Friday, August 24, 2012

Comic Reviews 8/24/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that its once again Science Fiction Week Here In Bongo Congo!  So let's see what this group of new comic books with Science Fiction storylines are all about:
Harbinger #1
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment LLC
Joshua Dysart: Writer
Khari Evans: Art
Ian Hannin: Colors

     Valiant Entertainment is up to issue #2 of a new science fiction thriller comic book series entitled Harbinger.  I backtracked to last month's kick-off issue #1 for this review, in order to get a better feel for the concept of this series.  The comic book is scripted by Joshua Dysart with art by Khari Evans and colors by Ian Hannin.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyline entitled "Omega Rising." The plot introduces us to a story concept centering on psiots, rare humans who have both telepathic ability and can make people do whatever they want them to.  Our main character is Pittsburgh teenager Peter Stancek, on the run from bad guy forces who want to harness his abilities for their own unknown purposes.  The issue #1 plot is an orientation to Peter's difficult situation, in which he struggles with three challenges: staying ahead of his pursuers, stealing prescription medication to dampen the uncontrollable flood of random people's thoughts bombarding his brain and helping his buddy Joe, a mentally ill non-psiot teen who accompanies him on his desperate flight from evil.

     A second sub-plot develops mid-issue, introducing two additional characters into Peter's life.  There's Kris, a childhood crush upon whom the lonely Peter desperately uses his powers to falsely love him and there's middle-aged Toyo Harada, the head of a vast Asian business corporation and a fellow psiot.  Without being a detail spoiler, Harda reaches out via his powers to Peter from across the globe, educating both Peter and the reader regarding the scope of their abilities and the possibilities of Harada both helping Peter with his problems and partnering with him to do some good in the world.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as the bad guys seemingly corner Peter and Joe in a cliffhanger confrontation.

     Initially, I questioned whether the creative team could offer a fresh and entertaining spin on the oft-presented, well-worn theme of a teenager struggling to control telepathic powers.  Happily, the crew delivers that entertainment; writer Joshua Dysart weaves together several plotthreads that provide the necessary freshness, with two storylines particularly worthy of mention.  The first is the mystery of psiot Toyo Harada, who we learn about both in flashback and present-day scenes.  My guess is that he's a legitimate good guy and mentor to Peter, but there's an aura of mystery about him that could take his character over to the dark side.  There's also the theme of ethics here, as Peter has immorally used his powers to falsely make his crush Kris love him.  In issue #1, Harda confronts Peter regarding the sleaziness of this action and it should be interesting to see how the comic book addresses this weighty ethical issue in future story segments.

      In sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is deserved of this new science fiction comic book, which succeeds in presenting both a fresh plot and entertaining approach to the theme of folks struggling to control and use their rare and special powers, not as costumed heroes but rather in the context of the everyday world.

Planetoid #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Ken Garing: Story & Art

     Image Comics has released two issues so far of a new comic book entitled "Planetoid."  As with the Harbinger title reviewed above, I reviewed issue #1 in order to get the best feel for the concept of the title.  The new series is the creation of Ken Garing, who apparently worked for years creating this title as an independent project, then pitched it at a comic book convention to Image Publishing and was accepted for publication.  This is a great story reaffirming that one should always follow their dreams and creative aspirations, for you never know just how and when your efforts will succeed.

     Planetoid is a traditonal hard science fiction outer space adventure series.  The plot centers on space voyager Silas, a space military deserter who crashlands on a small planet (planetoid) after his attempt at space piracy goes awry.  The story begins cloaked in mystery, as Silas explores the weird environment of vast technological debris and wreckage littering the entire landscape of the small world.  In the midst of some heavy duty action-adventure, Silas is rescued from harm by Mendel, an elderly fellow castaway who explains that the junk world is an abandoned industrial colony.  Mendel also reveals that there's no way to leave or communicate off of the planetoid, due to its odd electromagnetic atmosphere, whose radiation interferes with all such attempts.  By the end of issue #1, Silas is determined to try to reach other humans whom Mendel indicates live on the planetoid and to find a way off of the small planet.

     I'm always leery of comic book products that begin with an unknown creator plucked out of the convention attendee ranks for a rare chance at professional achievement (see my review of Captain Marvel #1 in last week's review column).  So its always a pleasure to come across the unexpected effort that produces such a top notch product as Planetoid.  Quite simply, newcomer Ken Garing has produced a comic book with the skill of a seasoned comic book industry pro.  The story structure and characterization is the equivalant of the better written science fiction magazine short stories. Garing shows a strong skill in detailed storytelling, deftly utilizing narrative and visual flashbacks to fill the reader in on backstory elements that are important to the plot situation. The artwork is both beautiful and the perfect visual style suited for this type of outer space sci-fi adventure telling.

     This new comic book just brims over with storytelling potential, ranging from hints of artificial intelligence lurking deep within the depths of the planetoid's junkpiles to Silas's upcoming interaction with his fellow castaways and his only friend Mendel.  So whether you're a hard science fiction fan or just looking for entertaining comic book storytelling (or you're looking for a combination of both!), don't miss-out on the chance to be entertained from the very beginning of this excellent new comic book adventure series.

Dial H #4
Publisher: D.C. Comics
China Mieville: Writer
Mateus Santolouco: Art

     DC Comics is up to issue #4 of its "Dial H For Hero" reboot that's being published as part of the second year of the New 52 rebranding of their comics line.  For the uninitiated, the series originated in the Silver Age House of Mystery title.  That version starred Robby Reed as a teen who discovered a mysterious phone dial that transformed him into a different superhero everytime he dialed the letters HERO. Robby is replaced in the title reboot by an overweight and unemployed character named Nelson Jent.  The original series was popular for Reed transforming each time into a fresh hero whose identity, costume and powers had to be created with each new monthly issue.  The reboot shortens the series title to simply "Dial H" and is written by well-known British science fiction author China Mieville with art by Mateus Santolouco.

     Issue #4 is the latest installment of a multi-issue story arc that has a very strong science fiction theme.  The story initially focuses on Squid, an alien unstuck in time who is adrift through various timelines and dimensions until corralled into our timeframe by a supervillain.  To make a long story short, Squid is psychically tied to a weird being of immense power.  When our bad guy attempts to control this powerful being, Nelson Jent steps-in with the assistance of a female character who also has her own Dial H device.  Without being a story spoiler, everyone invlolved in this situation battles through various ups-and-downs, with the story segment ending in a battle cliffhanger to be picked-up and continued in next month's issue #5.

     I'm giving this comic book a well-deserved mixed review.  On the negative side, the first half of the story segment is incredibly muddled, to the point where a reader who hasn't read the previous title issues has no idea what is going on.  While China Mieville is an acclaimed science fiction author, he's also known as a proponent of a new subgenre called "Weird Science Fiction," and the abstractness of his unique narrative approach is disastrous for the reader to figure-out what's going on here.  On the plus side, the story narrative clouds suddenly dissipate mid-issue, and for the second half of the tale we have a somewhat understandable and interesting story sequence.  I particularly enjoyed Nelson Jent's ability to improvise and prevail in a tough situation when denied access for a time to his superpower dial.  Its clear that given enough time and monthly issues, some of the storytelling in this title could effectively explore the transformation of Nelson from his life of Everyman failure to actually succeeding in his non-superpowered life.

     In the end, the out-there writing style of China Mieville just doesn't sync well with the concept of Dial H, as evidenced by the disconnection of the first half of the tale with understandable comic book storytelling.  So I'd urge readers interested in judging this series for themselves to gain some semblance of plot understanding by starting with issue #1 of this series.  And my review advice to DC Comics is two-fold: first, add a brief narrative story-to-date summary to the start of each monthly issue and secondly, ditch the high concept/attempt-to-be-edgy writing approach by replacing China Mieville with a writer who can provide this series with the much-needed comic book storytelling quality that the rich history of Dial H For Hero, as well as its old and new fans, rightly deserve.

Resurrection Man #12
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning: Writers
Javier Pina: Artist
Jeromy Cox: Colors

     Another science fiction-themed comic book within DC's New 52 inventory is Resurrection Man.  The series is a reboot of the initial 1990's title run.  It features Mitch Shelley, a South Carolina lawyer who has nanotechnology called tektites injected into him by a mysterious group known as "The Lab".  The technology allows Mitch to repeatedly rise from the dead with a new superpower with every experienced mortal incident.  The current series is scripted by original series creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with art by Javier Pina and colors by Jeromy Cox.

     Issue #12 is the latest installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Reborn Identity."  At this point in the series, Mitch has been kidnapped by The Lab and forced to undergo a brutal series of virtual reality deaths to analyze the nature of his tektite-fueled power.  We learn that The Lab is filled with various employees who also are Tektite-infested but who each manifest various afflictions caused by the nanotechnology.  The plot shifts mid-issue into high action, as a pair of employees sympathize with Mitch's predicament and attempt to rescue and release him from captivity.  Without being a detail spoiler, the issue ends in a dramatic cliffhanger as the identity of the mysterious leader of The Lab, who also initially created Mitch's condition, is dramatically revealed.

     This is a very intriguing science fiction comic book concept presented in a very entertaining manner.  I thought of the concept as a spin-off from the Dial H plot idea reviewed above, albeit with the hero's repeated deaths triggering the random superpower guises instead of the simpler act of dialing a phone.  The creative team's product is strong and effective, with excellent artwork suitable to the thriller/action nature of the story and gripping action plotting from the team that created this character back in the 1990's.  There are two particular surprise plot twists that are outstanding: the presentation of Mitch's virtual reality plight, which is initially presented as a real world scenario and unexpectedly revealed to be fictitious, and the cliffhanger reveal of the chief villain behind all that is happening in the Resurrection Man storyverse.

     The ultimate complement to this issue is that its quality made me, the first-time reader, want to backtrack and read previous issues to enjoy the story progression leading-up to the details presented in issue #12.  So an obvious thumbs-up positive review recommendation is deserved for all Good DC Readers to do the same, enjoy issue #12 and if you haven't already done so, backtrack your way through the That's Entertainment inventory to check-out the previous issues, as well as issues from the initial 1990's title run.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

    Our latest contest challenged you to tell us what you would purchase with our $10.00 prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment, if you were chosen as our winner-sort of a contest about our contest!  And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who tells us that she would use the prize to purchase "those cool (model) insects" currently available at the store.  She's hoping that a butterfly is available for purchase.  An interesting choice, taking advantage of one of the many fine offerings at That's Entertainment beyond the comic book inventory.  Congratulations to Erin and hope you buy that butterfly real soon!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges announce a baseball contest for this week.  As you know, our poor Red Sox are most likely not going to make the postseason play-offs this year.  As such, your new contest challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, September 5 telling us which major league team you're rooting for to make the playoffs and ultimately win the World Series.  Also pitch to us why you feel they deserve to be the big postseason winner this season.  For instance, my favorite non-Red Sox team for the postseason are the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I'd like to see them win it all because they're having a great year and they haven't been champions since they won the 1979 World Series when they were led by Willie Stargell, in the memorable "We Are Family" season.  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 NFL preseason watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 7 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comic Reviews 8/10/12

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo was on vacation last week so he only has two new comics to review this week, so let's see what's up with this pair of new offerings:

Critter #1
Publisher: Big Dog Ink
Tom Hutchison: Writer/Creator
Fico Ossio: Art & Colors

     Big Dog Ink has just published issue #1 of a new comic book entitled Critter.  This is the start of a follow-up series to a previous Critter title.  Teenager Cassie Crawford is "Critter," a legacy superhero whose mother was a telekinetic-powered hero.  Now Cassie dons her Mom's ears, tail and homemade costume to help people in need.  The series is created and scripted by Tom Hutchison with art and colors by Fico Ossio.

     This new series progresses Cassie's adventures by moving her to Los Angeles for two purposes: to begin her college freshman year and to join a new team of superpowered women called Purrrfection.  Issue #1 focuses on introducing the series characters as well as establishing some initial plot tension.  Among the main characters we meet are Cassie/Critter herself and the four other feline-costumed members of Purrrfection, along with newspaper photographer Jason and a pair of superpowered bad guys.  The plot conflict focuses on tension between Cassie wanting to balance the college experience and superhero sides of her life while the Purrrfection team tries to woo her into abandoning college and immersing herself into the L.A. pseudo-celebrity superhero scene.  By issue's end, the superpowered baddies arrive on the scene, adding further complications to Cassie's efforts to figure-out the path of her new life in the big city.

     This is a fun and refreshing new series that provides the reader with an entertaining mix of both old and new comic book storytelling elements.  Regarding old, the whole superchicks-in-kittycat-costumes schtick is a neat update of the old Josie & The Pussycats comic/animated t.v. series.  This new team is much more evolved for 2012 reader sensibilities, with modern character personalities and story structure.  Two new story elements particularly worked for me.  First, I liked the dynamic of the superhero team living the reality t.v.-style L.A. media life, balancing their traditional superhero role with the lure of the Hollywood celebrity glamorous lifestyle.  So far, it looks like Purrrfection is too unbalanced toward the media glitz side of their world; by the end of issue #1, the girls haven't done any superheroing as they focus on the media marketing of their new member Cassie/Critter.

     Secondly, writer Hutchison's portrayal of the tensions in Cassie's life is well-presented.  I was reminded of the similar college/superheroing tension presented by DC in the recent Stephanie Brown/Batgirl series; it will be interesting to see how the same tension plays-out over time in Critter and whether Cassie's experiences are similar and/or different from Stephanie's in the previous Batgirl series. And a final review shout-out is deserved for Fico Ossio's artwork, which provides a high quality graphic and coloring style for this type of comic book tale.  So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to add this entertaining new comic book title to your ever-growing summertime new comic book reading pile!

Captain Marvel #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Writer
Dexter Soy: Art

     Marvel Comics has unveiled a significant make-over of the well-known Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel superhero character.  As indicated in the title of this new series, with the previous death of the well-known male Captain Marvel, in addition to costume and hairstyle changes, our heroine is taking-on the name Captain Marvel.  The new comic book title is scripted by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Dexter Soy.

     The premier issue can be divided into two story sections.  The first subsection presents a lengthy fast action battle sequence, as Carol a.k.a Marvel pairs-up with Captain America to battle a superstrong villain.  The plot segues into a second sub-plot focusing on narrative angst, as post-battle Carol ruminates on whether or not she's worthy of taking-up the mantle of her deceased co-Marvel by accepting his name.  By issue's end, after progressing through a mix of flashback scenes and further interaction with Captain America and an aged female fighter pilot mentor, Carol comes to terms with accepting her identity changes and progressing into the next phase of her superhero life.

     I'm giving this re-boot of Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers a thumbs-down negative recommendation for a few reasons.  The specifics of the character redeisgn don't work for me; while it is routine for most superheros to get a design makeover at some point, three details tank this particular effort.  One is the radical shift away from the fanboy's fantasy of the previous design of Ms. Marvel's look and costume.  I'll take the risk of political incorrectness and admit that the fanbase for most female superheros are males who are seeking a certain degree and style of character sexiness.  The full body length conservative new costume and "practical" new hairstyle of this character just screams unsexy drab and is sure to send the average male fanboy crowd away in search of more entertaining female comic book characters. It's worth noting that the Comic Buyer's Guide has ranked the traditional Ms. Marvel design as 29th among the top 100 sexiest women in comics.

     A second flaw is the dark and dreary art style of Dexter Soy.  A back-of-the-issue narrative reveals the artist as a wannabe plucked-out of the freelance fan crowd at a recent comic con for his first professional assignment; this just might also be his last gig if his dark and depressing visual style doesn't evolve into something more palatable for a fun comic book read. The third defect here centers on the renaming of Carol's superhero character.  Plain and simple, Ms. Marvel has been an A-list fixture for too long in the Marvel Universe to undergo any sort of name change without it feeling just uncomfortably wrong.  This is the equivalant of renaming Captain America as "Colonel America."  The change may get some initial upfront marketing notice, but in the long run its an adjustment that just feels like a grammatical error.

     Had Marvel created a brand-new female Captain Marvel character as a new complement to the Marvel Family universe, I think the fan base would be more comfortable and I personally would view this new effort more positively, albeit still in need of a different artist's interpretation.  And that might be a secret twist in this effort for Marvel to implement when the inevitable sales plummet kicks-in for this title.  But in its current format, the whole effort feels like the start of an experiment doomed to sooner-or-later failure and deserved of a recommendation to avoid the title for the sake of the so many much better female hero comic books on the new issues shelves right now. So to get your fix of decent Ms. Marvel comics, just check-out the extensive back issue bins or graphic compilation re-prints available at That's Entertainment.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to list as many current and former Red Sox players as you can whose last name is the same as a Massachusetts city or town.  And our winner is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who compiled an impressive list of 37 players in that category.  Four players on David's list have last names of Central Massachusetts communities including Mike Paxton, Lenny Webster, Ray Webster and my personal favorite name, Tubby Spencer!  Congratulations to David who wins our first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that this week we have a contest challenge about our contest challenge!  As you know, our contest winners receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.  Your assignment for this contest is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, August 22 and tell us what specifically you would purchase at That's Entertainment if you were the selected prize winner.  The entrant with the most worthy purchase proposal will receive first prize and be able to fulfill his or her purchase dreams!  Please note that our first prize $10.00 girft 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 August dogs days of summer comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 24 Here In Bongo Congo!