Friday, December 28, 2012

Comic Reviews 12/29/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo is in the midst of enjoying this holiday season by reading many new comic books, so let's see what a sampling of these latest issues are all about:

The Perhapanauts #2
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Todd Dezago: Writer
Craig Rousseau & Various Artists

     Image Comics is up to issue #2 of a five-issue mini-series starring "The Perhapaunauts," a comic book title that originated in 2005 with two multi-issue story arcs published by Dark Horse Comics.  The action-adventure series stars a large team of investigators of supernatural events, with most of the team members themselves having supernatural powers and personalities.  I was drawn to review this month's issue #2 by the wonderfully creative name of this team (I just can't stop saying this new word "Perhapanauts"!).  Each issue of this title features a main story that advances a multi-issue story arc, followed by two back-up tales.  The lead story is the product of Perhapanauts creators Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau with colors by Mike Thomas.  Todd Dezago scripts the additional two stories with the graphics provided by several additional artists.

     Our main storyline is entitled "Indecent Proposals" and finds the team investigating supernatural events down-under in Australia.  The issue #2 plotline has the team returning to a mysterious pit in the Outback which leads down into a series of underground caverns that supposedly house the Bunyip, a dangerous mythological creature.  In the first half of the story segment, we're introduced to the members of this particular Perhapanauts team, who include the Wookie-like leader Big, the ghostly Molly, an intelligent Ferret and an Aboriginal Shaman, among several others.  When the Bunyip appears and grabs a team member, its everyone into the pit for further action-adventure in next month's story segment.  An alternating sub-plot focuses on conflict between a team member and Sampaquita, a young woman who both hosts a hostile demon within herself and is essential to the success of tracking the Bunyip.

     The originality and quality of this series is as fun and entertaining as its unique name.  I very much enjoyed the fresh variety of the team member's personalities and character diversity.  Among my personal favorite Perhapanauts are the stoic Wookie-like leader Big, that intelligent ferret and Choopie, a wacky comic-relief version of the Mexican mythological demon creature, the Chupacabra.  Picture a cross between Homer Simpson's personality and your average hyperactive sidekick comic book character and you get a sense of Choopie's comic relief role within this series.

     My single constructive criticism of this series is the very large membership of the team.  It's a bit difficult for the creative team to balance everyone into the storytelling mix, resulting in more than the average amount of quicktime plot-jumping between characters.  That leap-frogging around does somewhat take away from settling the storyline into a comfortable storytelling groove.  In fact, the second and third stories in issue #2 are necessary just to blend Choopie into the Perhapanauts team mix, as well as give newbie readers such as myself a wider understanding of the established basics of the Perhapanauts storyverse.  But that doesn't draw much away from the freshness and fun of this unique and engrossing new team of comic book action-adventurers.  So for a very entertaining mix of supernatural comic book storytelling layered with lots of light humor and Australian action-adventure, say a hearty "G'Day, Mate!" to The Perhapaunauts!

Ghost #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Writer
Phil Noto: Art

     Dark Horse Comics has just published issue #1 in a re-boot of Ghost.  For the uninitiated, the title has had life in a few incarnations since the early 1990's.  The main character of this series is Elisa Cameron, re-named for now at least as "Mary" in the new storyline, a woman with ghost-like abilities who has no memory of how she came to her ghostly powers.  Its unclear yet whether our heroine is actually dead or living with the otherworldly ability to shift between solid and corporeal states of being.  An issue #1 inside-the-front-cover narrative explains that in the current story run, two reality t.v. ghost hunters have used a mysterious black-market device to accidentally summon the amnesiac Ghost. Naming her "Mary," the t.v. ghosthunters and their visitor begin to try and sort-out just who Mary is and how she was summoned via the high-tech device.  The four-part kick-off storyline is entitled "In The Smoke And Din" and is scripted by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by A-lister Phil Noto.

     The issue #1 story segment alternates between three sub-plots.  In the main plotline, Mary and her accidental summoners Tommy and Vaughn hold court in a diner as they try to get their heads around the bizarreness of this entire situation.  There's a lot of philosophical musing by Mary about the general state of existence, leading her to accidentally manifest her ghostly ability with some dramatic and violent results.  A second plotline introduces Vaughn's ex-girlfirend, newspaper reporter Caroline, who is currently in a romantic relationship with the local mayor.  And the third plotline introduces the sadistic Dr. Linda October, an evil corporate research scientist who is apparently the source of the stolen technology that dropped Mary into Tommy and Vaughn's world.  Without spoiling any details, the storylines come together into a dramatic cliffhanger as our trio follows a clue toward Dr. October, while its revealed that the Mayor has an evil and very supernatural role in this unfolding mystery adventure.

     I've never read any of the previous series of Ghost and up-front have to commend the creative team for creating a new run of this title that stands very well on its own two feet as a fresh and interesting storyline.  The kick-off narrative summary is very effective in providing new readers with the basics of the Ghost story concept, allowing the new storyarc to dive right into the action and adventure.  Three additional strong points make this a worthwhile and entertaining comic book read.  The first is writer Kelly Sue DeConnick's sharp and high quality dialogue.  Its worthy of any mainstream high quality novel or movie and even includes a very effective quote from Erik Larsen's bestselling historical book "The Devil In The White City."  A second selling point is artist Phil Noto's artwork; as always, his choice of colors and shadings are just plain exsquisite and in this instance extremely effective in portraying the eerieness of the story situation.  A third thumbs-up goes to the updating of the Ghost storyverse by characterizing Tommy and Vaughn as the hosts of a Ghost Hunters-like reality t.v. series.  It provides a nice story connection and relevancy between this comic book series and the real world popularity of paranormal reality television series.

     So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for all good holiday season readers to add this return of an established Dark Horse Comic feature to their holiday comic book reading piles.  Whether Mary turns-out to be a ghost of Chritmas past, present or future, or something of an entirely different nature, is well-worth following in the premier and upcoming monthly issues of this new comic book title.

MacGyver #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Lee David Zlotoff & Tony Lee: Writers
Will Sliney: Pencils & Inks
Ciaran Lucas: Colors

     Image Comics has published issue #1 of a 5-issue mini-series comic book title of the very popular action-adventure television series MacGyver.  To refresh everyone's memory (because who among us has never heard of MacGyver!), the series ran from the late-1980's to the early-1990's for seven seasons on ABC.  It starred Richard Dean Anderson as secret agent MacGyver, who had action adventures working for The Phoenix Foundation.  The character had a strong science background and was renowned for fashioning inventive solutions and tools out of handy odds 'n ends to get out of dangerous situations without firing a weapon.  The guy could literally fashion an atomic bomb out of a toothpick and half a jar of olives!  The new comic book series is co-written by MacGyver creator Lee David Zlotoff and Tony Lee, with pencils and inks by Will Sliney and colors by Ciaran Lucas.

     The multi-issue story arc is entitled "Fugitive Gauntlet" and begins with a mysterious plea for help to our hero from Professor Cornwell, his old science mentor.  Arriving at the professor's remote African research facility, MacGyver learns that the Professor has invented a remarkable solution to world hunger, for which he believes rivals are willing to kill him and steal his formula.  In a parallel sub-plot, an unidentified baddie has placed a huge bounty on the worldwide assassins market for the first assassin who kills MacGyver.  The two plot lines neatly come together by mid-issue, as MacGyver is attacked by a stalker assassin at the same time that a research lab spy steals the formula.  Without being a detail spoiler, by issue's end, MacGyver has used his inventive scientific handyman skills to thwart his assassin.  Then its off in an Interpol helicopter with a new female Interpol sidekick to chase down and retrieve the professor's stolen formula!

     As I've written in several previous reviews, a key goal of any comic book title based on a television series is to successfully recreate the positive elements of the original show in order for its loyal fanbase to accept and enjoy the comic book effort.  I'm very happy to report that issue #1 of the MacGyver comic book hits a home run in achieving that goal.  Series creator Lee David Zlotoff and the rest of the creative team seamlessly transfer the style and personality of the television series to the graphic page.  The storyline is entertaining, the action-adventure is nicely balanced with the science elements of the tale and of course, our hero does a bang-up job of finding various inventive ways to get himself out of several sticky thriller situations.  While the artwork solidly resembles the visuals of the television series, I'm most impressed by the writers success in building several solid secondary characters into the tale, including Ireyna Voleskya, the undercover Interpol agent who quickly becomes MacGyver's sidekick for continued adventuring in upcoming issues of this series.

     So there's a mix of good things here that all lead to our thumbs-up review recommendation for issue #1 of MacGyver: a faithful recreation of a high quality television action-adventure series, an entertaining action-adventure spy storyline and some fun story characters who make it interesting and worthwhile to follow this story as it unfolds in five monthly story segments.  Whether you're a faithful fan of the t.v. show or just looking for some action-adventure comic book reading fun, get on down to That's Entertainment and get on-board for the action-adventure spy thriller ride of MacGyver!

Avengers Academy #38
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Christos Gage: Writer
Tom Grummett: Pencils
Cory Hamscher & Rick Ketcham: Inks
Chris Sotomayor: Colors

    Marvel Comics is up to issues #38 and #39 of its Avengers Academy title.  The very popular series follows the adventures of a large group of teenaged Avengers candidates who train in an academy setting to be future Avengers, under the faculty tutelage of such Avengers as Wolverine, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Tigra and Giant-Man.  Its been announced that the series will end with the most recent issue #39, after which its many fans hope the series will return in a new incarnation.  So I decided to backtrack to review last month's issue #38 and let readers then follow-up with their own read of the concluding issue #39 of the series.  The title is scripted by Worcester native Christos Gage with pencils by Tom Grummett, inks by Cory Hamscher and Rick Ketcham and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

     The issue #38 storyline is entitled "Crosstown Rivals" and centers on an organized tag football game between the Academy kids and their rivals from the X-Men's Jean Grey School.  There's a lot of subplot details going-on in this tale, with the details of the game interspersed to move the story along.  Three key storythreads include a few Academy superteens trying to cope with the emotional aftereffects of their most recent deadly mission, several kids coping with typical teen angst (i.e., teen crushes, self-consciousness, etc.) and the students just getting to know their crosstown rivals as fellow superpowered teens.  There's also some funny interaction among the faculty of both schools, including an unexpected inter-school romance between Quicksilver and the X-Men School's Warbird, as well as the settling of a friendly score between Giant-Man and Wolverine.  By issue's end, the two groups of students have bonded well for future adventuring.

     While on the surface this is a comic book title geared for teenaged readers, veteran A-list writer Christos Gage gives us a plot that's much more than the typical superteen experience.  The sub-plots dig deeper, exploring individual's emotions, interactions and reactions to the often difficult superhero lifestyle in a manner befitting story characters and readers of all ages.  I was particularly impressed by the concluding panels of the story, in which the tide is turned and the students vent to each other their concerns for the emotional well-being of their beloved faculty.  It sends a powerful emotional message that irregardless of age, young and older characters in this storyverse understand that they're all in the superhero game together and need to always respect the need for teamwork and caring for each other out there in the big dangerous world.

     On a final review note, the final fan letters page in this series includes several heartfelt expressions of disappointment for the conclusion of this well-crafted and popular series.  But as writer Gage notes in a letter response, in today's publishing environment, its miraculous for any title to have a ten-issue run, never mind the 39 issue-run that was bestowed by the publishing powers on this excellent series.  So don't despair too much: enjoy the final two issues of Avengers Academy and back-track through those previous 37 issues, as sooner than later I believe that we'll all see the return of the Avengers Academy students and faculty for further adventures!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest is our annual year's best award, in which readers make a pitch for their favorite comic book titles or individual issues of the past calendar year.  My own personal favorites from 2012 include the latest interpretation of Wonder Woman in DC's The New 52 series, this past year's installment of Atomic Robo (Red Five Comics), IDW Publishing's wonderful Mark Waid/Chris Samnee collaboration on "The Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom" mini-series, DC's Before Watchmen series and the latest title runs of both Hawkeye and Daredevil from Marvel Comics.

     And from among our reader entries our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Mike Dooley, who submits two recommendations for the 2012 year's best comics.  Mike's first nomination is DC's Before Watchmen series, which Mike describes as "an excellent prequel to the classic series...the writers are obviously huge fans of the original, a fact that repeatedly shows up in their storytelling."  Mike's second nomination for year's best is the return of Valiant as a comic book publisher, with three titles particularly outstanding for his choices: Archer & Armstrong, X-O Manowar and Harbinger.  Mike notes that all three series are reboots of previous Valiant series and are well-worth checking-out in their latest incarnations.  So there you have it, a nice variety of solid "best of" recommendations, all available for your reading pleasure in both the new issues and back issues sections of That's Entertainment.  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to (you guessed it) That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     This past holiday season week has featured three consecutive storms here in Central Mass. that served-up a hefty mix of snow, sleet and rain.  All of which inspired our latest trivia contest challenge.  Your assignment (if you choose to accept it) is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, January 9 with the answer to the following water-logged contest question:  what is the total amount of all water on the planet Earth, using gallons as your measurement total?  The incredibly huge answer has actually been scientifically calculated and accepted as a valid scientific estimate, so feel free to do some handy reserach or just make a guess and see how close you come to the correct answer.  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen via a roll of the dice.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store on-going specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have a very Happy New Year as well as two great comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, January 11 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Comic Reviews 12/15/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week an eclectic mix of comic books, so let's get right to it and see what these new titles are all about:
Nowhere Men #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Eric Stephenson: Writer
Nate Bellegarde: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Image Comics has recently published issue #1 of a new comic book entitled "Nowhere Men."  The title is a direct reference to the Beatles song "Nowhere Man" and is an appropriate name for this new series, which chronicles the science action-adventures of four scientists who physically resemble the Beatles.  This Fab Four of science forms a "scientific supergroup" in which they pool their brainpower to run World Corp., their own scientific organization that works to both revolutionize science and make great technological strides to advance the human race.  The new series is scripted by Eric Stephenson with art by Nate Bellegrade and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 kicks-off the general concept of this title by presenting two sub-plots.  In the first storythread, we initially meet the quartet in a one-page brief 1960's mod-era flashback, in which they take advantage of their "young-scientists-with-celebrity-rockstar-status" image to form their own company.  Flash forward quickly to the present, in which we witness via a lengthy multi-page scene how the partnership is dissolving.  Paralleling the infamous Beatles break-up, the conflict is driven by disagreement over their responsibility whenever one of their cuting-edge science experiments goes awry and innocent staffers or by-standers are killed.  Our second sub-plot unfolds as the third portion of the tale; the setting is an orbiting Earth space station owned by World Corp., where we witness the scientific staff struggle to understand a virus that's infected the crew and is causing physical abnormalities.  By issue's end, we've been introduced to the varied personalities and agendas of the crew and its revealed that their presence in space is a mysterious secret mission.

      While I'm giving this new title a positive thumbs-up review recommendation, its only a barely average quality review for a mix of reasons.  On the plus side, this title a creative and interesting idea that symbolically transforms the aura and style of the early Beatles into the world of science fiction adventuring.  To his credit, writer Eric Stephenson doesn't carbon-copy the Beatles, but blends aspects of their identity with new character elements, for instance, making three of the team Americans as well as one member African-American.  There's also a nice sly Beatles reference on page one of the story, which works very well both to establish a slightly connected identity between the Beatles and our World Corp. foursome.  So there's a lot of fresh science adventure storytelling potential within this title which could lead to some entertaining future issues.

     However, two concerns do drag-down the quality of this issue to the just-average level of quality.  The first is an over-emphasis of narrative talking head dialogue at the expense of any action-adventure.  There's a hint of action here with a brief depiction of a science experiment gone awry, but the entire remainder of the issue consists of extensive brainstorming dialogue and verbal arguing.  There's two issue's worth of conversation here, that should have been chopped-up into two monthly issues and buffered by some story action, which is sorely missing.  Secondly, both the style and details of the issue #1 story are too similar to the atmosphere and story concept of Warren Ellis's acclaimed Planetary series of a few years ago.  The creative team needs to very quickly step-out of Planetary's storyverse shadow in next month's issue, or else Nowhere Men is doomed to go nowhere, parden the pun.  Even the World Corp. concept is too eerily similar to the Tesladyne Industries element in the Atomic Robo comic book title and needs somewhat of a make-over to establish its own comic book identity.

     So bottom line, a positive review recommendation is deserved to check-out issue #1 of Nowhere Men as an interesting new science adventure series.  But a warning that the series really needs to evolve some major unique storytelling in upcoming issues, to avoid being labelled as a knock-off of the Planetary and Atomic Robo storyverses.

Archer & Armstrong #4
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Fred Van Lente: Writer
Clayton Henry & Pere Perez: Art
Matt Milla: Colors

     Valiant Entertainment is up to issue #4 of a science fiction-oriented action-adventure series entitled Archer & Armstrong.  An inside-the-front cover narrative brings the reader up-to-date on the story progession so far. 10,000 years ago, three ancient-world brothers stole a mysterious device of immense power.  When activating it, one brother became immortal (Armstrong) while the device's activation destroyed most of the ancient world.  Flash-forward to 2012, where evil folk are trying to reassemble the device from its six scattered parts.  Armstrong is aided in his effort to stop this scheme by Archer, the renegade teenaged son of a family that's part of the world-wide Sect, the shady group attempting reassembly in order to gain world-wide domination.  The series is scripted by Fred Van Lente with art by Clayton Henry and Pere Perez, and colors by Matt Lilla.

      The issue #4 story segment is set in a Tibetan monastery, where Archer and Armstrong show-up just after the baddies arrive to assemble the six captured device pieces with the assistance of the bizarre monastery monks, who practice a mixture of Buddism and Nazi ideology (I kid you not, that's the real hybrid, here!).  In one action-adventure plotthread, Archer & Armstrong implement a plan to enter the monastery, while in a parallel sub-plot, a former ally of the duo realizes that she's been duped into helping the Sect.  Midway through the issue the device gets activated and without being a story spoiler, several expected and unexpected results impact upon the gathered assembly.  The issue ends with Archer and Armstrong fleeing the monastery ahead of an impending very dangerous result of their halting the device's activation, a side effect that will be the center of next month's issue #5 story segment.

      This comic book deserves a positive review recommendation for at least three reasons.  First and foremost is the high quality of this science fiction adventure story concept.  Its pretty rare to find a new comic book these days with a science fiction story theme that's both unique and well-written, and this comic book has both elements going for it.  Secondly, the plotline has a unique and well-balanced blend of drama and humor that makes for a very entertaining read; writer Fred Van Lente inserts light moments of levity at very unexpected moments that play-off very well against some of the more dramatic segments of the story.  Third, the creative team does an excellent job in blending a few varied fictional genres into one seamless storyline.  Unlike the XO Mano-War comic title (also published by Valiant Entertainment) that we reviewed in our last column, here we have a blend of historical, science fiction and action-adventure storytelling genres that work very well together in presenting a comic book tale that's just plain interesting and entertaining.

     So an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation for this very original and enjoyable new science fiction action-adventure series.  I plan to backtrack and check-out the first three issues in this new series and I'd recommend that you do, too, then keep reading the further adventures of Archer and Armstrong as they unfold in the months to come!

Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes #9
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Among the many Avengers-related titles that Marvel Comics currently publishes is "Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes," a monthly comic book based upon an Avengers animated television show.  The series is drawn in television cartoon show animation style, with the current issue #9 presenting a 10-page lead story, a 3-page mid-issue tale and a third, 9-page concluding story.  Each tale is the product of a different creative team.

    Our lead story is entitled "The Skrull Skull!" and is written by Louise Simonson with art by Ramon Bachs and Raul Fonts.  The plot stars Thor and Ms. Marvel in an outer space adventure.  True to the story title, the duo battle a giant robotic skull that was created eons ago by the evil Skrull Empire and is intent on attacking Earth.  Story number two is a three-page "Fury File," in which narrator Nick Fury presents a SHIELD briefing-style presentation of the background and abilities of Marvel universe hero Luke Cage/Power Man.  The concluding story is entitled "The Skies Are...Doomed!"  Written by Jen Van Meter, the tale is an action-adventure in which The Black Widow and The Wasp pair-up to rescue two kidnapped scientists from the clutches of well-known supervillain Dr. Doom.

     I found this comic book entertaining and I was also impressed with the storytelling level of the Simonson and Van Meter-scripted stories.  Too often comics based upon animated television series are geared solely to the reading level of kids.  However, both writers succeed in delivering scripts that function as interesting and enjoyable superhero entertainment for readers of all ages.  The Fury File interlude really isn't even a story, but rather a plotless summary of the basics regarding the background and abilities of Luke Cage.  But the "Fury Files" series does serve a purpose of educating new, young comic book readers to the particular hero being examined in each monthly issue of this series and as such balances-out o.k. with the two lengthier, plot-driven storylines.

     In addition, a hats-off is also due to writers Simonson and Van Meter for incorporating in each of their respective tales a sub-plot emphasizing the important life lesson of cooperation; in both stories, the Avengers duo puts aside some petty squabbling and/or personality differences in order to face their responsibilties as a team and get the job at hand done properly.  That's not a bad lesson for readers of all ages to experience and take back with them to the everyday real world from the reading of this comic book.  And last but hardly least, its just plain fun to see the traditional Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel character in a new comic book issue, as opposed to the "Captain Marvel" make-over that unfolded as a dud earlier this year in other corners of the Marvel Comics publishing world.  So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this high quality and fun-reading cartoon animation-styled Avengers comic book.

Battle Beasts #4
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Bobby Gurnow: Writer
Valerio Schiti: Art
Claudia SGC: Colors

     IDW Publishing is up to issue #4 of a new science fiction-themed comic book entitled "Battle Beasts," based on the action figures of the same name.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the plot to-date.  An alien warrior race of sentient animals called Battle Beasts has arrived in San Francisco in search of their mythical Dread Weapons.  A young woman named Bliss Reynolds is a linguist who manages to translate the alien language and at the same time comes into possession of the Dread Weapons.  Story segments prior to this month's issue have introduced to the plot Bliss's teenaged brother Tate along with three young Battle Beasts whom they have befriended: Vorin, Merk and Gruntos.  The comic book is scripted by Bobby Gurnow with art by Valerio Schiti and colors by Claudia SGC.

     The issue #4 untitled story segment evolves the ongoing story to an action-adventure climax.  Bliss's boss, research scientist Dr. Richard Ullin, has accessed the Dread Weapons and is transformed into a drunk-with-power superbeing.  The bulk of the plot unfolds a lengthy and detailed confrontation that interweaves two storythreads: various Battle beasts taking turns attacking Dr. Ullin who easily repeals each in turn, interspersed with Bliss trying to verbally convince her boss to give-up the weapons before he goes totally evil rogue.  Bliss's brother Tate jumps into the fray late in the confrontation, but ultimately Bliss herself resolves the stand-off.  The issue ends on a double cliffhanger, as the young Battle Beasts entrust the Dread Weapons to their new frind and ally Bliss for her care and actual use, while at the same time we learn that off-world Battle Beast senior leadership is plotting to grab the weapons from Bliss and her young allies.

     I immensely enjoyed this comic book and give it an enthusiastic recommendation, with the exception of one major storyline flaw that I'll point out below.  On the plus side, the art is exquisite and the storyline is very well-crafted by writer Bobby Gurnow.  Best of all is the portrayal of the various Battle Beast characters.  Picture the transformation of the colorful character's within Thor's storyverse into animal form and you get a sense of what Battle Beasts is all about.  The result is a wonderful blend of humor, action and drama as the various Norse warrior-like animal people bound about within the story.  The style of artwork only accentuates the quality of the writing and overall delivers a very fresh and fun comic book.

     But there is one very major illogical plot glitch that tarnishes the script quality: essentially, after an issue-long battle sequence in which Dr. Ullin handily bloodies everyone who gets in his way, Bliss just decides he's had enough time to voluntarily give-up the alien weaponry and as such she simply speaks an alien phrase that shuts the weapons off and returns them to her possession.  This conclusion to the issue begs for the screaming question to be answered: why the heck didn't she just speak the magic phrase right off the bat and avoid page-after-page of needless battle and bloodshed? The obvious answer is that a) there would be no story with that solution and b) unfortunately, the writer couldn't come-up with a more suitable story conclusion and winged it with this completely disconnected solution to the extended storyline.

     If you can suspend your "say what, now?" reaction to the poor resolution of the story action at-hand, the reading journey that gets us to the end of this issue is a lot of well-crafted comic book fun, so Battle Beasts is still worthy of a positive review recommendation.  Issue #4 ends with the statement "The End For Now!" so while its not definitively stated, it appears that this is a limited four-issue story run with a cliffhanger ending.  So my advice is to check-out the previous three issues to see how these characters and their story evolves, then top it all off with a read of issue #4.  Hopefully, IDW Publishing will give this worthwhile action figure-based comic book title some continued publishing life in the near future.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

        Our latest contest is in follow-up to a previous contest in which we identified President Howard Taft as our heaviest-weighing U.S. President.  This time around we challenged you to tell us who was the lightest U.S. President.  And our winner selected via a roll-of-the-dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who correctly identified President James Madison as our smallest President, weighing-in at a paltry 100 pounds.  Congratulations to Gregory who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     It's that time of year again for our annual Year's Best Comic Books Contest!  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, December 26 with your choices for your favorite comic book title or titles of the year.  Don't forget to tell us a bit about why you feel your choices deserve to be considered as among the best of 2012.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store on-going specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have two great holiday season and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 28 Here In Bongo Congo!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comic Reviews 11/30/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo hopes that you all had a good Thanksgiving and has decreed that we kick-off our holiday season comic book reading with a review of four new issues from the That's Entertainment holiday season new issues shelves.  But first, a holiday reading announcement:

Latest Story & Poetry Publishing Announcement!!!

     As some of this column's readers are aware, in addition to writing Here In Bongo Congo I write science fiction and fantasy stories and poems that are published in various magazines and book anthologies.  For a full listing of those writings as well as links to purchasing the issues, feel free to visit my webpage at

     In addition, as we're entering the holiday shopping season, you may want to check-out "Strange Christmas," the latest holiday-themed science fiction/fantasy short story collection from Whortleberry Press, available from all standard webpage book purchase sources as well as directly from the publisher at  My story "The Christmas Raffle" is included in the collection and among other characters, the story stars That's Entertainment's own Ken Carson!  So check-out the tale and tell us what you think of Ken's holiday adventures in "The Christmas Raffle"!

     Now let's get right to it and see how our review comic books stack-up against each other:
Aquaman #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Geoff Johns: Writer
Ivan Reis & Joe Prado: Art
Rod Reis: Colors

     Yet another entry in DC's wide-ranging prequel flashbacks to before The New 52 is issue #0 of Aquaman.  The goal of this particular issue is to provide Aquaman readers with a detailed new presentation of his standard origin story combined with particular details that illuminate some of the plot particulars ongoing within the monthly New 52 issue of this title.  The prequel issue #0 is scripted by A-list writer Geoff Johns with art by the team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, with colors by Rod Reis.

     The prequel story is entitled "Underwater" and begins with a detailed flashback to six years prior to the present day.  The flashback combines the traditional basics of the Arthur Curry-becomes-Aquaman tale with some fresh details; upon the death of his human father, Arthur begins a water and land-based search for clues to his mysterious heritage through his mother, the long-lost Queen of Atlantis.  In the current Aquaman storyverse, the media and general public are well-aware of Arthur's mixed human-Atlantean lineage. A clue leads Arthur to Vulko, an exiled Atlantean living in Norway.  Vulko educates Arthur in the backstory of his Atlantean heritage, including his mother's death at the hands of his half-brother, who now rules Atlantis as a dictator.  The issue concludes in a dramatic scene in which Arthur and Vulko together return to Atlantis to begin the sure-to-be-difficult task of reclaiming his rightful heritage as King of Atlantis.

     I haven't been reading the New 52 Aquaman title but I'm a big fan of our aquatic hero from the old Silver Age days as well as his Justice League appearances.  As such, I found this issue #0 to be both very entertaining and of high quality storytelling.  Led by veteran writer Geoff Johns, the creative team does a solid job in mixing old school Aquaman storyverse elements with fresh plot details.  I liked the element of media pressure on Arthur, as the press hounds him for details on his Atlantean heritage, and I also enjoyed the element of drama/intrigue, as Vulko introduces Arthur's backstory of family murder and betrayal, which sets the pair on a path back to Atlantis for future story action-adventure.

     Its good to see Geoff Johns back at the top of his storytelling game; my personal opinion has been that some of his writing of the past few years has slipped from his previous high quality, but this issue restores that quality, at least in this instance.  And a final tip-of-the-review hat is due to the artistic team, particularly colorist Rod Reis, who provides us with a poster-worthy, magnificent full-page final story scene that dramatically details Arthur and Vulko's return to the awe-inspiring city of Atlantis.  So kick-off your holiday season comic book reading by enjoying this very entertaining and worthwhile addition to the current Aquaman comic book title.

Fantastic Four #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Mark Bagley: Pencils
Mark Farmer: Inks
Paul Mounts: Colors

     As I mentioned in our last column, following in the footsteps of DC's before-the-new-52 makeover is Marvel's recent "Marvel Now!" effort to re-boot and re-brand across their comic book universe.  One of the latest of these kick-off new series is Fantastic Four #1.  After last month's conclusion of the acclaimed scripting run on this title by writer Jonathan Hickman, Marvel has turned the creative reins for this restart over to writer Matt Fraction with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Mark Farmer and colors by Paul Mounts.

     Issue #1 is the first installment in a new multi-issue storyarc entitled Unstable.  Our plotline begins with two initial events.  First, the FF return from a timetraveling adventure with Reed Richards having suffered a severe and mysterious injury to one of his elastic-powered arms.  Secondly, Sue Richards discovers upon their return that in their absence, her young son Franklin has had a premonition that has forwarned the family from returning to any outer space adventuring.  Naturally, as the story progresses, Reed discovers that the only cure for his injury, as well as the potential physical deterioration of the entire FF, lies in a faraway space trek.  As such, Reed convinces the FF to take their entire group of family, friends and hangers-on along on a major space adventure, concocting a false "teaching opportunity" for the kids as a cover-up of the severity of the medical threat to the group.  By issue's end, everyone's set to blast-off for the trek to begin in next month's story segment.

     If issue #1 is any indication, this new grand adventure story arc should unfold as a high quality and very entertaining addition to the lengthy story lineage of this iconic, decades-long comic book series.  While I enjoyed Jonathan Hickman's very long run writing FF, it was a story approach that was consistently dark, at times grimly serious and epic with a threat of ultimate disaster.  While new problems and challenges are already arising to the FF in issue #1, the new creative team has a more traditional and lighter touch to their story mood and approach, making it all for a more fun reading ride.  I'm also intrigued by plans to alternate between various artists on this FF re-boot, with very unique artist Mike Allred stepping into the artistic lead for issue #2.

    I will admit that I'm personally irked by the large growth in the number of characters within the extended FF family featured in their storyline over the past few years.  I'm an old-school fan of FF stories focusing mainly on the Fab 4 themselves, and I just don't enjoy as much the inclusion of this assembled modern-day FF family that includes a huge load of alien kids, including one that's just a head floating in a jar of water.  I guess the traveling-school-within-the-family concept allows for some wider storylines, but for me personally it detracts and distracts from the core possibilities of what FF stories are all about.  There's nothing wrong with this current approach and its not a review critique of the quality of this comic book, just a personal desire for the old school FF-vs.-the-world approach to these comics.  So all in all, a deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good Marvel readers to definitely enjoy this latest quality take on the Fantastic Four.

Joe Kubert Presents #1
 Publisher: D.C. Comics
Joe Kubert, Brian Buniak & Sam GLanzman: Writing & Art

     As all good fanboys and fangirls know by know, iconic D.C. artist/writer Joe Kubert recently passed away.  Kubert is renowned for a 60-plus year DC Comics career that would take pages of narrative to describe in even general terms.  Among his more well-known works were years of artistry on Hawkman and Our Army At War-Sgt. Rock comics.  Among my personal favorite Kubert products is his 1970's run on DC's Tarzan title.  DC Comics is graciously releasing Joe's last project that was in the final stages of production at the time of his passing.  The six-issue limited series entitled is "Joe Kubert Presents" and as Kubert writes in an issue #1 column, he provides new stories of a particular artistic style and story content that are high quality but which we don't see much of in today's comic book publishing world.

     Issue #1 presents four introductory tales. Kubert writes and draws the lead story, a brand-new 22-page Hawkman adventure.  Its a revised and updated origin tale, in which Hawkman/Katar and Hawkwoman/Shayera travel from their home planet Thanagar to initially arrive on Earth in Africa.  The duo immediately become embroiled in a dramatic conflict with a native African tribe that is unwittingly being exploited by outside corporate forces.  Creator Brian Buniak presents a new Angel & The Ape tale, in which our favorite blonde human/hairy simian detective duo are hired to protect local restauranteur Walter Weissmuller, who for reasons I won't go into, had ordered a criminal execution hit on himself and nows wants protection!  A third five-page tale is entitled "Spit," and is the first installment in a multi-issue storyline by Kubert that was inspired by his repeated childhood readings of Moby Dick.  The fourth tale is an autobiographical WWII story by veteran creator Sam Glanzman, coaxed out of retirement by Kubert in order to detail Glanzman's World War II naval experiences in the Pacific campaign onboard the destroyer USS Stevens.

     You can't ask for or expect a more appropriate tribute to Kubert's professional legacy than this wonderful treasure-trove of his final comic book series.  The Hawkman story is frankly mind-blowing, hitting the trifecta of excellent Kubert-style artwork, strong storytelling and successfully incorporating the modern issue of exploiting Africa's people and resources into this iconic superhero's historic storyverse.  Brian Buniak successfully fills the shoes of previous Angel & The Ape creators, presenting a very wacky and entertaining tale in the well-known tradition of the humorous detective duo.  Sam Glanzman's tale is both a high quality production and heartbreaking in its autobiographical authenticity of the horror of war from the perspective of the average enlisted man.  It also serves as a very effective reminder for today's young and old readers alike of the heavy burden that the average draftee experienced and often sacrificed for his or her country on the front lines of World War II.

     A final review shout-out is deserved for that Kubert essay mentioned above, in which he reminisces on some aspects of his career, presents his goals for this title and shares with readers the jaw-dropping memory of holding a hot-off-the-presses, ten-cents-a-copy issue #1 of Action Comics in his DC office gofer hands back in the early Golden Age of comics!  That reminiscence alone is worth the very reasonable $4.99 price of this oversized comic book anthology issue.

     I have only one minor criticism of this issue and its regarding the story "Spit."  While its an interesting seafaring adventure tale in the spirit of Moby Dick, Kubert's decision to present the tale in a highly-detailed, black-and-white pencil sketch-style feels too unfinished and takes some of the impact away from the drama of the story.  But that's only one constructive criticism in the four story kick-off issue of Joe Kubert Presents.  So my review advice is to get on-board with issue #1 for all six scheduled issues of this limited series.  Then save this series to re-read what is sure to be a treasured representative sampling not only of Kubert and his compatriot's historic body of work but also an example of how the late master and his peers were able to produce A-plus quality work up to and including this final comic book gift to all of us.

X-O Manowar #7
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment LLC 
Robert Venditti: Writer
Lee Garbett: Pencils
Stefano Gaudiano: Inks
Moose Baumann: Colors

     Valiant Entertainment is up to issue #7 of its reboot of X-O Manowar.  For the uninitiated, the title originated in 1992 as the creation of Marvel veteran Jim Shooter and artist Bob Layton.  The very popular series is a science fiction epic tale that begins in 402 A.D. when aliens capture a Visigoth barbarian prince named Aric of Dacia.  Long story short, Aric leads an outer space revolt against the alien captors and due to space travel time dilation, returns to Earth 1600 years later in our modern era.  Aric also stole and wears the Shanhara, a sacred all-powerful advanced armor suit for which the aliens are prepared to wage an all-out war against mankind for its return.  The reboot series is scripted by Robert Venditti with pencils by Lee Garbett, inks by Stefano Gaudiano and colors by Moose Baumann.

     The issue #7 story segment is entitled "Uneasy Alliances" and presents two interconnected sub-plots.  The first is to explain further to the reader the story element of "the Vine," which is a shadowy world-wide alliance of thousands of human/alien hybrids who have infiltarted all levels of worldwide society.  Vine members have the ability to gather telpathically in an outside dimension to meet and plot their efforts.  The second sub-plot focuses on Aric himself. After being confronted by a renegade, pro-mankind Vine member and a shadowy ninja warrior, the threesome form an uneasy alliance as they brainstorm a plan to confront the Vine member who has become the head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence group.  By issue's end, the aliens forces are preparing for Earth invasion while our trio arrive at MI-6 headquarters for next issue's attack.

     This issue is my first introduction to the X-O Manowar comic book title.  While I like some of the general science fiction themes in this story concept, I'm not impressed with the details of the storytelling approach.  There are just too many mismatched fictional genres mashed together in this concept, including ancient history flashbacks, alien invasion fiction, high tech adventure/action, world-wide conspiracy fiction, etc.  The result is an overstuffed storyline that is too detailed, alternating between genre elements that don't connect well.  What's needed here is a standard, seamless story progression, but what we end-up with are a series of jarring scenes between historical epochs and genres.  The end result is a feel that a whole bunch of disconnected story ideas were glued-together in an attempt to create a standard story world.  As such, the storytelling just never gets into a comfortable narrative groove for the reader to get comfortably absorbed into and entertained by the comic book.

    As a final review comment, the concept of "the Vine" is also oddly explained.  On the one hand, its emphasized that its a "benevalent" attempt to create a hybrid race of alien-humans without any plans to interfere in humanity's business, yet they've infiltrated society's leadership and are clearly plotting world domination.  Its just a contradictory story concept that further muddies the storytelling waters and diminishes the reading entertainment value of the comic book.

     I'm aware how popular the 1990's version of this comic book series was, literally selling millions of issues during its storied initial publishing run.  I doubt if the current storytelling approach mirrors the structure and quality of that version of X-O Manowar.  So bottom line, if you're an old fan of the 1990's X-O Manowar title run, you might want to gamble a few bucks on judging this new title for yourself but my advice is to skip this jumbled puzzle of a title in favor of either back issues or reprint compilations of the old series, or just find another science fiction adventure title to read from among the many such comic books available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to name the NFL team that has won the most Super Bowls.  And our winner via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)... Nessa Shields, who correctly identified the Pittsburgh Steelers as having won a total of six Super Bowl titles in 8 trips to The Big Game.  Nessa also points out that the Green Bay Packers have won less Super Bowls than the Steelers but a league-leading total of 13 championships, starting back in the 1920's pre-Super Bowl era.  Congratulations to Nessa who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Many columns ago we challenged you to identify which U.S. President weighed the most, with our winner identifying the portly President Howard Taft as weighing-in as our plumpest Commander-In-Chief, before he eventually underwent a very successful diet.  Our latest U.S. presidential trivia challenge goes to the opposite end of the extreme.  Your challenge this time is to e-mail us at  no later than Wednesday, December 12 and correctly identify which U.S. President weighed the least.  Basically, who was our lightest President?  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store on-going specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have a great holiday shopping as well as two great comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 14 Here In Bongo Congo!