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Tag Archive: J. Michael Straczynski


He-Man print in limited edition of The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Review by C.J. Bunce

Next month Dark Horse Comics releases a must-read for fans of He-Man, She-Ra “Princess of Power,” and the Masters of the Universe world of toys, animated series, magazines, chapter books, posters, comic strips, and comic books.  The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Limited Edition Hardcover includes more than 300 pages full-color art, a portfolio featuring an exclusive print by Gerald Parel, a foil-embossed cover, and a die-cut two-piece Castle Greyskull slipcase.  A standard edition of the book will also be available.  Many well-known creators worked with these characters since its inception in the early 1980s, including Ralph McQuarrie, Drew Struzan, Dick Giordano, J. Michael Straczynski, George Tuska, Klaus Janson, Boris Vallejo, Tony Moore, Darwyn Cooke, Geoff Johns, and Tommy Lee Edwards.

Designers from every stage of the creation of He-Man, She-Ra, Skeletor, and the large cast of sword and sorcery heroes and villains, offer insight into character development, decision-making, and the impact on 1980s kids.  The best feature is the inclusion of hundred of pieces of full-color art, concept artwork, page layouts, sketches, storyboards, packaging art, prototypes, never before seen and unused imagery, advertising art, original comic art, and final comic book pages, covers, and animation cels.  It features restored art from master illustrator Earl Norem, as well as interviews with Dolph Lundgren, who played He-Man in the 1987 movie, director Gary Goddard, well-known TV producer/comic book writer Paul Dini, and voice actress Erika Scheimer, among many others.  Captions for photos were written by comic book creators Tim Seeley and Steve Seeley.

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Limited Edition Hardcover slipcase edition

Particularly of interest to toy collectors are the original notes from the development stage of the toy line at Mattel.  Mattel, which had passed on the ground-breaking Star Wars action figure line, developed He-Man as a direct competitor to that toy line.  Mattel drove the look of the characters–this was first and foremost a toy line, inspired in part by the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta.  But it grew beyond that.  Artists and writers and other creators remark with pride about the focus on the stories that went beyond the toy line.

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Terminator Salvation The Final Battle

While you’re waiting for Terminator: Genisys, it’s time to get caught up on Terminator tie-ins, and one of the best places to start is Dark Horse Comics’ Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle series.  We have a preview of Issue #11 below, after the break.

What makes the Terminator series great is in part the time travel, and the ability to change events, retrace paths, and create parallel futures.  It’s a seemingly endless playing field for stories of Sarah Connor, her son John, and his friend Kyle, as Skynet attempts to stamp out humanity once and for all, and the humans challenge space and time for a future.

Final Battle terminator issue 11   Terminator Final Battle 1

We previewed Issue #1 the series here at borg.com last December 5.

The comic book writers’ favorite comic book writer, J. Michael Straczynski, has scribed this series over the past year.  Never fear if you missed the monthly issues, Volume 1 is now available in a trade paperback edition.  Pete Woods served as series artist with Matthew Wilson supplying the color work.

Here’s a preview of Issue #11, from Dark Horse Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you spent any part of the 72 hours this week getting caught up on the best of The Twilight Zone, courtesy of the Syfy Channel’s annual marathon pilgrimage to the land of Rod Serling, you may find that returning to the real world takes a bit of an effort.  A new comic book series by the critically acclaimed J. Michael Straczynski may help you in your transition.  Dynamite Comics’ Issue #1 of The Twilight Zone is in comic book stores this week, and you’re likely to find it in stock because of low turnouts in stores due to the mid-week holiday.

What does it take to make for a classic tale from The Twilight Zone?  Straczynski’s first issue has the story off to the right start.  He includes a well-concocted Serling-esque introduction.  It’s hard to imagine some of the subjects from the original series being current since they are so far removed from today, but in their initial run each episode dealt with some current political, social, or scientific question.  Issue #1 has the required currency–although anti-Wall Street stories are abundant these days, it’s still a worthy subject and the additional twists make for an intriguing set-up.  Trevor Richmond has taken his company and increased profits well above expectations.  So much so that the feds are sniffing around and Richmond’s methods are soon to be uncovered.

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Strac Terminator cover

J. Michael Straczynski is bringing the Terminator universe full circle by ending the Machine War, beginning this week with the first issue in a 12-issue limited monthly series, Terminator Salvation: Final Battle.  Jumping from the past to the future and back again, the next year will reveal the final destiny of Skynet and we will finally witness the legendary fate of John Connor.

Connor begins to set in motion a plan that will involve his fate and that of his father in the distant future–the year 2029.  Issue #1 is a good time traveling romp, setting up a fine starting point to bring fans familiar with any of the four Terminator movies back into the Skynet universe.

What we haven’t yet seen before this new series is the “time door”–the mechanism that allowed Kyle Reese to return to the 1980s in the first Terminator movie, rescue Sarah Connor, and set in motion the events that would give humanity a chance against Skynet in the distant future.

A once terminally ill woman, later turned mad scientist, is the architect of the time door.  And the future Terminators are based on a convict from the past named Thomas Parnell.  Why a convict?  Why build a Clone Army on a bounty hunter?  We’ll just have to read on in future issues to find out.

Watch for some good color work by Matthew Wilson and interesting environments by series artist Pete Woods.

Here’s a Dark Horse Comics preview of Issue #1:

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PBS is airing a new documentary series tonight and re-broadcast October 22 focusing on the impact of comic book superheroes on America and American culture, in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.  It’s a good history lesson in the creation of the modern comic book and the development since the 1930s of the comic book art form.  Packed with interviews with key creators and industry professionals, and comic book page and TV and movie clips, it tells a history of America as much as the comic book medium.

Not surprisingly the documentary, funded by both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, focuses on U.S. comics and comic stories tied to patriotism across the past 100 years.  Written and directed by Michael Kantor, it covers how changing times is mirrored in comics, but also dictates the stories of comics, from the Great Depression, to World War II, McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Cold War in the 1960s to 1980s, the psychedelic 1960s, drugs in the 1970s, to Watergate and terrorism.

Liev Schreiber hosts Superheroes on PBS

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Heroes Dynamite new series

As part of its opening day reveal of San Diego Comic-Con International 2013 news, Dynamite Comics issued an unprecedented barrage of announcements.  These include a new monthly continuing the NBC television series Heroes and a return of The Twilight Zone in the form of a monthly comic book series.

Comic book writer Cullen Bunn (Marvel’s Fearless Defenders and Deadpool) will be writing the Heroes comic book series, which he describes as a Heroes Season Five, following on the coattails of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files continuations of cancelled series in comic book monthlies.  Airing from 2006 through 2010, the Heroes TV series was watched by fanboys and fangirls everywhere.  The series chronicled the lives of ordinary people whose mysterious superhuman powers brought them together as part of a giant government conspiracy via a certain guy with horn-rimmed glasses played by Jack Coleman.  The series featured a great cast of now well-known actors, including Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter, Adrian Pasdar, Milo Ventimiglia, and Zachary Quinto.  Claire, Hiro and Sylar will play a big role in the comic book series, according to Bunn.

The Twilight Zone will feature all-new tales of superstition and science written by SDCC 2013 featured guest, comic book legend, and former Babylon 5 writer J. Michael Straczynski.  Straczynski said, “The immediate creative question to be resolved was: how do you transplant or adapt the TV anthology format into comic form?  Individual stand-alone issues don’t give the issue-to-issue continuity you need to consistently bring in modern readers, and if it’s a year-long arc, it’s not an anthology.  The solution: three four-issue arcs that are connected by theme, character, and location… so that in reading one arc you get one side of the story, with its own supernatural or science-fiction elements, then you turn the character around to another character in that sequence who has his or her own story for the next four issues… and then at the end, you connect all of these individual stories into one overlapping tapestry, so you could literally view the book as individual stories as initially published, or layer the pages to create one big story.”

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BF Manhattan nite owl

Before Watchmen is a series of titles that was beset with controversy from its inception.  Years before the launch of the series last year, DC Comics had looked at a prequel concept for the much-ballyhooed Watchmen mini-series turned graphic novel, but squelched it before anything came of it.  Watchmen, continually one of the biggest selling graphic novels, has a sort of sacred status to many.  And loyalists believed that if Alan Moore didn’t write it or at least endorse it, then it wasn’t for them.  Still, whether you hate or love the original Watchmen, how do you pass up a series of titles from the likes of J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Azzarello, Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke, Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee?  See our early review of the first issues of the series here and here.

In an era where you can either read single issues or wait out the run—especially with a mini-series—and get the graphic novel in hardcover or trade version, as consumer you have decisions to make.  You could read the monthly and then you don’t necessary “need” the trade edition.  If you love the monthly you may just want the trade version on your shelf for future reading.  With ordinary monthly series waiting for the trade editions actually can hurt the ability to ensure series and creators you love continue, since publishers bank on weekly circulation numbers.  If everyone waits for the trades, the publishers may cancel a series based on low sales.  That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case for mini-series, which publishers only plan for a few issues.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I’ve gotten in and out of reading comic books several times in my life.  I couldn’t tell you where the comic book store was when I lived in Columbia, MO.  I found one when I lived in Delaware.  There wasn’t one for miles when I lived in the mountains (but I found a baseball card shop).  I knew of and visited at least six comic book stores when I lived in Kansas City and I visit about the same number in Los Angeles.  I’ve visited them when I’ve made brief stops in London, England and Austin, Texas.  I had subscriptions to several Marvel titles when I was in junior high and didn’t have to worry about getting my parents to take me to the comic store.  One day a comic would arrive in my mailbox covered in the plain brown paper wrapping that I would later associate closely with either comics or porn.

A map of comic book stores across the U.S.

Still, every walk into a store is like a step into a colorful, inedible candy shop and I start to wonder, what I’m going to take home in my brown paper bag.  I like recommendations quite a bit when I look for new things (and that’s why on Free Comic Book Day as I went to a few of my favorite stores, I picked up All-Star Western and Justice League Dark) but since my time in Kansas City, my main focus for when I look on the shelves of whichever store I find myself in, is new material by past favorite authors.  That’s why on Free Comic Book Day I also picked up Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, who has entertained me in several stories like Pride of Baghdad, Runaways and Y: The Last Man.  Saga looks to be a great start to another captivating yarn as I ripped through both issues I bought as I curled up to relax on Sunday night.

However, I must ask myself, is using the past a logical way to pursue entertainment?  Are past performances indicative of future returns, unlike financial instruments?  How can you tell when to jump off the creative train of a favorite author?

This reminds me of a game a friend and I play every now again based on the Fellini movie, 8 1/2.  The film deals with the creative process and my friend and I used it as a jumping off point to analyze the careers of creative people by asking, “Does X have eight unarguable classics to their name?”

It’s tougher than you think.  To be able to create eight works of art is an accomplishment in and of itself, and to make eight super-duper terrific things, well, that’s a rarefied air.  Of course, everyone has a different opinion of what a “classic” is, but we generally know that Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both Steven Spielberg classics, where War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull don’t come close to reaching the same height.  Even though I’m not a huge Spielberg fan, he gets to eight relatively easily as you could add E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me if You Can to Jaws and Raiders and you get seven, though there are a few flaws, but I quibble.  Finding an eighth movie among The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Munich and Jurassic Park should be easy.  George Lucas on the other hand, I think he’s lucky to get two.  I suppose I’m saying that at this point, going to see a Spielberg film may be a bit more of a question mark than it was in the 90s, but if you gave me a choice between Spielberg and Lucas right now, there’s no question I would choose to see a Spielberg film.

Looking at my favorite movies over the past few years, Midnight in Paris has reinvigorated my belief in Woody Allen and I’m more likely to see his next film.  The quality of Marvel’s movies Thor, Captain America and The Avengers makes me more likely to go see non-sequels put out by Marvel Studios.  (Iron Man 2 still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. That’s what I get for licking the screen).  True Grit cemented my love of the Coen brothers, which I had before the movie as I’ve seen every one of their films.

My point?  If you like the creative work of a person, you’ll probably like their other work.  Looking at my bookshelf filled with several novels from Kurt Vonnegut, quite a few selections from Alan Moore and most every film by Wes Anderson, I probably didn’t need to do much thinking about it.  Still, it’s nice to come to that conclusion and know that when I roll into a comic store, I can find some Brian Michael Bendis, some Matt Fraction, some J. Michael Straczynski, some Neil Gaiman, some Jason, some Craig Thompson, some Daniel Clowes, some Kurt Busiek or many others and be happy when I get home, turn on the lamp and snuggle beneath my covers.  Plus, there’s always a chance I can stumble onto many more authors in the future through sheer luck, the recommendations of friends or the recommendations of the people I meet while wandering the aisles at my local comic book stores.