Advertisements

Category: Comics & Books


 

Writer/artist Ed Piskor broke new ground with his epic history of the Marvel universe in a tiny package, with his Grand Design and Second Genesis trilogy series (reviewed here at borg only last year).  A complete throwback in style to comics of the 1930s through the 1970s, Piskor’s series included small, tightly crammed panels allowing for only minimal detail, lots of content per page, bright classic colors, and good ol’ fashioned newsprint pages (mmm… just smell that newsprint!).  But Piskor covered only one segment of the Marvel universe in his books:  The X-Men.  This week writer/artist Tom Scioli enters the picture with his own take on Marvel’s Grand Design series, focusing on the Fantastic Four in the new series Fantastic Four: Grand Design.

In Issue #1 Scioli takes readers through an origin story of the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, as they become Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing, all in a similar style to Piskor’s series.  As expected, readers can look for a lot of history in 45 pages, including meeting one of the Watchers, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Mole Man, the Hulk, the Celestials, the Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, and lots of other characters tucked into the corners.  Since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I find it difficult to separate the comics from the movies, and every comic I read pulls me into the thought of how it might be adapted for the big screen.  If you haven’t been keeping up, along with the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Namor all moved over to Disney’s MCU, and Scioli lays out one possible way the Fantastic Four could be introduced into the reel world dominated thus far by the Avengers.  Could the first Fantastic Four movie, or a Fantastic Four sub-series of films (like the Avengers) segue moviegoers into the missing pieces never before seen on the big screen like Namor, and pull in the above heroes and villains?  We’ll know in a few years.

 

Look for two covers by Scioli for the first issue of Fantastic Four: Grand Design, and one variant, a very cool homage to Frank Miller’s second issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns featuring the Thing in place of Batman, re-created by Ed Piskor (shown above with Miller’s original).  Want to have a look inside the first issue?  Here’s a preview of #1, and a sneak peek at Issue #2:

Continue reading

Advertisements

Review by C.J. Bunce

In Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chemist and author Kathryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic, reveals the results of a thorough investigation into the scientific knowledge available to young author Mary Shelley at the turn of the 19th century when Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel (and basis for the first horror movie), Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus The result is a detailed, marvelously interconnected picture of notable minds of the Enlightenment and their theories, a useful history of science and technology, and a worthy supplement to any reading or study of the classic story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was greatly influenced by noted authors of her era, beginning with her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (through her writings), and her long-time companion and eventual husband, the noted author and political thinker Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Mary Shelley lived in a world of scientific improvements, while also at only the barest beginnings of modern chemistry, biology, and medicine.  Author Kathryn Harkup looked back to writings of the late 1700s and earlier, where religion, politics, and culture were undergoing a radical shift, with old concepts like alchemy winding down its influence on the thinking world.  As Harkup writes, “Dark, discredited, ineffectual alchemy was contrasted with enlightened, rational, powerful science.”  She follows Mary Shelley’s travels as documented in letters and diaries Shelley and her contemporaries wrote to locate hundreds of opportunities that could have influenced the author’s story as well as Victor Frankenstein the character inside the world where he would create life from the dead.  In doing so the reader will get a snapshot of the world in 1800-1818 and a class in a major chapter of the history of science and technology–what someone in Shelley’s circumstances as a woman among affluent families living among vocal sharers of ideas including the likes of Erasmus Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Byron.

Harkup takes her research a step further in Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, locating the possible influences of not only Shelley but those around Mary Shelley like her father, her husband, and Byron, whose access to cutting edge science and free thought reached across the ocean and nations.  She references the ongoing relationships and likelihood of the sharing of ideas among these men and Mary Shelley, all leading to the famous trip during the rainy summer of 1816, where the world was overtaken by darkness thanks to the earlier eruption of Mount Tambora in far off Indonesia.  Mary Shelley, age 18, with boyfriend Percy visiting Byron and Dr. John Polidori at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, were hunkered down reading ghost stories to each other from the French book Fantasmagoriana, when Byron suggested each should write his/her own ghost story (Polidori’s story would become The Vampyre, the first vampire novel).  Along with the science, Harkup provides a complete background of each step of Shelley’s life before and after completion of her Frankenstein contribution.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whenever you read a Colin Solter book, you know what you’re going to get.  Salter, author of 100 Speeches that Changed the World and the co-author of 100 Books that Changed the World, is bringing his next thought-provoking ideas to your bookstore next month, 100 Letters that Changed the World.  As with his prior entries in the series, Solter doesn’t really assemble the 100 best, 100 favorite, or even 100 most important items in each category, but he brings to light primary references from history.  In doing this he reminds readers as much as things change, they also manage to stay the same.  Having read his earlier books, I find I’m as intrigued to learn what he has selected from the obscure as much as more expected finds.

In truth, not all of these letters changed the world, if anyone, as might be the case with a few suicide notes from popular culture across the decades.  It also gives a bit more weight to letters that exist in their original form today, and letters that might fetch big dollars on the collector’s market.  The most intriguing of the letters is a note from Abigail Adams to husband John Adams from 1776.  Her letter decidedly did not change the world, because had Adams paid heed to her plea, women would have been included along with “all men” in the Declaration of Independence.  But it is a fascinating secret from history nonetheless.  Also fascinating is the final, jovial letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his wife Constanze, including references to his peer Antonio Salieri.

More obvious, important entries in 100 Letters that Changed the World include the telegram informing FDR about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s open letter from a Birmingham jail, Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison, and words of King Henry VIII’s affections to Anne Boleyn, which indeed would forever alter the course of history in Europe, Christopher Columbus’s first report back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1493, as well as Galileo mentioning his telescope whereby he first saw the moons of Jupiter and noted its military advantage for Italian naval efforts in 1610.  And from the historic, but perhaps not so critical to human progress is the last telegram message from the RMS Titanic, a telegram from the Wright Brothers to their father of their successful first airplane flight, and Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus describing the horrific deaths from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

If only the movies since Aliens had been this good.

Wrapping up the year’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien, coming next week from author Tim Waggoner is the next novel of the Alien universe, Alien: Prototype.  I’ve read most of the Alien tie-in novels, and this novel is right on the heels of the best of them, Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows.  Three tough-as-nails female characters drive this story.  Readers first meet Tamar Prather, a master of corporate espionage and all-around resourceful spy.  Tamar is self-driven and self-serving, and she breaks into Weyland-Yutani to steal a stasis pod housing a valuable trade secret, with a buyer at an opposing corporation ready and waiting.

Several hundred colonists live in the testing facility on the planet Jericho-3, and they’re about to meet a threat even worse than your typical Xenomorph encounter.  To protect them is Zula Hendricks (first introduced in the Aliens: Defiance comic series), a member of the security staff who has been training her squad for just this kind of alien encounter.  Hendricks knows first-hand what works and what doesn’t in combat, having lost her last platoon from her own bad judgment.  Working for the new corporation is a new take on the franchise’s synthetics, an upgraded cyborg named Brigette, and Hendricks’ synth friend Davis, now assisting her but no longer in your typical synth bipedal form.

Despite Alien: Prototype′s requisite, nasty, sci-fi monster–and this time readers will meet an entirely new version of the Xenomorph even more difficult to defeat than her predecessors–the real villains of the Alien-verse continue to be the corporate wonks who refuse to heed the warnings of those who have encountered the Xenomorphs in previous clashes.  But for the first time it’s not Weyland-Yutani that is behind the decision-making leading to the next disaster.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

It was such a big deal to prepare for, and then it was over in an instant never to be heard from again.  That’s Y2K, or the Millennium Bug, and it’s a fun time to look back on especially if it’s part of that richly detailed Anno Dracula universe created by British author Kim Newman (who we interviewed six years ago for Halloween here at borg).  The third story in Newman’s Christina Light arc (after the comic series Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem and novel Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters), Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju gathers a team of real and unreal, dead and undead, at a giant skyscraper in Tokyo on December 31, 1999, for the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties.

Newman is the master of world-building and mash-ups, and he doesn’t disappoint in this new October release.  In what horror universe is both John Blutarski a U.S. Senator partying in Japan (remember John Belushi’s character in Animal House?), the Apollo 13 movie included the first vampire astronaut, and Charlie’s Angels reconvene years later?  Anno Dracula continues its mix of historic characters of pop culture and politics and those throwback tangent characters from literature, TV, and movies.  In Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju readers can remember what it was like to “party like it’s 1999” with an alternate history where Dracula and vampires have always been real.

One of many tangent characters in Kim Newman’s latest Anno Dracula novel.

Newman includes so many Easter eggs in his books that finding them all–probably impossible for anyone that isn’t Kim Newman–should be part of some kind of international contest.

The New Year’s party of this story is in honor of Christina Light, famed vampire princess.  But will she show, and will anyone even get through the labyrinthine skyscraper to attend on the 88th floor by midnight?  Who is the shadowy Jun Zero?  Is Y2K really a bug, or is it a person, or worse: that daikaiju in the title is the name of the tower in Tokyo that houses the offices of an international conglomerate, but it also means “big monsters.”  So get ready for anything to happen, including the appearance of a cyborg and maybe even Dracula himself, as distinguished guests, leaders of finance, tech, and culture, are held hostage by yakuza assassins and Transylvanian mercenaries.  Enter vampire schoolgirl Nezumi–agent of the Diogenes Club–who finds herself and her trusty sword named “Goodnight Kiss” pitted against the deadliest creatures the world has ever known.

Continue reading

Sometimes you wish you could go back in time, to decades past where life was simpler and you could grab a magazine at the local bookstore or grocery store rack to get a fix from your favorite movies or TV series.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s sometimes that meant Starlog, Starburst, or Space Wars, Fantastic Films Magazine, or even mags aimed at the younger set, like Dynamite.  Then people like Dan Madsen came along with fan clubs that resulted in titles targeted at specific, single fandoms like The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine for Star Wars, and Star Trek Communicator and other titles under variants of those names.  Titan Magazines inherited management of these legacies decades ago, and is still putting out both Star Wars Insider and Star Trek Magazine, and it’s the articles from those mags that fans can “read again for the first time” as Titan launches three new compilation books, Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

The two Star Wars books are tied to the anticipation for the release of the final chapter in the original Star Wars saga as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters in December and The Mandalorian series begins streaming in November.  And the Star Trek book is primed to get newer fans up to speed in time for the release of the Star Trek Picard television series.  If you collect the magazines, you have already read this content, but if you haven’t or you threw out your magazines over the years, this is your chance to check out Titan’s targeted looks back at these big franchises.

Vintage photographs, tie-in toys and other products, posters, interviews, and articles full of trivia are reason enough to take a look back through these books.  And those photographs include many you’ve probably not seen before–or at least haven’t seen in a long, long time.  Clocking in at 176 pages, each book has something for every fan of these franchises.  Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters is a must for anyone after lots of detail photographs of Chewbacca and your favorite bounty hunters, something from every previous Star Wars film through Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles isn’t just about Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but is an overview of the entire series and films featuring the NextGen crew.  Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy is perhaps the most nostalgic, with those marketing photographs and accompanying 1970s magazine style art that could have come straight out of Dynamite magazine.

Below are previews of all three books.  Catch up on the past–order these books at your local bookstore or comic book shop or from Amazon at these links: Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

Continue reading

We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

Continue reading

FINAL PremeditatedMyrtle_HC_jkt_rgb_HR (1)

We have a cover reveal today for borg readers!  Take a look at this great cover by Brett Helquist, artist for A Series of Unfortunate Events and other great covers and picture books.  It’s for Elizabeth C. Bunce′s next book, Premeditated Myrtle, now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

As readers over the past decade at borg know, one of our frequent contributors of book and TV reviews is author Elizabeth C. Bunce, whose first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, I feature here every October as a recommended Halloween read.  Next up for Elizabeth is Premeditated Myrtle, the first in a new mystery series in the tradition of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Miss Fisher, Flavia De Luce, and… Quincy, M.E.  I, your humbled editor and Elizabeth’s husband, have been watching Elizabeth build her mystery series from the ground up–the second book has been written and the third and fourth mysteries are underway!  I know you’re going to love the adventures of intrepid twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle and her equally intrepid cat Peony (who also made the cover if you look closely).

Myrtle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science.  Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England, in the year 1893.  When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance.  With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

“Covers are always a surprise for the author—seeing how someone else will envision your characters,” said Elizabeth.  “My agent leaked the news that Brett Helquist might be working on Premeditated Myrtle, so I had to pretend for months that I didn’t know!  I knew his work, of course, but what really sold me were his illustrations for A Christmas Carol.  There are no ghosts in my Victorian mystery, but Brett did an amazing job capturing Myrtle’s determined energy—and even more importantly, Peony the cat!  We went back and forth on a couple of sketches for hair and clothing, but what never changed was Myrtle’s perfect expression.  The scene he chose to illustrate was one of my favorites to write, so it’s been great fun watching it come to life in full color.”

Continue reading

Next week fans of Dungeons & Dragons will see the re-release of two Forgotten Realms adventures that started off the 5th Edition renaissance of D&D back in 2014.  Both the thinner adventure modules Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat have been combined and repackaged into one volume, Tyranny of Dragons.  This extra-thick compilation book, the first like it in the 5th Edition, is available in a single exclusive edition with artwork by artist Hydro74–featuring what may be his best cover design yet.  The release is part of Wizards of the Coast’s celebration of five years of 5th Edition adventures.

In addition to the Forgotten Realms module Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline has pulled in at least fifteen D&D Adventurer’s League “Expedition” tie-in adventures since 2014, when players first encountered the Cult of the Dragon and its plans to free Tiamat, the goddess of chromatic dragons, from the Nine Hells.  The storyline was continued in The Rise of Tiamat module later that year.  Don’t look for a specific errata section in this new edition–Wizards of the Coast says it has updated the adventure within by incorporating feedback to “smooth out the curve” for new players.  The two campaigns are fused into 17 chapters (as many fans wanted in the beginning), and a new appendix provides some never-before-published concept artwork.

 

The biggest feature is that all-new appendix containing 32-pages of double-page poster-worthy art showcasing scenes from the storyline, plus concept artwork, including sketches and trial pieces.  These were not previously included in prior fifth edition volumes.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

As you look at that great Paul Mann cover art for Blood Sugar, would you ever guess the following describes what is inside?  A modern-day look at the struggles of a teenager in a broken home and broken society in the vein of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (or any of her early books, for that matter).  It has the gritty street life from Attack the Block, Do the Right Thing, or Car Wash, the “being different” of Lucas (the film with Corey Haim) and the coming of age confusion and angst of Stephen King’s Stand By Me aka The Body and issues kids worry about like in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  What?

In one way Blood Sugar is the worst written novel you’ll ever read.  And in another way, it’s the kind of story that should already be optioned to become an independent film.  That “bad writing” is tricky, because the story is told in an experimental manner through the voice of a young teenager named Jody, a boy whose life is a mess and whose street sense surpasses any “book learning” he passed up in his life so far.  Author Daniel Kraus, through the voice of Jody, speaks in rambling sentences, stream of conscience thoughts, and with little punctuation and grammar (no apostrophes, etc.).  It’s distracting at first to the point a reader may just walk away, but it doesn’t take too long to realize Kraus’s characters are real if not disturbingly so.  Yes, they are a mess, but this book might be worthwhile in the hands of the right kid.  Kraus is a screenplay writer, known for his script to The Shape of Water and his young adult works.  It no doubt takes some commitment to write an entire story in this strange manner.  His novel reads like a screenplay, and it’s far more a young adult novel than anything you’ve read before in the Hard Case Crime series.  It’s not a fun read–it’s dark, and desperate, and dire–the kids have no good path ahead, and their plight is like that of the doomed kids in Bless the Beasts and Children.  But it’s one heckuva thought-provoking drama.

Jody is a funny, dumb, impressionable kid.  He hasn’t read much but he knows The Lord of the Rings movies backward and forward.  He rarely swears, instead using goofy swapped words for profanity, which drops the serious and sometimes violent nature of the content into something that should pass for a PG-13 rating, something like I would have read in eighth grade.  This is a dark story of drugs and living in a rat-infested, inner-city project, of mental health issues, bad parenting, of youth gone amok, all in that same theme–but in an updated 21st century way–as Rebel Without a Cause, or any of the books referenced above.  And everything in Jody’s life hits a turning point on Halloween.  This is not your typical crime novel.

Continue reading