Category: Comics & Books


Harry Potter fandom shows no signs of slowing down, thanks in part to J.K. Rowling herself.  Just when we thought the Harry Potter universe had come to an end with Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she took her layered fantasy world across the ocean and introduced fans to Newt Scamander and a legion of new creature creations in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Now she’s giving her fans even more with the next chapter in the world of wizards and muggles, and giving us an early look at one of her most beloved characters.

That’s right, the 2018 sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald stars Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, who is teaming up with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander against a new foe we only got a sneak peek at in the finale of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindlewald.  Warner Bros. has just released the first trailer for the new film and it looks like it might just rival the last chapter in the saga.

Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol will return as the adorable couple Jacob and Queenie, and Katherine Waterston is back as the magical auror Tina Goldstein.  Newcomers to the series include Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange (who seems to be a likely relative of Bellatrix later on) and Ezra Miller (Justice League) as Credence Barebone.

Check out this first trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:

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With Amazon Studios releasing a new, full-length trailer for its six-part series Good Omens, showrunner Neil Gaiman discussed his creative process for the book and the show at this weekend’s South by Southwest (SXSW 2019) conference and festival in Austin, Texas.  Check out his panel interview below, with Gaiman discussing the series and his creative process.  Gaiman co-wrote the novel Good Omens on which the series is based with Terry Pratchett way back in 1989.  Pratchett passed away in 2015, and now, led by Gaiman’s efforts, twenty-nine years after its creation the book is on its way to a TV adaptation later this spring.

In Good Omens the end of the world is coming, and opposite personalities in the form of an Angel and Demon are brought together to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon.  They have lost the Antichrist, an 11-year-old boy unaware he’s meant to bring upon the end of days, sending the pair to find him and save the world before… The End.  The series combines the talents of Douglas Mackinnon, who directed episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it stars David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Viva Blackpool) and Michael Sheen (Passengers, Doctor Who, Tron: Legacy, Frost/Nixon, Alice in Wonderland).  Other big names appearing in the series include Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness), Jon Hamm (Baby Driver), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Muppets Most Wanted), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Michael McKean (Clue, Laverne and Shirley), David Morrissey (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead), Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards, Isle of Dogs), and Brian Cox (Shetland, RED, Doctor Who).

First, take a look at the new full-length trailer for the series, followed by the discussion with Neil Gaiman this weekend at SXSW 2019, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the 1978-1990 television series All Creatures Great and Small may think it’s… unthinkable… to remake such a solid adaptation of James Herriot’s landmark series of books.  And yet here we are in 2020 with a brilliantly good, cleverly funny adaptation worthy of the source material and every bit as good as the earlier successful series.  The first season is currently airing on PBS Masterpiece, and also available for streaming online.  The autobiographical stories follow the exploits of a young veterinarian, James Herriot, in 1940s Yorkshire as he gets his footing in a rural office in a tiny town where the people are more difficult than his challenges treating the local animal life.  This is one of the greatest examples of uplifting, heart-warming drama and British humor and–possibly a surprise to those outside of England–a study in a wide range of dialects and personalities in a single village.  The small cast is perfect, and it features some actors you’re likely to be familiar with from other genre shows.  Even better, the new All Creatures Great and Small, UK Channel 5’s highest-rated drama ever, has been confirmed for a second season.

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This week two brief videos will leave most people scratching their heads and asking, “Why bother?”  The first, for The Batman, released by writer-director Matt Reeves (who we hold out hope for because he wrote and directed the great vampire love story Let Me In), is a “camera test,” which appears more like an early lighting and costume test where you can glimpse new bat actor Robert Pattinson in his batsuit.  The second is from Netflix, and it’s an overly long scene of a Russian prison work detail resulting in the appearance of David Harbour as a thinner, gaunt, exhausted Jim Hopper, spoiling any surprise that the character was really killed in the final episode of the last season of Stranger Things (C’mon, you knew he wasn’t going to be dead for long).  Some will applaud one or both.  Others will sneer.  Where will you land?  (Psst.  There’s no wrong answer).

What are these things anyway?  Barely teasers, the purported “camera test” for The Batman is more “trial balloon,” an intentional vehicle for starting buzz, good or bad, so potential audiences get accustomed to yet another revamp of the batsuit and actor.  Literally thousands of podcasters have already manipulated the image of Pattinson in many ways to try to glean something worth discussing (not surprisingly with little to say).  We already knew it takes some effort to find an artist that has drawn Bruce Wayne that in any way resembles the co-star of The Lighthouse, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Twilight vampire movies.  And–big surprise–David Crossman and Glyn Dillon′s new costume design looks like another batsuit of the sharp-angled, action figure toy variety (toys = sales = more $) instead of something out of the comics pages.  And current movie go-to composer Michael Giacchino offers another repeated bass line with drum set in the background to back it all up.  Our wish?  We just want Warner Bros. to finally get the voice of Batman right and skip that goofy, dry, smoker voice and coughed-out dialogue.  Let’s hear him say, “I’m Batman.”

The Stranger Things video is out there to whet appetites of fans who won’t see the series return for another year.  But did the fans need to know Hopper wasn’t dead before the fourth season was ready to go?  Here’s an idea:  If you’re going to cast against type, as they’ve done for The Batman, why not really have some fun and give us David Harbour as Batman?  Sure, Harbour is playing a Russian superhero in the summer Black Widow movie from Marvel Comics, but audiences won’t care.  Let’s really have some fun.  Or give Pattinson the role of a superhero he really looks like: Wolverine.  They need a new younger actor for the role in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, right?

Oh, well.  Watch–or don’t–you’re not missing much!  Here are the two brief, too-brief videos for The Batman and Stranger Things:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, the latest Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook heading your way from Wizards of the Coast, is the closest of any 5th Edition volume to the original books from when I was a teenager in the 1980s.  If you know even a little kid who is fascinated with dragons, this is the book to drop into their hands.  They may not understand it all, but it’s stuffed full of wonderful dragon artwork and enough worldbuilding lore to open the eyes of any kid interested in fantasy.  For D&D gamers already playing, it contains character-building tools to make your hero steeped in dragonkind, and for dungeon masters, it provides some fun options to incorporate more Dragons or dragons (they’re different) into your next adventure, whether you’re wandering into the Forgotten Realms, Oerth of the World of Greyhawk, Krynn of Dragonlance, Eberron, or pretty much anyplace else.  You can pre-order Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons with the standard cover by Chris Rahn here at Amazon now, or order the alternate “soft-touch” edition by Anato Finnstark from your local game shop.

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If you love Smaug, Puff, Norberta, Alduin, Elliott, Balthromaw, Spike, Falkor, Stanley Steamer, Stegoman, Gleep, Saphira, Porunga, H.R. Pufnstuf, or Lockheed, or you came to love dragons from Dragon’s Lair, Dragonslayer, or Dragonheart, How to Train Your Dragon or Game of Thrones, whether your favorite is Haku from Spirited Away, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, or the kaiju King Ghidorah, or you were reeled into the dragon realm from watching Mulan’s Mushu or Sisu from Raya and the Last Dragon, or you had your first encounter in Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Pokémon, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons provides all the lore and stunningly expansive details on everything you want to know about dragons.

So what’s inside?

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Following on the heels of 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes a prequel film, The King’s Man, and the first movie trailer has just arrived from the new 20th Century Fox.  Stepping into an early Kingsman of the type perfected by Colin Firth is the actor who should have played a Bond (but ended up as another M), the BAFTA-winning, twice Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes.  The young recruit that looks to mimic that series hero Eggsy played by Taron Egerton in the first two films this time goes to Harris Dickinson, soon to be voicing a character in Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

As with the prior films The King’s Man appears stylish, but with a historical England twist.  Expect again wall-to-wall, part dark comedy, and that over-the-top, operatic violence.  Series director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) continues to make his mark on the action genre, with his own British spy genre tale mixing the vibe of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers of the 1960s, based on the 2012 The Secret Service: Kingsman comic book series from award-winning creators Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Old Man Logan) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen).

Every great British spy story needs a Bond girl, and whether she’s a “King’s Man” or foil, this time the choice is actual former Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) to take over where Sofia Boutella left off in the first movie.  You’ll also find a familiar face with Captain Marvel and Shazam!’s Djimon Hounsou The King’s Man reflects a cast list that includes superhero go-to guy Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Stanley Tucci (Captain America: The First Avenger), Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War, Falcon and Winter Soldier), Charles Dance (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Gosford Park), Watchmen and Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode, and Pirates of the Caribbean and Bohemian Rhapsody’s Tom Hollander as King George V.

Take a look at the first trailer for The King’s Man:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It was such a big deal to prepare for, and then it was over in an instant never to be heard from again.  That’s Y2K, or the Millennium Bug, and it’s a fun time to look back on especially if it’s part of that richly detailed Anno Dracula universe created by British author Kim Newman (who we interviewed six years ago for Halloween here at borg).  The third story in Newman’s Christina Light arc (after the comic series Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem and novel Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters), Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju gathers a team of real and unreal, dead and undead, at a giant skyscraper in Tokyo on December 31, 1999, for the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties.

Newman is the master of world-building and mash-ups, and he doesn’t disappoint in this new October release.  In what horror universe is both John Blutarski a U.S. Senator partying in Japan (remember John Belushi’s character in Animal House?), the Apollo 13 movie included the first vampire astronaut, and Charlie’s Angels reconvene years later?  Anno Dracula continues its mix of historic characters of pop culture and politics and those throwback tangent characters from literature, TV, and movies.  In Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju readers can remember what it was like to “party like it’s 1999” with an alternate history where Dracula and vampires have always been real.

One of many tangent characters in Kim Newman’s latest Anno Dracula novel.

Newman includes so many Easter eggs in his books that finding them all–probably impossible for anyone that isn’t Kim Newman–should be part of some kind of international contest.

The New Year’s party of this story is in honor of Christina Light, famed vampire princess.  But will she show, and will anyone even get through the labyrinthine skyscraper to attend on the 88th floor by midnight?  Who is the shadowy Jun Zero?  Is Y2K really a bug, or is it a person, or worse: that daikaiju in the title is the name of the tower in Tokyo that houses the offices of an international conglomerate, but it also means “big monsters.”  So get ready for anything to happen, including the appearance of a cyborg and maybe even Dracula himself, as distinguished guests, leaders of finance, tech, and culture, are held hostage by yakuza assassins and Transylvanian mercenaries.  Enter vampire schoolgirl Nezumi–agent of the Diogenes Club–who finds herself and her trusty sword named “Goodnight Kiss” pitted against the deadliest creatures the world has ever known.

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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

A new print edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden is coming to bookstores next month, and its artistry and design could stand as the definitive version–a storybook that could be a new favorite for the next generation of readers.  Originally published in serial form for both adults and children in 1910, Burnett’s classic book of children forced to grow up in difficult times and the value of friendship to their growth was initially not so well-received.  Burnett would be better known for her novels Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess even years past her death, but over time The Secret Garden flourished to become a beloved favorite, frequently ranked high on British and American reading lists, including those of School Library Journal, the U.S. National Education Association, and the BBC.  The novel made its way into the public domain, and has been the subject of countless print editions, as well as plays, musicals, television features, and theatrical films.  Actors Dean Stockwell, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Honor Blackman have all found roles in various adaptations of the book.  And soon another big-screen adaptation is coming your way from StudioCanal starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Design studio MinaLima has partnered with Harper Design to release a truly beautiful version of The Secret Garden incorporating three-dimensional elements and hundreds of pieces of colorful line art and decorations.  A garden’s worth of vibrant flowers hug the footer numbers at the bottom of each page, colorful end papers adorn each new chapter, the off-white pages have an antiqued appearance, each chapter finds an old-fashioned stylized introductory letter, and pop-up images emphasize story elements.  It even includes a traditional paper doll, and cleverly folded paper gardens.  The 384-page hardcover features a gilded, textured cover, and tucked throughout the book are symbols and images found in Burnett’s sumptuous text.  The fifth in a series of children’s classics illustrated by MinaLima, including Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales, The Secret Garden is the pinnacle of these accurately self-described “lavishly illustrated” editions, finding a story that doesn’t require illustrations, but is enhanced so well by MinaLima’s application of them.  At two points in the story, letters are received via post by key characters, and instead of merely printing them in text as found in the original novel, the illustrators include two actual letters, designed as replicas, neatly folded just as you would have found real letters in the late 19th century, ready for readers to pull out and read as they move through the story.  That tactile experience will move readers young and old.

The style of artwork is suited to the story, combining British and Indian influences the young lead character Mary Lennox would have been familiar with, plus ink color choices and wallpapers similarly found in her era.  In this tale, Mary, an initially angry, “quite contrary” daughter of a British couple living in India that dies of cholera, finds herself nearly abandoned at a widowed uncle’s giant mansion back in England.  There she discovers the widower’s abandoned garden, and her relationships with three young people, an older girl and two boys, allow her to grow and move beyond her past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you play D&D, love video or board games, if you consider yourself a gamer or you like to compete at all for fun, drop everything and watch The Queen’s Gambit right now, streaming on Netflix.  Chess may not be your game, but it doesn’t matter.  The writer of The Hustler created a heckuva story and character in orphan prodigy Beth Harmon, and the 1960s tale perfectly translates to 2020.  Harmon is a quick-witted, fast-thinking, intense young girl, taking the driver’s seat, she becomes a smart young woman in a parallel type of world to The Hustler’s pool hall, where she competes and wins against Bobby Darin-era boys and middle-aged men in tweeds.  Adapted by one of the best screen writers around, Scott Frank, writer of the movies Logan, The Wolverine, Minority Report, Malice, Dead Again, and the similar-themed Little Man Tate, and also director of the series–don’t skip this because a series about chess may sound boring to you.

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