Amazon's Lord of the Rings TV Series Costs Nearly Half a Billion Dollars for Its First Season Alone @ io9

It turns out Middle-earth doesn’t come cheap. Amazon Studios is spending an astonishing $465 million to make its Lord of the Rings prequel show... specifically, the show’s first season. That’s over $150 million more than Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings movies cost to make. That’s more than the gross domestic…

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Exclusive clip from 'For All Mankind' Season 2 finale, as Ronald D. Moore teases time jump to the 1990s @ Syfy Wire

It's T-minus one week until the Season 2 finale of the AppleTV+ alternate reality space drama, For All Mankind. All season, the narrative's been set in the alt-80s revealing, and exploring, the repercussions of the Soviet Union beating the United States and NASA to the moon in Season 1. In particular, the militarization of NASA comes to bear in this season finale, which has the Pathfinder mission, lead by Mission Commander Edward Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), heading to protect the Jamestown moon base from the Soviet Buran launch. 

In an interview with select reporters today, series executive producer/co-creator, Ronald D. Moore told SYFY WIRE that he and the show's writing staff made sure to lay in a lot of markers that will resolve the state of the dueling space programs in 1983 while tipping up another decade jump into the 90s for Season 3.

"As writers, it was important to us that we give the audience a big, satisfying, 'Oh my god!' edge-of-your seat ending to the season, but that we didn't get too far away from the characters," Moore teased. "The characters are really what the show is, so it was really important to us to spend some time at the very end of the finale, to touch base with everybody as that's where you leave them in the 1980s before your jump another decade ahead."

In an exclusive clip from the second season finale, "The Grey," the Pathfinder crew looks for their cosmonaut counterparts in the moon's orbit:

As each season of For All Mankind progresses, each a decade jump at a time, Moore said the series will get more and more sci-fi as the historical events of reality are morphed, or straight-up changed, for the needs of their narrative. He said for the writers, it's been more freeing the less tethered they are to actual history, but that it's also been more of a challenge to keep audiences connected.

"It makes us a little bit more careful in terms of, we do still want the audience to have a connection to the actual history," he detailed. "So as you get into the 1990s in Season 3, we still want the audience to remember some aspects of the 1990s. You want the sense memory of certain events that happen, certain pop cultural things that happened, certain geopolitical things that happen. But sometimes, you want to change them, so they happen in a different way. But it's important that the audience still feels like we're telling a story of us, and the story of the world that they knew, and that it just could have gone differently." Hopeful of more season pick-ups after Season 3, Moore said the diverging timelines will remain the biggest challenge of the ever-evolving series.

In the meantime, Moore admitted that he's thrilled to see audiences respond to the lavish amount of historical Easter eggs woven into not just the narrative, but the surrounding production design in any given scene. "I was hoping people would dig into all the Easter eggs that were planted in the background of the show, like on the televisions, or just in casual conversation, or the plaques on walls and newspaper headlines and television broadcasts. And what's been great is to see how many people are fascinated with the implications of different events, like a crisis happening in Panama instead of in the Middle East, or how the situation that divided Berlin would work out, different missions that happened and didn't happen like Challenger, and political problems and political ramifications of things like Reagan coming in in 1976 instead of 1980. And then pop cultural things like John Lennon, living, and so on."

He continues, "It's been really great because in the first season, people weren't quite sure what to focus on in terms of the alternate history because we started so close to what was real history. There was like a slow diversion as we went further and further down the line. But in the second season, it's a pretty big divergence. And I love the fact that people debate it online."

As to Moore's ongoing involvement with For All Mankind in light of his new deal developing scripts and properties into theatrical scripts and TV shows for The Walt Disney Company and 20th Century, he confirmed he would still have a creative hand in future seasons. 

"I've been pretty involved with Season 3 as we started working on it before I left Sony and started working for Disney," Moore explained. But he reiterated that he and the rest of the writers have already mapped out an overall plan for whole series early on, which remains the framework going forward. 

"I co-created the show with Matt [Wolpert] and Ben [Nedivi], and so now they're the day-to-day showrunners. But I'm very involved," he detailed. "I sit in on the writer's rooms. I read the scripts. I'm in post so I'm definitely involved. I'm just not there day-to-day. Matt and Ben are the two guys on the spot. But I love this show. It's very near and dear to my heart, so I'm looking forward to continuing to work with it. But yes, my principal focus will be on the new projects that I'm developing for Disney and 20th Century because that's the new deal. For All Mankind is in very capable hands."

 

This Was the Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode We'd Been Waiting For @ io9

Great action, emotional character development, excellent reveals, and a Rocky-style training montage. Yup, the penultimate episode of Disney+ and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was basically everything we’ve ever wanted from this show, all rolled into one. But it’s not over yet.

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Pentagon confirms newly leaked UFO images are indeed 'unidentified aerial phenomena' @ Syfy Wire

The truth isn’t out there just yet, but the truth that something is out there is, umm, out there. That’s because the U.S. Defense Department has confirmed that newly circulated photos and videos of UFOs are indeed "unidentified aerial phenomena,” officially speaking.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough also confirmed that the new looks, recently published by Mystery Wire and on Extraordinary Beliefs, were taken by U.S. Navy aviators in 2019, and depict unidentified aerial phenomena of a blinking triangular object, as well as ones shaped like a "sphere" and an "acorn," and one characterized as a "metallic blimp."

“I can confirm that the referenced photos and videos were taken by Navy personnel," said Gough in a statement obtained by SYFY WIRE. "Also, to clarify, I am only confirming that the cockpit photographs and videos – what the Mystery Wire article refers to as 'Sphere,' 'Acorn' and 'Metallic Blimp,' and the videos taken with a night-vision device in the Extraordinary Beliefs article – were taken by Navy personnel."

These newly leaked UAP images shouldn’t be confused with the much ballyhooed videos taken in 2004 and 2015 that former Blink-182 musician Tom DeLonge’s UFO-watching outfit published in 2019, which were later officially released by the Pentagon in 2020. (What could be confusing about that?)

That very public footage actually got the feds publicly interested in investigating UAPs, so much so that the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force was created in August 2020 to document UFOs witnessed by the U.S. military. And then in December, Congress’ funding bill included a directive that the national intelligence director and defense secretary must release an official report on UAPs within six months.

Gough also confirmed that the UAPTF has "included these incidents in their ongoing examinations."

However, per Gough: “As we have said before, to maintain operations security and to avoid disclosing information that may be useful to potential adversaries, DOD does not discuss publicly the details of either the observations or the examinations of reported incursions into our training ranges or designated airspace, including those incursions initially designated as UAP.”

So while Gough refused to get into the security sensitive particulars of these newly leaked incidents of unidentified aerial phenomena, perhaps we can look forward to a somewhat more detailed official UAPTF report on the matters.

Until then, keep an eye on the skies, for the truth is still out there.  


Manifest showrunner Jeff Rake breaks down new callings and Vance's big surprise in 'Wingman' @ Syfy Wire

There was a lot of heart and a lot of heart-pumping in this week's episode of Manifest, "Wingman." Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and Zeke (Matt Long) confronted Michaela's past again while dealing with a new crisis involving Evie's (Simone Elizabeth Bart) folks, Beverly (Adriane Lenox) and Glen (Andrew Sensenig). And at the cabin, Grace (Athena Karkanis) and Tarik (Warner Miller) finally discussed the long-simmering issues at the core of their estrangement.

Meanwhile, Ben (Josh Dallas) found a new passenger with a knack for calling interpretation, while Saanvi (Parveen Kaur) faced pressure because Jared Vasquez (J.R. Ramirez) has taken up investigating what happened to the Major.

What will it mean going forward? Executive producer/showrunner Jeff Rake returns to chat with SYFY WIRE for another in-depth episode breakdown as he reveals some big "Wingman" clues as to what's coming next...

**SPOILER WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for Manifest Season 3, Episode 3, "Wingman."**

Credit: Peter Kramer/WB/NBC

"Wingman" is digging into the idea of setting your house right, with Michaela and Zeke going back to deal with Beverly and Glen and then Grace and Tarik confronting their long-held family resentments. What are you trying to move forward in these deeply personal stories?

Those stories certainly play in parallel. Both of them are very much about the underlying themes that we hit as frequently as we can in Manifest: damage, healing, redemption. In Michaela's world, we've been telling the story of the emotional damage that she carries around every day of her life in regards to Evie, her best friend who died not long before the plane disappeared. Michaela has always felt responsible for Evie's death. We saw Michaela's early interactions with Evie's folks in Season 1, which was so, so painful.

Last season, we put them on the path of healing. And so now we're taking that to the next level where Michaela — holding Zeke's hand — metaphorically steps further down that path of healing and redemption. It all goes back to not feeling worthy, with such profound sensations of self-loathing and regret, and the desperation to have a second chance to redeem oneself. Her surprising interaction with Evie's folks, Beverly and Glen in Episode 3, is allowing her to make the hard choices as she continues her path of redemption.

And in the case of Grace (Karkanis) and Tarik (Miller), we've never talked about in the series that there's a very wide chasm here. There's a lot of guilt and regret and shame in the backstory between this brother and sister. It's a path of redemption and healing. Yes, Grace is coming to Tarik out of necessity, but she comes hat-in-hand realizing that she doesn't really have a right to knock on her brother's door because she feels that she is responsible for their damaged relationship. We're going to watch them try to unpack their damage and slowly but surely heal their own relationship. We're gonna walk them to a crisis point and we'll get their relationship to a place of understanding right when it's needed the most.

The introduction of Eagan Tehrani is fascinating because we have another passenger getting callings, but he's much better at sussing them out than Ben or Michaela. Is it better for the overall mystery that he's now in the picture?

I love this character and I love this actor. The introduction of Eagan [played by Ali Lopez-Sohail], first and foremost, reminds us that even though we tell the story of Manifest through the lens of Ben and Michaela, there are a lot of passengers out there who are experiencing their own callings every day. Eagan bluntly reminds Ben, right off the bat, "This isn't just about you, Ben. There's a lot of us out there and we've been doing just fine on our own. Thank you very much."

Not only is Eagan someone out there who has been self-sufficient and who has been figuring out callings, but he's quite excellent at them. Ben is aware of this and acknowledges this guy is better at it. So, he's a colorful character. He's an important character. This is not the last we see of Eagan. And when you ask is it for better or worse, that there's another character out there in the world who is better at the callings, I'm going to let the audience be the judge. But it's going to be very complicated because one of the things that we're slowly platforming in Season 3 of Manifest is that there are other passengers out there, they are talking with each other, they're communicating with each other, they're strategizing with each other, and they don't necessarily see things eye-to-eye with Ben and Michaela.

Fitz's daughter pleading for Jared to find who killed her mother really tightens the screws on Saanvi now. Talk about where that might be going?

Yeah, so this is a really tantalizing, slow-burn story that we'll be unpacking throughout the season. It's just like a classic cat and mouse mystery, Jared [J.R. Ramirez] conducting this investigation, and not realizing that the ultimate perpetrator is someone that he knows incredibly well is going to be delicious for the audience to watch unpack as Jared gets closer and closer to the truth.

And there are so many players in the story. At the beginning of the story, there's Saanvi and Vance who were the only ones who know the truth. For the first half of this story, it's Saanvi and Vance keeping the secret. And then the question becomes, how long does it take Michaela and Jared to find out the truth? I always try to bring these stories back to theme, even though it's a great mystery, and it's a great plot point and arena of conflict between our characters, it's all about these themes of redemption in the path toward righteousness. Saanvi is completely torn up feeling that she committed murder.

But at the same time, Catherine Fitz, the Major, is an incredibly controversial character who did terrible things to so many passengers. And of course, when Saanvi ultimately had that fatal conflict with the Major, she was trying to save Zeke's life. It's one of these stories where we ask ourselves was this an act of good or evil, or somewhere in between? If God was the umpire of this story, what would God say about this incident? That's something that we will be tugging at, not just in this season, but beyond that, as we continue to ask ourselves will the passengers live or die, but do they deserve to live or die?

You end on another great visual of what looks to be Vance getting the keys to the 828 investigation kingdom. Should we feel excited or very, very worried?

Vance returning from captivity and being handed the keys to the castle first and foremost reminds the viewers that there's been a monumental investigation going on into the mystery of 828. Not just since the plane returned, but since it disappeared. And while we've been telling the story of Manifest through the lens of Ben and Michaela and the other passengers, there's a whole other world of investigation out there.

We've met Vance and we have glimpsed his world, but we've never really stepped into that world. With Vance's returning here, he's going to walk us into that world and that'll be through Ben and Saanvi when we get to Episode 4. We're going to see the worlds collide: the world of the passengers and the world of the government investigation. They are gonna realize they need each other in order to move the investigation forward. And that's going to be a really fun and tantalizing part of the journey as we get into the middle and later parts of Season 3.

Go behind the mask of The Armorer in exclusive look at Titan's guide to 'The Mandalorian' Season 1 @ Syfy Wire

Laboring over her blue-flamed forge hammering out gleaming pieces of beskar steel, The Mandalorian's The Armorer is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Disney+ series.

A new deluxe companion book covering the making of the Star Wars spinoff's first season is being released next month by Titan Books — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive page spread starring the clan's laconic blacksmith to share. This is the way!

Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Guide To Season One lands in stores on May 18 as a 96-page hardback collector's edition showcasing detailed character profiles, episode plots, alien planet locations, pre-production props, behind-the-scenes secrets, never-before-seen stills, and a close peek behind-the scenes at how the gunslinging sci-fi show and its colorful new characters like IG-11 and Moff Gideon were born.

Credit: Titan Books

The Armorer is played by actress Emily Swallow, while the main stunts are performed by Lauren Mary Kim. According to her interview, Swallow's Spartan-looking helmet and heavy gloves were not easy to wear and caused limited visibility and limited her dexterity. However, as mentioned in her character spotlight, she was grateful that the costume allowed her to go without makeup every day.

Credit: Titan Books

"Just like the hammer that forges iron, the Armorer moulds and strengthens the sense of belonging of fellow Mandalorians," reads her description in the book. "Poised and collected, the Armorer rarely speaks, nor does she ever raise her voice; yet, her undisputed authority is acknowledged by all clan members, regardless of their rank or exploits. A skilled blacksmith, the Armorer often crafts and repairs gear for other Mandalorians. When Mando returned to the enclave with the reward beskar obtained by the Client, the Armorer forged him a full cuirass, pauldrons, and weapons."

Credit:Titan Books

Editor Jonatha Wilkins dove into the tie-in book project with a relish any true Star Wars fan can appreciate.

"From the first episode of the first season, Star Wars: The Mandalorian has captured the hearts and minds of not just the Star Wars fanbase but the TV audience in general, so to work on a special guide to that first season has been an absolute thrill," she tells SYFY WIRE. "I'm particularly enthused by some of the behind-the scenes images, many seen for the first time in this edition. Working on this title has certainly enhanced my appreciation of the show, and I hope that is also true for the readers as well."

Credit: Titan Books

Now check out our expanded preview for Titan Books' Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Guide To Season One (May 18) in the full gallery below.

The Boys producer on how far the show will go in Season 3: 'I'm not sure there is a line' @ Syfy Wire

In just two seasons, The Boys has already proven there's no line the Prime Video series is not willing to cross, whether it's accidentally killing a sexually charged dolphin in Season 1 or actually including a super-powered individual known as Love Sausage in Season 2 — with the man actually attempting to kill one of the heroes with his extremely long, um, member

"I'm not sure there is a line," says producer-director Phil Sgriccia on a recent episode of The Boys official podcast. "We've got some stuff planned in Season 3 that's even more pushing of the envelope... Every time we get to a line and say 'Can we do that? I guess so.' Might as well try and ask for forgiveness later."

Considering the new season will tackle the infamous Herogasm storyline, yeah, we'd imagine they're pushing pretty hard to find that line at this poiint.

In fact, one of the few things the show initially got some pushback on was the superhero sex club that appeared in the first episode of the first season, as well as the depiction of self-pleasure — something the show (and Amazon Studios) have since gotten past, as seen in the final scene of Homelander (Anthony Starr) at the very end of the second season. 

"I can say there was a big argument about some characters masturbating," reveals executive producer Evan Goldberg at a later point in the podcast. "There's been many arguments about that early on. We got through that."

Co-executive producer Seth Rogen agrees, adding that most of those conversations were about the first few episodes of the show. "It was just different. But once it came out and in general people accepted it and saw that we had a good gauge as to what was and was not something people would like to see on television... If anything I'm amazed at what they let us do." 

As bold as the series (which Former President Barack Obama has also binged) is about what it depicts, it's also not afraid to poke fun at itself or some of the other shows and movies that are currently dominating popular culture, from the Deep (Chase Crawford) appearing on a Bachelor-style dating show within the show, or members of the female members of the superhero team the Seven actually starring in an intentionally-terrible Justice League or Avengers-esque fake movie, titled "Dawn of the Seven" that depicts a more fictional take on events that actually transpired. 

"I loved writing 'Dawn of the Seven' dialogue. It's my favorite thing. You have to walk this fine line of bad but not so bad," says showrunner Eric Kripke. "'Dawn of the Seven' seems like the worst movie. It's got this weird prologue with this drug dealer and somehow there are mutants. When you try and place all the pieces together it makes no sense."

But despite that, a full script actually exists, along with all the notes one of the characters (Aya Cash's Stormfront) has for it, shares Kripke about the production design's attention to detail. "In between setups, I was just kind of hanging out on set and I happened to pick up the script and page through it... That was not just fake pages. I was reading it. Someone really wrote [Dawn of the Seven], and then, someone really wrote real notes all over it."

Of course, part of the parodying within the series comes from the fact that the show wasn't able to get any sponsors because of its more R-rated sensibilities. Kripke says that's why Vaught actually manufactures and sells most of the products within the world. It's also become a fun running gag now. Though there is a particular brand the series has been trying to spoof, laughs Kripke. "One that we've never gotten yet is a Goop-like product line called Vaughtality." 

Season 3 — which is currently being filmed — and the college-set spin-off in the works will no doubt feature more of that, along with the possible return of Seth Reed and Evan Lambert, two recurring Vaught marketing guys who tend to pitch their often cheesy ideas to various members of the Seven. Rogen confirms that both characters are indeed named after him and Goldberg.

"It's very much a joke at us, made by Kripke." Rogen laughs. "I think he got us." 

You can currently stream the first two seasons of The Boys on Prime Video.


 

Marvel's New X-Men Line-Up Has Some Un-X-pected Surprises @ io9

The Marvel comics universe version of the official X-Team has been a bit in flux since the mutant nation of Krakoa was formed for Jonathan Hickman’s earth-shattering stewardship of the X-Book line. That changes in July, when writer Gerry Duggan, artist Pepe Larraz, and colorist Marte Gracia debut (the newest) X-Men #1…

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'Harry Potter' actress Helen McCrory dies at 52 following battle with cancer @ Syfy Wire

Helen McCrory, the British actress known for playing Draco Malfoy's mother, Narcissa, in the Harry Potter films, has passed away at the age of 52 following a battle with cancer. The unfortunate news was confirmed on Twitter by McCrory's husband of the last 14 years: Billions actor Damian Lewis. 

"I'm heartbroken to announced that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family," Lewis wrote. "She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you."

Born in London, England in August of 1968, McCrory made her onscreen debut in the late 1990s with the U.K. sitcom, Full Stretch. Throughout her 23-year career, she appeared in television, film, and theater projects, which nabbed her accolades from the London Film Critics Circle, Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, Critics’ Circle Theater Awards, Glamour Awards, Satellite Awards, Critics Choice Television Awards, and Shakespeare Globe Awards.

In addition to the Potter movies, her other genre credits include: Fantastic Mr. FoxDoctor WhoPhineas and Ferb, Skyfall, and Penny Dreadful.

McCrory entered the Wizarding World in 2009 with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. While her role as Narcissa (mother to Tom Felton's Draco and sister to Bellatrix Lestrange)  was rather small in the sixth film, she received more screen-time in the two-part film adaptation of Deathly Hallows. Despite being deep within Voldemort's inner circle, Narcissa ends up helping bring about the Dark Lord demise when she lies about Harry being dead from the evil sorcerer's Killing Curse.

"It was quite nerve-wracking because obviously, she's in the books all the way along," McCrory remarked in 2014. "They've been established for a long time and so, to come in at the end, I was very, very nervous. Because the fans behind Harry Potter, they've read the books, they're waiting to see the films and you don't want to disappoint and let them down. So, it was quite a lot of trepidation coming into it. But yeah, she's an interesting character because although she's a Malfoy and a Lestrange, her son changes her. What she's about is actually her loyalty to her son. Her redeeming feature is that she is a mother that loves a child more than herself. And also because her son's view of the world changes, she allows it to affect her, and that is good parenting."

McCrory's final project was in HBO's small screen translation of His Dark Materials, where she voiced Stelmaria (Lord Asriel's snow leopard dæmon).

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, McCrory and Lewis announced LEON, a campaign to help feed front-line workers of Britain's National Health Service. "This, hopefully, is going to be a blueprint that's gonna go nationwide. Everyone can look at their own local hospitals and their own local eateries and think, 'What can we do?'" she said. "One thing we're all on at the moment is online."

She is survived by Lewis and their two children, Manon and Gulliver.

(certain biographical info via IMDb & Variety)


Knock, knock! Netflix's 'Locke & Key' closes the door on Season 2 production @ Syfy Wire

Netflix has officially wrapped production on the second season of Locke & Key, cast member Darby Stanchfield revealed on Instagram. The actress — who plays Locke matriarch, Nina — praised the crew for expertly maintaining health safety guidelines, as filming for the sophomore season began during the COVID-19 pandemic last September.

"Our production managed to NOT GET SHUT DOWN ONCE ALL SEASON!" she wrote in the caption. "Our crew are the for real rockstars for wearing all of that PPE and consistently keeping so safe. SO freaking proud of the entire cast and crew for staying bubbled up during the show — even though it was so so SO hard to be away from loved ones. Forever grateful to work with this incredible #lockeandkey company and to get to tell Nina Locke’s story."

Based on the IDW comic book of the same name by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, the show follows the supernatural exploits of the Locke family. When Rendell Locke turns up dead, his young children discover a collection of magical keys, inadvertantly awaken a malevolent entity in the process. Rendell and Nina's progeny are played by Connor Jessup (Tyler), Emilia Jones (Kinsey), and Jackson Robert Scott (Bode). 

Both Jessup and Jones also confirmed that production on the second season is now over.

The series' first season dropped in February 2020 as a solid hit, debuting just before the full weight of the pandemic and lockdowns ramped up. Considering the production slowdowns and the fact that Season 2 has only just wrapped, we likely still have a long wait left until Season 2 actually hits the service (considering all that fancy, magic door FX work left to be done). But regardless, we're a whole lot closer to heading back into Key House.

The cast also includes Aaron Ashmore and Hallea Jones, who were upped to series regulars in 2020, while Brendan Hines and Liyou Abere are set to play new characters in Season 2. Bill Heck, Laysla De Oliveira, Sherri Saum, Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Petrice Jones, Griffin Gluck, Coby Bird, Jesse Camacho, and Asha Bromfield return as recurring faces from Season 1.

Hill, John Weber, Frank Siracusa, Kevin Lafferty, Ted Adams, Chris Ryall, Lydia Antonini, Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, David Alpert, and Rick Jacobs serve as executive producers. Season 2 will premiere sometime later this year, with a third season on the way. The first issue of a special Locke & Key/Sandman crossover is now on sale.

"[Showrunners] Carlton [Cuse] and Meredith [Averill] have built an incredible world in Locke & Key and we’re excited to have the Lockes return for more in the third season,” Brian Wright, Vice President of Overall Deals for Netflix, said when the Season 3 renewal was announced last December. “I’m delighted to expand our creative partnership with Meredith Averill, a talented creator with a keen eye for best-in-class horror and supernatural storytelling.”


Netflix's Castlevania Will End After 4 Seasons—But More May Be on the Way @ io9

It’s a horrible Friday afternoon to have a curse. But fear not, fans of very sad vampires: Netflix is not entirely done with Castlevania yet.

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s surprise cameo revealed - here’s what it could mean for the MCU @ Syfy Wire

Recently appearing on Vanity Fair's Still Watching podcast, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier producer Nate Moore hyped up Episode 5 ("Truth") of the hit MCU series. The big rumor? We'd meet a new Marvel character, and we did — just probably not one most folks were expecting.

"Episode 5, I think, gets to bring a lot of the threads that maybe felt disparate or not fully-formed together," he said. "You get to see the conversation the show is gonna try to have with the audience. Episode 4 is gonna be a lot of people's favorite episode for some action reasons and some character turns. But [Episode] 5 really gets to be the culmination of the theme. Both from an acting standpoint and from a filmmaking standpoint, I think it's our strongest episode."

How right he was...

***WARNING! The following contains major plot spoilers for Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!***

The latest installment had a lot going on: John Walker (Wyatt Russell) is fired as Captain America, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) opens up about his tragic past as an African American super-soldier, Sam (Anthony Mackie) starts training with Steve's shield, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) agrees to start making genuine amends for his past misdeeds, and Elaine Benes makes her Marvel Studios debut.

Get out! *forcibly pushes Jerry*

Credit: Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

Sorry, we mean that Seinfeld and Veep favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus made a surprise appearance as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, aka sometimes Madame Hydra. Created by Jim Steranko in the late '60s, she's a character with close comic book ties to both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. Brimming with confidence and mystery, Ms. Fontaine confronts Walker shortly after he gets the sack, telling him that he was right to take the super-soldier serum. It's a choice that's made him "very, very valuable to certain people." She hands Walker a blank business card, says she'll be in touch, and walks away without another word. During the short post-credits scene, we see Walker forging his own Captain America shield and continuing down the path that leads to U.S. Agent.

What does it all mean? Well, according to Vanity Fair, Fontaine was originally supposed to make her first-ever appearance in Black Widow. That became impossible when the film was delayed several times by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the duty of launching Phase 4 of the MCU fell to WandaVision.

However, VF speculates that Black Widow's post-credits scene may involve Fontaine asking Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh, who will also appear in the upcoming Hawkeye series) to join a Suicide Squad-esque team of former bad guys. Traditionally, both Fontaine and Yelena are depicted as Russian spies, giving them common ground. In addition, the idea of a group of villains-turned-heroes already has a precedent in the comics with the Thunderbolts, who were founded by none other than... Baron Zemo.

As such, fans are now theorizing that Louis-Dreyfus's Fontaine is a dark reflection of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is actively recruiting members for an anti-Avengers Initiative. Like we said earlier, Val has strong connections to Fury in the comics (the two were once romantically linked) and what's more: she had a large role to play in the Secret Invasion comic run, another famous arc that's getting the TV show treatment at Disney+. Oh, and she was a member of Femme Force, an elite S.H.I.E.L.D. squad run by — who else? — Sharon Carter!

Now, we can't say all of this with 100 percent certainty, but it does feel like some serious groundwork is being laid here for Phase 4 and beyond. The concept of rehabilitated antagonists fighting alongside the Avengers against the next major threat is just too good — and creates plenty of great conflict in the meantime. Kevin Feige & Co. would be crazy to let it pass by!

Episodes 1-5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are currently available to stream on Disney+. The series finale premieres on the streaming service next Friday, April 23.


Credit: SYFY WIRE

Made for Love's Creative Team on the Sci-Fi Series' Finale and Season 2 Hopes @ io9

HBO Max’s Made for Love—about a woman (Cristin Milioti) who escapes from her tech-guru husband (Billy Magnussen) only to discover that he’s implanted a chip in her brain—wrapped up last night with a huge twist and some major unanswered questions. io9 caught up with the creative team to learn more and the chances of a…

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The Week in Gaming: Resident Evil continues to terrorize, New Pokémon Snap, & retro shreddin’ with TMNT @ Syfy Wire

Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!

There aren't many gaming moments to compare with being approached by a demented, ice-white 9-foot tall woman — and watching helplessly as she indulges her sadistic sweet tooth on your arm blood. But Resident Evil Village isn't shaping up to be like most games… perhaps not even like other Resident Evil games.

Lady Dimitrescu isn't like other game antagonists, and Capcom's rollout for RE Village, coming in the franchise's 25th anniversary year, has been as exceptionally oversized as her towering, unhinged presence within the twisted manor she calls home. Capcom held the second of its Resident Evil digital showcases to promote Village (and tons of other RE goodies) this week, and even more than with its first event, dropped a trove of new information not only about the upcoming 8th installment in the main RE series, but about other games and screen projects as well.

Resident Evil on YouTube

We've summarized the screen stuff here, but who're we kidding — most players were there for the Village news. Capcom didn't disappoint on that front, revealing a freaky new trailer alongside word that a second RE Village demo is coming our way next week. On top of that, game director Morimasa Sato announced "an additional challenge" called The Mercenaries, a "bonus mode" included with the main game that harkens back to the Mercenaries DNA first introduced in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis — with a few new twists.

Unlike January's Maiden demo, the new demo will be time-limited to a one-hour playthrough (within an 8-hour window), multi-platform, and staggered between consoles. The main demo will release for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia on May 1. PlayStation players, though, will get early access via a special timed event that producer Tsuyoshi Kanda called "8 hours in Village" — though the catch is that it comes in two installments, each a week apart, and players will have to divvy up their full demo hour between two 30-minute jaunts in both the village area (coming April 17) and the castle area (landing a week later on April 24.)

That's a lot to wrap your head around, we know — and Capcom's demo landing page doesn't make the job of sorting it all out any easier. Keep an eye on it anyway as the updates come rolling along, as well as to secure your demo pre-order, which went live for PlayStation owners as soon as the April 15 showcase ended.

Resident Evil on YouTube

What about The Mercenaries? It's free bonus content that comes with Village, and it folds in characters and themes from across the RE franchise for an arcade-style set of speed challenges that evolve the Mercenaries concept that longtime fans already are familiar with. This time out, players will be able to tweak their weapons and gear in between missions by visiting The Duke's emporium (he's the too-jolly shopkeeper you'll also encounter curing your main RE Village playthrough).

Sato possibly hinted, without saying outright, that The Mercenaries may hide treats that could be useful beyond a single playthrough, describing the add-on as "a rich gameplay experience full of surprises, with special rewards for those who persevere." Whether the loot you collect can carry over into Village itself or no, The Mercenaries comes with a new Abilities feature; one that brings new strategic elements like deciding whether to increase your weapons damage, your guard protection, or your movement speed.

The Mercenaries is strictly a free bonus mode that sweetens the deal for anyone who buys a copy of the main game, and all of it's coming our way — preceded by Lady D's long shadow — when Resident Evil Village releases on May 7.

The best of the rest

Resident Evil 4 stalks to VR

Credit: Capcom

Thought we were done with Resident Evil? Too bad, because Resident Evil definitely isn't done with us. Capcom gave fans so much RE news this week that it's hard to cram it all into a single tidy spot — including word that the franchise is making its first fully-committed foray into the world of virtual reality.

Oculus is holding its first-ever VR gaming showcase on April 21, and Capcom is bringing the scares in a big way with this week's new announcement that a VR version of Resident Evil 4 will be coming exclusively to the Oculus Quest 2. It's (almost) the first full VR experience for a Resident Evil game: Resident Evil 7 did release for PlayStation VR back in 2017, though it was largely unchanged from the base game's 1st-person point of view.

RE4, though, is getting the full VR makeover treatment via a collaboration between Facebook-owned Oculus, Capcom, and Armature Studio (founded by former members of the Metroid Prime development team). Capcom said its revered 2005 title will come complete with a VR-appropriate shift to a 1st-person perspective — which will definitely shake up the way you remember playing from RE4's classic 3rd-person shooter point of view.

Capcom left additional details for Oculus to share during its upcoming VR showcase, and it's only a short wait before we learn more: the showcase goes live on YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook at 6 p.m. ET on April 21.

Oh Snap! Switch revives Pokémon's N64 glory days

Nintendo on YouTube

Snap to attention, Pokémon fans, because a sequel more than 20 years in the making is heading to the Nintendo Switch this month. Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company are prepping New Pokémon Snap for an April 30 release, and to get the larger Pokémon ecosystem involved, there's a New Pokémon Snap event set to kick off within Pokémon GO a day before Snap makes its Switch debut.

The New Pokémon Snap celebration will be a weekend-long event that gives GO players a first taste of the new game's Lental region (featured in the clip above), as well as some of the Pokémon who'll be taking point in Snap. Over four days, players also will have the chance "to complete event-exclusive photography-themed research tasks and encounter Pokémon featured in New Pokémon Snap, such as Venusaur, Dodrio, and Skarmory," the Pokémon Company teases.

And because someone mentioned pictures, it's only natural that Smeargle will also be right in the middle of things: "Since Smeargle loves popping up in Trainers' snapshots, the Painter Pokémon will be making several appearances throughout the New Pokémon Snap Celebration. If you're lucky, you might even encounter a Shiny Smeargle during the event."

Pokémon Snap debuted way back in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, bringing the franchise some of its earliest 3D-rendered console action as an on-rails sim that had players doing Poké-research to achieve the best possible photos. New Pokémon Snap is set to hit the Switch beginning April 30. Check out the New Pokémon Snap celebration website for all the Pokémon GO crossover details.

Grab a pizza! TMNT has a new retro fighter

Switch players will also be getting a chance to do some old-school brawlin' on the half shell later this year when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge brings retro-inspired side-scrolling melee action to Nintendo's hybrid console. Nintendo and developer DotEmu revealed the 1980s-themed turtle fighter with a throwback trailer that celebrates its pixellated art-style vibe, complete with Super NES-worthy tag-team strike animations:

Nintendo on YouTube

Nintendo doesn't have to pitch this one too hard (they had us at "retro-inspired beat 'em up action"), but nevertheless teases "groundbreaking gameplay rooted in timeless classic brawling mechanics," plus a fight quest that will find the "Turtles battling across a righteous range of timeless TMNT locations. From Manhattan and Coney Island, to city rooftops and dank sewers, help the fearsome foursome trounce Foot Soldiers, Triceraton Warriors, and Rock Troops all the way to Dimension X!"

There's no firm release date, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is set to slice and dice its way onto the Switch sometime this year.

Marvel Comics reveals new team, new creators for relaunch of flagship 'X-Men' series @ Syfy Wire

Two years after the ambitious relaunch of the entire X-Men line with the Dawn of X era under the leadership of writer Jonathan Hickman, Marvel Comics is finally ready to reveal the first proper X-Men team of the age of Krakoa — and they're doing it with a brand-new first issue and an all-star creative team.

The publisher announced Friday that this July will bring the launch of X-Men #1, a new volume of the mutant line's flagship book, from writer Gerry Duggan (Marauders) and artist Pepe Larraz (House of X). At its heart is a new team of mutant heroes made up of Krakoan leaders, mutant mainstays, and a couple of wild cards who all come together to form the first real mutant superhero group since the arrival of Dawn of X in 2019. The new team will be composed of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Sunfire, Rogue, Wolverine (Laura Kinney), Synch and Polaris, who was added Thursday after she was revealed to be the winner of a high-profile fan vote to determine the final member of the new team's lineup.

"It's my privilege and honor to be reteamed with Pepe Larraz as we throw beautiful and deadly threats at the X-Men beginning in July," Duggan said in a statement. "Mutants have saved themselves, and are now going to save the world. Krakoa will grow roots in the capitol of the world, New York City, and the inaugural year will star Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Rogue, Wolverine, Synch, Sunfire and Polaris. The threats to Earth will come fast and hit hard, and every page from Pepe and Marte will blow your hair back. See you in July."

In addition to Larraz's sprawling main cover showcasing the new team, Marvel also revealed Friday that its group of "Stormbreakers" breakout artists have put together a series of connecting covers for the launch, with each artist taking on a different member of the team. They are: Juann Cabal on Professor X, Carmen Carnero on Marvel Girl, Peach Momoko on Sunfire, Iban Coello on Psych, R.B. Silva on Cyclops, Natacha Bustos on Wolverine, Patrick Gleason on Rogue, and Joshua Cassara On Polaris. Check out both covers in the gallery below.

Obviously there's been a comic called X-Men running in the Dawn of X era for a while now, launched by Hickman and artist Leinil Francis Yu in the wake of the House of X/Powers of X event, but despite its title that book never actually featured a team of mutant superheroes going out and doing missions for the betterment of the planet. The age of Krakoa has left the mutants more insular, more isolated from a world that still perhaps hates and fears them, but after the events of X of Swords and the near-invasion of Earth that stemmed from that clash, Cyclops and Marvel Girl decided it was time for a change.

The world, they argued, needs the X-Men again, and this July we'll see what that new team can do. As for Hickman, he's still very much a part of the core X-Men story, and will launch a still-mysterious new title with a still-unrevealed artist in September, as part of Marvel's ongoing Reign of X

Sam Wilson chooses who he wants to be in Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier @ Syfy Wire

There's a big difference between amending and avenging, and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is the only one in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier who seems to know the difference. Episode 5, titled "Truth," features brutal history informing the violent present, with Sam caught in the middle.

Ultimately, he's not going to let the past, the present, or the future decide who he is going to be. He makes his own choice. Whether it's a broken boat or a broken country, Sam Wilson is a man of service.

**WARNING: Spoilers will follow for Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If you haven't seen it yet, drop that shield and get outta here Dewey.**

The opposite of Sam Wilson is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), someone who is only in this to make himself feel good. Fresh off his murder of the unarmed Nico (Noah Mills) last week, Walker freaks out in a warehouse before justifying his actions to Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan). He twists the truth and blames Nico for the death of Lemar (Clé Bennett). He tells our heroes that they don't want to come at him like this, but yeah… they do.

During a brutal fight between the three of them, Walker shouts, "Why are you making me do this" at least once, because it's always someone else's fault, isn't it? He rips off Sam's wings and says, "I am Captain America." (As Tywin Lannister once said, anyone who has to say "I am the king" is no true king.) He's still using the shield in murder mode, but thankfully they get it away from him and he's down.

Sam picks up the still-bloody shield, and starts to clean it off. But even beginning to wash that blood off is going to take more work.

Bucky leaves to finish up with Zemo (Daniel Brühl) right as Torres (Danny Ramirez) enters, telling Sam that the Fake Cap situation is bad. (Thanks, Torres, we know, sweetie.) Karli (Erin Kellyman) is in the wind, so all they can do is wait for a lead.

"Sometimes there's nothing to do until there's something to do," Torres says. Sam takes the shield but leaves his busted wings behind with Torres.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Walker is kind of forced to own up to his actions. He's stripped of the Captain America title as well as his benefits by the U.S. government. He's won't get court-martialed because of his previous record, but this doesn't stop him from complaining and continuing to shift the blame. The council he was put in front of references their own dignity (?) while Walker talks with his wife Olivia (Gabrielle Byndloss). This conversation is soon interrupted by a woman in high-heeled boots strutting up, and... it's Julia Louis-Dreyfus! And she's not playing Selina Meyer or Elaine Benes.

She's Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a character from Marvel Comics who was created by Jim Steranko, first appearing in Strange Tales #159 in 1967. Most notably, she became a new version of Madame Hydra in Secret Warriors. If she stays around in the MCU (here's hoping that she does) and ends up as Madame Hydra, she'd be the second version of that character we've seen. Aida (Mallory Jansen) became a version of her during the framework arc in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (You can read more about Madame Hydra here.)

"You can just call me Val, but don't call me Val? Just keep it in your head," she says to Walker, ignoring Olivia. She gives Walker all of the coddling that the council didn't give him, and pretty much tells him what we already know: He's only facing consequences because the whole world was watching when he committed murder. If there were no witnesses, the authorities would likely have no problem pretending it didn't happen.

She mentions that the shield itself is a "legal gray area" (Selina Meyer would know), she co-signs more BS, and then leaves him with a blank business card.

Karli, meanwhile, takes stock of her losses and shouts, "How many times do we have to pay with our lives just to citizens of this god-damned planet?" Before we've even wrapped our minds around this line, we cut to Sokovia, where Bucky catches up with Zemo at the memorial that Zemo mentioned a couple of episodes ago. Zemo reiterates that Karli cannot be saved, going on to say that Sam is as stubborn as Steve Rogers.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Zemo thinks that Bucky, on the other hand, is a killer. Bucky holds a gun to his head and is about to prove him right, but click… no bullets. What, do you think he's stupid, Hans Zemo? He took them out. Ayo (Florence Kasumba) takes custody of the Dancing Baron, and she tells "White Wolf" to stay out of Wakanda for a little while. Bucky asks her for one more favor before she leaves.

We go back to Baltimore, where Sam learns more hard truths from Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) after passing Isaiah's grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) in the street. Sam has the shield, but Isaiah wants nothing to do with it. Sam tries to get him to knock it off, but Bradley has been through too much. "If you ain't bitter, you're blind," he says.

Bradley tells Sam his awful history. None of it was caught on camera, so America had no problem painting right over it.

He never had any delusions that he was ever going to be the "next" Captain America, even though he had some successful serum in him. This is America, after all. Some of his serum-injected friends got captured, and the government wanted to bomb the POW camp where they were being held to get rid of the "evidence." Before they could do this, Bradley went in and rescued them. He didn't get a Steve Rogers First Avenger-style thank you, though. He got locked away and was experimented on for 30 years.

Sam wants the truth of this story to be told, but Bradley just wants to be left alone. Sam says things are different now, but Bradley counters, "You think things are different? You think times are different? You think I wouldn't be dead in a day if you brought me out?"

"They were worried my story might get out, so they erased me," he continues. "My history. But they've been doing that for 500 years." He calls the shield a "white man's shield" and then drops the harshest line of all on Sam:

"They will never let a Black man be Captain America. Even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be."

With Isaiah's story in tow, Sam calls his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) and goes home.

He may not be able to do anything on a grand Avenger scale at the moment, but he can fix his family boat. He calls in favors and the community comes together, and soon enough Bucky arrives as well with a special box from Wakanda. He helps with the boat and trades looks with Sarah. Sam likes the first thing but completely shuts down the second. We go from this to Walker talking with Lemar's family, and they believe that the man responsible for their son's death received justice. This isn't true at all, but such is the way of things. America's legacy of lies and perverted truth is alive and well in John Walker, and Isaiah Bradley isn't gonna be surprised about that.

After a brief moment with Sharon "Art Thief" Carter (Emily VanCamp) making a phone call and promising "double" to someone (What is her deal on this show?), Bucky wakes up to Sam's nephews playing with the shield. He is about to chastise them, but then he smiles instead. After Sarah knocks both Bucky and Sam off of boat-fixing duty, they move to a homemade shield-tossing training course in Sam's backyard.

"The legacy of that shield is complicated, to say the least," Sam says. He would know, he's gotten a course in that troubled legacy for five episodes now. Bucky apologizes for chastising him about giving it away, explaining that the shield is the closest thing he has to a family.

Sam doesn't let that linger. Steve Rogers was great, but you know what else he is? Gone. He's gone. It didn't matter what he did or didn't think. "You gotta stop looking to other people to tell you who you are," Sam says, going on to lay some tough love on Bucky, who is still having nightmares. He thinks that a part of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him. When Sam tells him to do the work, Bucky mentions his amends.

"You weren't amending, you were avenging," Sam tells him. The process of making amends is not a selfish act, it's the complete opposite. Sam sums it up with one line:

"You've got to go to them and be of service." If there's one line that is pure Sam Wilson, it's that one.

The boat is finally fixed, but just as Sam is about to paint over his parent's names and get ready to sell it, Sarah tells him to stop. Sam is, of course, relieved: Here's some history that he can preserve. Sarah asks him if the truth of Isaiah Bradley is going to prevent Sam from being himself, and Sam comes to realize that as horrible as that history is, it's not going to stop him.

"What would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn't willing to stand up and keep fighting?"

He begins a serious training regimen with the shield, with the object and all that it represents flying way too fast at his face. He's almost afraid of it — until he adapts. He fuses his tosses with some of his Falcon leaps, his big new theme is heard clearly, and by the end of the training montage, he's able to catch the shield with minimal effort.

His nephew admires both him and the shield.

Credit: Marvel Studios

In New York City, Karli meets with Batroc the Leaper (Georges St. Pierre) and a whole lawn of followers, ready to stop a GRC vote on moving 20 million refugees back to their countries of origin. There's some arguing and posturing at the GRC meeting, but then the trap is sprung.

Torres lets Sam know that Karli is in NYC, and thankfully, Sam's more than ready. He finally opens the box from Wakanda that Bucky left him, and though we don't see what's in there, who wants to bet that it's a set of vibranium wings? Not to be outdone, John Walker spray paints his own Cap shield in a mid-credits scene. Good job, champ!

There's one more episode left, and many story threads to address. What exactly is Julia Louis-Dreyfus' deal? Can Karli be redeemed? Will Sam and Bucky admit that they're friends? What, we ask again, is Sharon's deal? There's a lot more too, but that wasn't where our minds were while watching this episode. In terms of history being preserved and truths coming to light, events in the real world simply cannot be ignored while this episode was watched.

It may only be the MCU America, but a Black man standing up with his young nephews looking on and Isaiah Bradley's legacy at his back and choosing to be of service is no small thing. Sam Wilson is not doing this because an old white man handed him a shield at the end of a movie. He's doing it because he's choosing to do it. Despite the past and despite the present, Sam Wilson is going to serve.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streams every Friday on Disney+.

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness' First Trailer Puts Leon, Claire, and Zombies in the White House @ io9

It’s been quite a while since rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and young motorcycle enthusiast Claire Redfield first met in the zombie-filled Raccoon City during 1998's Resident Evil 2. Now the dynamic duo is getting back together in Netflix’s upcoming Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness CG series to deal with a new outbreak…

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Great balls of fire! Weird 'yellowballs' could tell us how stars are born @ Syfy Wire

What appear (at least in the infrared) to be great balls of yellow fire are actually our first glimpse into how nascent stars evolve.

Our galaxy is always revealing strange objects and phenomena. Now, as the result of citizen scientist discoveries made from Spitzer Space Telescope Observations as part of The Milky Way Project, what are now called “yellowballs” have been found to be clouds of gas and dust heated by young stars right after they are born. These glowing yellow orbs have finally made it possible to find out what is going on between young stars forming and being born.

Even the most sci-fi spacecraft or telescope cannot see stars as they go through their earliest formation phases, which is why this is such a breakthrough.

“Yellowballs (YBs) are something of a ’missing link’ between cold, starless clouds and newborn stars,” astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase, who led a study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, told SYFY WIRE. “They trace a stage of evolution where young stars are still forming from their surrounding birth clouds. This is when we can first detect growing stars in infrared (not visible) light, similar to how ultrasound can detect a developing embryo.” 

Stars don’t blaze onto the scene right away. They are actually birthed by nebulae, cold cosmic clouds that gravity holds together. These clouds are too cold for stars that have started forming to be detected in visible light, but the embryonic stars soon start to make way for themselves by generating radiation, outflows and stellar winds that push away nebula clouds. Besides the obvious differences between biological and cosmological processes, stars form in clusters, and dozens to hundreds can be born at a time — sometimes thousands.

When you can’t use spectroscopy to see stars, you need other ways of making them visible. Viewing them in the infrared gave Wolf-Chase and her team the opportunity to figure out what exactly yellowballs were made of and why they were even there. Most of them are hiding smaller stars, not gargantuan bodies that can grow up to ten times the mass of our Sun. However, different colors seen in what she calls “broadband” infrared observations, which can can give away those that are associated with more massive stars or certain nebulae, as well as other properties that are otherwise undetectable.

“We have intriguing evidence that yellowball colors are different depending upon physical properties like mass, luminosity, and age of these star-forming regions,” she said. “So far, we've analyzed about one-tenth of all the yellowballs that were identified by citizen scientists.”

Massive stars that come out of in protoclusters have enough stellar wind power and UV radiation to blow up their surroundings into “bubbles” that can be tens of light-years across. That doesn’t sound so far, but if it takes an entire decade to travel across an expanse at the speed of light, no hypothetical spaceship (which would be much slower than that outside the realm of Star Trek) would make it in a human lifetime. Even regions of less impressive stars can form some otherworldly nebulae. It was nearly impossible to get an idea of what was happening in these star clusters before because there was no sample large or consistent enough to go off of.

With so many yellowballs showing where the proto-stars are, scientists can now compare those that birth more massive stars to those that birth less massive stars and also watch new nebulae come into being. Monster stars face a doom that ultimately feeds their future successors. They are so huge that they can only stay alive for a few million years before they exhaust all their hydrogen by turning it into helium through nuclear fusion and then go supernova. Heavy metals scattered everywhere by a supernova can be re-incorporated into new stars and planets.

“There's evidence our Solar System formed in the company of massive stars,” Wolf-Chase said. “Something we want to find out is how the end products of star (and planet) formation influenced by their birth environments.”

Some of the stardust in our own veins might be from a supernova. In a way, we, too, are born from stars.

The Last of Us TV Series Recruits an Agents of SHIELD Hero @ io9

Kevin Feige has an update on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Doom Patrol finds itself some teenage ghost detectives. Castlevania returns to tease us with some hints from one of its most beloved entries. Plus, the stars of Supergirl talk about the Phantom Zone. To me, my Spoilers

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A fleet of telescopes on and above Earth zooms in on M87’s enormous black hole @ Syfy Wire

Fifty-five million light years from Earth lies a monster.

It's a supermassive black hole, one with the mass equivalent of 6.5 billion Suns. It may be hiding itself among the stars of the huge elliptical galaxy M87, but it does a bad job of it. It's right in the center of the galaxy, the first place we'd look. Also, as it feeds, it blasts out radiation from the material falling into it, making it bright and obvious.

And it's also roaring. Two long jets of material are screaming away from it at a high percentage the speed of light; fed, focused, and fired by magnetic fields wrapped up in the material as it swirls around The Point of No Return.

We're lucky it's not very coy about attention. Because we're watching it, carefully, using a literal fleet of observatories both on and above the Earth.

The actual image of material around the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy M87, showing the direction of light polarization coming from that matter. This is due to magnetic fields in the material, which powers much of the emission. Credit: EHT Collaboration

You've likely seen the incredible image of material around M87's central supermassive black hole. The first was released in 2019, and was a revolution, showing the shadow of the back hole, the region around it where even photons can't orbit stably. Not long after astronomers saw changes in that material over time. And then, just weeks ago, a second version was published showing the effects of the ridiculously powerful magnetic field wrapped up in that matter.

All that data were taken by in 2017 radio telescopes scattered across Earth, combining their power to achieve the keen eyesight of a virtual telescope the size of a planet, dubbed the Event Horizon telescope.

Diagram of the different telescopes (names on left) used to observe M87 (middle) and their wavelengths (scale on right). Credit: The EHT Multi-wavelength Science Working Group; the EHT Collaboration; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); the EVN; the EAVN Collaboration; VLBA (NRAO); the GMVA; the Hubble Space Telescope; the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory; the Chandra X-ray Observatory; the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array; the Fermi-LAT Collaboration; the H.E.S.S collaboration; the MAGIC collaboration; the VERITAS collaboration; NASA and ESA.

At very nearly the same time, 19 observatories that monitor light across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, also observed the black hole. This type of campaign, called synoptic observations, helps astronomers understand what's going on note only at different energies but at different spatial scales around the black hole as well.

For example, the mass of the black hole is only known with an uncertainty of about 10%. The mass is determined by how it's swallowing all the material seen in those images. But physical models have to be used to determine the mass, and those make assumptions about some characteristics that aren't well known. Observations at different wavelengths can help nail those down better.

Also, that jet of material flowing away from the black hole is a mystery. The details of how exactly the fierce magnetic field winds up in the material orbiting the black hole isn't well understood, nor how it actually accelerates the jets away from the intense gravity of the black hole. And what happens inside the jet as the material floods away at such high speeds? We see clumps in the jet, and in some places faster clouds of gas slam into slower moving material ahead of them, creating enormous shock waves. What effect does that have?

And the spatial scale, yikes. The jet starts very close to the black hole, just some dozens of billions of kilometers from it, but extends for 200,000 light years — it's longer than our own Milky Way is! You need to use different telescopes that look at all these scales —that have different magnifications, if you like — to even have a prayer of understanding what's going on in this maelstrom.

The central black hole in M87 is accelerating a jet of matter away at high speeds. Understanding it can rely on multiple wavelength observations, like these from ALMA (left), Hubble (middle), and Chandra (right). Credit: The EHT Multi-wavelength Science Working Group; the EHT Collaboration; Hubble Space Telescope, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), the Chandra X-ray Observatory

The near-simultaneous observations of the black hole and jet were made using the Event Horizon Telescope, but also Hubble (visible light), Chandra (X-rays), Fermi (gamma rays), Swift (X- and gamma rays), NuSTAR (X-rays), and more. For a brief moment, some of the most powerful eyes astronomers have were all locked on M87.

All those data have been released to the astronomy public so that eager scientists can attack them and use them to hone their theoretical models. But the team (over 750 scientists from almost 200 institutions and 32 countries) was able to make some preliminary conclusions based on what they've seen.

For one thing, activity from the supermassive black hole was at a historic low during the observations. Material falls into the black hole at different rates. Sometimes it's a steady stream and its brightness is steady as well, sometimes a big gas cloud or star falls in and it brightens considerably, and sometimes less matter falls in and the black hole is temporarily starved, so it dims. The low activity was in some ways helpful, since it allowed astronomers to get observations so close in (it will also be helpful when we get similar observations to this for our own local supermassive black hole, Sgr A*, too).

The elliptical galaxy M87 has a supermassive black hole in its heart (far too small to be seen in this Hubble image) that powers a vast jet of material screaming out for thousands of light years. Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Batcheldor and E. Perlman (Florida Institute of Technology), the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and J. Biretta, W. Sparks, and F.D. Macchetto (STScI)

We're pretty sure that the environment around black holes can produce incredibly high-energy cosmic rays as well, which are subatomic particles like protons and helium atom nuclei moving at very nearly the speed of light. Cosmic rays can hit our atmosphere and subtly affect the chemistry of the air and rocks on the surface. They also are a key to understanding other subatomic particles, and the very fact that they exist can tell us about how black holes generate them. Some are likely made in those jet shock waves, but some may come from close to the black hole.

Cosmic rays can make gamma rays as slam around inside material, and the new observations looked at that extremely high-energy end of the spectrum. They found very little gamma-ray light coming from close in to the black hole, which is a bit surprising. Does that mean the jet dominates in making cosmic rays? Or is this low gamma ray count due to the low activity seen from the black hole?

Hopefully, the new data will be extremely helpful for astronomers trying to figure out what all the moving parts here are doing. It's incredibly complex, and we're only just getting started understanding it.

One thing I know for sure is that this isn't enough to satiate astronomers. In a way they are very much like the objects they study: Surrounded by massive amounts of data, voracious consumers of it, always wanting more, and sometimes blasting out information and conclusions with high energy and at high speeds.

So stay tuned. A new jet of information from these observations will no doubt soon be headed our way.

The Mixer, Part 2 (“The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories” by P. G. Wodehouse) @ Bureau 42

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Aquaman 2 getting a high seas Game of Thrones reunion as Pilou Asbaek joins Jason Momoa-led film @ Syfy Wire

Pilou Asbaek is taking to the seas once again. Deadline is reporting that the Game of Thrones actor who played Yara Greyjoy’s least favorite uncle, Euron Greyjoy, will be in director James Wan's Aquaman sequel.

Asbaek isn’t the only GoT alum on the upcoming DC film, of course. Aquaman himself, as any GoT or Aquaman fan knows, is played by modern model celebrity, Jason Momoa, who also starred in Game of Thrones as Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) husband, Khal Drogo.

Although the two actors never met on GoT — Momoa was killed in Season 1 and Asbaek didn’t show up on the series until Season 6 — the two will likely get the chance to spar off each other in Aquaman 2. There’s no news yet on what role Asbaek will play in the upcoming film, however, though it will be interesting to see if his character will be as murderous to any potential siblings and as vicious to any potential nieces or nephews as Euron was on the HBO show.

The potential pairing on the Aquaman sequel also begs the question: who would win in a fight — Drogo or Greyjoy? We’ll never find out for sure, sadly. (But come on, it’s obviously Drogo — can Euron rip the tongue out of a man with his bare hands? Highly doubtful.)

But back to Aquaman 2. Wan, who directed the first Aquaman film, is on board to direct the sequel. The director, however, recently had to shelf his Aquaman horror spinoff, The Trench, as Warner Bros. revamped its slate of DC movies.

Aquaman 2 — which also stars Amber Heard ("Mera"), Patrick Wilson ("King Orm/Ocean Master"), Temuera Morrison ("Tom Curry"), and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ("David Kane / Black Manta") — will premiere in theaters Dec. 16, 2022.


Movie Review: Godzilla vs Kong (2021) @ Bureau 42

Mothra! Why did you say that name?
–Internet meme that proves 100% accurate, despite the absence of the giant Lepidoptera

The big ape dukes it out with the lizard king, and humanity gets caught in the middle.

Title: Godzilla vs Kong

Cast and Crew

Director: Adam Wingard
Writers: Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Eric Pearson, and Max Borenstein

Alexander Skarsgård as Earnest Guy Who Wins Us Over Nathan Lind
Millie Bobby Brown as Clever Kid Madison Russell
Rebecca Hall as Sympathetic Scientist Ilene Andrews
Brian Tyree Henry as Comic Relief Conspiracy Theorist Who’s Actually Right Bernie Hayes
Demián Bichir as Evil Corporate Bad Guy Walter Simmons
Shun Oguri as Bad Guy With Some Regrets Ren Serizawa
Eiza González as Arrogant Villainess Maia Simmons
Julian Dennison as Comical Sidekick Josh Valentine
Kaylee Hottle as Girl with whom Kong shares a bond Jia
Lance Reddick as Key Figure with Minimal Screen Time Guillermin
Kyle Chandler as Scientist from Previous MovieMark Russell
Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Officer Overshadowed by the LeadsAdmiral Wilcox
Ronny Chieng as Jay Wayne
John Pirruccello as Horace
Chris Chalk as Ben
Benjamin Rigby as Sonar Operator
Nick Turello, Conlan Casal, Brad McMurray as Useless Red Shirts Apex Cybernetics Guards
Daniel Nelson as Hayworth
Priscilla Doueihy as Monarch Mission Tech
Kei Kudo as HEAV Pilot
Bradd Buckley as HEAV Pilot

Premise

An evil corporation monkeys with Things Humans Should Leave Alone and brings King Kong and Godzilla into conflict. In a twist which fans of TV wrestling and superheroes will see coming from the start, the two adversaries will join forces when they realize they face a more dangerous foe who threatens the world.

Meanwhile, several human characters scramble around doing various things that service the plot.

High Points

This film features more stunning visual effects than any daikaiju film in history, from the expressive, relatable Kong to the visually stunning inner world. The fight scenes look great and, if you focus on those and don’t really worry about anything else, you’ll probably have a fun time.

We also have a few allusions to the lower-budget effects of the kaiju classics. The non-pterodactyl flying creatures from the inner world look costume-like costumes, in the midst of the destructive battle in Hong Kong, we get a momentary but clear glimpse of a junk that looks very like the sort of model one sees in the films of yore.

I admit to feeling a little disappointed that, in an Easter Egg heavy film with a lot of impressive effects and a number of special guest monsters, that the inner world did not feature any Meganulons (the giant insects that first appeared in Rodan (1956), and have turned up in a couple other Toho monster movies.

Low Points

True, this film piles on the ludicrous pseudo-science and absurdities, what with creatures several storeys high, the hollow earth, inverted gravity, and a credible online conspiracist. Those things, however, aren’t low points. Once you’ve decided to accept Kong and ‘Zilla, the rest just slides into place. No, the low parts occur when the film fails within its own rules. Godzilla forgets about his fiery radioactive breath at the most inopportune times, using it only on those occasions when the movie finds a way for it to be temporarily ineffective. Otherwise, we would have Godzilla vs. Braised Gorilla. Meanwhile, our heroes enter and traipse around multi-trillion-dollar secret facilities because they have absolutely no effective security.

I know we don’t expect a lot of character development in this film, but some might have helped, particularly as a few of the relationships showed potential. Even among the big beasts, a critical turning point in the relationship occurs with too little developed justification or motivation, recalling more than a little a similar moment in Batman v. Superman.

Even the frequently silly Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) understood that, if you’re going to humanize giant monsters, you have to give them relatable motivations.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 The addition of the hollow earth and the specific use of certain historic Godzilla villains and a central Kong trope bring some originality into a comparatively predictable remake of a famous kaiju film.

Effects: 6/6 This film presents probably the best visual design and effects of any daikaiju film to date, and if you’re not watching Godzilla vs Kong for that, why are you seeing it at all?

Production: 6/6 Like the Marvel movies, the budget for this one could float several indie studios for a decade.

Acting: 4/6 The acting varies quite a bit, with a few of the minor characters going through the motions because they haven’t been given enough to do. Millie Bobby Brown and the Comic Relief Squad do quite well with their parts, silly and overly expository though they are, while young Kaylee Hottle outshines many of her adult co-stars, playing a role that effectively desexualizes the Kong and Girl trope.

The motion capture and expressiveness used for Kong works very well.

A little bit of quiet time with any of the relationships would have done wonders for the movie.

Story: 4/6 The story sets the film’s tone with a rather goofy opening that turns slightly dark. It holds together, but the current series follows the classic daikaiju pattern: make the first film somewhat scary and serious, and then proceed into popcorn entertainment with outrageous plots, monster battles, and splashes of humour.

Emotional Response: 4/6 The film’s excesses start to overwhelm it in the final third. They have the right idea here. They should dial down some of the spectacle so we can engage the characters just a little more.

I refrained from deducting one point for the use of that Hollies song at the finale. Adult viewers should consider bringing some wine, because the conclusion certainly supplies the cheese.

Overall: 5/6 This film lacks the intensity and horror of the best Godzilla movies, and it doesn’t sustain itself as well as Skull Island. That said, you know what you’re getting into when you decide to watch Kong vs Godzilla, and it’s pretty much this movie.

In total, Godzilla vs Kong receives 30/42

Snoop Dogg clocking in for Day Shift, Netflix's vampire comedy starring Jamie Foxx @ Syfy Wire

Netflix’s upcoming vampire comedy Day Shift is getting a large, bloodsucking cast. (Well, at least some of them have to be vampires, right?)

SYFY WIRE has learned that the ensemble show has added legendary rapper and occasional actor Snoop Dogg to the cast, as well as Scott Adkins (The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud), Meagan Good (Minority Report, Californication), Karla Souza (How to Get Away With Murder), Eric Lange (Antebellum), and child actor Zion Broadnax.

Jamie Foxx is executive producing and starring in the show, where he’ll play a blue collar dad who cleans pools by day in the San Fernando Valley and kills vampires by night. Natasha Liu Bordizzo (The Society), Oliver Masucci (Dark, Tribes of Europa), Steve Howey (Shameless), and C.S. Lee (Dexter) had previously been announced as part of the cast as well.

Besides Foxx’s role, there’s no news yet on what parts the other actors will play. Given it’s a comedy about vampires, however, we’d bet a pint of O-positive that at least some of those announced play a creature of the night.

The series will also be the directing debut for J.J. Perry, who was previously second-unit director and stunt coordinator for The Fate and the Furious, Bloodshot, and John Wick. The original script, written by Tyler Tice, was discovered during a script competition and has since been revised by Shay Hatten.

No news yet on when the vampiric comedy will stream on Netflix.


 

The Last of Us: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Gabriel Luna joins Pedro Pascal & Bella Ramsey in the post-apocalypse @ Syfy Wire

HBO’s The Last of Us might have found the last of its lead cast. Deadline is reporting that Gabriel Luna will be joining fellow leads Pedro Pascal (“Joel”) and Game of Thrones’ Lady Mormont, Bella Ramsey (“Ellie”) on the production.

The show, like the Naughty Dog-created and PlayStation-exclusive video game, takes place 20 years in the future after the world as we know it has been decimated by a killer fungus that turns humans into monsters called the Infected. Those who still survive are often stuck in militarized areas called Quarantine Zones, and Joel (Pascal) is hired to smuggle 14-year-old Ellie (Ramsey) out of one. Things go wrong, as things often do in a post-apocalyptic world, and the two must travel across the United States as they struggle to survive.

Luna is taking on the role of Joel’s younger brother, Tommy. In the video game, he is a former soldier and a member of the Fireflies, a rebel militia group who fights against the soldiers who run the Quarantine Zones.

In addition to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where Luna played Robbie Reyes (aka Ghost Rider), the actor has been in HBO’s True Detective, and also played the latest, greatest Terminator model in 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate.

Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin and game creator Neil Druckmann are writing and executive producing the HBO series, and Kantemir Balagov is on board to direct the pilot.

No news yet on when the show will go into production or make it onto HBO.


The battle against extreme weather set off actual war in ancient times @ Syfy Wire

Sometimes, a storm that is already brewing can start a greater storm.

Horrible weather could mean the enemy storming into your city. New research on the Samguk Sagi, which are the oldest surviving records of Korean history, has revealed that people were more than twice as likely to fight each other if they were hit with extreme weather such as an epic drought or blizzard. You need food to fuel and army. Less food meant a population would be vulnerable to enemies, and because of this, people were also more susceptible to being attacked than they were to being triggered to pillage and plunder.

“Weather shocks weakened states and made them easier to defeat in battle,” Rajiv Sethi, who co-led a study recently published in PNAS with colleague Tackseung Jun, told SYFY WIRE. “This made affected states more cautious about initiating attack, and also made rivals more eager to attack them.”

Humans can turn violent in an instant. This has been replayed over and over throughout history, for every reason imaginable. As if that wasn’t enough, the influence of weather that we have no say over can be a deciding factor in another thing beyond our control — whether warriors armed with spears and swords and daggers are going to bust through the gates at any second. Ancient Koreans evidently knew this too well.

There was hardly anything previously known about the effect of weather on war. Sethi and Jun wanted to investigate how weather extremes sparked conflicts back in time, because with climate change threatening us, the same phenomenon could come back to haunt us.

There were two main triggers that set off an attack. Desperation was sometimes behind starving armies invading neighboring city, frantically searching for any food and resources they could find and killing everyone in their way. Opportunistic invasions were more common. In this case, opposing forces were not literally dying for food. It was the food insecurity suffered by the victims that gave them the chance to close in and take over. They found a weakness in a city that may have been taken down by drought and strategically planned an attack to take advantage of that vulnerability.

“Most conflicts at the time (and many today) were very labor intensive, fought by land armies without the kind of long-range weapons now in use,” Sethi said. “These armies had to be equipped and fed, which meant that people had to be moved out of agriculture. Food insecurity made this harder to accomplish.”

Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla were three ancient kingdoms that had conquered the Korean peninsula between 200 BC and 600 AD. That still didn’t stop battles between them or invasions from neighboring Chinese dynasties as well as Manchurian and Japanese armies. The Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, documents conflicts in explicit detail, from where a battle took place to who was in combat and how long the fighting was dragged out. Some wars lasted for years. Many ancient historical accounts describe rain or famine lasting for years on end, so it should be no surprise that military conflict associated with weather that debilitated one of the entities involved lasted for the duration of hardship.

There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 77 AD, when Goguryeo was buried in a staggering 3 feet of snow. Drought was the most common misfortune to fall on all three kingdoms, but the Samguk Sagi also documents that precautions were eventually taken. The records tell of drought around 300 AD, during which a high-ranking official asked the king of Goguryeo to halt renovations to his palace, because the workers would instead be able to focus their efforts on producing crops. In 82 AD, the king of Silla worried aloud about a possible war when food and weapons were in short supply.

The question that bothers Sethi, and should also be on our minds, is whether hurricanes, tsunamis, and other cataclysmic events brought on by global warming could end in blood.

“We believe that the research is relevant for labor-intensive conflicts within states and across borders, fought at close range, where historical rivalries exist,” he said. “There are many such conflicts ongoing today.”

If history is documented for a reason, the knowledge of what happened centuries ago in Korea could be our armor against history repeating.

A Game of Thrones Villain You Loved to Hate May Join Aquaman 2 @ io9

Game of Thrones fans loved to loathe all his despicable moves when he was playing Ironborn scoundrel Euron Greyjoy, and now Pilou Asbaek is circling an as-yet-unknown role in Aquaman 2, which of course stars another Game of Thrones alum, Jason Momoa.

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Zombies stalk the White House in Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness' new Netflix trailer @ Syfy Wire

We’re not just in Raccoon City anymore. The zombified infected have found their way to Washington, D.C. in the new trailer for Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, with Capcom sharing a trove of new details — and a release window — during Thursday's Resident Evil showcase, which teased the upcoming Netflix animated series along with tons of other Resident Evil news.

Revealed during Capcom’s Resident Evil showcase event today, Infinite Darkness got by far the biggest reveal of new plot details since the Netflix crossover project was first announced. Capcom’s Hiroyuki Kobayashi told fans that Infinite Darkness takes place approximately two years after the events of Resident Evil 4, with a zombie outbreak directly threatening the nation’s seat of power. In a major continuation of the RE4 storyline, the Head of State is none other than President Graham from the 2005 game, the father of Ashley Graham — whom Leon Kennedy was sent to rescue, two years prior to the events of Infinite Darkness, from a band of cultists.

Check out the new trailer below:

The trailer also revealed a Netflix premiere window for Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, with the series slated to be arriving at the streaming giant this July. The new story details put classic Resident Evil characters Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield on an impossibly high-stakes mission: protecting the President of the United States at all costs from a virus-crazed horde that threatens from just beyond the White House grounds. As Leon sets off to face the frenzied crowd, Claire tips him off with a quick clue, showing off a stack of mysterious drawings done by “a little boy.” The childlike scrawlings suggest that, whatever’s going on in the nation’s capital, it’s somehow all connected to prior events in Raccoon City.

Acclaimed Japanese live-action director Eiichiro Hasumi will helm the series in his first-ever animated project, according to a Netflix release, while composer Yugo Kanno is scoring Infinite Darkness’ music.

Thursday’s showcase brought fresh gaming updates as well (stay tuned for tomorrow's gaming column!), including news of a playable Resident Evil Village demo set to arrive next week, as well as news that Resident Evil 4 is entering the world of virtual reality, via the Oculus Quest 2 headset. In one small additional tidbit of crossover news, Capcom also revealed that the live-action movie Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City has finished filming in Toronto, and is now in the process of adding CGI monsters ahead of its Sept. 3 release date.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, the new movie assembles classic RE franchise characters including Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), and more.


Carey Mulligan Boards Adam Sandler's Netflix Sci-Fi Drama Spaceman @ io9

Why Adam Sandler would agree to travel to Venus when he’s married to Carey Mulligan, we don’t know—but that’s what happens in a new movie coming to Netflix.

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A Teensy Falcon and the Winter Soldier Featurette Salutes the Series' Most Satisfying Fight @ io9

So far, at least. It’s certainly reasonable that the Disney+ series has something even grander planned for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s final two episodes, but whatever spectacle is on the way, it’s hard to imagine it being more satisfying than last week’s episode, where Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and the Dora…

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Hulu's 'Sasquatch' documentary director unpacks the story behind the cryptid with an exclusive clip @ Syfy Wire

Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, is one of the better-known cryptids out there. The hairy humanoid monster has stoked fear in the hearts of many who believe they've seen him deep in the woods, particularly in the dark forests of Northern California.

The new Hulu documentary Sasquatch focuses on a particularly harrowing story of how Bigfoot allegedly murdered three men on a Northern California marijuana farm in 1993. The three-part docuseries, directed by Joshua Rofé and produced by the Duplass Brothers, follows investigative journalist David Holthouse as he tries to get to the bottom of this Sasquatch murder myth he heard over 20 years ago.

SYFY WIRE has an exclusive clip from the doc as well as an interview with director Joshua Rofé about his investigation of a cryptid murder mystery. Check out the clip below and read on to hear about Rofé's experience shooting Sasquatch.

How did this particular Sasquatch story come to your attention, and why did you decide to make a documentary on it?

In February of 2018, a friend of mine suggested that I listen to a podcast called Sasquatch Chronicles, where people call in with their encounter stories. I wasn't really interested but he urged me to listen to an episode and I did.

Four days later, I had listened to 11 episodes. What I was struck by was the visceral fear I sensed as a narrative throughline amongst all these people's stories. I was less concerned with, "Do I believe in Bigfoot? Do I believe the details of their stories?" I believe that the fear I was sensing was authentic.

And then I thought, if I was able to find a murder mystery somehow wrapped up in a Sasquatch story, that could be really special. David Holthouse is a friend and colleague of mine — he has been an investigative journalist for 25 years, and he's the person I know that you'd reach out to if you wanted to find a completely insane outlandish thing that probably doesn't exist.

My exact text to David in February 2018 was, "Hey this is the craziest text I'm going to send you for the next five years. I would like to find a murder mystery that's somehow wrapped up in a Sasquatch story, and if it exists pursue that as the next project."

He wrote me right back. He said, "I love it. I got one. I'll call you in five." And then he proceeds to tell me his own story from the fall of 1993, where he heard, while he was visiting a cannabis farm in Northern California, that these three people had been murdered by a Sasquatch. It was that story he tucked away and I think was probably embarrassed to share with other people because it just doesn't sound believable.

The documentary blends tales about Sasquatch with the also very frightening stories around the illegal dope business. How did you approach conveying those two different narratives within the documentary?

It's so easy for those things not to work under the same umbrella. But I think the key is, if you treat that thing that seems super outlandish and implausible like it's as real as somebody testifying in court, then things that might have seemed silly and hard to believe start to veer into compelling territory. The people who have these stories — you sit with them and talk to them, and you know that they believe it. If you treat them with respect, it turns these things that could otherwise be a punchline into something that has gravitas in the moment.

The other thing that jumps out from the documentary is how the forest of the Emerald Triangle is a character in itself. How did the remoteness of that land impact the making of the doc?

Normally whenever I've made a documentary, I go to one town and most everybody lives within 30 minutes of each other that you're going to interview. When you have to do that for an extended period of time, you never feel fully grounded, and that can really allow your anxiety to creep in. There's something about being separate from everyone and everything — you just never feel safe, and you always feel like we better not stay here for too long. And the woods out there, I mean, the forest is so thick. It's just prehistoric.

Credit: Hulu

One thing I found especially interesting is how you used comic book-like vignettes to portray past events. How did you come up with the idea to convey certain elements of the story that way?

I'm glad you say comic book because I always thought of the story as a ‘70s paranoid thriller-meets-graphic novel. We were discussing early on that there's a whole bunch of stuff in this story where there are no visual archives. How were we going to express this? Mark Duplass said, "Well, what about animation?" And my gut reaction was that I wasn't actually very excited about that, because animation and docs for whatever reason had personally never spoken to me.

But then Duplass put us in touch with an animator. His name is Drew Christie, and he had worked on other Duplass Brothers projects. I talked to Drew, and the only thing I told him aside from what the story was about, is that this is like a graphic novel come to life.

A week or two later, Drew sends back about 90 seconds of animation, and I don't think a frame changed in the finished series. He created a world that felt so spot on — Drew gets so much credit for how cinematic certain pockets of the doc got to be.

You also interviewed the people involved with the most famous Bigfoot footage out there, where a Sasquatch is walking through the woods. How did you go about talking with both sides of the people involved in that footage, and then how did you decide to incorporate it into the overall documentary?

We knew for sure that we wanted to talk to Bob Gimlin of the famous Patterson/Gimlin film. When you read anything about the Patterson/Gimlin film, what pops up is another name: Bob Heironimus. He's a guy who claims he was the person wearing the Bigfoot suit in the Patterson/Gimlin film.

I think the best you can hope for when you're making a doc is, if there is a particular story with people who were on opposite ends of it, you really want to talk to both of them. And so that's what we did — we spoke to both these guys who each had very different versions of what that film is. And ironically enough, they happen to live down the street from each other. They both got to say their piece and I found them both to be really compelling. Both great guys too.

How did you approach investigating the illegal dope farming side? It's obviously a bit different and probably a bit scarier, I'm guessing, for you personally, given the people involved.

That's all David Holthouse. My job was to follow him on his investigation at certain points but he's the investigator — he's the one developing these sources. David's skillset as an investigative journalist is really what brought all those things to fruition. He has a really unique set of skills — he's like Gene Hackman out there in the woods, trying to find out what happened.

Credit: Hulu

What do you hope viewers walk away thinking about, once they see the doc?

I hope that they never look at the woods in the same way again. It's not just about Bigfoot — the show isn't about searching for Bigfoot or trying to prove its existence, one way or another. The show is really about the hunt for the origin of this crazy story about Bigfoot murdering three guys on a weed farm.

Hunting for that story was darker and more dangerous than any of us could have imagined in ways that were all completely unexpected. When you start to really dig into folklore or ghost stories, if you really decide you're going to pursue it with a certain amount of vigor and tenacity, I guarantee you will end up in a dark place. It's a scary dangerous world that you can end up in when you start to poke at folklore in a deep enough way.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. All three episodes of Sasquatch premiere on Hulu on April 20.

Renegade Rule Follows 4 Queer BFFs Who Become Top-Notch Gamers Together @ io9

Described as “a beautiful tale of gaming, LGBT friendship, and joy,” Renegade Rule, from creators Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck, is arriving from Dark Horse on May 26, but we’ve got an exclusive peek coming at you today.

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It’s a bird? It’s a plague?! Relax, it’s just billions of giant ‘Brood X’ cicadas prepping to swarm the U.S. @ Syfy Wire

It’s a good thing these guys are relatively harmless, because in a few weeks, the eastern part of the U.S. will be absolutely mobbed by them — and they’re enormous. If you’ve never seen a cicada (and no, not that kind), next month won’t just be a prime cicada-viewing opportunity: it’ll be the start of more than a month of total “they’re everywhere!” saturation of the giant insects for people who live in eastern and southern U.S. states.

Unlike locusts (with which they’re sometimes confused), “periodic” cicadas aren’t the insects responsible for plagues and property-chewing infestations. But their eldritch gestational cycle is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares.

Periodic cicadas (distinct from “annual” cicadas thanks to their lengthy spawning patterns) have such long gestational spans that their years-in-the-making hatching events get human-sounding generational names. And the name for this year’s batch is especially freighted with scary sci-fi infestation implications, even if the super-sized insects themselves are all bark and no bite. No, that won’t be a freight train outside your window next month: it’s just “Brood X,” the uniformly agreed-upon name that scientists are calling this year’s cicada wave.

The size of small hummingbirds, these cicadas have a physical presence that’s the envy of any insect bent on striking fear into the hearts of people. Their eyes are red, their wings are nearly transparent, and their bodies are about the size and shape of a human thumb — and they leave a creepy, Alien-looking exoskeleton; one only slightly smaller than their final adult form, behind when they molt. But Brood X’s fear factor pretty much begins and ends in the imagination, because it poses nary a threat to humans…other than the one that stirs your instinct to get far, far away from something so freaky.

Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“They don’t really have any defenses. Their only defense is their numbers,” Matt Kasson, a cicada scientist at West Virginia University, recently explained to The Washington Post. “…They basically fill up every predator on the planet when they emerge, so every bird, snake and fish within range will just basically gorge themselves on cicadas, and yet there will still be plenty left to persist.”

He’s not kidding: Brood X could end up spawning cicadas “in the hundreds of billions, maybe even pushing into trillions,” Kasson later added…and somehow, we’re supposed to believe the chorus of scientists who’re trying to assure us that’s totally okay.

Living up the “periodic” part of their description, periodic cicadas like those of Brood X spend nearly their entire 17-year lifespans underground, subsisting on the root tissue of trees. Then in year 17 (some species only make it to year 13 before starting this process), some alchemical secret of biology compels them to emerge from the ground all at once, putting on a spectacle of sight (and sound) that’s nearly impossible for humans to avoid.

In early May and continuing through June, mature cicada nymphs — some of which can approach 3 inches in length — are triggered by warming soil temperatures to burrow out of their underground abodes in unison, ascending trees to molt their juvenile exoskeletons and grow new adult ones. Their new hard shells will serve them only for the short 4-6 week remainder of their above-ground lives, but at least they go out in style: all of their adult lives, once they’ve emerged from the dirty depths, is devoting to mating.

Finding a procreative partner is where the cicadas get to show off the other freaky trait they’re famous for: their singing. The sound of millions upon millions of male cicadas calling out in unison on a warm spring night is a signature seasonal event for residents in the southern and eastern U.S., as are the light-brown, desiccated husks of their molted exoskeletons, which litter the earth in regions both urban and rural like the hollowed-out remnants of a failed insect invasion.

There are, of course, “annual” cicadas that do these same types of things every spring. But in years like this one, when an entire 17-year gestational cycle is coming to fruition all at once, the period between early May and late June has all the visual and audible hallmarks of one giant insect storm. We guess it’s a reason to celebrate, if you happen to be an entomologist. But the cicadas of Brood X will probably never really grasp the next-level creep factor that they’re bringing to the spring of 2021 for everybody else.

In the Earth's Ben Wheatley on Folk Horror and Post-Pandemic Storytelling @ io9

Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth is a folk horror tale and trippy sci-fi story. It follows a park ranger and a scientist who head deep into the woods to find a missing colleague and discover some deeply weird, deeply disturbing forces lurking among (and within) the trees. With the movie arriving later this week, io9 spoke…

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Prehistoric GPS? World's oldest Bronze Age stone map unearthed in Western France @ Syfy Wire

In what might represent Europe's oldest known instance of ancient cartography, a team of researchers working from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, Bournemouth University, the CNRS, and the University of Western Brittany has delivered a new study on a 4,000-year-old stone map from the Bronze Age (2150-1600 BCE).

Published in the online journal, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, a new analysis of the 5x6 foot relic first excavated back in 1900 by Paul du Chatellier recounts how this remarkable carved slab from Saint-Bélec was recently rediscovered in the cellar of a French castle in Brittany in 2014 after being lost for decades.

Credit: Denis Glikman/Bournemouth University

Before that, the rare antiquity was apparently laying in a castle moat at Mr. du Chatellier's family estate at the Chateau de Kernuz just 25 miles from where the slab was found.

What's known as the the Saint-Bélec slab was originally unearthed from a Bronze Age grave mound in Finistère, Brittany. It comprised one of the walls of a cist, a type of stone box that housed the bodies of the deceased. The tablet was most likely carved before it was reused in the burrow toward the end of the early Bronze Age, and has now been reexamined and classified as the oldest cartographical representation of a known territory in Europe. 

Credit: Denis Glikman/Bournemouth University

According to the official press release furnished to SYFY WIRE, "The presence of repeated motifs joined by lines gives this composition the appearance of a cartographic layout. The Saint-Bélec Slab does indeed bear the three elements that are most probative of prehistoric cartographic representation: homogenous composition with engravings that are identical in technique and style, repetition of motifs, and a spatial relationship between the motifs (network of lines). To confirm their hypothesis, the researchers compared it with other, similar representations drawn from European prehistory and from ethnography (Tuareg, Papuans, Australian Aborigines, etc.)"

In 2017, a crew of European researchers began analyzing engravings on the famous slab by employing high-resolution 3D surveys and photogrammetry, which is a process of analyzing an object via a series of highly-detailed photographs. 

Through this process the team discovered that the giant stone marker contained all the hallmarks of a detailed regional map, specifically representing an 18-mile stretch of territory and valley around the River Odet in Western France.

Credit: Denis Glikman/Bournemouth University

“There are several such maps carved in stone all over the world," Bournemouth University post-doctoral researcher Dr. Clement Nicolas told the BBC. "Generally, they are just interpretations. But… this is the first time a map has depicted an area on a specific scale… probably a way to affirm the ownership of the territory by a small prince or king at the time. We tend to underestimate the geographical knowledge of past societies. This slab is important as it highlights this cartographical knowledge."

Game of Thrones' Targaryen Spinoff Just Cast a Major Player @ io9

You’ve heard of the Kingslayer and now you’re about to meet the Kingmaker.

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Ben Wheatley's 'In the Earth' is a brilliant film about the horror of searching for meaning in a fallen world @ Syfy Wire

Perhaps I'll change my mind someday, when all of this feels far in the rearview, but apart from a few outliers like the terrifying and brilliant Host and David Tennant and Michael Sheen's delightful buddy comedy Staged, I'm really not that interested in entertainment about the pandemic at the moment. I understand the impulse, of course, because we're primed as humans to glean meaning from the current moment, whether through fictional metaphor or more direct narrative confrontation. It's just not for me right now, and with that feeling comes an inherent skepticism of any piece of entertainment that professes to be inspired by or driven by the madness of the past year in any way.

Which brings me to In the Earth, the new horror film from writer/director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England) that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and hits theaters this week. Wheatley wrote the script in the early weeks of lockdown as he, like everyone else, was climbing the walls at home and looking for something to occupy his mind. He shot the film just a short while later, over a period of a couple of weeks in the summer of 2020, using the isolation of the pandemic and even a few public health announcement signs in the U.K. as a backdrop for his narrative. In less than a year, the film was complete, and it will be released at a time when many of us are just beginning to contemplate returning to actual movie theaters again amid a hopeful vaccine rollout.

All of that, and the subject matter of the film itself, ties In the Earth to the pandemic in ways that I was frankly uncomfortable with when I sat down for my virtual Sundance screening earlier this year. I wasn't ready to enjoy something that was so willing to use this period of our lives as a backdrop, even if it was something coming from one of our most inventive genre filmmakers. I was sure this film's wielding of the times we live in would leave me feeling cynical and hollow.

Instead, what I found was a dazzling, ambitious, and ultimately terrifying horror film that managed to be about the world of the pandemic without actually being about the pandemic itself, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

In the Earth follows four souls in a forest landscape, each of them contending with the elements around them in different ways. It begins as a researcher and a forest ranger (Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia, respectively) venture out into the woods to do some fieldwork and, perhaps, to locate another scientist (Hayley Squires) who went out into the trees sometime earlier. Along the way, they encounter a strange survivalist (Reece Shearsmith in top form) who begins to shift their perception of the forest and what it holds.

The less said about what's actually going on in those trees before you see the film, the better, but fans of Wheatley films such as A Field in England will be pleased to know that he's up to some of his old hallucinogenic, mind-melting tricks yet again. In some ways, I'd argue this film represents a culmination of sorts for Wheatley, compiling everything he was interested in exploring with Kill List and A Field in England into something grander, more ambitious, and packed with every filmmaking trick he's picked up along the way. In the Earth is a powerful exercise in low-budget horror craft, whether we're talking about the scenic forest itself or the way in which Wheatley turns the woods into a labyrinthine nest of secrets that keeps revealing new things to its characters and its viewers with each passing minute.

It's in that element — the sense of constant searching and discovery the film creates through nerve-shredding pacing, unexpected humor, and precise, vulnerable performances — that In the Earth truly finds its footing as a great piece of pandemic-era art. Outside of its thematic pressure points, the film works extremely well as a merging of eco-horror and folk horror, and it's no surprise that Wheatley's experience in the genre is still paying off in new ways. However, by setting his film in a vast and ancient forest and framing each of his characters as searchers of one kind or another, Wheatley has built an isolated stage on which his major players can explore the true unspeakable horror of living in this time: The constant and often desperate reach for meaning, even when it appears the world has none left to offer.

Credit: NEON

We've all spent much of the past year in search of such meaning, ascribing symbolism to random and often absurd things out of a sheer need to make sense of all the madness. Whether we're talking about a fly on a candidate's head during a vice presidential debate, a cargo ship stuck in a canal, or the simple joy of learning that Dolly Parton helped fund crucial vaccine research, we want all of it to be part of some vast cosmic tapestry — even if we can't see the whole thing.

It all needs to mean something, because if it doesn't, then what are we all doing here, shut up in our homes for months on end, waiting for the wider world to be at our feet again?

The characters of In the Earth are also probing that vast cosmic tapestry. Some search through science, others through ancient magic, others through a strange merging of the two, and they all do it because, as one character says, humans have a need to "make stories out of everything." They do it in a hostile landscape that at various points seems to be either an ally and a monstrous enemy. They do it amid millennia-old forest folklore and modern technology, makeshift camps and state-of-the-art research sites, quarantine conditions, and wilderness isolation. They search because there has to be something left to find even as the world seems to be coming apart at the seams.

It's that search and the constant sense that, no matter how deep they dig, they might find nothing that makes In the Earth one of the best films of 2021 so far, and a truly brilliant encapsulation of the horrors and hopes of the present moment.

In the Earth hits theaters on April 16.


Our oldest ancestors who started to look human go way back ... like 2 million years back @ Syfy Wire

If we want to trace our most ancient ancestors, we (and all other life on Earth) could rewind all the way to primordial microbes, but the oldest hominid to act human still goes way back.

Homo erectus is the oldest ancestor we have with more human than apelike characteristics. It was not the first hominid to stand up, but it started showing significant brain growth and evidence of tool use that set it apart from Australopithecus and earlier Homo species. But just how old is H. erectus? The answer could be around 2 million. At least that was what paleoanthropologist Ashley Hammond, who recently published a study in Nature Communications, and her team found when they reexamined a prehistoric bone fragment.

“We were unsure exactly where the fossil came from,” Hammond tells SYFY WIRE. “We were quite surprised by where a previous study showed its location because it was not where we were expecting it to be.”

The KM-ER 2598 skull bone was first unearthed near Lake Turkana in East Turkana, Kenya, in 1974, when there was no such thing as GPS. Scientists found a way around that by marking up up aerial photos of archeological sites. East Turkana is approximately the size of New Jersey, so finding where the bone fragment was originally discovered wouldn’t have been possible without a map that showed where fossils had surfaced. Locations where fossils had been found were identified with pinpricks and handwritten fossil numbers. This map showed the way to KM-ER 2598, but not without controversy.

Homo erectus bone fragment at the East Turkana site. Credit: Ashley Hammond

 

KM-ER 2598 was thought by some to be a much younger specimen when it was first discovered. When fossils show up on the surface, there is always a chance they may have been brought there by wind or water or something else. When a fossil is surrounded by rocks that have been dated to a certain age, it is often assumed that the piece of bone is around the same age. With KM-ER 2598, it didn’t help that most known H. erectus fossils were from several hundred thousand years later. The rock formation where this fragment was first picked up also predated any species of Homo.

Inconsistencies between the fossil and where it was supposedly from led Hammond and her team to find a more likely location that was still relatively close. There was still a problem. Rock deposits in the new location were radiometrically dated to about 1.88-1.9 million years old. After extensive testing to make sure that there was no evidence of younger rocks on KM-ER 2598, Hammond concluded that it must have come from these older deposits, meaning it really is 2 million years old. That wasn’t the only thing that surprised them. Foot and pelvis fossils that might have been from the same H. erectus individual also appeared.

“It is likely that they are the same individual since they were found so close together, but we cannot prove this,” Hammond says. “If researchers are able to find additional footbones or pelvic material from early Homo erectus, this would allow critical comparisons of the anatomy that might strengthen our claim.”

If these bones really are from the same individual or even another individual of the same species that is as old as the rocks surrounding KM-ER 2598, it could mean that the oldest postcranial (anything below the head) fossils from H. erectus have been found. These fossils are even older than the 1.7-million-year-old H. erectus bones found in Dmanisi, Georgia. However, it is unlikely that this can be proven anytime soon. DNA degrades fast, and any genetic material that might have been in the fossils has long since disintegrated.

The East Turkana archaeological site. Credit: Ashley Hammond

 

Even if they were not from Homo erectus, what could be inferred from the fossils was that they had a more human than apelike morphology, and were almost definitely from some Homo species. Postcranial bones from other hominid species in East Turkana might eventually give away what belonged to whom. These fossils are of comparable age and could have belonged to Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, or Paranthropus boisei. Whether these species crossed paths with each other and with H. erectus is still unknown, but Hammond wants to find out.

Homo erectus was around for almost 2 million years and lived alongside several other hominid species at different periods of time,” she says. “East Turkana is one place where we find multiple hominid species overlapping, so this field location has the potential to provide more information about how these species coexisted sympatrically. I’d love to know more about how Homo erectus interacted with other hominids.”

Marvel's Winter Soldier Success Barely Benefits His Comics Creators @ io9

Despite comic book superheroes being some of the biggest moneymakers on screens big and small lately, the creators who brought them to life in the first place rarely get more than a fraction of that financial success coming their way. But as Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier cooks up a storm on Disney+,

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New Shadow and Bone featurette teases Game of Thrones-level worldbuilding of the series @ Syfy Wire

Step into the Grishaverse a little bit early thanks to Netflix's new Shadow and Bone featurette. Not only does the video offer eager fans a chance to get a glimpse into the world that is being spun out from author Leigh Bardugo's books — otherwise known as the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology — but it also gives curious new viewers a taste of what's to come, when the series adaptation is released onto the global streamer on April 23. 

And in the spirit of most fantasy series, the featurette (below) also contains a handy-dandy map of all the warring kingdoms that are referenced in Bardugo's books, as well as the great "Shadow Fold" that separates them. It also provides a clear and concise outline of the kinds of "Grisha," AKA people with the ability to manipulate the world around them, that exist within the series and the differences between their powers. (It's clear, as longtime fans of the characters can see right away, that no expense was spared in terms of this adaptation, giving it the Game of Thrones level of treatment in terms of scope and special effects.) 

Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a young girl who's newly discovered to be the long-awaited "Sun Summoner," a Grisha who's able to conjure up light as bright as the sun itself — something no other Grisha can do. Armed with this new power, she takes it upon herself to try and vanquish the "Shadow Fold" that cleaves the Kingdom of Ravka in two, with the army and the King trying to think of ways to travel through it. 

But that's not the only storyline that will unfold when the series premieres, as executive producer and showrunner Eric Heisserer (Arrival) has also decided to include the six characters that make up the heist-committing crew from the best-selling Six of Crows books, though not much is known about how these characters will fit into the series. 

Archie Renaux ("Malyen Oretsev"), Freddy Carter ("Kaz Brekker"), Amita Suman ("Inej"), Kit Young ("Jesper Fahey"), and Ben Barnes ("General Kirigan"), Sujaya Dasgupta ("Zoya Nazyalensky"), Danielle Galligan ("Nina Zenik"), Daisy Head ("Genya Safin"), Simon Sears ("Ivan"), Calahan Skogman ("Matthias Helvar"), Zoë Wanamaker ("Baghra"), Kevin Eldon ("The Apparat"), Julian Kostov ("Fedyor"), Luke Pasqualino ("David"), Jasmine Blackborow ("Marie"), and Gabrielle Brooks ("Nadia") co-star.

Bardugo executive produces the show alongside Heisserer, Shawn Levy (Stranger Things), Dan Cohen, Josh Barry, Pouya Shahbazian, and Lee Toland Krieger.

Shadow and Bone sweeps onto Netflix on April 23 worldwide. 


 

Out of The Order's Ashes, Netflix Finds The Imperfects @ io9

The streaming giant may have canceled the well-regarded The Order last November, but it isn’t done with the show’s creators by a long shot. Netflix has announced The Imperfects, a new sci-fi series from the same team.

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The Best LEGO Sets, According To Our Readers @ io9

Earlier this week, we asked our readers to tell us what the best LEGO sets were. They might have set a new record for most comments ever on a Co-op post. Readers had some strong opinions on the subject that showed they really knew their bricks. We got too many responses to count, sending us on an odyssey as we tracked…

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Zack Snyder teases zombie origin, 'psychedelic' trip to Area 51 with future 'Army of the Dead' spinoffs @ Syfy Wire

A Vegas casino heist in the middle of a zombie horde is just the tip of the flesh-munching iceberg for Netflix's blossoming Army of the Dead franchise, which could soon feature aliens as well as zombies. The genre-melding film from writer-director Zack Snyder film won't be a one-off — it'll be followed by at least two prequel-based projects. The first is a movie entitled Army of Thieves, which explores the backstory of German safe expert, Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer, who also directed the picture).

"We just wrapped on Army of Thieves," Snyder said during a special Q&A earlier in the week. "We see [Dieter's] backstory and how he fell in love with and got obsessed with cracking safes. And why the safe in the movie is significant to him, which it is." The second prequel venture is a currently untitled anime-inspired series, "which tells the story of where the zombies came from and what their deal is," Snyder continued. "It goes to Area 51 and does a whole a bunch of psychedelic craziness, which is cool. Let's just say it scales in a way that's unexpected as far where the zombies come from."

Is the zombie virus alien in origin? Did the pathogen escape from a bio-weapons research lab at the famous Air Force base in the Nevada desert? Are the zombies members of an alien race that feeds on human brains? Snyder always likes to go for the grand effect, so we wouldn't be surprised if all of those guesses turn out to be correct. As for what the future holds, there's nothing confirmed at the moment, but director isn't opposed to the concept of more follow-ups. "If it were possible or if anyone was interested in it, to continue the adventures of this world, it'd be fun. Who knows?" he added. "The world's your zombie oyster."

Written by Snyder, Joby Harold, and Shay Hatten, Army of the Dead shambles into select theaters Friday, March 14 before hitting Netflix the following week on May 21. Just don't expect a four-hour director's cut down the road, à la Justice League. According to the filmmaker himself, the film that rises from the grave next month is purely his vision, through and through.

"This was probably the most gratifying experience I've had making a movie," he said. "Everything about it was fun ... Everyone's been incredibly supportive and just a joy to work with. This is the movie, there's no other cuts of the movie. I didn't have to fight them — it was the opposite. This is the director's cut. You don't have to see a bastardized version, you just get to see the awesome version first."

Netflix has yet to announce premiere dates for Army of Thieves or the anime project. Army of the Dead hits streaming on May 14.


Indiana Jones 5 Adds Mads Mikkelsen to Its List of Priceless Artifacts @ io9

It feels like we’ve known about a fifth Indiana Jones movie for years and years at this point (mostly because we have, time’s just exhausting like that). But, at long last, it seems like Harrison Ford’s return to whip-cracking archaeological antics is finally starting to pick up the pace of a perilously large rolling…

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The Walking Dead’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan has had ‘conversations’ about a possible Negan spinoff @ Syfy Wire

The Walking Dead main series may be coming to an end with its upcoming 11th season, but The Walking Dead franchise is poised to live on for years to come with new spinoffs and follow-up projects in the works. We already know about several major projects involving some of the series' most beloved characters, but could more be on the way, and could one of them involve everyone's favorite baseball bat-wielding madman, Negan?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who's been playing the legendary villain-turned-antihero for the last five years, stopped by Conan this week to chat about the series and promote his new horror film The Unholy. While on the topic of The Walking Dead -- which recently aired a Negan prequel episode starring Morgan's real-life wife Hilarie Burton-Morgan as Negan's wife Lucille -- Morgan and host Conan O'Brien discussed the lengthy 14-month shooting process to get the show back on schedule after COVID-driven shutdowns and the addition of Season 10 bonus episode, and of course the topic of rumored spinoffs came up.

While Morgan couldn't confirm that he'll stick around the franchise after Season 11, he did at least confirm that the idea has come up.

"We'll see. It's definitely being talked about," Morgan said. "I think they're thinking of a couple different ideas, but I've definitely had conversations about possibly continuing the story of Negan."

The Walking Dead has been a multi-series franchise for nearly six years now thanks to the arrival of Fear the Walking Dead, and last year AMC added a second spinoff series titled The Walking Dead: World Beyond to its already walker-heavy lineup, but even that's not the end for this media powerhouse. The planned spinoff feature film starring Andrew Lincoln as former series lead Rick Grimes is set to shoot this year, and a spinoff starring fan favorites Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) is already in the works as a follow-up to the main series. Throw in an anthology series titled Tales of the Walking Dead and you've got at least several more years of live-action stories even without a Negan show. 

Whether Morgan sticks around to keep playing the character or not remains to be seen. For now, he's intent on making his final months the series as much of a family affair as possible. Hot on the heels of his wife making an appearance in the series, Morgan also revealed that his son Gus is set to pop up in an upcoming episode as a child walker, which should make for some especially creepy Morgan family photos on set.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.

 

Tricia Helfer reflects on epic endings as Van Helsing and Lucifer come to a close @ Syfy Wire

In her 20-year career, actress Tricia Helfer has become somewhat of a connoisseur of great finales. She's been lucky to see a healthy number of her characters to the very end of their narratives in lauded series from the SYFY reboot of Battlestar Galactica to Burn Notice and even the upcoming fifth and final season of SYFY's Van Helsing.

As her incredibly dense resume reflects, the storytelling gods have been mostly kind to Helfer's characters — and the casting gods have certainly been exceptionally generous. Helfer's been working near-constantly in genre and non-genre TV and film, playing a wide array of roles that have allowed her to assuredly avoid being typecast as "that gorgeous Cylon." With Van Helsing, she's even navigating uncharted waters as Bram Stoker's horror icon, Dracula. Not a bad way to make your acting mark, or help close out the epic narrative of Vanessa Van Helsing's destiny on the five-season show.

Following a very weird year for everyone, Helfer recently got on the line with SYFY WIRE to talk about how she's had the opportunity to reflect on her career filled with unexpected roles that have made her a beloved genre character actor. From Battlestar Galactica to Lucifer, she takes us down memory lane and into the future...

There’s the perception by observers of your career that you are constantly busy working on a variety of projects. But 2020 forced many creatives to have to stop or slow down for a while. Was that the case for you?

It was a little bit of both. I look back at pictures of the beginning of lockdown. I had come off of being away for a month in Slovakia shooting the first three episodes of Van Helsing... which were so creatively different.

But, I actually stayed really busy in the beginning of it because I was doing my podcast for Battlestar Galactica called Battlestar Galacticast. My co-host, Marc [Bernardin] and I discussed at the time... would we still physically get together? He would come over to my house and the sound guy would come over if we were having a guest, so we talked about should we put it on hold? And he's like, "No, let's continue." So we did it over Zoom. We continued to have great guests. We just plowed through those because there was no other schedule to get in the way. We were really busy taping one or two a week. Then SYFY decided to do an [episode] marathon of Battlestar Galactica and they wanted me to host, doing a bunch of interviews for the marathon. So I was also doing that for a week or two of straight interviews with my castmates.

And then in the summer, Van Helsing picked back up again and they consolidated my work so I didn't have to go up there for too long.

Did the process of doing that deep dive on Battlestar Galactica feel like your first real assessment of the show with some distance from it?

Well, so many of the people that we had on as guests are in my life constantly. The Battlestar Galactica group, they are my family here in L.A. Katie Sackoff and James Callis and Jamie Bamber, although he's not in L.A. anymore. He moved back to Europe. Edward James Olmos and Mary [McDonnell], they're there. They are my family here, so I see them all the time.

But it was really interesting to see some people and talk to some people that I hadn't for a while, like the writers that had all moved on to other projects and things. Producers like Ron Moore were so gracious with his time and was on four times with us.

Did it make you appreciate the series more in any way?

I wouldn't say appreciate the show more because I did appreciate it then. But that was also my first series, so looking back at it having more years of experience, I could just go, "Wow, it really was a good show."

I went into it kind of expecting it to feel dated, and it didn't at all. Not only the special effects still held up completely great because the late [VFX supervisor] Gary Hutzel was amazing. It was odd actually to watch almost how more relevant it seems to our time period right now than when it was in 2003 to 2009. It seemed like we were almost writing it for today's time.

What are your thoughts on the continuation that is being developed by Sam Esmail right now?

Sam is a brilliant showrunner and filmmaker. I know he talked with Ron and got his blessing. I wasn't privy to their discussions, obviously.

But I do remember asking Ron on the podcast — and this is before I had heard about the new reimagining of it — Marc asked him would he ever consider going back. And Ron said no. He said that he told the story that he wanted to tell and, and he's happy with that. And he doesn't want to go back and revisit it, even though he loved the experience.

Another series you’ve become synonymous with is Lucifer, which will air the latter half of Season 5 in May. "It Never Ends Well for the Chicken" in Season 5 felt like your swan song from the show.

At that point, they certainly didn't know [the show was renewed]. They were wrapping the writers' room. I think they were on the last day of the writers' room of Season 5 when they got the call that there was gonna be a Season 6. They were like, "Wait, but we introduced God!" Who introduces God unless you know it's your last season?

But that one I think was actually Chris Rafferty's idea, one of the writer/producers on the show. I was super happy to come back and play. And I hear they're having a musical [episode] so I'm very happy I was not part of that one because I cannot sing or dance to save my life! [Laughs.]

SYFY's Van Helsing is another series wrapping up its run this year. You get to help close it by playing the first female embodiment of Dracula. Any qualms about diving into that challenge?

What I liked was that the show had its own version of it. It was already a very female-centric show, so I didn't have to worry, "Am I gonna get all this backlash about Dracula being a woman and whatever?" It's Vanessa Van Helsing. [Laughs.] Gender is not really an issue in the show, which I liked. And so it was a little nerve-wracking, but I purposefully didn't go watch a bunch of Dracula shows.

In between Seasons 4 and 5, I did read a book on Draculas throughout cinematic history. But I didn't watch because it is such an iconic character. I didn't want to fall into a trap of inadvertently copying.

Did they lay out the character arc for you when you signed on to appear in Season 4?

I didn't know where they were going in Season 5. When I first signed on, I just knew Episode 7, that one scene I have where I first come out, and then Vanessa launched me back in the realm. But they knew and I knew that Season 5 was going to be their series finale. They were introducing, obviously, Dracula, to be in the fifth and final season. I knew that, and I trusted that there was going to be stuff there to play with and to delve into.

It feels like the season will be building toward the ultimate boss battle between you and Vanessa?

There has been a shift and there's been an alteration of Dracula compared to the finale of the fourth season... It does come obviously down to an ultimate [confrontation] — I don't think that's a surprise for anyone. But there's a shift and I can't really explain more without giving too much away. But there is a shift and that's because of what happens in the first three episodes.

Last but not least, animal rights are a big issue for you. Recently you helped voice a new short film, Save Ralph, with Taika Waititi for the Humane Society that dropped on April 6. How did that come about?

The Humane Society International in Canada reached out to me and gave me the premise of it. Obviously to be involved with the names that are involved, like Ricky Gervais, who I think is brilliant, I just said yes, immediately and I was given the script and I started crying.

Season 5 of Van Helsing premieres on Friday, April 16 at 10 p.m. ET on SYFY.

'The Water Man' makes a splash with fantastical trailer for David Oyelowo's directorial debut @ Syfy Wire

David Oyelowo (Selma) harkens back to the youthful adventure movies of the '80s and '90s (think The Goonies or The Amazing Panda Adventure) in the official trailer for his directorial debut: The Water Man.

It follows a brave young boy named Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis), who sets out to find the Water Man — a mythical figure who might be able to cure his cancer-stricken mother, Mary (Rosario Dawson). Gunner enlists the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo (Amiah Miller), for his selfless quest into the Wild Horse forest. The deeper they venture, however, the stranger things become, until their only hope of rescue lies with Gunner's father, Amos (Oyelowo). Alfred Molina (Spider-Man) co-stars as Jim Bussey, a man with intimate knowledge of the Water Man legend; and Maria Bello (NCIS) rounds out the cast as Sheriff Goodwin.

Check out the trailer below:

The film, which held its world premiere at the virtual Toronto International Film Festival last fall, currently holds an incredibly fresh 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

"Oyelowo is sure-footed in his feature directing debut, delivering a smart and wholesome picture with about as little sentimentality as such a tale can have,” wrote John DeFore in their TIFF review for The Hollywood Reporter.

Variety’s Peter Debruge praised the director’s knack for misdirection and the spine-tingling design for the titular Water Man: "[Oyelowo] does a fairly effective job of misleading them, using viewers’ active engagement to build the Water Man into something larger in their imagination than he plans to deliver. “That doesn’t mean we never meet the title figure. When he does appear, the Water Man’s as intimidating as the skeletal scalawags in the Pirates of the Caribbean pictures.

Credit: RLJE Films

Written by Emma Needell, The Water Man arrives in theaters Friday, May 7. Dive into a deep pool of production stills in the gallery below...

Jeff Bezos Tells Amazon to Treat Employees Better While He Prepares to Flee Planet Earth @ io9

Earth today received parting words from Jeff Bezos, as the soon-to-be-former Amazon CEO turned over his shoulder on the slow walk to the rocket launch pad and observed: damn, you guys really need to turn this dump around—I mean, Christ, look at yourselves.

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Novel Review: A Desolation Called Peace @ Bureau 42

Arkady Martine’s debut novel A Memory Called Empire received multiple award nominations and won the Hugo for best novel. The first in a series, it was followed in March of 2021 with this novel, with more of the conflicts and intrigue involving the future Teixcalaanli Empire, the “barbarian” human settlements in its environs, and some very interesting extraterrestrials.

The more you explore your reality, internal and external….

Title: A Desolation Called Peace

Author: Arkady Martine

ISBN-10: 1250186463
ISBN-13: 978-1250186461

Amazon.uk, Amazon.com,
Amazon.ca and as a kindle.

Premise:

Characters still reeling from the events in the previous novel attempt to assist the Teixcalannli fleet with an alien armada with whom communication seems impossible. The eleven-year-old future emperor, meanwhile, begins to wrestle with issues well beyond his years or understanding.

High Point:

Martine continues to use familiar tropes in unfamiliar ways. Her aliens combine elements that we’ve seen before, but I cannot think of anyone who takes the implications of those elements as far as she manages. What might seem like comparatively mundane extra-terrestrials gradually become something else entirely, and issues of communication and culture remain central to the novel.

Low Point:

Like its predecessor, this novel develops slowly, with considerable consideration of how the cultures think and interact. I found the first half developed a little too slowly this time around. The story picks up in close to the halfway point and the final third is excellent. I remain uncertain of how much of the first third was actually necessary to understand the remainder.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6

Imagery: 4/6 I found this novel as baffling as her first for containing some excellent description and immersion into cultural and individual thought-processes, separated by long stretches where I could not really tell you what anything looks like. When she’s on, she’s really on.

Story: 5/6 I’m going to (mostly) repeat what I wrote in my review of A Memory Called Empire, because these things remain true, even more so here: The story kept me engaged, though it moves slowly at first. Martine, when she’s not writing SF, is AnnaLinden Weller, an historian with an interest in the Byzantine Empire, and a city planner. She brings to bear an understanding of history and culture often lacking in SF.

Aspects of this book are excellent, but do not expect a quick read.

Characterization: 5/6 Some characters work very well, though her approach to characterization and difference can present a challenge, one she obviously intends.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 4/6 Her writing and style remain strong, but this book feels like more time should have been taken refining the story and other elements.

Overall: 5/6 I liked this novel– particularly its final third– but for me it fell short of the expectations created by its predecessor.

In total, A Desolation Called Peace receives 32/42

A Minor Point (which gets raised often)

The Teixcalaanli naming conventions exist, at least in part, to remind us that we’re in a fundamentally different cultural context than the one we know. Martine continually challenges a certain ethnocentrism, often subtle, that affects much SF. I get that. I appreciate that. A friend of mine, who liked the books more than I did, said he would have read them twice as fast without that particular element. I’m inclined to agree. Does that make them a stroke of artistic brilliance or a flaw? That is not a question I feel I can answer.

Before Game of Thrones Got Big, Intimacy Was Its Greatest Strength @ io9

This Sunday marks 10 years since Game of Thrones changed the television landscape as we know it—kickstarting a decade of imitators, influencing the way genre stories were told as prestige drama, and, for most of that decade, expanding itself into a pop-cultural behemoth. Revisiting its first season is like stepping…

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Thursday's Best Deals: Surface Laptop 3, AirPods Pro, LG 27" UltraGear Monitor, Mass Effect 2, Bella Air Fryer, Tacklife Portable Power Station, Happy Dance CBD, and More @ io9

Godzilla vs. Kong designer on why Mechagodzilla had to go full Terminator to 'terrify' the Titans @ Syfy Wire

Long before Godzilla vs. Kong stomped onto the scene two weeks ago, fans were certain that the film's titular opponents would eventually team up against a third, secret kaiju.

**Spoilers ahead for Godzilla vs. Kong's big finale!**

It was pretty much an open secret that turned out to be 100 percent correct when, in the movie's third act, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) unveils Mechagodzilla — an artificial weapon intended to rid the world of Titans and restore mankind's supremacy on planet Earth.

Things don't go as planned and the mecha gains sentience, nearly killing Godzilla before Kong intervenes. While Mechagodzilla only has about 10 minutes of screen-time, the manmade monster effectively steals the show with an arsenal of deadly weapons and a chilling design inspired by the skeleton-like T-800 robots made famous by James Cameron's Terminator films.

"When talking about Mechagodzilla and the inspiration for him, John Rosengrant (one of the heads of Legacy Effects) had said, 'This thing has got to be a Terminator.' He was purely speaking in a metaphorical sense to inspire us," creature designer and concept artist Jared Krichevsky tells SYFY WIRE. "But I instantly knew what he meant — that the design of Mechagodzilla had to be something similar to Godzilla himself, and that would terrify him. Godzilla is a very intelligent animal and hunter; seeing something skeletal, [akin to] yourself, it has a very unnerving effect. Godzilla had to know that he was about to face something newer and much stronger."

Fortunately, Legacy Effects, which has a professional history of working on the Terminator series, proudly displays a T-800 model in the lobby of its California offices.

"I stood there for a good few minutes and began to breathe in its essence so-to-speak," Krichevsky explains. "There were some design inspirations that I took as well: the narrow breastplate with the wide range of movement for the arms and shoulders. This would allow greater range of motion, and since I gave him an extra long reach, it means he could take really strong shots at Godzilla from a distance and take advantage of Godzilla's weaknesses."

The mecha's four-clawed hands were inspired by a real-world medical condition known as mirror-hand syndrome, "which is where the hand looks like it's been mirrored on two sides," Krichevsky says. "It's not harmful or bad, just unique. So I thought about that and I thought you could really grip something from both sides. He could grab arms or Kong's head — stuff like that. The other inspiration I drew on were the drill hands from Kiryu [a classic nickname for Mechagodzilla]. Something that could always be spinning around and it wouldn't matter what position the arms were in. I thought it gave him a really interesting tactical advantage. I didn't know about the plasma energy punches that were going to be in there, but I thought that was an awesome addition."

At the end of the day, the designer was happy to put his own mark on a Toho cinematic icon. "There's a strong tradition of unique hands in Mechagodzilla designs, from missile fingers, to drill hands, and now grab claws," he concludes. "So, it's very exciting to get to add to that part of the legacy."

Godzilla vs. Kong is currently playing in theaters and on HBO Max. It will leave the WarnerMedia streaming service at the end of the month. Over the weekend, the movie became the highest-grossing release of the pandemic era with over $357 million worldwide.


Why Stellan Skarsgard thinks 'Rogue One' spinoff will be more than ‘little plastic people falling over’ @ Syfy Wire

Star Wars has never shied away from darker, more adult concepts, but if Stellan Skarsgård is to be believed, Andor will be one of the darkest and most realistic Lucasfilm projects yet. Serving as a prequel to 2016's Rogue One, the forthcoming series (showrun by one of the original film's screenwriters, Tony Gilroy) will follow Diego Luna's Cassian Andor during his tenure as a spy for the Rebel Alliance.

Upon its release, Rogue One was praised for setting itself apart from the flagship Skywalker Saga, and of course, for not being afraid to kill off pretty much all its main characters at the end.

"Of course I’ve seen all the Star Wars films, because I’ve had children in the ‘80s, and the ‘90s, and the 2000s, and the 2010s," Skarsgård recently told The Daily Beast. "I’ve had children in five decades, which means you’ve seen all the Star Wars films — and seen all the toys as well. But when I saw Rogue One, it had much more atmosphere and seemed a little more mature — and that was Tony Gilroy, who’s the showrunner on this one. So, hopefully this one will be a little more than little plastic people falling over."

Beyond a few returning faces (like Cassian, Alan Tudyk's K-2SO, and Genevieve O'Reilly's Mon Mothma) most of the show's roles — including Skarsgård's — are being kept a tightly-controlled secret. When asked if he agreed to appear in the galaxy far, far away to impress his kids, Skarsgård exclaimed, "I do think like that sometimes!"

"I’ll go and do a children’s movie for that reason," he continued. "But also, I’m not the most mature person myself, so who doesn’t want to go and fly a spaceship?"

Now in production in Europe, Andor is being directed by Toby Haynes (Doctor Who, Black Mirror). Gilory was originally supposed to helm the pilot, as well as an undisclosed number of subsequent episodes, but had to relinquish control to Haynes when he was unable to travel internationally due to COVID-19 restrictions. Adria Arjona (Good Omens), Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter), Denise Gough (The Kid Who Would Be King), and Kyle Soller (Brexit: The Uncivil War) are also a part of the cast.

"It's a different approach because of the beauty and it's how things happen," Luna remarked last year. "It's not just what happens. It's not the typical way of approaching a story. It's about how things happen, which in fact, is the same that happened in Rogue One. You know the ending, but you don't know how it happened, and we have that challenge in front of us again, which is exciting."

Andor is expected to premiere on Disney+ sometime in 2022.


Future State: Gotham Will See the Red Hood Rise to Hunt Batman @ io9

DC Comics has released a first look at Future State: Gotham #1 today and Jason Todd’s Red Hood is hunting heroes.

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Red Hood hunts heroes in exclusive preview of DC's new 'Future State: Gotham' series @ Syfy Wire

The line-wide version of DC's Future State event may be over, but one of the most prevalent possible futures the event explored is still alive and well. Over the course of several miniseries some of DC's best creators imagined a dystopian future Gotham City dominated by a police state with a mandate to hunt down superheroes, and then threw some of Gotham's most memorable characters into the mix. Now that potential future is set to continue in the new series Future State: Gotham, and we've got an exclusive preview of what's to come. 

Written by Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver [who, full disclosure, is also an editor here at SYFY WIRE] and drawn by Giannis Milonogiannis, Future State: Gotham will pick up many of the threads first established by Future State titles like Dark DetectiveRed HoodThe Next Batman and more, all beginning with a story focused on Jason Todd. In the world of Future State: Gotham, the enforcers known as The Magistrate rule the city with an iron first, hunting down every vigilante they can get their hands on, but Jason Todd isn't running from them.

No, the former Bat-Family member known as the Red Hood is actively collaborating with The Magistrate, and when a disaster strikes with The Next Batman Tim Fox as the primes suspect, Jason will have to go head-to-head with the people who were once his closest friends and family. But of course, this is a Gotham City story, and the city's shadows are hiding certain deeper motives.

"To the Bat-family and the rest of Gotham, he's the top Mask Hunter working for the authoritarian Magistrate that runs the city with an iron fist. But really Jason it working undercover to gather evidence against them under the guidance of a shadowy benefactor yet to be revealed," Culver said.

"It's an interesting setup for Jason's character. Just as he was accepted back into the family he had to turn his back on them for the greater good because he was the only person that could credibly do the job. He desperately wants out but he knows he's doing the right thing. So of course things are about to get a whole lot worse for him and the rest of the city. War is coming."

But this espionage-laced plot twist isn't the only hook that hopes to draw readers in to Future State: Gotham's dark world. To emphasize the noir influence of the story, Batman group editor Ben Abernathy and the book's creative team decided that Milonogiannis would design and draw the book entirely in black-and-white, casting a starker eye on one of the DC Universe's most iconic locales. For Milonogiannis, who also worked on Future State's previous Red Hood stories, it was an opportunity to look at a version of the city he'd already drawn with entirely new eyes.

"The Future State take on Gotham is definitely one of my favorite things to approach -- especially as it's been presented very neon colored so far, and the idea of bringing that city to a black and white series is an interesting challenge," he said. 

In the preview below, you'll see what the black-and-white approach does for the Future State version of Gotham City, as Milonogiannis gives us a showdown between Red Hood and the future version of the Ventriloquist, complete with a super-sized take on Scarface. Plus, SYFY WIRE can exclusively reveal today that Future State: Gotham #1 will also include a reprint of a story from Batman: Black & White #4 (1996) drawn by legendary Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, to further emphasize the power of black and white storytelling in Gotham City. Check it out:

Otomo's connection to the book actually goes beyond the simple black-and-white Gotham City story link. According to Culver, Akira and other key pieces of Manga storytelling were among the major influences the creative team discussed when breaking down the look of the book. 

"I'm a huge fan of Manga myself and along with Ben, Josh, and Giannis it's been a blast swapping influences," he said. "There are some more obvious visual influences like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and the like but also some less obvious influences will start to shine through once the story kicks off as well. Personally I'm reading everything from Naruto to Vagabond to the current Batman books and it's going into the stew!"

Milonogiannis added, "From the beginning, 80's/90's manga has been a big influence on Future State: Red Hood and Gotham -- and now with the series in black and white, I can really focus on trying to nail down that look with screentone and heavier inked areas. Working with colorists for a while, you eventually change your art to leave room for them to do their own work -- it's been challenging to recalibrate my eyes to work fully in black and white for Future State: Gotham."

The black and white art, combined with the unique position of Jason Todd as the book begins and the worldbuilding of Future State, all combine to create a comic that offers a different perspective within the Batman line while also underlining the vast importance of Gotham City as a key DC Comics character in its own right. 

"One of the things we're constantly trying to reinforce in this book is that Gotham City itself should always be felt as a strong presence," Culver said. "The contrast between the rich and poor has never been more amplified in Gotham. It's a police state that becomes more and more unstable with each passing day. Naturally we're introducing people who want to exploit that."

Future State: Gotham #1 is on sale May 11. 

 

Loki's Tom Hiddleston Teases the Trickster's Shapeshifting Abilities @ io9

The Toxic Avenger reboot finds a major star. Shazam director David F. Sandberg throws some water on some Fury of the Gods casting rumors. Ben Wheatley talks about taking on The Meg 2. Plus, what’s next on Debris and Nancy Drew. Spoilers, away!

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Important Toy News: Stay-Puft goop, a real robot Optimus Prime, and more outrageous new toys @ Syfy Wire

Welcome back to Important Toy News, the SYFY WIRE column that shows you all the best and coolest happenings in the world of amazing toys and collectibles for the week.

So hold on tight to your money as your coinage and bills do their weekly wallet escape. Because seriously — we have some mind-blowing toy goodies on the way. Join me, your resident if not favorite Toy Journalist, while we collect all of the things we love in toy form!

And while we love giving all toymakers a fair chance, we have to admit that post-Hasbro Fan Fest, we have to give the toy giant a bit of extra love to appreciate the explosion of collectible surprises it threw out into the world this week. Starting with… the Afterlife!

Credit: Hasbro

GHOSTOYBUSTERS

Choose the smallest, most collectible method of your destruction with the Ghostbusters Mini-Pufts Surprise figures from Hasbro. Detailed to look like characters from the 2021 Ghostbusters: Afterlife film, each series of 1.5-inch Mini-Puft figures is inspired by the original Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man but comes equipped with new mischievous personalities from the movie.

It has a really cool gimmick along with it, which is once you open the Stay Puft Marshmallow can, you dig into the goopy marshmallow-like compound to see which Mini-Puft figure is inside. While blind bags aren't for everyone, I love the secondary play element here with the compound. Basically, it means I get to collect the little plastic Stay-Puft toys while my kids live their best molding clay compound life. Everyone wins!

These cost about $5 per can and will be available in stores in Fall 2021.

Credit: Hasbro

ELECTOYSTAFF PURGE TROOPER

The next great reveal to come out of Hasbro Fan Fest was a Star Wars announcement! Hasbro teamed up with Entertainment Earth to bring us another entry into the 3.75-inch Star Wars Vintage Collection — this time with an Electrostaff Purge Trooper!

Based on the characters from the game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, this Trooper includes an electrostaff pole with plastic effects to engage in combat with the Jedi or any who dare oppose the will of the Emperor. This awesome figure costs $14.99 and is available for preorder today only from Entertainment Earth.

Credit: Hasbro

TOYRANNOSAURUS SENTRY

The next amazing Hasbro reveal on our list sold out instantly, but that won't stop us from drooling over it. I'll tell you a secret — I managed to preorder one (one was the limit!) and so I'm experiencing a severe case of the Toy Collector Squee over this way. It's the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Tyrannosaurus Sentry figure, inspired by the MMPR comic where the Tyrannosaurus Sentry serves as the elite guard of Lord Drakkon.

I love how Hasbro is not only making classic Power Rangers figures and new figures based on the current show seasons, but also giving some love to the Boom! comic characters. What a time to be alive!

Credit: Hasbro

SNAKE TOYES

The new G.I. Joe Snake Eyes movie is on the way and Hasbro just dropped an entire wave of movie figure characters in its 6-inch G.I. Joe Classified line.

Each character comes with multiple points of articulation and several weapons. These character depictions are based on the movie actors, which means that until we see how the characters are played we may not automatically connect with the way some of these toys appear. (Looking at you, Baroness). The wave includes Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Scarlett, Baroness, and Akiko, all of whom you can preorder at Amazon by clicking their names for about $20 a piece.

Credit: Robosen Robotics

OPTOYMUS PRIME

And now for the big Daddy of Hasbro announcements — this is it.

People, we have a self-transforming robotic Transformers Optimus Prime on the way by Robosen Robotics. The new robot is the first-ever consumer robot that features a comprehensive set of functions, including automatic convertible movement into a new form factor, bipedal walking ability in robot form, race function in vehicle form, programmable/code development, and robot control/commands by either voice or via mobile app.

This will be an unparalleled interactive experience for the millions of fans of the franchise, with additional new products and collectibles being announced in the months to come. It was available for preorder at Hasbro Pulse for a whopping $700, but at this point is very sold out. For that price, this self-propelled Prime better cook my dinner, make my bed, and fix me a drink while I cry over my dried-up bank account.

Credit: Super7

JEM AND THE TOYLOGRAMS

We're nearing the end, my toy collecting friends, but we can't just bounce out of a week in toy news without showing off what other toymakers are doing. Because toys are excitement, ooh, toys are adventure. Toys are glamour and glitter, fashion and fame.

Wait — that's not toys. It's Jem, and she's back and more truly outrageous than ever before with Super7's newest ReAction figures.

The power of Synergy has transformed Jerrica Benton into the totally fabulous pop star Jem. This 3.75-inch articulated ReAction figure of the lead singer of the Holograms comes with her microphone and is on a holographic card back straight out of your '80s dreams. The wave comes with either Jem or her Misfit rival Pizzazz, both of whom can be purchased for $18 each at Super7 today.

Credit: Youtooz

PLANTOYS

Earn your green thumb with the new Youtooz and Joseph Enterprise's Chia Pets collaboration. Tend to your own Motivational Lizard and Hedgedoge limited edition Youtooz Chia Pets with real live Chia Sprouts and watch it grow. The packaging features instructions from Chia Pet on how to take care of and grow your memes.

Each Youtooz Chia Pet retails for $22.99 and they actually grow for-reals plants!

Credit: Youtooz

POPEYE TOY SAILOR MAN

Speaking of Youtooz, check out the vinyl toy maker's second release this week! Popeye is a pugnacious, wisecracking sailor with superhuman strength, which comes to him after eating spinach — which he conveniently finds when in need.

Released in 1919, this American classic has remained a pop-culture staple for over a century. This intricately designed collectible stands 5 inches tall, using the classic comic book Popeye vibrant color scheme. He wears light brown sailor shoes, blue jeans, as well as his classic black-and-red shirt. No detail is spared, including his anchor tattoos printed on each muscular forearm.

You can preorder your own Popeye Youtooz vinyl figure today for $29.99. He will ship June 2021.

A dead comet that doesn't chafe @ Syfy Wire

In space, no one can hear you chafe.

You didn't know that? Well then, why else would dead comets be covered in talcum powder?

Or at least it appears that one dead comet may have a layer of talcum-powder-like grains on its surface, presumably so it can stay comfortable despite the sticky heat of being out in the Sun all the time.

The comet in question is called P/2016 BA14 (PANSTARRS)*. Discovered in 2016, it was initially thought to be an asteroid, but then very weak cometary activity was seen — comets and asteroids are similar in many ways, but comets tend to have more ice that turns to gas when they get near the Sun, creating the characteristically fuzzy coma and tail.

BA14, however, doesn't behave that flamboyantly. That is likely due to it being what's called a dead (or nearly dead) comet: One that has passed close to the Sun so many times over so many orbits that all the ice has sublimated away, leaving behind just the solid nucleus. While that may not make it as photogenic as other comets, that does make it very interesting scientifically: We don't know what happens to comet nuclei once all the ice is gone. What happens to their surface? What are they like chemically?

Also, some comets come from deep space, well past the orbit of Neptune, and represent pristine examples of what the solar system was like when it was young. That makes them like 4.6 billion year old time capsules! But if we want to understand what they're like when they're fresh, it helps to know what they're like when they're old, too, to disentangle aging effects from things that happen to a comet early on.

Hubble images of the comet 252P/LINEAR from 2016, showing changes in its activity over the span of a few hours. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

BA14 passed just a few million kilometers from Earth in early 2016, and was intensely studied. A team of astronomers observed it with a camera on the 8.2-meter Subaru telescope amusingly called the Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer, or COMICS, getting images and spectra of it. It only appeared as an unresolved dot, which means they saw no coma, no gas escaping from it. That means their observations show what's going on right on the comet's solid surface.

The spectrum shows weak absorption features. Different atoms and molecules absorb different wavelengths (colors) of light, and these features in the spectrum can be used to ID them. Many comet nuclei, for example, show absorption from minerals like olivine and pyroxene, but those don't match what was seen on BA14.

Instead, what matches the features best are what are called phyllosilicates, which include things like chlorite, clinochlore, serpentine, and clays. The scientists compared the comet spectrum to various meteorites, and found a decent match to one called Orgueil, which fell in France in 1864. It's known to have phyllosilicates in it. Given the nature of the spectrum, BA14 matches best for coarse grains of material, ones bigger than about 100 microns in width (0.1 millimeters, or about the width of a human hair).

And here's something I didn't know: Talcum powder, made of ground up talc, also belongs to the phyllosilicate family.

The orbit of the nearly dead comet P/2106 BA14 takes it very close to Earth and as far out as Jupiter; the giant planet has no doubt affected the comet’s orbit over time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

So is the surface of BA14 covered in talcum powder? Well, kinda. That would fit the spectrum, though typically the talcum powder you buy in stores has a grain size somewhat smaller than 100 microns. It's not inconsistent, though.

I read a lot about comets, and it's getting tough to surprise me. This surprised me.

So are all dead comets covered in a powder like this? It's a good question, but one that can't be answered by looking at just one. We need to study a lot more to see if any others have this feature. It would be helpful to look for it in active comets, too, since it's not clear if this powder accumulates as the comet ages or if it's been there all along.

The nucleus of comet P/2016 BA14 as seen by NASA’s Goldstone radar facility when the comet passed close to Earth in March 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

I'll note that BA14 is on an orbit extremely similar to that of the comet 252P/LINEAR 12, and may be a piece that calved off. BA14 is about 800 meters wide, while 252P is likely half that. Interestingly 252P is still active, and it's not clear why the two are so different if indeed they were once the same body.

There is a class of asteroid (called the D-type) that may include dead comets (like 3552 Don Quixote). Asteroids and comets, in some cases, may be more than just similar. The two broad categories of objects may actually overlap, with ones like BA14 right on that intersection. These can be among the most interesting of objects, since they can tell us about both groups, and even, perhaps, how they change over time.

They also force us to think about what it means to be in one group or another, and if the lines between them are fuzzier than you might have thought at first. I find that sort of thing refreshing. Hard and bright boundaries make our thinking too rigid, and nature is rarely that obvious. BA14 is a great reminder of that.


*Despite the BA designation, there's no relation. That's just due to the way comets are named.

Google Earth's New 3D Time-Lapse Feature Shows How Humans Are Affecting the Planet @ io9

Google Earth is already a powerful tool for observing our planet, but today it’s getting a major upgrade with the introduction of a new 3D time-lapse feature.

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Get Mass Effect 2 for $1 So You Can Compare It to the Remaster Next Month @ io9

Mass Effect 2 (PC) | $1 | Eneba | Use code GamesForTwoCurtises

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The Mixer: Part 1 (Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories by P. G. Wodehouse) @ Bureau 42

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