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Review by C.J. Bunce

An overlooked 2018 sci-fi adventure mini-series is making its way to a trade collected edition tomorrow.  The six-issue story arc in Image Comics/Skybound’s Stellar is a mix of good sci-fi concepts and action-adventure imagery.  You’ll find big-eyed aliens similar in design to the villainous hunter Zando-Zans of The Last Starfighter, a rundown future world bent on destruction like in Firefly, fast-paced action and characters like that of Syfy’s Killjoys, and a lead heroine called Stellar who is stuck out of time, with a past and future hidden from her, evoking recent years’ Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel stories.

Writer Joseph Keatinge (PopGun, Shutter) takes on a surprisingly complex idea created by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Marc Silvestri (Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine) and delivers the kind of story that belongs in the graphic novel format.  Stellar moves from place to place, from time to time.  She pursues the evil Zenith, an alien monster she believes to be the cause of destruction in her future.  Or is he pursuing her?  She’s moving through time, encountering those who may be able to help her unravel the twisted time loop she seems to be stuck inside.

The pretty, futuristic stylings and color choices by artist Bret Blevins result in a standout read visually.  And Keatinge pulls elements in from all kinds of sci-fi stories to create uncertainty and doubt.  Readers will ask “what’s going on here?” more than once, with an ending that is both satisfying and interesting.  It’s not the kind of tale that needs a sequel, the complete story is right there.

Here are some preview pages of Stellar, courtesy of Image/Skyborne:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Along with reprinting some novels based on comic book stories from Marvel’s past, a few new stories were released last year (and reviewed here at borg) as part of Titan Books’ line of novel tie-ins, including Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover, Ant-Man: Natural Enemy, Deadpool: Paws, and Civil War.  Now the Spider-Verse character Venom has his own hardcover novel.  Venom: Lethal Protector joins Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover among the newly written novels, although unlike Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover‘s new story as prequel to the 2018 PS4 game, Venom: Lethal Protector is based on the very first Venom-titled six-part mini-series from back in 1993.

James R. Tuck writes a faithful adaptation to the original comic books by David Michelinie, Mark Bagley, and Ron Lim.  The story catches up after Peter Parker parts with the alien symbiote that looks like a dripping ink blot, after he makes an arrangement with the new host, Eddie Brock, to leave and do no harm.  But trouble comes looking for Eddie when he joins a group of underground people in San Francisco.  The father of a man killed by Eddie/Venom is determined to avenge his son.  He and his lackeys, the Jury, take him on, plus a mastermind arrives and creates five spawn from the symbiote, spawn that Venom must eliminate with or without the help of Spider-Man.

The comic books Venom: Lethal Protector is based on provided much of the source material for last year’s Marvel Venom movie, so fans of the character, the comics, and the movie will be familiar with this take on the villain as he more overtly switches away from villainy to the stuff of anti-heroes–much like Deadpool and Punisher.  In fact it’s difficult not to see Deadpool, Punisher, and Marvel standards like the Hulk in both Venom’s origin story and his ongoing handling.  Like Hulk’s Banner, particularly from the classic TV series, Eddie Brock is constantly moving from place to place to escape his past.  The book telegraphs what a Venom story in the vein of the 1980s The Incredible Hulk could be like.

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Where in the world has Carmen Sandiego been lately?

She’s been the subject of an ongoing series of video games since 1985.  She was featured in two game shows, one a Peabody Award winner and the second an Emmy Award winner, featuring Rockapella and late actress Lynne Thigpen (Homicide, Law & Order, Tootsie, Shaft) as The Chief, from 1991-97.  And she had an Emmy Award-winning animated series that ran for five years, with the last episode airing 20 years ago this week.  The animated series starred Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno (West Side Story, The Electric Company, Jane the Virgin) as the voice of Carmen, and a host of bad guys, including a recurring villain voiced by Tim Curry.  The games and shows have had changing names: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?  Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?  But the constant has always been Carmen.

A new animated series is coming to Netflix later this month, bringing back the character with some updates.  Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego will deliver two ten-episode seasons starring Gina Rodriguez as the voice of Carmen.  Rodriguez’s most recent voice work can be heard in Ferdinand and Smallfoot, and she’s appeared in front of the camera in genre series from Law & Order to Longmire, and her best known role in Jane the Virgin.  The updated Carmen is first seen younger than her past personas.  Law enforcement agencies see her as a master criminal.  She becomes a modern-day Robin Hood traveling the globe and stealing from the crime organization V.I.L.E., giving stolen goods back to its victims.  The series will follow her escapades, and viewers will learn not only where she is but… Who in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

The series will feature the voice talents of Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It, Supernatural, The Addams Family) and Sabrina Carpenter (Horns, The Hate U Give).  The first trailer has Carmen updated from all-out criminal to something like a member of the team in the television series Leverage (“The rich and powerful take what they want.  We steal it back for you.  Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys”).

Take a look at the English and Spanish trailers for the new series Carmen Sandiego:

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An unusual new mash-up of historical drama and supernatural horror is coming your way this month.  Set in medieval Korea, Netflix’s Kingdom will be the second Korean series for the streaming service.  Netflix released two excellent trailers so far for the series’ first season, with the second trailer just arriving this week.  Actor Ju Ji-hoon (Mask, Confession) plays the Crown Prince, a man set on a mission to discover the cause of a deadly plague spreading across the country.  And an evocative classic Eastern costume drama becomes the next zombie series.  It looks similar to the world of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, taken from a different part of the world.

The elaborate production quality of the trailers was created at a price tag of nearly $2 million per episode, resulting in some compelling preview footage with an Akira Kurosawa-inspired, creepy and cool “Seven Samurai vs zombies” vibe.  Eight episodes have been filmed for season one, and season two begins filming this month in South Korea.  The series blends the vision of film director Seong-hun Kim (Tunnel) and television writer Eun-hee Kim (Signal).  The series is based on Eun-Lee’s Land of the Gods, a 2014 webtoons/webcomic from Seoul’s YLAB Comics, which was drawn by Kyung-il Yang.

The series also stars Doona Bae (Jupiter Ascending, Cloud Atlas, Sense8), and Seung-Ryong Ryu (Psychokinesis, Masquerade).

Check out the teaser preview and two trailers for the Netflix original series, Kingdom:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The entire world stops, like something out of the 1980s sci-fi classic film The Quiet Earth, only this time all of the people are frozen in place, in an instant, wherever they stood or whatever they were doing.  But one computer technician was experiencing an electrical jolt as it happened, and he may be the only person on Earth who can unfreeze people back to normal.  That’s the set-up for the first issue of the new Image Comics/Top Cow series The Freeze.

This tale of an arriving apocalypse is not like the standard fare of the trope.  Those typical end of the world supernatural events you might find, fire and brimstone, nuclear devastation, zombie plagues, and the like, yield to a simple global event of unknown cause, a bit like the vanishing people at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.  Airplanes keep flying until they fall from the sky, cars smash into each other–it’s the opposite of The Day the Earth Stood Still, instead the day the people stood still.  The first issue introduces the main character, Ray, and those around him as he stumbles into one of them, and he learns his simple touch is enough to fully revive them one at a time.  Where can we go from there, since one man can’t literally touch everyone on the planet?

 

The Freeze is a creator-owned series from writer Dan Wickline (30 Days of Night) and artist Phillip Sevy (Tomb Raider).  The first issue provides a glimpse at the direction of the story, as Ray becomes the part of a squad that selectively is unfreezing individuals.  But for what purpose?

Take a look at this excerpt from Image/Top Cow:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Over the holidays you may have received a gift, an item you will look back to fondly one day, or maybe something that will even survive that your descendants may keep and treasure a century from now.  If you were asked to participate in an old-fashioned show and tell, what physical object has meaning for you that you would talk about?  That’s in essence the question asked of hundreds of people interviewed by writers Bill Shapiro and Naomi Wax in the book What We Keep: 150 People Share the One Object that Brings Them Joy, Magic, Meaning.  Many people have many such objects–after all, humans are by their very nature collectors of things.  Narrowing it down to one object is difficult, yet for others it may be simple.

For movie director and writer Joss Whedon, it’s a straw hat from his school days in England.  For author James Patterson, it’s a photograph of President Clinton holding one of the books he had written, read for pleasure by the President in the middle of his carrying out of government business, carried as he walked down the stairway from a helicopter at Camp David.  For a former money counterfeit artist, it’s the paint brush she used to paint with in prison.  For another, it was a paper bill with a holes ripped through it from being shot years ago.

The objects are often obscure, many ugly, but all hold some kind of unique meaning to their owners.  The intrinsic value of most of the items highlighted is nothing or next to nothing.  Yet their owners value these things not for their monetary worth.  A rock, an awl, a document, a watch.  Most inspired (and still inspire) their owners, and remind them of how they were at their very best, like a flute carried into space by astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re thinking about how you can change the world for the better in 2019, one step in the right direction would be reading writer/artist Rachel Ignotofsky‘s latest science book, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Ecosystems, an easy to understand guide to the elements of science that converge to tell us about the inter-relationships of all life on Earth.  Ecosystems and organisms, wastelands to deserts and the oceans, from lichen to predators, with some -isms to learn or re-learn (like commensalism and mutualism), concepts you might learn in grade school natural science and geography, high school biology, and college geology and environmental studies.  In a word, it’s what everyone should know about Earth’s ecology.

One of my own proudest achievements was belonging to my grade school’s ecology club between 1975 and 1982, learning about the natural world, planting trees, and making the area better for wildlife.  Many concepts I learned then and supplemented in junior high, high school, and college, are peppered throughout this brightly illustrated volume.  Readers will examine some benefits of particular ecosystems (and threats to them), including the Redwood Forest, the Mangrove Swamp, the Mojave Desert, the Amazon Rainforest, the Atacama Desert, the Pampas, the Andes, the British Moors, the Alps, the Siberian Taiga, the Mongolian Steppe, the Himalayan mountains, the Congo rainforests, the Savannas, the Sahara, the Great Barrier Reef, the Tundra, and more.  The classification of lifeforms and cycles of life are detailed, including the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorous cycle, the water cycle, and plant cycle.  Deforestation, invasive species, desertification, and pollution are identified as just some of the threats the Earth faces.

Writer/artists Rachel Ignotofsky offers through her unique style charts, diagrams, and pictures, all as explanations of how the world’s piece parts interplay to create the global ecosystem.  Key to all of it is how humans can act to protect the planet.

Take a look at this preview of ten pages from Ignotofsky’s book, courtesy of Ten Speed Press:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Happy New Year!  Let’s start the year off with a look at a great new inside look at the holiday season’s biggest hit movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseCompared to most “art of the movie” books reviewed here at borg, a new behind-the-scenes book offers up a very different, modern update to our understanding of creating concept art for the cinema.  The book is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — The Art of the Movie by Ramin Zahed, an account of the design development and visual production process for this latest Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel partnership.

Concept art, sketches, and storyboards take on a different flare when you’re in the digital animation tech of today.  But the images still reflect that powerful, colorful, and dynamic feel in their formation of a brand new superhero universe.  Readers will find hundreds of images of developmental artistry behind the film, plus read exclusive interviews with the creators, including a foreword prepared by Miles Morales co-creator Brian Michael Bendis.

As we found with George Lucas’s groundbreaking selection of screen captures or frames found in his multi-volume book Star Wars Frames (reviewed here at borg), studying the selected individual frames from the new Spider-Verse reveals a film on par with the composition of the future world of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner–a city that is realistic, yet futuristic and still obviously sourced in comic books.  It’s a gorgeous movie–and the action sweeps by so quickly that most will miss the artistry found in Miles’ graffiti, storyboard sequences, and the nooks and crannies of each set layout.  Set decoration takes on a new approach, as does prop design, art direction, and costuming, in Into the Spider-Verse.

You can also pick up a rare edition of the book, limited to 175 copies, complete with one of the prop comic books made for the film (pictured above) hand-inked by Marcelo Vignali and a signed tip-in sheet by Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, and artists from the film.  Check that out and the details at the Titan Books website here.  Take a look at this 12-page preview of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — The Art of the Movie, courtesy of Titan Books:

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borg Hall of Fame 2018

It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2018, it’s time for the sixth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2018 films and television, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future – 40 in all.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology.  Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was an inaugural honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but as far as we can tell it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Black Manta from Aquaman (and decades of comics before), seem to be merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe Jon Favreau’s new television series will give us something new to ponder next year.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Westworld continues to define its own characters as androids (like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data throughout the TV series), and not cyborgs (going back to Michael Crichton’s original story), so we continue this year to hold off on their admittance unless something changes, like the incorporation of living biological (blood, cells, etc.) materials.  Are we closing in on admitting individuals solely based on a breathing apparatus that may allow them to breathe to in non-native atmospheres?  Only if integrated (surgically).  Darth Vader has more borg parts than his breathing filter.  We assume new honoree Saw Gerrera does as well.  With more biological enhancements we’d allow Tusken Raiders, Moloch, and Two Tubes from the Star Wars universe, and Mordock the Benzite from Star Trek, but wouldn’t that also mean anyone in a deep sea suit or space suit is a cyborg?  Again, integration is key.  Ready Player One has humans interacting with a cyber-world with virtual reality goggles and other equipment, but like the Programs (as opposed to the Users) in the movie Tron, this doesn’t qualify as borg either, but we’re making an exception this year for the in-world Aech, who is a cyborg orc character, and two Tron universe characters.

Already admitted in 2017 were advance honorees that didn’t actually make it to the screen until 2018.  This included Josh Brolin’s new take on Cable in Deadpool 2 and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight after her acquisition of a borg arm in Marvel’s Luke Cage.  New versions of Robotman and Cyborg are coming in 2019 in the Doom Patrol series, but they are already members of the revered Hall of Fame.  Above are the new looks for these two earlier honorees.

So who’s in for 2018?

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Look for a more cinematic, episodic second season of The Orville coming your way, beginning tonight on Fox.  All the crew members are back, Seth MacFarlane as Captain Ed Mercer, Adrianne Palicki as Commander Grayson, Penny Johnson Jerald as Doctor Claire Finn, Scott Grimes as Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, Peter Macon as Lieutenant Commander Bortus, Halston Sage as Lieutenant Alara Kitan, J. Lee as Lieutenant Commander John LaMarr, and Mark Jackson as Isaac.

These series was nominated for and won several awards for its first season, including Best Original Score for Television from the International Film Music Critics Association for the music by Bruce Broughton, John Debney, Joel McNeely, and Andrew Cottee, and a Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Television Series.

You’re going to want to set your DVR to record the before and after shows tonight and throughout the season to avoid missing episodes getting bumped by football coverage.

Here is the latest preview for season two of The Orville:

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