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News Around the Net!

October 31st, 2018

So, who loves Kit Kats as much as I do?  If you do, then you must read the New York Times Magazine’s deep dive into the story behind that candy, and how Kit Kats flourish in Japan.  (I was also happy to see that Kit Kats made it into the top five of fivethirtyeight.com’s Ultimate Halloween Candy Power Ranking!  Put aside what you’re doing and go read that fascinating analysis of what qualities make the most popular candies.  This is a great read!!)

Whoo-hoo!  Matt Groening’s new Netflix animated show Disenchantment has been renewed for a second season!  And, since the 10-episode first season currently on Netflix was just HALF of the first season, and this second season will also reportedly have two 10-episode halves, this sort of means the show will be around for THREE more seasons at least.  Great news.  My review of the first 10-episodes will be coming soon.

So, wow, only a week after Iron Fist was cancelled, Luke Cage was cancelled too.  This interesting assessment at io9 is a good read and a fairly accurate assessment of my feelings.  It’s a shame to see this African-American-focused show cancelled, but the series’ low quality is hard to dispute.  Can we get a Daughters of the Dragon spin-off show, with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, please??  (Those two characters were the best aspects of Iron Fist and Luke Cage!!)

There were a lot of headlines last week that The Simpsons might be quietly writing Apu out of the show.  The original source appears to be from this article, which doesn’t seem to me like it contains any actual evidence that this is happening.  I guess we’ll see.  I found Hank Azaria’s depiction of Apu funny and endearing for a long time, but I can clearly see how this stereotype hasn’t aged well.  Personally, I’d prefer to see The Simpsons somehow salvage the character by finding a way to update how he is depicted.  I feel like this could be done.  But if the show feels that is not doable, I don’t object too strongly to Apu’s being sidelined.  Anyone who wants to see more of the character has THIRTY SEASONS of the show to go back and watch, at their convenience…!!  (Meanwhile, this reply from The Simpsons’ current show-runner seems to indicate that Apu isn’t going anywhere…)

So… there’s going to be a new Star Trek show that is animated, and a comedy?  Not exactly what I’m looking for in terms of new Trek, but I’ll keep my mind open for now…

This is a compelling spotlight on Hasan Minhaj, who is launching a new show, “Patriot Act,” on Netflix.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Wars: Resistance

Star Wars: Resistance is the latest Star Wars animated TV show.  Coming on the heels of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, this new show is, intriguingly, set in the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

The show takes place on the Colossus, an aircraft-refueling station on an ocean planet.  The Colossus is a hub for pilots who compete in dangerous races in the air around the facility.  The main character on Resistance is a young man named Kaz, who is recruited by Poe Dameron to work as a spy, looking for evidence of the First Order.

I have watched the two-part premiere, and the two half-hour episodes that have followed.  So far, I quite like this show!

Resistance is clearly aimed at kids, which makes it a bit lighter than I’d ideally like.  But it’s compelling enough, so far, to be of interest to adults as well.  Both Clone Wars and Rebels also started off as very kid-focused, and then both developed into far more interesting, sophisticated shows.  So I have hope that Resistance will do that same, and I’m not turned off by these early, more kid-focused installments.

So far, I am enjoying this new cast of characters.  I like the main charater, Kazuda Xiono.  He’s a bit of a doofus, but as a good-hearted youngster, he’s a Star Wars hero in the classic mold.  His mechanic boss is a man named Yaeger.  The show has teased us with hints about Yaeger’s past as a rebel pilot who was at the battle of Jakku.  I look forward to learning more of his story.  Neeku is the very friendly, very literal first friend who Kaz makes on the Colossus.  These sorts of comic relief sidekick characters are very easy to screw up, but I think Neeku is great, very sweet and very funny.  Tam is the far-more talented young mechanic who also works for Yaeger.  She seems like she could be a very interesting character, but the show hasn’t allowed us to get to know too much about her yet.

I suspect there are a number of other characters who will eventually become important, such as the star pilots on the Colossus.  The early promotional material for Resistance focused on those characters, but we’ve seen very little of them so far.  (For example: I was excited that Scrubs’ Donald Faison would be playing a character named after him, Hype Faison, but he hasn’t really been in the show at all so far!)  Hopefully these pilots will enter the story in a more significant way as the show progresses.  I am interested by the slow-burn approach the show is using so … [continued]

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Star Trek: Hearts and Minds

With his novel Hearts and Minds, author Dayton Ward has returned again to the world of From History’s Shadow, his spectacular novel that explored the secret history of aliens on Earth in the twentieth century.  I adore that novel, which was a masterpiece of Star Trek continuity, weaving together plot-threads and characters from across the many Trek TV series into a fantastic, clever new story.

While I would have loved to have gotten a straight sequel to that novel, in Mr. Ward’s two follow-up books he has chosen not to continue with the main characters from From History’s Shadow, but rather to, for the most part, introduce new characters and situations while telling a similar type of story, with parallel action set in Earth’s past as well as in the present-day of the Trek universe.

And so, in Hearts and Minds, as he did with Elusive Salvation, Mr. Ward has written a sequel that is more of a thematic sequel rather than a direct follow-up.  With the exception of the Vulcan Mestral, a character introduced in the Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek” who has appeared in all three Forgotten History novels, Mr. Ward has again introduced a whole new cast of characters, heroes and villains, for us to follow.  And in another difference, while the Enterprise side of Mr. Ward’s first two stories in this series took place in Kirk’s era, this one is set on board Picard’s Enterprise, at approximately the same time as the events of David Mack’s novel Section 31: Control.  (As such, this book is set at the leading edge of Pocket Book’s post-Nemesis-set continuity of new Star Trek stories.)

Hearts and Minds is a great book.  It tells a fascinating story in which it appears that a secret mission, unbeknownst to the human population of the time as well as 24th century historians, might have led to the nuclear near-annihilation of an alien world.  The way the novel slowly peels back the truth of those events is a great mystery and a wonderful spine for the story, putting Captain Picard in a real tough spot.

While Hearts and Minds fits nicely into Mr. Ward’s own Forgotten History trilogy of books, the novel also feels very much of a piece with the continuing post-Nemesis saga of Star Trek books, moving forward the stories of the characters from Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  Mr. Ward’s novel found many opportunities for the continued development of the Enterprise command crew, with nice moments for Worf (who has to exercise patience and diplomacy when Picard and the Away Team are taken prisoner), Geordi, Taurik, T’Ryssa Chen, and Dina Elfiki.

Speaking of novel continuity, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Four

They made us wait over a year after the end of Better Call Saul season three for the start of season four, but boy was the wait worth it.  Season four was another home run from this show, one of the rare spinoffs to be as good if not better than its fantastic, much-loved predecessor.

When Better Call Saul premiered, I was surprised that Bob Odenkirk’s character had a different name and a very different personality than the Saul I had come to know and love on Breaking Bad.  At first I was antsy for Jimmy McGill to transform into Saul Goodman, but the genius of Better Call Saul is that I very quickly grew to love Jimmy so much that his eventual transformation into the morals-free, criminal lawyer (emphasis on criminal) Saul Goodman became something I started to dread.  On the mothership, Breaking Bad, Walter White’s transformation from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” was a tragedy, but though I knew things wouldn’t end well, I was generally eager to see Walt break fee of his inhibitions and embrace his dark side.  But on Saul, I have been fearing it.  I want to see the kind-hearted Jimmy, and also Kim Wexler (who has become the character on the show I am most rooting for), to somehow find a happy ending, even though we know from Breaking Bad that this is (most likely) not going to happen.

And so, for me, Better Call Saul has gradually transformed into an even richer, more heartbreaking tragedy than was Breaking Bad.  I thought Breaking Bad was a magnificent achievement in television, but I love Better Call Saul even more.

Here in season four, co-creator and co-showrunner Peter Gould stepped into the forefront, as Vince Gilligan (the mastermind behind Breaking Bad who also co-created and co-ran Saul for seasons one through three) stepped back from showrunning to focus on other projects.  This might have been a cause for concern, but I didn’t detect the slightest shift in quality.  If anything, the show was even better this year than it had ever been.

The first season of Saul had a lightness that I loved, in contrast to the grim, often hard-to-watch Breaking Bad.  As Jimmy McGill has slowly slipped into darkness, the show has darkened, with season four representing the show at its most emotionally wrenching so far.  I was absolutely gripped, from start to finish.

After the season three finale, I wondered if Michael McKean was truly out of the show.  I miss this great actor, but I am glad they didn’t walk back the events of that finale in an attempt to maintain the status quo.  I am pleased that the writers had the … [continued]

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I’m a nut for science fiction as well as science fact — and so I was instantly excited when I heard that Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) was directing First Man, a film telling the story of Neil Armstrong’s first landing on the moon.  The film’s trailers, when they arrived, got me even more excited.  I am pleased to report that the film does not disappoint.

When First Man is at its best, it is a spectacularly visceral recreation of the Neil Armstrong (and his fellow space pioneers in the Gemini and Apollo programs)’s experience leading up to, and during, the incredible feat of journeying to the moon and returning safely to the Earth.  Time and again, the film is remarkable in the way that it is able to put us right into the lap of Neil Armstrong, allowing us to see what he saw and feel what he might have felt.  We’re right there in the cockpit with Neil at the start of the film when, testing a X-15 rocket plane, he accidentally bounces off of the atmosphere and almost drifts away into space.  In an incredible sequence in the center of the film, we’re right there in the space capsule with Neil and David Scott during the Gemini 8 mission, launching into orbit, successfully locating and docking with the Agena vehicle, and nearly losing their lives when the spacecraft begins to spin out of control.  And, of course, we are there in the Eagle with Neil and Buzz Aldrin when they make their historic landing on the moon.

I have seen a lot of wonderful films about the American space program and the lunar missions, but I’ve never before quite had the discomfiting feeling of claustrophobia and fear of actually strapping into a tin can on top of a rocket, as these brave men did.  First Man was able to pull me from my theatre seat into those experiences.  Mr. Chazelle and his team have impeccably recreated these moments with an extraordinary eye for details that prior films have overlooked.  We can see and feel the tactile reality of the switches in the spacecraft control panels.  We hear and feel the swaying of the platform Neil and Dave Scott walk across in order to board the Gemini 8 capsule.  We hear the groaning of the metal on the spacecraft as it launches, and the booming explosions of the rocket fire that is propelling them airborne at an incredible rate of speed.

I saw First Man on an enormous Imax screen, and I encourage you to do the same.  The visual force of the film is tremendous, and it’s rendered even more effective on the … [continued]

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The Jewish Comics Anthology vol 2 is Now Available on Amazon!

October 17th, 2018

I am pleased to share that the print version of SCI: The Jewish Comics Anthology vol. 2 is now available on Amazon!

The digital version is available, for a lower price, on Comixology.

This second volume of The Jewish Comics Anthology is focused on sci-fi tales. I am delighted to be included in this volume, along with incredible talents such as Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Ty Templeton, Michael Netzer, Neil Kleid, and many more!

The story I illustrated for volume 2 is called “Wrestling with Jacob,” and it was written by Michael Norwitz. Whereas my story for volume 1 was in black in white, this story for volume 2 is full-color painted artwork.

I am excited for this to be out in the world!… [continued]

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Josh Reviews the First New Star Trek Short: “Runaways”

In the next few months, before the launch of Star Trek: Discovery season two, we’re going to get four new “Short Treks,” Star Trek short films.  I love this idea.  The people currently running CBS and Trek these days have made a number of statements to the press about how they want to have lots of Trek on CBS All Access, with multiple different projects in the planning stages.  My hope is that the next few years will see a lot of experimentation in terms of the type of Star Trek product we’ll get.  Rather than just one Star Trek show running for seven seasons, I’d love to see a mix of mini-series, TV movies, short films, and longer-running continuing series.  This would allow for the telling of all sorts of different styles of Star Trek shows, ideally spotlighting a rich variety of different Star Trek characters from across the previous series and eras, as well as the introduction of new characters and settings.  This would be very exciting for me as a Star Trek fan.  And so I was pleased by the announcement of these four short films, a dipping of the toe into the waters of possibilities for this franchise.

This first “Short Trek,” entitled “Runaways,” focuses on Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman).  Following a somewhat tense/awkward conversation with her overbearing mother, Tilly stumbles across an alien stowaway aboard the Discovery.  This alien turns out to be a young woman, who has run away from home for reasons that we will discover.  She and Tilly are able to forge an unexpected bond.

I thought “Runaways” was pretty great.  Running less than 15 minutes, “Runaways” tells a compact little story that is very satisfying.  It has a number of fun moments and interesting character beats for both Tilly and the new alien.

I enjoyed the spotlight on Tilly.  I wasn’t wild about this character when she was first introduced on Discovery, but she very quickly grew on me.  (Some day I will rewatch Discovery’s very uneven first season, and I’ll be interested to see if I think more highly of Tilly’s portrayal in those early episodes, now that I know the character better… or if I still feel that it took the show a few episodes to find this character.)  I loved seeing Tilly’s mom here in “Runaways.”  That one conversation sheds a world of light on who Tilly is and where she came from.  And Tilly’s adventure with the young alien woman gives a wonderfully efficient spotlight on everything that is interesting and unique about this character.

The young alien was also great.  Played wonderfully by Yadira Guevara-Prip, she has a great look (terrific makeup and prosthetic effects … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Annihilation

I have a huge amount of love for Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, which he also wrote.  If you haven’t seen that film, I exhort you to track it down immediately.  It’s a riveting piece of speculative fiction, with extraordinary performances by Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson.  I was excited to see Mr. Garland’s follow-up film, Annihilation, which he also wrote (adapting the novel by Jeff VanderMeer) and directed.  From the trailers, Annihilation looked like a larger-scale production than Ex Machina.  I was curious to see what Mr. Garland would do with a larger canvas (and budget) at his disposal.

I was concerned, though, by reports of behind-the-scenes trouble before the film’s release.  Apparently a poor test screening gave Skydance production (who co-financed the film along with Paramount) cold feet, and eventually the worldwide release for the film was truncated and certain distribution rights were sold to Netflix.  More details are here.  Mr. Garland expressed some disappointment at the Netflix deal, since he’d made the film to be seen in cinemas (but that’s a better result than the film getting re-edited over his objection).

After all this tumult, and after seeing wildly mixed reviews for the film, I was very curious to finally get to see it myself!

Immediately, I can see why this film had some people worried.  It’s a very bizarre film, and it does not unfold in the audience-pleasing manner that most wide-release sci-fi films do.

I’m somewhat lukewarm on the film myself.  There is a lot that I like about the film.  I respect the ambition of this cerebral story, and I love the cast of fantastic women.  It’s a gripping film, but in the end I didn’t feel the story came together the way that I’d hoped that a mystery-based film like this would.

This is a very different type of story than Ex Machina, but what the two films have in common is that both are very intellectual pieces of science fiction.  These are not shoot-em-up action-adventure sci-fi films.  Both are stories that begin in our “real” world and explore, thoughtfully and logically, what might unfold in the face of specific spectacular occurrences.  (I consider both films to be more speculative fiction than science fiction.)  But whereas Ex Machina was very contained — most of the scenes in the film are conversations between two characters, set in indoor rooms — Annihilation is a more expansive story.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena.  As the film opens, her military husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year.  One day Kane unexpectedly shows up at their house, but he has been mysteriously changed.  As Lena digs into what befell … [continued]

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So, here’s our first real look at the new X-Men film, Dark Phoenix:

I really want this to be great, but I’m not yet feeling this one.  First of all, the continuity of these X-Men movies makes my head spin.  One of the things I loved about Days of Future Past was the way it adjusted the continuity of the previous films in order to undo some of the damage of The Last Stand and give these characters a happy ending.  Most relevant to this new Dark Phoenix movie was that, in the last moments of Days of Future Past, we saw that Jean Grey was still alive.  So I’m a bit flummoxed that they’ve continued making movies (X-Men: Apocalypse and now this one) set BEFORE the events of that Days of Future Past epilogue.  If Jean is alive in that epilogue, that sort of removes the suspense from this movie, no?  This is a actually a rare case where I wish they’d just do a reboot and start fresh.

Putting that aside and just considering this trailer, my next biggest concern is the degree to which what we see in the trailer seems totally different from the classic Dark Phoenix story from the comics (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne).  I’m not really seeing ANYTHING from the classic comic story here yet.  The Last Stand bungled the Dark Phoenix story, and so I am excited at the potential for a do-over.  But my hope for a do-over would be for the movie to hew much closer to the original comic story, which so far doesn’t seem to be what they’re doing here.  That really disappoints me.

What’s good?  I do really like this cast, and I am happy to see James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence back in these roles (after they all seemed like they were done after X-Men: Apocalypse).  And I’m happy that the new crew introduced in Apocalypse also seem to all be back as well: Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheriden as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler.  I’m particularly jazzed to see Sophie Turner (who I thought was a little underused in Apocalypse) given a chance to shine.  I love the new-look costumes (which seem to be heavily influenced by Frank Quitely’s designs for Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men back in 2001).  I’d love for Dark Phoenix (why have they dropped X-Men from the title?) to be a big, awesome X-Men epic.  Here’s hoping…

Here’s a nice juicy look at Daredevil season three:

After the disappointment of The Defenders, I have fallen behind on the Marvel Netflix shows.  I skipped The Punisher, as I’m just … [continued]