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One of the more overlooked animated movies of 2016 was Illumination Entertainment’s cute talking animal movie, The Secret Life of Pets.  This week Illumination released the first teaser poster and the first look at its sequel, The Secret Life of Pets 2 Take a look at the trailer below.  Voice actor comedians Kevin Hart, Bobby Moynihan, Dana Carvey, and the great Albert Brooks are back.  Also returning are voice actors Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, and Eric Stonestreet.

Comedic actor Patton Oswalt is stepping in to replace Louis CK in the lead role as the voice of Max the terrier.  The first trailer looks like great family fun, all at the expense of your dog, cat, or guinea pig.  If you’ve had a dog who had any kind of surgery or rash, then you’ll recognize Max in the poster sporting the Cone of Shame.  The first trailer features Max on his first visit to the veterinarian.  Keep an eye out at the movie’s website here for more character teasers arriving from Universal Pictures.

Check out this new trailer for The Secret Life of Pets 2:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you put aside the summer theatrical release of The Predator (a blast of a military/sci-fi action film, check out our review here), and take a look at the two novels that supported the movie, you’ll see a much bigger story Shane Black created to continue the saga of the alien race first introduced to audiences in 1987’s sci-fi classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Predator.  We reviewed James A. Moore’s prequel to the film, The Predator: Hunters and Hunted, here.  Moore gave readers the best of Predator scenes, as one of what we would later learn to be multiple aliens arrived only to first face off in hand to jaw combat against an alligator in the deep South.  Now writers Christopher Golden (Alien: River of Pain) and Mark Morris (The Great Wall) have arrived with The Predator, The Official Movie Novelization

Taken together with Hunters and Hunted, the prequel and novelization bridge the events of Predator 2 in some 600 pages with a to-be-seen future story of advanced, evolved, and upgraded Predator hunter-killers–the place where the novel leaves audiences in the final scene.  It is not the action star squad that is the focus of the entire story arc, it’s Sterling K. Brown’s quasi-government, too-cool-for-CIA alien chaser Traeger.  And if you missed the end of his story arc in the film, you’ll be happy that Holden and Morris’s novel provide a finish worthy of this loathsome villain.

While the novel is faithful to the film, readers will certainly see a lot more than they could see as theater goers–the key scenes in the movie are predominantly filmed in dark and shadow, so the novel amplifies what may have been missed in the outdoor action scenes.  Readers will also better get into the heads of the show’s main stars, the soldier McKenna, his son Rory, and scientist Casey, in addition to the Looneys–the men in McKenna’s ad hoc strike force against the Predator Upgrade creature.

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Two new comic books are taking Battlestar Galactica, the 1978-1979 series and the 2003-2009 series into new territory, as Dynamite Comics released two books tomorrow commemorating 40 years of Adama, Starbuck, Cylons, and the sci-fi world of Battlestar Galactica.  Whether BSG for you means Lorne Green, Dirk Benedict, Anne Lockhart, Herbert Jefferson, Jr., John Colicos, and Richard Hatch, or Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, Michael Hogan, Tricia Helfer, Mary McDonnell, and… Richard Hatch, you have two ways to get your fix of a classic series that would reboot later into one of the 21st century’s most acclaimed sci-fi stories.

First up is Battlestar Galactica Classic, Issue #1.  Star Wars and Star Trek novelist John Jackson Miller teams up with Red Sonja artist Daniel HDR as classic TV’s Commander Adama must decide between an unlikely partnership for a decisive end to the Cylons or a continued pursuit to find the mythical planet called Earth.  Several variant covers will be available for this issue, including work from artists Kelley Jones, Marco Rudy, Sean Chen, Daniel HDR–plus a classic cover using the artwork of Walt Simonson.  Many of the covers evoke the classic, original Marvel Comics BSG series.

  

Next is the trade paperback compilation of the monthly series Battlestar Galactica vs Battlestar Galactica.  Star Trek novelist and comic book writer Peter David joins fan favorite artist Johnny Desjardins and Edu Menna in a book that features scenes fans will love, as two different Adamas meet each other and even stranger, two very different Starbucks.   A wormhole has opened creating two parallel ships, and worse, an ancient being claiming to be the source of the Cylons.

Check out these previews, courtesy of Dynamite:

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The perfect killing machine is forging her way ahead to lead the next series in the vein of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye and Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s Black Widow for Marvel Comics.  It’s Laura Kinney aka X-23, the clone of Logan’s Wolverine, who takes center stage in a stylish and smartly written series, wrapping the final part of a five-part story arc last month and featuring a single-story issue this Wednesday.  In the monthly series X-23 (the sixth X-23 solo title series), writer Mariko Tamaki creates a worthy follow-on to future X-Men stories like those found in the Old Man Logan.  The series takes familiar mutant powers and mythology into surprising and exciting directions in a personal character study of young X-Women dealing with life as cloned mutants.

The story begins with a partnership forged in past series.  X-23 is joined by her lab-created “sister” Gabby, aka Honey Badger, who was previously created as a clone of Laura.  Gabby is the chatty younger sister of the duo, full of pep, a little less precise in her fighting skills than the more battle hardened X-23 (think Buffy Summers’ sister Dawn or Green Arrow’s former sidekick Mia).  Gabby is also more inclined to try to find commonality between the Wolverine clone club and the series’ other clone family, the Stepford Cuckoos.  The “Cuckoos” are the five clones of Emma Frost, who only recently have lost two of their sisters, who died in stories previous to this series.  If you can put aside the cringeworthy alter ego name of the Frost clones (the Cuckoos have been around since 2001 and are a Grant Morrison creation), as realized here the characters are new and fresh, and the story is an intriguing future-world update to the Xavier School situational stories found in the pages of Wolverine and The X-Men.

Tamaki (Hunt for Wolverine, Hulk) partnered with artist Juann Cabal and colorist Nolan Woodard on the first story arc.  As X-23 pursues a missing scientist at the behest of Hank “Beast” McCoy, the remaining Emma Frost clones, referred to as the Three-in-One, are plotting to return to their family of five sisters.  But one of the sisters has other ideas, determined to kidnap and transform Gabby in the process.  The result is a solid X-Men series mutant fans should take note of.  Take a look at some pages from the series and several variant covers:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Number Six is dead.  Long live Number Six.

A new beginning arrived this year with a four-issue limited series for fans of espionage, spies, and 1960s television.  Fifty years after the series wrapped, The Prisoner returned, and the series is coming your way this month in a collected trade edition.  Written by Peter Milligan (X-Statix, The Mummy) and illustrated by Colin Lorimer (The Hunt, Harvest), with colors by Joana LaFluente and lettering by Simon Bowland, The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine introduces a new Number Six to the Village.  We previewed the first issue earlier this year, and the story over the next three issues wrapped this summer with a satisfying finish.  A cool, stylish re-introduction to the strange world from the original TV series, the new story is also completely updated for modern audiences while adhering to the mystery of the original.

Is Number Six experiencing any reality now that the recently ejected MI5 spy has been caught and tortured by the Village for his state secrets?  Or is each new journey toward discovery another tap of his mind by the torturers in this mysterious classical old town?  Could The Uncertainty Machine be swapped with a James Bond universe look inside the inner-workings of SMERSH or SPECTRE?  Maybe.  It also shares some of its style choices with the Kingsman series, and maybe even Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and a British spin on Twin Peaks.  Spy genre, fantasy, science fiction, or all of the above, the four chapters deliver a smart follow-up to the original.

Milligan engages readers from the initial action sequence, and Lorimer’s re-creation of the Village is a perfect homage for fans of the original and the real-life location in Wales where the show was filmed, Portmeirion.  This Number Six’s partner was taken while both were on assignment with MI5.  Can Number Six confront Number One, rescue his partner and find his way to become the second agent to ever leave the Village, and the first to leave with his mind intact?  How does Number Two play into the story, and what about Number Zero?  It’s this kind of back and forth uncertainty that ties the book–and its title–together.

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November of course means Novembeard–where participants grow beards to raise awareness of men’s health issues.  Or, just because beards are cool and it’s become an annual tradition.  So who better to celebrate than the actor who has made a beard work for him throughout his career?  That would be Kurt Russell.  As Snake Plisskin in Escape from New York.  As MacReady in The Thing.  As Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China (stubble counts).  (Russell only had a moustache in Tombstone so we’ll skip that one).  As the sheriff in Bone Tomahawk.  As John Ruth in The Hateful Eight.  As Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.  Even his son Wyatt knows how to sport a cool beard–He wore won this year as the star of Lodge 49.  So what’s left for the guy with the cool beard to take on next?  How about playing the guy with the best beard of all time?  That’s Santa Claus, of course.

The best part?  In this trailer for Netflix’s new The Christmas Chronicles, Russell isn’t playing just another “Bad Santa” role.  Sure, it looks like a traditional family Christmas show, but Russell revealing how cool Santa is (and always has been) and lines that sound like they were written for Jack Burton?  That’s an inspired choice.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so you’d better clean up your act right now.

The movie stars Benji star Darby Camp and The Babysitter’s Judah Lewis as kids who want to film Santa in action.  Look for co-stars Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride, Darrow & Darrow) as their mom, plus Lamorne Morris (New Girl, The Guild) and Martin Roach (Kick-Ass 2, The Shape of Water). 

Check out this new trailer for The Christmas Chronicles:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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This year marks the 120th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’ genre defining science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds We reviewed the latest incarnation of the story earlier this year here at borg.  This Halloween Eve marked the 80th anniversary of the broadcast of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles‘ theater company adaptation of Wells’ The War of the Worlds–the one that sent a minor panic across the U.S. in 1938.  Smithsonian Magazine has the best historical retrospective on the event (written in 2015) at its website here.  The show was just a quickly cobbled together episode of the radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air, broadcast on CBS–the radio network–when an attentive audience took Welles’ performance for reality.  Indiana University’s Lilly Library commemorated the anniversary by publicly streaming its newly digitized version of the infamous event derived from Welles’ personal lacquer disc recordings, for free.  If you’re continuing your Halloween celebration through the weekend, there’s no better time to turn off the television and take yourself and your family on a time travel trip to sci-fi entertainment, 1930s style.  Stream the original radio presentation of Mercury Theatre’s War of the Worlds plus more classic presentations at the library’s website here.

Along with The War of the Worlds anniversaries, it’s a good time to celebrate actor and writer John Houseman, who co-founded the Mercury Theatre Players with Welles, and produced and co-wrote the script for the War of the Worlds broadcast.  Decades before gaining new fame in his Academy Award-winning role as the scary and iconic Professor Kingsfield in the movie The Paper Chase opposite Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, and later starring in the television series version, Houseman served as an uncredited co-writer to Herman J. Mankiewicz on Citizen Kane Initially collaborators, “Jack” Houseman and Welles would have a falling out soon after that was never mended.  Never escaping his early connection with Welles, Houseman died thirty years ago today, the day after the 50th anniversary of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Early photograph of Mercury Theatre co-founders Orson Welles and John Houseman.

If you’re a John Carpenter fan, you may recall Houseman as the narrator at the beginning of Carpenter’s 1980 classic ghost story, The Fog Born in Romania, as the old coastal chap Mr. Machen (a name referencing 1890s horror writer Arthur Machen), Houseman delivered that same brand of captivating storytelling in his one-of-a-kind voice, storytelling that made the War of the Worlds broadcast so famous.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the rare show that tries to be many things and actually succeeds at them all.  If you are looking for the ideal way to spend this Halloween, absent a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, you’re not going to find a better TV pursuit than this new Netflix series.  It features a captivating lead in its teenage witch Sabrina, played perfectly by Kiernan Shipka, who shows every frustrating feeling, emotion, and indecision any teenager must go through, reflected in a mythology-rich world with enormous stakes.  Sabrina is a kid–a smart kid, but still a kid–so she makes the kind of mistakes teenagers make.  Raised in the occult world by a family of witch aunts and a warlock cousin, Sabrina is a half-breed (her mother was human, her father a high priest in the dark arts), but viewers will see she shares some commonality with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books–she’s loyal, she’s book smart, she’s street savvy, and conscientious, dabbling in the magical world.  She also is trusting and able to be manipulated by the adults around her.  She may not be the fully realized, badass, confident heroine everyone wants to see–just yet–but by the end of Season 1 she’s well on her way.

The series protagonist is actually not Sabrina, but a demon who takes over the body of Michelle Gomez‘s Ms. Wardwell, a teacher at Sabrina’s mortal-realm high school, an ever-present mentor steering her out of dilemmas when Sabrina’s aunts fail to give Sabrina the help she wants.  Gomez, who played Doctor Who’s #1 nemesis The Master, is even more engaging here, fully inhabiting a character whose motivations are hidden by a fog–a blurred reality paralleled by a clever fuzzy tweak in cinematography throughout each episode.  Sabrina’s aunts, played by Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings #1 heroine who saved Middle-earth (“I am no man!”) and Lucy Davis, the #2 female lead in the WWI era of the movie Wonder Woman, unite to create a classic duet in the spirit of Arsenic and Old Lace.  Otto’s Zelda is strict and a devout believer in her dark religion, Hilda a sweet and doting aunt who gets excommunicated for her support of Sabrina.  All three actresses bring their genre star power to the series, providing a jolt of heroine gravatas to support the title character.

Sabrina is approaching her 16th birthday, when she must choose between the world of mortals and the world–and protections–of the witching world.  She must decide whether she will relinquish her decision-making from then on to the devil himself or take her chances as a mortal.  She is surrounded by those she thinks she can trust and others whose motivations are hidden in a dark world of several levels of good and evil.  Making sense of the darkness and evil and placing a pantheon of 56-old comic book characters he rejuvenated in the pages of Archie Horror comics four years ago onto the screen for a new audience is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics, and executive producer and writer for the comics and CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s Sabrina.  Quite shrewdly, Sacasa doesn’t comment on the dark religion of the series or any political stance his characters may reflect, instead letter the viewer bring their own value set to the show and making their own analysis.  Who do you want to cheer for, the equivalent of Darth Vader or Princess Leia in science fiction, or Sauron or Eowyn in fantasy?  Sacasa pulls from age-old classic stories, like Cain and Abel from the Bible, W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, John Carpenter’s films including The Fog, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and a classic horror film mirrored in the comics that might be a spoiler for Season 2–so we’ll hold that title back for now.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the 65 toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame, the Radio Flyer red wagon weathered a few world wars and more to surpass its 100 anniversary last year, a feat achieved by very few businesses.  Boasting more than 100 million sold since Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin first offered to the public his wooden wagons, the iconic American toy that doubled as a plane, a car, and a spaceship is the subject of a new book, Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon, available today for the first time.  Check out several preview pages below courtesy of the publisher.

Written by founder Antonio Pasin’s grandson Robert Pasin and journalist Carlye Adler, Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon tells the story of a craftsman in early 20th century Chicago as the industrial revolution and over-population clashed.  As the Great Depression was arriving, Antonio Pasin found a way to lift himself out of the standard construction job.  After teaching himself English, he received an apprenticeship, and would go on to purchase steel and inexpensive materials, facing competitors using less-substantial wooden models, having migrated his business to support a full steel wagon.  The red wagon survived when many industrial products failed, even decades of toy stores that sold it.

The name Radio Flyer reflects the marketing mind of the toy company’s founder–blending two catchy new wave concepts: the radio and the airplane.  The name and colors would change a bit over time, including a Lindy Flyer following the popularity of Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight, but the wagon would always return and was its most popular in the familiar red paint, with more than a dozen line-art logos used over the years, pictured in the book.  A history of the wagon, photographs of 100 years of advertisements, and stories of those who loved their own wagon, this book is for anyone nostalgic for classic Americana.

I got my Radio Flyer for Christmas when I was a few years old (shown above, I’m the kid in red with my brother and sister).  Just looking at my eyes it’s anyone’s guess where I was soaring off to in my new wagon.  I hauled everything in it–toys, sand, plants, and lots of stuffed animals.  One vivid memory was being pulled in it when it suddenly came to a stop and my head crashed into the edge.  My mother called the 1970s equivalent of 911 and I took my one and only police car ride–to the hospital.  No harm done, just a lump on my head for a while, and another wagon adventure under my belt.  The wagon, now about 45 years old, is still functioning like it was new, regularly hauling 40-pound bags of top soil to the yard.  (My siblings and I also had the corresponding red go-cart and tricycle).  You’ll find plenty of stories like mine (without the injuries) in Radio Flyer: 100 Years of America’s Little Red Wagon.

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