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Tag Archive: Titan Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

The third book in the new series of hardcover novels based on Batman stories from DC Comics, following The Killing Joke (reviewed earlier here at borg) and the Harley Quinn story Mad Love (reviewed here) is on its way to your comic book shop and other bookstores.  The Court of Owls is relatively new to Batman and DC Comics.  It’s a storyline that emerged from the New 52, the big DC reboot from seven years ago, created in the pages of Batman comics from writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.  Just as DC was re-creating origin stories and restarting some story lines for various characters, The Court of Owls became the latest subversive crime unit, a mix of a secret society like Skull & Bones and the mid-century Mob, infiltrating every part of Gotham City, controlling everything from the police to the banks, business, and the government.  It was an entirely new creation, so Snyder was challenged with establishing a foundation of events no reader had encountered in Batman’s then 72 years, but thenceforth became a part of established Gotham City history and lore.  This is the focus of a new novel edition of the storyline, Batman: The Court of Owls, written by tie-in author Greg Cox.

People are catching fire, human spontaneous combustion style, across Gotham.  As Bruce Wayne aka Batman investigates with Commissioner Gordon, it becomes clear crime scene information is similar to crimes of record from Batman’s past sleuthing.  An element is common among the remains, tying these deaths to a secret society that Batman previously encountered and confronted in the underground Labyrinth lair–The Court of Owls.  The Court of Owls consists of a small but far-reaching group of the wealthy and powerful who meet in secret and wear a sort of Eyes Wide Shut face mask system, and their henchmen, called Talons, also wear masks, and possess unnatural regenerative qualities.  They are fierce and possibly unbeatable.  Enter the missing Joanna Lee, rescued in a shoot-out in Gotham years ago by Batman, she was an art history student studying a historic Gotham sculptor when she vanished.  As Bruce, butler Alfred, and ally Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon piece together the history of the city and this sculptor’s strangely pervasive art, they learn the impossible has happened: This 19th century artist created works depicting future events decades before they happened.  What they have in common opens up a past that was in front of Bruce Wayne all his life.

As a standalone novel, Batman: The Court of Owls is a solid, worthy Batman story, a complete adventure that doesn’t require much prior knowledge from the reader.  It’s not an adaptation of the New 52 story, but incorporates various elements from the original, comic book version of The Court of Owls story, plus elements from related stories, Night of the Owls, City of the Owls, Fall of the Owls, and Scourge of the Owls

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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

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

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

Official ANSA crew photograph.

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

Happy New Year!  Let’s start the year off with a look at a great new inside look at the holiday season’s biggest hit movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseCompared to most “art of the movie” books reviewed here at borg, a new behind-the-scenes book offers up a very different, modern update to our understanding of creating concept art for the cinema.  The book is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — The Art of the Movie by Ramin Zahed, an account of the design development and visual production process for this latest Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel partnership.

Concept art, sketches, and storyboards take on a different flare when you’re in the digital animation tech of today.  But the images still reflect that powerful, colorful, and dynamic feel in their formation of a brand new superhero universe.  Readers will find hundreds of images of developmental artistry behind the film, plus read exclusive interviews with the creators, including a foreword prepared by Miles Morales co-creator Brian Michael Bendis.

As we found with George Lucas’s groundbreaking selection of screen captures or frames found in his multi-volume book Star Wars Frames (reviewed here at borg), studying the selected individual frames from the new Spider-Verse reveals a film on par with the composition of the future world of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner–a city that is realistic, yet futuristic and still obviously sourced in comic books.  It’s a gorgeous movie–and the action sweeps by so quickly that most will miss the artistry found in Miles’ graffiti, storyboard sequences, and the nooks and crannies of each set layout.  Set decoration takes on a new approach, as does prop design, art direction, and costuming, in Into the Spider-Verse.

You can also pick up a rare edition of the book, limited to 175 copies, complete with one of the prop comic books made for the film (pictured above) hand-inked by Marcelo Vignali and a signed tip-in sheet by Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, and artists from the film.  Check that out and the details at the Titan Books website here.  Take a look at this 12-page preview of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — The Art of the Movie, courtesy of Titan Books:

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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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In addition to Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves, reviewed here last month at borg.com, we have three additional, affordably priced gift ideas for your favorite Star Trek fan this holiday season, two books, and an attractive light-up, replica desk prop.  First up–Chip Carter is back with an update to his 2011 big book of Star Trek trivia in the expanded and updated Obsessed With Star Trek Carter added 200 new questions to cover the Kelvin timeline (the three reboot films) for this edition for a 2,700 question volume (sorry, no questions yet from Star Trek Discovery).  Questions are divided into sections covering each series through Enterprise, with a section on the movies through Star Trek Nemesis.  Readers will find a section each on cast, crew, and characters, aliens, ships and technology, and a section on concepts inside the Trek universe across the series.  As with the original, the book is entirely multiple choice questions, so use it how you will–incorporate it into a trivia game or just challenge yourself.  Those familiar with the last edition will note this version does not have the built-in digital game component, bringing its price down significantly compared to the previous edition.  Obsessed With Star Trek, the new edition, is available now from Titan Books here at Amazon.

Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will want to check out a replica display item from a fan-favorite episode, available from Running Press.  It’s Patrick Stewart’s Locutus prosthetic headpiece from the two-part story The Best of Both Worlds.  Unlike the original, the headpiece (referred to as a mask on the product) is made of die-cast metal and designed based on the look of Locutus in the second episode of the story.  It’s smaller than true-scale, close to 1:4 scale (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 5.5″) with LED laser light and audio featuring Locutus’s key dialogue, including his familiar line “resistance is futile.”  A die-cast metal base with removable plastic display cover (also included) makes for a nice office display.  The Locutus of Borg Collectible Mask includes a 48-page mini-hardcover book with photographs and remarks about the character also written by Chip Carter.  It’s available now at more than half off the release price here at Amazon.

Finally, the folks at Titan and its publication Star Trek Magazine have pulled together several previously published articles focused specifically on Star Trek the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation for the new compilation book Star Trek: Epic Episodes This latest release includes cast and crew interviews, plus hundreds of color photographs from the shows as well as behind-the-scenes images.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not every day the creator of a character has the opportunity to return to re-write that character’s origin story.  Paul Dini has done that in a new novel co-written by Pat Cadigan called Harley Quinn: Mad Love, based on his one-shot graphic novel from 1994.  Those who know Harley Quinn from cosplay, the Suicide Squad, or her popular costumes as merely The Joker’s sidekick will find a much darker story of life inside a mental asylum–DC’s Arkham Asylum–which has all the elements of 1950s true-life horror stories.  Mad Love presents a young woman on her path to become more dangerously violent–this is Harley less humorous and quirky than the animated series version of the character.

Fans know this already, but for those who don’t:  Harley Quinn is a character created in 1992 by Dini and Bruce Timm, with a name that is a shortened version of the created names “Harleen” and “Quinzel” (derived from the word harlequin), to add a female character to Batman tales named consistently with the names of a long line of popular DC villains.  Mad Love is a character origin dissimilar to standard comic book origin fare, and something different from the goofy sidekick and romantic partner of The Joker readers will find in more recent stories.  As a child, Harleen likes her father, who works long hours, and resents her brothers and mother.  Her father turns to crime, distancing her from her family.  She picks up gymnastics along the way, and is successful enough to make the Olympics, but doesn’t.  Instead she takes to trying to use her knowledge of psychiatry from college to do some good.  Unfortunately she chooses Arkham Asylum as her starting point.  Her intelligent but distracted mentor trusts her, but once Quinzel starts breaking the rules of psychiatry, it’s a slippery slope, culminating in a career-ending decision.

Mad Love reveals a thinly crafted background for a popular character’s origin story.  Here she is shown as single-layered: weak, easily manipulated by everyone she encounters, and she can’t get past thinking like a child, despite going to college, despite getting a degree in psychiatry.  She shows the reader how little she learned when she tries too early in her career to take on The Joker as a patient.  As the ultimate villainous mastermind of this DC universe, The Joker finds it easy to twist her into a tool of his escape.  Yet all along she acts the part of doting girlfriend, never realizing she was never his girlfriend in the first place–she is defined by her poor choices.  The Joker even let’s her know, but she likes him anyway.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new encyclopedic view of Firefly rounds out a big year for Firefly fans.  First there was the release of two in-universe books, The Serenity Handbook followed by the Hidden Universe Travel Guide, then more recently we saw the first novel in the series, Big Damn Hero Rounding out a year of great books for Browncoats is Firefly Encyclopedia, by Monica Valentinelli.  Fans of past books for Firefly and the Firefly Loot Crate magazine will be familiar with the tone and design of this series overview.  From the cover to the layout of Polaroid-inspired snips, the book is part scrapbook, part in-depth look into the story in an in-universe style, part behind the scenes photographic essay.  You’re likely to find new images of the ship and crew, even if you’ve amassed all the previous Firefly books.

If this isn’t the biggest assemblage of ships, weapons, props, and sets, it comes close, plus the large photographs makes this the best designed look at the production so far.  The concept artwork for several characters is something we haven’t seen before, and here many designs for each character are showcased.  And at long last, fans have a Chinese-English translator tailored to the extensive use of the Chinese language in the series.

Part one of Firefly Encyclopedia presents the Firefly story, the complete in-world tale seen in the series, as you may find in an encyclopedia.  Next is a look at the characters, each crew member–both in-universe and the actors behind the character, followed by a brief look at secondary characters.  The next section is a geography of the ‘verse, comparative looks at planets, tables, astronomy, and ships along with an interview with artist Ben Mund.  A table looks at the technobabble of the show, followed by a treatment of futuristic medicine in the series.  A wider chapter looks at even more costume designs.  A final chapter digs into the scripts for the series, including analysis and commentary.

Here is a brief view inside the Firefly Encyclopedia:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The early 2018 release Alien: Covenant is now streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and other streaming services.  It is the second act of a two-part story focusing in major part on the android* named David, the continuation of non-human humanoids we first encountered in the Ridley Scott’s original 1979 film Alien with Ash, and later Bishop, and others.  Continuing David’s quest from Scott’s follow-up, 2012’s Prometheus (yes, this is that “sequel to a prequel” we discussed here at borg back in 2012), David has embarked on a search for the creation of mankind prompted by his creator, Peter Weyland, played by Guy Pearce.  David’s cold, deliberate calm is disturbing–he is a robot, he is emotionless, despite improvements on earlier models that make him appear kind, even sincere.  Yet, as we learned in Prometheus, David is little, if any, evolved more than the decision-making by HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Is David’s ruthlessness carried forward into Alien: Covenant?  You’ll need to watch the movie to find out.  There you’ll meet an upgraded version of David’s android design.  Also played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, the android Walter replaces David as assistant to the humans in Alien: Covenant as they embark on a mission to settle a colony in deep space, led by James Franco‘s Branson, Billy Crudup‘s Oram, and Katherine Waterston‘s Daniels.  In a great dual performance by Fassbender, Walter encounters David as the story progresses.  And that’s where David’s Drawings come into play.

Disturbing and grotesque.  David, as part of his quest from Weyland, studies, researches, and documents lifeforms he encounters.  Many of these are in the form of sketches, sketches that can be found on the screen in the film, and in the new bound portfolio volume called David’s Drawings, from production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton (see our preview below).  The artwork is meticulous, like something out of Gray’s Anatomy So the drawings are both in-universe props, and a real-world document of the filmmakers.   In more than 200 images, the boxed set (featuring a hardcover of drawings and a second volume including interviews with the artists) features the complete arc of his journey from David’s studies of flora and fauna, to his more sinister experiments on creatures, and the film’s most disturbing, surprise revelation.

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