Category Archives: science fiction

Comics Review: H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Indeed, the martians are coming!

There is an exciting new graphic novel adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, The War of the Worlds, presented by Insight Comics. This version provides a vivid and immersive “present day” of 1898 that keeps the reader quite engaged. It will sneak up on you with its strange yet familiar qualities. We have seen so many different versions of this material that we cry out for ways to peel back as closely to the original to reveal something about our contemporary selves. That is what I see happening here.

A wonderful sense of pacing.

One thing is for sure, these martian creatures are relentless forces of nature–and that sort of villain never goes out of style. Writer Dobbs and artist Cifuentes do well to follow their hearts and take such an inhibited approach. I think there’s always that risk of losing one’s way in a work set in a different era. In this case, it all feels very natural. The reader accepts this natural setting and gets hooked into the suspense within context.

Part of what makes everything fit correctly in this version is the fine sense of timing. As much as things move quickly in this story, the intrinsic pace to life is relatively methodical. You want to send a message, heck, you might opt for a carrier pigeon. You want to pick up the pace, you best find a good horse. With that in mind, I cherish how that special pacing finds itself on these pages. For example, just consider the above page, our hero is slogging his way down a rough road while, steadily moving forward, the bloodthirsty martians are coming!

H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Look closely, and this captivating work in comics will set your mind to flashes of past great moments between human and creature. The first look at the giant cylinder immediately made me think of Arrival. And the first look at the actual martians made me think of Alien. That said, it was more a recollection of a great sense of energy and not a lifting of one style onto another. Without a doubt, this book has its own unique sense of energy and it has earned its place among related work.

H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds is a 116-page full color hardcover and available now. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, H.G. Wells, Insight Comics, Insight Editions, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Graphic Novel Review: LEGEND OF SUMERIA

Legend of Sumeria

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is a graphic novel set in a future where social media and genetics collide. Among a growing number of graphic novels integrating elements of real science with fiction, this one does best with its offbeat humor. There are plenty of intriguing subplots here but what will get the reader every time is that quirky human touch. Just as we marvel over the fact that there is just a speck of difference between our genomes, so too do we zero in on those storytelling nuances. This is not a perfect work but it is weird and odd enough to keep your interest.

“You smell like my mother used to. And I know she was not evil.”

Our main character is Dr. Bruce Abbot, who works for The SEQ Network. He is not very happy at all with that arrangement. Not when there is such a high level of mutual distrust. And especially not when a corporate lab experiment could trigger the end of human civilization! Add to that a cryptic organization lurking in the shadows and bent on destroying SEQ and you’ve got quite a lot of narrative to juggle. There is definitely a lot of stuff to like here such as the premise of trusting a corporation with your DNA especially so that you can have tailor-made intense and unique experiences.

New York, 2027

I’m not sure everything adds up here but I would advise to take what you want from this and don’t sweat the details. As it is, the story lurches enough with its insertion of sexual content. It is not exactly necessary and just makes the book inappropriate for younger readers. A more alluring vibe could have been achieved if the art was stronger. That said, the art is spot on for the overall offbeat quality to this work. So, I hardly dismiss this book out of hand as it brings up some intriguing ideas about how we humans can be outdone by our own hands.

LEGEND OF SUMERIA

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is co-created and written by Jay Webb and Dr. Biju Parekkadan. Lead artist is Anthony LaGaipa. It debuts on March 20, 2018. For more details, visit the official site right here.

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Comics Review: PRISM STALKER #1

PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong is one of those special cartoonists who immerse themselves deep into a world of their own. This sort of artist-warrior is without exception, both writer and artist. Leong, following this highly individual tradition, has worked up her skills (never complaining since it never seemed like work) and come out the other side with comics of a caliber that has led her today to launching PRISM STALKER, her new title with Image Comics.

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Leong apart. Among the many independent cartoonists out there, just like any other artists, a number of them will take one detour or another. Some will feel most comfortable remaining within self-published cliques. Others may need to keep a project under wraps and work on it on their own terms. But, if the stars are in alignment, and the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In the ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe. The work retains its integrity. The artist retains their integrity.

What you see on the comics page, the merging of words and images, takes on an added significance when created by a cartoonist in the traditional role of artist-writer. You end up with a window into the subconscious mind. I would argue that you can feel a disconnect, perhaps subtle or maybe distracting, in a collaborative work. That is why you hear so much said on the importance of chemistry between writer and artist. But you don’t have that concern when you’re running the whole show. In the case of Leong, she has taken on the added roles of lettering and coloring. All of that adds up to a more personal perspective. And, by the way, it is no surprise that cartoonists at this level are attracted to and invest a lot of energy upon depicting dreams.

And then you add a passionate vision and you have the whole package. A look at Leong’s website shows us a person with a heart-felt desire to tell the stories of those who have been pushed to the margins. That is exactly what we see here: Vep, our main character is toiling away as a slave on a hive colony run by giant insects. Who doing what where? you may ask. It is a very dream-like sci-fi tale about very serious problems.

This is a story that casts a very wide net and succeeds by balancing all the details. Vep is a strong and compelling character who the reader is immediately drawn to. The setting is pretty outrageous and highly ambiguous and becomes a character in its own right. You could say this is a comic that is both character and atmosphere driven. It becomes a true meld of visual and literary delight. You feel that unique push-pull connection. You recognize trippy originality when you see it right down to that wildly eccentric title, PRISM STALKER!

Rating of 10/10

PRISM STALKER #1 is available as of March 7, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Kickstarter for THE SILVER METAL LOVER by Trina Robbins

THE SILVER METAL LOVER by Trina Robbins

Jane is 16 years old and believes that she does not know how to live her life. We can all relate to that–but Jane’s world is far more complicated, set in the distant future where robots are capable of providing human companionship. “The Silver Metal Lover,” the 1981 cult classic science fiction novel by Tanith Lee, was adapted in 1985 into the highly engaging graphic novel by Trina Robbins. It has never been reprinted in any form until now. Drew Ford runs his own imprint at IDW called IT’S ALIVE! and he has a stellar track record for finding gems from the past and giving them a whole new life. A Kickstarter campaign in support of an exciting new edition is reaching its final stages, closing January 5th. Check it out right here.

THE SILVER METAL LOVER by Trina Robbins

This new edition will have a new cover and afterword by Colleen (A DISTANT SOIL) Doran, a new foreword by Gail (BIRDS OF PREY) Simone, and a new intro by Trina Robbins herself. All of this will be printed at 8.5″ x 11, full color, on glossy paper, all tucked inside a beautiful hard cover.

Drew Ford on this very special project:

“This cult classic science fiction romance is an important early example of ‘the graphic novel’ as a storytelling vehicle, telling an intimate story of a young girl’s first love…who just happens to be a robot! We are very honored to shine a light on the brilliant work of the late Tanith Lee. And we are thrilled to be working on our second book with the legendary Trina Robbins! Also, we must send out a huge THANK YOU to Colleen Doran and Gail Simone for coming along for the ride! We hope you will give it a look, and consider making a pledge.”

Many exciting rewards are being offered, including signed copies of the book, exclusive prints from Colleen Doran, sketches by comic book pros, and even original pages of comic book art by Trina Robbins!

This is a book that is sure to please fans of science fiction and comics alike. Visit the campaign right here.

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Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!

My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?

Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.

Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne

There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.

Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Europe, European Comics, France, Movie Reviews, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Wars

Comics Focus on Everything You Need to Know About ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

It all began as a French comic book series.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”

This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.

Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian

All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.

Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!

Panel excerpt from Valerian

In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.

This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.

And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.

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Review: ‘Läskimooses’ by Matti Hagelberg

Panel excerpt from “Läskimooses” by Matti Hagelberg

“Läskimooses,” by Matti Hagelberg, has got to be one of the most unusual of comics. It comes out in single issues and the plan is for the complete collected work to be an epic over 1,000 pages. Currently, this art/sci-fi comic book totals around 700 pages, is published 7 issues per year, and is the longest single comics story ever to be produced in Finland.

Hagelberg is best known for his scratchboard technique that he has used in most of his works, published by L’association and Le Dernier Cri in France (Raw Vision 83). It is a wonderfully obsessive vision, part parody and part stream of consciousness. Hagelberg is on an adventure to find the meaning of life and the secrets to the universe byway of conspiracy theories. Only a determined artist like Hagelberg can sustain such a quest. It makes for fascinating results.

Artist Matti Hagelberg

It’s not uncommon for an artist to keep to one theme or one universe in their body of work. Hagelberg has always drawn stories set in the same universe. His epic Läskimooses comics are quite a dramatic example of focused work harkening back to classic comic strips. His theme of exploring the universe is broad enough to sustain a lifetime’s work. The energy and enthusiasm comes across the page. He has set up some fun devices to keep the narrative flowing like an ongoing conversation between characters discussing cosmic subjects. You don’t need to know how to read Finnish to enjoy it either.

Läskimooses #28

I always enjoy writing about comics from outside the United States. Sometimes, I am not sure how to hook into a work and I find it is better to let it simmer and then I come back to it. So is the case with “Läskimooses.” You can now enjoy an issue of the comic book with a handy translation sheet in English. That will certainly clear up any questions about why you’re seeing a bunch of monkeys or what’s going on regarding a volcanic eruption.

Page from Läskimooses #28

Again, let me emphasize that the visuals are pretty stunning all by themselves. Some issues, like #28 above, are only images, no text at all. Basically, all you need to know to begin with is that Läskimooses and Ohto are both planets and figure prominently in the narrative. The two ongoing characters have their own ideas on existential matters that they’re working through. It’s interesting that Hagelberg’s initial idea was to set his story on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He had a spectacle in mind right from the start. Anyway, we’re all working through our own existential issues, right? It’s fun to see an artist with such an unabashed and audacious attitude share with us his vision of the sublime and the profound. I look forward to what develops next with this intriguing and unusual project.

To get an issue of “Läskimooses,” with an English translation sheet included, go to Printed Matter right here.

For a closer look at the artist at work, check out this video right here.

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Movie Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’

“Alien: Covenant”

“Alien: Covenant” is a strong stand-alone film. If you knew nothing about the Alien franchise, we have here a set of characters worth getting to know and a plot that holds it own. This time around, it seems that the space inhabited by the crew has opened up a little more and there’s more light. It’s not by any means as perky as Star Trek but the crew feels a bit closer to each other. Everyone seems to trust each other with one exception: Walter, the ship’s android. He’s sort of like Spock but not quite enough.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender knocks out a devilishly good performance. Or, should I say, two performances. He is Walter, the ship’s android. And, later on, we see David, the “synthetic” crew member from “Prometheus” also played by Michael Fassbender. David, the lone survivor of the Prometheus, has what you can call some major AI problems: too smart for his own good, too idiosyncratic. And when was it ever a good idea for a robot to have too much independence?

Katherine Waterston

As for the newer version, Walter, he can think for himself but knows how to hold back. Bots are spooky to begin with so it’s no surprise that humans don’t warm up to him. However, there is one crew member who genuinely finds Walter to be good company. Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston) is a young woman who just lost her husband in a serious accident on board. Captain Oram (played by Billy Crudup) blames Walter with no real basis to do so. Then there’s Daniels who tries to comfort Walter, and herself, by confiding in him about the plans she had for building a real log cabin on the next space station they settle.

The dynamic of Fassbender, Waterston, and Crudup serve as our foundation. Let the Alien critters descend from wherever they please! You can expect Alien embryos to burst forth from all the bloody spots they usually like to emerge from. Katherine Waterston does a fine job of channeling her best Sigourney Weaver. Billy Crudup is a lot of fun as the captain without all the answers. But it’s Michael Fassbender who is this movie’s undisputed quarterback. If ever Ridley Scott’s more esoteric ruminations on existential matters had a more apt orator, it is, without a doubt, Michael Fassbender.

For more details on “Alien: Covenant,” visit Fox Movies right here and check out the Alien Universe right here.

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Advance Review: ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1 by James Stokoe

JAMES STOKOE’S ALIENS

The much anticipated Aliens comic book by James Stokoe, published by Dark Horse Comics, will release on April 26th. ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT is going to be one of the comics highlights for 2017. Let’s take a look.

Page from ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT

James Stokoe has a way of drawing with his light and curved lines gathering up an intoxicating level of details. You could very well tell a whole story just from one panel: the way the wrinkles hug a young woman’s flight suit; the curious waft of steam rising from her cup of coffee; and, no doubt, the cryptic slogan emblazoned across the mug she holds. Now, that means something. Is it here just for irony or perhaps more? We’ll just have to see. Welcome to the first issue of ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT, story, art, and lettering by James Stokoe, published by Dark Horse Comics.

GEOF DARROW VARIANT

Dark Horse provides us here with a shining example of their inventive and daring approach to creating work for a franchise. With Aliens, it’s a dance we readers want to engage in before we get to the monsters. The whole look and feel has to settle into place. We want to gradually get to know the characters. With James Stokoe (Wonton Soup, Orc Stain, Godzilla: The Half-Century War) we have an artist/writer with the passion to engage with each trope and build up something totally enthralling and new.

As we begin this issue, we have the classic set-up of a lone survivor on a rust bucket of a space station. Who is he? What happened? What happens next? Where’s the monster? All valid questions and we get to a lot of them. Wassy, short for Wascylewski, is a chain-smoking hardened soldier. He is willing to keep his head down and do his job. That’s a good plan until things get complicated. Suffice it to say, there’s an incident. Oh, it starts out small but then it builds.

Page from ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT

Character development is really fun and solid here. This is a young crew. Our Captain Hassan comes across as impulsive, sort of a scruffy version of Captain Kirk. Well, sort of. Hassan seems to be on unsteady ground. There’s definitely a lot of unpredictable energy here. This is a crew that seems to already be on a short fuse to begin with. Any of the crew members we meet, perhaps with the exception of one, could prove to be Hassan’s equal, and rival. At least, that’s the sense I get from this dynamic.

I think Stokoe is a total natural at what he does. This is a guy who just loves to draw and to tell stories. The colors are gorgeous. The palette of light blues and oranges is a refreshing alternative to brooding dark greens that we usually associate Alien stories with. I also really appreciate the lettering. Word balloons have a nice organic feel. The lettering itself could actually be hand-drawn. It sure has that nice crisp look that a pro at hand-lettering can achieve. This whole first issue is quite a beauty and no reason to believe the rest won’t be just as stunning. Can’t wait for more!

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1 is available as of April 26, 2017. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Aliens, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Ridley Scott, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Alden Baylor.

The ideal graphic novel expresses one elegant theme over the span of about 100 pages and leaves the reader invigorated. METEOR MEN is such an example. Boy meets space alien. This is a story that turns that trope on its head over the course of a mix of realism and the supernatural. Jeff Parker (Batman ’66, Future Quest) writes a script with his distinctive quirky worldview. Sandy Jarrell (Batman ’66, Unfair) provides artwork that responds right back to Parker’s offbeat style. And Kevin Volo (Rex Zombie Killer, Max & Thorne) provides colors in step with this moody, enigmatic, and totally riveting tale.

Panel excerpt from METEOR MEN

If and when the aliens do descend from the skies, they won’t be anything like in the movies. They will be something totally out of the realm of our experience. That is a key point in any number of sci-fi tales. And that doesn’t stop Parker, like the seasoned pro that he is, from going in there and telling us his version. So, we begin with Alden Baylor, a teenager who already has much on his mind prior to any alien invasion. The kid is sitting pretty on an estate he’s inherited. Alden’s parents died in a car crash and his uncle is his guardian. So, Alden makes for an ideal young princely sort, complete with a common touch, not fully aware of his high station in life. He’s sensitive and gentle and will prove to make a great representative for us humans.

Page excerpt from METEOR MEN

We come to see that an alien race has descended all over Earth via a meteor shower. Among all the potential human connections that could have been made everywhere from Moscow to Timbuktu, the only one that takes hold is the one between Alden and the space creature that crash landed on his property. Alden’s alien friend is melancholy and mysterious. But, push comes to shove, and this guy is potentially dangerous–all for the sake of protecting Alden. Deeper into our tale, Alden learns far more than he ever imagined he would ever know not only about extraterrestrial life but about the very essence of existence.

Among alt-comics, there are basically two fronts: the more low-key comics that rely upon a niche audience; and the more vibrant comics that reach out to a wider readership. METEOR MAN is a vibrant comic. Of course, the hope is that any truly worthwhile comic finds readers even if it is essentially a labor of love. I see METEOR MAN as one of those “labor of love” projects that catches on with casual as well as seasoned readers of comics. Word of mouth has boosted its visibility and it has received good press, including a glowing review from WIRED MAGAZINE. I’m happy to add my praise.

METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

METEOR MAN is a 128-page full cover trade paperback. For more details, visit Oni Press right here. Order it through Amazon right here.

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