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Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

A smartly constructed assemblage of events and characters collided in a tightly written crime story in Edgar-winning writer Duane Swierczynski′s mini-series, Breakneck One of the most exciting of Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics′ line of books and comics based in a modern setting, Breakneck is a spy tale, terrorist story, and diehard action thriller about an unassuming Everyman who gets mixed up with a federal agent trying to foil a terrorist bombing in historic downtown Philadelphia.  The four-issue series from this past winter is getting released in a trade paperback this month, and is available for pre-order now here at Amazon (the UK edition is in bookstores now).  Fans of the crime genre and quick action graphic novel reads will find this story worth checking out.

If an incapacitated federal agent needed your help to save the world in the next 93 minutes, could you drop everything and do anything imaginable to help, even if that agent is someone you hated so much you were planning his death?  Swierczynski doesn’t give you any time to answer that question, as he sweeps the protagonist into a seedy motel, with guns pointing in every direction, guys being thrown from windows, and a woman tied up asking for help.  Before you have time to ask how all these characters keep crashing back together, another woman is tapped to join in the race to stop the end of the city from happening.

  

Artists Simone Guglielmini and Raffaele Semeraro, and colorists Lovern Kindzierski and Chris Chuckry nicely choreographed 109 pages of action with the streets of Philadelphia as a backdrop.  Breakneck began as a novel for Swierczynski, which then turned into a screenplay, and finally landed as a comic book story.  An excerpt of the novel is included as an appendix in the new graphic novel format compilation.

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Dafne Keen tops the list of best child actors in movies, and her performance as X-23 along with co-stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart made Logan–and specifically the black and white version released as Logan Noir–my pick for the #1 best superhero movie of all time.  So it’s a big deal that Keen has been tapped in the lead role of Lyra Belacqua, the young protagonist of a new adaptation of Philip Pullman′s His Dark Materials–a Carnegie Medal-winning trilogy of novels and a favorite among a generation of readers, selling 18 million copies and translated into 40 languages.  It’s doubly exciting for a fan like me, as the story and character of Lyra was adapted to the big screen once already, in 2007, as the Oscar-winning The Golden Compass, my pick back in 2012 here at borg at the top position of my ten favorite fantasy films of all time (check out that and our staff writers’ lists from back then here if you missed it).  Keen is the perfecting casting decision for one of fantasy’s best-developed, and most fascinating supernatural worlds.

Coming from the BBC and to be released via HBO in the States, His Dark Materials will feature eight episodes the first season.  Take a look at the first trailers below.  Along with Keen as Lyra (who was played by Dakota Blue Richards in the film), the series stars X-Men and Glass’s James McAvoy as Lord Asrael (played by Daniel Craig in the film), Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott in the film), John Wick and Jessica Jones’ Clarke Peters as Dr. Carne (Jack Shepherd in the film), The Strain and The Borgias’ Ruta Gedmintas as Serafina (Eva Green in the film), Shetland and Outlaw King’s James Cosmo as Farder Coram (Tom Courtenay in the film) and Luther, The Prisoner, and Jane Eyre’s Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman in the film).  No voice cast has been announced for the several animal characters.  The series is directed by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper.  Production for season one wrapped in late 2018 and a second season has already been green-lighted.

  

It’s a good time to catch up on the novels, beginning with Northern Lights (released as The Golden Compass in the U.S.), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, along with two sequels, Lyra’s Oxford, and Once Upon a Time in the North, and a book set in the same universe, The Book of Dust.

Here are the first trailers for His Dark Materials:

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The 24 issues of Matt Kindt′s Dept.H series is everything we look for at borg–science fiction, action, adventure, retro, mystery, noir.  And it all arrived in one comic book series from Dark Horse.  Writer/artist Matt Kindt has said his series Dept.H was inspired by 1970s G.I. Joes, Fisher Price Adventure People toys, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Jacques Cousteau, and readers felt all of that come through. From the patch on the underwater crew outfits that evoked the classic 1960s/1970s G.I. Joe Adventure Team to the SP-350 diving saucer from the famed Calypso in the craft that takes the characters to the depths of the ocean floor in the opening pages, to the setting and Department H Headquarters based on the ocean floor that screams H.G. Wells, Dept.H is one of the decade’s top comic book series.  And it’s now coming your way in two paperback omnibus editions beginning next week.

Best known for his run on his Mind MGMT series, Eisner Award nominee Kindt wrote and illustrated the story, with coloring supplied by Sharlene Kindt, his wife.  In part the series is an Agatha Christie-inspired closed room case.  We meet Mia Hardy, who has been asked to find the mole in the undersea lab, a mole who is believed to have sabotaged the base and murdered her father.  Mia has worked with the suspects before, providing the opportunity for the writer to hold back information and share with us bits and pieces when necessary.  Who killed Mia’s father?  Was it Q, the head of Dept. H security?  Her father’s business partner Roger?  The frenetic head of research Jerome?  Demolition expert Bob?  Her childhood friend turned enemy Lily?  Her own brother Raj?  Or Aaron, the research assistant?  Or was it someone topside?

 

Readers feel the pressure of undersea operations as Mia is plunged into her own peril, as the facility again is sabotaged before she can work her way though all the suspects.  How long can Kindt take us for this suffocating adventure before letting us come up for air?  The page design even features a graduated flood gauge at the pages’ edges that slowly “fills up” with water issue after issue.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Anyone who has ever been in journalism school has had one or more internships, maybe with a local newspaper or with a magazine, advertising agency, or public relations firm.  Every intern is a target in one way or the other of the old-timers in the firm.  The intern gets talked down to as a matter of rite.  Usually at the end of the internship the intern gets sent along her merry way, and sometimes she gets an offer to stay on, usually at low pay.  This is the world of Stephen King′s novel The Colorado Kid, delivered in King’s trademark nor’easter style of dialogue.  A young woman from Ohio named Stephanie McCann is winding down her internship with The Weekly Islander, working for the “news staff,” a pair of guys who can’t seem to decide how long they’ve worked at the paper named Dave Bowie (no relation, to either) and Vince Teague.  Another reporter, from The Boston Globe, is asking the men about unexplained mysteries in the area for a features story, around the year 2004.  After he leaves, The Weekly Islander men proceed to tell Stephanie about a story they didn’t share with the Globe reporter, the unsolved mystery of The Colorado Kid, a man found dead against a trash can situated along a nearby beach back in 1980.  In a spin on Twenty Questions, Stephanie gets to ask all the questions–to learn the clues and what investigation transpired so far in the crime–and they answer in a very verbose and dragged out way that only local yokels would normally have the patience to listen to.  After years out of print, The Colorado Kid has been re-released by Hard Case Crime for the first time since the book was first published in 2005.  In fact it’s the book that kicked off the imprint, and lighted the spark to make it the popular publisher of crime fiction that it is today.  The first edition fetches a princely sum in the aftermarket, so the new paperback edition is a welcome event for crime genre readers.

Fans of King’s TV and film adaptations and Shawn Piller television series will recognize the novel as the impetus for the Syfy Channel series Haven (now streaming on Netflix) a show that also included Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai as a producer.  Here’s what they have in common: The Colorado Kid is set in the Northeast, it featured newspapermen Dave and Vince, one of the local policemen was named Wuornos, and there’s a restaurant in town called The Grey Gull.  I noted nothing else in common with the TV series, except a different story of the Kid (the series’ handling probably less satisfying than in the book).  Ardai, in a 2019 foreword to the new edition, surmises that King may have chosen to wait this long to reprint the book to provide some distance from the series, so fans wouldn’t confuse the two.  If you choose to take on The Colorado Kid–the novel–just don’t search for any supernatural twist or horror.  There isn’t any and there isn’t supposed to be.  It also doesn’t follow a mystery formula, but is more a folktale, a storyteller’s legend, something like the lost people of Roanoke (one of the mysteries that surfaces in the series).

 

If it sounds like I’m holding back some elements, it’s because some of the surprise worth holding back is in the bones of the tale (surprises like we found in the films Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Split).  With this story “the journey is the thing.”  First, the possibilities raised in the story are probably better than the story.  The Colorado Kid is a different type of tale, kicking aside all reader expectations–no matter what expectation you have coming into the story.  It’s full of Stephen King’s Maine, the local oddballs are few here, but we get plenty of their anachronisms, their dialects, and colloquialisms from storytellers Dave and Vince.  And as with the next Hard Case Crime book King would write, Joyland, it’s chock full of local charm (a more satisfying read, I reviewed Joyland as part of the official blog tour for the initial release here at borg in 2013).  The Colorado Kid is another example of why King is a bestselling author–his newspapermen keep you immersed in their little office along with Stephanie for the entire ride.  By book’s end you’ll more likely be ready to kill Dave and Vince for their quirks than the author for his… unorthodox… ending. Continue reading

 

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a comic book nearly two years in the making.  Or maybe 27 years.  And it may be the best single comic book issue of the year.  But as strange as the tale between the covers, the story of its creators is stranger still.  What you probably know is this:  In 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a single issue comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Intended as a spoof-parody-mash-up concoction of Marvel’s Daredevil and The New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the book sparked something much bigger for readers, becoming one of the most popular franchises for a few generations of readers and cartoon watchers (not to mention the impact it had via toys and movie tie-ins).  A couple unrelated–short-lived–parody spin-offs of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came and went unrelated to Eastman and Laird, including Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

What you don’t know is that eight years after the Turtles saw their first comic–in 1992–comic creators Shane Bookman and his brother Paul released their scrappy indie creation on the unsuspecting comic book universe: Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls Like Eastman and Laird, the Bookmans had their own share of ups and downs, tales of fame and fortune (evidently Eastman sold off his rights to the Turtles some 20 years ago, etc.).  So in 2017 Eastman and writer David Avallone and artist Ben Bishop (with Troy Little, Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga, and Taylor Esposito) took the Bookmans’ story to Kickstarter, and nearly 1,200 backers brought in more than $100,000.  Now it’s all done, first to tell the Bookmans’ story in a new monthly comic beginning this past week called Drawing Blood, and at the same time with a companion comic they created and discussed in their comic industry exploits, Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, Issue #1.

 

The result?  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is an idea as good as any Turtles tale you’ve read, and as finely crafted an origin story, full of action, top-notch writing, beautiful layouts, and exciting new characters: referred to as the Ragdolls (from the cat breed), they are three female cats who encounter gamma rays, cosmic rays, genetic mutagens, and who knows what other comic book superpower trigger was tapped, to become Tezuka, Otomo, and Miyazaki.  Speaking, Ronin-trained, defender cats.  Otomo is the most fearsome, Miyazaki speaks in Haiku poems, and Tezuka is a master tactician.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Stickers as art?  Why not?  You’ve seen stickers for decades and used them for all kinds of purposes.  And they are all around you–on telephone poles, on city benches, on subways, on bus seats, on the walls of bathrooms in bars and pubs, even 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as Miles sticks his artwork all over his Brooklyn neighborhood–places not quite intended for communicating via a form of art.  Are they art, or just stuck-up pieces of crap?  This is the question posed by DB Burkeman, skateboarder and punk rocker turned DJ who bounced between London and New York collecting these images over the past 40 years.  He tells the story of stickers as street art in a book that updates his first book on the subject from 2010.  The new collection is Stickers 2: More Stuck-Up Crap, From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art, coming in June from Rizzoli New York Publishing.  The out-of-print first volume, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap, documented the subgenre as its own art scene, sought after by sticker enthusiasts, and the new volume reproduces more than 3,000 more sticker images.

Burkeman’s sticker art is contemporary art in the Banksy sense.  Often irreverent, sometimes humorous and even political, they are quick, cheap ways to convey messages and meaning between the artist and the pedestrian.  A fair analogy is our world of DIY culture where people can self-publish or do anything else because of technological advances–how can more artists become street artists any cheaper than making their own stickers and leaving them anywhere they can be seen?  Some artists even print their own stamps (also stickers) and send them to each other around the world.  The stickers Burkeman examines also include the nostalgic: Remember scratch-and-sniff stickers from the 1970s?  They’re still being produced, and a few are pictured in this volume (sorry, no scent).  From stickers on your fruits at the grocery store to billboards mocking corporate brands or politicians, and art pranks from artist-activists (and simple power socket stickers stuck on the walls at every other major airport these days), Burkeman connects it all together.

Stickers 2: More Stuck-Up Crap includes commentary from a variety of collectors, DJs, artists, and others influenced or inspired by the medium, from Nathalie Richter, 1988 German half-pipe champion (and vintage sticker collector), to BMX legend Mike Humphrey (he put ’em on bikes), to Mark Mothersbaugh from the band DEVO (and one of filmdom’s great composers), to famous mosaic street artist INVADER, to indie film director Aaron Rose, to graffiti writers and DJs who leave there mark behind in sticker form.  The “OBEY” signs from John Carpenter’s sci-fi classic film They Live–they have a particular influence on artists, who have reinterpreted the signage in several ways, many pictured in the book.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Premiering today, the next adventure sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons is entitled Ghosts of Saltmarsh, a title that evokes both the haunted nature of many of the adventures contained within it, including the titular Saltmarsh trilogy from D&D’s 1st Edition.  Saltmarsh is the first D&D adventure book to be officially set in the world of Greyhawk, the original D&D Fantasy world setting used in 1st and 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons before Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms captured the roleplaying community’s imagination, a fact sure to delight many long-time fans of the setting.  It includes a brief introduction of Greyhawk and provides some background information about the Kingdom of Keoland, where the coastal town of Saltmarsh is set.

The book also provides three alternate “factions”, in place of the standard five factions of the Forgotten Realms: The Traditionalists, the Loyalists, and the Scarlet Brotherhood.  Included are NPCs, motivations, and background information enough to provide players with the ability to use them in place of the standard factions.  Of course, the Realms factions can easily still be used with a little work on the DM’s part.

Similar to Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is primarily a collection of seven adventures set in a maritime area, rather than a full campaign in and of itself as with other hardcover books (such as Tomb of Annihilation and Dungeon of the Mad Mage).  The Saltmarsh adventures are designed to be inserted into an ongoing campaign and ran as independent adventures.  However, unlike with Yawning Portal, there is an outline provided in Saltmarsh which allows them to be stitched together into a campaign, with room for other published adventures or excursions of the DM’s design to be inserted in between.

Three of the adventures are based on the Saltmarsh Trilogy of D&D modules, first published in the early 1980s by TSR’s United Kingdom office (hence “U” in the original module designations “U1” through “U3”).  The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and The Final Enemy presented players with an in-depth plot, multiple twists in story and characters, and a deeper roleplaying experience than was available at the time from most other published adventures.  In fact, one entire adventure is designed to be roleplayed almost entriely through, with very few combat opportunities (unless the party started fighting with their potential allies), something rarely seen at the time.

Today the roleplaying populace at large demands a heavy, story-driven narrative for their gaming dollars, and the popularity of Twitch, YouTube and other streaming platforms have brought awareness to how enjoyable and accessible the roleplaying experience can be.  But 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons was dominated by the likes of The Keep on the Borderlands, the Slavers and Giants series, and the penultimate Tomb of Horrors, most of which were based around the same general idea: “Hey, there’s a hole in the ground and it’s full of monsters and treasure; see how far you can get without dying.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the realm of classic 1980s cartoons, is there a more iconic villain you love to hate than Skeletor from He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseSure–he’s evil.  He’s a schemer.  He’s diabolical.  He’s completely untrustworthy.  So who better to go to to seek advice?  Admit it: you’ve asked the question before:  What would Skeletor do?  At last you can find out, as Universe Publishing is releasing the ultimate how-to guide this summer and it’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon.  What Would Skeletor Do? Diabolical Ways to Master the Universe is your excuse to throw caution to the wind, and maybe change your destiny.

Need a new mantra?  Tired of being a good guy?  From advice on handling Families and Frenemies to Unwanted Houseguests, this book has it all, combining images from the television series with cleverly written advice from master in-the-know Skeletor (ghost written by Robb Pearlman and designed by Lynne Yeamans).  Love (and other evils), working on your career, and knowing what to do with your down time–whatever area of your life you’re having problems with, Skeletor can help.

Beginning with a disclaimer from Mr. Pearlman, followed by a harassing, heckling foreword by Skeletor himself just daring readers to emulate his magnificence, from there you’re on your own.  For those more level-headed readers, you may find several laugh-out-loud moments along the way.  Then again, like they say, the truth hurts and many a true word is spoken in jest.  With sage (more coriander) life advice, you may just decide to follow Skeletor’s lead (or not).  Start a rumor?  Maybe.  Cast a spell?  Why not.  Make overdramatic pronouncements about the quality of services provided at local businesses?  Bingo.  His best observation?  Probably “Nobody is worth going to Jared for.”  But his business wisdom is tried and true: “Always move your face as close as possible to the speaker during a conference call.”

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Warner Brothers continues to struggle with how next to turn the DC universe of films into a cash cow like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  First a report that Ben Affleck′s replacement will be Robert Pattinson, an actor known for both the lucrative Harry Potter franchise and Twilight franchise, was then followed by a report that Nicholas Hoult was being considered.  Hoult, co-star of the X-Men movies as Beast, among other roles, makes more sense, as first–he has the charisma and look to be both Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne, and second,–because he’d follow that common casting preference that already has seen two dozen actors playing superheroes flip from DC characters to Warner characters or vice versa.  These reports were followed by word that two other actors were on the Batman shortlist: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who already portrayed both Quicksilver in the MCU and Kick-Ass in his own series) and Armie Hammer.  Why wouldn’t they just stop with Armie Hammer?  If the studio has already ruled out Denzel Washington (just watch him in the Equalizer franchise, he’d be perfect!), then the closest to how Batman and Bruce have been drawn in the comics for 80 years is Armie Hammer.  He has that John Hamm suave manner and he’s already shown he can play a great hero opposite Superman Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  With the next new comics adaptation it does seem like Warner Brothers may be doing something right.  It’s on television instead of at the movies, where the Arrowverse group of series has seen greater success than the studio’s movie efforts.  It’s the new Batwoman series, and the CW released the first trailer for the series late this week (check it out below).

For whatever reason, Warner Brothers, the CW, etc. are hesitant to put their prime DC character–Batman–on the small screen.  Just like they were hesitant showing Superman on Smallville back in “the WB” days, or giving Batman his due within the Gotham series continuity.  But this new Batwoman series looks like it could be the closest viewers are going to get to a TV bat-hero.  Series star Ruby Rose proved she has the charisma and physicality for a major superheroine/action role in The Meg, Resident Evil, Vin Diesel’s XXX series, and the John Wick series.  Her character of Kate Kane aka Batwoman in last August’s CW Arrowverse crossover “Elseworlds,” the highlight of the event (along with John Wesley Shipp donning his 1990 Flash costume), was received well by viewers.  The new trailer seems as “Batman” in look and feel as anything Warner has produced for TV–or film.

Even better, the great Rachel Skarsten (former Black Canary of Birds of Prey and star of Lost Girl and Reign) plays a villain named Alice–Batwoman’s twin sister who took on the persona of an evil Wonderlander in the comics–who looks like she can run circles around Harley Quinn.

Batwoman has been one of DC Comics′ most fascinating characters since she was re-designed by Alex Ross for DC’s 52 series in 2006, but she really came into her own in 2009 in the Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series written and drawn by Eisner Award nominees James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli, and she was fleshed out further in 2010-2013 in the award-winning Batwoman solo series written and drawn by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.

Take a look at the first trailer for CW’s Batwoman:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of any character or universe love their fandom and often can’t get enough of it.  It’s why writers keep writing new versions of Frankenstein 201 years later and new stories featuring James Bond 66 years later and Sherlock Holmes 132 years later.  Fans of writer Mickey Spillane′s Mike Hammer novels (or the Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach television series) have not just the 13 novels Spillane wrote beginning 72 years ago, but now a full two dozen thanks to Spillane’s co-conspirator of hard-boiled crime and his successor, Max Allan Collins.  In last year’s centenary of Spillane’s birth, that meant the release of the unpublished first Mike Hammer novel Killing Town (reviewed here at borg).  Using the combined talents of Spillane and Collins, it’s a crime story as good as they get.  With the latest team-up of Spillane and Collins, Murder, My Love, Collins proves he has mastered the voice of the famous cop-turned-private eye.  This book is 100% end-to-end Collins, as the writer says he worked from Spillane’s notes but all of the prose is new material.  And that’s fabulous, because this book is all Mike Hammer at his best.

As with Killing Town, Collins’ Murder, My Love is a shorter Hammer novel and a quick read.  Personally at 200 pages I find it the ideal length–all pulp novels, classic paperback mysteries, true crime novels, etc. should be able to be gobbled up in a single trip (like on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati or a train from Omaha to Denver).  I soaked up Murder, My Love in two sittings, and it was an entirely satisfying read, complete with Hammer and his assistant/also cop-turned P.I., Velda, who Collins writes cleverly here first person in a few pages of “off-camera” playback that is some of the best material in the book.

Max Allan Collins signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018.

It’s a story set later in Hammer’s career, with Collins establishing a perfect picture of New York City from a few decades ago as he takes a U.S. senator on as a client, a senator with White House ambitions.  Unfortunately he and his wife have a history of extramarital affairs and now someone else knows, resulting in blackmail.  Hammer and Velda embark on the detective work, interviewing the subjects of the senator’s liaisons.  Once they find the schemer behind the blackmail, that’s when the body count begins.  One-by-one the possible suspects end up dead, and Hammer isn’t exempt from getting in the line of fire.

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