Firefly Friday: Serenity: Those Left Behind

Friday, October 31st, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

SerenityLeftBehindFan passion for more Firefly stories led to the rare (unprecedented?) move of turning a failed television series into a feature length film, in the form of 2005 film Serenity (Amazon). As an attempt to bridge the narrative gap between the end of the series and the start of the film, Joss Whedon collaborated with Dark Horse comics to produce the three-issue comic limited series Serenity: Those Left Behind (Amazon). This review is based on the original hardcover collection of the series, published in 2007. (They’ve since published a 2nd edition.)

Here are the major jumps between the end of Firefly and the beginning of Serenity, which the comic series seeks to explain:

  • Inara is no longer on the Serenity
  • Shepherd Book is no longer on the Serenity
  • Instead of the mysterious blue-handed agents in the series, the film introduces the operative as the key person hunting down River Tam

Serenity: Those Left Behind covers all three of these elements, and also brings back a villain from the television series who would have been recurring had it continued. I won’t ruin it by saying which one. As a hint, though, it’s someone who feels that they were wronged in their last interaction with Malcolm Reynolds, so that should narrow it down. This individual joins forces with the blue-handed operatives to move against the folks on Serenity. In addition to the mysterious recurring villain, there’s also a nice cameo by Mal’s contact Badger, who assigns them a job that doesn’t go exactly as intended. (Or at least not as intended by Mal and the crew.)

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Ray Guns and Savage Planets: The Amazing Adventures of Flash Gordon

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Amazing Adventues of Flash Gordon 4-small The Amazing Adventues of Flash Gordon 5-small The Amazing Adventues of Flash Gordon 6-small

I know this is going to seem strange to some of you, but not that long ago, newspapers used to run adventure serials on the comics page. Like Calvin and Hobbes and Dilbert, but with a plot (and not funny). See, I told you it would sound strange.

It was a uniquely American art form, and it was popular through most of the last century. Dick Tracy, Spider-Man, Prince Valiant, Brenda Starr… you shared their fabulous adventures over breakfast every morning, parceled out in compact three panel segments. The most popular strips were collected in paperback, and these were treasures indeed — they included complete adventures (sometimes two). If it sounds strange to read comic strips in a paperback book… well, you’re right, it is. Fantasy is a strange genre; best you come to grips with it.

Flash Gordon, which ran from January 7, 1934 until March 16, 2003, was one of the most popular adventure strips on the market. It was collected in six paperback volumes from Tempo Books as The Amazing Adventures of Flash Gordon, written by Dan Barry and drawn by the incredible Bob Fujitani. All six were published in 1979-1980, and they collected storylines from the mid-70s. They’re still fun today — the dialog (and characters) are simplistic, sure, but the artwork is a marvel, and the stories move at a rocket’s pace. I bought the books above for less than four dollars each on eBay; copies are generally available for $5-10 each when purchased individually.


See the Teaser Trailer for Avengers 2 (or, Why Can’t I have Hulkbuster Armor?)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Avengers 67 Ultron-smallAll work at the rooftop headquarters of Black Gate came to a standstill this afternoon, due to the surprise release of the first teaser trailer for Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron.

Now, this doesn’t happen for just any trailer. (At least, not those that aren’t Star Trek-related). However, we are big fans of the Avengers, both their comic incarnation and the Joss Whedon movie.

Also, we’re fans of Ultron.

Ultron usually gets a bad rap. Did you know he was the first person (erm, machine), to speak on the cover of The Avengers? True story. Before that, everyone on the cover — superheroes and villains alike — stood brooding in heroic poses, afraid to say anything. Ultron finally opened his mouth on the cover of Avengers 67 (saying “Die, Avengers, Die!”, y’know, as he usually does), and after that, you couldn’t get people to shut up on the cover of The Avengers.

Did you know Ultron was built by Henry Pym, also known as Ant Man? Okay, everybody knows that. How are they going to ret-con that into the movie continuity, given that the Paul Rudd Ant Man movie doesn’t come out until July 2015, two months after The Avengers 2? No one knows. I’ve looked for any trace of Rudd or Henry Pym in the IMDB cast list, but no dice.

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New Treasures: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Volume Two, Adapted by P. Craig Russell

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Graveyard Book Volume Two-smallBack in August, I reported on the arrival of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Volume One, the first half of a handsome hardcover graphic novel adapting Gaiman’s famous contemporary fantasy.

I’m very pleased to report that the second half has now arrived, and it looks just as sharp as the first. Volume Two includes the last three chapters of Gaiman’s novel, skillfully adapted by Russell and illustrated by several of the top artists in the field.

The second volume of a glorious two-volume, four-color graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s #1 New York Times bestselling and Newbery and Carnegie Medal-winning novel The Graveyard Book, adapted by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by an extraordinary team of renowned artists.

Inventive, chilling, and filled with wonder, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book reaches new heights in this stunning adaptation. Artists Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, Scott Hampton, and David Lafuente lend their own signature styles to create an imaginatively diverse and yet cohesive interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s luminous novel.

Volume Two includes chapter six to the end of the book.

Once again the colorist is Lovern Kindzierski, who brings a solid cohesiveness to the project, tying together so many disparate art styles with a unified look.

The Graveyard Book, Volume Two was published by Harper Books on July 29, 2014. It is 164 pages, priced at $19.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.


Art of the Genre: Robotech Anime, RPG, Novels, Comics, Toys, Video Games, and Soundtrack, oh my!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Anyone up for some light reading?

Anyone up for some light reading?

I don’t know if I’ve ever really admitted this before, and I actually had to go back to a Black Gate post from two years ago to check, but I’m pretty much a Robotech junkie. Of all the crazy geek culture stuff I’m involved in, there is no licensed universe I care more for than Robotech [sorry Star Wars, it's true].

It began, as most things did for me, in the 1980s, on VHS. I managed to get the entire series off a weekday comic block from a television station broadcasting out of Terre Haute, Indiana. At the time, it was like a drug, and I personally pored over those scratchy recorded episodes (that I’d captured at 7 AM for a year) so many times that the tapes finally corrupted. I even carried them around with me when I could, and I remember this time I took my collection, complete with commercial breaks, down to my grandparents’ house for Christmas and convinced my two cousins, Jeff a year younger and Greg, two years younger, to watch Macross with me.

Greg, always game for my little geeky desires because he looked up to me, stayed true to the course as the episodes ticked by into the wee hours of the morning, but Jeff, always the mathematical pragmatist (and now very wealthy and successful, go figure), decided he’d had enough by 1 AM. Bowing out, he went off to the rear of the house to sleep and Greg and I trudged on. Ten minutes later, Jeff reappeared, sat down glumly with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and never said a word, but finished out the series with us.

THAT is the power of Robotech! Even for a young man, soon to be actuary, and later high stakes financial guru, he just couldn’t blow off the end of Macross without knowing what happened between Rick, Lisa, and Minmei.

I mean, even my wife, who hates anime, hates fantasy, hates science fiction, hates… well, let’s just say her middle name should be ‘hate’, actually watched every episode of Macross just last year with my son and I! Is that even possible? Sure, she might have rolled her eyes on occasion as she looked up from her Mac while shopping online, but damnit, I’m still counting it!

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New Animated Series About a Teen Aboriginal Superhero from Creator Jay Odjick

Saturday, October 4th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Kagagi-smallIn Ottawa, I get to talk to local game designers, local writers, local comic book publishers, local artists and novel publishers. I’m not trying to be a booster of Canada’s capital or anything, but we have some wickedly cool stuff going on around town.

This weekend, at Can-Con, Ottawa’s Literary Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention, I set up an interview in front of a live audience to talk to Jay Odjick, an Algonquin graphic novelist, to talk to him about being a writer and artist and about Kagagi (pronounced with two hard Gs).

Jay is a loud, hilarious, talented, self-deprecating, straight-talking comic creator who earlier in the week had been interviewed by CBC radio and afterwards tweeted “…managed to talk for twelve minutes on the radio without swearing.”

His immediate lead story about where and when he started to be a comic creator started when he was five years old and he was part of a two-man con aiming to unmask a celebrity Spider-Man to prove that it wasn’t the real Spider-Man.

Some years ago, like many comic creators, Jay made up his own superhero. But instead of being just another caped creation added to the immense pantheon of comicdom, he created the startlingly original Kagagi, based on the legend systems of the Algonquin tribe.

Central to this is the Wendigo curse (the supervillain) that is inflicting itself upon not only humanity, but those other parts of the Algonquin legend structures.

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The End of an Era: The Death of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Friday, October 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-manI’ve watched cartoons most of my life. It started with Spider-Man, Underdog and Star Trek: The Animated Series in the 1970s. In the 90s, it was Ren and Stimpy, Pinky and the Brain, and the brilliant The Tick. When my kids came along, we’d watch Gargoyles, Samurai Jack, Static Shock, and especially the great Batman Beyond together. For most of my first four decades, Saturday mornings meant curling up on the couch to share the adventures of my favorite funny animals and cartoon superheroes.

Over the last ten years, more stations have abandoned Saturday morning animated programming. Now The Washington Post is reporting that the CW, the last broadcast station with a full slate of animated shows on Saturday morning, has just done away with them.

This past Saturday, the CW became the last broadcast television network to cut Saturday morning cartoons. The CW is replacing its Saturday cartoon programming, called “The Vortexx,” with “One Magnificent Morning,” a five-hour bloc of non-animated TV geared towards teens and their families.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Saturday morning time slots were synonymous with cartoons. Broadcast networks and advertisers battled for underage viewers. But that started to change in the 1990s. In 1992, NBC was the first broadcast network to swap Saturday morning cartoons for teen comedies such as “Saved by the Bell” and a weekend edition of the “Today” show. Soon, CBS and ABC followed suit. In 2008, Fox finally replaced Saturday morning cartoons with infomercials.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a Saturday morning cartoon viewership could grab more than 20 million viewers. In 2003, some top performers got a mere 2 million, according to Animation World Network.

Read the bad news here (and for Slash Film’s take, read Peter Sciretta’s article Saturday Morning Cartoons Are Officially Dead.)


Meet The Mad Mummy

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Mad Mummy 1I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine.

Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work, which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist.

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These Robots Are Revolting: Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D.

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Magnus the Robot Fighter Volume 1-smallI had thousands of comic books when I was a kid (heck, I’ve got thousands of them now), but I never had a single Gold Key book — I avoided them like the plague. I didn’t like their painted covers; I didn’t like their series based on flop Irwin Allen TV shows like Land of the Giants and Time Tunnel; I didn’t like that Superman or Green Lantern were nowhere to be found in their stories.

I wheedled hard to get that twelve or fifteen cents (that’s what comic books cost in my day, Sonny), and was determined to be discriminating with it. Yes, even as a kid, I was a snob — a trash snob, but a snob.

Recently, however, in a spirit of scientific investigation, I picked up the first two Dark Horse paperback collections of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. The books collect the first fourteen issues of Magnus that Gold Key published between 1963 and 1966. Dark Horse has done a superior job with these beautifully-produced volumes;  in addition to the original stories, they feature appreciative introductions by Mike Royer and Steve Rude, samples of original concept art, and the covers that I so disliked as a kid.

Most importantly, the reproduction of the comic pages themselves is first-rate. The coloring is especially good; it’s clean and sharp without being overpoweringly bright, as some of DC’s Archive books have been. (The non-glossy paper used is a big plus in this regard.)

So the wrapping is nice — what about the present? Who the heck is this Magnus guy, anyway?

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What Would it Look Like to Pull a Watchmen on Planetary Romance? Part III

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

flash-gordon-smallWhen we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago and four weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics, as well as the core elements of the planetary romance form. I was setting up this conversation about what a Watchmen-like treatment of planetary romance would look like, both the pretty parts and the ugly ones.

This is a fun exercise and it’s quite possible that I’m way off in what I construct next, so if I am, please offer up your ideas, views, suggestions. Debate is good!

And, I’ve been ending on a cliffhanger, like any good pulp. So now, here’s Part III, What a Watchmen Treatment of Planetary Romance Might Look Like….

We’ll need a hero, a youngish white male paragon to travel to another world, because that’s the core of the form. And let’s have the aliens of this world be as close to humans as possible in physique and psychology, otherwise other assumptions become much harder to play with.

While Carson traveled to Venus, Carter to Barsoom, and Rogers to the future by themselves, we may need companions for the hero, like Flash Gordon did. And for later grist for the dramatic mill, it will probably serve us that one is a strong, well-characterized, complex woman, preferably from another political viewpoint or culture.

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