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Category: Sci-Fi Café


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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The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg).  It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie.  Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here).  Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?

As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly.  This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book).  In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development.  The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references.  At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove.  Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera.  But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters.  It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series.  But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight.  As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.

As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since.  It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act.  But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story.  He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references.  One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from.  So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.

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Now is as good a time as any to climb aboard the TARDIS with the Thirteenth Doctor in Jody Houser and Rachael Stott′s monthly Doctor Who series.  The book continues right after the season one finale, taking readers along with the Doctor and her latest companions Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan, and Graham O’Brien.  If you haven’t been keeping up, you can pre-order the first four issues of the new Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor series “A New Beginning,” now here at Amazon in a paperback trade compilation.  With Issue #5 on the stands a new story arc is underway, “Hidden Human History,” and Issue #6 arrives in comic book stores today.  Check out a preview of the new story arc below courtesy of Titan Comics.

Jody Houser, today’s most prolific comic book writer, joins fan-favorite artist Rachael Stott, completely reflecting the look and feel of the actors and characters from the BBC television series in their stories.  In fact each four-issue story plays out like a new episode of the show.  In the first four-part adventure “A New Beginning” the Doctor must escape new villains–the cybernetic Grand Army of the Just–and face a new alien threat, an intergalactic collector of rarities, as two manipulated human scientists get stuck in a time loop.  But as with the Doctor’s exploits old and new, not everything is what it seems.  Roberta Ingranata joins Rachael Stott as interior artist in the second adventure, “Hidden Human History.”  The Doctor and friends catch up with Stilean Flesh Eaters, also known as the Habsburgs’ Demons, as the TARDIS drops the crew into the 16th century.  Is the Doctor jealous of a history-themed podcast everyone else is following?

 

Colorists, inkers, letterers, cover artists on the first eight issues include Giorgia Sposito, Valeria Favoccia, Enrica Eren Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli, Sara Michieli, Andrea Moretto, Tracy Bailey, Richard Starkings, Will Brooks, Iolanda Zanfardino, Sanya Anwar, Rachael Smith, Claudia Ianniciello, Rebekah Isaacs, Dan Jackson, Sarah Jacobs, and John Roshell.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Last year’s winner for most surprising film to be discussing at the water cooler was A Quiet Place, a uniquely quiet but suspenseful horror thriller that held back the true nature of the threat in its previews similar to Midnight Special, Signs, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.  And as with those films we’re definitely looking at an otherworldly threat for the film’s protagonists.  Critics and audiences seemed to go for this mix of sci-fi and horror, possibly out of an affinity for director and co-star John Krasinski (The Office, Jack Ryan) and his on and off-camera wife, co-star Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, The Adjustment Bureau, Edge of Tomorrow).  It’s now streaming on most major platforms, including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, and Fandango, as well as Blu-ray, 4K, and DVD.

Few movies were hyped in 2018 as much as A Quiet Place, although come awards season it only received a nomination for best sound editing and Emily Blunt took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actress, despite her clearly starring role in the film.  If there is a reason to watch the movie it’s for Blunt, who steals the show in any film she appears in.  In A Quiet Place, for better or worse, she lets go from an acting standpoint and offers up a beginning-to-end melodramatic and possibly over-the-top emotional performance, similar to her portrayal as an amnesiac in The Girl on the Train.  Some subtlety would have been a good thing, because in contrast to her ever-stoic husband she comes off as hysterical.  We’ll chalk this up to a quirky misstep by an inexperienced director (it’s also an instance of his character doing all the smart and brave things, and Blunt’s all the dumb things, which gets old quickly).

But this one has been done before, especially as seen in the above-referenced films, and multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone.  The plot is thin.  A family of five are among the only people living (on Earth? in the region? we don’t know).  A blind insectoid alien menace (think Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow only here she’s not the badass Angel of Verdun) will slaughter anything and anyone it hears with its sonic-locator brain.  So everyone is quiet all the time.  Only they aren’t–we hear them make all sorts of body and movement noises for the first half of the film, only to learn later from the father that they don’t listen for soft noises.  The daughter of the family (played by Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and so she doesn’t know when noises are happening around her, leading to the key dire circumstances throughout the film.  The audience can’t help but put themselves in the positions of the characters.  What would you do?  Unfortunately the film is full of many tropes like you’d find in teen slasher flicks:  so many times characters make decisions that are similar to a teen walking outside their cabin in a thunderstorm at night in their underwear after hearing a mass murderer is on the loose.  Any viewer would think the circumstances are more dire than the characters in A Quiet Place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005?  As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books.  It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar.  According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel.  But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.

Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago.  Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI.  In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism.  The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.

No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film.  In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated.  The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron.  Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.

Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Alita: Battle Angela could be just another space-age story.  It’s full of cyborgs (we love’ em), but it’s not standard fare for frequent sci-fi movie buffs and sci-fi readers.  Without the “distraction” of Robert Rodriguez’s special effects, you can really get to the heart of the movie’s story by going to the underlying source work it adapts, or in this case, its novelization, Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization, by author Pat Cadigan, who also wrote last year’s Harley Quinn–Mad Love, reviewed here at borg.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of what looks like a teen girl.  The film changes enough from the manga, incorporating several new characters and conflicts, that the novelization and film stand apart from Kishiro’s manga.  So how does the new story fare?

Above all, the biggest surprise is that Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization is in every way a young adult novel, based on its protagonist, story structure, and the author’s writing style.  In fact the film may have missed a niche audience–as the studio targeted adult sci-fi buffs instead of fans of stories like the Divergent series, Twilight, The Maze Runner series, City of Ember, and Ender‘s GameEven more on-point, Alita: Battle Angel follows the same emotional highs and lows of The Hunger Games.  Both The Hunger Games and Alita: Battle Angel are teen heroine updates to both Rollerball (1975) and The Running Man (1987), but like some of the best science fiction they are also remakes of the oldest of them all, Frankenstein, and its descendant PinocchioBlend these four popular stories together and you can understand why James Cameron prepared 600 pages of development material for the Alita project he would ultimately produce into the film.

Pat Cadigan‘s storytelling is a mirror of the writing style and pacing of The Hunger Games’ novel writer, Suzanne Collins.  In a significant way, Alita: Battle Angel is a teen romance, a romance between Alita–an amnesiac cyborg who is primarily robotic but has a human brain–and her newfound human boyfriend Hugo.  Hugo is a street kid who helps her learn who she wants to be and how to survive on the streets of a futuristic Earth where everyone who isn’t a cyborg is mugging cyborgs to steal their parts and swap them for cash.  As with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, Alita and Hugo fall in love as they help each other and work together when faced with an onslaught of ever-increasing impediments to their survival.  And yes, this is another superheroine with a problem like the heroine in the new Captain Marvel movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you missed Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen‘s sci-fi/fantasy series Descender, a recommended series from Image Comics we discussed previously here at borg, you’re going to be able to jump into these creators’ exciting adventure universe in a sequel to the series coming this month, Ascender.  Set ten years after Descender, readers are introduced to a strange new world ruled by magic, replacing the mechanized world of the past that leaves the inhabitants of Sampson subject to an all-powerful space vampire witch.

Young Mila–daughter of Andy and Effie from Descender–takes center stage, roaming the wastelands and merely getting by with her father.  But what happened to Effie?  And what are they to do when an old loyal robot surfaces in a place where robot tech is forbidden?  It’s another great beginning to a series from Lemire and Nguyen, in the realm of Image’s sci-fi/fantasy Copperhead series, with artwork and colors that fans of Matt Kindt will be drawn toward.

Substitute names and places and you also have what could easily be the next great Star Wars story, complete with rebels, a dark mystic leader, and plenty of gritty Star Wars space fantasy realism.  In fact Ascender has all the elements we’re hoping for in the final chapter to the Skywalker Star Wars saga we’re looking forward to from J.J. Abrams when Episode IX arrives in December.

Check out these preview images, forthcoming covers by Nguyen, a character sheet and timeline for Ascender, Issue #1:

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