Friday, May 24, 2013

Comic Reviews 5/24/13

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that its time to review some comic books with a "dark side" theme, so whether the plots feature voodoo, magic, detective noir or The Dark Knight himself, let's see how these latest mysterious comics stack-up against each other:
Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics Vertigo Imprint
Selwyn Seyfu Hinds: Writer
Denys Cowan: Pencils
John Floyd: Inks
Dave McCaig: Colors

     That's Entertainment has all seven issues on its new issues shelves of the DC Comics/Vertigo Imprint title "Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child," so naturally I backtracked to issue #1 to get a feel for this occult comic book title from its kick-off issue.  The comic book is written by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds with pencils by Denys Cowan, inks by John Floyd and colors by Dave McCaig.

      The series is a New Orleans-based occult thriller starring hometown college student Dominique Laveau.  The premier issue unfolds in three story segments.  Act One begins with action-adventure, as Dominique and a group of her fellow Tulane University college students are attacked by a rampaging werewolf. When her friends are killed by the monster, Dominique manifests an unexpected occult power that repels the attacker and saves her own life.  The mid-section sub-plot unfolds the larger picture of occult doings in modern-day New Orleans.  We're introduced to the mysterious Chancellor Malenfant, a voodoo priest who is involved in local politics and is in the service of a demonic being who is searching for Dominique.

     The third segment of the issue follows Dominique as she reviews her family history to try and understand her newfound occult power.  We learn that she's descended from a long line of New Orleans voodoo priestesses and its revealed that her aunt has been sheltering her from the truth about herself and her family history.  The issue concludes in a dramatic bridge to issue #2 as Dominique discovers that her aunt has been murdered by the demonic forces gathering against her, while at the same time she's confronted by an anonymous demon hunter who's been stalking her throughout the story.

     Its tough to stake-out some new storytelling ground within the genre of voodoo fiction; its almost mandatory to use New Orleans as the storysetting, and a lot of plot ideas have already been done to death (pun intended) in this narrow fictional genre.  That said, a tip-of-the-review hat is due to this title's creative team for finding some fresh elements to mix into their own New Orleans voodoo comic book tale.  Several small plot touches add-up to a fresh perspective in this storyline, including Dominique's innocence regarding her family history, her unexpected manifested power and a cop boyfriend who at this point doesn't buy into any of the voodoo shenaigans brewing in his girlfriend's life. 

     Of particular interest is the mysterious demon hunter trailing Dominique.  He's presented as an old-school Wild West gunman, which offers some interesting future potential reveals about his identity.  It seems in the issue #1 story segment that he's actually on the hunt for Dominique herself instead of her demonic pursuers, so it should be interesting to see how he ends up as friend or foe in her further adventures.

     Top it all off with an approriate artistic style for a voodoo-themed comic book and we have one well-constructed and entertaining new addition to this creepy-spooky comic book storytelling genre.  It looks like DC/Vertigo is ending this title with the most recent issue #7, so my review advice is to get onboard now and enjoy the seven issues of this interesting comic book title while they're all still available on the That's Entertainment new issues comic book shelves.

Batman #19
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Danny Miki: Inks
Fco Plascencia: Colors

     The main Batman title at DC Comics is currently up to issue #20 with the second installment of a multi-issue story arc.  So I've backtracked to issue #19 to get a review feel for this tale from the kick-off.  The series is currently scripted by A-list writer Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki and colors by Fco Plascencia.

     This new storyline is entitled "Nowhere Man" and features Batman and his allies in conflict with traditional Batman storyverse villain Clayface.  Three plothreads takes turns front-and-center in the story.  In the first story segment,  we're witness to a lengthy and violent bank robbery/hostage-taking with the villain, who's obviously Clayface in disguise as Bruce Wayne, in a deadly cat-and-mouse stand-off with Gotham Police Commissioner Gordon.  The mid-section of the tale flashes back to a few days earlier, as Batman alternates between dealing with the grief of Robin's recent death and following a trail of forensic clues from recent crimes, leading him to the conclusion that Clayface is back on the Gotham crime scene.  And the final few pages of the story segment reveal the details of Clayface stepping-into the Bruce Wayne persona, with more trouble to brew in issue #20.

      It's a no-brainer these days to expect that any Scott Snyder-penned comic book tale is of exceptional quality and so that's what we're fortunate to have in this comic book.  It's interesting to me that there's no particular style to expect from a Snyder story; unlike a tale from Brian Michael Bendis or Jonathan Hickman, Snyder's various comic book scripts differ in approach and structure, but all have the same consistency of in-depth dialogue and just a very strong and highly entertaining plot that's well-worth the price of admission.

     As a final review note, this 20-page Batman-Clayface tale is followed by a second 8-page story entitled "Ghost Lights," starring Batman and Superman as they encounter some deadly black magic goings-on in Gotham.  This two-part storyline deserves its own mention for exceptional high quality and frankly could hold its own as a main storyline in any issue of Batman.  So a quick, well-deserved shout-out also to the creative team of writer James Tynion IV, well-known artist Alex Maleev and colorist Brad Anderson for this second story which is also not to be missed.

     So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this comic book, which serves-up two excellent stories, both well-worth following as they continue in issue #20 of Batman!

The Black Bat #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Brian Buccellato: Writer
Ronan Cliquet: Art
Mat Lopes: Colors

     Dynamite Comics recently launched a new comic book entitled "The Black Bat."  The title character originally appeared in a few 1930's pulp magazines as a masked crimefighter vigilante.  Due to character similarities to Batman, the pulp-era publisher kept this character firmly in its pulp magazine inventory without a 1930's-era crossover into the world of comic book publishing.  Dynamite included The Black Bat in its 2012 Masks comic book, with the ensuing popularity leading to the launch of the new comic book title.

     Issue #1 partially retells the origin story of The Black Bat with two alternating sub-plots.  In the first storythread, via alternating flashback and current scenes, we learn that our hero is Tony Quinn, a former lawyer for organized crime.  When Tony resists further mob pressure, he's tortured and blinded for his resistance.  A mysterious covert agency restores his eyesight to an uncoventional form of vision similar to Daredevil's bat sonar sight, enabling him to don a 1930's masked vigilante persona and fight crime as the anonymous Black Bat.

     The second sub-plot focuses on The Black Bat's current investigation of disappearing local city cops.  Tony follows clues through the city's underbelly, leading him to a Hulk-like mob enforcer.  The issue ends in an action bridge to next month's issue, as Tony fights and defeats the enforcer but still has no clue where his adversary has hidden the kidnapped policemen. We also learn at issue's end that Tony is being secretly monitored by the covert agency that restored his sight.

     This is an interesting modern-day comic adaptation of a 1930's pulp magazine crimefighter that deserves a positive review recommendation, although the comic has one noticeable weakness mixed-in with the good elements.  On the plus side, the art is strong and evocative of the detective/noir thriller atmosphere appropriate for this tale.  There are also a few entertaining mystery elements in the story, including the unknown nature of the covert agency that gave Tony his bat-sight and the main plot mystery regarding the location and fate of the kidnap victims.  The creative team also gives Tony his own fresh personality and plot issues that lessen as much as possible any potential traps of being labelled as a retread of either Batman or Daredevil.

     The main constructive criticism centers on the story setting.  Its an odd mix of a modern-day version of Gotham City-at-night and a 1930's urban pulp setting reminiscent of The Spirit.  It just feels like a confusing mash-up of two vastly different urban timeperiods and lends the story an unfinished and at times confusing quality.  The creative team really needs to flip a coin here, and pick either one of the two timeperiods within which to firmly and clearly set their storytelling.  In addition, the anonymous city in which the story takes place really needs an identity, either a real world city name or a fictional one.  Once that confusion is cleared-up, we'll have a more solid comic book title to add to the lengthy list of detective/noir comic books.  Until then, we have an entertaining read with future potential, saddled with some vagueness that allows for fun reading, but nothing to place near the very top of your new issues reading pile.

The Movement #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Gail Simone: Writer
Freddie Williams II: Art
Chris Sotomayor: Colors

     Among the latest new comic book titles released under DC's "The New 52" series is "The Movement."  The storyline centers upon a gathering group of seemingly occult or mutant-powered troubled teenagers.  The series is scripted by Gail Simone with art by Freddie Williams II and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

     The premier story segment is entitled "Eaten from The Inside Out."   Set in Coral City, the plot is structured as three interweaving storythreads.  One sub-plot focuses on corruption in the local police force, as an inner-city police captain tries to address a sexual assault by two of his officers on a transient teenaged girl.  The second sub-plot introduces us to varied troubled street teens, including the assault victim, as many of them are revealed to have various forms of occult power.  The third storyline introduces an odd street cult growing in "The Tweens," the inner-city neighborhood inhabited by the story characters.  Dressed in flowing robes and high tech masks, the street cult members livestream to the internet much of the corruption and odd action happening among the story characters. 

     All three groups of story characters clash in an inner-city church confrontation with one of the troubled street teens, who appears to be demonically possessed.  Without being a detail spoiler, the plot peaks in a dramatic scene as a bridge to issue #2, as the street cult members draw the line with the police captain, declaring The Tweens as their own territory and demanding that the cops leave the neighborhood.

    This title presents one oddly tossed-together mish-mash of a comic book plot.  We're presented with a large number of genre themes that really don't mesh well together in one standard storyline, including occultism, teenaged angst, some traditional superhero elements and police thriller/corruption plot elements.  The result is a lot of story confusion, sketchy and unexplained plot elements/story characters, and jarring scene transitions.  The unnamed police captain is presented in a confusing manner, alternating between behaving as an honest crusader against corruption, an oppressor of the supposed good-natured street cult and a victim of his wife's infidelity.

     I know that writer Gail Simone has a strong fan following, but few of her comic books that I've reviewed present a solid and well-constructed storyline.  This latest example is her worst yet in pasting-together plot bits and pieces that ultimately don't result in a credible, logical or just-plain-entertaining storyline.  I'll give Simone another review chance with her upcoming writing stint in Dynamite Comics's Red Sonya title.  But until then, I'd recommend that all Good DC Readers skip reading this confusing, patchworked and frankly dull attempt at teenaged comic book storytelling in The Movement.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest offered-up a bit of Massachusetts history trivia, asking you to tell us what historical event forever ties-together the four Massachusetts towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott.  We had several correct entires, so by a roll-of-the-dice the winner from among those entries is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who correctly answered that the four Towns were disincorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the 1930's and flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir, the largest inland body of water in the State and the primary water source for Boston and about 40 other communities.  Congratulations to Erin for winning the $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     As our Boston Bruins are currently in the thick of the NHL Stanley Cup play-offs, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that we cheer them on with a National Hockey League (NHL) contest question.  The Bruins are one of the "Original Six" teams that made-up the League when the NHL restructured and modernized in 1942.  Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, June 5 and correctly name those original six NHL teams.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries.  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 Stanley Cup Play-Offs-watching (Go Bruins!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, June 7 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Comic Reviews 5/10/13

     Good King Leonardo has declared that its Eclectic Comic Books Week once again in Bongo Congo, so let's review a wide-ranging variety of comic book titles and see what our eclectic batch is all about:

Thor: God Of Thunder #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron: Writer
Esad Ribic: Art
Dean White: Colors

     One of the more popular and critically-acclaimed new issue comic titles out at the moment from Marvel Comics is Thor: God Of Thunder.  As with a few titles reviewed in our last column, I decided to double-back from this title's current issue #7 to issue #1 in order to get a solid feel for this Thor interpretation from its kick-off issue.  All of this series's monthly issues are available on the That's Entertainmnet new issues shelves.  The comic book is scripted by Jason Aaron with art by Esad Ribic and colors by Dean White.

     The issue #1 story is entitled "A World Without Gods" and is the first part of a wider five-issue storyline entitled "The God Butcher."  The tale accurately reflects the multi-issue story title, as some unrevealed omnipotent power is very capably slaughtering mythological Gods.  The plot alternates between three storythreads, as in three separate timeperiods Thor comes-up against the mysterious assailant.  In 893 A.D., our hero is based in Iceland and encounters the dead body of a Native American shaman god.  In the present day, Thor assists an alien race on their homeplanet and stumbles across the bloodied carnage that used to be the Asgard-like home of the alien's own supposedly immortal gods.  And in a brief but climactic far future setting of Asgard, an aged and solitary Thor prepares to do lone battle against a seemingly endless demon horde controlled by the unseen god butcher.

      Its clear why this new Thor series is so popular among readers, as at least four story elements succeed in propelling this title to the very top of the most-recommended reading list.  First-off is the creative team's structuring of three story settings; its a very fresh approach to alternate, yet connect three very different historical Thor timeperiods in one issue's story segment, and in the hands of this creative team it succeeds as top-notch entertainment.  Secondly, the story premise itself is fresh and intriguing.  There's something just plain fascinating about the Marvel storyverse gods being reduced to mere weak mortals by their version of an unseen serial killer, and the drama of it all as Thor inches closer to eventually encountering the evil one himself makes for great reading.

     The third outstanding element of this issue is the creative team's success in portraying Thor's varied personalities in each historical period, each as a reflection of his age at the time.  In the 893 A.D. timeframe, he's young, brash and semi-comically wacky.  In the present-day alien world segment, he's the familiar Thor of most Marvel titles and in the far-future setting he's come full circle, actually becoming his father Odin in looks, personality and behavior.  Its a fresh and enjoyable character interpretation of this standard A-list Marvel hero and its not to be missed.  And our fourth strong story element is the artwork itself.  Artist Esad Ribic and colorist Dean White present a lush and detailed visual style that resembles moreso formal portrait and scenery painting than standard comic book fare, with a beautiful layer of shadowing that wordlessly and effectively heralds the growing danger and terror of the approaching god butcher.

    So all-in-all, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is very well-deserved for this fantastic new addition to the wide world of Thor comic books.  And if you like this issue as much as I do, there are already those follow-up story segments out on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves available for your non-stop reading enjoyment!

Threshold #4
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Keith Giffen: Writer
Phil Winslade & Tom Raney: Art
Chris Sotomayor & Andrew Dalhouse: Colors

     DC Comics is currently up to issue #4 of Threshold, one of the new titles emerging from The New 52 event series.  Threshold occupies an insterstellar science fiction niche within the current DC storyverse.  The series features a range of characters apparently forced to compete against their will in an intergalactic reality t.v. show as they struggle to stay alive against alien bounty hunters.  A key character in this title is disgraced Green Lantern Jediah Caul, who's been stripped of both his powers and his Green Lantern as part of the game.  There's also a back-up story in each issue starring Larfleeze , the Orange Lantern.  Threshold is scripted by veteran DC writer Keith Giffen with art by Phil Winslade & Tom Raney, and colors by Chris Sotomayor and Andrew Dalhouse.

     The issue #4 story segment is entitled "Small Wonder," and presents two alternating story threads.  In the main sub-plot, Jediah Caul plans and executes an attempt to steal back his missing Green Lantern from a slug-like alien collector who obtained the power source from the controllers of the reality t.v. show.  Along the way, he interacts with the bumbling Rabbit-like character K'Rot and reluctantly teams-up with him in the attempt.  A less-detailed secondary sub-plot features DC universe bad guy Brainiac going about his usual business of shrinking and bottling alien cities.  Both storylines come together in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue, as in mid-struggle for the Green Lantern, all of our main characters are caught in Brainiac's shrink ray and bottled-up along with the alien city in which they're playing-out their game.

     I'm giving this comic book a mixed review, albeit with an average-quality thumbs-up positive recommendation.  On the plus side, veteran writer Keith Giffen hits two big home runs here, first by providing a plot that's chock-full of his unique, humor-laced dialogue and secondly by presenting a very fresh and enjoyable sci-fi based story concept with just a hint of the usual DC superhero universe blended into this fictional reality.  The art is also excellent and worth noting for both quality and choice of visual style.

     On the downside, this comic book desperately needs an up-front narrative summary that quickly and simply briefs new readers such as myself with the concept of this sci-fi reality show battle-to-the-death plotline.  While I enjoyed the action and story details of issue #4, there's no reference at all to the bigger multi-issue plotline here, just well-constructed scenes of characters who scheme and fight among themselves.  I needed to research DC marketing sources just to learn about the reality t.v. show concept of this series.  It's a disservice to readers when a comic book gives no inkling throughout an entire issue of just what the heck the characters are involved in as a plot.  I can't think of another comic book that I've ever read which kept me in the dark as much as Threshold #4 about what the series is about, which can't bode well for building a devoted fan base for this new series.

      So in sum, while there's some really intriguing and fun stuff going on in issue #4 of Threshold, this series is dragged-down to merely average quality by the frustrating vagueness and lack of enlightenment regarding the overall story concept.  As a final review comment, the secondary tale starring Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern is much more kitchsy and wacky humor-oriented and works very well to balance the confusion of the main story.  So my review advice is to give this comic a shot if you're willing to backtrack to the first three issues in order to gain a clear understanding of the multi-issue story concept.

Five Weapons #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Jimmie Robinson: Writer and Artist
Paul Little: Colors

     Image Comics is currently publishing a 5-issue limited series entitled "Five Weapons."  The series follows the experiences of grade school kids at "The School Of Five Weapons," a secret private academy where the children of secret assassins are educated in both standard school subjects and the weaponry-handling ways of their ninja/hitman/assassin parents.  The series is scripted and drawn by creator Jimmie Robinson with colors by Paul Little.

     Issue #1 centers on main character Tyler Shainline on his first day as the new kid in the academy.  We quickly learn that the school is organized into five "weaponry clubs," called Knives, Staves, Archery, Exotic Weapons and Guns.  As Tyler gets to know the ropes and rules of this assassin training Academy, the storyline introduces various school members as Tyler's potential allies and/or foes.  These include the mysterious Principal O, the equally mysterious School Nurse, the weird faculty members who head each of the five weapons clubs and the hot-tempered Jade, Tyler's fellow student and president of the Knife Club.

    The plot portrays Tyler as using a Sherlock Holmes-style of analysis and deduction to verbally weave his way in-and-out of sticky situations, as even his slightest action or decision triggers some ritual or unexpected reaction from students and faculty in this rigid and extremely regimented society of little future assassins.  By issue's end, the story segment peaks in a dramatic double reveal: we learn that Tyler is actually using an assumed identity for a false background and he challenges Jade to a knife confrontation for the presidency of the Knife Club.

     This comic book series is a highly entertaining mix of familiar and new school-oriented fiction themes.  On the familiar side, we have a private academy set-up similar to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, with the weaponry clubs serving in the role of the Hogwarts founders schools.  On the fresh and creative side, we have a young school for assassins with some very fun and humorous characters driving the story.  Creator Jimmie Robinson does a top-notch job of presenting some very unique student and faculty personalities within the short space of one comic book issue.

     The overall result of this series is a very enjoyable mash-up of light humor, compelling mystery, action-adventure and grade school angst that's a fun read for young and older readers, alike.  I was particularly impressed with the unexpected reveal of Tyler as a stand-in for the real Tyler Shainline.  Without being a detail spoiler, there's a very intriguing plot reveal of what's happening in the Shainline family of assassins that's led to Tyler volunteering for this risky cover, which should add even more interesting plot possibilities for the remaining four issues of this title.

     So a definite and very positive thumbs-up review recommendation to check-out this well-crafted, unique and just-plain-interesting youth adventure series from Image Comics and creator Jimmie Robinson.

Bravest Warriors #7
Publisher: Kaboom! Comics
Pendleton Ward: Creator
Joey Comeau: Writer
Mike Holmes: Art
Lisa Moore: Colors

     BOOM! Comics's Kaboom! division of children's comics is currently up to issue #7 of its Bravest Warriors title.  For the uninitiated, the comic book is based on the award-winning animated web series created by Pendleton Ward.  The storyverse is set in the year 3085 and follows the adventures of a group of teenaged heroes-for-hire as they have outer space adventures, helping aliens and their worlds by using the power of their emotions.  The comic book is scripted by Joey Comeau with art by Mike Holmes and colors by Lisa Moore.

     Issue #7 is the latest installment of a multi-issue story arc in which the kids deal with conflict at the Miss Teen Multiverse Pageant.  It seems that some outer space bad guy has placed the kidnapped brains of contestants in giant killer robots, who then alternate in behavior between rampaging death machines and insecure teen beauty pageant contestants.  Most of the plotline consists of the Bravest Warriors team of Beth, Danny, Chris, Wallow and Plum trading quips with each other and with the giant robots as they try to resolve the situation.  By issue's end, the robot's massive insecurities threaten to turn them toward self-mutilation, thus setting-up next month's story segment in which our heroes ironically have to try and restore the robot's self-esteem to keep them from harming themselves.

    This is a fun and fresh youth-oriented science fiction title that has a lot going for it.  The humor dominates in a light and positive way, without things getting too sarcastic or snarky.  There's a nice mix of one-liners and quips alternating between jokes for kids and sly remarks that older readers would find very entertaining.  I particularly liked the unique idea of including a brief but effective one-liner narrator quip at the bottom of each story page.  It adds a comic commentary element to the story that reminds me of the comic barbs throughout the old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 television series.

       I really expected this title to be geared toward a young child's level of storytelling and as such was delighted to discover a level of sophisticated humor, strong storytelling and uniquely entertaining artwork that actually elevates Bravest Warriors to the top of the quality humor comic book titles list, on a par with such titles as Atomic Robo.  If you're already a Bravest Warriors fan, then you're most likely saying "I told you so!" right about now.  But if you're a Bravest Warriors newbie reader like me, then by all means latch onto this gem of a comic book title that offers fun and funny outer space adventuring for readers of all ages.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to correctly answer the following riddle: If A equals Boston, B equals New York and C equals Philadelphia, then what major American cities does D, E and F equal?  Our fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc was the first to correctly answer that each letter corresponds to the Federal Reserve Branch code on U.S. dollar bills, with each letter standing for the city in which that particular Federal Reserve Dranch is located.  Thus, D equals Cleveland, E equals Richmond and F equals Atlanta.  As Dave is only eligible for No-Prize Awards, our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Gregory Goding.  While Gregory didn't get all three cities right, he came closest to the correct answer from among our entries.  Congratulations to Gregory on winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offers-up a Massachusetts trivia question for this week's contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, May 22 with the correct answer to the following question:  what do the four Massachusetts towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott have in common that will always keep them linked-together in Massachusetts history?  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries.  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 Boston Bruins NHL Play-offs watching (Go, Bruins!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 24 Here In Bongo Congo!