Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week three comic books that vary in subject matter, but have the common element of dark themes in their storylines. So let's see how these three issues stack-up against each other:

Shadowland-Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #510
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Andy Diggle & Antony Johnston: Writers
Marco Checchetto: Art
Matt Hollingsworth: Colors

Marvel's "Shadowland" event series continues in the new issue #510 of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Several weeks ago, I reviewed issue #1 of the five-part Shadowland mini-series, which established the basic premise of Shadowland, in which Daredevil/Matt Murdock becomes the new head of The Hand, the ninja assassin organization which he has opposed since day one of the Daredevil series. Having established a Hand headquarters in his New York City Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, Daredevil encourages the area to decline into brutal superhuman and civilian violence as a demon possesses Matt, slowly expanding its power over him and shaping him into an evil head of the assassin group. A page one narrative in issue #510 brings the reader up-to-date on the storyline so far, explaining how good and evil characters are assembling for further Shadowland conflict in the wake of Daredevil killing in cold blood his archnemesis Bullseye.

This latest installment in the multi-issue story arc initially centers on Daredevil's friends Foggy Nelson and Dakota North. The issue begins with the pair surviving a brutal attack by assassins masquerading as Hand ninjas. The battle is a spin-off of the city is cascading into brutal violence, with civilian wannabes costuming-up in mimick of both the good and bad heroes. While costumed hero Black Tarantula convinces Foggy and Dakota to leave Town, a parallel sub-plot follows several other Daredevil characters, including Luke Cage, Iron Fist and villain The Kingpin brainstorming how to team-up and take-down Daredevil as his demonic possession intensifies. The issue concludes with two dramatic climaxes. In the first, Foggy and Dakota are blocked from escaping the city and dragged into a full-scale mob riot, while in the second climax, Daredevil's footsoldier White Tiger kills Black Tarantula and dramatically announces the ascent of the demonic possession of Daredevil.

I enjoyed very much my first taste of the Shadowland event series many weeks ago, and wasn't disappointed by this latest issue read of the ongoing series. There's an awful lot of fast action, significant decisions and sharp dialogue happening here, as the many characters maneuver about Hell's Kitchen like good and bad chess pieces in a high stakes game of save-or-destroy civilization. The creative team is very adept at making it all seamless and naturally-flowing, providing both entertainment and credibility for the major changes resulting from all of the action and violence that are unfolding for both the Daredevil and general Marvel universes. What fascinates me most about this series are the significant deaths that are scattered throughout the series. From the previous death of Bullseye to this issue's killing by White Tiger of Black Tarantula, alongside some major decisions on the part of both good and bad guys, this series appears to be making some permanent and major shake-ups in the world of Daredevil. Whether they really are permanent or just reversible gimmicks of this event series will remain to be seen. But either way, there's some very engrossing action, adventure and dialogue unfolding within the Shadowland series, well-worth checking-out in this issue as well as within the other various titles and issues of Marvel's Shadowland event, all available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.

Madame Xanadu #26
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo Comics
Matt Wagner: Writer
Chris Siezullo: Art

DC's Vertigo imprint is up to issue #26 of the Madame Xanadu title. I've written very positive reviews of previous issues of this Eisner Award-nominated series, which began with a classic 20-plus issue story arc scripted by veteran Matt Wagner with art by Amy Reeder Hadley and Mike Kaluta. This comic book title took Kaluta's 1970's-created mystic character of Madame Xanadu and portrayed her journey through time, from her origin days as a wood nymph in the realm of King Arthur to modern times as a mystic seer based in New York City. Along the way, the good Madame interacted in key historical events such as the French Revolution, and surprisingly interacted with several iconic DC Golden Age heroes, influencing their lives in some very surprising and entertaining ways. DC recently announced the conclusion of the title in the near future, based on low sales in spite of its critical acclaim.

This current issue #26 presents a one-issue tale entitled "Lingering Scent." Presented with fairytale-style narrative and art, the plot features a small boy named Sammy, who gives off a horrible, gagging odor. Sammy has amnesia and has no idea who he is or where he came from. He wanders the streets of New York City, grossing-out everybody whom he encounters. When he beds-down each night in a vacant building, he has strange fairytale dreams of rescuing a princess and trying to avoid a magical witch. Toward the end of this tale, Madame Xanadu arrives on the scene, explaining that she's the witch in the dream, and she's been searching for the boy. She reveals to him that he's the lost spirit of a dead, abandoned kid and lays him back to rest in the skeleton of his original body, back in his abandoned building.

A comic book plot doesn't have to be all light and happy in order to be entertaining. However, the darkness of the tale and the extremely bleak ending aside, the quality of this story stinks, pun intended, of course, for three basic reasons. First, its extremely creepy and weird to present such a dark and disturbing tale in little kid-oriented art style and narrative. Secondly, since the conclusion of the epic, original multi-issue Madame Xanadu story arc, all of these recent stand-alone one-issue Madame Xanadu tales are extremely weak on basic story dialogue and logic. Its as if Matt Wagner is just tossing unfinished story concepts into the title, to keep it going for a few issues before the cancellation date. And third, fans of Madame Xanadu would be disappointed to see her character take such a secondary, limited role in the storylines of this issue and the previous few issues.

Any one of these flaws alone would have still given this issue a chance at mixed success. But all three combined result in a thumbs-down review recommendation. Its sad to see such a high quality title go out on such a low quality note, but on the bright side, those first 20 or so great Madame Xanadu issues are all still available at That's Entertainment, both in the back issues bins and in reprinted softcover compilation, so my positive advice is for you to really enjoy the high point of this wonderful title by reading those issues.

X-23 #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Marjorie Liu: Writer
Will Conrad: Art
John Rauch: Colors

Marvel Comics is in the midst of publishing several Wolverine-themed ongoing comic book titles. A new title in this inventory is X-23, which is the name of a female teenaged Wolverine clone. A very lengthy narrative in the back of issue #1 brings the non-Wolverine reader, such as myself, up-to-date on the place of this young woman within the Marvel comic book universe, from her upbringing as a trained child-assassin through many apparent character twists and turns that have led to this month's publication of issue #1 of her own comic book title.

Issue #1 is entitled "The Killing Dream," and is part one of a multi-issue story arc. The plot has two alternating storythreads. In one sub-plot, X-23 a.k.a. Laura is having vivid and disturbing dreams in which she visits the original Wolverine in hell, where his soul is apparently residing in other title's of the Wolverine comic book franchise. The bulk of issue #1 focuses more on x-23's personal struggles in trying to fit-in with living in the society of X-Men in the San Francisco area, dealing with rejection from the other teen X-Men and coping with her resentment of being used as an assassin by the adult X-Men. By issue's end she's thrown into another bloodthirsty situation, which I won't detail here as a spoiler.

I haven't read any of the past year's Wolverine/X-Men universe comics, so I'm coming to this character stone-cold with this issue #1. Reading this comic was a positive experience, though, in that the creative team does a credible job giving us a strong plot, interesting dialogue and entertaining subject matter. I was a bit confused by many of the references to prior developments in the X-Men universe among these characters, and as an older fanboy, I wasn't that much interested in the heavy element of teen angst and self-absorption that just radiates off of X-23 and the other teen X-Men in this title. But there's obviously a demographic of the readership base that can relate more to this style of story, and for those readers, this is a very entertaining and interesting new title and story universe. So a worthy thumbs-up for this addition to the Wolverine/X-Men franchise which highlights a female teenaged member of the growing Wolverine family.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to tell us what two current major league baseball teams evolved from the former Saint Louis Browns and Washington Senators. And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne, who correctly identified that the St. Louis Browns (no relation to Kevin!) relocated to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles, while the Washington Senators actually had two reincarnations. The original Senators relocated in the 1960's and became the Minnesota Twins; major league baseball later established a second Senators team in D.C. which eventually also migrated, becoming the Texas Rangers. We would have accepted either Washington Senators submittal as sufficient, but hats-off to Kevin for correctly identifying both Senators teams.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's go back to our comic book-thinking roots for this week's contest. As you know, each May we all celebrate National Comic Book Day with the various comic book publishers issuing on the first Saturday in May special Free Comic Book Day editions of either established or new-and-upcoming comic book titles. Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at and pitch to us what comic book title or titles you think should be included in next May's Free Comic Book Day group of publications. Our selected contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment. The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges will also consider forwarding credible entries to the respective publishers for their consideration for next May's celebration.

That's all for now, so have a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Comic Reviews 9/17/10

Two weeks ago, we reviewed four Marvel Comics, so in the spirit of equal opportunity, this week let's review three D.C. Comics along with a fourth comic published by DC's Wildstorm imprint:

Weird War Tales #1 (One-Shot)
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Various Artists and Writers

DC Comics is in the process of publishing a series of one-shot comics honoring their well-known Silver Age line-up of war comics. Last week, I reviewed the Our Army At War one-shot, starring Sargent Rock. This week, I'm reviewing the one-shot of Weird War Tales, DC's well-known title that presented war-themed stories with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes, mixed with mainstream war stories that often featured surprising and unexpected twists in the plot. This commemorative issue includes three new tales, each presented by a different creative team.

The first story is entitled "Armistice Night" and is from the well-known creative team of Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart. It's a humorous and brief four-page horror story in which once a year the uniform-clad skeletons of famous figures from military history gather both to party and fight each other in tribute to their varied military pasts. The second tale is entitled "The Hell Above Us." Scripted by Ivan Brandon with art by Nic Klein, its a horror tale of a World War II American submarine crew trapped in their disabled sub at the ocean's bottom. Without giving away any spoiler details, the story has a mix of Stephen King-style horror and a surprise science fiction twist ending. The seven-page third story is entitled "Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards" and is written by Jan Strnad with art by Gabriel Hardman and colors by Daniel Vozzo. Again, without revealing any important spoiler details, the plot centers on two U.S. soldiers in World War II Europe who were childhood friends, awaiting an expected overwhelming defeat at the hands of the advancing German Army.

DC's Silver Age war comics were renowned for delivering high quality stories that mixed entertaining military plots with often touching and always socially relevant life lessons that the everyday reader could identify with. As with last week's Our Army At War one-shot, this latest Weird War Tales one-shot delivers that old-school magic formula once again. Both the lead-off Darwyn Cooke-Dave Stewart tale and Ivan Brandon's submarine thriller effectively mix horror and military action storylines with a clear "Make War No More" message. The third story by Jan Strnad is the clear stand-out from the trio of tales. The creative team presents a touching tale in which the two Amercian GI's, trapped and awaiting certain death, react to their situation by reaching back to their childhood to reminisce about their childhood days playing with imaginary dinosaurs. The story is equal to any by fantasy grandmaster Ray Bradbury in evoking childhood Americana as a means for the adult story characters to cope with the horrors of war.

While this comic is a one-shot production, the success of reviving the high quality of the Weird War Tales title in this issue supports the suggestion that DC consider at the least a mini-series or limited multi-issue run of this iconic Silver Age comic title. Both aging fans and newcomers alike will get their money's worth of comic book entertainment in this commemorative issue of weird but wonderful war tales presented in a mix of science fiction, fantasy and horror storytelling styles.

Batgirl #14
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Bryan Q. Miller: Writer
Lee Garbett: Penciller
Trevor Scott: Inker
Guy Major: Colorist

The current Batgirl series is up to issue #14, presenting a pre-Halloween tale co-starring Batgirl, Supergirl and (surprise!) Dracula. The ongoing series is scripted by Bryan Q. Miller with pencils by Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott and colors by Guy Major. For newcomers to this series, the current Batgirl is Stephanie Brown, a college student at Gotham University who is mentored and guided in her Batgirl adventures via electronic communication with The Oracle, the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner Gordon and herself the former and very first Batgirl.

The issue #14 story is entitled "Terror In The Third Dimension!" The plot is a flat-out comedy, in which Supergirl in her secret identity comes to Gotham to visit Stephanie. When the two take-in a campy Dracula movie being shown on-campus, a nearby college physics lab experiment goes awry, leading to 24 frames of the film being transformed into 24 3-D, real-world Draculas. Its up to the girls to don their costumes and disperse of the two dozen Draculas via the driving of physics lab light sticks as stakes through each of the vampire's hearts. Each of the very cheesey, B-movie Draculas is caught in an endless loop of repeatedly acting-out the terribly-acted scene from which they emerged out of the movie, wandering about Gotham and stumbling into everyday city situations while performing the grating scene in public. By tales end, our heroic duo have completed the task of dispensing with the two dozen vampires, with Stephanie's mom none-the-wiser that the pair were either superheros or did anything out-of-the-ordinary on their Friday night out and about the campus.

Writer Bryan Q. Miller has been scripting this title for a long time now, and has skillfully included a sharp, edgy and very funny dialogue into every plot of the series. In this single-issue, stand-alone Halloween story, he ratchets-up the humor into full-blown comedy in this plot. The dialogue between Batgirl/Stephanie and Supergirl/Kara is superb, as the girls seamlessly complete each other's comedic observations and zingers. The destroying of the 24 Draculas is also kept on the light side (no pun intended), as they're literally constructed as 3-D light manifestations from the film and thus not really creatures being killed. The result is light-hearted and extremely entertaining, completely lacking in the pretentiousness or snarkiness that unfortunately can sometimes result in many humor-themed comics these days. It also succeeds very well in cementing a strong and obvious bond of friendship between the two young superheroines, one that is very believable and hopefully will be repeated in a future repeat visit by Supergirl to her Gotham counterpart in this Batgirl comic book title.

So for an early, pre-Halloween treat, give a well-deserved read to this funny and very entertaining comic book. It will serve as a nice balance to the heavier, more blood-and-gore styled comics that are sure to be published in the next month as we get closer to Halloween.

Batman #703
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Fabian Nicieza: Writer
Cliff Richards: Art
Ian Hannin: Colors

This month's issue #703 of the main Batman title is scripted by Fabian Nicieza with art by Cliff Richards and colors by Ian Hannin. The title currently stars Dick Grayson as Batman in place of the missing Bruce Wayne, with Damien, the young son of Bruce Wayne and Ras Al Ghul's daughter, featured as the current version of Robin. This issue is sub-titled on the front cover as "A Prelude To Bruce Wayne: The Road Home," and as such lays some preliminary story groundwork for D.C.'s upcoming and long-expected return of the original Batman, Bruce Wayne.

Entitled "The Great Escape," this tale features two interweaving sub-plots. The first is a traditional "hunt down the supervillain" storyline, as Batman and Robin struggle to try and capture a high tech-costumed and powered thief. Tim Drake/Red Robin joins the effort, as clues seem to identify the foe as an old nemesis of Bruce Wayne. The plot is further complicated with the involvement of investigative newspaper reporter Vicki Vale. Without being a spoiler, the group eventually captures said high tech crook and reveals the villain as having a surprise identity. Our second storyline is more introspective, as throughout the adventure Dick Grayson and Damien pause at times and reflect on how they miss Bruce Wayne and what he means to them. Each helps the other come to grips with problems in their respective relationships with the missing Batman, thus laying the groundwork for both heroes to work things out with Wayne upon his upcoming return to Gotham.

I enjoyed this Batman issue for two basic reasons. Regarding the first storyline, the catch-the-villain sub-plot was well-constructed and interesting. It was very enjoyable following the team-up of the three Batman family members in both pursuing their skilled opponent and ultimately learning the crook's secret identity and motivation for the crimes committed. Even more effective was the second plotline. I've been waiting for a few years now for someone at DC to finally present a story that gives the little psychopath Damien/Robin a shred of humanity within his warped personality. Writer Fabian Nicieza finally takes a decent first step into humanizing the kid, via a very realistic and well-written scene in which Damien finally expresses some human feelings to Dick Grayson about his hopes and fears regarding the fate of Bruce Wayne. The behavior is just at the right level of emotion to provide some crediblity that the current Robin has a long way to go, but has a speck of human empathy in him that could flourish with the return of his father, Bruce Wayne.

So a positive thumbs-up recommendation for this Batman issue, which succeeds both as a stand-alone, well-presented Batman Family tale and as an excellent and entertaining preview step into the upcoming world of The Return Of Bruce Wayne.

Welcome To Tranquility #3
Publisher: Wildstorm
Gail Simone: Writer
Horacio Domingues: Art
Jonny Rench: Colors

DC's Wildstorm imprint has a new comic entitled "Welcome To Tranquility" that is up to a current issue #3. The comic book is written by veteran writer Gail Simone, known among other titles for her work on Birds Of Prey and Wonder Woman, with art by Horacio Domingues amd colors by Jonny Rench. Simone created this series in an earlier numbered sequence started in 2006, establishing a retired set of Wildstorm Universe heroes and villains living in the fictional California town of (you guessed it) Tranquility.

Issue #3 is part 3 of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Homecoming-An Armor Of History". The story begins with a brief flashback to twenty years earlier, in which a hero who resembles The Spirit and his wife are forced to commit their violently dangerous son to a mental institution. Flash-forward to the present-day, and the kid is all grown-up and has returned to Town to exact a violent revenge on his family and their friends. The tension builds thriller-style throughout this issue as certain town heroes search for the son, while on a parallel track he makes his way about Town laying the groundwork for his revenge. The issue ends in a cliffhanger, as the son commits his first act of bloody violence leading to more action in next month's issue.

The creative team does a credible job on two counts here, first in giving us a fresh and interesting world of new superheros and villains in an interesting small town setting, and secondly in presenting a thriller-style story that steadily builds page-by-page to the climax of the issue-ending violent act and cliffhanger. The main problem here is for the brand-new reader, such as myself, to this series. There's no page one-narrative either briefly explaining the concept of this comic title or highlights of the plot to-date. The lack of this information really leaves the new reader hanging as to who these characters are, the concept of Tranquility and what exactly is going-on in this issue, to the point where in many important ways, this isn't an understandable story as a stand-alone, single issue read.

So a mixed review for this alternative superhero universe concept. The quality of this title is solid, but as presented in issue #3, I wouldn't recommend reading this issue first. Instead, check-out the back issue inventory at That's Entertainment for some copies of the first, 2006 run of this title, or at least first read issue #1 and #2 of the current title run, before jumping-into this month's current issue #3.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to tell us who your favorite writer or writers are on today's comic scene, and what qualities make him/her/them such stand-outs for your comic book reading enjoyment. And our winner is (drumroll, please)...David Ruiz, who tells us that his current favorite writer is Claudio Sanchez of the band Coheed and Cambria and the comic "The Amory Wars." David adds that "buying his books to see how the story unfolds as related to the music is really what has got me into comics. While The Amory Wars and Kill Audio still make up most of my comic collection, I am slowly branching out into other sci-fi, hero and other comics because of it."

Congrats to David for his entry for a very creative writer and explanation of both why he enjoys his writing and how its expanding his comic book reading interests into other aspects of our favorite hobby. David receives a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainmnet for his first prize contest entry.

New Contest Announcement!!!

As we head for the home stretch of our current baseball season, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges just can't resist announcing at least one more baseball trivia contest. Your challenge for this week is to e-mail us at with the answer to the following trivia challenge: What two current Major League Baseball teams are the current versions of the old, historic Saint Louis Browns and Washington Senators changing their respective team names and moving to new cities? Our first prize winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment. As always, in the event of multiple correct contest entries, the winner will be chosen from among the correct entries by a roll of the dice.

That's all for this week, so have a great comic book reading (and baseball watching!) week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Comic Reviews 9/10/10

Here In Bongo Congo

Since this past week was the first official week of Fall, Good King Leonardo has decreed that we kick-off the new season with an eclectic mix of comics to review from across many comic book genres. So let's see how the following four comics fare, representing the varied comic book genres of Westerns, Army Comics, Super-Heroes and Classic Fables:

The Lone Ranger #23
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Brett Matthews: Writer
Sergio Cariello: Art
Marcelo Pinto: Colors

Dynamite Entertainment's Lone Ranger title is up to #23 with this month's issue. The title is written by Brett Matthews with art by Sergio Cariello and colors by Marcelo Pinto. For the younger, post-Baby Boomer fanboys and fangirls who may not be familiar with the character, The Lone Ranger is an iconic western fictional character of the early and mid-20th century, who became an early modern media pop culture icon with the advent of radio in the 1930's and transfering that popularity over to the world of early baby boomer television with the emergence of 1950's and 1960's television programming. As I mentioned in a Green Hornet comic book review this past year, said Hornet was actually created in the Golden Age of radio and comics as the nephew of The Lone Ranger, which was a very shrewd marketing move to build on the immense popularity of The Lone Ranger back in the day.

Issue #23 is billed as Part 7 in a multi-issue story arc entitled "Resolve." The plot is basically a set-up for next month's face-to-face confrontation between the Ranger and bad guy Butch Cavendish. This issue begins with Cavendish capturing and torturing a small-town sheriff as bait to lure The Lone Ranger into the upcoming confrontation. The bulk of the storyline then focuses on the Ranger getting ready for the impending facedown, in three ways. First, he brainstorms a bit with his well-known Native American sidekick, Tonto. Secondly, he and Tonto convince a local woman and her son to get out of harm's way and leave Town under Tonto's protection. And third, our hero finds the tortured sheriff, who gives the Ranger some important advice regarding the upcoming battle, before dying himself. The issue ends in a bridge to next month's story segment, with the evil Butch Cavendish picking the spot for the fight and settling-in to wait for the Ranger's arrival.

Prior to reading this issue, I was apprehensive that Dynamite might follow DC's Jonah Hex route that I've negatively commented on in the past, of updating a well-established western comic book genre icon into our modern world of way over-done splatter-gore and bloodshed. I'm happy to report that the creative team here hasn't fallen into that trap. Instead, we're treated to a western comic tale that stays within the storytelling traditions of western fiction. But the story is anything but stale, here. Writer Brett Matthews gives us a script that is spare on dialogue but modern, intriguing and most importantly, entertaining in the details of the various characters jockeying their positions in this multi-issue struggle between good and evil in The Olde West. While I would have liked to have seen more of Tonto in this story segment, its clear that he has a larger role in this overall tale, both in previous and future issue segments. My only constructive criticism is that the issue could have used a brief page-one narrative introduction for the new reader, to summarize some key events from the previous six issue installments. Such a narrative would provide a first-time reader such as myself with more understanding regarding both the role of the mother and child in the tale and the previous actions of bad guy Butch Cavendish that led to the Sheriff's capture and the upcoming big fight.

But that minor critique aside, a deserved positive thumbs-up is due to the creative team for giving us this latest excellent incarnation of one of the giant comic book, radio and television American popular culture fiction characters of the last century. Whether you're a devoted fan of the Western comic genre or just an eclectic comic book reader, give this comic book a read for its successful formula of remaining faithful to its character's roots but providing both a modern yet effective visual and narrative presentation that easily entertains today's reader.

Our Army At War (One-Shot) #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Mike Marts: Writer
Victor Ibanez: Art

DC Comics is kicking-off this Fall a return to several of its well-known army genre comics titles. This past week's effort is the publication of a one-shot new issue of Our Army At War, the well-known Silver Age title starring Sargent Rock. The one-shot is written by Mike Marts with art by Victor Inbanez. In a tribute to the history of this series, the cover is illustrated by veteran Joe Kubert, famed for illustrating this series, among many others, back in the Silver Age.

The issue is entitled "Time Stands For No Man," and consists of two alternating sub-plots. The first is set in the present-day and features Keyon Jasper, who after witnessing the 9-11 attacks enlists in the army and is sent to fight in Iraq. The plot centers on two themes, his unit's fighting action in the war and a more emotional element, in which very personal issues pertaining to Kenyon regarding the 9-11 Twin Towers attack are dramatically revealed at the story's conclusion. The second sub-plot is set in World War II and stars an Army enlistee named Anthony Sigliano, who after Pearl Harbor enlists and is sent to fight in Europe. His plotline centers on Anthony meeting and interacting with Sargent Rock and the other Easy Company cast of characters. The issue concludes with both sub-plots and timeperiods coming-together in a very dramatic and unforeseen story connection, which I won't spoil at all here in this review.

Writer Marts and artist Ibanez hit a major home run out-of-the-park here with this excellent one-shot comic book, in three respects. First is the stylistic lay-out. While most comic books these days alternate throughout the issue with two or three sub-plots, the creative team here literally alternates the two stories every other panel of the tale, as opposed to every other page. The effect is very fresh and foreshadows the unexpected connection between the two tales. The second successful element here is that surprise ending, which is very emotional, heartrending and extremely well-written as both a comment on the 9-11 tragedy and a personal comment on the emotions of the story characters. And the third shout-out here goes to Victor Ibanzez's wonderful artwork, which represents a very effective visual style for a war comic and conveys the war-themed emotions of the characters very well.

In sum, this one-shot succeeds in maintaining the esteemed tradition of DC's Our Army At War title by presenting a traditional war story combined with themes of relevant non-combat social issues. So a well-deserved thumbs-up recommendation for fans of war comics as well as fans of good, general comic book entertainment to read this well-crafted one-shot comic book title.

Fantastic Four #582
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Neil Edwards: Penciler
Scott Hanna: Inker
Paul Mounts: Colors

Marvel's "The Heroic Age" company-wide event also includes the ongoing monthly Fantastic Four series. As I've written in previous Fantastic Four reviews, writer Jonathan Hickman has been on an acclaimed and very popular run with this title for some time now, placing the Fantastic Four in a very cutting-edge, hard science fiction-themed series of multi-issue story arcs. Hickman is joined in this effort by penciler Neil Edwards, inker Scott Hanna and colorist Paul Mounts.

Issue #582 is entitled "...Because Of All These Things I've Done." A page one narrative highlights the previous major developments in this ongoing story. It's a time-travel adventure, in which the Fantastic Four interacts with Reed Richard's time-traveling father, Nathaniel Richards, as well as the time-traveling future adult versions of Reed and Sue Storm's two children, Franklin and Valeria. There are two interweaving, time-traveling sub-plots. The first is a high-action battle story, as Nathaniel Richards teams-up with the past, college-age versions of Reed, Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom to battle an evil, alternate version of Nathaniel who is trying to alter the timestream. In a parallel storyline, the adult version of Reed and Sue's kids both interact with the present-day Sue Storm and advise Nathaniel Richards in his own time-traveling efforts. Similar to the Our Army At War comic book reviewed above, both time-traveling sub-plots dovetail together at the end of this issue in a dramatic bridge to next month's continued storyline.

Threats to the timestream are a very common theme in the comic book industry, as evident by the number of comics that I review annually that include this element in their respective stories. As such, there's a danger of the latest effort being stale or a rehash of previous or other ongoing efforts. But writer Hickman rises above that potential pitfall, here. For the past year, he's essentially been writing several classic, hard science fiction scripts that could be published as standard science fiction short stories, and instead adapting them to the world of The Fantastic Four. The result in this lastest story is fantastic, no pun intended, delivering a complex and very detailed time-travel tale that keeps the reader on the edge or his or her seat with every panel and turn of the page. The time travel paradoxes and effects result in a non-stop, exciting adventure, highly worth reading and re-reading, for that matter.

So we're on a roll this week, with our third consecutive thumbs-up review in this week's column of a comic that works for both fans of the particular genre of the title, in this case the superhero genre, as well as providing worthwhile entertainment for general fans of comic books or science fiction.

Prince Of Persia: Before The Sandstorm #2
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Jordan Mechner: Writer
Tom Fowler, David Lopez and Niko Henrichon: Art

Another new Dynamite Entertainment comic is issue #2 of Prince of Persia: Before The Sandstorm. The comic book is written by Jordan Mechner with art by the team of Tom Fowler, David Lopez and Niko Henrichon. The inside cover of this issue states that the comic is based on both the screenplay of the recent "Prince Of Persia" movie and a "Prince Of Persia" videogame.

The setting of this comic book is right out of the 1001 Arabian Nights fables genre. The story opens with a traveling adventurer displeasing a Sultan with his tale of his travels. As the Sultan disbelieves the authenticity of the tale, its up to the traveler's companions to convince him otherwise, by telling their own versions of the story as well as further stories of their own personal experiences. The result are two separate tales, each told by separate members of the traveling party. The first story is a mix of adventure and comedy, as a freed African slave tells of his adventures that led him to freedom as a member of the traveling group. The second story is more dramatic, as a woman tells a love story she learned as a little girl. By issue's end, the love story builds to a major climax of adventure, which will be continued in next month's issue #3 of this title.

I haven't seen the Prince Of Persia movie nor played the video game, so I can't compare the comic to either product. But on its own as a comic book, this issue is very well-crafted for an entertaining comic read. The details of the plot are of high quaility writing, the characters have a lot of depth, personality and charm, and the story moves along with a well-paced mix of adventure, comedy and tragedy. There's no guarantee that the movie succeeds as well as the comic book, but this issue did motivate me to both want to read next month's issue and check-out the movie when its available on DVD. As a final comment, there's a lot of story detail here that made this comic a longer read than a standard comic of the same size, but in a good way, as the more detailed-than-average dialogue and story activity still moved at a nice pace and didn't make the story feel overloaded and bogged-down.

Ongoing Contest Announcement!!!

We don't have any entries so far for our latest contest, in which we challenge you to e-mail us at with your entry for your favorite current comic book writer or writers, telling us also why you think he/she/they are at the top of your must-read list. So we'll keep the contest going by extending the submittal deadline to noontime next Wednesday, September 15, at which time we'll either select a winner from any upcoming entries or move-on to a new contest challenge. Our first prize winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment, so enter now!

So there you have it for this week, four comics reviewed which each provide high quality and just-plain-fun entertainment within four different comic book fiction genres. That's all for now, so have a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Comic Reviews 9/3/10

Here In Bongo Congo

To paraphrase the esteemed Stan Lee, it's "Make Mine Marvel" Week here in Bongo Congo, with reviews of four interesting-looking new Marvel Comics issues. So let's see how they stack-up against each other:

The Heroic Age: Avengers #4
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
John Romita Jr.: Pencils
Klaus Janson: Inks
Dean White: Colors

Issue #4 was just published in the new Avengers title within Marvel's The Heroic Age series. The comic book is written by A-list veteran Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by the renowned John Romita Jr., inks by Klaus Janson and colors by Dean White. For the uninitiated, The Heroic Age is Marvel's current event series in follow-up to the Seige mega-event. The goal of the Avengers title in The Heroic Age is to bring some stability back to the Avengers, re-uniting Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as a nucleus of leaders around which the Avengers reassemble and settle-back into a standard comic book storytelling world.

Issue #4 of this series continues the multi-issue story arc of the regrouped Avengers kick-off adventure. Its a time-travel tale on a grand scale, in which Kang The Conquerer has contacted the Avengers to inform them that their future children, in alliance with an older Hulk/Bruce Banner, have taken actions that will both unravel the timestream and doom future mankind. The first three issues of the series covered the Avengers coming to terms with this news and splitting into two sub-teams, one to stay in the present and deal with the unraveling of time and the second to travel to the future and confront their children's actions.

The two interweaving sub-plots continue in this latest issue. The present-day group is presented in a complex and high action battle in New York City, as warring parties from across time descend upon the city and turn it into a massive across-the-timestream battleground. One of the more interesting segments of this plotline centers on the group, led by Spider-Man, allying themselves with a time-traveling Killraven. The future group, led by Iron Man and Captain America, arrives at their destination in the midst of a similar battle. Unexpectedly and quickly captured by their future children, they confront the aged future Hulk. The story segment ends with a very surprising confrontation with an additional aged well-known superhero, who I won't identify and spoil the fun for you the reader.

What's really entertaining about this issue is the creative team's skill in mixing epic-scale high action with the quieter, more introspective style of story narration for which Bendis is renowned at delivering. The result is the rarely-seen best of both worlds, a story which visually mesmerizes the reader with wonderful large-scale action scenes, interspersed with down-to-earth, realistic dialogue between the characters. My favorite examples in this issue from each of these two story-telling styles is the two-page spread of Thor hovering over the New York City timestream battlefield, and the concluding segment of the issue, with Bendis's wonderful dialogue in which the Avengers are surprised by the mysterious aged hero. While this is a very entertaining stand-alone comic book issue, I'd also recommend jumping-back and catching-up with the three previous issues in this new title, all still available at That's Entertainment.

The Heroic Age: Prince Of Power #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente: Writers
Reilly Brown: Pencils
Terry Pallot and Jason Paz: Inks
Val Staples: Colors

Another comic title in The Heroic Age event series is Prince Of Power, a four-issue mini-series starring Hercules and his friend, the teenaged genius Amadeus Cho. The title is scripted by the team of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, with art by Reilly Brown, Terry Pallot, Jason Paz and Val Staples. Last year, I reviewed an issue of The Incredible Hercules that starred this latest version of Hercules in team-up with Cho, billed as "the 7th smartest person on Earth" and designated by the mythical gods of Olympus as Hercules's modern-day successor here on Earth. Thus old Herc is destined to be the kid's sidekick and mentor in this concept.

Issue #1 in this limited series is entitled "Blasphemy Can be Fun." The issue sets-up the storyline of Hercules being presumed dead due to the scheming of the goddess Athena, thus leaving Amadeus Cho to manage alone his Olympus Group think tank/corporation. When Cho learns that Hercules is just lost in a parallel reality, he teams-up with Bruce Banner and Herc's girlfriend Hebe to try to pinpoint his friend and rescue him. Without going into heavy potential spoiler detail, Cho follows the recommendation of a demi-god to retrieve certain items of the gods which can be used in a rescue attempt. The issue ends with Cho being misunderstood as a thief in his article retrieval quest, thereby setting-up a potential conflict in issue #2 with our old friend The Mighty Thor.

This is a light and enjoyable comic book, not as serious and literate as The Avengers Heroic Age title reviewed above. The dialogue, character's behavior and style of humor seem to me to be geared to a younger readership, most likely of teen reading age. But the comic also works well for older readers as an old school-style adventure comic. I particularly enjoyed the role and behavior of several secondary characters in this story, including Hercules's girlfriend Hebe, who works as a modern-day corporate assistant in the Olympus Group's corporate structure. A well-deserved thumbs-up is also due to the art team for providing the right touch of graphic style for the tone of this tale. On a final note, the main story is followed by a black-and-white sketched preview of issue #1 of The Heroic Age: Atlas, which I reviewed back on June 25.

So a definite thumbs-up to balance your more heavier, serious Heroic Age series reading with this lighter and more humorous take on some of what's going-on in this latest series-wide reinterpretation of the Marvel universe.

Ultimate Mystery #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Rafa Sandoval: Pencils
Roger Bonet: Inks
Matthew Wilson: Colors

Marvel's new "Ultimate Mystery" title is up to issue #2. This is one of many titles in Marvel's ongoing Ultimates series. As I mentioned back in my July 30 review of Ultimate New Ultimates #3, this is an alternate universe from the mainstream traditional Marvel universe, with some intriguing differences regarding the backgrounds and fates of many of the well-known Marvel Comics characters. This current issue is part two of a four-part multi-issue story arc and is scripted by Brian Michael Bendis, with art by the team of Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet and Matthew Wilson. Its not clear whether this is a stand-alone, four-part mini-series or merely a four-issue kick-off to an ongoing new monthly title.

A first-page narrative brings us up-to-date on the story so far, in which an unearthly force has attacked both the Baxter Building and the Roxxon Corporation, killing Reed Richards and transforming Ben Grimm/The Thing into human form with untested superhero powers. Issue #2 presents action in three ongoing sub-plots. In the first, Spider-Woman and Spider-Man hatch a plot for Spider-Woman to infiltrate the Roxxon Corporation as a new employee to learn of the attack details on that company. In a second storythread, a super-powered, Human Torch-like Rick Jones confronts Captain Marvel at a SHIELD facility, warning him of a foretold coming alien attack on Earth. And a third plotline focuses on the surviving members of the Fantastic Four trying to figure-out the origins of the attack as they sift through the rubble of the Baxter Building. The issue ends in a cliffhanger for next month's story segment, as Rick Jones and the three remaining FF members are attacked by an out-of-control, alien-infected Captain Marvel.

I was very impressed with the structure of this comic, which manages in a standard 23-page issue to rapidly move all three plotlines forward, with a nice mix of intense action and storytelling narration. As I mentioned last month, I'm new to the alternate Marvel universe of Ultimates, and just love the little alternate touches that make so many standard characters fresh and unique all over again. Some of those interesting differences here include the Human Torch-like Rick Jones, Spider-Woman actually being a clone of Spider-Man and of course, this supposed death of Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards.

So far, Ultimates this summer have been hitting all the right marks in giving us a nice mix of traditional and alternate Marvel universe characters with entertaining storylines. So whether you're a regular Ultimates series reader or just looking for a different take on all things Marvel, here's a definite thumbs-up recommendation for this well-produced and enjoyable Marvel Comic.

X-Women (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Chris Claremont: Writer
Milo Manara: Art
Dave Stewart: Colors

Marvel has just published an over-sized, 48-page one-shot comic book entitled X-Women, written by veteran writer Chris Claremont with art by Milo Manara and colors by Dave Stewart. The comic stars various female X-Men in a lengthy adventure tale, including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke and Kitty Pryde.

The plot is an adventure- thriller, starting with the ladies enjoying a girls-only vacation seaside in Greece. They're attacked by bad guys and the international adventure begins as one X-Woman is kidnapped and the rest are off to rescue her on the exotic tropical island of Madripoor. I don't have much more to say about the plot because about a third of the way into this read I just couldn't stand it anymore and for the first time in a very long time, I just page-by-page skimmed the rest of the comic and tossed it aside.

The problem here isn't the script, which is a standard and decent action adventure story starring the X-Women as penned by veteran writer Chris Claremont. The problem is Marvel's selection of artist Milo Manara. Manara is renowned as the artist and creator of many erotic and risque Italian-based graphic novels and comic adventure series, including the popular "Click" and some serialized work in the 1980's here in the U.S. published in Heavy Metal magazine. He takes the exact same approach here, just drawing the X-Women standing or moving in preening, semi-nude positions as if posing constantly for pin-ups. The result is a feel that you're not reading a comic book tale but instead are riffling through a portfolio of oddly-posed cheesecake sketches. There's nothing wrong if that's what you're looking to read, but its creepy and weird to see an X-Men story adapted to Manara's fantasy world of pin-up erotica. The disparate worlds of Marvel's X-Men and Manara's fantasy women just don't work together, and the clash of it all just plain wore-out for me after about a third of the comic.

So a quick bottom line: if you're a Manara fan and you want to see how he would approach an X-Men comic in his own disconnected way, then by all means, give this comic book a reading whirl. But if not, you might want to skip it, or else I guarantee you'll be turning the pages and asking yourself "why are all of the X-Women constantly pirouetting on tippy-toes with what little clothing they're wearing falling off of them? And why does this behavior never, ever, ever stop from the start to the finish of this comic book?"

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which Major League baseball player has the longest last name. Mike Dooley is our winner, telling us that the holder of the longest name is the Red Sox's back-up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. My fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc also correctly answered and pointed-out that Saltalamacchia played for the Texas Rangers this year before being recently traded to our own Red Sox. Congratulations to Mike Dooley, who wins the prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's take a break this week from trivia questions and once again put-on our creative comic book thinking caps. Here's a simple but potentially very interesting contest challenge: e-mail us at and tell us who your favorite current comic book writer or writers are and why they are above and beyond as the best in your opinion. There's lots of great writers out there with large followings right now, such as Bendis, Straczynski, Johns, Simone, etc. But you can also give us an entry and make a case for someone who you think is wonderful but not that well-known. So e-mail us soon with your thoughts. Our contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

That's all for now, so have a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!