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!