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Tag Archive: Best of 2019


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

If there was a Sergeant York or Audie Murphy on the Russian side of the fight in World War II and the soldier was a woman, you’d have the lead character in Sara, a new six-part graphic novel from TKO Studios, a new publisher for 2019 (more on that below).  In Nazi-occupied Russia, the Russian forces are losing.  A small band of skilled Russians snipers is making headway one kill at a time.  The undisputed best of the bunch is Sara, an ex-college recruit reputed to have 300 kills.  She soon becomes the target of Nazi Germany’s own best special military forces.  From Eisner Award winning writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, War Stories and Battlefields, Fury) and artist Steve Epting (Velvet, Batwoman, The Winter Soldier, The Avengers), with color by Eisner and Harvey nominated artist Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Rob Steen, the gritty realism, badass protagonist, and top-level artistry is sure to make Sara a contender come award season.

If you’re a fan of Russia or Soviet-era stories like Doctor Zhivago, From Russia with Love, and The Hunt for Red October, or graphic novels Nevsky: A Hero of the People, Red Son, and The Death of Stalin, there’s something in the Sara graphic novel that you’re going to like.  But that’s just the setting.  The real fun will be the callbacks readers will experience along the way.  With a Russian twist, expect the same kind of war experience from watching movie classics like Stalag 17, Sands of Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, To Hell and Back, and Sergeant York.  Ennis’s historicity and Epting’s adherence to detail anchors the story in a way that will have you feeling like you’re right there in the forest among the soldiers.  This is the story many of us were hoping for when we heard of the Russian espionage movie Red Sparrow.  

As with all new TKO Studios releases, the story is available as a graphic novel in a digital or print edition, or as six issues in a collectible box.  The six issue/chapter shifts are well plotted: an introduction of key characters in the middle of activity and flashbacks to Sara’s military training are all nicely paced to a vintage 1940s war movie style, and the battlefield threat increases gradually culminating in a nicely planned cliffhanger, followed by a satisfying payoff–it has all the beats in the right places.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The writer behind the graphic novel Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes has returned with a new novel of connecting stories, sporting another great Planet of the Apes title, Death of the Planet of the Apes (believe it or not, this title had not yet been used in the franchise).  Andrew E. C. “Drew” Gaska dug into the original movie series and provides all the connective material that fans of the film series didn’t see on the big screen.  What happened to Charlton Heston’s astronaut George Taylor when he left for the Forbidden Zone in Beneath the Planet of the Apes?  What is his backstory before he lands with his crew and first confronts a strange, simian-ruled planet?  But Death of the Planet of the Apes does more than follow Taylor around.

The best new features in the POTA-verse include Gaska showing us how our favorite chimps Zira, Cornelius, and Dr. Milo make the ANSA spacecraft work again, connecting the dots between their run-in with astronaut Brent in Beneath of the Planet of the Apes and their arrival at Earth of the past at the beginning of the most fun film of the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  Gaska provides some great prequel material, intertwining the ANSA space agency with the real-world NASA (something he began in his Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes).  Taylor becomes a Chuck Yeager-esque flight pioneer in one of the subplots, a man with determination, insight, and the stoic outlook of a Scott Kelly.  We follow more of Ursus, Zaius, and Nova, and meet a new gorilla and a new part human/part ape hybrid living far beyond the realm of the apes that appeared on film (a callback to an unused production concept from the films of the 1970s).

Official ANSA crew photograph.

With so many stories focused on Cornelius and Zira’s son Caesar, in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and the latest reboot trilogy of films, it’s refreshing that Death of the Planet of the Apes returns to these core characters.  Gaska moves back and forth in time in his storytelling, weaving all the segments from the different eras into a grand-scale adventure.  More so than the original, readers will revisit concepts of science fiction’s past: the Philip K. Dick-inspired telekinesis concept from Beneath the Planet of the Apes is fleshed out, the Forbidden Zone travels and robots conjure images of Logan’s Run, and Planet of the Apes as a retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine becomes even more clear.
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