Friday, May 25, 2012

Comic Reviews 5/25/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has noticed that there are lots of interesting-looking premier new comic titles on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves right now, so he's decreed that we review four of them this week.  So let's get going and see what these comic books are all about:

Mind The Gap #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Jim McCann: Creator/Writer
Rodin Esquejo: Art

     First out of the gate this week among our non-superhero-themed comics is a new comic from Image Comics, Inc. entitled Mind The Gap.  The new series is the creation of writer Jim McCann with art by Rodin Esquejo.

     The introductory issue presents a double-sized 44-page story segment that alternates between two sub-plots.  The initial plotthread is a thriller mystery surrounding a whodunit violent assault on twenty-something New York theatre actress Elle, who is severely injured in a subway platform assault and brought in a coma to St. Francis Hospital.  As Elle's circle of friends and family gather at the hospital, various conflicts and bitter feelings among the gatherers are hinted at.  A larger conspriacy is also afoot, as we learn that the assault was part of a larger, to-date unnamed conspiracy.  Its also clear that one of the people in Elle's life is most likely behind the assault.  The second plotthread is more fantasy-oriented, as we track Elle through an out-of-body experience as she monitors the situation, floating around the hospital and interacting with both a supposed limbo guide named Bobby and some other out-of-body folks at the hospital.  The issue ends in an unexpected plot twist as Elle accidentally pops-into another comatose patient's body and begins to wake-up.

     While the basic plot idea here isn't bad, the overall story presentation is such a trainwreck that this comic title deserves a fast and furious thumbs-down negative review recommendation, for several reasons.  First-up is the poor quality story progression; panels and pages are very disjointed and lacking in logical story flow, to the point where we can't even sort-out who is phoning who in the first half of the tale as Elle's various contacts learn of her accident.  Our second glaring flaw is the cheesiness of the dialogue, as overly self-important characters make over-the-top dramatic statements that are cringe-worthy with every new pronouncement.  Third-up in awfulness is the presentation of Elle's out-of-body experience.  Since the out-of-body afterlife concept has been done to death (no pun intended) for years in film and fiction, the use of it here has to be presented in some fresh and creative manner in order to be entertaining.  Writer McKenna stumbles in the opposite direction here, giving us a tired set of "am I really dead?" cliches.  McCann also can't make-up his mind to develop Elle's experience as either a real post-life step or a figment of her injured mind, as such combining the possibility of either option into a puddle of confused mess.  Our fourth and most failed element is McCann's weak attempt to interweave song lyrics into the tale, choosing incredibly stale and unfitting songs and lyrics to the storyline.

     By issue's end, I couldn't help but visualize McCann as an older, baby-boom aged writer trying to be "hip" by blending a bunch of 1970's era story ideas into a modern-day comic book publication.  He lost my support by the issue's midpoint, when he uses one character to deliver a pretentious pitch how the old Pink Floyd song "Money" is the most unique and complex song of all time.  And as a final element of egotistical self-delusion, there's a self-congratulatory essay at the back of the book in which McCann dissects the "awesome" and "so many incredible moments" of his crappy tale as if he's just written a classic piece of American literature. 

     Its up to somebody else to deliver the dose of therapy that McCann needs to wake-up from his self-grandeur and accept this comic book for the failed piece of junk that it really is.  My role in this mess is to warn off all good readers from wasting money on this wreck and instead read one of the many decent-to-excellent comics currently available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.  So I'll end this review by adding a question mark to the end of its title and providing an answer:  Mind The Gap?  Yes...yes I do very much and I'm pretty sure that you will, too.

Takio #1
Publisher: Marvel ICON Imprint
 Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Michael Avon Oeming: Art
Nick Filardi: Colors

     Marvel's ICON Imprint has just released issue #1 in a new Takio comic book title.  The ICON Imprint allows Marvel to enter into publishing agreements with creator-owned comic book titles.  Takio is the creation of veteran collaborators Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, well-known for their work on the popular Powers comic book series, along with colorist Nick Filardi. The current Takio title apparently is being published in follow-up to a graphic novel production from last year.  The series centers on teen girl Takio and her younger sister Olivia, members of a multi-racial adoptive family.  When an accident at a friend's house gives the girls superpowers, they become the only two superheroes in the entire world, while their friend Kelly Sue becomes a supervillain.  As an inside-the-front-cover blurb states, "now the sisters have to get along, save the world and get home by six...or they are so grounded!"

     The 28-page issue #1 story is divided into three segments.  Act One is a semi-humorous scene that features the girls using their telekinetic powers to foil a robbery at a local donut shop.  It's clear that as young superhero wannabe's they have a long way to go in mastering their powers, as well as honing their battle skills.  Act Two features our heroines addressing the secret identity issue, as the young Olivia is barely reined-in by teen sister Takai from revealing their powers on the local school playground.  Takai also focuses on putting the school rumormill to rest regarding the local sighting of our dynamic duo at the donut shop robbery scene.  And Act Three shifts the story focus over onto Kelly Sue; while Kelly Sue seems negative and ambivalent about the superpower situation, her scientist dad works hard to gain an understanding of how he accidentally empowered the three kids.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as Kelly Sue's dad, aided by U.S. government operatives, seeks to create a Captain America-style supersoldier using a serum extracted from a Kelly Sue blood sample.

     I got a kick out of this comic book, for a few reasons.  First, its really fun to read a quality comic book concept from Bendis and Oeming that's lighter in tone and attitude than most of their previous outings; granted, these two guys are at the pinnacle of comic book industry quality and success, but most of their story tellings have a very sharp, dark and adult-themed atmosphere.  While it usually results in a quality comic book, its refreshing and just plain interesting to see these guys stretch their creative envelope and try their hand at a lighter storytelling approach.  Secondly, the story concept is intriguing by taking the approach that this is a non-superhero, real-world version of reality.  As such, our heroes really are superpowered in a world in which the other heroes are figments of fanboy imaginations.  Third, I'm intrigued by the characterization of Takai's friend Kelly Sue.  While she's initially referred to as going the villain route with her new powers, at least in issue #1 she's just a kid who's ticked-off about the whole situation, sitting on the sidelines wishing none of it ever happened.  At this stage of the new series, she's actually the most sympathetic of the story characters.  It should be interesting to see if and how the creative team address Kelly Sue's ambivalence toward her powers and her two friends.

     My only constructive criticism of Takai is the marketing pitch repeated throughout this issue that this is a new comic book series created "for readers of all ages."  Its an overblown and basically wrong conclusion.  This is clearly a title written at a level best enjoyed by readers up to the age of 18.  I can't believe that any post-18 aged reader with a normal sense of reading maturity would become a sincere regular fan of reading Takai.  I think it would be better to market it honestly, rather than try to lasso adult fans of the creative team into adding it to their reading pile.  But I could see parents reading the comic along with their children as a fun family experience.  So for fans in kid, teen and parent-child co-reading categories, here's a well-deserved, positive review recommendation to enjoy all of the good fun that's packed-into this new kid superhero-themed comic book title!

Trio #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
John Byrne: Creator, Writer and Artist
Ronda Pattison: Colors

      IDW Publishing has just kicked-off a new superhero team comic book entitled "Trio."  The series is the creation of veteran A-list writer/artist John Byrne, with colors by Ronda Pattison.  Byrne continues his interesting pattern of offering new titles through IDW that resemble well-known, established comic book creations.  So in follow-up to "Next Men," his series with similarities to X-Men, Trio emulates the universe structure of The Fantastic Four.

     The issue #1 storyline serves the dual purpose of introducing the characters and premiering the initial story segment of a multi-issue story arc. As we're introduced to our threesome of superheroes, the character similarities to the FF are strong and obvious.  There's the Ben Grimm/Thing knock-off named "One," the cocky Johnny Storm-like "Two" and "Three," a Sue Storm female team member who has Mr. Fantastic's stretch power.  The tale kicks-off with the team foiling a mid-town Manhattan bank heist.  When "Three" is gravely injured, its up to the Thing-like "One" to stay at the scene to search for innocent victoms and fend-off the rabid media, while "Two" whisks the injured teammate back to their secret lab/headquarters for medical attention.  The story setting shifts in mid-issue, as we witness the rise of a Submariner-like sea threat in mid-ocean. In the wrap-up pages of issue #1, we learn the secret identity of "One," while the Namor-like sea baddie and his ocean hordes arrive dockside to attack The Big Apple in next month's issue #2.

     I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new title, for several reasons.  First, iconic veteran creator John Byrne does a dead-on job of emulating the Fantastic Four while adding fresh identity ingredients that prevent this title from becoming a cheap knock-off of its predecessor.  Sure we have another Thing, but he transforms at-will between human and behemoth, and his revealed secret identity is fresh and creative.  The Johnny Storm-like dude has youthful brashness and wit, but presents as an Edward Scissorhands-like knife-handed fighter instead of a firepowered hero, while the injured Three is a nice hybrid of Sue Storm and Reed Richards.  Secondly, there's an air of mystery here, with intriguing hints that the threesome are part of a wider organization that includes at least three additional players yet to be introduced.  Third, a shout-out is due to the writer side of Byrne's creative persona for his narrative style; avoiding the pretension and over-complexity too often seen in today's storytelling, Byrme gives-us a simple yet engrossing story narrative that pulls the reader into this finely-crafted new hero team's story universe.

     A fourth and final positive kudo goes to an element that I rarely-to-never comment on in these reviews, and that's the attitude of the writer.  Byrne is subtly tongue-in-cheek in this new title effort, in a way that only enhances the fun and success of Trio.  He's not laboring here to create a serious, stand-alone knock-off of the FF, but rather just having a lot of fun duplicating their concept in a light and entertaining manner.  The strategy is most evident in a wonderful Fred Hembeck-authored comic strip panel in the back of the issue, in which Hembeck confesses on Byrnes behalf that the X-Men/Next-Men and the Fantastic Four/Trio similarities are deliberate over-the-top knock-off efforts.  The end result is a respectful and enjoyable homage to the FF that's good enough to stand on its own as a fun comic book read.

     So whether you're a fan of the Fantastic Four or interested in reading about a new superhero team that respectfully stands atop the reputation of the iconic FF, you should be satisfied and entertained by this quality new superhero team title from the pen of John Byrne.

Mystery In Space #1
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo
Various Writers & Artists

     DC has just published a one-shot comic book issue through its Vertigo imprint entitled Mystery In Space.  The comic builds on the heritage of the Mystery In Space monthly title published by DC back in the Silver Age, which offered wonderful stand-alone outer space or alien-oriented science fiction tales.  By publishing through its Vertigo imprint, per a warning on the front cover, this one-shot issue offers several stories that include adult reader/mature reader story themes.  The issue is an oversize comic book packed with nine stories and priced at $7.99.  All nine stories have outer space and/or alien-human interaction themes and are the creation of a wide range of writers and artists. 

     For the sake of review space, I'll only highlight a few stories.  "Transmission" is an eight-page tale centering on an Earth expedition to an interstellar colony to contain a supposedly lethal virus.  As the story progresses, its revealed that both the expedition and all of humankind are controlled by human-created artificial intelligence run amok and the supposed virus is actually human ingenuity and desire for freedom.  How the crew and colonists deal with their overlord computer dictator as well as the outcome of their rebellion is not for me to spoil but rather for you to read and enjoy.  "Asleep To See You" is a brief and emotional romance, focusing on the heartbreak of two female lovers, as one chooses to travel the stars at the speed of light and one stays Earthbound, with the obvious consequences of one aging Earthbound while her partner stays youthful.  "Here Nor There" is an oddball tale of a husband and wife pair of oceanographers living in an undersea lab, whose dissolving marriage descends into venom and nastiness when one discovers an alien lifeform living in a submerged meteorite.

     DC Comics periodically publishes one-shot science fiction Mystery In Space collections, several which I've read and at least one of which I recommended in a previous positive review.  While there's nothing glaringly negative about this issue, there's also nothing top-notch in this issue either, so I'm giving this issue a mixed, fair-to-middling review recommendation.  On the plus side, we're treated to a wonderfully visual front cover of a steampunk sci-fi angel mechanically ploting the course of the cosmos.  In addition, the above-mentioned story "Transmission" is a very strong and entertaining tale with excellent visuals, a sense of mystery/tenseness and a satisfying conclusion.  Unfortunately, if you're a regular reader of science fiction, you'll find the additional eight tales ranging in quality from two godawful plot failures to a handful of stories that are just not well-presented or interesting.  The above-mentioned "Asleep To See You" is repetitive of so many sci-fi short stories published over the years on the same theme that it almost seems that it plagiarizes its predecessors.

     For the reader who's a newcomer to reading science fiction stories, either in print or graphic format, the compilation collection ain't great but is of average entertainment quality, and as such for that segment of the reading public I'd give the issue a moderate thumbs-up.  But for those readers who aren't rookie science fiction fan readers, the high quality of the story "Transmission" doesn't balance-out with the formulaic plots and carbon copy endings of the eight additional tales.  So bottom-line: newbie sci-fi readers might want to check-out this latest Mystery In Space story anthology, while veteran or faithful sci-fi genre readers would do well to skip this issue and drop an e-mail to Vertigo asking them to pour more creative juice into the mix of their next one-shot Mystery In Space science fiction story collection.  As a final review comment, both rookie and veteran sci-fi fans alike should peruse the That's Entertainment inventory for either Silver Age back issues or reprint compilations of the original Mystery In Space title, which still can't be beat for entertaining and high quality comic book sci-fi storytelling.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest was a creative math trivia challenge, asking you to answer the following: after the original group of 24 rabbits were released into the wild in Australia in 1859, how many Australian rabbit descendants did they multiply into within 6 years, by 1865.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne,  who correctly answered that within six years, the two dozen rabbits grew to an estimated population of two million...yes, that's right, TWO MILLION (!!!)...bunnies on the Australian continent.  We kid you not, that's the true answer!!!  Congratulations to Kevin for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate That's Entertainment, and we beg all good readers not to release any multiplying rabbits around these parts!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Its the beginning of the annual summer blockbuster season, so the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges announce our 2nd Annual Most Anticipated Summer Blockbuster Movie Contest!  Same as last year, your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, June 6 with your entry for which upcoming summer blockbuster movie you are most excited about and why you think it will be a summertime mega-hit.  Last summer's winning entry was from Mike Dooley with his pitch for the Sci-Fi Western film "Cowboys And Aliens."  So let's see what interesting cinematic gems you fanboys and fangirls suggest we keep an eye-out for at this summer's movie theatres!  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store ongoing specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have two great early summertime comic book reading weeks and see you again on June 8 Here In Bongo Congo!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Comic Reviews 5/13/12

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we select a fun mix of new comics to review this week, including the return of an old classic hero and the review of our honorary 500th review comic.  So let's get right to it and see what these latest titles are all about:

Popeye #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Roger Langridge: Writer
Bruce Ozella: Art
Luke McDonnell: Colors

     IDW Publishing has just released issue #1 of a new Popeye The Sailor Man comic book title.  Hopefully, there isn't a fanboy or fangirl of any age who needs an introduction to this iconic American cartoon character, created in 1929 by legendary cartoonist E.C. Segar within his "Thimble Theatre" newspaper comic strip that went on to huge fame as a baby boom-era television cartoon show.  Popeye is joined in this new title by his familiar cast of friends and characters including girlfriend Olive Oyl, moocher friend J. Wellington Wimpy, enemies Bluto and The Sea Hag and of course, the dog-like magical pet creature Eugene The Jeep.  The new series is scripted by well-known comics creator Roger Langridge with art by Bruce Ozella and colors by Luke McDonnell.

     Issue #1 presents a single, 22-page story entitled "The Land Of Jeeps!"  Our story begins with Olive's brother, Castor Oyl, hatching a get-rich-quick scheme for the gang to journey to a mysterious island to find a female jeep for Eugene to have a litter with, upon which everyone would get rich selling rare pups to wannabe owners.  The story then progresses in three acts.  Act One presents the wacky boat trip to the island, including a nutty confrontation with rival Bluto along with the slapstick antics of Popeye's food-obsessed best buddy Wimpy.  In Act Two, the gang arrives on the mysterious island, initially confronting a mezmerising muse after which Popeye's other nemesis, The Sea Hag, arrives to meddle in the mission.  Without being a detail spoiler, fun stuff happens when the group finally finds an island-resident of the Jeep persuasion.  Our final Act Three unfolds as a humorous trip home, upon which Popeye is reunited with his baby boy Swee'Pea!

     Whether you're a baby boom-era Popeye fan like myself or a newcomer to all-things-Popeye, your heart can't help but warm to this wonderful return of one of the original American cartoon characters.  Roger Langridge has essentially written a love letter to a comic strip universe which obviously holds a special emotional place in his own heart.  Langridge makes it look easy, but he clearly put a lot of thought and effort into creating an entertaining story that succeeds in so many ways.  First, he blends all of the basic cast of characters and Popeye universe elements into the one issue-length tale, with the one absence of the well-known element of Popeye gaining superhero-strength from gulping-down an entire can of spinach.  Secondly, we have a plot with dialogue, action-adventure and plotting that's modern enough for current-day readers to both relate to and be entertained by these historic cartoon characters. 

     And third, Langridge has the sense to underlie his storytelling with a universal message about goodheartedness and decency.  At every plot-turn, Popeye shines through by taking the high road and demonstrating to everyone involved the importance of kindness, honesty and being just plain decent to humans and innocent creatures alike.  That's a message that's too often drowned-out in our jaded, high tech-obsessed 21st century popular culture.  While Popeye's always been an A-list American pop culture product, the quality of this new comic book presentation elevates the issue #1 story into the same top-of-the-peak category of story quality occupied by many of creator Carl Barks's iconic Donald Duck stories.

     I would love to go on-and-on expounding on the wonder of the new Popeye comic book.  But I'm wasting valuable time that I'd rather spend re-reading this comic book.  So I'll summarize by repeating that "w" word: This comic book is a wonder, plain and simple, and we all owe IDW Publishing and the creative team a round of thanks for treating us to this pitch-perfect return of Popeye and friends to the modern-day comic book-reading world.

Fables #115
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo
Bill Willingham: Writer/Creator
Mark Buckingham: Pencils
Steve Leialoha: Inks
Lee Loughridge: Colors

      As we mentioned in our last column, reader Christian Mock won our contest for the honorary 500th Bongo Congo comic book review with his nomination of Fables for the review.  The DC Vertigo title is the creation of writer Bill Willingham and has been well-known for years now throughout comic book fandom for its concept of the universe of traditional European fable characters (Snow White, etc.), known as "Fables," fleeing from oppression is their fairytale land and resettling in the New York area, partly in the open and partly in secret.  The very popular title is up to issue #115 this month, with the current multi-issue story arc written by Bill Willingham with pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoha and colors by Lee Loughridge.

     This month's story segment is entitled "Teddy Bear: In Which We Arrive In A Strange And Magical Land," and is part two of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Cubs In Toyland."  The story alternates between two separate plotthreads.  The lengthier subplot accurately reflects the story title: one of the Fabled children named Therese is wooed away from home by her talking toyboat and brought to an island-of-misfit-toys fantasy realm, where she's told by the battered toy residents that she's to serve as their long-awaited queen.  A second plotthread presents a New York City-based crime drama involving the Mayor of Fabletown, the Fables police force and Mrs. Spratt of the "Jack Spratt" children's rhyme tracking down a fable villain who had previously kidnapped Mrs. Spratt.  Issue #115 ends in a bridge to next month's issue with Theresa's mother having discovered the toyland kidnapping and preparing to rescue her daughter.

     Fables has received numerous awards for quality and has a large and loyal fanbase, both of which have helped the title achieve the very rare distinction in today's comic publishing world of reaching its 115th issue.  Its clear from reading this issue that Bill Willingham and crew continue to maintain the years-long high quality of fantasy entertainment that we've all come to expect and enjoy from this title.  The "Babes In Toyland" plot concept is a nicely-presented, fresh story idea that avoids a rehashing of the traditional tales and story concepts of the well-known Fables characters.  There's an entertaining balance of story-type here, with the action-adventure of the main subplot balanced with the "Spratt kidnapping" plotline which unfolds in the style of the many popular CSI-style crime television shows.  The overall result is a fantasy comic book that succeeds in entertaining us by continuing to present familiar fantasy characters in new and interesting real-world situations.

     Just two minor constructive criticism comments.  First, this story segment doesn't clearly identify the identities of many of the main characters who were most likely named in last month's story segment.  As such, I have no idea which Fable character Therese's mother is, although from the looks of her I assume she's Snow White.  Nor do we know the backstory/identity of Therese herself and her three siblings, who refer to each other as wolf cubs.  That hint led me to assume that their father is The Big Bad Wolf of fable fame.  Secondly, there's a second story in this issue that presents a three-page segment of an ongoing tale set in the Wizard Of Oz storyverse.  While interesting, its just too brief a snippet to leave the reader satisfied and needs at least three additional pages to lose the feel that we're treated to only half of a standard comic book story.

     But those two points aside, at the ripe advanced age of issue #115, Fables still continues to deliver A-list artwork and storytelling at the wonderful level of entertainment that made it a smash hit from its very beginnings.  So thanks to Christian Mock for his review nomination and if you haven't been reading Fables lately, head on down to That's Entertainment and get onboard with the latest new issues and/or the many back issues and graphic compilation reprints of previous Fables story arcs!

Daredevil #12
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Waid: Writer
Chris Samnee: Art
Javier Rodriguez: Colors

     The latest of many Daredevil comic book titles over the years is up to issue #12 this month.  As all fanboys and fangirls know, Daredevil by day is blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock, while at night he patrols the city as the costumed hero.  The radioactive accident that left him blind also gave him a superpowered version of a bat's echolocation, thereby empowering him with a superaccurate different form of vision, combined with highlighted senses of hearing and smell.  In recent year's Matt's identity of Daredevil was revealed to the public, but in the current Daredevil storyverse he's convinced the media that he was mistakenly identified as Daredevil, although many New Yorkers are still convinced that he's the costumed hero.  The current title is scripted by well-known writer Mark Waid with art by Chris Samnee and colors by Javier Rodriguez.

     The current multi-issue story arc focuses on Daredevil and Spider-Man teaming-up against an A.I.M.-like villain organization called Megacrime.  The issue #12 story segment includes two sub-plots.  The main plot portrays a humorous first date between Matt Murdock and Kirsten McDuffie, the new Assistant D.A. in town.  The two attend a carnival in which they banter back-and-forth while in both real-time and in flashback scenes, we see the humor of the pair as Kirsten tries to trip-up Matt into revealing his superhero identity.  A second storyline is all flashback, as Matt reminisces to Kirsten how he first bonded back in law school with his best buddy, fellow attorney Foggy Nelson.  Its a tale in which Foggy is falsely accused of cheating by a bitter law school professor, resulting in Matt launching a defense of his friend within the bounds of the university's political and social system.  The issue shifts from humor to drama in the final two pages of the tale, as Matt and Kirsten are confronted at their date's conclusion by a Megacrime bad guy, who warns that the organization is coming after Matt and his friends, obviously in next month's issue #13.

     With all of the Avengers movie and Avengers vs. X-Men comic book mega-event hoopla, I haven't heard much about this under-the-radar Daredevil title.  As such, I was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality of the comic book.  The creative team is an unexpected power team-up of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, who separately have produced a string of very high quality comic story runs in various titles over the past few years.  Waid's scripting is pitch perfect in conveying the budding romance between Matt and Kirsten, combining a very entertaining style of light romantic humor with real world behavior and dialogue that elevates this title to the top of the must-read list for current superhero comics.  The handful of panels in which Kirsten tries to trip-up Matt into revealing his identity are refreshingly light and all-out funny.  In addition, Samnee's art and Javier Rodriguez's coloring are the perfect match to this storyline.  The flashbacks also seamlessly integrate with the present-day story segments, resulting in a nice balance of old-school Marvel storytelling with the present-day action of the Marvel storyverse.

     In the back-of-the-issue letters column, its announced that the comic book has been honored with several nominations for this year's prestigious Eisner Awards.  The accolades are well-deserved for this pleasant surprise of a break-out hit for the latest telling of Daredevil's adventures.  So an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good readers to join the folks in the comic book industry in reading this comic book and acknowledging the quality and just-plain-fun of Daredevil's current title run.

The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Fred Van Lente: Writer 
Neil Edwards & Steve Kurth: Pencils
Rick Magyar & Andrew Hennessy: Inks

     Since both the Avengers movie and the Avengers vs. X-Men comic book mega-event are currently both at the peak of fan frenzy, in follow-up to our recent Avengers vs. X-Men title review, let's review issue #1 of "The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes," a three-issue mini-series among many short-term Avengers movie tie-ins.  The front cover is actually a photo of Scarlet Johannson in her Black Widow movie role.  A page one narrative briefly explains that in this plotline, Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow is undercover as a waitress in a Moscow nightclub on the trail of some stolen Starktech computer technology.  Issue #1 is structured as two story chapters; both chapters are written by Fred Van Lente with Chapter One artwork by Neil Edwards and Rick Magyar and Chapter Two artwork by Steve Kurth and Andrew Hennessy.

     Our story kicks-off with spy thriller intrigue.  When our undercover hero identifies a suspect in the nightclub for the software theft, the effort goes awry as an unknown female assassin kills the thief.  The bulk of the storyline is all action, as Natasha in her waitress guise is falsely identified as the killer and has to fight her way out of the club and across Moscow to the safety of her hotel.  In a surprise twist, it turns-out that the assassin is a freelance female killer with a stalker-like obsession on following Natasha's career, as well as a plan to kill-off our hero and attempt to take her place as the new Black Widow.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic bridge as Natasha takes herself off of the SHIELD electronic surveillance grid to go solo against her challenger.

    This is one of those rare comics that is dangerously plot-thin but so well-presented with heavy-duty and entertaining action that it succeeds solely on the merits of page-after-page of action.  Literally 95% of the story detail consists of three separate fight scenes: the inital nightclub assassination and aftermath, Black Widow running a cross-town gauntlet to the supposed safety of her hotel and the hotel attack by her challenger, followed by the reveal of the challenger's intent to bump-off and replace the Widow.  Its all so well-presented with decent artwork and limited but quality dialogue, that it actually gives us a few issues worth of story progression in an entertaining one-issue story segment.  That's actually a pretty good accomplishment for a storyline that is planned to play-out in only three standard-length comic book issues.

     There's nothing groundbreaking here in storytelling or revealing about The Black Widow.  But this comic book series definitely deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation for delivering a very strong traditional heros-and-explosions adventure tale that's well-worth enjoying as part of the current reading season's Avengers fun.  Issue #2 hit the new issues shelves earlier this week, so get on down to That's Entertainment and pick-up both issues of the further solo adventures of our favorite current (and only) team Avenger movie heroine!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify which of the 50 U.S. states is named after a person who actually served as the governor of another state.  This was a tricky question for which we received two correct answers, so to acknowledge the feat the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges has declared co-winners.  And our co-winners are (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor and Keith Martin who both correctly identified Delaware as our state.  Delaware was named after the Delaware River, which itself was named after Sir Thomas West (Lord de la Warr), who actually served as the colonial governor of Virginia.  Congratulations to our dynamic duo of contest winners, who each receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Our latest contest combines historical trivia with the world of math.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, May 23 with the answer to the following challenge:  In 1859, the very first rabbits were introduced to the continent of Australia with the release of 24 rabbits into the wild.  Within 6 years, that rabbit population grew to what number? If you can't find the actual answer out there in the wide-world of information and want to e-mail a guess to us, think really big!  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our contest winner will be selected via a roll of the dice.  If we don't receive any correct answers to this math challenge, we'll designate the winner as the entrant who comes closest to the actual answer.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store ongoing specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have two great Celtics playoff-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on May 25th Here In Bongo Congo!