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Category: Retro Fix


If Classics Illustrated was ever your thing or you like peering into fantastical worlds, a new graphic novel series online will be worth checking out.  It’s not really about a fantasy setting as found in Black Panther or Flash Gordon or Tarzan or Conan, but it has the same appeal, the same visual cues, bold colors, and feel.  It’s Aztec Empire, by writer Paul Guinan (known for his time-bending mash-up Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and his participation in the documentary 24 Hour Comic) and comic artist David Hahn.  It features an incredible culture from the past along with good storytelling that will keep you coming back for more.  And it’s timed right, as this spring is the 500th anniversary of the events featured in the introductory pages of the series.

As with the Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Eric Shanower’s look at ancient Greece in his Age of Bronze graphic novel series, Aztec Empire is a heavily researched time travel voyage back into the daily lives of a people in history, in this case the period before the fall of the Aztec peoples to the Spanish in 1521, only three years after the arrival of Europeans.  Guinan researched dozens of primary sources (including contemporary writings from the 1500s) as well as secondary historical sources, and the end of each episode of his series provides six pages of equally fascinating explanatory annotations to the historical record to support each panel.  Some of these feature photographs of the source materials used to derive the look of references like glyphs on walls, or embellishments on character clothing.  In many ways Aztec Empire is an attempt to update the writings of the past with the benefit of today’s resources and knowledge, but its sources are very much contemporary to the events chronicled.  Human barbarism to other humans is also not reserved for only one side of the story–here the atrocities of each side of the conquest come to the fore.

Guinan is not only the series writer, he provides layouts, coloring, and lettering.  “In telling this story, my main challenge is keeping it as authentic as possible,” says Guinan.  “All the persons and events depicted in Aztec Empire are based on the factual record, with some extrapolation as to specific character motivations, dialogue, costume details, etc.  I’m cross-referencing primary sources from different viewpoints, looking at Mesoamerican and European sources with an awareness of their cultural biases as well as my own.”  Hahn designed the look of the characters and provides the finished pencil work and inks.  The combined artwork shares a style in common with the animated style of Doug Wildey and something of P. Craig Russell’s work on his illustrated novels.

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After another day of Star Wars news via Star Wars Celebration 2019, including the teaser for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and leaked footage of Jon Favreau’s November series The Mandalorian on YouTube, Topps, the trading card company, has rolled out the first tie-in product for Episode IX, but you’ll need to act quickly if you want to get it.

Topps is the company that first issued Star Wars trading cards in 1977, eventually to include five different series of cards showcasing scenes from the film, puzzles, behind the scenes images, concept art, marketing images, stickers, and bubble gum.  In case you missed it, take a look at our past coverage of the history of Topps and the Star Wars franchise via our reviews at borg of these Abrams books: The Original Topps Trading Card Series books for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, plus Star Wars: Topps Classic Stickers, and Star Wars Galaxy.  We also looked at the great Rogue One Sketch Art Cards, The Force Awakens trading cards (similar to this set), and Mark Hamill′s creative autographs on Star Wars Topps trading cards across the years here.  Notably the first trading card series for Star Wars wasn’t issued by Topps at all, but via a Wonder Bread premium–a small set of 16 cards, available in marked loaves of the bread and via mail request.

A must for Topps Star Wars trading card collector completists, the first series for the final entry in the nine episodic Star Wars films is here: The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Set is the first look at the last installment of the Skywalker saga via Topps cards, and it includes ten cards featuring images from the film’s teaser trailer.  Collectors of Topps’ 1977 series will notice the homage design to that series on both the front and reverse of the cards.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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It’s a twofold celebration:  It’s not only the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman, it’s also the 30th anniversary of director Tim Burton’s visionary film, 1989’s Batman, starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger.  On this year’s Free Comic Book Day, May 4, Fathom Events has pulled together the first of the four original Warner Brothers Batman movies: Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.  The four Bat-films will screen over four days as part of Fathom Events’ Batman 80th anniversary marathon.

My sister and I saw Batman on its opening night in June 1989, and stayed in our seats to watch it again.  The crowd erupted at every scene that revealed something iconic from the comics, but nothing compared to the ovation with the first appearance of the new Batmobile.  The excitement makes sense–audiences hadn’t been dazzled with superheroes on the screen in this way since Christopher Reeve appeared in 1977’s Superman, more than a decade before.  On the heels of Frank Miller’s success with the surprisingly dark and gritty four-issue mini-series The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, it was still a surprise when audiences got their first glimpses at Burton’s similarly dark, Gothic vision for the film.  His choice of then comedic actor Michael Keaton for Bruce Wayne and Batman drew the same kind of ire as any outside-the-box announcement today.  But Keaton was trying to show he had a different side, as demonstrated by his recent dark and outrageous role in Beetlejuice followed by his dramatic film Clean and Sober.  As for Jack Nicholson, everyone just wanted to seem him play the role his smile was made for, as the crazed, maniacal, murderous jokester The Joker.

So if you missed them the first time, you get Danny Elfman′s defining theme, plus Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney as Batman, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, plus an arsenal of villains: Jack Nicholson as The Joker plus Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.  And all four movies have in common Michael Gough as Alfred and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Happy April!

Planet Comicon Kansas City wrapped its 2019 convention yesterday, another great show this time highlighting the event’s 20th anniversary.  We snapped several photographs of sights we’re sharing today as we wind down our coverage of this year’s show.


I snapped some photographs of a family in front of this great fire-breathing dragon.  Whenever I see a person taking photos of their family I offer to step in so everyone can be included.  How many people have photos of everyone in them except their mom?  This was another success.

We also caught up with several authors at the show, including…

… our pal Jason Arnett, writing and signing his books Evolver and A Map of the Problem.

And we met up with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee, enjoying their second year at the event, highlighting their books Wrath of the Fury Blade and Unremarkable.

As usual, there were lots of cosplayers at the show, especially compared to the first years of the show back in the 1990s when cosplay was a rarity.


Hard to beat this great Darkwing Duck.


This was a fantastic, fully lit-up Ghost Rider.

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Lines for Friday guests started early on the opening day of Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019.  Today is expected to be the biggest day of this year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The event is open today and tomorrow at the Kansas City Convention Center.  A big plus for the tens of thousands of parkers today: no NCAA Final Four game is scheduled today, so parking east of the convention center should be freed up for the convention’s annual biggest attended day.

In part because of the 20th anniversary, and because of the great slate of celebrity and creator guests this year, Comicon Friday by all counts seemed to be better attended than a typical Friday at a pop culture convention.  That didn’t stop us from tracking down some actors from TV and film.

Like Henry Winkler, visiting Kansas City this weekend with his lovely wife of 41 years, Stacey.  Winkler, who became a household name in the 1970s and 1980s as Fonzie on Happy Days and as co-star of Night Shift (followed by more than a hundred starring and guest-starring roles in TV and film since), never sat down, graciously greeting everyone who stood in line to meet him, he chatted with adoring fans, signing autographs, and posing with fans for photographs.

John Wesley Shipp became a familiar face in the 1980s on Guiding Light, and then became the star of the first modern superhero TV series in 1990, portraying Barry Allen on The Flash.  He went on to star and co-star on several series over the past 30 years and has a legion of fans on social media.  Most recently fans of the superhero genre saw him portray not only the father of Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash, Shipp also returned as the Flash that he portrayed in 1990 in the new series last season–fulfilling the dream of those who loved the original show.

We enjoyed talking about his favorite character as a kid (he wanted to be Luke), the weight of a crossbow, and what it felt like to be one of the most beloved characters in the history of film with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.  No matter how tall you think Chewbacca is, in person, he’s much, much taller.

This weekend visitors also can meet, from film and TV, William Shatner, Lori Petty, Cary Elwes, Dean Cain, Linda Blair, Jennifer Morrison, Daniella Panabaker, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps. Check out the entire line-up of celebrity guests and great creator guests like Chris Claremont, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Kevin Eastman, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Keith Giffen, Bob McLeod, at the PCKC website here.

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Quentin Tarentino‘s next film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has so many reasons to give it your attention, where do we begin?  As heavily advertised, the “retired director” is back as writer and director on his ninth film, and every one of his films gains critical and popular acclaim–from Reservoir Dogs to The Hateful Eight, they’re all notable for Tarentino’s unique brash and violent style.  Emphasize that style element because he tends to hit the right mark when searching out throwback vibes for his fans, whether via Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson in the 1970s in Jackie Brown or reaching back through time with 1950s nostalgia with John Travolta and Uma Thurman in a retro diner in Pulp Fiction.  So where will Tarentino turn for a film set in 1969?  Something violent in an era of unique style.  So the “Manson family” murders, of course.

The biggest risk for Tarentino (beyond being seen as exploiting a murder still in the national consciousness 50 years later) is casting some major actors, and some not-so-major actors, as actors from the past.  The easier question to answer may be “Who isn’t in this movie?”  In the leading role is Leonardo DiCaprio as a fictional character based on Burt Reynolds.  Brad Pitt co-stars as a character based on Reynolds’ long-time stuntman, Hal Needham.  Margot Robbie plays actress and Manson family victim Sharon Tate, who was married to Roman Polanski and pregnant at the time of her murder.  Dakota Fanning plays Squeaky Fromme, Bruce Dern plays the rancher that allowed the Mansons to reside on his land where they are believed to have planned the murders, and Lena Dunham plays another Manson family member.  Al Pacino plays a Hollywood agent, and from the Tarentino acting troupe, look for bit appearances by regulars Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen.  As a sad footnote, this will be the last film appearance of Luke Perry, who portrays real-life TV Western star Wayne Maunder, who died just this past November.

But the real challenge is casting Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Connie Stevens, and Mama Cass Elliot in the film–highly-recognizable icons.  Those roles go to Homeland and Life’s Damian Lewis as McQueen, Empire and Inhumans’ Mike Moh as Lee, Dreama Walker (Gran Torino) as Stevens, and Rachel Redleaf as Cass.  We only get a brief look at Redleaf and longer view of Moh as Lee (with a decent vocal impersonation) in the first trailer for the film–Lee had been working on a film with Sharon Tate.  Tarentino also invited in a league of children of well-known actors for his film, like Andie MacDowell’s daughter Margaret Qualley (IO), Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter Rumer Willis (Hawaii Five-O), Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter Maya Hawke (Stranger Things), Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith (Supergirl), Clifton Collins, Jr. (Star Trek 2009) grandson of Western actor Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, and one more relative, Tarentino’s wife, Daniella Pick (Pick Up, Exit).  

Along with real-world characters, Tarentino pulled in some familiar actors from the late 1960s and 1970s, including Nicholas Hammond, known for role as Peter Parker in TV’s The Amazing Spider-Man, a regular face from the 1970s and 1980s: Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), and Brenda Vaccaro (Airport ’77, Capricorn One).  And even frequent TV guest star Spencer Garrett is a ringer for any number of Disney film stars from the 1960s (and he’s the son of actress Kathleen Nolan (Magnum, p.i., The Incredible Hulk)).  There are many more familiar actors in this one, including James Marsden (X-Men), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Lorenza Izzo (The House With a Clock in Its Walls), Sydney Sweeney (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer favorite Danny Strong.  (With so many extras listed as Playboy Bunnies, it’s probably fair to expect a cameo from someone playing Hugh Hefner, too).

In case you missed it, here is the first trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

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Detective Comics, the title DC Comics took its name from, first hit the shelves of newsstands just before March 1937, 26 months before Batman would first appear in the famous Issue #27 in May 1939.  This Wednesday the monthly comic book’s landmark Issue #1000 is arriving, and it’s going to be packed with content from several writers and artists.  It’s 96 pages in all, including the first appearance outside video games of Arkham Knight.  And as you’d expect, DC Comics is releasing the issue with several covers (our count below is a whopping 84 or about a cover for each year Detective Comics has been in print!), including a standard cover, a set of decade-inspired covers, both a blank sketch cover and new black edition, retailer incentives featuring logos or no logos, and several limited, exclusive shop, convention, and creator store variants.  More than a few are simply stunning, and this is the rare mass cover event where the final regular cover set (10) includes several works as interesting or better than the exclusives (the Frank Miller with the classic title art really takes us back to the 1980s).  Check them all out below–all 100 images including art without logos–with links to where to buy them (exclusives that haven’t sold out in pre-sales).

Writers for stories in Detective Comics Issue #1000 include Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Dini, Warren Ellis, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Christopher Priest, Dennis O’Neil, Kevin Smith, Scott Snyder, Peter J. Tomasi, and James T Tynion IV.  Interior artists include Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Tony S. Daniel, Steve Epting, Joëlle Jones, Kelley Jones, Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke, Alex Maleev, Alvaro Martinez, and Dustin Nguyen.

DC Comics did a nice job of pulling out creators defining each decade, with Steve Rude (1930s), Bruce Timm (1940s Detective Comics #69 homage), Michael Cho (1950s), Jim Steranko (1960s), Bernie Wrightson (1970s), Frank Miller (1980s), Tim Sale (1990s), Jock (2000s), and Greg Capullo (2010s)–all appear to only be available with the trade “Detective Comics” logo (but we’ve included images of the original art below).  DC Comics publisher Jim Lee is back again with the standard cover, a wraparound design.  The rest reflect a crazy big stack of variants by everyone and anyone, most available with the Detective Comics logo (with “trade” logo) or without logo (“virgin”), some in black and white, some with sketch art, some with foil cardstock.  The following are all the non-standard variant artists and where to get them (we heard an Andy Kubert cover may be out there, but could not confirm this): Neal Adams (three designs, NealAdams.com), Jay Anacleto (trade, virgin, and B&W) (Unknown Comic Books), Kaare Andrews (trade only, no virgin-only edition confirmed) (Third Eye), Artgerm (trade, virgin, retro) (Forbidden Planet), Lee Bermejo (virgin, trade) (Midtown), Brian Bolland (trade, virgin, B&W) (Forbidden Planet), Greg Capullo (gold foil version of his 2010s cover) (WonderCon variant), Clayton Crain (virgin, trade) (Scorpion Comics), Tony S. Daniel (trade, no virgin-only) (artist website, Comic Stop), Gabriele Dell’Otto (trade, silver virgin, and gold convention) (Bulletproof), Jason Fabok (trade, virgin, B&W) (Yesteryear Comics), Riccardo Federici (trade, virgin) (ComicXposure), Pat Gleason & Alejandro Sanchez (trade, virgin, B&W) (Newbury Comics), Adam Hughes (trade, virgin) (Frankie’s Comics), Jee-Hyung Lee (trade, virgin, B&W) (Frankie’s Comics), Dan Jurgens & Kevin Nowlan (sketch, line art, and color versions) (Dynamic Forces), Mike Lilly (trade-only, no virgin cover) (Comics Vault), Warren Louw (virgin, trade) (KRS Comics), and Doug Mahnke (trade, virgin) (Planet Comicon).

Plus there’s Francesco Mattina (trade, virgin) (Midtown), Mike Mayhew (trade, virgin) (The Comic Mint), Stewart McKenny (trade, we couldn’t locate anyone selling the virgin cover) (Comics Etc.), Dawn McTeigue (virgin, trade) (Comics Elite), Rodolfo Migliari (trade, retro trade, virgin) (BuyMeToys.com), Lucio Parrillo (trade, virgin) (Scorpion Comics), Alex Ross (two covers) (via his website), Natali Sanders (virgin, trade) (KRS Comics), Nicola Scott costume match design to her Superman image for Action Comics #1000 (trade, virgin) (Kings Comics), Bill Sienkiewicz (two designs, signed or not, one in trade, one virgin, via his website), Mico Suayan (trade, virgin) (Unknown Comic Books), Jim Lee & Scott Williams (midnight release vertical and convention silver foil, B&W, and four villain designs) (Torpedo Comics, Bedrock City Comics, Graham Crackers).

Want to see them all?  Here goes:

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In the summer of 1979, Ridley Scott revealed the next evolution in science fiction and horror with his landmark creation Alien Thanks to Star Wars art director Roger Christian, audiences saw the first lived-in look into our future, a sci-fi world that felt more realistic than nearly any sci-fi movie before it (space fantasy Star Wars excluded).  Dismissing the brand new, antiseptic look of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was Christian’s realism and H.R. Giger‘s creepy creations that made the scares of Alien that much more jolting.  Arriving for the 40th anniversary of Alien, go-to behind-the-scenes movie book writer J.W. Rinzler is back after last year’s The Making of the Planet of the Apes (reviewed here at borg), with his next book, The Making of Alien.

Emerging first from the mind of writer Dan O’Bannon, Alien would become one of the most memorable sci-fi/horror thrillers of all time.  The film brought us Academy Award-winning concept art, new alien monsters, gore, ships, and other spectacular effects thanks to Giger, Carlo Rambaldi, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, and Dennis Ayling, and groundbreaking set work by Christian, Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, and Ian Whittaker.  Including new interviews with Ridley Scott and other key staff from the original production crew and featuring many never-before-seen photographs and artworks from the Fox archives, The Making of Alien promises to be the definitive work on this masterpiece of sci-fi/horror.

Above and following are some preview pages from The Making of Alien Pre-order The Making of Alien now here at Amazon, and come back this summer for our review here at borg:

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