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!

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