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Today thousands of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero fans will converge on Kansas City as Kansas City Comic Con returns to Bartle Hall.  The show again has booked several comic book and fiction writers and artists as well as some great movie and TV guests.  This is the third annual Kansas City Comic Con event and the show boasts one of the largest assemblages of nationally known as well as local writers and artists, with hundreds of creators to be featured.

The star attraction of this year’s show is a reunion of actors from director Richard Donner’s Superman as an early celebration of next year’s 40th anniversary of nearly everyone’s all-time favorite superhero movie and Superman–the late Christopher Reeve.  Film co-star Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) returns to Kansas City, plus several supporting cast members including Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Aaron Smolinski (Baby Clark Kent), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Diane Case (Young Lana Lang), and via SKYPE, a live video appearance by actress Valerie Perrine (Miss Teschmacher).

  

Fans of classic television can meet one of the original actresses who played the Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series, Lee Meriwether, plus Robin himself, Burt Ward.  Star Trek Discovery star Doug Jones, also known for hundreds of roles in films like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be making his first appearance in Kansas City.  Disney fans can meet Eva Bella, the actress who voiced the young Elsa, and Livvy Stubenrauch, the actress who voiced the young Anna, in the animated film Frozen.  Stuntman and actor Hamid Thompson (Jurassic World, Spider-man: Homecoming) will be on hand, as well as two Lucasfilm Star Wars animated series voice actors: Tom Kane (Yoda) and David Ankrum (Wedge), plus two of the Power Rangers performers: Karan Ashley (Yellow Power Ranger) and Walter E. Jones (Black Power Ranger).  And convention staples Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are also returning to Kansas City for the show.

Last minute additions for the show include Colin Cantwell–the concept art designer of the original Star Wars Death Star, X-Wing Fighter, TIE Fighter, and more, and Gary Fisher–that’s right Carrie Fisher’s beloved dog who accompanied her on the PR and convention circuit continues to tour to visit the crowds that became commonplace for him over the past few years.  Nationally known comic book creators featured at KCCC include legendary writer/artist Mike Grell as well as Star Wars writer and Eisner winner Jason Aaron, artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks (along with Kevin Smith this may be the first time all three of the Green Arrow “Quiver” era creators have appeared together at a convention since a San Diego Comic-Con appearance when the book was first released), writer Jai Nitz, authors Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Holly Messinger, Jason Arnett, and Nicholas Forrestal, artist Johnny Desjardins, artist David Finch, artist Mark Sparacio, artist Art Thibert, artist John Davies, writer Frank Tieri, writer James Tynion IV, and comics legend Bob Hall.  But that’s only scratching the surface–check out the full list of national and local creators here.

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Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.  And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

— United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, NY Times v United States

The Post is the next in a prestigious line of the drama sub-genre of motion pictures focusing on journalism, a group featuring great films like Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, The China Syndrome, Call Northside 777, and Zodiac.  The Post could be seen as a sequel of sorts to another film classic from this group, the Academy Award-winning 1976 film All the President’s Men.  That film, which told the story of The Washington Post coverage of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, co-starred Jason Robards as executive editor Ben Bradlee.  The Washington Post is again front and center in The Post, this time with Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as publisher Katherine Graham (who was an active player in the events in All the President’s Men, but the character did not appear in the film).

With director Steven Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks attached to the film, it’s likely The Post will be a big Oscar contender next March.  The Post tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to disclose The Pentagon Papers over the course of a few weeks in June 1971, an extensive government study that would show that the government had hidden from the public and media the true extent of U.S. activity in the Vietnam War.  The decision of the Supreme Court would stifle the media for 15 days before finally providing some guidance on when the government may restrict the press from certain disclosures.

The film features plenty of familiar faces, including Alison Brie as Graham’s daughter Lally Weymouth, Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield (Post editorial writer and confidante of Graham), David Cross as Post editor Philip Geyelin, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara (President Johnson’s secretary of defense), Tracy Letts as Paul Ignatius (President Johnson’s assistant secretary of defense), Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian (the reporter for The Post at the center of the Pentagon Papers coverage), Michael Stuhlbarg as Post managing editor Eugene Patterson, and Zach Woods as Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who disclosed the Pentagon Papers and was charged with espionage.

Check out this trailer for The Post:

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Review by Art Schmidt

Wizards of the Coast has been judicious in releasing a measured, steady flow of materials for the 5th Edition of the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game,” Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as “5E” by the roleplaying public-at-large).  WotC releases two adventure campaign books per year, one every six months (give or take), in addition to one rules supplement per year.  Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the latest offering of new character subclasses, spells, magical items and a meaty section for the Dungeon Master (i.e. the person running the game for all of her players).

Aimed primarily at players who are looking for new classes to play, new spells for their characters to cast, and new ways to define their avatars inside the collaborative storytelling game, Xanathar’s Guide (or XGE, as I’m sure it will be come to be called) hits all of the expected marks.  Drawing on a wealth of material released by the D&D creative team via their popular Unearthed Arcana section of the D&D website and reprinting materials, primarily spells, from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide, Xanathar’s Guide provides thirty-two (32!) new sub-classes for all of the current class types, including some new sub-classes not previously seen in the Unearthed Arcana material.

Unearthed Arcana was a hardcover book waaaay back in the early first edition of the game.  Similar to Xanathar’s Guide, the original Unearthed Arcana was an expansion of material from the Player’s Handbook, the standard players guide to the character classes and mechanics of the game itself.  This book title has been re-used throughout D&D’s over forty-year history, and its latest incarnation is the online “alternate rules” or playtest material which the D&D Team puts out for players and dungeon masters to use, experiment and, well, play with.  The Team asks for feedback from users on the material, trying to gauge game balance, player likability, and general “fun factor” of this material.  When material is popular, well-balanced, and fits a niche in the player character milieu that the D&D Team feels makes it worthwhile, it’s include in a hardcover book.  Such was the case with the previously released Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for 5E, and it is the case again with Xanathar’s Guide, though on a much bigger scale.

In fact, Xanathar’s Guide re-prints a handful of classes from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide as well, such as the Swashbuckler and the Storm Sorceror.  Ordinarily, one might fault a company for expecting their customers to pay money for a new sourcebook which includes a wealth of material already found in other sources.  And one might be correct.  Except that in the case of D&D, these re-prints make a fair amount of sense.  As far as the Unearthed Arcana material, the subclasses in Xanathar’s represent an updated, tweaked and in many cases streamlined class which is now officially playtested and provided with rules, which will make the material enjoyable and avoid headaches for players and dungeon masters alike.  Also, Unearthed Arcana material is not “legal” for the Adventurer’s League, since it isn’t play-tested, so those players who enjoy organized play have no access to any of those options until they are printed in an official capacity, usually through a hardcover book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Arriving in book stores today is the next fandom book from Star TrekStar Trek: The Book of Lists is the first book to include information from the first six Star Trek television series (including the Animated Series, but not yet Star Trek Discovery) and all 13 films including Star Trek Beyond.  Noted trivia compiler and writer Chip Carter has amassed 100 lists that will tap the into recesses of any Star Trek fan’s memory.

Carter nicely pulls together lists of topics both inside the various Star Trek timelines and real world trivia about the making of the shows.  Altogether you’ll find 100 lists ranging from in-depth comparisons of episodes to quirky oddities.  List #90 includes actors who appeared in both the classic Adam West Batman television series and the original Star Trek series.  How many can you name?  Carter came up with nine.  List #40 includes twelve popular holodeck programs.  List #66 includes ten episodes that directly tie back to prior episodes from other Star Trek series (an example is the NextGen episode “The Naked Now” and the original series episode “The Naked Time”).  Can you think of fourteen different drinks (List #25) mentioned in Star Trek series (and that doesn’t include Raktajino)?

Star Trek: The Book of Lists makes for some great content that could be used as an extension of the popular “Top 10 list” party game Outburst In Outburst one player reads a subject to one or more other players or teams who must try to come up with all the entries on the list.  Here you could randomly flip to a page and read the subject, allowing others to try to list all the items Carter included in his list.  Tally the wins and hand the book over to the other side, taking turns, making for a fun game for any ad hoc assemblage of Star Trek fans.  It would work particularly well because most of Carter’s lists are not exhaustive.  For example, List #82 includes nine costumes created for the shows that were worn by one character and later re-used by a different character in a later episode.  In fact this occurred literally hundreds of time throughout the Star Trek series, so you could give bonus points to someone who can think of entries not included on Carter’s lists.

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Mike Mignola’s Hellboy took comic book fans by storm when it arrived in bookstores in 1994.  Since then it’s grown to become a pop culture sensation.  A hit character and supernatural world outside the caped crusaders of comicdom, Hellboy stories earned Dark Horse comics creators a dozen Eisner Awards and inspired numerous tie-ins, from novels, to video games, to animated films and live action feature films.  Next year Stranger Things star David Harbour will don the Hellboy (sawed-off) horns and bring the next live action film to theaters, and fans can hardly wait.  Check out the first marketing photos released of him below.  The film also is set to feature stars like Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, and Alistair Petrie.

Dark Horse Comics has let Hellboy branch out beyond the normal comic book tie-in realm.  He’s inspired a draft ale, a wine, and now a very appropriate addition: Hellboy Hell Water Cinnamon Whiskey.  We’ve tried cinnamon whiskey before (umm… you know, at holiday parties and whatnot), but Hellboy’s whiskey is firey red like the man himself (instead of the orange of most brands) and tastes a lot like liquefied Red Hots cinnamon candy with a similar heat.  It also sports a sleek collectible bottle and has some clever in-universe information on the label, “American soldiers discovered Hellboy on December 23rd, 1944, after a Nazi experiment brought him into our world.  Dedicated to the B.P.R.D.”  Best of all, the XXX Distillery made the whiskey “66.6”% Proof, so you know this is 100% Hellboy.

Hellboy Hell Water has a smooth whiskey flavor, but it also packs a bite.  You can find plenty of mixed drink ideas at the distributor’s website, HellboyHellWater.com.  We mixed up a mocha latte 3 to 1 with Hellboy Hell Water to make a strong Mexican style coffee.  With the November chill already laying its stake into your chest you might also try a hot apple cider 3 to 1 parts with Hell Water.  We used a great local maker, Louisburg Cider, and its pulpy quality seemed to blend just right (and it seemed to clear away a Fall head cold, too).  And if cider and coffee aren’t your thing, add a shot to a mug of hot chocolate for some cocoa cheer with an extra kick instead of peppermint schnapps.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Both were pulled from Special Forces units.  Dakota Prentiss is an ex-Ranger.  She’s tough, rough, crude, and been through it all.  Then new worker Matt Salem is brought onto her security team.  He’s ex-Navy SEAL and she can’t help falling for him, something she’s never quite had time for with her lifetime committed to always fulfilling the mission, and now she’s bound herself for life to a private corporation where you keep secrets or you die.  In Nat Cassidy’s novelization of Mac Rogers’ dramatic podcast series, Steal the Stars, we get a first person account of bad choices that only get worse from Dakota aka “Dak” in a science fiction noir style that takes place on an Earth where corporations have gained far too much power and the CEO of one giant company has the power over life and death.

And it’s also a heist story.  Dak determines the only way out of the mess she has gotten into by violating company fraternization policy with Matt is to steal the very thing her team is guarding–a UFO that crashed a decade ago and the alien inside that may or may not be dead–and sell these secrets to China.  Dak is every bit the tough and in-charge leader like Hannah-John Kamen’s Dutch in the Syfy series Killjoys, including her ability for falling for the next guy who joins her team.  The company follows rigorous protocols in their own variation on Warehouse 13 to maintain the safety of the UFO and its harp-shaped power drive, which they soon learn has power so great whoever controls it could control everything.  The alien inside, called Moss for its slowly diminishing moss-like covering, simply stares off into nothing as if dead.  But why does he still seem to have body heat?

Another entry from The X-Files?  Sure.  It’s also heavily influenced by other alien arrival stories, especially the most recent Oscar-winning film about first contact, 2016’s Arrival, with its focus on the process and set-up for quarantining such a discovery.  Also a mash-up of They Live and Bonnie and Clyde and even Philip K. Dick’s short story “Paycheck,” Steal the Stars pulls bits and pieces of sci-fi from all angles to create a compelling read that will keep you onboard for all of its 416 pages.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First of all, let’s be clear:  For goodness sake don’t read anything anywhere about this new season of Stranger Things if you haven’t seen it yet.  Pin this and come back when you have.

There are many problems with shows that drop at once as with the Netflix original series (other channels have done this as well).  For simple discussion purposes, whether you’re on social media, whether you’re a critic or commentator, or whatever, you don’t quite know when it’s time to delve into a discussion of a show.  The other thing is that from a cultural standpoint, how many times have you defined a period of your life with reference to a season of a television series?  I grew up as a kid with the networks and a black and white television, followed by the introduction of cable channels and color TV sets.  Much of my memory can be tied to the Magnum, p.i. and Simon & Simon years, the Buffy years, the Voyager years, the Chuck years, etc.  With one-drop seasons that you gobble up in one bite versus savoring over a few months, that kind of life reference may drift away.  Is it important?  Not really, but it’s mildly interesting that we may be in some kind of transitional phase, from a pop culture standpoint.

<finger tap, finger tap>

Still here?  Let’s chat about Stranger Things, Season Two.

As a lover of all things retro, and an uber fan of John Carpenter movies, I thought the first season of Stranger Things was a great first season.  But I wasn’t convinced it was the real deal–that the Duffer Brothers were going to be able to pull it off again in a second season.  After the anticipation and wait, I couldn’t have been happier with the result–except for one factor, but more on that later.  In fact I think Season Two was better than Season One.  Probably not lots better, but enough that I had more fun with the show this round.

So what did I love about Season Two?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When I was a kid Star Wars blew me away and when I think back it was the “wretched hive of scum and villainy”–specifically the creature cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport–that first introduced me to the idea of a wide, wide universe of alien beings.  Countless characters–makeups and costumes designed by movie artists in the real world–all milled about in one place and it was about as cool a thing as anyone could put on film.  My next great appreciation for aliens came from the Star Trek films, in particular the delegation of members of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home–this bizarre assemblage of leaders, all wearing the common United Federation of Planets maroon officer uniforms, but each representing some far off world with all sorts of strange and exotic denizens.  Much of my excitement for aliens would come from Michael Westmore’s wonderful “aliens of the week” in the various television incarnations of Star Trek–I am a fan and self-proclaimed expert in the aliens of Star Trek more than any other corner of that great franchise.  Later I would be dazzled by the unique alien designs of Doctor Who’s 21st century Renaissance, where the British series really upped the ante of how unique and complex a weekly show could illustrate the potential of who is “out there.”  The updated Mos Eisley for science fiction fans would reach its zenith for me in two great ways in 2016 and 2017:  In the diverse cultures of the Yorktown space station in Star Trek Beyond and in the immensely populated Big Market in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  As much as the original Mos Eisley still stands strong on film, these two modern updates of “strange new worlds… new life and new civilizations” represent the best modern creativity in the world of cinema.  Makeup artist Joel Harlow, who won an Academy Award for his makeup work for Star Trek (2009), returned to the franchise for Star Trek Beyond, and in honor of the Trek’s 50th anniversary his team created 50 new alien races for the film.  A new book just released, Joe Nazzaro’s Star Trek Beyond: The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow documents in photographs and descriptions the development and creative ideas behind each new race for the film.  As a fan of aliens and Star Trek and this fabulous film, I haven’t anticipated a new publication as much, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the result.

Journalist Joe Nazzaro assembled Star Trek Beyond: The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow unlike most behind the scenes accounts that only punctuate descriptions with the odd quote from a creator, instead providing his narrative as a reporter would–interviewing and sharing Harlow and his creators’ complete, firsthand accounts of developing, designing, casting and even applying many of the makeups.  We hear about Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond from Harlow and creators behind the scenes including concept artists Neville Page, Allen Williams, and Carlos Huante, sculptor/makeup artist Richie Alonzo, and designer/sculptors Don Lanning, Joey Orosco, Lennie MacDonald, Norman Cabrera, and Mike Rotella.  This is the kind of access to the minds of movie creators that fanboys and fangirls dream about.

Let’s start with Jaylah.  By my count, in the vast world of great Star Trek female characters Jaylah (portrayed by Sofia Boutella) is the most developed, most intriguing, best badass heroine of them all.  Harlow, Neville Page, and Richie Alonzo really flesh out for readers the idea to application method of the unique makeup for this lead character from the film.  Although it may not be the most complex makeup design at first look, it required elaborate and surgical artistry to replicate it each day, and balanced many requirements to allow the actor to move freely through action sequences and stand out as the driving force behind the plot of the film.  Equally important to the film was the villain Krall (portrayed by Idris Elba) a character made up of all the alien races he had absorbed (which included callbacks to Star Trek’s Jem’Hadar) requiring additional complexity in design and style via its character’s backstory.  Creators Harlow and Joey Orosco delve into the creation of the four phases of Krall’s design made for the movie.

The most brilliant makeup is no doubt the alien Natalia (who appears on the book cover), the fabulous, spectacular nautilus-headed design by Allen Williams and Don Lanning and sculpted by Joey Orosco with contributions from Werner Pretorius, Lennie MacDonald, Steve Buscaino, Cristina Patterson, and Toby Lindala.  The head, bust, and arms for Natalia must reflect one of the best creature designs to ever emerge from Hollywood, and yet, like many of the 50 new aliens designed for the film (technically 56 according to Harlow) the character did not get much screentime.  In fact many of the aliens were for background shots and astonishingly a few did not make it into the final cut of the film.  The artists in the book also confirm the H.R. Giger influence on some of their designs for Star Trek Beyond–his designs also influenced alien creations of earlier Trek incarnations.  One of my favorite footnotes to the Star Trek franchise, and certainly one of the most obscure references in classic Star Trek is an intercom on the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation paging Dr. Selar to the Null-G ward–which we never actually get to see–but the Abe Sapien-meets They Live alien called Satine (designed by Allen Williams and sculpted by Matt Rose) is exactly the type of alien I envisioned you’d find there.

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A quirky new holiday film is on its way to theaters next week.  Pottersville is next in the line of light-hearted regional comedies populated with plenty of familiar faces.  Genre fans can find Midnight Special and Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon as a friendly businessman who gets mistaken for Bigfoot when he gets drunk and stumbles through town in a gorilla costume.  This sets up an opportunity to perpetuate the story as a way to bring tourists into the town, a town which has fallen on hard times.

The trailer for the film is filled with holiday cheer and that unique blend of kooky characters and winter spirit you only find in the odd (stress on the word “odd”) attempt at a holiday keeper.  Or on the Hallmark Channel.  The man of many faces, Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Star Trek Nemesis) stands out in particular in the trailer as the town’s dopey sheriff.

The rest of the cast includes Firefly, Man Men, and Life’s Christina Hendricks, Ant-Man and Jurassic World’s Judy Greer, Night at the Museum and Bob’s Burgers’ Thomas Lennon, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White and the Huntsman’s Ian McShanePottersville gets a bit of a jump on another holiday film for the season, The Man Who Invented Christmas starring Dan Stevens (previewed here at borg.com).

Check out the trailer for the new holiday film Pottersville:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like many of us, astronaut Chris Hadfield sees his life, both on Earth and off-planet, as a series of worst-case scenarios waiting to happen.  In his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he not only shares his autobiography and pathway to space and afterward, he uses his life to provide a self-help plan for accomplishing your dreams and reaching whatever success you’re after.  Originally issued in hardcover but now available in a paperback edition, Hadfield’s Guide is just what you need to read if you’re in a slump, if you have a goal and can’t figure how to get yourself to attain it, or if you just need a pep talk.

“Most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses,” Hadfield says in his book.  And Hadfield takes his errors and his stumbles and displays them for everyone to see so they can use them to learn how to adapt and overcome their own obstacles.  “Sweat the small stuff,” is his mantra, and it’s that attention to detail that he says allowed humans to get to visit outer space in the first place–the required discipline that allows the two other astronauts in your capsule to fully trust you will do your job, and vice versa.  As with astronaut Leland Melvin’s account of his pathway to space (reviewed last month here at borg.com), this meant years of brain work and physical preparation, monotony, and several false defeats and false triumphs before the final ride on that rocket to the stars.  “Since the odds of becoming an astronaut were nonexistent, I knew it would be pretty silly to hang my sense of self-worth on it.  My attitude was more, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case — and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy.'”

Chris Hadfield floating above Earth during a spacewalk.

Colonel Hadfield–who is afraid of heights–always wanted to be an astronaut, at least since he saw Apollo 11 make the first moon shot on television when he was nine years old.  But his path wasn’t easy, especially since Canadians weren’t yet astronauts when he was a kid.  “I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut,” says Hadfield, “I had to turn myself into one.”  He not only had to turn himself into an astronaut, he had to change the perception and rules of those around him as he climbed the ladder to fulfilling his dream.  Along the way that meant diligence, determination, study, practice, repetition, volunteering, and over-achieving to make himself stand out, and sacrificing all his waking hours and much of his family time.

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