Thursday, August 18, 2011

comic reviews 8/17/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo made a personal royal visit this past week to the new issues comic book shelves at That's Entertainment and has decreed that we review the following three new issues that caught his eye while on his state visit:

Warlord Of Mars: Fall Of Barsoom #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Robert Place Napton: Writer
Roberto Castro: Art
Alex Guimaraes: Colors

Dynamite Publications has added another title to its Warlord Of Mars comic book series with this past week's issue #1 debut of Warlord Of Mars: Fall Of Barsoom. As I mentioned in my review earlier this year of the Dejah Thoris: Princess Of Mars title, the series is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic John Carter: Warlord Of Mars pulp novels, in which the late 19th-century American is transported to Mars and has exotic action adventures within the Martian civilization, whose residents refer to the red planet as Barsoom. The new title is scripted by Robert Place Napton with art by Roberto Castro and colors by Alex Guimaraes.

The issue #1 inside cover establishes the story setting as 100,000 years before John Carter's fictional arrival on Mars. Entitled "Book One: The Tide Of Battle", the plotline establishes political thriller maneuvering in a science fiction setting by alternating two plotthreads. In one storyline, a reckless Martian emperor dissolves the political alliance that has united three humanoid races in peaceful co-existance for eons. All three races begin to clash, while two additional barbaric races of red and green warriors decide to jump into the growing chaos. The second subplot weaves planetwide environmental catastrophe into the storyline, as Martian scientist Tak Nan Lee documents an unexpected speed-up in the depletion of the planet's oceans and breathable atmosphere. The two storyline's merge in an issue-ending cliffhanger, when Lee stumbles-upon a chaotic battle while out in the wilderness and rescues a barbaric red princess, who appears to be an early version of the well-known Princess Deja Thoris.

This is an interesting addition to the ever-widening Dynamite Publications grouping of John Carter story universe titles. The artwork is exquisite, as the artistic team goes to great pains to visualize this exotic planet in which multiple alien races co-exist in a lush setting that combines pulp fiction art deco style with old-fashioned royalty trappings. I was also very entertained by the political thriller approach to structuring a new Barsoom adventure title. There are so many colorful alien races and individual characters enlisted in this tale, that there's a great opportunity here for future monthly issues to entertain us with a wide range of storylines and adventures. My one constructive criticism centers on scientist Tak Nan Lee; from his wardrobe to his jetfighter to his 21st century American style of speech, he seems somewhat out-of-place in this very exotic science fiction otherwordly setting. I have a theory that future issues of this title may reveal that he's an out-of-time travelor from Earth, similar to the John Carter storyline.
But irregardless of that one point, this is a fun and fresh addition to the wide-ranging John Carter/Barsoom story universe, and well-worth reading from the very beginning with this month's kick-off premier issue #1.

Richelle Mead's The Dark Swan: Storm Born #1
Publisher: Sea Lion Books
Richelle Mead & Grant Alter: Writer
Dave Hamann: Art
Nelson Cosentino De Oliveira: Colors

A new comic book publishing house called Sea Lion Books has just released issue #1 of a new comic entitled "Richelle Mead's The Dark Swan: Storm Born." For the uninitiated, this is a comic book adaptation of popular writer Richelle Mead's Storm Born novel series. The fantasy/magic title stars Eugenie Markham, a "freelance shaman" living in Arizona who assists regular folk who have problems with otherwordly creatures (demons, bad spirits, etc.). The comic book is written by Mead herself in partnership with Grant Alter. The art is produced by Dave Hamann with colors by Nelson Cosentino De Oliveira.

Issue #1 quickly establishes Eugenie's fictional world situation for the reader with an entertaining six-page scene in which she assists a man who's favorite running shoe is inhabited by a bad demon. The remainder of the issue balances two intersecting plotlines. In one, we're introduced to the characters in Eugenie's private life, including her fellow-shaman stepfather, mother, eccentric roommate and a guy she quickly falls for in a bar. The second plotthread entangles Eugenie in the evil side of the world of magic, as she seeks to assist a client who's young sister has been supposedly kidnapped by bad-guy fairies. Our heroine's personal and professional world's collide in an issue-ending cliffhanger, as Eugenie and her new boyfriend are attacked by an ice demon.

This is an extremely entertaining and fresh addition to the ever-growing inventory of magic realism comic book fiction on the market these days. It rises above the pack with a wonderful mix of humor and drama, along with a successful balance between story narration and magical action-adventure. The real slam-dunk success here is the in-depth quality of writer Richelle Mead's plot. Obviously adapted from a successful novel series, the comic book truly reads as a graphic adaptation of a fictional world that was originally constructed in novel format. The writer's narration of the tale is at least three times the amount of detail usually imported into a comic book storyline, with the result that it successfully adds a richer-than-normal story narration in balance with the character dialogue.

Those writing highlights aside, the two very best features of this new comic book title are the artwork and humor. The art team's work is top notch, with pleasing colors, graphic style and excellent command of character's facial features. I particularly enjoyed the range of humor in this comic book, from the little touches such as the possessed running shoe to the broader comedic strokes, such as Eugenie's oddball roommate who passes as a Southwest Native American to pick-up chicks at bars. One word of caution: this is not a comic for kids, with its at-times graphic sexual depictions of Eugenie's growing relationship with her new boyfriend. As such, the publisher might wish to toss a "some adult-themes" warning on the front cover of future issues. That point aside, my thumbs-up positive recommendation is for all good comic book readers to rise above the fray of the many youth and teen-oriented magic fantasy offerings such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series, and enjoy this excellent graphic presentation of a very entertaining magical fantasy series written for the adult fan.

Captain America Corps #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Roger Stern: Writer
Philippe Briones: Art
Matt Milla: Colors

The Marvel Comics five-issue mini-series entitled "Captain America Corps" is up to issue #2 this month. Given that this is the summer of Captain America, both at the movies and in various comic book titles, I was curious to see how this limited edition series stacked-up with the other Captain America venues out there right now. This series is scripted by Roger Stern with art by Philippe Briones and colors by Matt Milla.

The issue #2 story segment is entitled "Enemies Of The State." A quick two-page introduction summarizes the issue #1 story segment. Set in an unspecified future timeframe in New York City, our main character is Shannon Carter, the Avenger known as the superhero American Dream. Shannon is the niece of SHIELD agent Sharon Carter and is following in Cap's Avenger footsteps. A Watcher-like being called The Contemplator assembles Shannon with four versions of Captain America from four alternate realities, in order to counter someone who is erasing the many Captain Americas from across the multiverse, thereby threatening the nature of reality itself. The Contemplator transports our five heroes to one of those altered realities, in order to impress upon them the bleakness of a world order without Cap's influence. Without being a detail spoiler, our team battles federal police state forces to try and redress the altered mess. By issue's end, they've freed several Marvel hero characters from imprisonment and set themselves up for further conflict in next month's story segment with that reality's version of a band of superheros who are still loyal to the police state.

I was drawn into this story more than any other alternate reality-themed comic book that I've read in the past few years. The title's creative team have put a huge amount of thought and effort into incorporating a very wide range of alternative/what if versions of Captain America into a single storyline. Its fascinating to read the details of each Cap's personality and style differences, from the female future Cap embodied in Shannon Carter, to a Golden Age-styled Cap and even an alternate Cap who embodies many of Wolverine's raw personality traits. However, the quality home run here is writer Roger Stern's brilliant idea to give each separate Cap limited personality segments drawn from our well-known hero's complex personality. Separately, they're each limited and somewhat flawed in their abilities and behavior, but when our five heroes work together, they literally combine into one multi-talented Cap and succeed in their efforts.

A final shout-out has to go to the art team's simply stunning, poster-worthy two-page spread on pages 4 and 5 of the story, in which our fivesome battle the police state's giant bad robot version of Cap. All in all, this is the freshest alternative story spin on a well-known A-list superhero that's out there in this summer's new issue reading stacks. I'm planning on back-reading last month's issue #1 to fully experience the five-issue unfolding of this wondrous "what if" tale, and I'd suggest that all fanboys and fangirls out there do the same!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
Our contest challenge this week was for you to identify a current "exclave" example in the U.S., in which a land area is part of one U.S. state while being completely surrounded by the territory of another state. And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who correctly identified The Kentucky Bend as a famous American exclave. Alternately known as "Bubbleland," the bend is a piece of land within an oxbow loop of the Mississippi River that is legally in Fulton County, Kentucky but surrounded by land legally within Tennessee and Missouri. Another interesting correct answer was submitted by Jeremy Mower, who points out that Liberty Island, home of the Statue Of Liberty, is legally land within New York State while completely surrounded by water legally designated as part of New Jersey. Congratulations to Gregory who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Announcement!!!
As we mentioned last week, its time this week to go back to a comic book-related contest challenge. There are so many great comic book villains out there, both in comic book form and on the movie screens in comic book genre films these days, that have inspired us to offer you a villain challange this week. So e-mail us at with your submittal of your favorite comic book/graphic villain; tell us who he, she or it is and why you favor this person/thing as your number one bad guy/girl/it in comic books past or present. Our winning entry will receive the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment, so tell us now who's your favorite "bad to the bone" character!

Bongo Congo Review Schedule Announcement!!!
Just a quick note to our loyal readers: as you know, I also write fiction short stories (see for information on my story publications and availability). I have a few story writing comittments that need immediate attention, so to schedule some writing time, so for the time being, I'll be providing fresh comic book reviews for you on a biweekly basis instead of weekly. That said, the next column of new reviews will be available for your enjoyment on Friday, September 2. Thanks for bearing with me on this schedule adjustment and I hope to get back to providing you with brand new comic book reviews on a weekly basis as soon as possible.
That's all for now, so have a great "Dog Days Of August" comic book reading week and see you again in two weeks Here In Bongo Congo!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

comic reviews 8/14/11

Here In Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is back from a great vacation and has decreed that we review this week three new comic books, one that features Captain America and Bucky along with two that star Batman. So let's see how these comics stack-up for some August summertime comic book reading:

Captain America & Bucky #620
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko: Writers
Chris Samnee: Art
Bettie Breitweiser: Colors

The long-running Captain America title is up to issue #620 this month; in its current incarnation, the series is emphasizing the Captain America/Bucky partnership by publishing under the full "Captain America & Bucky" title. The latest multi-issue story arc is scripted by the team of Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko, with art by Chris Samnee and colors by Bettie Breitweiser.

Issue #620 begins a fresh five-issue story arc entitled "Masks." The first issue in this story is a retelling of the well-known origin of Cap's sidekick Bucky. The spin here is a fresh narrative of the tale, using the concept of a costumed hero's facemask as a metaphor for Bucky's tough childhood experiences. We learn page-by-page the details of Bucky's early life and how he ultimately wore three different masks at different stages of his life: an emotional mask of indifference as a shield against family tragedy, a mask of toughness as he trains to ultimately become eligible as Cap's sidekick, and finally an actual costumed hero facemask as Bucky, thereby allowing him to drop the emotional masks and function as more of a normal human being in his civilian identity.

Given the summertime popularity of Marvel's Captain America movie (a great movie, by the way!), a fresh comic book revisit to Cap and Bucky's World War II origin days couldn't be timed any better. The writing team of Ed Brubaker and Mark Andreyko are at the peak of their narrative skills here, giving us a storyline that balances moving personal emotion with building action that will obviously explore the heroic duo's early wartime adventures in the next four issues of this multi-issue story arc. The biggest plus here is Chris Samnee's wonderful artistic presentation. Samnee developed a wide fan folllowing (myself included) with his top notch work in last year's eight-issue "Thor, The Mighty Avenger" title. As I mentioned in a review of that series, Samnee is similar to well-known artist/writer Tim Sale both in graphic style and a highly skilled ability to convey heartfelt emotion through both his character's facial expressions and style of panel lay-out. The result here is to add a valuable new interpretation to the many tales of the early days of the Cap/Bucky partnership, one that should only increase in emotional impact and old-fashioned action-adventure with each further issue of this five-part storyline.

So do yourself a favor and give yourself a double treat this week by seeing the Captain America movie at the cinema and getting-in on the ground floor with the first issue of this very entertaining new Captain America and Bucky storyline!

Batman Beyond #8
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Adam Beechen: Writer
Chris Batista: Pencils
Rich Perrotta: Inks
David Baron: Colors

DC's Batman Beyond title is up to issue #8 this month. For the uninitiated, this is a futuristic Batman title in which teenager Terry McGinnis fights crime in a very high tech future Gotham City, mentored by an elderly Bruce Wayne. The current monthly series is a follow-up to the animated television series and a previous Batman Beyond mini-series. The comic book is scripted by Adam Beechen with pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rich Perrotta and colors by David Baron.

The issue #8 storyline is entitled "Inque," (pronounced "ink") and interweaves two storythreads. One is a detailed flashback personal history, filling-in the origin of the supposed supervillain Inque, a woman who turns to a life of high tech supervillain crime in follow-up to medical experimentation that gave her the ability to transform into a rubbery, inky slinky-like creature tough to stop or control. Without being a detail spoiler, we learn some very personal details of why this woman chose to follow a path of crime instead of the superhero life. A second plotthread is more high action-oriented, as our young futuristic Batman does battle with Inque. The issue climaxes as the past and present storythreads nicely blend together into a very personal moment in Inque's battered life, dealing with love and family ties.

I've enjoyed every issue of both of the Batman Beyond comic book titles and this current issue is no exception. The personal backstory of Inque is both heartbreaking and very relevant to today's real-world situation of poor folk in third world countries trying to survive while being exploited in human trafficking situations. While the young Terry/Batman is almost a secondary character behind the main Inque origin story sequences, this is still a credible Batman tale that adds well to the wide-ranging Batman story and family universe in both an emotionally moving and entertaining manner. An editor's note at the end of the story announces that within the upcoming September DC publishing title shake-up, "Batman Beyond" will return in a comic entitled "10,000 Clouds," coming soon from DC.

So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to round-out the current Batman Beyond eight-issue title run with this month's issue and keep an eye out for the continuing entertaining adventures of our futuristic Bat-Boy within this Fall's revamped DC comic book title publishing structure.

Flashpoint: Batman Knight Of Vengeance #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Brian Azzarello: Writer
Eduardo Risso: Art
Patricia Mulvihill: Colors

Yet another among the many DC Comics Flashpoint mega-event mini-series is the three-issue "Flashpoint: Knight Of Vengeance" title. Since all three issues of this short series are currently on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment, I decided to review the kick-off issue #1. The series is scripted by veteran comic book scribe Brian Azzarello with art by Eduardo Risso and colors by Patricia Mulvihill. For those very few readers not familiar with the very popular Flashpoint series, the various titles present a DC universe altered by a foe of The Flash, to the point where we literally have an alternate reality in which the backstories and present-day roles of most DC heroes and villains are significantly altered. The Flashpoint universe also is experiencing a world war in which Wonder Woman and Aquaman lead their respective empires in a brutal war against mankind, with the main battlefield in Western Europe.

Issue #1 of the Batman mini-series constructs for the reader the basics of the altered Batman portion of the Flashpoint universe. In the Flashpoint reality, the young boy Bruce Wayne died in his family's robbery, leaving the father Thomas Wayne to evolve into an angry, violent and extremely bitter version of Batman. The family business empire rests upon Wayne Casinos, run by Wayne's chief flunky Oswald Cobblepot, who never becomes The Penguin. The plot focuses on Wayne and Police Commissioner Gordon beginning to investigate the kidnapping of Gotham Judge Harvey Dent's twin toddlers by who else, The Joker. Action ensues as clues lead Batman into a confrontation with a very different, alternate version of Swamp Thing. Without being a detail spoiler, the Swamp Thing confrontation gets wrapped-up by issue's end, leaving the final page of issue #1 as a prequel to issue #2's expected Batman/Joker confrontation.

I have a mixed reaction to issue #1 of this mini-series. On the plus side, in the capable hands of the creative team this is a very entertaining reinterpretation of the Batman legend. As with the other Flashpoint series titles that I've read and reviewed, its a real fun kick to absorb the many alternate universe adjustments to our familiar DC universe friends and foes. My particular favorite here was a major alteration regarding Police Commissioner Gordon and the Gotham Police Department, which I won't reveal in this review. On the negative side, there's no connection in this plot to the events of the wider Flashpoint series (i.e., the world war). The plot seemed to drag with this disconnection. As such, I'm giving this comic book title a conditional thumbs-up positive recommendation. As a stand-alone Batman story, it is fun and worth reading. However, there's a disconnect with the bigger Flashpoint universe, to the point that leads me to place this title toward the bottom of the Flashpoint reading list. As such, I'd recommend reading most of the other Flashpoint titles first if you wish to stay up-to-date on the story progression of this DC mega-event.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to correctly tell us which nearby U.S. state was originally part of Massachusetts before gaining its independent statehood. And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries is (drumroll, please)...David Ruiz, who correctly identified Maine. A few folks assumed the correct answer was one of the states physically bordering Massachusetts, but Maine was an "exclave," which is a territory physically separated and noncontiguous from the remainder of the same territory. In 1820, as a result of a growing population and a political deal regarding slavery, Maine became the 23rd state under the Missouri Compromise. Congratulations to David as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment! And a worthy shout-out to two other correct entrants, Stan Hosmer who tells us that he's descended from either the first or second Maine Governor and Keith Martin, who tells us that he's a former Maine resident.

New Contest Announcement!

Since we had a lot of interest in last week's question, before we offer another comic book-related contest, let's try one more geography trivia contest. Now that you all know what an exclave is from the answer above, your challenge this week is to e-mail us at and identify to us at least one existing exclave that exists somewhere in the U.S., today. Believe it or not, there are a few locations in the U.S. considered territory of specific states but completely surrounded by land of other states, thereby totally separated from the rest of their home state. As always, in the event of more than one correct entry, the 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 summertime comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!