Wells.  How many science fiction works did Wells inspire with his stories, with elements infused into books, television series, and movies–120 years later and never going out of print?  Only hours ago the BBC announced a new three-part series adapting The War of the Worlds will be arriving later this year, starring Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  The War of the Worlds.  The Time Machine.  The Invisible Man.  The Island of Dr. Moreau.  A new series of graphic novels from Insight Comics is adapting all four of Wells’ classics.  These go beyond the old Illustrated Classics editions, taking on several science fiction paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, and the adventures and trials that come from the unknown worlds of the future.

First in the new series is an action-packed adaptation of The War of the Worlds.   Tailored from the original 1897 tale of freakish alien tripod alien invaders annihilating parts of England, the writer known as Dobbs provides a faithful take on Wells’s work.  It’s always interesting to see new interpretations of the look of Wells’ invaders, and artist Vicente Cifuentes (best known for his DC Comics art) provides a visually striking view of the varying appearances of the invaders as well as an authentic and engaging feel for the 19th century setting of the original novel.

Scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard referenced The War of the Worlds as an influence for creating the real-world liquid-fueled rocket that would later take humans to the Moon.

Take a look at these sample pages from the first book in the new H.G. Wells series from Insight Comics, courtesy of the publisher:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

You don’t expect a crime novel or pulp fiction to be funny.  Sure, any good story has some humor, but crime mysteries are the stuff of suspense-thrillers and dark alleys, right?  Maybe so, but then there is the late great crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake.  His novel Help I Am Being Held Prisoner has a lead character that would knock any reader off his chair.  The Chicago Sun-Times called Westlake “the funniest crime writer going” and they’re probably right.  His humor sometimes comes out of nowhere.  It’s not the hard-boiled flavor you may be used to, but his characters are still clever as ever, possessing those traits that make everyone appear so real.  His comedy is decisive and quick and the next thing you know tears are shooting out of yours eyes and coffee out your nose.  Hot on the heels of last year’s posthumously published action thriller Forever and a Death (reviewed here), Westlake’s Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is the latest classic find from the Hard Case Crime series, a 1974 novel now back in bookstores in a new edition for the first time in decades (with a great painted Paul Mann cover), and making people laugh again 44 years later.

Westlake’s protagonist this time is Harold Künt, last name pronounced “koont.”  The umlaut is important because pretty much no one has pronounced his name correctly in his life.  He’s 32 years old and unmarried, after three girlfriends refused to marry him, mainly because of his name.  In a roundabout but direct way, the joke God played on him with his name–in Künt’s mind–was rationale to play jokes on everyone else.  So Künt rebelled and got a sweet vengeance against everyone and anyone via his unique brand of practical jokery.  His signature?  The best practical jokes are the ones you don’t see play out.  You just set them up and walk away.  Künt is a pretty satisfied guy until one of his jokes goes too far off the rails and he lands in a New York jail–five to fifteen years in the penitentiary–a steeper penalty than warranted.  But two married Congressmen and unmarried ladies in the cars with them were part of a 17-car collision caused by Künt’s latest prank.  So Künt was due for his comeuppance.  The novel begins with Künt’s first day in the slammer.  Jailed for a joke, he’s resigned to becoming rehabilitated.  Sort of.  No more pranks, the warden orders, as Künt leaves some goo on the door handle as he leaves with the guard.  Künt is provided good advice, and he’s shown which of the inmates to steer clear of and for which reasons.  Then his roommate gets paroled and everything falls apart.  Or does it?

  

It’s a crime novel, so the novel needs a crime.  Künt falls in with exactly the wrong crowd, a group of thugs who have control over a tunnel out of the prison where they have found a way to live a second life outside of their jail sentences.  Is Künt in or is he out?  The band of criminals develop a plan to rob not just one but two of the local town banks.  What better an alibi to an armed robbery than being locked in jail?

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: