Here In Bongo Congo
Good King Leonardo has decreed that this week we review three new D.C. comics along with a new Marvel comic that has an eye-catching cover. So let's see how the foursome stack-up against each other:
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Eddy Barrows: Pencils
J.P. Mayer: Inks
Rod Reis: Colors
On the heels of the #700 special anniversary issue of the main Superman title, popular writer J. Michael Straczynski has added Superman to his growing inventory of monthly DC titles. Straczynski is joined in this title effort by penciler Eddy Barrows, inker J.P. Mayer and colorist Rod Reis. Issue #700 sought to re-boot and re-define the Superman title, by sending Superman literally off on a cross-country walk, both to meet ordinary Americans and to sort-out what his true role should be in our society. Last month's issue #701 gave us part-one of the multi-issue story arc entitled "Grounded," in which Superman's trek took him to Philadelphia, where he interacted with regular folks, learning how today's social issues effect ordinary lives while at the same time learning something about himself.
In this month's part two of "Grounded," Superman's trek takes him to Detroit. He meets young and old folk and quickly learns their stories about coping with inner-city Detroit life in an environment dominated by blight, drugs and hopelessness. Two interweaving sub-plots advance the tale. In one, the Man Of Steel discovers that an ordinary-looking familiy are actually alien refugees, with this sub-plot becoming a philosophical tale on the desire to help people versus the fear of being persecuted. A second sub-plot begins with Superman meeting an elderly African-American man who gives him a guided tour of the abandoned Flint, Michigan former automobile industry. Without providing spoiler details, a medical emergency leads the two sub-plots to connect, with a hopeful indication that the problems examined in both storylines could be combined to lead to some social advancement for the problems of both of these communities.
The creative powers at DC seem to have made the conscious choice of re-booting the main Superman franchise by starring Superman in a 2010 version of the iconic 1970's Neal Adams recreation of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow title. In both series, the respective heroes are accused by an ordinary American of not understanding the problems of everyday life and challenged to cross the country to learn for themselves. The 1970's GL/GA series then examined issue-by-issue via this storyline such 1970's current events as environmentalism, poverty and race relations. In the current Superman issue #702 as well as the previous two issues, the series is following the exact same formula, substituting the main hero and updating the relevant ordinary person issues and wider social issues to the realism of today's world of 2010. The question thus becomes whether the creative team trips-up and serves the reader with a well-intentioned gimmick, or hopefully instead gives us a fresh and worthwhile modern read with some literary relevance.
I'm happy and relieved as a DC fan to say that with this creative team at the helm, the strategy works extremely well. There's no one better among current crop of comic book writers than Straczynski in mixing elements of story plot and human nature into polished stories that both entertain and serve-up life lessons. This is the rare comic book series that like its 1970's predecessor, will have staying power for decades beyond its print date, for its examination of the ordinary human life, relevancy to issues of our wider society and just as important to the dedicated comic book reader, the new perspective and major directional shift that it sends The Man Of Steel on his journey through America.
On a final review note, I know that all of the above analysis sounds kind of heavy and analytical. But don't let my review musings about the potential long-term importance of this DC creative project turn you off from reading this issue or the rest of the series. The creative team gives us the rare treat of a serious comic storytelling effort that also works on the level of just plain good comic book storytelling and entertainment. So whether you're looking for some important reading or just entertainment, here's the rare effort that successfully combines both comic book reading categories. In both regards, this series deserves permanent storage space on your comic book reading shelf next to that 1970's Neal Adams classic GL/GA series run, whether you're lucky enough to own original 1970's copies or the series in reprint.
Green Arrow #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J.T. Krul: Writer
Diogenes Neves: Pencils
Vicente Cifuentes: Inks
Ulises Arreola: Colors
Speaking of Green Arrow, his latest title is one of the many new titles being published by DC Comics under the umbrella of the Brightest Day mega-event. Brightest Day is the follow-up to the Blackest Night mega-event. As DC states in its marketing material, Brightest Day is about giving some DC heroes second chances in follow-up to the Darkest Night events. While the new Green Arrow title is up to issue #2, I decided to review last month's issue #1 to check-out the beginning of this effort. Both issues are available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves. The series is written by J.T. Krul with art by Diogenes Neves, inks by Vicente Cifuentes and colors by Ulises Arreola.
Issue #1 is entitled "Man Of The People," and introduces Green Arrow in his new post-Darkest Night setting. Star City lies in ruins and Green Arrow now lives in a large and very mysterious enchanted forest that has sprung-up at a location within the city. The kick-off storyline has three elements. First, it establishes Green Arrow's setting of living in the forest and starting to operate back in the ruined city. Secondly, it introduces local governmnet corruption in the form of a corrupt police commissioner and mayor who are out to get The Arrow. And third, we're introduced to a mysterious masked woman who has taken control of Queen Industries, Oliver North/Green Arrow's former corporation. Its clear that this new character is a villain who will ally herself with the Mayor against our hero. The issue ends in a bridge to issue #2 with the arrival of Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, whose power ring mysteriously won't function in the enchanted forest.
This is an interesting new take on the world of Star City, Green Arrow and Green lantern. While not as meaningful and serious as the new Superman series reviewed above, it is strong storytelling in its own right, establishing a new beginning for our emerald heroes in the Brightest Day series. I liked very much the many elements of mystery in this tale, ranging from the strangeness and unexplained behavior of the new enchanted forest to the unknown identity of the new mystery villain who's come to town and taken over Ollie's corporation. Its clear at the end of the issue that other DC heroes, including the Batman, will be arriving on the scene in upcoming issues. The creative team will also introduce a set of DC heroes who will be banding together as Green Arrow's "Merry Men," operating with him out of the forest as the storyline unfolds.
This is the first comic book that I've read in the Brightest Day series, and if its any indication of the general quality of the effort, Brightest Day is off to a good and entertaining start. So jump into Brightest Day with this new Green Arrow title along with any of the other Brightest Day titles that catch your eye along the new issues boardwalk at That's Entertainment.
Brightest Day: The Atom Special #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jeff Lemire: Writer
Mahmud Asrar: Pencils
John Dell: Inks
Pete Pantazis: Colors
Another title in the ongoing Brightest Day event is a one-shot comic book entitled "Brightest Day: The Atom Special #1". The comic is written by Jeff Lemire with pencils by Mahmud Asrar, inks by John Dell and colors by Pete Pantazis. As mentioned in the review above, the central theme of the Brightest Day series is giving different DC superheros a second chance in follow-up to the events of last year's Darkest Night series.
This issue is entitled "Nucleus Prologue," and most likely serves as a set-up for The Atom's future role in Brightest Day comic issues. As the story begins, someone has broken into Ray Palmer/The Atom's college research lab and stolen dangerous technology along with copies of The Atom's shrinking equipment. After discovering that the break-in was a very detailed planned effort, the bulk of the storyline shifts into a flashback in which Ray recounts to his elderly college mentor the details of his very difficult childhood. By issue's end, Ray discovers a clue indicating that the one good person in his youth, his beloved uncle, is somehow involved in the elaborate and mysterious break-in and theft.
This is a pretty decent Atom comic book, in two respects. As a stand-alone issue, the story gives fans of The Atom an interesting backstory beyond just the superhero origin facts of The Atom. We learn quite a bit about Ray Palmer's life that I personally haven't come across over the years in the various Atom comic books that I've read. Secondly, the story details provide a well-constructed entry for this character into the overall theme of Brightest Day. Its clear that the direction of The Atom's Brightest Day second chance will include another opportunity to address the past family issues detailed in this story's flashback. So a positive thumbs-up to this one-shot issue of The Atom, as one of many ongoing new comics establishing the start of the Brightest Day mega-event.
The Amazing Spider-Man #639
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Joe Quesada: Writer
Paolo Rivera, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki & Richard Isanove: Art
The main Spider-Man title, The Amazing Spider-Man, is up to issue #639 this week. The issue is written by Joe Quesada with art by the team of Paolo Rivera, Joe Quesda, Danny Miki and Richard Isanove. Entitled "One Moment In Time," the story focuses on the relationship between Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his longtime love interest, Mary Jane Watson.
The plot opens with the pair having an introspective conversation in which they are trying to move-on with their emotional lives by examining painful past problems in their relationship. The storyline thus shifts for most of the issue into a detailed flashback, presenting Parker standing-up Mary Jane at the wedding alter due to his Spider-Man responsibilities. After much pain and angst, Mary Jane decides that while she can never marry Parker and have kids with him, she is willing to spend the rest of her life with him as his girlfriend. In the final pages of the issue, just after this decision, the pair face another medical crisis for Parker's elderly Aunt May.
I'm giving this one a mixed review, although the bad in this issue does somewhat outweigh the good. I have a soft spot in my reviewer's heart for most Spidey issues that have an emotional theme, given that Marvel pioneered this character as one of the first major comic characters that struggles daily with real-life personal issues in balance with his superhero responsibilities. But its getting really tiring over the years to read again and again plots focusing on the continual relationship "dance of death" between Peter and Mary Jane. They just seem to be covering the same emotional ground again and again whenever the Parker-Watson relationship takes center stage.
There are two elements of the relationship drama in this issue that particularly add-up in the negative column, for me. First, the story begins with the pair supposedly meeting to bare their hearts by revealing to each other unknown aspects of their past relationship. yet the entire flashback that follows reveals nothing new to either person, as they both jointly star in the flashback and already know everything about each other in the tale. Secondly, the narrative of the story feels very disjointed and confusing. It's difficult in the later pages of the issue to figure-out what part of the story is flashback and what relates to the present-day in these people's lives.
The art quality is enjoyable and if you're a casual Spider-Man reader, much of this tale would be fresh and enjoyable. But if you're an experienced reader of Spider-Man, you just might feel, as I did, that the tale is a re-hash of so many of the relationship-themed episodes that have been published over the many, many years regarding this pair of star-crossed comic book lovers. So again, a mixed review and recommendation that you're not missing much in the world of Spider-Man by skipping this issue, but its not an o.k. issue if you haven't read much Spider-Man before and thus won't react to this storyline as a retread of plot issues.
Ongoing Contest Reminder!!!
We don't have a correct entry yet to our latest contest challenge, in which your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with the answer to the question of how many baseballs are used each season in all of Major League Baseball, both American League and National League combined. So we'll keep the contest open until Wednesday, August 25 at noontime. If we receive multiple correct answers we'll choose a winner of the $10.00 That's Entertainment gift certificate by a roll of the dice. If we don't have a correct answer by then, we'll choose a winner from the entry that comes closest to the correct answer.
That's all for now, so have a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo