11 films that prove you can do sci-fi without special effects 


More so than any genre except for horror, science fiction is defined by its special effects. In Japanese, the relationship is explicit, as science fiction is one of a loose collection of fantastic genres referred to as tokusatsu—literally, “special filming” or special effects. For many people, it’s just not a science…

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Captain Marvel is kicking the box office’s ass


We can now add “the American box office” to the various things whose ass Carol Danvers has officially kicked; per Variety, the MCU’s latest big-budget offering, Captain Marvel, is on track to make more than $150 million at the domestic box office this weekend, making it the most successful 2019 film premiere to…

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Your Essential Marvel Cinematic Universe Reading List, 2019 Edition

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Sure, you can see a comic book movie without doing your homework first. But we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s another big year for Marvel movies, with the next (last?) Avengers movie at the chewy center, but also the just-as-anticipated (some would say long overdue) debut of Captain Marvel, the modern MCU’s first film headlined by a woman.  Meanwhile, this year’s mutant movies adapt two very different, similarly iconic storylines. And of course, there’s a new Spider-Man sequel, picking up where the surprisingly fun Homecoming left off.

While we don’t know everything about these movies, here are the books that should help you prepare. Or just give you something to read while you’re waiting in line.

Captain Marvel (March 8)

Captain Marvel has a long and twisted history in Marvel comics. Created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan in 1968, the character of Carol Danvers first appeared as an Air Force officer and colleague of the original Captain Marvel, an alien Kree warrior turned hero. Just under a decade later, she starred in her own series as Ms. Marvel, having absorbed Kree DNA in an explosion. Over the decades, she’s been promoted to Captain and joined up with just about every Marvel super-team imaginable and, like any superhero who’s been around more than a few years, built up a history full of twists, turns, and retcons. The movie version will likely iron much of it out.

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero Vol. 1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Chris Sebela, Dexter Soy, Emma Ríos, and Felipe Andrade
It’s tough to overstate the importance of the 2012 series to the popularity of Carol Danvers: Kelly Sue DeConnick and company took a powerful and popular B-lister and moved her firmly into the top tier of Marvel superheroes through sheer force of fun, in much the same way Marvel Studio’s first Iron Man movie made Tony Stark a household name. She’s been A-List ever since, and this reboot is unquestionably the reason she’s become the first woman to headline a movie in the MCU (which, granted, should have happened years ago). The opening of the series sees Carol finally assuming the “Captain Marvel” name while teaming up with Captain America, Iron Man, and the World War II-era Banshee Squad for a time-travel adventure.

The Life of Captain Marvel, by Margaret Stohl and Carlos Pacheco
As Danvers’ stock has risen over the years, her origin story—she inherited her powers from an older male hero—has grown less and less appealing. A slight tweak was made to her story during Kelly Sue DeConnick’s long run with the Captain, but this latest mini-series fleshes out her backstory during the course of a trip home gone awry. For Carol Danvers noobs, it’s a great way to meet the Captain. For long-time fans, a secret is revealed that puts a new spin on everything that’s come before.

Ms. Marvel Epic Collection: This Woman, This Warrior, by Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter, Jim Mooney, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Byrne
Go back to the beginning with a chunky collection of stories from Marvel’s Ms. days, starting right from issue #1. A woman circa 1977 could truly have it all: a superhero in one aspect of her life, a NASA security chief in another, and, not least, editor of the magazine Woman (a bit on-the-nose, perhaps) running up against J. Jonah Jameson and other misogynist media pigs.

Marvel’s Captain Marvel Prelude, by Andrea Di Vito, Will Corona Pilgrim, and Laura Villari
This book collects several classic Carol Danvers stories alongside a new prequel that sets up what’s coming on the big screen. Included here are her first appearance from 1968, the first issues of three of her solo books from 1977 to the present, as well as a team-up between Captain Danvers and the (long-deceased) original Captain Mar-Vell.

Avengers: Kree/Skrull War, by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, and John Byrne
Given that the shape-shifting alien Skrulls are the movie’s primary villains, you could also read this galaxy-spanning adventure from the early years of the Avengers. It’s an epic, slightly psychedelic classic in which the empires of the Kree and Skrulls go to war with Earth as the battlefield. Carol Danvers doesn’t appear, but the original Captain Mar-Vell is a key character, and the trailers hint that elements of this story feature in the film.

Avengers: Endgame (April 26)

We’ve asked Marvel to provide us with a full and complete synopsis of Endgame so that we might produce an exhaustive list of sources and inspirations. Weirdly, they haven’t gotten back to us. In the meantime, we feel comfortable in making a few educated guesses about which stories might have an impact on the new movie. If nothing else, these are all essential reads that caused major repercussions within Marvel’s print universe.

Infinity Gauntlet: Deluxe Edition, by Jim Starlin, George Pérez, and Ron Lim
This seminal mini-series was, of course, the primary inspiration for last year’s Avengers movie, but the book and the film don’t end at the same place. The motivations of comic-book Thanos are a bit different, but there may well be clues as to the ultimate fate of the Marvel Universe in the book’s story, particularly with regard to Nebula, one of the few survivors of the previous movie, who has a major role to play in the comic’s conclusion. If nothing else, the book is one of the cornerstones of the Marvel universe on page and screen both, with an all-time great creative team.

Infinity, by Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato, Stefano CaselliJerome Opeña, Lenil Yu, and Dustin Weaver
Like its predecessor, this 2013 follow-up goes fully cosmic with a story that’s fun, but also incredibly dense and filled with wild ideas and characters. While the Avengers are distracted by a threat from an ancient alien race and a universal plague hitting the Earth, Thanos returns for a new attack on life itself. Elements of the last Avengers movie, including Thanos’ Black Order and the invasion of Wakanda, were inspired by Infinity, so there may well be more on offer in Endgame.

Avengers Forever, by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, and Jesus Saiz
Extra credit time: we have reason to believe that Avengers: Endgame will, in some capacity, involve time travel. It’s possible, even, that the Avengers will somehow revisit their earlier adventures. In a similar vein, Avengers Forever finds the team’s pal Rick Jones pulling different Avengers from various (iconic) moments in comic book history to build a lineup ideally positioned to battle the villain Immortus across time. If the creative team behind Endgame is indeed going the time travel route, it would be hard to imagine them not drawing inspiration from the influential story.

Dark Phoenix (June 7)

There are also two X-Men films coming out this year: a sequel in the same continuity as X-Men: First Class and New Mutants, a presumably largely sandalone semi-horror offshoot. With the Disney/Fox merger looming, it’s entirely possible these are the last films in the long-running series (remember, 2000’s X-Men is widely credited as the first modern superhero movie), at least in its present form.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga, by Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, John Byrne, Mike Collins, and John Buscema
The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most beloved superhero stories ever, representative of both the best in epic superhero storytelling and the juicy soap-opera elements that the X-Men have long reveled in. If you only know the story from how it was bowdlerized in X-Men: The Last Stand, well… that’s not quite it. Hopefully the new film handles it a bit better. In the comic version, Jean Grey has been forced to stretch her abilities to the limit, awakening latent powers within herself that threaten entire worlds. There are a few ways to experience it: the nine-issue main storyline, or in a massive omnibus, perfect for completists, that starts earlier in the run to provide a fuller picture of Jean’s developing abilities. Prose lovers, on the other hand, may enjoy the forthcoming novel adaption of the storyline, penned by Stuart Moore.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 5)

Spider-Man goes on a well-earned European vacation and meets Mysterio, a special-effects wiz and master of illusion.

Spider-Man vs. Mysterio, by Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, David Michelinie, Howard Mackie, and Steve Ditko
Though we don’t know a ton about the movie, we do know that Jake Gyllenhaal will play Quentin Beck, the original Mysterio. Mysterio was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee way back in 1964 for Amazing Spider-Man #13 (the series hit #800 last year, so the master of illusion’s big-screen debut is probably overdue). Conveniently, Marvel has a forthcoming collection of Mysterio’s greatest hits, including the first appearance of Beck, as well as of Beck’s sometime replacement Daniel Berkhart, hired by J. Jonah Jameson to torment Spidey by pretending to be Mysterio’s ghost. There are stories here from the ’60s run to the present, all with one thing in common: when Mysterio’s around, stuff gets weird.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Kraven’s Last Hunt, by Peter David, David Michelinie, J.M. DeMatteis, Ken McDonald, and Alan Kupperberg
Extra credit: this one’s definitely a bit of a stretch, but you could do worse than to check out the Kraven’s Last Hunt Epic Collection. Not only is the title story one of the best, and most disturbing, Spidey arcs of all time, the volume also includes Peter’s marriage to MJ and their subsequent honeymoon in Europe (you know: far from home). It probably won’t have much to do with the film (or will it?), but it’s a varied and incredibly consequential run all the same.

New Mutants (August 2)

New Mutants Epic Collection: The Demon Bear Saga, by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz
The original New Mutants series that began in 1982 became a fan favorite by amping up the drama and tragedy elements of the X-Men via the addition of healthy doses of teen angst. Rather than doing cute young mutants, the creative team went deeper and darker. That style reached its height with the “Demon Bear” saga, in which indigenous mutant Dani Moonstar sets out to confront the entity that murdered her parents years earlier. It doesn’t go well, and she winds up in a hospital during a snowstorm as her teammates join her to battle the beast. The groundbreaking work of artist Bill Sienkiewicz pushes the story into full-on horror, as the team is forced to come together or die. This story has been mentioned a primary influence on the film’s plot and tone.

New Mutants Epic Collection: Renewal, by Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Bob McLeod, Sal Buscema, and Paul Smith
If that’s not enough, there’s also this earlier collection, which follows the New Mutant team from the very beginning of their tenure at Xavier’s school. Most of the film’s characters have their origins here, and this book ends right where the Demon Bear storyline begins. Together, the two provide a whole lot of mutant action for your comic-buying dollar.

What are you reading while you wait for this year’s Marvel movies?

The post Your Essential Marvel Cinematic Universe Reading List, 2019 Edition appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


The 7 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

This August, the worst nightmares of a generation will come to life in the film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz’s anthology of American folktales originally published in 1981.

Directed by André Øvredal and produced by Guillermo del Toro (fresh off all those awards for The Shape of Water), the film promises to string together many of the stories in the collection into an overarching narrative, preserving and subverting the anthological spirit of the original—or so the teaser trailers that aired during Super Bowl LIII would suggest.

But why is a recent Oscar-winning filmmaker producing an adaptation of a decades-old book aimed at elementary school kids? Well, probably because few books can claim to have made such an indelible impression of multiple generations’ worth of readers. By which I mean: for nearly 40 years, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been haunting my dreams, and probably yours too.

I still have the copies I grew up with, featuring illustrations by Stephen Gammell. With respect to Brett Helquist, the brilliant artist who provided artwork for newer editions, Gammell’s original drawings are unsurpassably terrifying. They shaped my nightmares for years.

The stark black-and-white pictures would, of course, be scary on their own — but combined with Schwartz’s straightforward retellings of folk horror stories,  they become something more than just scary. To put it simply, these books are haunting.

Each tale is a few pages long at most (if you haven’t looked at a copy since childhood, this will probably surprise you). The language is simple and accessible, so it makes sense that Scholastic would market the books as appropriate for children who read at a third-grade level. This, then, helps explain why Scary Stories and its two follow-ups have had such a lasting impact on those of us who read them as children: for many, they may represent our first exposure to literary horror.

Not all the stories hold up. As one might expect from American folktales, several of them rely on white peoples’ fear of indigenous people and immigrants. That said, the endnotes in each book underscore Schwartz’s interrogation of the roots of these stories, and are worth reading by anyone who wants to develop a deeper understanding of the ways American horror and urban legends have tended to reflect what things are scariest to those who have power to lose.

Whether or not the stories can withstand contemporary examination, they’ve certainly left deep grooves in the amygdalae of nearly 40 years’ worth of readers—including yours truly.

Which is to say: here are the seven Scary Stories that made me lose the most sleep as a child (with a large portion of the credit going to Gammell’s accompanying artwork).

That seems pretty scary, but I guess Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a third-grade level so…

“The Hook”

This is the first time I read the story of John Q. Hookhand, and even at the time, I had questions. In this telling of the story, the Hookhand Man has escaped a prison; in other, more ableist versions, he’s escaped a mental institution. In my preferred telling, he’s a Scary Murder Guy Who Wants To Get You, and he’s got just the hook for the job. No matter how you tell it, Man Door Hand Hook Car Door is a classic, and Gammell’s sinewy illustration of the dismembered prosthetic in question amplifies the horror exactly as much as this story deserves.

I mean, that’s a toe. And that kid is creepy AF. But still, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a third-grade level, so it’s fine.

“The Big Toe”

You know that thing of when you find a big toe sticking out of the ground, so you pull it up and bring it home and you and your parents eat it for dinner? #Relatable. But in this story, that foolproof plan somehow goes awry. “The Big Toe” is the first story in the first Scary Stories collection, and it gives the reader a good indication of just exactly what they’re about to get mixed up in.

Wait a minute. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a… third-grade level?! 

“The Bride”

The Bride (featured in More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) is ultimate little-kid-horror, because it involves a game of hide-and-seek gone terribly awry. As a kid, winning at hide-and-seek always came with an undercurrent of fear: what if no one ever finds you? What if no one ever finds you ever again?

We’re only given one glimpse of the inner monologue of the titular Bride: “They’ll never find me there,” she thought.”

And she’s right. She wins that game of hide-and-seek. Also she dies horribly, trapped in an old trunk, which is exactly the kind of place I would have picked to hide as a child if I had never read this cautionary tale. 

How old are these third-graders? Are these third-graders who emerged from the Lament Configuration?

“A New Horse”

Listen. I’m just going to give you the last line of the story, okay? It’s all you need to know:
There stood his wife with horseshoes nailed to her hands and feet.

How do you react to that? What do you say to your wife, who was, until a moment ago, a horse? What do you do about these horseshoes? What questions does this raise about your marriage? Worse: what questions does it answer?

Oh, I get it, the demons have stolen the souls of the third-graders and possessed their bodies, right?

“Just Delicious”

This story, from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones,  lives up to its name. “Just Delicious” has everything you could possibly want: trickery, cannibalism, organ-theft, and justice for an abusive monster of a husband. All I want in life is to write a short horror story that captures the grotesque beauty of Mina, the main character, eating a piece of liver that she cooked to perfection — only to realize that her husband will be furious if there isn’t a liver for him to eat when he gets home.

Oh, don’t worry reader: Mina gets a liver for her husband to eat. Mina is very resourceful. The only problem arises when the person she took the liver from decides that they want it back.


“The Red Spot”

A cool thing when you’re a teenager is when you have a pimple, the kind that hurts a lot, and you suddenly remember this story you read when you were a kid, about a girl who gets a red spot on her face, and it hurts, and it turns into a boil, and after a few days it bursts open and hundreds of baby spiders come streaming out!

This is fine. Everything’s fine.



Listen. I just reread this story so I could write about it for this essay, and I am sweating profusely.

Here’s the premise: Two farmers make a man out of straw, and they name him Harold and treat him pretty terribly, and he becomes real. The phrase “He climbed up on the roof and trotted back and forth, like a horse on its hind legs” comes into play, which is an image none of us ever needed.

Mark Oshiro, author of Anger is a Gift and noted Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark enthusiast, has this to say about Harold: “Many of Schwartz’s stories are horrifying, but there’s a particular place in the darkest part of my mind for Harold. There’s a sense of terrible inevitability to that story, and the final image is so deeply upsetting, suggesting that there’s only one outcome for Alfred.”

Oh, right, I almost forgot to tell you the final image: Harold, standing up on the roof, stretching out a bloody skin to dry in the sun.

So. You know. Sleep tight.

All three volumes of the Scary Stories series—with original artwork!—are available now in a boxed set. 

Sarah Gailey is the author of the forthcoming novel Magic for Liars. Incidentally, she’s never sleeping again.

The post The 7 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


C’mon, people, let’s leave poor Jar Jar out of this


First, a word of reassurance to anybody who woke up this morning and saw that Star Wars’ least-favorite Gungan was trending on Twitter: Jar Jar Binks isn’t dead. (It’s not his birthday, either. Or hatch-day? We’re sure someone out there knows if Jar Jars do live birth, and if they could do us a favor and never, ever @…

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J.J. Abrams is the new chew toy being fought over by Hollywood’s angry dogs 


It’s looks like the Abrams family is going to start buying that fancy mustard soon, as Deadline reports that all of Hollywood’s richest and most powerful studios are wining and dining J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company in hopes of luring them away from Paramount for a not new deal—and, presumably, a…

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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote might actually come out, barring even more ridiculous setbacks


When future generations look up the word “mess” in some kind of high-tech VR encyclopedia, they will simply redirected to a separate volume that covers the production of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. He spent nearly two decades just trying to get the project off the ground, but then once he finally…

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Nic Cage is the true Spider-Ham in these over-the-top recording sessions for Into The Spider-Verse


One of the great things—out of many—about the career/personality/decades-long public outsider art piece of Nicolas Cage is that he clearly has a certain self-awareness about who he is. Or to put it another way: Cage’s magnificent weirdness is clearly thoughtful and intentional; he frequently gives off the vibe of a…

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Aladdin screenwriter uses racial slur to defend anti-vaccination comments, so welcome to 2018


In a disastrous social media interaction that we can’t help but categorize as “Extremely Online,” well-known screenwriter and (alleged!) garbage human Terry Rossio has found himself facing some serious internet blowback this weekend, after deciding to use this amazing marvel of communication and technology to compare…

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