Thursday, October 31, 2013

Comic Reviews 11/1/13

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has declared that we review a wide variety of comic book titles this week, so let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:

Mega Man #28
Publisher: Archie Comics Publications, Inc.
Ian Flynn: Writer
Ryan Jampole: Pencils
Gary Martin: Inks
Matt Herms: Colors

     Archie Comics is the publisher of the Mega Man comic book title, which features the anime-style hero featured since 1987 in a very popular Nintendo video game from Capcom.  For the uninitiated (including non-video-gamer me), our hero is a good-guy android who fights bad robots while wielding a cannon weapon attached to his arm.  Other significant characters in the Mega Man storyverse include his scientist creator/father Dr. Light, bad-guy Scientist Dr. Wily, Mega-Man's robot sister Roll and his renegade android brother Break Man a.k.a. Blue.  The comic book series is scripted by Ian Flynn with pencils by Ryan Jampole, inks by Gary Martin and colors by Matt Herms.

     Issue #28 features an ongoing multi-issue story segment entitled "The Return: Prelude To Ra Moon"  which alternates two connected sub-plots.  Our first storythread features fast action, as Mega Man and his Robot Master sidekick buddies battle the evil Break Man. Our hero has no idea that Break Man is actually his missing brother Blue.  When his robot sister Roll discovers the truth and intercedes she's accidentally badly wounded, leading to a further escalation in the heated battle. 

     Our second subplot features the evil Dr. Wily engaged in his own battle-to-the-death against his own out-of-control robotic sidekick.  We learn via an extended flashback that the sidekick is actually an ancient alien device that had carefully manipulated Dr. Wily into a scenario that will lead to the end of mankind and its accompanying robots.  The two subplots build to a dramatic bridge to next month's issue, as the alien device initiates its long-held plan, sending an electromagnetic pulse around the world that disables (for the time being, at least) all forms of electronics including the robotic Mega Man along with his friends and foes.

     When I selected this comic for review, I expected to read a children's-level story based on a kid's video game.  As such, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover a very sophisticated, well-constructed plot clearly written for the enjoyment of both teen and adult readers.  The story is very entertaining, with detailed, often complex dialogue and story elements usually only seen in the more dramatic mainstream superhero comics books.  This storyline could easily have been presented within any DC or Marvel Comics storyverse and been just as effective and enjoyable a read.  In the Mega Man storyverse, it adds a depth of story structure that's usually lacking in comic books based upon video game characters.

     Two additional positive elements of this comic book are worth noting.  The first is the interesting soap opera-style dynamic among Mega Man's family members, including the story twist of Break Man's secret identity as Mega Man's long-lost brother Blue.  Secondly, this issue follows the usual Archie Comics marketing strategy of including in the comic book lots of interesting catalogue-style promos and ads for other Mega Man reading products.  Most interesting is the ad for a new Sonic The Hedgehog/Mega Man crossover event graphic novel series, with Volume 1 currently available for the very reasonable sale price of $8.99.

      So whether you're a Mega Man newbie like me or an already-devoted fan of the android hero and his friends, its well-worth your comic book reading time to add this very entertaining and unexpectedly sophisticated video game-based series to your ever-growing new issues comic book reading pile!

Sidekick #1
Publisher: Image Comics/Joe's Comics
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Tom Mandrake: Art

     Image Comics in partnership with the new start-up creator-owned comics publisher Joe's Comics has published the first two issues of a new series entitled Sidekick.  The concept of this series is to focus on the reaI world-style trials and tribulations of washed-up superhero sidekick Flyboy.  I backtracked to last month's issue #1 in order to get a feel for this series from its start.  The new title is scripted by A-list writer J. Michael Straczynski with art by Tom Mandrake.

     The issue #1 story segment kicks-off the concept of this gritty storyverse.  We're quickly introduced to the superhero partneship of Sol City's main hero The Red Cowl and his sidekick Flyboy.  When The Red Cowl is assassinated by an unknown sniper, Flyboy's life spirrals out-of-control into bankruptcy and unemployment.  The second half of the issue #1 plot depicts his efforts to regain some professional credibility as he botches both superheroing on his own and desperately trying to regain employment as any hero's faithful sidekick.  The premier issue storyline ends on a dramatic bridge to issue #2 with a shocking reveal that The Red Cowl faked his death and is living in secret tropical luxury.

     While there are a few bright spots in this new title, they're not enough to escape the weight of failure that drags this title down into a negative review recommendation.  On the plus side, the unpopular attitude held by the Sol City populace to the minor role of sidekicks in this storyverse is interesting, as is the character of Melody, the sexy assistant to our duo who seems positioned to play a growing and interesting role as either ally or foe to Flyboy in upcoming issues.

     The most glaring misstep of this new title is writer Straczynski's D-list quality script, which tanks on two counts.  First, he provides the story characters with dull dialogue and frankly boring story sequences, the result of which provides nothing new or creative to the idea of the put-upon, under-appreciated hero sidekick story concept.  The second misstep is Straczynski's decision to replace narrative quality with hacky shock value.  True to his back-of-the-issue editorial promise to drag Flyboy "deeper into madness, mayhem and depravity" than most comic sidekicks experience, he focuses mostly on the sleazy aspects of Flyboy's struggle as opposed to plot quality.  The overall result is an amateurish, non-entertaining, whiny mess of a story idea.

   Given the amazingly high quality of Straczynski's previous award-winning work at DC and Marvel Comics, including his iconic run on both DC's The Brave & The Bold and Superman titles, its doubly-disappointing to witness this failure of a non-entertaining comic book from his efforts.  However, it just confirms my oft-expressed opinion that the creator-owned comic book publishing efforts of even the best writers are usually flat, dull D-list quality products skating on the thin ice of the creator's previously-achieved high reputation.  Think about it: if the indie comic book concept was any good, wouldn't a big publisher snap it up for big bucks, versus passing on the dreck concept, thus leaving the creator to peddle the piece of junk on his or her own for a few meager sales?

      I look forward to the day that this regular pattern is countered with a new trend of small creator-owned titles producing a regular pattern of high quality and entertainment.  But until that tide turns, my review advice is to stay away from such non-entertaining creator-owned title failures such as Sidekick and enjoy the mainstream high quality products of writer Straczynski and his fellow comic book creators.  At the very least, this particular creator-owned alternative product by such a renowned writer isn't worth the reading effort.

Velvet #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Ed Brubaker: Writer
Steve Epting: Art
Elizabeth Breitweiser: Colors

     Image Comics has a new espionage thriller-themed comic book title out on the new issues shelves entitled "Velvet." This series is set in the 1970's and presents a fresh take on the James Bond-style spy thriller by focusing on that high stakes spycraft world from the perspective of Velvet Templeton, the office secretary for the director of the super-secret British government spy agency ARC-7.  The new series reunites the renowned A-list creative team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, with colors provided by Elizabeth Breitweiser.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "Before The Living End" by presenting two interweaving sub-plots.  One storythread fleshes-out the background of Velvet herself; while in the 1973 main storysetting she's the mild-mannered spy director's secretary, it's clear that she's sharper than most of the agency's stable of suave male spies and clearly has more extensive previous spy experience that will no doubt be revealed in upcoming issues.  The second sub-plot presents the main plotline, that of a mysterious anonymous killer who is knocking-off retired ARC-7 spies, each of whom has a previous romantic history with Velvet. Those personal feelings lead Velvet to conduct her own secret investigation of the incidents.  The issue ends in a dramatic and high-action story bridge to issue #2 as Velvet is discovered by the ARC-7 investigators at the latest murder scene, leading to a major fight scene as she's mistakenly branded as the killer.

     This new title succeeds as an entertaining addition to the spy thriller comic book genre for several reasons.  First, its a very fresh and intriguing idea to present the 1970's male-dominated James Bond-style spy world from the perspective of a woman.  Veteran writer Ed Brubaker is skilled enough to credibly flesh-out Velvet's personality as a better-than-the-males spy who dominates this book from start-to-finish with an interesting personality and action-oriented skilled fighter.  Secondly, Brubaker is smart enough to set this series in the 1970's, the perfect timeframe for a James Bond-style spy tale.  The glitter and elegance of those classic Bond-era spy story settings illuminate this tale in a way that a 2013 story setting would never have allowed.

     The third major plus for this new title is the reuniting of creative master Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.  Brubaker's writing skills and Epting's visual stylings perfectly complement each other like two naturally-conencted parts of a whole, producing a spy noir story product that has as cinematic a feel as possible within the comic book format.  Once in awhile I comment that the comic book being reviewed is perfect for adaptation to the television screen.  In this instance, I can see Velvet as absolutely perfect for not only t.v. adaption but also for a series of movies similar to the James Bond movie series.

      So all-in-all, this latest Brubaker-Epting collaboration delivers for spy thriller entertainmnet, great story scripting and fantastic spy noir art visuals, all adding-up to a very well-deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for All Good Readers to add this spy thriller to their ever-growing new issues comic book reading piles!

Marvel: Now What?! (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Marvel has new one-shot satire comic book out entitled "Marvel: Now What?!"  This appropriately-titled issue is a send-up of the current "Marvel: Now!" rebranding of the company's publishing inventory that began last October in follow-up to the conclusion of the Avengers versus X-Men mega-event.  A wide range of writers and artists take turns creating the eight featured stories, which range from one-page to 5 pages in length.

     All eight tales feature humor that self-satirizes the standard Marvel storyverse characters and history.  "The Puppet's Master" is the longest story, a 5-page tale in which the villain Dr. Octopus tries life as a t.v. talent show contestant. Three tales are one-page wonders featuring the cartoon comedians Elliott and Wyatt, who make wacky observations on the inherent weirdness inhabiting certain corners of the Marvel storyverse.  A wide range of Marvel characters are represented in this issue, including the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four and The Watcher.  The story lay-out is bookended by a humorous prelude and concluding commentary on the focus of comics marketing on younger versus older readers.

     I enjoyed this one-shot collection very much and was pleased to find no real duds among the inventory, with the weakest stories being at least average in quality and entertainment value, while several tales rose above the herd with exceptional quality.  Three of these vignettes stood-out for my taste as real gems.  "Cap-Fished" is a hilarious four-page take on the internet Catfish dating scam, as a hapless Captain America looks for internet love and ends-up with The Red Skull as his Catfish scammer (yeesh!).  "Ladies Who Brunch" is a three-page beauty of a funny tale starring She-Hulk, Sue Storm, The Wasp and Thor, chockfull of sharp humor on the theme of gender inequality in the superhero community.  The concluding tale is the perfect bookend to this collection; entitled "Intervention," its a sharply satirical Watcher tale that balances very funny observations about the role of The Watchers in the Marvel universe with some sharp and accurate humor about psychological therapy.

     All of these short tales feature a detail of narrative and depth of conversation among the characters that's rarely seen in such brief little story riffs.  This effort by the various creative teams really pays-off in major humor dividends, the overall result of which is a very comprehensive humorous riff on All-Things-Marvel.  I would love to see more of this style of self-deprecating humor from both Marvel and DC, either in a regular monthly series or at least a mini-series (note to DC: why not meet the challenge of Marvel: Now What?! with your own funny take on The New 52?).  But in the meantime, this one-shot is here in all its wacky glory for us to enjoy right now.  So get on down to That's Entertainment and read this eight-story answer to the big question: Marvel, Now What?!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our current contest offered-up a baseball trivia challenge, asking you to identify the third oldest Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium in America, after the two well-known oldest venues of Fenway Park (our Boston Red Sox) and Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs).  We received several correct answers, so via a roll-of-the-dice our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) David McBarron, who correctly identified Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles as our third-oldest park.  From a historic preservation point-of-view its kind of depressing that a 1962 ballpark is the third-oldest active field remaining in The Grand Olde Game, but that's the reality of it.  So congratulations to David who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges have decreed that we cleanse our trivia palate this week with a world history/geography contest question.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, November 13 with the correct answer to the following question: we all know that Washington, D.C. is named after the first U.S. President George Washington.  What is the only capital of a foreign country also named after a U.S. President? Correctly identify the name of that foreign capital city and its country and you could be our next contest winner! As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be selected via a roll-of-the-dice.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store, ongoing specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have two great POST-WORLD SERIES RED SOX VICTORY CELEBRATION WEEKS (CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2013 WORLD CHAMPION RED SOX!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 15 Here In Bongo Congo!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Comic Reviews 10/21/13

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo is enjoying our crisp early Fall New England weather lately, and has decreed that we add to that enjoyment with a look at four new comic books.  So let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:

The Star Wars #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
J.W. Rinzler: Writer
Mike Mayhew: Art
Rain Beredo: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics recently expanded its wide range of Star Wars-themed comic book titles with a new series entitled "The Star Wars."  This intriguing new series is apparently based on a 1974 very raw first draft of the first Star Wars movie, as penned by Star Wars creator George Lucas.  The comic book series is adapted from that script by writer J.W. Rinzler with art by Mike Mayhew and colors by Rain Beredo.

     Our untitled tale begins in typical Star Wars fashion, with an outer space moving narrative page detailing a different version of the nature of the Galactic civilization, but one in which familiar Jedi, Empire and Rebellion folks jostle with each other in a state of war.  The plot unfolds in three scenes.  In Scene One, we're introduced to Jedi Kane Starkiller who loses one son in a Sith ambush but saves his other son Annikan from harm.  Scene two shifts to a rebel leadership meeting on the Planet Aquilae, as the planet's ruler along with his aged military strategist General Luke Skywalker (!) debate strategy against the inevitable attack on their starsystem by the evil and familiar Galactic Emperor.  We also meet young Princess Leia, who departs Aquilae for an off-planet school semester.

     Our third story segment features Jedi Starkiller bringing young Annikan to General Skywalker and begging him to train his son to become a Jedi.  Its revealed through their dialogue that General Skywalker is already an advanced Jedi warrior and that he and Starkiller are the last of their kind.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue in which it's discovered that "something big" has been observed in outer space heading toward our heroes from the direction of the evil Empire.

     I got quite a kick out of this issue's version of Star Wars, for two reasons.  First, as a writer I was very intrigued with the opportunity to look into George Lucas's thinking process as he sketched-out the concept of the Star Wars storyverse in a very raw, first draft manner.  Secondly, wearing my hat as a fan of the series, its utterly fascinating to read this "alternate universe" version of our so well-known Star Wars storyline.  Its a lot of fun to pick-out the bits and pieces of both familiarity and differences among the story details.  As my favorite example, in this storyverse Darth Vader is one of the Emperor's generals but is portrayed as a regular person without the black armor.  While we learned in the movies that he was born as Annikan Skywalker and is Luke's father ("Luke...I am your Father..."), the Annikan in this storyline is a second, completely different person.  And finally, a hats-off is due to the creative team for adapting this first-draft tale into a comic book that has enough storyline and artistic solidness to stand on its own feet as an entertaining and enjoyable read.

     However, I can't help but also conclude that if Lucas had stuck with this version of his vision, the resulting movie most likely would never have been the pop culture megahit that changed the entire nature of science fiction movie production.  That's because most of these story characters are either too aged or too stiff for the average 1970's moviegoer to identify and bond with.  People could imagine themselves with the movie version's young Luke/Leah/Han Solo character group, who along with the friendly cast of their alien and robot friends took on the older generation baddies and won the day.  Here, the good guys are just as aged and stodgy as the baddies and there are no furry alien allies or goofy robot buddies in sight.  It's still a good comic book, but it doesn't come anywhere near presenting a genre-altering story concept.

     So a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this interesting and entertaining peek into the early evolution of the iconic Star Wars world of science fiction.  And a very big thanks is also due to Star Wars creator George Lucas for having the patience and creative commitment to evolve this concept from its early mushy beginnings into the well-known mega-blockbuster format that we're all familiar with and cherish to this very day.

Captain America: Living Legend #1

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Andy Diggle: Writer

Adi Granov: Art

     The latest edition to the wide selection of Captain America comic books on the new issues shelves is "Captain America: Living Legend."  This new series emphasizes the "Living Legend" aspect of Captain America's well-known personal origin/story background by combining 1940's and modern-day elements of Cap's adventuring into one multi-issue action-adventure-mystery tale.  Issue #1 is scripted by writer Andy Diggle with art by Adi Granov.

     This kick-off issue presents a storyline that interweaves story segments from three timeperiods into a common theme of Captain America interacting with a Soviet soldier named Comrade Volkov.  The lengthier, first subplot features a 1945 confrontation between Cap and a young Volkov in the waning days of WWII, during a very tense American-Soviet stand-off over control of German scientific secret war inventions.  Without being a story spoiler, Cap wins the day while Volkov is seriously injured.  Subplot two jumps us ahead to the 1960's, where we briefly witness Volkov as a middle-aged cosmonaut participating in a super-secret moon launch, the results of which are shrouded in mystery.  Our third and final story segment is set in the present on today's International Space Station, where a team of American scientists initiate a very risky dark matter experiment.  When the experiment goes horribly wrong and the spaceship crashes back to Earth, SHIELD and Cap investigate.  Issue #1 ends on a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment as Cap learns that the ship was actually pulled down to Siberia and that our old friend Volkov was somehow involved in the deception.

     This issue has three positive elements that combine into a decent and entertaining new comic book series.  First, writer Andy Diggle lives-up to the "Living Legend" aspect of this title, by providing a very creative script that uses alternating timeperiod scenes to successfully blend the WWII and present-day personas of Captain America into one seamless and workable storyline.  That's not an easy task to achieve, but the introduction of Comrade Volkov as an adversary who transcends the historical timeperiods, a la The Red Skull, makes it all credible and logical within the Captain America storyverse.  Secondly, there's a neat traditional science fiction plot element to the tale, which heightens the story's sense of mystery.  Its clear that something very sci-fi weird happened during Volkov's secret 1960's moon trip, something that is causing odd things to happen today and which no doubt will be revealed in upcoming story segments.  And third, a tip-of-the-review-hat is well-due to artist Adi Granov for his high quality visual production, which presents a very formal, oil painting-like artistic style both appropriate for this story theme and reminiscent of Alex Ross's artwork on such well-known titles as Marvels and Kingdom Come.

     In sum, readers are treated to a rare bargain here, as issue #1 provides us with enough equally large portions of both the WWII and present-day Captain America storylines to the point where we're almost getting two issues combined into one.  So for an entertaining double-dose of Marvel's iconic All-American hero, pick-up your very own copy of the premier issue of this new Captain America series!

Superman/Wonder Woman #1

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Charles Soule: Writer

Tony S. Daniel: Pencils

Batt: Inks

Tomeu Morey: Colors

     A new addition to DC's "The new 52" titles is a brand-new Superman and Wonder Woman pair-up.  The general concept in this title is that the pair of superheroes are actually dating (I wonder how Lois Lane feels about this?!) and at least in issue #1 are trying to keep their relationship a secret from the public and the ever-prying media.  The comic book is scripted by Charles Soule with pencils by Tony S. Daniel, inks by Batt and colors by Tomeu Morey.

      Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Power Couple."  This first issue alternates between three interconnected sub-plots.  The first storythread is all action-adventure, as The Dating Duo respond to a Katrina-level ocean mega-storm.  As the pair struggle to save a storm-tossed airplane, its quickly apparent that the storm has an artificial origin.  The second sub-plot focuses on the new dating relationship between our heroes, in which we wirtness Clark Kent and Diana Prince in a lengthy conversation as they try to figure-out how the relationship will work.  The pair also have differing opinions on whether they keep their situation secret (Clark) or whether they might eventuially go public (Diana).  And our third subplot follows a brief trail of a computer flashdrive sent by a mysterious stranger to reporter Cat Grant, which will obviously reveal the secret relationship in issue #2.

      While this new series isn't an instant classic or an A-plus quality great new series, it is very well-constructed and entertaining and well-deserved of a postive thumbs-up review recommendation.  Writer Charles Soule succeeds on two fronts: first, nicely balancing the action-adventure storm sequences with the talking-head, more cerebral story segments that focus on the relationship.  Secondly, Soule does a very credible job of giving Clark and Diana some real-world relationship dialogue that lends some immediate authenticity to the budding romance.

      I was aware of this new title's dating premise prior to reading it and wasn't sure how I'd react to it all. But all-in-all, I felt positive about DC rolling the dice with the superdating scheme, given the quality of the creative team's script and visual product.  And regarding my Lois Lane joke above, I hope that future monthly story segments do answer that question, incorporating Lois Lane into the scenario as opposed to keeping her conveniently out of the picture.  It could all make for some fun soap opera scenarios, with Wonder Woman and Lois bearing their respective claws out over Superman.

     So all-in-all, this new title and story concept is both a high quality entertainment and does find a comfortable nitch among the many other what if?-style storylines in the ever-expanding archives of Superman Family comic books.  So get yourself a copy of Superman/Wonder Woman #1 and see for yourself how this brave new world of super-dating plays-out!

World's Finest #16

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Paul Levitz: Writer

RB Silva: Pencils

Joe Weems: Inks

Jason Wright: Colors

     The latest incarnation of DC's long-running World's Finest title is up to issue #16.  I gave a positive review to an early issue in this series, which pairs the Earth 2 female Robin, daughter of that reality's Batman and Catwoman, with Power Girl.  The premise here is that after a war with Apokolips, the pair was stranded in our Earth 1 reality and function as crime-fighting heroes without revealing their true backgrounds to either the standard DC superheroes or to law enforcement.  The latest issue is scripted by veteran writer Paul Levitz with pencils by RB Silva, inks by Joe Weems and colors by Jason Wright.

     Issue #16 kicks-off a new multi-issue storyarc entitled "Burning Questions."  True to that title, its Fashion Week in New York City and someone is firebombing the fashion events.  The main plotline focuses on Robin's investigation of the bombings; she quickly stumbles upon a superpowered unnamed villainness who has very unusual powers that seem to defy quantum physics.  A secondary storythread follows the problems of Power Girl, who has the dual challenges of fighting to regain control of her previously-lost corporate empire while struggling with the loss of her superpowers at unpredictable moments.  The storylines neatly come together in a battle scene pitting our two heroes against the firebomber, which ends inconclusively for more of the same to continue in next month's issue #17.

     This is an average-decent installment of the ongoing adventures of this unique crimefighting dup.  There are no major developments going-on here regarding the duo, just some mystery adventure-oriented crimefighting that sets the stage for more major events to unfold in future story segments.  As such, its an entertaining read as a stand-alone interlude tale and for new readers to get acquainted with this storyverse.

     I frankly love the creative concept of this pair of heroes stranded from Earth 2, but I continue to be very frustrated that the editors/creative teams involved to-date in this title have made the decision to keep their true identities/backgrounds secret from the rest of the DC heroes.  A very weak explanation for this decision was floated in an earlier issue, in which Robin assumes that no one will believe them and would thus assume that they're a threat to our world's heroes.  I just feel that some great storytelling and plot ideas are being avoided with this policy, script ideas that would both entertain readers and could move this title up from the ranks of the decent comics into something really special to read.

      So here's hoping that there's an eventual "big reveal" for our hardworking Earth 2 heroines, but in the meantime a positive review recommendation is still well-deserved for this unique and entertaining duo of DC heroines!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us who was the actor who had the honor of uttering the phrase "Star Trek" for the only time it was ever spoken in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise.  And our contest winner via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who correctly identified that actor as James Cromwell, who played Zefram Cochrane in the movie "Star Trek: First Contact." When the time-traveling crew try to convince Cochrane of their true identity, he replies "and you're all astronauts on some kind of star trek?"  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment-may he use his prize to boldly go where no That's Entertainment customer has gone before!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that we honor our Red Sox's battle in this week's ALCS Play-Off Series with a baseball trivia contest.  It's common knowledge that Fenway Park (home of the Red Sox) and Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs) are the two oldest active ballparks in Major League Baseball.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, October 30 and correctly identify the third-oldest ballpark currently in use in the majors.  The answer is actually surprising and kind of depressing, if you're a fan of historic preservation.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be determined 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, ongoing specials, only.

     That's all for now, so let's all have yet another two great Red Sox play-offs watching (Go, Red Sox!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 1 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Comic Reviews 10-4-13

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we kick-off the Fall comic book reading season with an eclectic mix of new comics to review, so let's get right to it and see how these four new issues stack-up against each other:
Infinity #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Jim Cheung: Pencils
Mark Morales: Inks
Justin Ponsor: Colors

     Marvel Comics has recently kicked-off a new comic book event called Infinity.  The wide-ranging tale of intergalactic Marvel storyverse mega-events is structured to be presented in a six-issue oversized limited series, along with ten (10) issues of the Avengers and New Avengers titles and a scattering of tie-in plots among other Marvel titles.  The first three issues are currently available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so I backtracked to the kick-off issue to get a good feel for this series.  Issue #1 is scripted by A-list writer Jonathan Hickman with pencils by Jim Cheung, inks by Mark Morales and colors by Justin Ponsor.

     Issue #1 begins this epic galactic tale with two alternating plotlines.  One subplot centers on the evildoings of the well-known Marvel storyverse alien supervillain Thanos.  From a creepy alien world, Thanos dispatches an even creepier bioengineered monster assassin; arriving on Earth, the thing mindmelds its way through various superheroes in search of a unnamed deep dark secret.  Without being a detail spoiler, by issue's end the thing has reported back to Thanos with successful news, leading Thanos to plan for further trouble Earthside in next month's issue.

    The second subplot dominates the storyline, as the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. learn that a very ancient alien race called The Builders are on a warpath of intergalactic destruction, with Earth smack in the path of their Galaxy-spanning onslaught.  After confirming that Earth would never survive a direct attack, the Avengers assemble all the known Marvel Universe hero groups into one complete armada, to journey off and join a group of alien civilizations for a last-ditch stand outside of our universe.  Meanwhile, Iron Man stays behind with only a handful of heroes to plan for a meager evacuation if Earth's doom is inevitable.  The two storylines come together at the end of issue #1 as Thanos plots to bring his scheming to Earth once the Avengers depart.

     Page one of this issue proclaims this saga as "A Marvel Comics Event," which is a very accurate summation of this new series approach.  I've written in previous reviews that no one in current-day comic book publishing is more adept than writer Jonathan Hickman in bringing "end of the world" storytelling on a grand epic scale to a comic book title.  Hickman outshines himself here with his best production to-date of this story genre.  The scale of the conflict is actually beyond epic, encompassing forces of good and evil across the physical known universe as well as across the cast of Marvel Comics characters.

      Three elements of this approach particularly shine.  First, Hickman does a great job of balancing six core Marvel character teams into the plot: The Illuminati, X-Men, Spaceknights, Avengers, Inhumans and "The Builders," that ancient seemingly unstoppable force.  Secondly, he blends their interactions together seamlessly.  There are no clunky panels or token guest-featuring of these folk, but rather each team is allotted a respectible chunk of the developing plot in which to take turn at center stage.  And third, the two sub-plots are neatly balanced with each other.  It will be interesting to see how future issues unfold the storythread of intergalactic warfare against the Earth-bound, almost behind-the-scenes afforts of Thanos to take advantage of the situation back Earthside.

     While I'm obviously a huge Hickman fan, some of his previous "threat to all life" plots often left me feeling creeped-out by the doom-soaked tone of the stories.  Not so in this issue, which instead gives-off a positive and interesting vibe of upcoming Marvel heroic adventuring, epic action and just-plain-fun reading entertainment.  So whether you plan on checking-out just the six-issue Infinity title or commiting to a complete read of the cross-over issues, based on the quality of issue #1, you won't be disappointed with the entertainment of this great new comic book series.

Action Comics #23.3
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Charles Soule: Writer
Raymund Bermudez: Pencils
Dan Green: Inks
Ulises Arreola: Colors

     The current issue of Action Comics is part of the ongoing DC Comics event this month that places famous DC storyverse supervillains front-and-center in the current storyline features.  The latest Action Comics issue thus stars traditional Superman genius foe Lex Luthor.  The story is scripted by Charles Soule with pencils by Raymund Bermudez, inks by Dan Green and colors by Ulises Arreola.

     This issue kicks-off a new multi-issue storyline appropriately titled for a Superman-themed tale as "Up, Up And Away!"  After initially presenting Luthor's release from federal prison, the storyline details his first day of freedom as he multi-tasks his way through officially commencing a wide range of evil plots, all with the common goal of Superman's destruction.  Without being a detail spoiler, these efforts include a strategy to ruin a major corporate business rival, checking-out his corporate research programs which are working on Superman-related plots and most deadly of all, setting a major trap for Superman with the lives of four Luthor Corp. astronauts at stake.  Running through this tale is a sub-plot of Superman inexplicably missing that day from the world-wide scene.  The issue ends in a dramatic climax as Luthor's plots fail to flush-out the Man Of Steel, leading to both bloodshed and an anticipation that this situation will worsen in next month's story installment.

     This is an entertaining Action Comics issue for a few reasons.  First and foremost, writer Charles Soule deserves a tip-of-the-review-cap for his clever concept of highlighting Luthor in this "bad guys month" of DC Comics by completely taking Superman out of the picture.  Its neat how while Superman is nowhere to be found, he's still front-and-center in crazy Luthor's brain, driving his every waking moment of evildoing.  Secondly, the story details provide a nice traditional presentation of all the Lex Luthor details that we've come to know over the years, including his personality quirks and skills at genius-level tasking, albeit on a bad-guy level.  And third, the artwork is nice, presenting a style that befits well with the world of the Superman storyverse.

     My only constructive criticism is that I was somewhat surprised at the level of killing at Lex Luthor's hands, with five innocent people slaughtered by Lex in the course of his first day back on the crazy-bad-guy job.  While murder is not new to this character, my own personal reading experience is that he's usually more of the mad scientist baddie, even if his science actions eventually lead to deaths.  Here, he's just plain killing folks, and that creeps me out as just another needless escalation of the level of violence in our current popular culture.

     But that one observation aside, on the whole this is a well-produced and solidly entertaining addition to the current inventory of Superman Family new comics, as well as a worthwhile issue within DC's current "Bad Guys Month" publishing event.

Secret Avengers #9
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nick Spencer: Writer
Butch Guice: Art
Matthew Wilson: Colors

     My wandering reviewer's eye this week caught issue #9 of Marvel's Secret Avengers title on the new issues shelves, so I decided to take it out for a review spin.  For the uninitiated, the Secret Avengers are a top secret black ops team deep within SHIELD.  Apparently, after each mission the team members have their memories wiped of all mission information.  Among the varied team members are SHIELD members Nick Fury and Agent Phil Coulson, along with superheroes Hawkeye, Black Widow and The Hulk.  The series is written by Nick Spencer with art by Butch Guice and colors by Matthew Wilson.

     Issue #9 is the latest installment of an ongoing story arc entitled "Collapse" and centers upon a team leadership struggle between acting leader Maria Hill and suspended leader Daisy Johnson, on leave due to a previous blundered tactical decision against the evil organization AIM.  Alternating present and flashback scenes unfold the back-and-forth interactions between the two SHIELD agents that led-up to the leadership switch.  A parallel issue is the mind-wiping policy for the team, which Daisy and Maria struggle to both implement and accept morally as leaders of a group of good guys who deserve to be trusted.  A minor amount of action-adventure features Daisy trying and failing in an espionage attempt to access some of her wiped memories which are stored on a restricted computer.  The issue ends on a dramatic note as Daisy attempts to recruit Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier to assist her in trying again to access the memory storage technology.

     The creative team pulls-off the rare feat here of making a very conversational, talking-head storyline both interesting and moving forward with a pacing usually only found in action-adventure storylines.  Even though most of the tale consists of Daisy and Maria brainstorming their team leadership and memory-wipe policy issues, the styling of the flashbacks, the exotic setting of the espionage world and the fresh dialogue all combine to pull the reader into the plot as effectively as fight scenes and action usually do.  It also helps that various well-known Marvel/SHIELD characters unexpectedly wander into the storyline at key moments, thereby heightening the interesting plot.  I also was very impressed with the particular visual style of the art team, which complimented nicely the setting of the secret world of SHIELD, as well as the eye-catching front cover by top-notch guest artist Alex Maleev.

     I only have two minor peeves about this issue.  My first is the surprising comment by Nick Fury about team leader Daisy Hill being only 19-years-old.  It seems unconvincing and weird, as both her visual depiction and personality scream that she's a much older and wiser character than any fictional teen could ever pull-off.  The second concern is a nagging feeling about the mind-wiping element of the storyline.  It just feels like a weak and illogical plot premise that there would be any reason for these A-list Marvel superheroes and SHIELD agents to have their memories wiped of any missions.  I just can't buy into the supposed reason for it.  Hopefully, either previous or future issues attempt to make a case for the weird practice but if they don't, then the creative team really needs to dump this concept and focus on more convincing storytelling plot details.  But these story elements don't take away from the overall quality and entertainment of this comic book, so by all means a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for All Good Readers to check-out this interesting combination superhero/espionage comic book title.

Injustice: Gods Among Us #9
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Tom Taylor: Writer
Bruno Redondo, Tom Derenick & Jheremy Raapack: Art
David Lopez: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #9 of a superhero comic book entitled Injustice: Gods Among Us.  A statement in the credits mentions that the title is based on a video game of the same name.  The series is scripted by Tom Taylor and drawn by the three artists listed above, with colors by David Lopez.

     The issue #9 story segment is entitled "Worship" and continues an ongoing multi-issue storyline in which the familar wide range of DC superheroes are divided into two camps.  On the one hand is a Superman-led group who have bought into The Man Of Steel's desire to rid the world of evildoing by forcing people against their will into better behavior patterns.  This group is working with a seemingly reformed Lex Luthor to use Kryptonian-based technology to create human supersoldiers to police mankind.  The other group is led by (naturally!) Batman and completely opposes these strong-arming ideals.  Two minor sub-plots weave into the main storyline: an interesting dialogue between Luthor, Martha Kent and Jonathan Kent on Superman's childhood insecurities and some nasty tension between Batman and his son Damian/Robin over events from previous issues.

      This is an interesting and entertaining comic book for a few reasons.  First, I enjoyed very much the structure of the split in the wider DC Comics family of heroes, with certain characters and personalities naturally gravitating toward each other on each side of this social divide.  Secondly, the main plot theme is intriguing, the desire of one superpowered being to use his abilities to force humans into better behavior "for their own good," versus the camp which supports free will, even at the expense of allowing people to make bad decisions.  Third, the comic holds-up very well in story quality for a video game-based title.  Most such comics seem stiff and clunky to me in their storytelling, but this one flows as naturally as any other decent DC comic book.  It would be interesting to know to what degree the creative team stuck with the video-game premise or alternately struck-out on their own storytelling path.

     On a final note, there's a very effective scene early in the issue in which Batman reveals himself as Bruce Wayne to his team members as a gesture of trust-building.  Its a rare and very effective moment in the long lineage of DC comic book publishing and although its a quick, one-page scene, its very detailed and enjoyable regarding the team member's varied reactions to the big reveal.  So overall, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is very well-deserved for this enjoyable comic book which provides a well-presented ensemble cast of DC characters in their multi-team adventuring.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest offered-up a comic book trivia question, challenging you to tell us the significance of the street address of "1938 Sullivan Place" within the DC Comics storytelling universe.  And our contest winner chosen via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly tells us that the address is the home of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  The number 1938 is symbolic for the year that Superman made his very first appearance in Action Comics #1 and Sullivan Place is a tribute to Vincent Sullivan, the first editor of Superman comic books.  Congratulations to Keith, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     For our new contest, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offer-up our very first Star Trek trivia contest!!!  Your challenge for this week is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, October 16 with the correct answer to the following question:  Who is the well-known actor who is the only individual in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise to actually utter the phrase "Star Trek" in a story plot of the series?  We'll give you one hint, it happened in one of the Star Trek movies and not in any of the television series.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be determined 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, ongoing specials, only.

     That's all for now, so have another two great Red Sox Play-Offs Watching (Go, Red Sox!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 18 Here In Bongo Congo!!!