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Tag Archive: Netflix


Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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In the world of the dark superhero universe you start with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke, and you might pick up Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, Garth Ennis’s Crossed, and if you go back a bit further you might pick up Jim Starlin’s Batman: A Death in the Family.  And you take another look at Tim Burton making Batman movies.  You also might stumble over Garth Ennis’s The Boys and Brian Michael Bendis’s Jessica Jones.  These last two comics are making their way to your television this summer, first with the return of Marvel’s Jessica Jones for its third season on Netflix as the swan song for all its Marvel series, and then Amazon Prime is stepping in with an adaptation of Ennis’s The Boys, dark in every other way that Jessica Jones isn’t.  Those are in addition to Brightburn, a movie written by the live-action superhero guru Gunn brothers about a kid with Superman powers who doesn’t use them for good.  Meaning lots of bloody gore and violence.  It’s still in theaters.

Our first trailer is for the final season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Should it be a surprise that everything seems exactly as it was in the last season?  Is it enough that Krysten Ritter′s anti-hero conquers her demons one at a time?  Viewers want to cheer her on, to do anything to get happy in a dark and dreary real-life New York, but without development of her character beyond returning to the bottle and self-inflicted pain, we’re left to turn to other characters.  Thankfully that left her adopted sister Trish, played by Rachael Taylor, as last season’s real hero to root for.  But does Jeremy Bobb (Russian Doll) have a chance at filling in as next villain as Foolkiller after David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave?  And why another new guy for Jones, bringing in Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) instead of Luke Cage or The Punisher?

The Boys is a different kind of dark, but in many ways it’s just another effort to do what Alan Moore did with Watchmen–deconstruct superheroes until they are only recognizable because of the capes and costumes.  So think of the depraved nature of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, but add a multiplier.  Or if Watchmen was a normal school day, The Boys is Watchmen where the teenage kids take over.  The kids in this case include Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg as producers, so expect plenty of “adult language” aka expletives, and their typical brand of raunch and bodily fluids.   Is there a chance of some subtlety or nuance with these guys behind the series, or can we hope for something closer to Superbad?  The more promising elements in the trailer are found in the costumes (by Iron Man costume designer Laura Jean Shannon, Titans’ designer Joyce Schure, and Doom Patrol’s designer Carrie Grace) and the cast, including pop culture icon Karl Urban (Thor: Ragnarok, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Judge Dredd, Xena: Warrior Princess) and Erin Moriarty, who also starred on season one of Jessica Jones, Elizabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Leaving Las Vegas), and Jennifer Esposito (Spin City, NCIS).

Take a look at these trailers for some of the darker edge of superheroes in genredom:

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After seeing Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s The Dark Crystal return to theaters back in 2017 for its 35th anniversary, we were reminded why the movie kept up its status as the best live-action, high-fantasy film for two decades–until the arrival of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series.  The set for Aughra′s beautiful pinnacle of all set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder called the Orrery–showcased a fantasy creation that has yet to be surpassed in any film.  We first mentioned Netflix green-lighting the return of The Dark Crystal universe way back in 2017 here at borg, as the studio began work on the ten episode series The Dark Crystal: Age of ResistanceAt last the first trailer has arrived (below) and the arrival date for the first season: August 30, 2019.  The best part?  Fizzgig is back, along with Aughra (voiced by Donna Kimball (Community)) and a re-creation of her incredible Orrery, and Henson’s vile Skeksis, complete with that familiar, creepily sniveling voice.  And as with the 1982 movie, the series uses puppets, which were created by Jim Henson Co.’s Creature Shop and Brian Froud, the original conceptual designer — there will be no CGI in the series.

Taron Egerton (Robin Hood, Rocketman, Kingsman series) will be playing the voice of Rian, Nathalie Emmanuel (Furious 7, Game of Thrones) is the voice of Deet, and Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass, Split, The New Mutants) is the voice of Brea (above)–making up the trio to lead the film as Gelflings.  Other Gelfling characters will be voiced by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter series), Emmy winner Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie, The Riches, Treasure Island), BAFTA nominee Mark Strong (Shazam!, Green Lantern, Kick-Ass, Kingsman series), Golden Globe nominee Toby Jones (Doctor Who, Harry Potter series, Marvel movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Golden Globe nominee Caitriona Balfe (Super 8, Outlander), plus Natalie Dormer (The Hunger Games series, Captain America: The First Avenger), Shazad Latif (The Commuter, Black Mirror, Star Trek Discovery), and Theo James (Underworld series).

Voicing the Skeksis and urRu (or “Mystics”) are BAFTA winner Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Flash, and Kingsman series, Batman animated series), Golden Globe nominee Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery), BAFTA nominee Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Wars series), Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland), Emmy nominee Harvey Fierstein (Hercules, Independence Day), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The BFG), Ralph Ineson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Kingsman, and Harry Potter series), and Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live).  Other voice roles will be performed by the puppet actors.

Wait no longer–check out this great first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Anyone who has ever been in journalism school has had one or more internships, maybe with a local newspaper or with a magazine, advertising agency, or public relations firm.  Every intern is a target in one way or the other of the old-timers in the firm.  The intern gets talked down to as a matter of rite.  Usually at the end of the internship the intern gets sent along her merry way, and sometimes she gets an offer to stay on, usually at low pay.  This is the world of Stephen King′s novel The Colorado Kid, delivered in King’s trademark nor’easter style of dialogue.  A young woman from Ohio named Stephanie McCann is winding down her internship with The Weekly Islander, working for the “news staff,” a pair of guys who can’t seem to decide how long they’ve worked at the paper named Dave Bowie (no relation, to either) and Vince Teague.  Another reporter, from The Boston Globe, is asking the men about unexplained mysteries in the area for a features story, around the year 2004.  After he leaves, The Weekly Islander men proceed to tell Stephanie about a story they didn’t share with the Globe reporter, the unsolved mystery of The Colorado Kid, a man found dead against a trash can situated along a nearby beach back in 1980.  In a spin on Twenty Questions, Stephanie gets to ask all the questions–to learn the clues and what investigation transpired so far in the crime–and they answer in a very verbose and dragged out way that only local yokels would normally have the patience to listen to.  After years out of print, The Colorado Kid has been re-released by Hard Case Crime for the first time since the book was first published in 2005.  In fact it’s the book that kicked off the imprint, and lighted the spark to make it the popular publisher of crime fiction that it is today.  The first edition fetches a princely sum in the aftermarket, so the new paperback edition is a welcome event for crime genre readers.

Fans of King’s TV and film adaptations and Shawn Piller television series will recognize the novel as the impetus for the Syfy Channel series Haven (now streaming on Netflix) a show that also included Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai as a producer.  Here’s what they have in common: The Colorado Kid is set in the Northeast, it featured newspapermen Dave and Vince, one of the local policemen was named Wuornos, and there’s a restaurant in town called The Grey Gull.  I noted nothing else in common with the TV series, except a different story of the Kid (the series’ handling probably less satisfying than in the book).  Ardai, in a 2019 foreword to the new edition, surmises that King may have chosen to wait this long to reprint the book to provide some distance from the series, so fans wouldn’t confuse the two.  If you choose to take on The Colorado Kid–the novel–just don’t search for any supernatural twist or horror.  There isn’t any and there isn’t supposed to be.  It also doesn’t follow a mystery formula, but is more a folktale, a storyteller’s legend, something like the lost people of Roanoke (one of the mysteries that surfaces in the series).

 

If it sounds like I’m holding back some elements, it’s because some of the surprise worth holding back is in the bones of the tale (surprises like we found in the films Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Split).  With this story “the journey is the thing.”  First, the possibilities raised in the story are probably better than the story.  The Colorado Kid is a different type of tale, kicking aside all reader expectations–no matter what expectation you have coming into the story.  It’s full of Stephen King’s Maine, the local oddballs are few here, but we get plenty of their anachronisms, their dialects, and colloquialisms from storytellers Dave and Vince.  And as with the next Hard Case Crime book King would write, Joyland, it’s chock full of local charm (a more satisfying read, I reviewed Joyland as part of the official blog tour for the initial release here at borg in 2013).  The Colorado Kid is another example of why King is a bestselling author–his newspapermen keep you immersed in their little office along with Stephanie for the entire ride.  By book’s end you’ll more likely be ready to kill Dave and Vince for their quirks than the author for his… unorthodox… ending. Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

What’s it take to outperform a surprisingly successful supernatural series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina′s first season?  A core of fine writing in each episode of its second season and a returning cast of actors willing to immerse themselves unwaveringly into a strange world of the occult and the macabre, of witches and warlocks drawn from an expansive comic book universe.  That’s the sophomore season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which arrived on Netflix earlier this month, adapting the comic book series from the Archie Horror imprint.  Mainstream critics weren’t kind to the series in the first weekend of its release, and that may because the series is one best taken episode by episode–each chapter is its own mini-movie, weighty and twisty, dark and heavy–too heavy for one sitting–yet it’s still fun.  But it’s not recommended for binge watching.  Spread this one out over a few weeks and you may agree this is a fantastic series, steeped in mythology and lore, while also outlandish enough to not take too seriously.  And yes, it’s even better than its first season.

Two incredible actresses anchored Chilling Adventures of Sabrina again in the leading roles and two others provided gravitas in supporting roles.  Twenty-year-old actress Kiernan Shipka returned as a bolder and smarter 16-year-old Sabrina, facing off against her favorite teacher who is also the manipulative Lilith, played by Michelle Gomez, right arm of the Prince of Darkness.  It’s fair to say Gomez is fully the co-lead of the series–she is today’s master performer of villainy, following up on her performance as the villain we loved to hate, Misty the Timelord, in three seasons of Doctor Who.  If actors really love portraying villains more than any other type, then she is at the top of the league.  So it takes one heck of a performer to be able to stand firm against a performer like Gomez.  Shipka does it, never flinching no matter what the writers ask of her.  Kill (and play) her doppelganger?  Overpower everyone to save her cousin from the guillotine?  Discover and take down a trio of new demons in town?  Take on the devil himself?  Sabrina can do it all, but it’s only because Shipka never falters in every layered and surprising new script.

The stories this season pulled from past supernatural shows, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Harry Potter to Grimm, and incorporated all kinds of horror tropes (Hellraiser puzzle box?), peppered with clever pop culture references (Stepford Wives Zelda?).  It succeeded where its sister series, CW’s Riverdale, was unable this year, getting better with each episode.  Writers Donna Thorland, MJ Kaufman, Christina Ham, Oanh Ly, Ross Maxwell, Matthew Barry, Christianna Hedtke, Lindsay Bring, Joshua Conkel, and showrunner and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa stretched the boundaries of fantasy into a series like nothing anyone has ever seen on TV.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Netflix released the first trailer for the third season of Stranger Things, on its way to the streaming platform this Fourth of July.   The main cast is all back, with David Harbour‘s Sheriff Hopper trying to raise teenager Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), who is now best buds with Max (Sadie Sink)Following up on last season, Gaten Matarazzo‘s Dustin is still pals with Joe Keery‘s Steve Harrington, and everyone else looks more than a bit older.  With last season’s hero Bob Newby (Sean Astin) obviously not returning, backfilling the fan favorite actors from the 1980s means the introduction to the series of newcomers Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Psych) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, Contact) taking on more than guest roles this season, as revealed in the trailer.

It’s now the Summer of 1985, but we’re back in Hawkins, so that means more bad things are coming our way from the Upside Down.  More music you remember that was played to death on the radio.  More fashion, big hair, and 1980s designs.  New villains, new beasties.  And a big new addition: The Mall and the battle at Starcourt.  But we hear the pretzels aren’t even that good, so…

Take a look at this great preview for Season 3 of the next best thing since the 1980s, Stranger Things:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not all TV shows are made for binge watching.  Case in point:  The Umbrella Academy, now streaming on Netflix.  The TV series is based on a six-issue comic book series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.  Most comic adaptations for the screen have more content to pull from, but there are exceptions, like Cowboys & Aliens, From Hell, A History of Violence, iZombie, Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Men in Black, Oblivion, Polar, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Timecop, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Wynonna Earp.  Just as most of these were able to hold up something substantial to the audience, some comics, like Cowboys & Aliens, Polar, Sin City, and 300, either didn’t have enough content, were insubstantial, or are simply too difficult to translate.  The Umbrella Academy falls somewhere in this last group.  The story is entirely derivative with nothing new to be found here, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing.  Slow moving, painfully so at times, pretentious in one story thread and over-dramatic soap opera in the other, at ten episodes this might be the most difficult series produced by Netflix to trudge through so far.  But some key elements are so well done it may be worth a try if you’re patient and have the extra time on your hands.  But don’t be afraid to have the remote control handy for fast forwarding.

Unlike timeless characters and worlds from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which have some benefit in not needing to be completely explained in each adaptation, The Umbrella Academy offers only a brief glimpse at its origin story, leaving many questions unanswered.  In October 1989, 43 women on Earth give birth unexpectedly.  Don’t expect to learn why.  It is never revealed.  Seven of these babies are purchased by a strange, wealthy, apparently Dr. Moreau type, played by an unrecognizable Colm Feore (Thor, Anon, Paycheck).  Do all 43 have superpowers?  It doesn’t seem so and we don’t learn why.  But these seven, or at least six of seven, do.  The wealthy man takes on the role of father in name only, turning them into the Jackson Five of superheroes, and the kids are provided a mother who is actually a life-like robot (Jordan Claire Robbins), and a sort of butler who is a talking ape (Lodge 49’s Adam Godley).  Why?  The story never tells us.  These are but a few of the frustrating parts.

The good–maybe even great–parts are found in four of the seven superpowered siblings.  Number Five is a boy who stepped out of time, deemed lost to the others, and lives into the distant future only to find a way back to his siblings looking like the very boy who left years ago.  Young Nickelodeon actor Aidan Gallagher steps into this role perfectly, playing a kid with life experiences of a 58-year-old with the authority and bravado of George Clooney.  Irish actor Robert Sheehan (Bad Samaritan) plays Klaus, one of the singularly unique characters of comicdom:  He is a mess, an addict, with no drive or direction, and he can see dead people, and maybe much more if he can only stay sober.  He is also the only one who can see the only brother who has been killed in action, off camera, years before, and with no explanation how or why for the viewer.  That’s Number Six/Ben, played by Justin H. Min.  Ben tries to guide Klaus onto the right path from the other side.  And then there is Number Two/Diego, played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado).  Diego has a history of being nervous about his powers, and he’s the only one who seems to want to save the world with his powers–the classic superhero character of the group that you’ll cheer for.  The special effects are a high point–as when Number Five, Klaus, and Diego get to use their powers.  Of all the characters in the series, only Klaus and Ben get a clear, satisfying character arc, but if you only watch The Umbrella Academy to catch these four characters and fast forward through the rest, you’ll witness some solid superhero performances and story elements.

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First airing in March 2013, BBC’s police procedural Shetland is part mystery, part action, part suspense drama set in the stark and beautiful Shetland Isles.  It follows detective inspector Jimmy Perez, played by Douglas Henshall, as he and detective sergeant “Tosh” MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and detective constable Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson) solve unusual crimes in a rural part of the world that has its own set of rules.  Season 5 has begun on the BBC in the UK, and it will be coming to the U.S. delayed by only a few weeks, arriving this April.

The series is loosely based on characters and stories from a set of novels by Ann Cleeves.  We named season four of the series the best British/UK series of 2018 in our year-end wrap-up here at borg.  Take a look at our review of season four here.

BBC released a preview for the series’ next season.  After a gruesome discovery, Perez and his team track the murderer in a complex investigation.  Here’s the trailer for season 5 of Shetland:

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A classic board game and TV show are getting new tie-in comic book series and a classic creator and character are all coming to IDW Publishing this year. IDW announced several new books this week to expand their line of monthly series. The Hasbro board game Clue/Cluedo is getting a new comic book mini-series. The Netflix award-winning TV series GLOW is getting a limited series.  And Stan Sakai is bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Usagi Yojimbo to IDW with stories old and new, including a full-color, three-part series.

The Sakai announcement is bigger than a single series, as IDW says it plans to bring all 35 years of his Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions–the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time–and new stories are being prepared.  Beginning in June, a three-part story set again in the Edo period in 17th century Japan finds Usagi “embroiled in a puppet drama where the players are not quite what they seem.”  According to Sakai, “Bunraku (Japanese puppetry) captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: an adventure filled with Japanese culture, folklore, and history.  It also features the return of a long-awaited fan favorite character and Yokai (Japanese supernatural creatures).”  Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson (Murder Falcon), Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and comics legend Walt Simonson

IDW returns to Clue tie-in mysteries with CLUE: Candlestick, a three-issue comic book miniseries launching in May. “Rife with puzzles, secrets, and lies, and everyone’s a suspect,” the series will be created by animator Dash Shaw writing, illustrative, coloring, and lettering a new Clue mystery.  Check out a preview of the new Clue series below, courtesy of IDW Publishing.
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