Mars Attacks Red Sonja

Mars Attacks Red Sonja is the sort of project that only comes about because of corporate fiat. On the one hand, we have Mars Attacks—a science fiction story dictated through a 1962 Topps trading card set, which was later adapted into a 1996 movie. On the other hand, we have Red Sonja—a fantasy heroine originally created for Marvel Comics in 1973 to meet the demand for a female Conan, revived later by Dynamite Entertainment in 2005.

There is no logical way to bring these two franchises together. There is also no aesthetic reason for Dynamite Entertainment to do so. The only reason this series exists is to hoist a plethora of variant covers upon the teaming masses of comic book speculators, who will happily buy dozens of comics to secure the 1:100 variant where Red Sonja, clad in nothing but an anachronistic thong, faces down a Martian death machine several times her size.

The damnable thing is that writer John Layman does a fair job of justifying this madcap idea. The story is set in the distant past of both Mars and Earth, when the Martians were an advanced and peaceful people and Earth was savage and untamed. Enter Chief Science Advisor Xi’Zeer, a xenophobic soul who dreams of a Martian empire built on conquest. He heads to Earth on what is nominally a mission of exploration and peace, but really an excuse for him to take over Hyborian Age Earth, use the helpless humans as fodder for his weird science, and generally be a jerk without the Martian Emperor around to stop him.

The only thing standing in his way, of course, is Red Sonja. Well, Sonja and a few other random fantasy heroes who are barely given names and mostly not given dialogue, so really it is just Sonja. The setup isn’t bad, but it is a bit cliché, even by the standards of genre fiction and there’s nothing done with this war between the worlds that hasn’t been done before and done better elsewhere.

The artwork is flat and lifeless, for the most part. This is odd given how much bloodshed the story contains. Unfortunately, there’s little personality to any of the human characters and the Martian villains all maintain the same expression from scene to scene, showing emotion only as their heads are being crushed or sliced by the barbarians fighting them. The colors don’t help, with most of the comic rendered in muted pastels that don’t match the vivid coloration of the original Topps trading cards or your average Red Sonja comic.

This volume is rated Teen Plus for audiences 13 and up. I seriously question that rating, given as the violence within this book, ineffectually drawn as it is, retains enough detail to be worth a 16 Up rating, at least. There are several scenes of people and horses being cut in half, Martian and human heads being crushed with viscera leaking out, and one intensive scene involving Red Sonja being beheaded. Unfortunately, while some of the variant covers in the gallery that follows the story are inventive in paying tribute to various B-movies, the actual comic book story is easily skipped.

Mars Attacks Red Sonja
By John Layman
Art by Fran Strukan
Dynamite Entertainment, 2022
ISBN: 9781524119935

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Bisexual

Big Hero Six: The Series, vol. 1

Fans of the 2014 Disney film Big Hero 6, loosely based on the eponymous Marvel superhero team, will enjoy this manga adaptation of the spinoff Disney XD series Big Hero 6: The Series. The first volume includes three chapters, each of which has the same title as its corresponding episode of the series. In Chapter 1: Issue 188, Hiro’s thermodynamics professor pairs him up with an unfriendly girl named Karmi, whose place as the youngest student at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology was supplanted by 14-year-old Hiro. In a Big Hero 6 showdown against mother-daughter supervillain team High Voltage, Hiro saves Karmi’s life, leading Karmi to develop a huge crush on Big Hero 6 member Hiro—whom she doesn’t realize is the same person as her classmate. Big Hero 6 member and comic aficionado Fred tells the group about the infamous comic Captain Fancy Issue #188 and suggests they may glean useful information from the elusive comic. That is, if they can convince Fred’s archnemesis, 10-year-old comic collector Richardson Mole, to let them read it.

In Chapter 2: Failure Mode, Hiro is tasked with creating a miniature building that can withstand an earthquake with a Richter magnitude of 9.0. He procrastinates, and the building he ends up turning in instantly falls apart. When he finds out that all of his follow-up ideas for the building have already been tried, he becomes disheartened. Healthcare companion robot Baymax shows Hiro video footage of his late brother Tadashi considering giving up after his 58th attempt to create Baymax; obviously he persevered, since he successfully completed Baymax. Meanwhile, local villain Globby attempts to steal art from the local museum, and Big Hero 6 member Honey Lemon teaches Baymax about art. This subplot is very charming, with the logical robotic Baymax struggling to understand emotional concepts; it is reminiscent of and will appeal to fans of Data’s characterization in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Case in point, Baymax’s mechanical explanation for his desire to learn about art: “I am coded to expand my therapeutic capabilities. Perhaps I should increase my understanding of art.”

In Chapter 3: Baymax Returns Part 1, we see how Hiro recreated Baymax after the events of the Big Hero 6 film. Yama, a criminal whom Hiro defeated in bot fights in the film, steals Baymax’s exoskeleton and attempts to blackmail Hiro into stealing a mysterious sculpture from his professor’s office. This chapter occurs chronologically before either of the other chapters, so the choice to place it at the end of the first volume of this manga is strange. Since it’s a two-parter, it seems the decision was made solely so this volume would have a cliffhanger. But the cliffhanger’s tension is undermined by the knowledge that Hiro must succeed in retrieving Baymax, since Baymax appears in the other chapters unharmed.

The art differs between the film and series, and since this manga is based on the series, one would guess the art would mirror its 2D hand-drawn animation style. But by drawing the characters in kodomo anime-style art, Hong Gyun An evokes the rounded 3D animation of the original film. The illustrations are rendered in full color, though the colors are more muted than those of the film or the series. Unlike typical manga, this book is read from left to right. Consider purchasing this series where the Big Hero 6 franchise is popular, or where kodomo adventure manga like Pokemon Adventures circulates well.

Big Hero Six: The Series, vol. 1
By Hong Gyun An
Yen Press JY, 2021
ISBN: 9780316474641
Publisher Age Rating: 8 and up
Related media: Movie to Comic, TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Japanese-American

Blade Runner: Origins

Blade Runner OriginsThe year is 2009 and robot evolution has just entered the Nexus phase, with robots that can pass for human becoming more and more commonplace on Earth. The Tyrell Corporation, manufacturers of the Nexus 4, are justly proud of their achievements and have money and power aplenty. Money and power enough, at least, to make the LAPD stand at attention when they ask for a detective to come in and fast-track an investigation into the death of one of their scientists, confirming their belief that she committed suicide.

Enter Cal Moreau, one of the few honest cops left in a dishonest world, who joined the LAPD to try and make the slum he grew up in a safer place. Already on the outs with his bosses, Moreau is an ideal patsy for a job that could quickly send heads rolling. Unfortunately, there are too many details that don’t add up: a brother who insists there is no way his sister would ever kill herself, a lab assistant who knows more than she is saying, and indications that the Tyrell Corporation’s next model, the Nexus 5, may have escaped and started turning upon the humans that created it.

Titan Comics’ exploration and expansion of the world of Blade Runner continues, this time taking a trip into the past and exploring the world before robots became illegal on Earth and the first Blade Runners began hunting Replicants hiding among the human population. This prequel series perfectly captures the aesthetic of the original films in both its story and its artwork.

Cal Moreau is an immediately strong protagonist, cut from the same hard-boiled cloth as Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. He is notable for having a sick sister in a coma, whom he visits and reads to on a regular basis. It is hinted that he’s gay, as he frequents a bar run by a drag performer named Divina, who chases away a woman who flirts with Cal, saying that she couldn’t “let the poor girl go on thinking you have time for her. Or money.” Despite this, Cal doesn’t show much interest in men or women. Instead, he’s married to his work and the duty he feels he has to save lives, having joined the force after serving in the military, and still suffering PTSD flashbacks from his time in space.

The artwork by Fernando Dagnino suits the film noir feel of the story and of the original films, with quite heavy inks. The colors by Marco Lesko are also duller than one might expect given the vibrant neon hues employed throughout the movies. Despite this, every panel of this book feels true to the core aesthetic of Blade Runner. This is sure to please fans of the original movie and purists like myself, who might doubt the ability of a comic book to match the tone of the film.

Blade Runner: Origins is rated 15+ for Older Teens and I feel that is a fair rating, if a bit conservative. The action of this book is intense, but there is surprisingly little bloodshed. There are some disturbing images and several on-page deaths, but most of what is seen would probably make the cut for a Teen-rated manga. There is also little sexual content, apart from one scene with implied nudity where everything is concealed in the shadows.

Blade Runner: Origins
By K Perkins, Mellow Brown, Mike Johnson, Michael Green
Art by Fernando Dagnino
Titan, 2021
ISBN: 9781787735873

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: African-American, Gay,  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion

The year is 2029. Twelve years ago, Aahna “Ash” Ashina was the LAPD’s greatest Blade Runner – one of the elite police detectives tasked with hunting down and killing any Replicant running loose on Earth. Yet Ash had a secret that would destroy her career were it discovered by her fellow cops; she was dependent on a rechargeable spinal implant to walk.

Ten years ago, Ash left the force and went on the run, acting as the protector and foster mother of a runaway girl, to honor the dying request of the Replicant clone of the girl’s biological mother.

Three years ago, Ash returned to a radically different Earth, where the manufacture of Replicants was outlawed after an attack on the Tyrell Corporation erased every record of every existing Replicant. Naturally this did nothing to stop the rich and powerful from ordering their own custom grown Replicant “servants” on the black market.

Two years ago, Ash rejoined the LAPD and the Blade Runners, joining the hunt for the last of the Nexus 8 Replicant models: the most human Replicants ever made. But Ash had a secret beyond her artificial spine. She had become part of the Replicant Underground, working to free the new Replicants who are born as both fugitives and slaves on Earth.

Now, Ash is relatively content, having found love with the Nexus 8 Replicant Freysa Sadeghpour. But a ghost from the past has thrown Ash’s new life into sharp relief; a ghost called Yotun, who is the only Replicant to ever escape Ash’s clutches in her old life and the leader of a Replicant terrorist cell out for revenge on the idle rich responsible for the creation of the latest Nexus 8 Replicants.

Fans of the Blade Runner franchise hoping for more of the same after Titan Comics’ excellent Blade Runner 2019 series will greatly enjoy this first volume of Blade Runner 2029. Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Andres Guinaldo, the creators on the first comic series centered around Ash’s adventures, have all returned for this second series and their respective contributions are as fine as ever. Green, who co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049, continues to expand upon the setting of the original film, while slowly building up the elements he introduced in the sequel. Ana’s lover Freysa Sadeghpour, for instance, was a character in Blade Runner 2049.

Andres Guinaldo continues to capture the essence of the neo-Noir setting of Blade Runner. There is grit and grime aplenty, as befits the mean streets of Los Angeles. Yet there is also neon splendor and bright lights concealing the dark heart of the city’s underground, well rendered by colorist Marco Lesko. Suffice it to say the unique aesthetic of the movies is replicated perfectly throughout this book.

This volume is rated 15+ and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is nothing in Blade Runner 2029 that would be inappropriate for an older teen audience and nothing likely to upset fans of the original movies, which were rightly rated R for violence, nudity and sexual themes. There is nothing so overt in this collection, though there are some disturbing images of one body being impaled on rebar, a dissected corpse post-autopsy and some loose body parts in various Replicant labs.

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion Vol. 01
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson,  ,
Art by  Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781787731943

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Indian American, Japanese-American, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment, Prosthesis,

Blade Runner 2019: Volumes 1-3

The original Blade Runner was not a big hit when it was originally released in 1982, yet it has gone on to become a classic of science fiction cinema and inspire a sequel, Blade Runner 2049. While not directly adapting the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner encapsulated the themes of Dick’s dystopian world, where the best of humanity reached the stars, only to poison the Earth and abandon the poor and the sick to a slow death on a dying world. Yet even that existence is preferable to the life of slavery forced on replicants; artificially made beings virtually indistinguishable from real humans.

Titan Comics’ Blade Runner 2019 is the first original graphic novel series set in the world of Blade Runner. Beyond being officially endorsed as canon to the films, the series is co-written by Michael Green, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049. That alone ensures a higher level of quality than one might normally expect from a film tie-in comic, even when that writer is an Oscar Nominee for his work on the film Logan. Green is an experienced comic book writer, as is his co-author, Mike Johnson, with whom he previously collaborated on DC Comics’ New 52 Supergirl series. This makes them an ideal team for adapting the world of Blade Runner into a comic book format.

Set in Los Angeles during the same time as Blade Runner, but with none of the film’s characters making an appearance apart from replicant magnate Dr. Eldon Tyrel, the first volume of Blade Runner 2019 quickly introduces us to Aahna “Ash” Ashina. Ash is widely considered to be the best of the LAPD’s Blade Runners; special detectives tasked with hunting down replicants who go into hiding on Earth. However, a lack of replicants to hunt and pressure from City Hall sees Ash temporarily reassigned to investigate the disappearance of Isobel and Cleo Selwyn, the wife and daughter of billionaire Alexander Selwyn. It soon becomes apparent that Ash’s assignment was due to more than a rich man demanding the best detective available, and Ash soon finds herself fighting to protect Cleo from an unexpected threat.

Green and Johnson’s scripts perfectly capture the themes of the original films and the reoccurring idea that the replicants and other artificial beings are more compassionate and noble than the fiendish organics that created them. Ash is a prime example of this, starting out with no sense of sympathy for replicants and unspoken envy of them, given her own dark secret. As a child, Ash was denied the right to follow her mother into the stars due to an unspecified spinal condition that renders her unable to walk without the aid of an implant that requires constant recharging. This makes Ash ironically dependent on the same technology she hates and leaves her needing to hide the truth of her disability from her coworkers in the same way replicants must hide from society.

The artwork flawlessly replicates the neo-noir theme of the films. Artist Andres Guinaldo boasts a gritty aesthetic that offers a detail-driven view of the future. The colors of Marco Lesko perfectly complete the pictures, with vivid reds highlighting moments of action and contrast with the cool blues and greens that dominate the larger narrative. Lesko also manages the neat trick of hiding neon shades in the background that hint at the splendor of the city center, even as the action largely takes place in the dimly lit shadows of the mean streets. Fans of the movies will be pleased, but the comics serve as a wonderful introduction to the setting for those who have not seen the films.

All three volumes of Blade Runner 2019 are rated 15+. I consider that to be a fair assessment. There’s no overt nudity in the artwork, apart from one cover depicting an exotic dancer in the middle distance, though there are several shots of Ash’s bare back that serve only to showcase her implant. Of larger concern is the book’s violent content and some detailed and disturbing images of people being shot and blood being shed. There is nothing that would be inappropriate for older teens, however, and indeed the comics are more restrained in what they show than the films.

Blade Runner 2019: Volumes 1-3
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2019
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781787731615
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781787731929
Vol 3 ISBN: 9781787731936
Publisher Age Rating:  15+ Only
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Indian American, Prosthesis, Wheelchair User,

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation Volume 1

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation, Volume 1 by Simon Spurrier is a prequel to the movie Labyrinth and gives us insight into how Jareth became the goblin king.The story begins with Jareth’s parents Lord Albert Tyton and Countess Maria, as they enjoy a dance around the ballroom, unaware of the goblins ready to take their child. Albert is haunted by the goblins who are asking for him to return to the throne, and is ready to run from his problems and abandon his wife and child. Maria takes the child and flees the palace while Albert makes a deal with the goblins to take the child and make HIM the king. Maria falls and the Owl King takes the child from her arms. Maria returns to beg Albert to undo the deal with the goblins. He refuses, so Maria cries for her child back and the Owl King appears and offers her a deal. She has 13 hours to solve the labyrinth or she will become his slave forever. 

Misadventures abound and our heroine is plunged into danger right away. What appears to be a beautiful mermaid turns out to be an aquatic goblin ready to feed Maria to her babies. She is snatched from the jaws of death by Sir Skubbin, who proves to be a shifty character as he takes the opportunity to rob her. Maria later hunts him down to retrieve her stolen items and tells him the sob story of how she ended up in the labyrinth. Maria’s story cuts back and forth between illustrated scenes from the movie. We get to see things from Jareth’s perspective as he tries to impede Sarah from solving the labyrinth. He’s bitter, cruel, and angry about the circumstances that led him to be the Goblin King.

Readers will find the artwork delightful with scenes from the film reinterpreted in graphic novel form. Jareth’s minions, the goblins maintain their mischievous, child-like antics. Each one has a unique look with big noses, shifty eyes, and odd-shaped helmets. The Owl King comes across as menacing, draped in a long cloak and antlers encircling his head. He has a spear-like nose and jagged teeth. I was hoping for more creatures to appear. I count the worm, Sir Didymus, and Ludo among my favorites from the film. I expected more action in the labyrinth. Instead, scenes take place in homes, underground tunnels, and ships. Hopefully, future volumes will feature more exciting settings and characters.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation, Volume 1 gets the prequel off to the right start. You can see the parallels between Sara and Maria’s journeys to recover a child. The story features Easter eggs from the movie, so pay close attention to the panels. There was one that delighted me, and I’m interested in how it will pay off. I recommend this series for purchase as I think it’s entertaining and very imaginative. I think tweens and above would find it enjoyable and marvel at the fantasy world of the labyrinth.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation, Volume 1
By Simon Spurrier
Art by Daniel Bayliss
ISBN: 9781684155033
Archaia, Year 2020
Publisher Age Rating: T for Teens
Series Reading OrderTitle Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Related to…: Movie to Comic

John Wick Vol. 1

Many know John Wick by his reputation as a lethal and efficient assassin; but before he became the legendary spook he was just a young man seeking revenge for a childhood wrong. The Three Bills have no idea the kind of trouble they’re in, and John has no idea the world he’s about to fall into. This is the story of how John Wick began his path towards becoming one of the underworld’s most feared and respected killers.

This comic is in many ways a delight for fans of the John Wick franchise, because the art and writing nailed the general mood of the films. However, it’s a prequel comic, which can be a little disappointing. Part of the appeal of John Wick is his mystery, so to know more about his childhood and how he came to be a member of the Continental is to take some of the appeal away. There are still some moments of mystery, such as most scenes with Charon, so at least the story of Wick’s life hasn’t been completely exposed in the pages of this comic.

It is disappointing that the comic used the trope of an unstable woman as villain who’s really just an agent of chaos—who of course had a terrible childhood and that’s why she’s like this. I will say that John Wick, Vol. 1 doesn’t use this as badly as it could have, and gives her some sense of reason or justice, but it is still uncomfortable. It is also disappointing that the comic chose El Paso and Baja, California as settings, then shows people wearing cowboy hats and other stereotypes of Southwestern culture. I get that it’s an iconic visual, but it looks a little silly to have this character who looks like a prospector in a gun fight against a character who could be an extra from Hitman.

On the other hand, the comic does a fantastic job of portraying how memories can be something we never escape, but also something faulty; we see Wick’s understanding of one of his memories of his early in the comic, and as events unfold he revisits the memory and sees the fuller picture he’d missed or forgotten before. He also repeats things from memories or responds to memories/flashbacks several times in the comic, which might be more effective in a movie format, but still has a cool effect in the comic.

Visually, John Wick, Vol. 1 captures the essence of the movies perfectly. The moody lighting, often in unusual colors like fuchsia and bright blue, gets echoed in the panels where Wick is texting and the people in the conversation have fuchsia or blue speech bubbles and in the sound effects of guns firing between two groups. What’s especially fantastic is how the art captures Wick’s movements and facial expressions so perfectly, right down to the way he tilts his head or looks both tired and disappointed in his enemies.

So while the comic is well-done, it feels ultimately like an attempt to expand the universe without having to make another movie, which is a little disappointing. I would only recommend it to people who are so deep into the John Wick franchise, they want any content they can get from it. Otherwise, because it does assume some knowledge of Wick and his world, I can’t easily recommend it to a general audience unfamiliar with the films. For those readers, I would suggest Christopher Sebela’s Crowded, which is currently nominated for an Eisner and is a great addition to the action/shoot-em-up genre.

John Wick, Vol. 1
By Greg Pak
Art by Giovanni Valletta & Matt Gaudio
ISBN: 9781524106829
Dynamite, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Related to…: Movie to Comic

Kiss/Army of Darkness Review

Army of Darkness is already a well-established cult classic, with the wonderfully pulpy dialog of Ash and cheeky, only kind of spooky, Deadites. Mixing in the band Kiss only heightens the camp factor and takes it to eleven, with each Kiss member using magic powers specialized to their theme and lyrics from their songs all over the dialog and issue titles. This comic is as wild as attending a Kiss concert, only to be pulled through a portal created by the Necronomicon and sucked into the Medieval past and being forced to fight Deadites to survive.

Let’s be real: few people come to Army of Darkness for its high-handed, critical acclaim. It’s enjoyable because it’s the perfect B movie, both terrible and fantastic. The writing in this comic is solid, but it’s not going to win awards. There are great references to Bruce Campbell as a person and actor outside of Army of Darkness and a general sense of meta to the whole comic. Overall it’s also oddly heartwarming, considering the general mood both zombie fiction and metal often has. The very picturesque ending to the comic is perfect for that campy tone, though, and is very fitting with the time period the comic is set within.

The art is fairly consistent throughout, though there is one section where Demon is recounting some backstory to Ash and the art switches to a simpler, flatter style, I think for comedic effect—like when characters draw what they’re talking about—but it’s incredibly stiff and awkward looking. There are a lot of very plain backgrounds and simple landscapes throughout; most of the detail is focused on the characters themselves instead. This is understandable, considering how high detail Kiss’ outfits are alone. But it is a little disappointing to have so many backgrounds just be a color fade, even if that’s what the sky is supposed to look like at that moment.

What fascinates me about this comic is the incredible niche market this potentially is appealing to. Fans of Army of Darkness are a much smaller group than fans of Kiss, so the cross-section feels rather tight. There are quite a lot of references to Kiss and Kiss fan culture, and I have to admit I periodically felt like I was missing the cues. Reading this without any information on how Army of Darkness is supposed to go would fall kind of flat, I believe. The whole point is that this story is something of a ‘what if’ situation that allows for the splicing in of Kiss.

Surprisingly, the comic is also not terribly bloody or gory. When there’s fighting, there are definitely moments of big blood splashes, but there aren’t detailed scenes of intestines or brains. It’s all very clean, considering there are zombies and heavy metal. This is such a quirky comic, I’m not sure exactly who I would recommend it to. Fans of Bruce Campbell and Kiss, of course, but outside of that, it could appeal to anyone who enjoys campy humor.

Kiss/Army of Darkness
By Chad Bowers and Chris Sims
Art by Ruari Coleman
ISBN: 9781524107611
Dynamite, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T+

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Related to…: Movie to Comic