Tag Archive: Altered Carbon


SMART GIRL COVER B

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spanish artist Fernando Dagnino (Superman, Resurrection Man, Suicide Squad) has designed the future of Blade Runner in the continuation series of Ridley Scott and Syd Mead’s future world for Titan Comics over the past few years.  Now fans of his artwork can see Dagnino take his work further in his own series.  In Smart Girl, readers will meet Yuki, a multitasking gynoid in the future called a Smart Girl, as in “smart phone” (the male Smartdroids are called Smart Boys)–human-like tools created exactly like the domestic assistant Synths of BBC’s Humans television series.  But like the Emergency Medical Holograms of Star Trek Voyager fame, the time comes when Yuki is no longer the latest, most advanced model, and it’s time for her to be replaced by the new androids and be deactivated.  Yuki becomes self-aware, and like the Replicants of Blade Runner, she decides she has more to offer the world and makes her escape before it’s too late.

Writer and illustrator Dagnino offers a black and white future noir comic that leans into what he does best–those shadows and layouts that feel like the stuff of 1950s pulp novels.  As much as I’d love to see his work in color, the black and white works for this tale of the bleak not-so-distant future.  Yuki is Atomic Blonde and Alita upgraded.  The story is tech-forward like Altered Carbon.  Dagnino’s style is familiar in a good way, mixes of Mike Grell layouts, Phil Noto characters, and the action and appeal of Jackson Herbert–the best of the modern Miss Fury artists.  If you like speculative science fiction, issue-driven narratives wrestling with timeless questions in the manner of the best of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, this should be your next graphic novel.

Check out our sneak preview of Fernando Dagnino’s new graphic novel, Smart Girl:

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Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

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One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

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So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Last year Titan Comics took fans of the Blade Runner movie franchise back to the future with the comic book series Blade Runner 2019 (reviewed here at borg).  Both the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and prequel to Blade Runner 2049, the series expanded the franchise based on characters and settings created by Philip K. Dick.  Then the series went back 20 years before the theatrical sequel in Blade Runner 2029 Now for the first time writers K. Perkins, Mellow Brown, and Mike Johnson, and artists Fernando Dagnino and Marco Lesko are taking the entire franchise–the canon stories and timeline–back before the original Ridley Scott movie in the series Blade Runner Origins Dick’s universe is one of borgs called Replicants and those who hunt them, called Blade Runners.  This is the story of the first Blade Runner, and we assume we’ll see another prequel one day about the creation of the first Replicants.

   

Check out our sneak preview of artwork from Issue #1 of Blade Runner Origins and 18 series variant covers below.

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It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  It’s time for the eighth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have several honorees from 2020 films and television, plus you’ll find many from the past, and a peek at some from the future – 44 new borgs or updated variants in all, bringing the borg Hall of Fame total to 265.

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.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was named an honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive, not because of his incredible tech armor.  The Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids (as in Westworld, and as in the Synths of Star Trek: Picard, and the new Dark Troopers of The Mandalorian), we take their word for it.  Again, integration is key, but in the Hall, once a member, always a member.  

So let’s get on with it.  Who’s in for 2020?

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Today we move from the big screen to the small screen with the Best TV Series of 2020.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2020 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here.  We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie.  We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching.  The theory?  If we like it, we think you may like it.  The best shows have a compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired.  Even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesAltered Carbon (Netflix).  Showing life in a world well past the merger of the organic and inorganic via stacks placed in human individuals’ vertebrae in the back of the neck, the second season of the series further revealed the dark side of being able to live forever.  What parts of life have the most value in a cybernetic world?  What crimes emerge when body and mind can be separated and re-shuffled?  Honorable mention: Star Trek: Picard (CBD All Access)–revisiting Star Trek’s old nemeses The Borg and introducing the cyborg-like nonbiological humanoids called Synths, the same term used in the BBC’s Humans.

Best TV Borg, Best TV VillainDarth Maul (played by Sam Witwer and Ray Park), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Disney+).  The athletic performer Ray Park provided the best-ever lightsaber duel scenes in his co-starring performance in The Phantom Menace.  Watching the animated series this year it was clear Darth Maul wasn’t just another animated character.  Add another great duel to the books–Park’s motion capture abilities live on and continue to set the bar for Star Wars action sequences, and Witwer voices a character we never want to see go away again.  Honorable mention for Best TV Villain: Grand Moff Gideon, Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian (Disney+).

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Western TV SeriesThe Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which continues to be compared to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back more than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) now called Grogu, on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for a series that only gets better with each episode, despite their short lengths.  Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi TV Series: Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access).

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Once a year at borg we ask: What makes a great screen heroine? It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  Despite delays in releases due to the covid pandemic, nothing kept Hollywood from including great female characters on the screen, even if that meant moving movies to the small screen for a while. We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  (Want to see previous years’ kickass genre heroines to see how 2020 compares?  Here are 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015). Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass, and often badass, character is about.

This year we add masked superheroines, a CDC epidemiologist, aliens, assassins, martial artists, warriors, cyborgs, a telephone operator, an engineer, a bounty hunter, and a frog and a pig–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters. Credit goes to both the writers, costumers, and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020:

Bo-Katan Kryze (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars).  In the animated series she would let nothing stand in her way. In a galaxy with villains like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Grand Moff Gideon, we’re lucky to have Bo-Katan on our side. Leading a team to find the Darksaber and restore Mandalore, she’s also willing to enlist a lone straggler, and help him for his efforts. With Katee Sackhoff, the actress behind Starbuck, in the armor, the coolness factor goes up by a factor of 100. Great heroines are great leaders, and, like Bo-Katan, they wield an incredible arsenal of skills. (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Nicole Haught in Wynonna Earp

Sheriff Nicole Haught (Wynonna Earp).  Katherine Barrell’s tough, savvy, and friendly sheriff is one of the best reasons to watch Wynonna Earp, now four seasons running. She’s the girlfriend of Wynonna’s sister Waverly, she is plugged into the local supernatural happenings, and she’s always available to lend a hand, when she’s not carrying out her sheriff duties. She’s an investigator who is loyal, driven, and smart. She’s also fun and friendly, making her the heart of the series. In a show about supernatural people, she holds her own as law enforcer simply by her own human wits. (Syfy)

Seven of Nine (Star Trek Picard).  More than forty years of Star Trek have revealed some exceptional women leaders. This year we were lucky to see the re-appearance of one of the best, a character who was captured as a child and trapped in what amounts to a technological cult. With the help of a strong captain, Seven was able to break free, and re-learn what it means to be human. This year that meant helping a legendary former admiral, avenge the death of her closest friend, and fight for good long after her call to duty. (CBS All Access)

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Now that everyone has seen it who likely was going to watch CBS All Access’s next Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek: Picard, it’s time to delve into the series.  If you haven’t yet, take advantage of the free CBS All Access offer while you can.  Series star Patrick Stewart has said he decided to bring his character back to the screen because of the role he performed for even more years than Picard–Charles Xavier in the X-Men series–specifically because of the strong finish he was able to give the character in James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated finale Logan, possibly Stewart’s strongest performance in his film and TV career opposite Old Man Logan as Old Man Charles.  Stewart succeeded, as Star Trek: Picard, already expecting at least another season, showcases the beloved character as Old Man Picard and wraps far better fans’ last meeting with not only Picard, but Data, Riker, and Troi, too.  And surprisingly it does that for Star Trek Voyager, specifically for Jeri Ryan′s Seven of Nine, who also had a rather anticlimactic finale in the last episode of that series.  Her new take is very different from before, but still lots of fun.

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It’s a blend of Altered Carbon and Defending Your Life except it doesn’t look anything like that at all.  In Amazon Prime’s new series Upload, the afterlife is hell, or close to it, because it’s gone digital.  And if you want to have a good afterlife you better be rich, because otherwise you risk weeks a month without service.  Like Altered Carbon, your memory becomes uploaded after your body dies and like Defending Your Life you get some help, not via heaven’s legal counsel as revealed in that film, but by customer service agents standing by to help via virtual reality.  But it’s the chemistry of the story’s two lead characters that is touted as the reason viewers will come back after the first episode.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re a fan of hard-hitting science fiction and noir of the Blade Runner variety, your top pick for binge-watching this month should be the first seasons of Altered Carbon (reviewed here and here at borg).  Abbie Bernstein, author of several film and TV tie-in books arrives with her latest book, Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series.  In design and layout, this is the next book in the series of behind-the-scenes studies of top-level sci-fi television series from Titan Books that includes The World of the Orville (reviewed here) and The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World (reviewed here).

Unapologetically pulling its look and feel from the original Blade Runner, the creators of Altered Carbon made a world that could easily be a spin-off of the Philip K. Dick realm, a region just north of the cityscapes in Ridley Scott and Syd Mead’s futuristic dystopia.  Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series is not a look at the concept art, but full coverage of the first two seasons of the series as seen through the eyes of the writers, cast, production designers, costume designers, stunt department, visual effects artists, and more.  Based on a trilogy of books from novelist Richard K. Morgan, the challenge for series creator Laeta Kalogridis and second season showrunner Alison Schapker and a team of writers was how to split up the novels between seasons.  Pulling Morgan into the writers room they based season one on the first novel and the theme “what does it mean to be human”–a common theme of many sci-fi stories–but more loosely adapted the next two books into the second season, focusing more on the love story between lead character Takeshi Kovacs and his former leader Quellcrist Falconer, asking, “Can love between two people survive, even for centuries?”

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Bernstein doesn’t hold back any content or story arc, digging into the relationships between characters, taking apart key sequences, and highlighting dozens of the series’ key characters, including accounts from the actors.  Because of the significant physical combat sequences among the major cast, the actors joined their stunt performers in daily sessions to bring greater believability to the visual effects elements.  Readers can expect hundreds of full-color photographs, including set photographs, film stills, and an entire chapter of sample storyboards from the series.

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AlteredCarbon_S2_MainTrailer

Review by C.J. Bunce

The first season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon was a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rivaled the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel.  Based on Richard K. Morgan’s novels, the series is centered around Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies.  That conceit allows Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors, which, as demonstrated in Season 2, can allow the series to continue indefinitely much as Doctor Who’s regeneration mechanism allows replacement Doctors.  So how does a series fair when it replaces the lead after the first season?  Can it keep up the intrigue and interest for viewers?

The first season asked: What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Unfortunately, the second season falls a bit short.  Although it wisely was paired down from ten to eight episodes for its second season (season one couldn’t keep up the action and would have benefited from some good editing), the series just doesn’t capture the same magic.  Anthony Mackie′s assumption of the role of Kovacs in the year 2385, years after the events of the first season, is more of a re-hash of what we saw Joel Kinnaman do with the character last season.  Mackie is usually one of the best parts of any project he tackles (The Adjustment Bureau, Captain America: Winter Soldier), but the story and dialogue here are not as sophisticated as in the inaugural effort, and Mackie is always intense, his acting dialed up to eleven, much different than his character in the first season.  Simone Missick, who we loved in Marvel’s Luke Cage, provides an interesting new cyborg character for the Altered Carbon universe as Trepp, but it didn’t quite catch up to the passion of Martha Higareda’s driven cop Kristin Ortega last season.  But where the series shines is in its supporting cast of characters, many returning from last season.  The result is like comparing the first season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot with the last–good television–even if it’s not as gritty and exciting as the first season, it still may be the best sci-fi series on television this year.

Poe Dig 301

Foremost is Chris Conner back as the artificial intelligence who has taken inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, a bodyguard of sorts looking out for Kovacs (Mackie) in his new body (called a sleeve).  Conner brings to the series the same kind of compelling look at the trouble of incorporating humanity into robots or cyber-creations, the same type of battle of sentience in the non-living as conveyed by Robert Picardo as the emergency medical hologram in Star Trek Voyager.  In this season Poe is in trouble–his matrix is broken and he needs to reboot, which he does not want to do because that would mean he would forget Lizzie (Hayley Law), a key character of last season, and a memory stored in his digital mind.  Not rebooting means he makes mistakes that could hinder Kovacs’s ability to stay hidden from his pursuers.  But there is hope for Poe, and that comes in the form of another creation, another artificial intelligence, an ancient storage “archaeologue” unit called Dig 301, played by Dina Shihabi, who nicely substitutes as a futuristic love interest for Poe.

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