Tag Archive: Stranger Things


Free comics comixology

While you are sitting at your computer at home pretending to be paying attention to conference calls, you need something to do for your sanity, right?  How about comics?  The best thing you can do is order from the hundreds of graphic novels at your local comic book store.  Many will be willing to send you overnight or within a few days anything you’re after, especially if you’re behind on the latest and greatest comics have to offer.  Your own comic book shop stands ready to take your order now.  And local shops may be able to get you comics often quicker than online retailers right now.

With most single issues of new titles on delay for now, you can still get your single-issue comic fix via free comics at the Digital Comic Museum, which hosts hundreds of full Golden Age public domain comics, including many featuring superheroes (like the original Captain Marvel, Bulletman, Captain Midnight, and Spy Smasher, plus Westerns (like Gene Autry and Tom Mix), war comics, sports comics (like Jackie Robinson), jungle comics, sci-fi comics (like Captain Video), romance comics, and crime series.  Comixology also has hundreds of comics you, your kids, or your cat can read right now for free.  It’s a great way to get wind of a great story you may have missed or never considered, which you can then order in its complete series from local or online stores  Note: Comixology also has an unlimited program (currently priced at $5.99 per month) with more than 25,000 digital comics, graphic novels, and manga from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and more.  Those carry the white “Unlimited” ribbon in the bottom right corner of the comic cover icon.

The current list of totally free comics on the Comixology website (just set up a free account), is easy to use, and updates regularly with new titles.   We’ve identified many we’ve recommended before at borg for you to check out (click the Comics & Books tab above anytime to find nearly a decade of recommendations).  These include: Usagi Yojimbo, Stranger Things, Hellboy, Predator/Aliens: Fire and Stone, Centipede, Xena: Warrior Princess, Charlie’s Angels vs. The Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and Star Trek: The Next Generation–Mirror Broken Thinking about watching TV or movie tie-ins?  Check out the free issues from the original comics at Comixology for The Umbrella Academy, I, Frankenstein, and Captain Marvel.  You can even read the first Batman appearance ever in Detective Comics, Issue #27, or see early Superman in Superman, Issue #1, and the original issue from the 1970s of Swamp Thing, Issue #1.

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The Ninth Doctor, Darth Vader, Superman, James Bond’s Q, Lt. Cmdr. Data, Ahsoka Tano, Ariel-The Little Mermaid, a Mythbuster, a slate of characters from the CW Arrowverse, Stranger Things, and The Karate Kid, and more are heading to Kansas City

For twenty-one years Planet Comicon Kansas City has been one of the Midwest’s biggest comic book and pop culture conventions and that was no less so in 2014 when it became the largest attended event in the history of the Kansas City Convention Center.  And it’s only gotten bigger.  Last year’s show featured guests including Henry Winkler, William Shatner, John Wesley Shipp, Cary Elwes, and Joonas Suotamo, and this year more of the most memorable names from TV and movies from the past and present are slated to attend.  Leading things off, The Doctor is In–The Ninth Doctor to be exact–Christopher Eccleston, star of Doctor Who who also played villains in Thor: The Dark World and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, will make his first appearance at the annual event, which takes place at Kansas City’s convention center at Bartle Hall, March 20-22, 2020.

Fan-favorite nerd, cosplayer, builder, and either your first or second favorite Mythbuster, Adam Savage will be making his first appearance at the show.  Making their second appearances at the event are star of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (and Guardians of the Galaxy and Harry Potter universe actor) Darth Vader actor Spencer Wilding and Star Trek legend–Data himself (and Dr. Soong, Lore, and B9)–beloved actor Brent Spiner.  After several appearances of past Superman actors, Midwest native Brandon Routh is finally coming to PCKC.  He’ll be joined by other CW Arrowverse actors, Rachel Skarsten (in her second Kansas City convention appearance), plus Katie Cassidy, Kevin Conroy, Jes Macallen, Courtney Ford, and Caity Lotz.

Two Yutes?  My Cousin Vinny, The Outsiders, and Crossroads star Ralph Macchio is making his first appearance at PCKC.  Joining him are his co-stars from The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, Martin Kove and William ZabkaStranger Things fans can meet stars Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gabriella Pizzolo.  To top it all off, formerly James Bond’s Q and Monty Python comedy legend, John Cleese is making his first convention appearance in Kansas City.  And perennial Planet Comicon Kansas City guest, the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno will be back in town for the event.

–there’s something for every TV and movie fanboy and fangirl at this year’s show.

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This week two brief videos will leave most people scratching their heads and asking, “Why bother?”  The first, for The Batman, released by writer-director Matt Reeves (who we hold out hope for because he wrote and directed the great vampire love story Let Me In), is a “camera test,” which appears more like an early lighting and costume test where you can glimpse new bat actor Robert Pattinson in his batsuit.  The second is from Netflix, and it’s an overly long scene of a Russian prison work detail resulting in the appearance of David Harbour as a thinner, gaunt, exhausted Jim Hopper, spoiling any surprise that the character was really killed in the final episode of the last season of Stranger Things (C’mon, you knew he wasn’t going to be dead for long).  Some will applaud one or both.  Others will sneer.  Where will you land?  (Psst.  There’s no wrong answer).

What are these things anyway?  Barely teasers, the purported “camera test” for The Batman is more “trial balloon,” an intentional vehicle for starting buzz, good or bad, so potential audiences get accustomed to yet another revamp of the batsuit and actor.  Literally thousands of podcasters have already manipulated the image of Pattinson in many ways to try to glean something worth discussing (not surprisingly with little to say).  We already knew it takes some effort to find an artist that has drawn Bruce Wayne that in any way resembles the co-star of The Lighthouse, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Twilight vampire movies.  And–big surprise–David Crossman and Glyn Dillon′s new costume design looks like another batsuit of the sharp-angled, action figure toy variety (toys = sales = more $) instead of something out of the comics pages.  And current movie go-to composer Michael Giacchino offers another repeated bass line with drum set in the background to back it all up.  Our wish?  We just want Warner Bros. to finally get the voice of Batman right and skip that goofy, dry, smoker voice and coughed-out dialogue.  Let’s hear him say, “I’m Batman.”

The Stranger Things video is out there to whet appetites of fans who won’t see the series return for another year.  But did the fans need to know Hopper wasn’t dead before the fourth season was ready to go?  Here’s an idea:  If you’re going to cast against type, as they’ve done for The Batman, why not really have some fun and give us David Harbour as Batman?  Sure, Harbour is playing a Russian superhero in the summer Black Widow movie from Marvel Comics, but audiences won’t care.  Let’s really have some fun.  Or give Pattinson the role of a superhero he really looks like: Wolverine.  They need a new younger actor for the role in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, right?

Oh, well.  Watch–or don’t–you’re not missing much!  Here are the two brief, too-brief videos for The Batman and Stranger Things:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the Netflix series being rolled out this year, October Faction might get overlooked.  It’s the latest monster series based on a comic book and it arrived on Netflix this past weekend.  Based on Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s graphic novel/comics of the same name, both the TV series (created by Sleepy Hollow and Stargate’s Damian Kindler) and the comics are a darker spin on The Addams Family–the comics even darker than the TV series, which is closer in tone to Riverdale, Charmed, and Stranger Things than, say, Grimm or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Unfortunately it’s not as well-constructed or visualized as any of those series, but it may be worth the time for fans of horror or stories of students with super powers.  It’s the super powers angle that demonstrates how closely linked superhero series are with supernatural and horror stories in the 21st century–Swap out a few words, monsters for malevolent aliens and witches and warlocks for superheroes and you’ll find October Faction has the same story beats as, say The Umbrella Academy or The Boys.  October Faction has an easier to digest, more accessible story than both of those series although the production values lack a certain tightness in editing and cinematography style.  It also could use a soundtrack that better matches the charging, creepy pitches found in Netflix’s three trailers for the series.

This is a story about a husband and wife and their twin 17-year-olds, and how the twins handle learning their parents belong to an age-old network of monster hunters.  Tamara Taylor (Bones, Altered Carbon, Lost, Serenity) is really in the driver’s seat as Deloris, the mom who always seems to have the right firearm close by, joined by husband Fred, played by J.C. MacKenzie, a character actor TV audiences have seen in dozens of police procedural series and movies, including The Irishman, The Departed, The Shield, and Hemlock Grove, as a father who is looking forward to a rest from the monster work.  If you agree MacKenzie is a ringer for a younger Matthew Modine, you might convince yourself October Faction is a prequel to Stranger Things (he also evokes Ed Begley, Jr.).  MacKenzie’s casting is an odd choice, like starring old school Fred MacMurray or Robert Young as a modern, mouthy murderer of monsters.  But he might grow on you.  The kids are more interesting: Newcomers Aurora Burghart plays Viv, an angsty teen who sketches morbid miscellany and can’t understand why she sees things before they happen, and Gabriel Darku is Geoff, her gay brother who is lost leaving behind his old friends for the family’s most recent relocation–and who also thinks he sees the deceased dead.

The level of horror and gore is about that of Shaun of the Dead, enough to establish genre while not becoming a full-on slasher show.  At first this appears to be another story of the Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers variety–black and white good and bad guys and monsters that are evil because ugly, unfamiliar, and different things are always evil.  Fortunately the story catches up in time and the theme becomes that of fellow monster series Grimm, that not all monsters are bad, and sometimes humans are the worst threat of all.

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

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

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

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

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back 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) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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If you want to see how much the 1980s-inspired Stranger Things has worked itself into the 21st century zeitgeist, you need only turn to the last three big studio trailers revealed over the past three days.  Make no mistake, if Stranger Things isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread it’s pretty close, full of fun characters and great riffs on some of our favorite bits of nostalgia.  So why shouldn’t everything and everyone try to get on the bandwagon?

The most exciting trailer comes from a film Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been interviewed about since Ghostbusters II.  Taking a cue from Halloween, Predator, and Terminator, the franchise is doing some skipping of reboots and making Ghostbusters: Afterlife a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II.  The lead role will be played by young (perfectly cast) Mckenna Grace, who has appeared in lots of genre films and shows (Ready Player One, Independence Day: Resurgence, Captain Marvel, and horror franchises: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle, Amityville, and Hill House).  In a nice nod to the late Ghostbusters co-star and writer Harold Ramis, she and Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard (who wore his own Ghostbusters suit in his series) will play the grandkids of Ramis’s character, Dr. Egon Spengler.  Shifting to a prairie setting from the city, the tone feels more like the creepy and cool Netflix series in the first trailer, but it hints that slime-bearing apparitions we last saw in Manhattan will be showing their faces soon.  And a bonus: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays the grade school teacher, and the kids’ mom is played by Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War).  Plus Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts–everyone but Rick Moranis–have been confirmed for at least a cameo.  And there’s an El Camino and the return of the Ecto-1.  What more could you want?

 

Along with Ghostbusters: Afterlife are new trailers for Wonder Woman 1984 and Free Guy.  As you’d guess from the title, Wonder Woman 1984 is also looking back to the 1980s, complete with a big shopping mall action scene like we saw this summer in Stranger Things.  It looks like it’s trying to be a Marvel movie, complete with a World War-era soldier named Steve (Chris Pine) making his return from the past to co-star and Gal Gadot back in her title role, making an Iron Man entrance.  The movie has a comedic actor starring as a kooky villain (Kristen Wiig), making it look like we’re going to get another Superman III–yet another 1980s thing.  The third movie in our Stranger Things vibe is Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds in a spin on the lead character of the LEGO movies–here he is a video game character as in the 1980s nostalgia-filled Ready Player One, a non-player character who decides he wants to be the hero.  The movie co-stars the guy who plays our favorite character in Stranger Things, Joe Keery.  It doesn’t look like Tron, but we’ll take it.

Check out these trailers with a Stranger Things vibe for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Wonder Woman 1984, and Free Guy:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Steeped in the Dungeons & Dragons foundations of R.A. Salvatore′s new novel, the adventure becomes so much a journey of a thousand skirmishes inside the stories of Waterdeep and the Forgotten Realms that the biggest surprise is no D&D branding graces the cover.  Although it’s accessible for anyone without reference to Timeless (last year’s first book in the series), Boundless is the next chapter in Salvatore’s trilogy of novels following his well-known hero of the genre Drizzt Do’Urden.  Boundless has everything you’d expect from the character and his world, from demogorgons to psionics, armored dwarves to unicorns–and humans.  It’s now available for pre-order here at Amazon and arriving in bookstores September 10.

Boundless′s breakneck pace is why fans of Salvatore will find themselves jumping in and holding on tight for the entire novel.  The only time it comes up for air is in a series of diary-like entries by Drizzt that begin the novel’s four sections.  As it turns out, the leads of the story aren’t really Drizzt himself but his father, the resurrected weapon master Zaknafein, and the wise mercenary Jarlaxle, both swashbuckling schemers with skills and political connections–characters that make you want to skip over the subplots to see what they do next.  Despite a few subordinate heroes, like Arathis Hune, the giant Wulfgar, the psionist Kimmuriel, and the dwarf Thibbledorf Pwent, shifting the stakes from the shadows are the story’s female characters, with the priestess Dab-nay and the elf Dahlia as key players.

All the good fantasy tropes are here, a very Tolkien journey that may have readers plugging actors from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies into key roles, with the kind of twisty but grounded machinations you’d find in The Godfather, Part II and Amadeus, and dramatic evil queen-types as in The Huntsman.  Readers will find as much of the more comical-aside conversations of The Princess Bride school here as dead-serious high fantasy despite plenty of darkness.  The novel provides a favorable dice role for its heroes more often than not, but despite seemingly endless triumphs and last-second getaways by a half a dozen heroes, Salvatore leaves room for some real jeopardy for its characters, including serious carnage before book’s end.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Every fan of Stranger Things will likely approach a Stranger Things novel looking for something like an “X-File.”  Adam Christopher’s new novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is about Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour in the Netflix TV series), and it takes place in 1977, seven years before a Christmas in 1984 where he is enjoying a winter in his cabin with his newly adopted daughter Eleven (played on the series by Millie Bobby Brown).  A few weeks after the events of Season Two, Eleven finds a box of Jim’s mementos and wants to know more about his past, so he decides to tell her a crime story from his days as a New York City detective.  So it will help the reader’s 432-page journey to know this is not an X-File–there is nothing fantasy or science fiction about Hopper’s past to be learned, no demogorgons or other monsters, and although it includes a few scenes with his wife Diane and daughter Sara, we never learn more about why they aren’t around when the series takes place.

Understandably reader expectations might be wrongly set by the folks advertising the book.  This is how Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is marketed:

Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.  

I don’t know what “long-awaited secrets” could mean for Stranger Things fans other than learning what happened to his wife and daughter.

But if you can get beyond a sci-fi/fantasy assumption, or if that is not even your expectation, then you’ll learn more about what makes Hopper tick.   In a story laid out like a 1970s prequel Law & Order episode, Hopper goes undercover in the style of Donnie Brasco or The Departed, except the undercover work begins and ends not over several months but inside of 12 days (making Hopper very lucky or some kind of supercop) between the Fourth of July 1977 and the aftermath of the real-life July 13-14 city power outage.  As a crime story for beginning readers of the genre, Christopher’s storytelling provides a thorough tale of an alternative cause for a real-life event.   He uses gangs, connecting Hopper, a new partner, federal agents, and research on returning prison inmates to the public after serving out their sentences in a hot summer where the Son of Sam was still yet to be captured.  It may very well say something about Hopper’s character, that he would select this story to tell his daughter.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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