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!