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Tag Archive: Marvel Comics


Review by C.J. Bunce

Marvel Contest of Champions is a 2014 mobile fighting game from Kabam, released four years ago on iOS and Android, boasting more than 100 million players.  Based on ideas generated from the 1982 three-issue Marvel Comics series Contest of Champions by Mark Gruenwald, John Romita Jr., and Bob Layton, players select superheroes from across the history of the Marvel universe to battle each other.  Both the original comic and the game key in on the scheming machinations of Grandmaster and the Collector, and if the idea sounds familiar, it may be because it was also featured in Marvel’s big screen Thor: Ragnarok, with Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster pitting Chris Hemsworth’s Thor against Mark Ruffalo’s Planet Hulk-inspired gladiator Hulk.

Initially intended to be based on Marvel’s Super Heroes Secret Wars comics, the Contest of Champions video game features more than 100 playable characters, and includes dozens of others.  The characters as realized for the game and the game environments is the focus of a new book from author Paul Davies, Marvel Contest of Champions: The Art of the Battlerealm The book represents one of the rare assemblages of so many characters from all segments of the Marvel universe.  Showcasing the story by Sam Humphries and artwork by Gabriel Frizzera, Luke Ross, and others, the book is full of great character designs, concepts, and final selections.  It even takes readers beyond the events of Infinity War, although the game does not adhere to the movies.

Readers and game players will find it difficult coming up with characters from Marvel Comics not incorporated into Contest of Champions.  In the book they’ll find updated versions of all the superheroes (and many villains) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus the X-Men, Deadpool, Old Man Logan, X-23, Spider-Gwen, Ghost Rider, Howard the Duck, Hyperion, Jane Foster’s Thor, Miles Morales’s Spidey, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, Spawn, Dark Phoenix, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Cable, Gwenpool, Mephisto, Blade, Carnage, and the Inhumans.  Plus there’s the Netflix Marvel series characters, lesser used characters like the future evil Hulk called Maestro, Magik, M.O.D.O.K., Sentry, Sentinel, Sabretooth, Agent Venom, Morningstar, Guillotine, Karnak, Kang, Doctor Voodoo, Black Bolt, and Venompool.  Both Angela, grand-daughter of Odin, and King Groot are brilliantly realized in the game and the book (shown above).

Here are some preview pages from Marvel Contest of Champions: The Art of the Battlerealm:

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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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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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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here, and the Best in Television 2018 here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best Read, Best Sci-fi Read – The Synapse Sequence by Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books).  The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place.  The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  Honorable mention: Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).

Best Retro Read – Killing Town by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime).  The lost, first Mike Hammer novel released for the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth was gold for noir crime fans.  This first Hammer story introduced an origin for a character that had never been released, in fact never finished, but Spillane’s late career partner on his work made a seamless read.  This was the event of the year for the genre, and a fun ride for his famous character.  Honorable mention: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake.

Best Tie-In Book – Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded Edition novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).  Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had we encountered a Star Wars story as engaging as this one.  Lafferty took the final film version and Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script to weave together something fuller than the film on-screen.  Surprises and details moviegoers may have overlooked were revealed, and characters were introduced that didn’t make the final film cut.  Better yet, the writing itself was exciting.  We read more franchise tie-ins than ever before this year, and many were great reads, but this book had it all.  Honorable Mention: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove (Titan).

Best Genre Non-fiction – Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young (Insight Editions).  A compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films, this new work on Hitchcock was filled with information diehard fans of Hitchcock will not have seen before.  Young incorporated behind-the-scenes images, costume sketches, and a detailed history of the circumstances behind key films of the master of suspense and his work with some of Hollywood’s finest performers.

There’s much more of our selections for 2018’s Best in Print to go…

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Marvel Studios just released the second trailer for Captain Marvel, the final solo film before the Marvel Cinematic Universe formally winds up its first decade of films based on the Marvel Comics superheroes (called Phase III) with its second part of the Avengers: Infinity War storyline coming in May 2019.  The new trailer arrives with a new movie poster featuring star Brie Larson (below).

Not many comic book events topped Infinity War discussions in 2018, with audiences left asking, “Wait–where did everyone go?” and “Are they coming back?”  Before we learn the answers to those questions, for those who stayed after the credits, you’ll recall Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury sent a last-minute pager message to someone with a strange new symbol, right before he disappeared into dust.  That was the symbol for Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

A big roster of acting talent will appear in this movie–Jackson joins Brie, and in this trailer we first see Annette Bening educating Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, on her past.  The film also stars Lee Pace as Ronan, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, and Djimon Hounsou as Korath, with Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Talos, Gemma Chan (Humans) as Minn-Erva, and Jude Law (Gattaca, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows).

Check out the new trailer:

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The perfect killing machine is forging her way ahead to lead the next series in the vein of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye and Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s Black Widow for Marvel Comics.  It’s Laura Kinney aka X-23, the clone of Logan’s Wolverine, who takes center stage in a stylish and smartly written series, wrapping the final part of a five-part story arc last month and featuring a single-story issue this Wednesday.  In the monthly series X-23 (the sixth X-23 solo title series), writer Mariko Tamaki creates a worthy follow-on to future X-Men stories like those found in the Old Man Logan.  The series takes familiar mutant powers and mythology into surprising and exciting directions in a personal character study of young X-Women dealing with life as cloned mutants.

The story begins with a partnership forged in past series.  X-23 is joined by her lab-created “sister” Gabby, aka Honey Badger, who was previously created as a clone of Laura.  Gabby is the chatty younger sister of the duo, full of pep, a little less precise in her fighting skills than the more battle hardened X-23 (think Buffy Summers’ sister Dawn or Green Arrow’s former sidekick Mia).  Gabby is also more inclined to try to find commonality between the Wolverine clone club and the series’ other clone family, the Stepford Cuckoos.  The “Cuckoos” are the five clones of Emma Frost, who only recently have lost two of their sisters, who died in stories previous to this series.  If you can put aside the cringeworthy alter ego name of the Frost clones (the Cuckoos have been around since 2001 and are a Grant Morrison creation), as realized here the characters are new and fresh, and the story is an intriguing future-world update to the Xavier School situational stories found in the pages of Wolverine and The X-Men.

Tamaki (Hunt for Wolverine, Hulk) partnered with artist Juann Cabal and colorist Nolan Woodard on the first story arc.  As X-23 pursues a missing scientist at the behest of Hank “Beast” McCoy, the remaining Emma Frost clones, referred to as the Three-in-One, are plotting to return to their family of five sisters.  But one of the sisters has other ideas, determined to kidnap and transform Gabby in the process.  The result is a solid X-Men series mutant fans should take note of.  Take a look at some pages from the series and several variant covers:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a movie that had some pretty rough previews, including Tom Hardy as a journalist with some indecipherable dialogue and a scientist who mispronounced a key word in the story, the end result may come as a surprise: Venom is actually a pretty good movie.  Do we credit a great post-production and re-shoots, including a complete redo of the strange “symbiote” explanatory scene, or does Sony need to simply work on improving its movie trailers?  Frankly all that matters is what made it to the screen.  Fans of the comic book anti-hero and villain, of alien invasion movies, of that unique character design from co-creator artist Todd McFarlane, of Tom Hardy, and non-traditional superhero movies, you’ll have to work to find anything wrong with this movie.  It’s a good Halloween month monster movie and you don’t need to know anything about the character or Marvel Comics to jump right in.  But you just might want to check out the comics after you see it.  Like Frank Miller caused Daredevil to become popular, McFarlane made Venom big in the 1980s.  Unlike McFarlane’s movie Spawn, an R-rated film that was too dark for mainstream audiences, the PG-13 rating for Venom makes this movie accessible to everyone.

A mix of the classic alien invasion flick, the horrifying McFarlane character look, with the grimy city vibe like the Detroit of Robocop, Venom has elements that make it feel like it belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, regardless of its origin as a Sony film.  As for quality and delivery, it falls somewhere above Blade, Iron Man 2 and 3, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk movies, and Spawn, X-Men 3 and X-Men: Apocalypse, and somewhere below Hellboy and Deadpool.  For most fans of adaptations of comic books on the big screen, that will be enough.  Full of good humor moments, the film doesn’t take itself seriously.  We meet the archetype from 80 years of superhero comics with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, an Everyman, a down-and-out guy who can never get a break who gets caught making a few mistakes.  Usually this archetype ends up captured by Batman (or insert other superhero here) and thrown into the slammer, but this time he encounters a body shifting alien presence that merges with him, blending the best and worst of both beings.  Beginning with a crash landing as a SpaceX-inspired ship returns with some specimens from outer space, we eventually meet four alien beings, the lowliest of rank who calls himself Venom.  Merged with Eddie, Venom needs to eat living lifeforms to continue on and he doesn’t grasp the subtleties of only killing bad guys just yet.  Audiences will get to watch these aliens, the symbiotes, body-shift through several random characters (like Denzel Washington’s character in the movie Fallen), including the key cast and an animal or two–and it’s mostly great fun.

Venom is probably a rare time audiences will see Michelle Williams in a stock role.  Usually every part she takes on results in an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s nice seeing her do something less dramatic.  And she gets some great scenes directly with Venom (including an Easter Egg scene that points straight back to the origin of the character originally discussed between Marvel Comics editor Jim Salicrup and writer/co-creator David Michelinie).  This may be Tom Hardy’s best role since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (where he was the only good thing in the movie), as he at last gets to play a spectrum of emotions and demonstrate a broad acting range.  Despite what we heard in the movie trailers, his regional American accent is spot on in the final cut and his dialogue is delivered clearly–none of that crazy speech we saw him bring as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises Not hiding behind make-up or masks as in Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, or Star Trek: Nemesis, Hardy again proves he’s one of the best actors around.  The sound department gets it just right–Hardy’s voice is also the voice transformed into the monstrous, demonic sounding Venom, and it’s unique and effective.  No doubt some elaborate work went on behind the scenes for Hardy-as-Eddie to be arguing with Hardy-as-Venom.  Some of the best lines, and laugh-out-loud moments come from Venom, reminiscent of Gollum and Sméagol.

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That Miller and Lord cut of Solo you were hoping for?  You already saw it.

I was always sold on his father, Lawrence Kasdan for writing The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and writing and directing Silverado (and his superb work on non-blockbuster films like Continental Divide and Mumford), but Jonathan Kasdan (who co-wrote the screenplay to Solo: A Star Wars Story with his father) has filled in the remaining gap in what is probably the year’s best home video special features package.  That would be the extra features that accompany the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, available now.  The included features have key deleted scenes, most of which would have served the movie well were they included in the theatrical release (like Han’s fall from the Imperial Navy), and the least of which is plain fun that every Star Wars fan should love (like a snowball fight between Han and Chewbacca)–eight deleted scenes in all.  The home release also contains insightful featurettes that demonstrate the love for the saga and the vision, skill, and craftmanship that came together to create the film.  But it’s missing an audio commentary.  More on that in a minute.

Director Ron Howard, production designer Neil Lamont, special creature effects designer Neal Scanlan, director of photography Bradford Young, and the Kasdans, along with other members of the crew, provide fantastic insight into the influences and experience of creating the movie.  The best features include Team Chewie, with interviews and footage of Joonas Suotamo in and out of costume, and Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso, where we see the historical art influence on the Sabacc card game scene, and Solo: The Director and Cast Roundtable, a a refreshing and eye-opening look at how Howard and the key actors came together.  Also included are short featurettes Kasdan on Kasdan, Remaking the Millennium Falcon, Escape From Corellia, The Train Heist, Becoming a Droid: L3-37, and Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel RunAcross all these, keep an eye out for Tim Nielsen, supervising sound editor and sound designer for Skywalker Sound, whose creativity is the kind of effort that caused Ben Burtt to get the Oscar for his work on the original Star Wars.  Watch these features and see why Nielsen and his team should be in the running for Oscar for his work on Solo: A Star Wars Story this year.

Director Ron Howard on the Millennium Falcon set of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Director Ron Howard, who replaced Christopher Miller and Phil Lord late in production of the film, bent over backwards to treat the departure of the two prior directors with grace and respect, which means he hasn’t discussed much detail about his work on the film.  We never thought we’d learn “who contributed what” to the film, but that is where Kasdan’s notes come into play.  Released in advance of the home video release this past week, they shed some light on what went on behind the scenes, what could easily be Kasdan’s personal, unrecorded, audio commentary notes–had Lucasfilm included one in the features.  From a certain point of view, the inclusion of so many scenes developed by the initial director duo reflect the theme of the saga: Miller and Lord–seemingly two rebels against Lucasfilm/Disney who had a vision for Star Wars and for whatever reason were sidelined–were able to have much of their vision survive in the final cut of the film.  Howard’s role seems to have been both Fixer and Closer, in addition to giving his personal touch to certain scenes, something addressed well in the features.  Kasdan’s notes (not included with the home release but reproduced below) are the ultimate backstage pass into all the creative minds behind what must have been a difficult film to make (Star Wars plus Star Wars fandom sometimes reflects the Dark Side of the movies all too well).

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It must be going forward if 20th Century Fox releases an actual trailer for the movie, right?  After the last contract is inked it may very well be that only thirteen “X-Men movies” were ever made, before Disney steps in and recombines the Marvel X-Men adaptations into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For those of us that loved the X-Men movies, this is the winding down of a great era of movies, highlighted by the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto.  Who will ever forget one of the finest adaptations to film of any superhero from any comic book as Evan Peters became Quicksilver, defending his fellow mutants in the Pentagon?  And the high point of any superhero movie (from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, or anyone else) must be the Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for Logan this year.  Like the competing films in the Avengers films, there were as many high as low points, but some greatness happened throughout X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

Only two more films were in the works when negotiations for control of 20th Century Fox’s film group got closer to a deal this year: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants.  We previewed The New Mutants trailer way back last October here at borg, announcing an expected release date in April 2018, which came and went (the release date currently reflects a long overdue August 2019 premiere in theaters).  At last, 20th Century Fox has released a trailer for Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix represents one of X-Men fans’ favorite classic X-Men stories.  We have already seen one take on the Dark Phoenix story, as Famke Janssen’s Jane Grey destroyed everyone she cares about in X-Men: The Last Stand, but after the timeline manipulation in X-Men Days of Future Past we learned again the lesson of the Terminator movies: The future’s not set–There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.  

Along with the new official poster, check out this first trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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In addition to Doctor Who’s new “woman who fell from the sky,” there’s another new heroine arriving soon the same way…

Not many pop culture events topped Infinity War discussions in 2018.  It’s probably more fun to talk about the end of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War with passing fans than regular comic book readers.  “Wait–where did everyone go?” and “Are they coming back?”  Before we learn the answers to those questions, recall that, for those who stayed after the credits (and we know many of you walked out before that, despite the warnings, you know who you are), Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury sent a last-minute pager message to someone with a strange new symbol, right before he disappeared into dust.  That was the symbol we see for the next new character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the next movie in the franchise, Captain Marvel.  (For the passing fan, that’s the Marvel Comics Captain Marvel, played in the new movie by 2015 best actress Oscar winner Brie Larson, not the DC Comics Captain Marvel played by Zachary Levi in the new Shazam movie).

Wait, why does Alison Brie look so different here?  No, that’s Alison Brie from Community and GLOW, not Brie Larson, who was in an episode of Community, but you probably saw her in Kong: Skull Island or 21 Jump Street, or lots of other things.  Keep up!

A big roster of acting talent will appear in this movie–Jackson joins Brie, with the return of Lee Pace as Ronan, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, and Djimon Hounsou as Korath, with Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Talos, Gemma Chan (Humans) as Minn-Erva, and we get to see a bit of everyone’s second favorite British actor, Jude Law (Gattaca, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) as Mar-Vell.

Marvel released the first trailer for Captain Marvel today–Check it out:

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