Thursday, December 22, 2011

Comics Reviews 12/22/11

Here In Bongo Congo
     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review for this holiday week a wide-ranging variety of comic book titles, so let's see how these different genre tales stack-up against each other:

Buffy The Vampire Slayer #3
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Andrew Chambliss: Writer
Georges Jeanty: Pencils
Dexter Vines: Inks
Michelle Madsen: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics is up to issue #3 of its comic book title based upon the very popular former Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series, which starred Sarah Michelle Geller as "The Slayer," that once-in-a-generation teenaged expert in killing all things vampire.  The comic is listed as "Season 9," which I assume means that there have been eight previous published series of this title.  The current series is scripted by Andrew Chambliss with pencils by George Jeanty, inks by Dexter Vines and colors by Michelle Madsen.

     The current issue features part three of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Freefall."  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the story to-date: Buffy and friends are living post-high school in San Francisco.  Apparently, while the destruction of something called "the seed" has ceased the introduction of new magic on Earth, there are still plenty of vampires and other weirdies already in existence to battle and slay.  The main plot of issue #3 centers on Buffy trying to help a young man who exhibits mysterious electrical powers that slay vampires.  Via flashback, we learn how his powers came to be as an accidental offshoot of being involved with some local vampires.  Without being a detail spoiler, the plot builds to a very dramatic twist at issue's end, as Buffy's newfound friend turns-out to be a very dangerous enemy rather than a supposed ally.

     Fortunately, this latest Buffy series avoids the double pitfalls of clunky script and wooden, television charicature artwork that I always worry about whenever a t.v. series-based comic book hits the new issues shelves.  The art team makes the wise choice here of developing their own unique visual style that balances some basic facial resemblance from the television characters with a stand-alone, alternate comic book art style.  Writer Andrew Chambliss takes advantage of this clean approach with a fresh story that doesn't just re-hash the t.v. show in comic book format.  The plot is new, interesting and all-around entertaining, with a nice blend of action and talking head strategizing about the supernatural situation that Buffy and friends are dealing with.  The result is a fun new production of this young adult vampire series that is updated enough to successfully entertain fans of the modern-day Twilight series vampire craze, while still hanging on to its own worthwhile identity.

So whether you're a fan of All-That-Is-Buffy or a more Twilight-oriented supernatural fan reader, there's plenty of worthwhile comic book entertainment for you in this fresh and enjoyable iconic supernatural series!

Justice League Dark #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Peter Milligan: Writer
Mikel Janin: Art
Ulises Arreola: Colors

     In addition to a re-booting of the main Justice League title, DC has added a "Justice League Dark" title under the umbrella of its "The New 52" remodeling-of-the-company event.  The concept here is to create an additional Justice League team consisting of some of the more dark magic and occult-oriented DC superheros, including Deadman, Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, John Constantine and Shade, The Changing Man.  The new series is scripted by writer Peter Milligan with art by Mikel Janin and colors by Ulises Arreola.  Although the first three issues are currently on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, I decided to read and review issue #1 to get a good idea of this new series from the start.

     Issue#1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "In The Dark" with a Part One installment titled "Imaginary Women."  Two sub-plots interweave within our premier tale.  A very brief storythread introduces June Moone, a dazed and confused wanderer who quickly discovers that dozens of replicas of herself are being killed as they wander around on a nearby city highway.  The story quickly turns to the main plothread of the new Justice League Dark members slowly assembling as each reacts in-kind to a growing threat from the evil Enchantress.  By issue's end, the story has progressed to the point where the mysterious June Moone has connected with Deadman, while the Enchantress's magical powers have overwhelmed the mainstream DC universe superheroes to the point where Madame Xanadu realizes its up to her dark magic/occult DC universe colleagues to save the world in a war against the seemingly invincible Enchantress.

     I enjoyed this new comic book title for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I loved the idea of a new Justice League team that doesn't just rotate-in some new faces, but instead builds the team based upon the fresh idea (for DC, at least) of an occult-oriented team of heroes.  It makes for an interesting premise of only magic being able to save the world from evil, versus the traditional superhero talent of brawn (Superman, etc.) combined with brains (our old friend Batman).  Secondly, this concept allows Madame Xanadu to quickly return to the forefront of a monthly DC title after the wrap-up last year of the very popular and high quality Matt Wagner-created Madame Xanadu stand-alone series.  And finally, the creative team gives us both high quality artwork and a strong story concept; I'm looking forward to learning more about the mysterious young woman whose multiple copies are all getting killed on that nearby highway.  No doubt, that storythread will somehow prove crucial to the upcoming Justice League Dark versus Enchantress battle that's shaping-up with the fate of the human race at stake.

     So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to check-out this fresh take on all good things Justice League, featuring a very original and entertaining line-up of alternative dark magic and occult DC superheros!

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Dustin Weaver: Art
Sonia Oback: Colors

     Marvel Comics is up to issue #3 of a new SHIELD comic book title.  The comic book is written by A-lister Jonathan Hickman, renowned for his stellar run that's been ongoing for a few years now on Marvel's Fantastic Four title, with art by Dustin Weaver and colors by Sonia Oback.

Issue #3 is the latest installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Fall."  A page one narrative sums-up the tale to-date, detaling a power struggle that's ongoing for the leadership of SHIELD, which is described as an ancient secret organization that's been protecting humankind since ancient days.  The power struggle seems to be occuring amongst famous figures from various historical eras who were involved in SHIELD and are somehow co-existing in the present day, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Michelangelo. Somehow these folk are interacting with familiar Marvel characters such as Shield agents Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards.  Beyond that page one story summary, we're exposed to 18 full pages of a wordless, silent battle within a city setting among all types of exotic characters, followed by two pages in which a few of the folk finally (and very briefly) speak, deciding to follow a few of the combatants who have fled into the future.

     I know that it sounds like a dramatic exaggeration, but its the honest review truth: this is the most confusing issue of a comic book that I have ever read in my entire life.  The creative team's well-meaning decision to roll the creative dice and give us a silent movie of a comic book comes-up snake eyes, here, in two respects.  First, there's just no way to incorporate any plot progression into 18 pages of buildings blowing-up around a bunch of unnamed characters.  And secondly, its an insult to all faithful comic book readers to give us absolutely no story plot to read, either with or without dialogue; the full-length "buildings are silently blowing up" panel-after-panel lay-out is purely meaningless and empty filler, for which Marvel should be ashamed of taking hard-earned money from its loyal fanbase. 

     So a disappointing thumbs-down review recommendation for this empty-between-the-covers monthly comic book issue.  But if you're a blindly loyal SHIELD fan or Marvel fan and insist on giving this comic a read, my advice is to read only the last page as a set-up to next month's presumably normal dialogue-driven story segment.  Riffling through the 18 silent pages will only result in you expending 45 seconds of your life which could be put to more worthwhile reading use.

Speed Racer #1
Publisher: Allegory Media
Tommy Yune: Writer
Robby Musso: Art
Lee Kohse: Inks
James Rochelle: Colors

     Allegory Media has recently released issue #1 of a 4-issue limited series title that pays homage to the 1960's television cartoon series Speed Racer.  The Japanese manga-style series starred (naturally) young racecar driver Speed Racer, who had many adventures on and off the racetrack along with his many support characters who included Speed's mechanic father Pops, girlfriend Trixie, younger brother Spritle, Sparky the mechanic and of course, Chim-Chim the monkey!  The new comic book is scripted by Tommy Yune with art by Robby Musso, inks by Lee Kohse and colors by James Rochelle.

     The multi-issue story arc is entitled "Circle Of Vengeance" and throws our hero Speed smack in the midst of the professional racing world's cutthroat competition and intrigue.  Prior to a major upcoming race in St. Moritz, Switerland, Speed is challenged to a personal dual race by Snake Oiler, star of a world-famous acrobatic car team.  After wrecking his famous Mach 5 racer in the challenge and nearly getting himself killed, its up to Speed and his friends and family to race the clock to repair the Mach 5, upgrade it to have a fighting chance of beating his high tech challengers and finally making it on-time to the starting line of the big race.  Issue #1 ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's installment as a supervillain-style bad guy racer prepares to cause havoc at the start of the race.

     The fun of the baby boom-era Speed Racer cartoon television series was its well-balanced mix of high quality adventure tales offset with an entertaining dose of campiness and humor.  I'm pleased to report that the same successful blend of story elements is front and center in this new comic book title, combined with a few new storytelling elements.  The first is a sense of intrigue added to the tale beyond the racetrack action, in the form of a mystery regarding Speed's girlfriend Trixie.  In this new comic, she apparently has access to mysterious wealth, infusing an interesting air of mystery into her storyline.  Secondly, writer Tommy Yune adds some comic book narrative depth to the world of Speed Racer, via an extended flashback in mid-issue that fills-in for Speed Racer fans Pop Racer's personal life a generation earlier, well before his marriage and Speed's birth.  It all adds extra layers of storytelling to the fictional world of Speed Racer, well-beyond the limited structure of the old television series.

     So whether you're a fan of the old cartoon show like me or a newcomer to the world of Speed Racer's action-adventures, I think you'll have a very entertaining time reading this excellent new comic book series.   So a positive thumbs-up recommendation for this comic book and in the words of the television show's well-known theme song, Go Speed Racer, Go!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
     Our current contest has a holiday season theme, challenging you to tell us your favorite way of celebrating that holiday-of-holidays from the Seinfeld show, not Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa, but Frank Costanza's wacky self-invented holiday of Festivus, or as Frank called it "Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us!"  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who informs us that her favorite Festivus tradition is the well-known Festivus "airing of personal grievances."  In Erin's own words, she describes her own Festivus celebration as she throws on some Cee Lo Green background music and everyone has "a jolly time telling the family how they disappointed us over the year.  Just like Frank Costanza, everyone has to start with: I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" A memorable (yeesh!) Festivus gathering indeed, that would warm Frank Costanza's wacky heart!  Congratulations to Erin who wins the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!
     Our new contest challenges you to e-mail us at with the correct answer to the following movie trivia question:  Who is the only top votegetter/winner of the Oscar for Best Actor who was denied the award, which was subsequently awarded to the second place votegetter?  Here's a hint:  there's a best-selling biography out right now about this winner who was unjustly denied his Best Actor Oscar.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our winner of the contest first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries.
     That's all for now, so have two great comic book reading weeks along with a Very Happy New Year and see you again on Friday, January 6, 2012 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Comic Reviews 12/9/11

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we once again review an eclectic group of new comic book issues, so let's get right to this varied bunch and see how they fare:

Fantastic Four #600
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Various Artists

     Marvel Comics has finally reached the milestone issue #600 of one of its original Silver Age titles, the Fantastic Four.  This is also the 50th anniversary issue of the title.  The oversized, 100-page commemorative comic book is scripted by Jonathan Hickman with art by a wide-ranging team of artists, who take turns illustrating Hickman's overall script in five separate story parts or chapters.  For the uninitiated, Hickman has been unfolding a grand, epic-scale Fantastic Four storyline for a few years now, involving a large group of old and new Marvel Universe characters within this science fiction adventure that takes place on Earth but also spans outer space, other planets, dimensions and various alien races.  The approach here is to bring many of these storythreads together in issue #600 for some significant Fantastic Four universe developments.

     Part One of this issue serves as an orientation to the reader of all that Hickman has previously laid-out.  Everyone initially comes together in a New York City-based battle, including the FF, other Marvel heroes, lots of bad guys and aliens both good and bad.  The new reader will learn that Johnny Storm/The Human Torch is supposedly dead and has been replaced on the FF by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  The plot narrows-down in Part Two to focus on bad alien Annihulus trying to invade our world with his army of monsters from the otherwordly Negative Zone.  Through alternating past and present scenes, we learn that The Human Torch is alive and a captive of Annihulus.  The bulk of the plotline unfolds with Johnny Storm and his fellow alien captives planning and undertaking a revolt against their captors, leading to a dramatic, epic conclusion, the details of which I won't reveal in this review.

     Praise is definitely due to writer Jonathan Hickman for managing to bring his lengthy and detailed sci-fi FF tale to a head in an entertaining and credible manner in this special issue.  I've read several of his previous story installments and reviewed a few to boot, and while I've enjoyed it a lot, I questioned how this large-scale story spanning so many key characters, races and locations would eventually come together in a satisfying manner for us readers.  Suffice to say that Hickman and team pull it off with a high-grade story segment that deserves the attention of a 100-page spread that its afforded in this jumbo issue.  While major stuff happens here, the story is by no means concluded; instead, issue #600 serves as a satisfying intersection, a point where many story elements progress nicely and take a different turn to continue down the road of future monthly issues.

     As a final review note, there's a very interesting one-page column in the back of the issue in which Marvel colorist Stan Goldberg reflects on his 50 years of working at Marvel.  That alone is worth the price of admission to this special anniversary event! So by all means, enjoy the grandeur, plot quality and overall just-plain-fun of this Fantastic Four special tribute issue!

The Flash #3
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato: Writers
Francis Manapul: Art
Brian Buccellato: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #3 of the new Flash title currently published under "The New 52" event umbrella.  This re-booted Flash comic book is co-scripted by the team of Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, with art by Francis Manapul and colors by Brian Buccellato.

     This issue is the latest installment in a multi-issue story arc entitled "Lights Out," in which the Flash and support characters deal with a range of action/adventure situations and issues resulting from a mysterious electromagnetic pulse which has knocked-out all power throughout the Central City-Keystone City metropolitan area.  Interweaving sub-plots include our hero saving a powerless jetliner, local scientist Darwin Elias sleuthing to solve the mystery of the strange pulse and the local police improvising old-school, power-free solutions to address emergencies.  A fourth and final sub-plot features The Flash/Barry Allen in his police staffer guise, along with his policewoman partner, stumbling into a mystery involving a former military black ops team-turned-criminals, which concludes in a very dramatic bridge to next month's issue #4 of this title.

     A positive thumbs-up recommendation is due for this New 52 re-boot of The Flash.  While its not a cutting-edge or great comic, the quality is very solid in terms of an interesting and entertaining plot, and is a major improvement on the stale (to me, at least) Flash universe structure that DC ran with for a few years prior to the New 52 re-boot.  I like very much the support structure around Barry Allen/The Flash within this New 52 universe, which includes several well-crafted local police department characters, as well as local scientist Darwin Elias.  The science sleuthing of Elias was very interesting, with some dramatic thriller twists that intrigued me enough to want to go back and read issues #1 and #2 in order to fully understand and appreciate the plot twists that Elias experiences in this issue #3.

     My only constructive criticism of this issue is colorist Brian Buccellato's color tone choices, which for about two-third's of the panels and pages are very bleak and dark.  It makes for an uncomfortable visual experience and just seems out of place for the style of this comic, adding a Dark Knight atmosphere to this more mainstream-style superhero story, which doesn't blend with that type of coloring.  But that one comment aside, this is a very entertaining and enjoyable new Flash tale that definitely deserves a place in the positive column of worthwhile New 52 DC universe comics for all good DC readers to check-out.  And if you're like me and want to backtrack to the recent beginning of this new title, there are still copies of all three monthly issues available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

X-Men Giant-Size #1
 Publisher: Marvel Comics
Christopher Yost: Writer
Various Artists

     Marvel has recently added to its very wide-ranging inventory of X-Men titles a new X-Men Giant-Size title.  The comic book is scripted by Christopher Yost with various story sections prepared by alternating teams of artists.  The concept here is to present a multi-issue story arc entitled "First To Last," by balancing a present-day, modern X-men team sub-plot with a second storythread starring the original team of X-Men at the beginning of the Marvel Silver Age.

     In the present-day storythread, the San Francisco-based X-Men, led by Scott/Cyclops and Emma Frost, are attacked by an offshoot group of mutants named The Neo.  Similar to the X-Men in powers, The Neo are seemingly invincible.  In an extended battle scene, The Neo are unstoppable until a mysterious alien race called The Evolutionaries intercede in the struggle on the side of our heroes.  In the alternating throwback storythread, the original, old-school team of X-Men experience a similar battle with the Magneto-led bad mutants, with the same result of The Evolutionaries interceding at a crucial moment to help the X-Men.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue as The Evolutionaries are revealed to wield devastating power, instantaneously slaughtering all worldwide members of The Neo as their choice of how to protect the favored X-Men.

     Lifelong X-Men fans such as myself are always on the lookout for a new title or issue that provides a fresh approach to the huge inventory of X-Men comics out there.  I'm happy to say that this new comic book falls into that hoped-for reading category for four strong reasons. The first positive element is the story structure, which is well-balanced between the original team and modern-day team story segments, seamlessly alternating throughout the issue between the tales.  Secondly, writer Christopher Yost skillfully connects the two sub-plots together, with a storyline in which Scott/Cyclops has somehow caused a problem with The Evolutionaries in the past tale, resulting in their devastating return to Earth in the modern day.  Third, The Evolutionaries themselves are an entertaining threat in this comic, serving as omnipotent, Earth-busting visitors wielding a judgmental, robotic and narrow sense of right-and-wrong.  You just know that one wrong comment from the X-Men and these powerful visitors could blow the world away.  And fourth but hardly least, the wide-ranging art team provides an excellent mix of alternating visual styles between the modern and past eras of X-Men.

     So my thumbs-up, positive review recommendation is for all readers to experience this rare two-for-one opportunity to enjoy in one giant-sized mix both the old-school Silver Age and modern-day teams of X-Men in interconnected story action and entertainment.  This one's an X-Men keeper, for sure!

Decision 2012: Ron Paul #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Dean Kotz: Art
Lisa Moore: Colors

     Earlier this Fall as the 2012 Presidential primary season got underway, BOOM! Studios released a series of eight "Decision 2012" comic book biographies of potential presidential candidates.  The series includes bio comics of President Barack Obama and seven Republican contenders (or potential contenders): Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.  The comics are currently on display in front of the That's Entertainment cash register, so on a review whim last week I randomly selected the Ron Paul comic book bio for a review look.  The title is drawn by Dean Kotz with colors by Lisa Moore.  Strangely, a writer credit is not listed in the comic book.

     The comic book plotline and visual lay-out follows a traditional chronological biographical presentation.  The first half of the comic presents details about Ron Paul's childhood and teen years growing-up in Pennsylvania from the mid-1930's to the 1950's, followed by his career as an Air Force flight surgeon and accomplished civilian surgeon in Texas.  By mid-comic book, the bio tale switches to Paul's political career as a Congressman from a Texas district.  We learn that his congressional career followed a pattern of winning many two-year terms in Congress, with a few losses in between campaign comebacks.  Mixed-into the bio story is information on the development of Paul's national economic philosophy, as he became a proponent of a well-known Austrian economist.  By issue's end, the Ron Paul bio takes us up to the present day in which he's thrown his hat into the current Republican presidential primary race.

     The purpose (and responsibility) of any personal biography published in comic book format is the same as any conventional bio journal article or book: to help the reader learn facts and details about the biographical subject while presenting it all in an interesting and entertaining manner.  As such, this BOOM! Studios bio succeeds in presenting Ron Paul's personal storyline in comic book format.  Its hard in today's high tech media circus environment to strip away political spin and campaign rhetoric and just learn something as simple as the basic facts of who any particular candidate is and what his or her life's journey has been about.  Readers of this comic, and I suspect the rest of the Decision 2012 comic series, will definitely be able to learn those interesting personal details regarding Ron Paul and the other candidates.

     Three quick technical comments regarding the comic.  On the negative side, the artwork in many panels is oddly sketchy and unfinished.  On the weird side, it just seems odd to me that a writer is not listed in the comic's credits; even a bio story obviously has a writer who applies his or her skills toward organizing the true tale, an effort that our mystery writer does very well here and deserves a well-earned credit shout-out.  And on a final positive note, in a fun and creative twist, one or more trivia facts are listed at the bottom of every page of this comic book, related to the information presented in the story panels of that particular page.  It adds kind of a VH1/MTV "pop-up video" trivia element to the story that's actually pretty interesting.

     So a positive recommendation for all good fanboys and fangirls to expand your reading horizons beyond superhero drama; throw yourselves into the current presidential political season by doing your duty as adult voters (and young reader future voters) and read as many of the Decision 2012 comic book series as are available at That's Entertainment!  Then make-up your minds and cast a vote for somebody in next year's election-and don't even think of voting for Superman, Wonder Woman or Spider-Man instead of a real human being!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

    Our latest contest challenged you to tell us who your favorite Marvel Comics Avenger team member is and why.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Giovanni Petrella, who nominates Captain America for his favorite Avenger.  Our winner tells us that "my favorite Avenger by far is Captain America because he fights for the American Way, he uses a shield for offense and defense and he is a classic super hero."  An excellent nomination for a superhero who's had a great year with a smash new movie along with many excellent comic book adventures.  Congratulations to Giovanni as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     As the holiday season is upon us, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges has decreed that we offer to you this week a seasonal holiday contest challenge.  As such, our contest subject this week isn't about the holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwaanza, but instead honors the lesser-known seasonal holiday of...Festivus!  That's right, the holiday invented back in the 1990's on the Seinfeld show by George Costanza's father, crazy Frank himself...Festivus, or as Frank called it "the holiday for the rest of us!"  Who can forget such very special Festivus holiday family traditions as "the airing of greivances" or "the feats of strength."  So your challenge is to e-mail us at and tell us what your favorite Festivus family tradition is.  It could be a tradition from one of the Festivus episodes of Seinfeld, or one from writer Allen Salkin's popular Festivus book, or one that you made-up yourself for your own Festivus celebration (or just for the purposes of this contest!).  So come-one, come-all and share your Festivus holiday cheer with "the rest of us"!  Our contest winner will receive our first place prize of a $10.00 gift certificate to that special place of seasonal Festivus cheer, That's Entertainment!

     That's all for now, so have two great holiday season and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 23 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week a very eclectic range of comics on the new issues shelves right now. So let's see what these wide-ranging genre comics are all about:

Avengers Origins: Vision (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel: Writers
Stephane Perger: Art

As readers of last week's Bongo Congo reviews know, I reviewed the previous Avengers Origins title which featured a re-telling of the origin of original Avengers team members Ant-Man and The Wasp. The latest issue in this series presents a re-telling of the Silver Age origin of Avengers android team member the Vision. This issue is co-written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, with art by Stephane Perger.

The storyline in this origin re-telling combines the traditional 1960's-era story of the Vision's origin with some fresh plot details. We learn anew how the artificial man was created by the Avengers robot enemy Ultron-5 (himself a creation of Hank Pym/Ant-Man) to kill the superhero team. In the midst of battle, the Vision is touched by the humanity of our heroes and makes a fateful choice to change sides, allying with the teammates and defeating his own creator. After the battle, the Vision begins his soul-searching about his own true nature and the meaning of artifical-versus-natural life, taking the first step along this past of self-discovery by accepting the Avengers invitation to become a team member.

For the second issue in a row, Marvel's Avengers Origins title has managed to re-tell a well-known (and almost well-worn) origins tale in an entertaining new manner that breathes fresh life into the often-presented story details. Three elements combine here to make this issue a worthwhile read. The first is another excellent visual presentation from artist Stephane Perger. Second is an 18-page long battle scene that dominates the issue. The action is cinematic in style and combines with a narrative that both flows the storyline and re-introduces the powers and background of each Avenger, adding a lot of richness to the story presentation. And third but hardly least is the co-writers decision to incorporate a sub-plot that focuses on some relationship strains between Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp, which ultimately get resolved through the battle scene.

My only minor criticism of this title is the Marvel Comics decision to present each Avengers Origins issue as a stand-alone one-shot. The concept of this title is clearly a series of origins which makes more sense to present in a regular, numbered monthly sequence. But that small formatting point aside, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this very creative and highly entertaining new superhero origins series from Marvel Comics.

Steampunk Fairy Tales #1
Publisher: Antarctic Press
Fred Perry, Rod Espinosa & Kelsey Shannon: Stories & Art

Adding to its various Steampunk titles, Antarctic Press has just published issue #1 of a Steampunk Fairy Tales comic book series. For the uninitiated, Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction/fantasy in which a lot of Victorian science fiction premises are presented, using 19th century technology (i.e., steam engines) combined with future technical advances with a Victorian flair, such as advanced analog devices or futuristic technology wedded to old-fashioned power sources such as (of course!) steam. There's a lot of fun sci-fi/fantasy steampunk fiction out there and, of course, a subgenre of comics devoted to steampunk. This new title presents two steampunk tales by the creative team of Fred Perry, Rod Espinosa and Kelsey Shannon.

The first story is entitled "The Fairyland Steampocalypse." Although its set in Victorian 1899, its essentially a recreation of a major World War I battle scene using well-known fairytale characters in the standard military setting. Thus, we have Cinderella leading a platoon of armored personnel pumpkin vehicles into battle, while Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and other characters lead their fairy kingdom troops in slugging it out in the trench warfare of World War I. All sorts of fairytale techno gets blended into the steampunk technology, including poisoned apples and firebreathing dragons.

Our second story is a retelling of the well-known Cinderella fairytale; the plot is very faithful to the original story, with very meticulous steampunk technology at every step of the tale. For instance, Cinderella manages to carry the burden of waiting hand-and-foot on her evil family by using steampunk mechanisms to complete all of her household chores. Without being a detail spoiler, there's a surprise ending to the tale, in which Cinderella still gets her Prince Charming but in an unexpected and entertaining manner.

This is a very worthwhile and entertaining new comic book title for hard core steampunk fans and general comic book readers, alike. The black-and-white artwork of both stories works well here in conveying the old-fashioned world of both tales, layered with its Victorian gizmo ideas of how steam technology would advance the world of fairy tales. There's a fun layer of tongue-in-cheek humor in the Steampocalypse story that makes it worth re-reading the tale to catch all of the goofy details. A major hats-off is due to the creative team for adding two fresh insights to the famous Cinderella story. The first, of course, is adding really fun details of steampunk techno to every step of the story. The second is that surprise ending, which still gives us the expected happy conclusion but with a very fresh twist. So a major thumbs-up positive recommendation to take a step into the exciting and entertaining world of Steampunk science fiction/fantasy with a read of this excellent comic book example of the genre.

Cold War #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
John Byrne: Writer & Artist
Ronda Pattison: Colors

IDW Publishing has produced the first two issues of a new comic book spy thriller entitled Cold War. I decided to review issue #1 to get a feel for this title from the very start. The sub-title of Cold War is "The Michael Swann Dossier" and follows the Cold War era, John Bond-style spy adventures of British spy Michael Swann. This comic is the creation of veteran writer/artist John Byrne, with colors by Rhonda Pattison.

Issue #1 is the first segment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Damocles Contract." The kick-off story segment unfolds in two parts. Part one establishes the spy personality of Michael Swann, beginning with a wordless, 11-page story segment in which Swann successfully carries-out a mission to assassinate an East German army general in East Berlin and escape to safety. The second half of the the issue #1 plotline is set two years later, as Swann is assigned to infiltrate a group of British rocket scientists and determine which one is considering defection to the Soviet Union. By issues end, he's been introduced to the team of scientists and support staff, leaving the reader with a good idea of who's considering defection and why.

This is one lame failure of a spy thriller comic, for a few basic reasons. First, Byrne's art and story quality are both very weak and flat. Its just plain uncomfortable to see such a stale effort produced late in the career of one of the most accomplished late-20th century American comic creators. The sketchy quality of the artwork is so inconsistent that the various character's facial styles actually change between panels. Its unfortunately amazing that this comic's editor also allowed Byrne to kick-off the issue with that wordless 11-page scene of Swann killing his assassination target and escaping Eate Berlin. This is a throwaway scene that should consist of one or two pages, but instead sloppily gives us a half issue's worth of narrative nothingness. Throw some cardboard-stiff dialogue late in the comic book into the mix and the overall result is a very boring and poor quality comic book. So a thumbs-down recommendation to skip this low grade effort at producing a James Bond-style spy thriller comic book.

Jack Avarice Is The Courier #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Chris Madden: Writer, Artist & Colors

Also on the new issues shelves from IDW Publishing right now is another new spy thriller comic book entitled Jack Avarice Is The Courier. This comic book is the creation of Chris Madden, who handles all writing art and coloring for the title by himself. This is a five-issue mini-series, with all issues scheduled to be published weekly starting November 2 through the end of this month.

The overall multi-issue story is entitled "Kill The Messenger" and interweaves two connected sub-plots. In the first, a very suave, James Bond-style spy named The Fox has a very fast action spy adventure in modern-day Cuba. The second sub-plot focuses on our hero Jack Avarice, who in issue #1 is actually anything but a hero. Jack's a self-described "drunken loser extraordinaire," boozing his days away in a sunny, happy bar on a beach in Hawaii. Jack's scenes in which he expresses to his drinking buddy his strong desire for a more meaningful life of accomplishment are interspersed with The Fox completing his Cuba mission and hightailing it to Hawaii. Both plotlines come together very dramatically, as The Fox ends up getting killed in Jack's bar and imparting his mission to our sudden hero wannabe.

All I can say is thank God I randomly picked this comic to review this week, as a successful IDW Publishing counterbalance to the Cold War piece of junk reviewed above. Hats-off to comics creator Chris Madden for treating readers to a well-paced, well-drawn and funny/serious mix of spy thriller entertainment. Everything works here, from the visual style to the action adventure to the very creative idea of Jack unexpectedly being thrown into the spy world. In ways, the atmosphere of this comic resembles the story concept of the popular television series spy spoof "Chuck." I also enjoyed a small and funny sub-plot in which The Fox takes time-out to romance a Cuban femme fatale assassin, with whom he apparently has a longtime love/hate relationship.

IDW Publishing is batting .500 this week with its two spy thriller comic book titles. So an enthusiastic review thumbs-up to take advantage of this quality split and enjoy the kick-off issue of this new Jack Avarice Is The Courier title.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to correctly tell us what is the most popular consumed type of fruit on Earth. An earlier contest revealed that the banana is the most popular fruit in the U.S., but for this contest we've gone global! And the winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who correctly tells us that the mango is the most popular fruit on the planet. I myself am allergic to mangos, leaving all the more mangos for the rest of you! Congratulations to David, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

Its been awhile since we've held a comic book-related contest, so let's go back to our roots this week with a comics contest challenge. We've enjoyed revisiting the origins of the Avengers in our two recent Avengers Origins reviews, which got us thinking about how so many superheros have come and gone over the years in the ranks of Marvel's premier action team. So your challenge is to e-mail us at and pitch to us who your favorite Avenger team member of all time is, and why you elevate him/her/it to favorite status. It could be a classic Silver Age member, someone who's come and gone over the years, a relative newbie member, etc. There's a first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment at stake, so e-mail us before Wednesday, December 7 and you could be our latest contest winner!!!

That's all for now, so have a great post-Thanksgiving, Holiday Shopping season and comic book reading week and see you again on December 9 Here In Bongo Congo!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Comic Reviews 11/11/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is so happy that the power is finally back on after the October snowstorm that he's decreed that we celebrate with an eclectic selection of four new comic book reviews. So let's see how this wide-ranging variety of comic story themes and titles stack-up against each other for our review:

Peanuts #0
Publisher: Kaboom! Entertainment
Various Writers and Artists

Although esteemed creator Charles M. Schulz passed away over ten years ago, Peanuts lives on forever in our hearts, minds and the endless reprints of his beloved syndicated newspaper comic strip. Happily, the kid-oriented Kaboom! division of Boom! Entertainment has just published the premier #0 issue of a Peanuts comic book with brand new stories. The issue features two new tales by the creative team of writer/penciler Vicki Scott, artist Ron Zorman and colorist Lisa Moore. Also included is a preview of an upcoming new Peanuts graphic novel, along with several one-page reprints of classic Peanuts Sunday funnies by Schulz himself.

Both new stories star the Peanuts gang's animal buddies. "Carnival Of The Animals" features Snoopy being full of puppy energy as he does several funny impressions of wild animals, which leads to an interesting philosophical discussion between Charlie Brown and Violet regarding the power of imagination. "Woodstock's New Nest" is just that, a cute tale in which Snoopy wordlessly helps his bird buddy Woodstock find the perfect nest. The three classic Schultz Sunday funnies reprints feature Peanuts gang members Sally and Linus, along with a classic Charlie Brown and Lucy football sketch. And last but hardly least, the issue concludes with a four-page preview of the upcoming "Happiness Is A Warm Blanket" graphic novel.

This new Peanuts comic book has a lot of good things going for it. I liked the successful blend of old and new; the creative team gives us a few fresh Peanuts stories but faithfully sticks with Schulz's graphic style and story characterization. It was also smart to sprinkle into the comic book the three one-page Schulz reprints, adding a nice classic tone to the overall effort. My only constructive comment is regarding the graphic novel preview, which presents four brief Peanuts story vignettes which are basically reprints of well-known Peanuts routines from previous Schultz comic strips or story collections. I'm hoping that the complete graphic novel doesn't just give us a reprint effort and instead adds something new to the Peanuts genre. The new comic book succeeds in that regard, so here's an enthusiastic review recommendation to get onboard with this brand-new Peanuts title. And by the way, the promo issue #0 is priced at only a buck, so get your copy now, before That's Entertainment is all sold out!

Dark Shadows #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Stuart Manning: Writer
Aaron Campbell: Art
Carlos Lopez: Colors

In the midst of all of the Twilight movie series fan frenzy these days, its easy to forget that one of the original vampire fan favorite series of an earlier era was the 1960's television show "Dark Shadows." Dynamite Entertainment revisits those baby boomer vampire roots with a new comic book title of this iconic t.v. vampire show, which starred actor Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, the 200-year-old vampire head of the wealthy Collins family. The ABC network series was an afternoon daily soap opera, in which the extended wealthy Collins family, mostly unaware that the family head Barnabas was a vampire, had soap opera dramatic experiences and adventures living in their creepy mansion on the rural, rocky (and seemingly always stormy) coast of Maine. The new comic book is scripted by Stuart Manning with art by Aaron Campbell and colors by Carlos Lopez.

An inside cover narrative quickly brings the reader up-to-date on the Collins family situation. The first segment of the plotline introduces various family members familiar from the t.v. series, including family matron Elizabeth, her brother Roger and most importantly, the 20-something family members, creepy cousin Quentin and Elizabeth's pretty daughter Carolyn. The issue #1 plot interweaves two sub-plots. In the first, family doctor Julia Hoffman is working diligently to find a "cure" for Barnabas's vampirism, failing in issue #1 with her latest experimental injection. The second plothread focuses on Carolyn trying to cope with the to-date unexplained death of her latest boyfriend, while suffering from unwelcome visions of a vampire who looks like Barnabas. The issue ends on a very dramatic note, as Barnabas comes across an unconscious Carolyn, who's been attacked by an unknown vampire.

The joy of the Dark Shadows television series was ABC's decision to take a routine daytime soap opera, already on-air for a year, and unexpectedly drop a horror element into a standard daytime soap opera story world. The comic book creative team sticks to the same successful story structure; we're clearly reading a small-town soap opera tale with horror layered on top of the base soap opera genre. The results are two-fold: a wonderful homage to one of the 1960's most original and high quality t.v. shows, combined with an excellent comic book plot that mixes vampire horror with a nice issue #1 mystery regarding the introduction of a second, unknown vampire to the remote Maine township of Collinsport. It should make for a lot of fun in upcoming monthly issues as the drama and mystery unfold.

On a final review note, word on the vampire street is that Director Tim Burton will be releasing a new Dark Shadows movie sometime in 2012 starring Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas Collins. So until this franchise hits the silver screen, whether you're an old Dark Shadows fan like me or a newcomer who just plain enjoys vampire stories, I know you'll appreciate and be very entertained by the return of Barnabas Collins and family to the modern-day world of vampires. This comic book (and I'm sure the upcoming movie) gives the story world of Twilight a run for its vampire money!

Zorro Rides Again #2
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Matt Wagner: Writer
Esteve Polls: Art
Oscar Manuel Martin: Colors

Issue #2 is on the new comic books shelves this week of a three-issue Zorro Rides Again mini-series. The series stars the well-known Zorro, the masked swordsman who operates for all good in colonial Spanish-ruled Alta California. This new series is scripted by A-list writer Matt Wagner with art by Esteve Polls and colors by Oscar Manuel Martin.

Issue #2 alternates between two separate sub-plots. The main storyline centers on Zorro assisting his friend Lolita and her father Don Carlos, who are being pressured by the corrupt governor of Spanish Alta California to give-up their land. Both Lolita and Zorro's own father are both aware of his split identity between his civilian and swordsman life, a fact which the father is conflicted about. A secondary plotline continues a storythread from issue #1, in which a beautiful woman takes refuge in a monastary after the corrupt governor has her husband and child killed. Upon learning of Zorro's exploits from the monks, the woman sets off in search of our hero for assistance in taking revenge against the really, really bad governor.

This is an interesting Zorro storytelling effort, with gifted writer Matt Wagner emphasizing quality dialogue over fast action. While issue #1 may have been more sword-and-adventure oriented, this issue at least presents all of the major players in the story as brainstorming their next moves against each other, all of which no doubt will play-out in next month's issue #3. It all works well in this issue, presenting a storyline that feels like scenes from an old-time Zorro movie. Given the dialogue and panel lay-out, I felt at times as if I was reading an old Classics Illustrated comic book retelling of a classic literature tale. And that's not a bad way of presenting a graphic telling of an old-school, historical-era tale of adventure such as Zorro. So my review advice is to take a break from the many modern-era and futuristic-era superhero comics and give a worthwhile read to this entertaining telling of the historic masked adventurer, El Zorro!

Avengers Origins: Ant-Man & The Wasp
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa: Writer
Stephanie Hans: Art

Marvel Comics has a new comic title featuring a different featured one-shot origins story in each monthly issue for various members of the Avengers. This month's issue features a new presentation of the combined origin story of Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp. The tale is scripted by Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa with art by Stephanie Hans.

This origin plot progresses through the basic well-known general facts of the duo's origin, starting with introspective scientist Hank Pym developing his shrinking technology, meeting and successfully communicating with ants and evolving into the role of the tiny crimefighter Ant-Man. Along the way he meets chic fashion student Janet Van Dyne and her scientist father. When the elder Dr. Van Dyne is murdered, Janet not only turns to Hank/Ant-Man to solve the murder but joins him as his new sidekick The Wasp in solving the case. Without being a detail spoiler, its worth noting that there's an interesting science fiction element to the murder mystery, as Dr. Pym was killed by an alien entity which our tiny heroes discover and defeat by issue's end.

I enjoyed this one-shot origin issue for a few reasons. First, the origin story is a very nice, modern-day refresher for Avengers fans of the old-school origin details of this duo, first told by Stan Lee in the very early days of the Silver Age. Secondly, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa adds a very strong emotional element to the re-telling, emphasizing the emotional struggle that bonds our heroes together, as Pym grieves the earlier murder of his wife Maria and Janet newly-grieves her father's death. Third, the art work is simply exquisite and unique, giving us a panel lay-out and graphic style that's both fresh and photographic in a very entertaining manner. And finally, there is a goofy, cheesy element to some of the story dialogue that adds a nice, 1960's throwback feel to this story. Whether intentional or not, it reconnects these two mainstays of the original Avengers team back to their Stan Lee origin routes in a nice way that makes it all the more fun to dive into this retelling of one of the earliest origin tales of the modern-day Marvel Comics universe.

Next month's Avengers Origins issue will give us a one-shot origin of The Vision. In the meantime, why not start-off your collection of this worthwhile new Avengers title with this month's high quality and very entertaining re-telling of the Ant-Man and Wasp origin story.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to correctly identify the most commonly-used street name in America. We had several correct entries, so via a roll-of-the-dice our winner is (drumroll, please)...Ray Loughlin III, who correctly tells us that "Second Street" is the most common American street name. Ironically, "First Street" is the sixth most common street name in the U.S. Many Mid-Westerm communities were laid-out in a grid street pattern, and as such it was very common to identify the street closest to Main Street/Central Street/First Street, etc. as Second Street (versus our New England habit of paving-over old cowpaths and naming them after folks in the community!). Congratulations to Ray who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

One of our most popular contests in recent months asked you to identify the most popular fruit eaten in the U.S., which is the banana. So following in the "fruit steps" of that contest, our latest contest takes us to the world stage and challenges you to e-mail us at with the correct answer to the question of what is the most popular fruit eaten in the entire world. It might be the banana or it might be something else, so e-mail us with your entry no later than Wednesday, November 23. As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen via a roll of the dice.

That's all for now, so have a great couple of comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 25 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Comic Reviews 10/28/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Once again there's lots of interesting-looking new stuff on the new issues comic book shelves of late, so let's see how three of these titles stack-up against each other:

Snarked #1
Publisher: Kaboom!
Roger Landgridge: Writer & Artist
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors

Boom Entertainment's Kaboom! line of kid-oriented comics has just kicked-off a new comic line entitled Snarked. The series is created by writer-artist Roger Landgridge with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg. Readers may recognize Roger Landgridge as the writer behind last year's acclaimed eight-issue "Thor, The Mighty Avenger" mini-series published by Marvel Comics.

Issue #1 of Snarked lays-out the basic fairytale-like story universe of this comic book. The characters live in a small, unnamed kingdom by the sea, whose popular king went on a sailing trip six months previously and hasn't returned. Two parallel sub-plots begin the issue and merge together by issue's end. In the first storythread, we're introduced to town citizens Wilburforce J. Walrus and his sidekick Clyde McDunk, who live a Popeye and sidekick Wimpy-like existence in the Village, trying to get by during hard economic times. Our second storyline introduces young Princess Scarlett and her baby brother Prince Rusty, who together deal with the political shenanigans of the king's evil advisors, emboldened by their Dad's prolonged absence. Advised by a protective Chesire Cat, the young royals flee the bad-guy advisors and by issue's end have linked-up at the Town's waterfront with Wilburforce and Clyde for mutal continued adventure as they seek to avoid the bad guy's clutches while searching for and hopefully finding the missing king.

Roger Landgridge provides us with a very fresh and original take on the fairytale storytelling genre. On the visual side of the storytelling, he's smart enough to give us a cartoon-type drawing style that works perfectly for entertaining kid and grown-up readers, alike. The story itself is Grade A in quality with a lot of originality here, both in plot and presentation. I liked how the narrative shifted at times into creative poetry that moved the tale along in a very original manner. There's also interesting and effective echoes of previously popular fictional characters which add a nice depth to this title. I particularly liked two such elements: first, Wilburforce J. Walrus literally channeling the well-known Popeye character Wimpy as he cons a town butcher out of sausages and secondly, the use of the Alice In Wonderland Chesire Cat as a very effective character in this new storyline.

So a definite thumbs-up recommendation to check-out this new comic book title, which succeeds as an entertaining new storytelling universe for readers of all ages.

Wonder Woman #2
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Brian Azzarello: Writer
Cliff Chiang: Art
Matthew Wilson: Colors

Issue #2 is already on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment of the revamped Wonder Woman comic book title, as part of DC's "The New 52" mega-event. The title is scripted by A-list writer Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang and colors by Matthew Wilson. I had enjoyed reading issue #1 last month, in which Wonder Woman comes to the aid of a young human woman impregnated by the God Zeus and as such wanted to review the continuation of this tale in this month's latest issue.

The storyline in issue #2 is entitled "Home" and advances the tale with two interweaving storylines. In the first storythread, Zeus's jealous wife, Queen Hera, plots with her daughter the Goddess Strife against the poor human who's carrying her husband's love child. Our main sub-plot advances with Wonder Woman bringing the woman to Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. There, we meet Diana/Wonder Woman's mother, Queen Hippolyta, as well as certain individual Amazon warriors. The story builds dramatically as the goddess Strife arrives and battles the Amazons. In a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment, Strife makes a surprise announcement as to having an alternative reason for arriving on Paradise Island.

This is one of the more innovative re-boots of a DC title under "The New 52" effort that I've read so far. The creative team gives us a very unique visual reinterpretation of the Wonder Woman universe. In graphic style its reminiscent of Roger Landgridge's retake of Thor in last year's "Thor, The Mighty Avenger" series, also coincidentally mentioned in the Snarked review above. Two elements particularly stand-out in this adventure tale. One is the interesting mix of old-school Greek mythological story elements with pieces of our modern culture, most effectively used here in the portrayal of some of the younger Olympian gods and goddesses as modern-day, Manhattan jaded clubgoers. Secondly, there's a significant level of bloodshed in this tale that actually doesn't gross-out the reader but instead works well in emphasizing the action-adventure side of the Greek mythological telling of this storyline.

I was very happy with The New 52 Deadman title reviewed in our last column and I'm glad that the new Wonder Woman title also has some entertaining staying power. So also add this strong title to the list of comic books to add to your ever-growing new issues reading pile.

Red Hood And The Outlaws
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Lobdell: Writer
Kenneth Rocafort: Art
Blond: Colors

Yet another of "The New 52" titles handy for review this week is Red Hood And The Outlaws, a series that teams-up three superhero characters: the former Jason Todd/Robin as Red Hood, Green Arrow's former sidekick Roy Harper and the female alien Starfire. The new comic book title is scripted by Scott Lobdell with art by Kenneth Rocafort and colors by Blond.

Issue 31 is the first installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "I Fought The Law And Kicked Its Butt!" The plot begins with action-adventure, as Red Hood/Jason Todd successfully breaks Roy Harper out of a Middle Eastern prison. The trio assembles on the tropical island of St. Martinique, where a female superpowered character named Essence unexpectedly arrives and asks for Jason Todd's help in solving the murders of a Himalayan sect which apparently mentored Red Hood in the past. The issue ends in a confrontation at the murdered sect member's mountain fortress beween Todd and the mysterious band of murderers, which will no doubt kick-off next month's issue #2 with a huge battle scene.

You'll notice that the story summary above is briefer than in most of my reviews. That's because there's little to summarize in the way of story details here. The bulk of the issue is the over-lengthy Caribbean beach scene in which Harper and Todd take turns sleeping with the sexy alien Starfire. You don't have to be politically correct to be offended by the whole extended bizarreness of the episode, which is basically a young teenage boy's fantasy of having a supermodel-level hot chick around who will sleep with anyone in sight. Its fairly creepy the way writer Scott Lobdell explains away the episode by justifying that Starfire's alien make-up includes conveniently forgetting past male relationships, thus opening her up to quickly jumping from guy-to-guy in the behavior. If all this was a minor part of the plot I wouldn't center my review on it, but unfortunately it serves as the main section of most of the issue, thus sinking the whole issue into a mess of daydream drivel.

So without wasting any more time and effort on the above, my review advice is two-fold: if you're a teenage boy looking to indulge in a daydream hot chick fantasy, then feel free to read this issue. And if you're anyone other than a teenaged boy, don't waste your time or money on this slow-paced, creepy wish fufillment drivel and instead read one of the other many new comics out on the store shelves right now.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

In follow-up to our previous Worcester history trivia contest, we challenged you in our latest contest to name the Worcester city park or field that historically has been nicknamed "Peat Meadow." This one was apparently a real stumper, as for the first time in a few years we didn't have a single entry. So no winner this time, but the correct answer is Duffy Field, located near Newton Square; the field is located on an old peat bog, which led to the "peat meadow" name and which also results in a very foggy field on certain days.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Here's an interesting trivia challenge for this week. The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges challenges you to e-mail us at with the answer to the following question: What is the most commonly-used street name in cities and towns across America? It could be as simple as an Elm Street or Maple Street, or it might be something unexpected. But either way, send us your answer no later than noontime on Wednesday, November 9. As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen via a roll of the dice.

That's all for now, so have a great late-Fall comic book reading week and see you again on November 11 Here In Bongo Congo!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comic Reviews 10/14/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review three brand new Marvel and DC Comics titles that had their respective premiers recently, so let's see how these issues stack-up against each other:

Avengers 1959 #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Howard Chaykin: Writer & Artist
Jesus Aburtov: Colors

Marvel Comics has just published issue #1 of a 5-part limited edition series entitled "Avengers 1959." Earlier this year, I reviewed a one-shot comic title of this concept, which presents a 1959 retro version of The Avengers with Nick Fury as teamleader along with team members Kraven The Hunter, Namora, Bloodstone, Sabretooth, Silver Sable and Dominick Fortune. Picture a cross between James Bond-style dapper tuxedoed sleuthing and 1950's superheroes, and you get a feel for the setting of this title. Both the earlier one-shot and this new series are the product of iconic veteran writer-artist Howard Chaykin with colors by Jesus Aburtov.

Issue #1 establishes a multi-issue plotline which centers upon the return of the previous decade's World War II defeated Nazis to try and establish international domination. The story unfolds in several quick two to three-page sub-plots, in which each member of the Avengers undergoes their first encounter with or attack from representatives of the new Nazi threat. Some are outright assaults such as a failed assassination attempt on Nick Fury, while other encounters consist of more subtle espionage maneuvers. A few non-Avenger Marvel elements are also drawn into the conflict, including Black Panther's Wakanda Kingdom and the retro Marvel heroine Blonde Phantom. The issue #1 story segment concludes in a dramatic bridge as Nick Fury is confronted by a mysterious stranger who announces that he's not a foe but a friend who wants to assist the Avengers.

I liked very much the previous one-shot of this retro Avengers concept, with its addition to the wide world of Avengers lore of a Marvel universe reality consisting of Golden Age pulp adventurer-style characterization and plot action-adventure. And Howard Chaykin's definitely the creator meant to explore this concept in this new five-issue mini-series, given his impressive track record with such pulp-style concepts as DC's Blackhawks and his retro style American Flagg! series. This first issue is a very entertaining read, chock full of alternative Avengers history and concepts. I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere of the tale, with our heroes living a New Yoprk upper-crust lifetsyle and adventuring in topcoats and formal clothing, versus traditional superhero costumed adventuring.

My one constructive criticism is that Chaykin needs to settle the plot down very quickly within the upcoming issue #2 into one main, focused plotthread with very little meandering into side plotlines. There are only four issues left in this series and worthwhile story advancement needs to replace the issue #1 lay-out of eight separate sub-plots each taking their storytelling turn for two or three pages. But while the sudden scene shifts make for a somewhat jarring read for issue #1, it does serve the initial storytelling purpose to get this intriguing new Avengers universe out of the gate for what looks to be a very interesting read of this new five-issue Marvel title. So give this month's premier issue a shot and by all means check-out next month's issue #2 to see where veteran storyteller Howard Chaykin takes this interesting tale.

Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
David Liss: Writer
Jefte Palo: Art
Jean-Francois Beaulieu: Colors

Marvel Comics has also just published issue #1 of a new Black Panther title. A page one narrative informs the reader that in previous Marvel comic book issues, our hero T'Challa/Black Panther is no longer king of the African nation of Wakanda. Stripped of his powers and wealth, he's moved to Daredevil's old Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in New York City to run a diner by day and serve at night as the new Daredevil-like guardian of the neighborhood. This new series is scripted by David Liss with art by Jefte Palo and colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

The kick-off issue presents a stand-alone one-issue tale entitled "True Sons." The plot begins as a murder mystery, as someone is stalking and killing women who were recently helped in some way by Black Panther. Teaming-up with his new sidekick Sofija and the NYPD, our hero sets a trap which quickly snares a old foe from T'Challa's days back in Wakanda. Without being a detail spoiler, the foe is a very close and long-time archrival. By story's end, T'Challa prevails and wins the day, but not without some end-of-the-story philosophical musing addressing his guilt that the victims were killed because he initially entered their lives to try and help each of them.

I really got a kick out of reading this issue. I haven't been reading many Marvel Comics of late, so the concept of Daredevil being replaced (most likely for the time being, only) in Hell's Kitchen by Black Panther was a fun and unexpected surprise. For this concept to work, the creative team needs to add some fresh story universe elements to the title beyond just dropping T'Challa into Daredevil's old superhero timeslot. Writer David Liss succeeds on this point by adding two well-constructed characters. The first is the aforementioned Sofija, a Serbian immigrant to New York with strong martial arts/action skills, who functions by day as a young waitress in T'Challa's daytime diner while serving as his action sidekick at night. The second sidekick is Police Detective Alex Kurtz, who serves as Black Panther's main contact with the NYPD. While he physically resembles Batman friend Commissioner Gordon, his role is unique here as he walks a tight and delicate line in trying to keep the angry, shoot-from-the-hip T'Challa from crossing the violence line and alienating the police department.

There's a very nice mix in this premier issue of entertaining storyline, action/adventure and subtle emotional themes. I was very drawn-in to this particular portrayal of Black Panther as barely able to control his personal rage as he struggles to bring a Dark Knight sense of personal justice to the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen. It should be very interesting to see how this theme evolves in future issues of this new title. So a definite thumbs-up positive recommendation to check-out this fresh and very entertaining new spin on the world of Black Panther.

DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Jenkins & Bernard Chang: Creators
Blond: Colors

DC Comics has just released its Deadman title re-boot as part of the "New 52" publishing event that revamps all DC comics titles with renumbering along with some restructuring of the DC universe superhero reality. I've reviewed a few of the other New 52 titles in my past two review columns. The Deadman series is co-created by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang with colors by Blond.

The issue #1 story segment is entitled "Twenty Questions" and is part one of a multi-issue story arc. Its essentially a revised re-telling of the well-known Deadman origin story, in which an unknown assassin kills circus trapeze artist Boston Brand. At the moment of death, the Hindu deity Rama gives Brand the chance to remain on Earth as the ghostly Deadman, able to enter living folk's bodies and help them with their problems, thereby advancing Brand/Deadman along the road of selflessness toward an eventual afterlife enlightenment. The first half of the issue effectively repeats the well-known Deadman origin facts. The second half of the story focuses on Deadman's philosophical musings on the unexplained purpose of much of this experience, combined with his frustrations with Rama leaving him in the dark regarding motivations for establishing the odd post-life situation he's stuck-in. The issue ends in a dramatic bridge in which Deadman puts the life of his latest possessed "client" in peril in an attempt to gain an upper hand on Rama as a means toward finally getting some situational answers.

I'm happy to report that after reading and reviewing a few below-average-to-average "New 52" titles, in this issue I've finally found a "New 52" title that's blown me away with exceptional high quality. Finally, loyal Deadman fans have a story concept regarding Brand's supernatural situation that the character has always deserved but never been provided with. From the Silver Age onward, Deadman titles have always focused on action/adventure and the mystery of our hero's mysterious killer, giving little focus on the nature of the Rama-Deadman relationship. Issue #1 puts the supernatural side of the tale front and center at last, with Deadman and Rama seemingly established as the co-main characters in the situation, vying with and against each other for their own respective purposes. The scenes in which Deadman as narrator muses on his relationships with various living "clients" add an emotional and very effective element to this unique retelling of the familiar origin story.

This is a gem of a comic book that has the potential, if the quality of issue #1 continues for awhile on a monthly basis, to become the break-out hit of the entire "New 52" series. So hurry on down to That's Entertainment and get-in on the ground floor with issue #1 of this new Deadman comic book series!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you with a piece of Worcester historical trivia, asking you to tell us which well-known Worcester arterial roadway has been nicknamed by generations of drivers as "The Speedway." We had several correct entries, so via the roll of the dice our winner is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who correctly tells us that Mill Street, with its 4-lane and grassed median design connecting from Tatnuck Square to Webster Square, has been known since the horse and buggy days as "The Speedway." Congratulations to Gregory who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to (you guessed it) That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

We had such a good reaction to our Worcester historical trivia contest above that The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that we announce yet another Worcester trivia contest. This one might be a bit more of a difficult challenge-your assignment is to e-mail us at with the correct answer to the following question: Which current park or field in the Worcester Parks system historically was known as "Peat Meadow" by Worcester residents? As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of our first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.

E-Book Announcement!!!

Just a quick shout-out to all e-book readers that the recent e-book conversion of my short story collection "Journey Into Dandelion Wine Country," which I mention on my webpage ( as available from all e-book sources at $9.99, is currently on sale from the Barnes & Noble webpage ( for only $7.99!

That's all for now, so have two great comic book reading and leaf raking weeks and see you again on October 28 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, September 30, 2011

comic reviews 9/30/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo noticed lots of premier new comic book titles out there this week, so let's see how three of these issue #1's stack-up against each other:

John Carter Of Mars: A Princess Of Mars #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Roger Langridge: Writer
Filipe Andrade: Art
Sunny Gho: Colors

In lead-up to next summer's Marvel Comics/Disney movie production of John Carter Of Mars, Marvel Comics has just published issue #1 of a 5-issue mini-series of the story. I've previously reviewed a few issues of various Dynamite Comics titles which either re-tell or add new adventures to the well-known Edgar Rice Burroughs-penned science fiction tale of a 19th century American who's mysteriously teleported to Mars (called Barsoom by the natives) and has many pulp adventures with the various Martian indigenous races, along with a romance with Martian Princess Deja Thoris. This latest interpretation of the tale is scripted by Roger Langridge with art by FilipeAndrade and colors by Sunny Gho.

Our new re-telling of the tale is entitled "First Contact!" Its a fast-moving plot which begins with Carter disoriented after teleporting to Mars and being captured by the dominant, green-skinned warrior race. Most of the issue #1 storyline balances the desire of Carter to escape his captors with the fact that he and the Martians actually warm to each other as they each get to know a bit about the other side. When an opportintuy to escape does arise, Carter walks into danger only to be rescued by his giant Martian guard dog. The incident further bonds Carter to the aliens, just in time for a high tech battle to ensue between Barsoomian races. The premier issue story segment ends in a dramatic bridge, as Carter and his jailers/new allies capture a battle survivor, who turns-out to be none other than Princess Deja Thoris herself.

There have been so many comic book and fictional tellings of this tale, that a new comic title better bring something very special to the reading table if its going to make its own mark within the wide inventory of John Carter storytellings. Both surprisingly and happily, this new title adds such groundbreaking quality and storytelling to the well-worn franchise. I suppose this success really shouldn't be that much of a surprise, given that Roger Langridge scripts the title. Langridge proved in last year's popular "Thor The Mighty Avenger" series that he has a strong ability to add a fresh perspective to a well-known, established fictional storyline. He wonderfully repeats that Thor franchise success here with John Carter. From the dialogue to the visual presentation to the basic story action/panel lay-out, the Langridge-led creative team gives us a very fresh and entertaining new storytelling spin, to the point where by issue's end, I felt as if I'd read a brand-new John Carter adventure, as opposed to a very creative re-telling of a familiar pulp science fiction classic story.

So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation to read this new mini-series, whether you're already a John Carter fan or just looking for something new to experience. And if the quality of next summer's tie-in movie is anything close to the creative and high quality approach of this comic book title, there's going to one mega-box office blockbuster hit out there in the cinematic version of this excellent comic book series.

Stormwatch #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Cornell: Writer
Miguel Sepulveda: Art
Allen Passalaqua: Colors

Among the many new titles being released as part of DC's "New 52" restructuring is Stormwatch #1. For the uninitiated, Stormwatch is a title created by Jim Lee at Image Comics which further evolved at Wildstorm Publishing and is currently revamped for inclusion in the new DC universe. The concept is that Stormwatch is an international team of heroes, currently affiliated with the United Nations, that has secretly protected mankind from alien threats over the centuries. The DC revival of the series includes some previous Stormwatch characters, a few new team members and DC's well-known superhero the Martian Manhunter. The title is scripted by Paul Cornell with art by Miguel Sepulveda and colors by Allen Passalaqua.

The issue #1 storyline is part one of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Dark Side." The story mixes three sub-plots together to re-start the world of Stormwatch. In Moscow, a team of Stormwatch folk including the Martian Manhunter pursue and confront a citizen with mysterious powers who has no intention of getting involved in superbeing do-gooding. In a very unique plotthread, an alien artifact transforms the moon into a sentient being equipped with giant claws and a huge eye, intent on threatening the Earth. And in the Himalayas, a pair of superpowered Stormwatch members trackdown a giant, frozen worm creature (shades of Dune!) for unexplained purposes. The issue ends in a dramatic bridge as the Moscow team is defeated by the mysterious superbeing Midnighter, who offers the pursued Moscow super-citizen a chance to kill every bad guy on the planet.

I had a mixed reaction to reading issue #1 of this new title. On the positive side, there's a lot of fun and intriguing story stuff jam-packed into this issue. Any one of the three sub-plots has enough action, adventure and fresh plot concepts to stand-alone as a full-issue storyline. I particularly enjoyed two story elements: the "rogue sentient moon" plotthread and writer Paul Cornell's style of dropping into the dialogue intriguing backhistory treats about various team members, which reflect their centuries-long history and lives. There's also a nice feel of grand-scale, science fiction-like events unfolding in these storylines, similar to Warren Ellis's story approach in the acclaimed Planetary series, which was a sister publication to Stormwatch in its earlier Wildstorm Publishing incarnation.

Balancing this good story stuff is a very jumbled story presentation; the fun stuff is just thrown all over the story lay-out with absolutely no explanation of the Stormwatch team concept or their backstory. Everything that I've described so far in this review about the Stormwatch universe was derived from sources outside of issue #1. This premier issue gives the reader absolutely no orientation or explanation of who the heck these folk are or what they're all about. So a mixed review, here: a definite recommendation to check-out this title, along with the helpful warning that DC better add some page-one narrative details to future issues, or the confusion's gonna mount for "New 52" readers who aren't veteran Stormwatch fans, and the title will be in danger of fading in fanbase support.

Static Shock #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott McDaniel & John Rozum: Writers
Scott McDaniel: Pencils
Jonathan Glapion & Le Beau Underwood: Inks
Guy Major: Colors

Another one of the "New 52" titles premiering this past week is issue #1 of Static Shock. Again for the uninitiated, Static Shock is 15-year-old African-American teen Virgil Hawkins, who has costumed hero adventures using his electromagnetic powers. The character has been around the DC and animated television universe for a few decades and actually originated as a proposed concept for Marvel Comics based on the Spiderman teen-angst model. The new title is scripted by the team of Scott McDaniel and John Rozum, with pencils by Scott McDaniel, inks by Jonathan Glapion and Le Beau Underwood and colors by Guy Major.

The issue #1 re-boot is appropriately entitled "Recharged" and opens with a fast-action sequence as Static battles to control a renegade STAR Labs technician who's out-of-control wearing an electromagnetic power suit. The plot shifts to more of a mystery/intrigue theme as we learn that the lab tech was actually manipulated by a large supervillain syndicate led by the villain Piranha. A second plotline focuses on Virgil Hawkins's civilian life, as he tries to adjust to his family relocating from Dakota to New York City. Virgil's civilian and hero identities blend together in his daily life when he spends time in his new role as a student intern at STAR Labs. The issue #1 story introduction ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue as Virgil/Static is attacked on his patrol of the city by members of the superhero gang.

This is a decent and entertaining read for teenaged fanboys and fangirls as well as older readers. Its the first DC comic that I've read since the most recent Blue Beetle title of a few years ago that specifically stars an average-teen-with-powers and as such does an admirable job of filling the shoes of that previous teen-oriented comic book. You can definitiely see how the original teen angst persona of Peter Parker/Spider-Man influenced the Static creators. Beyond that target audience effort, I was impressed with the quality of the storytelling. The writers have a knack for weaving subtle but intriguing story elements into this issue which most likely will lay the groundwork for interesting developments in future monthly issues of Static Shock. My two favorites were an unexpected reference to the possibility of events attracting Hawkman's attention and the presence of some corrupt police detectives as active members of the villainous syndicate.

So a positive thumbs-up recommendation to both check-out issue #1 of this latest incarnation of Static Shock and to stick around for the upcoming issues to see where some of these interesting plotthreads lead over the next several months.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to e-mail us with your honest opinion, good, bad or anywhere in between, regarding the quality of all or some of the many "New 52" titles that are part of the ongoing re-boot of the DC Comics universe. And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who tells us that so far he's read the New 52 Detective Comics, Action Comics and Green Lantern issues. David tells us that he thought that the Superman plot in Action actually was similar in some aspects to a Spider-Man story element. In addition, he adds "The stories seem good so far and the art was also seems that the heroes in these books are more on the edge and are a little more gritty...I will keep reading them for awhile and see what happens." Sounds like some good obervations and advice from David as we all continue to read various New 52 titles. Congratulations to David as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's try another local Worcester piece of trivia again for our latest contest. Your challenge is to e-mail us at with the correct answer to the following question: What well-known (and well-traveled!) Worcester roadway has been nicknamed "The Speedway" by generations of Worcester drivers? As always, in the event of more than one correct contest entry, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.

That's all for now, so have a great two weeks of comic book reading (and baseball playoffs watching!) and see you again on October 14 Here In Bongo Congo!