Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Comic Reviews 11/27/13

Here In Bongo Congo

     The holiday season is upon us, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we kick-off the season by reviewing a wide range of four new titles currently on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.  So let's get right to it and see what these comic books are all about:
Noir #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Victor Gischler: Writer
Andrea Mutti: Art
Vladimir Popov: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment recently released the kick-off issue of a new noir-themed comic book appropriately-titled "Noir." The series features the team-up of Dynamite's popular Miss Fury action character with another Pulp-style female costumed adventurer called The Black Sparrow.  The title is written by Victor Gischler with art by Andrea Mutti and colors by Vladimir Popov.

     The issue #1 story segment focuses entirely on the masked Black Sparrow and guest stars the well-known Pulp character The Shadow.  The plot quickly portrays the pair as having a checkered past of alternating between allying and fighting with each other.  Here, Black Sparrow reaches-out for help from The Shadow; she's in over her head after stealing a museum moonstone for a client and bungling an effort to re-sell it to a mysterious higher bidder.  Without spoiling any details, Sparrow and Shadow sleuth their way along a trail of clues to Newport, Rhode Island, discovering that various bad guys each want the moonstone as a tool to reveal the location of an interesting historic treasure.  The issue ends is a gun battle among all the players, culminating with Miss Fury arriving on the scene and introducing herself to Black Sparrow as a key behind-the-scenes player in this intrigue.

     This new comic series has at least four strong elements that together result in a high quality and entertaining comic book read.  First up is the strength of writer Victor Gischler's script, which gives infuses wonderful dialogue and personalities among the main characters.  Secondly is the persona of The Black Sparrow herself, in which she's portrayed as a smart, sexy and overall interesting new addition to the storyverse of the other more well-known pulp heroes.  Third, the issue has some wonderful artwork in a style that's pitch-perfect for presenting the Art Deco world of these Golden Age-based characters.  I wasn't previously familiar with Andrea Mutti's artwork, but now I just want to see lots and lots more of it.

     The fourth but hardly least strongpoint of this issue is the fun inventiveness of the plot. Writer Gischler matches the aforementioned strong dialogue with an inventive and fun mix of fantasy-adventure story details that feature diverse legends of the Knights Templar, Native American folklore and well-known historical details of Newport, Rhode Island, all blending-together into a rich stew of a storyline.  I also liked reading a high quality story set just south of Worcester in Newport, and got an extra kick out of a mysterious wall map featured in one story panel, which included the location of Worcester itself!

     As a final review comment, its also worth checking-out a full-page promotional article and an accompanying just-plain-stunning two-page poster ad promoting Dynamite's January 2014 release of "Legenderry," a great-looking new title by Bill Willingham that features Steampunk versions of a ton of well-known comics characters including Red Sonja, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Zorro, The Green Hornet and Vampirella.  So all-in-all, a very positive review recommendation is well-deserved for "Noir," Dynamite's latest edition to its very strong series of Pulp era-based comic book titles.

Longshot Saves The Marvel Universe #1
 Publisher: Marvel Comics
Christopher Hastings: Writer
Jacopo Camagni: Art
Matt Milla: Colors

     Marvel Comics recently released issue #1 of a new comic book entitled "Longshot Saves The Marvel Universe," starring the title character Longshot in his own solo series.  I'm personally not familiar with Longshot, so I decided to give the comic book a read to see what he's all about.  For my fellow uninitiated readers, he's apparently a "genetically-engineered orphan from another dimension," whose main superpower is a supernatural ability to attract rare good luck, hence the name "Longshot."  His publication history since the 1980’s includes having been featured at times in various X-Men comics and he's also billed in this comic book as the ex-boyfriend of The Dazzler. This new title is scripted by Christopher Hastings with art by Jacopo Camagni and colors by Matt Milla.

     Our kick-off tale interweaves two subplots.  In the main storythread, a jester-like "luck god" is hunting Longshot through Manhattan, unfortunately killing lucky humans as a sideffect of following a trail of general luck toward our hero.  A second subplot features Tony Stark/Iron Man and Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, as they have their own string of frustrating bad luck as they try to transport an ultra-powerful cosmic cube through Manhattan to a secure facility.  Without being a detail spoiler, both trails of good and bad luck come together in a dramatic encounter among all these players, in which the fate of reality is to be determined by Longshot's decisions on how he reacts to the situation as it unfolds.

     I enjoyed this comic book very much for a few outstanding reasons.  First-off is the high quality of the artwork, which provides a fresh, television animation visual style well-suited to this storyline.  Secondly, I found the basic concept of Longshot himself very entertaining, that of a superhero whose power is attracting rare and impressive good luck.  Third, I liked writer Christopher Hastings's approach of having Longshot seriously weigh the consequences of utilizing his good luck; there's an interesting morality theme here, a message that good things that are unexpected and unearned can sometimes have negative results.

     Fourth, I was very intrigued by the fresh and interesting character of the "luck god" pursuing Longshot.  By the end of issue #1, the jury is still out as to whether this supernatural character is a good guy, baddie or a combination of both.  Irregardless, his explanations regarding his and Longshot's decisions holding the fate of reality in their hands adds a neat science fiction element in this storyline.

     I'm sure most long-term Marvel Comics readers are more familiar than me with the character of Longshot.  But whether you're a long-time fan or a newcomer to Longshot's particular niche in the Marvel storyverse, I think that you'll find this new title to be a very fresh and entertaining superhero comic book read.

Harley Quinn #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti: Writers
Various Artists

     DC Comics has just released the pre-issue #0 of a new Harley Quinn comic book title.  For the uninitiated, Harley is the goofball-with-a-gun on-and-off girlfriend of The Joker (often referred to by Harley as "her Puddin'").  She began her DC storyverse existence as a psychiatrist at Gotham's famed Arkham Asylum, where she literally went nuts herself as she fell in love with her then-patient The Joker.  The new series is scripted by the creative team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.

      Conner and Palmiotti take an avant garde storytelling approach in this kick-off issue.  The story is entitled "Picky Sicky" and consists of Harley breaking down the "fourth wall" of storytelling, speaking directly to creators Conner and Palmiotti as the threesome brainstorm the idea of creating a comic book title based on Harley Quinn.  Page-by-page, they test 17 different artists for compatibility to Harley's personality and crazy antics.  The plotline shifts in the last two pages into a bridge to next month's issue #1, as Harley inherits a Coney Island building from one of her former patients and sets-out to check it out as her new headquarters for further mayhem.

     I've never been a fan of those comics that feature a ton of revolving artists, each taking a one or two-page crack at a piece of the storyline.  The result to me is usually too jarring and distracting to enjoy, as each turn of the page results in a completely different atmosphere for the story situation.  So I'm very happy to react to this comic book completely differently, for three positive reasons.  First, our writing duo went to great lengths to pick a strong variety of artists to each depict their version of Harley Quinn.  The result is an amazing showcase of A-list artists including such renowned folk as Darwyn Cook, Walt Simonson, Jim Lee, Adam Hughs, Becky Cloonan and of course, Amanda Conner herself.  Warner Brothers animator Bruce Timm also gives us a fun one-page turn at the drawing board. The effect in this book isn't jarring at all; instead, I couldn't wait to turn each page and see what unique artistic gem awaited me next.

     Secondly, the writers incorporate each artist into the "fourth wall" dialogue; thus, we immediately know which artist is drawing that particular scene, as he or she joins the conversation with Harley.  And third, there's a fun theme running through this abstract storyline, in which the writers and artists toss-out very funny and on-target quips about DC Comics and the comic book creation process in general.

     I wrote a negative review not too long ago of another Harley Quinn title, in which the creators in my opinion went too far in replacing her usual endearing goofball-with-a-gun persona with that of a stone-cold killer who casually slaughtered innocents with no remorse.  So its great to see this popular DC character back in her own semi-harmless personality again, supported by a very funny and unusual story concept.  So by all means, check-out this extremely entertaining new comic book for the treat of a wide range of great artists all coming-together to take a creative crack at Harley Quinn!

3 Guns #1
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Steven Grant: Writer
Emilio Laiso: Art
Gabriel Cassata: Colors

     Boom! Studios has released the first few issues of its “3 Guns” limited 6-issue mini-series title.  The comic book is the successor to the publisher’s “2 Guns” series, which was adapted this past summer into a very popular movie starring starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.  Both series presented thriller genre tales about undercover cops trying to function in a deceptive shadow world of false loyalties, fake identities and constant betrayal.  The current title is scripted by creator/writer Steven Grant with art by Emilio Laiso and colors by Gabriel Cassata.

     Issue #1 throws us into the deep-end of the action pool right on page one, as former undercover cop Bobby Trench is kidnapped by a right-wing domestic terrorism gang and pressured into planning an elaborate heist of a Russian mobster’s money.  He quickly crosses paths with Marcus, his old undercover cop partner who’s affiliated with the Russian mobster.  Similar to the concept of the previous 2 Guns series, the pair realize that they’re being played by the warring factions and agree to warily try and figure-out the situation.  Also floating through this scenario is a potential “third gun,” a female player of this deadly game, whom I won’t identify in this review, for fear of spoiling a surprise reveal about her, that serves as a dramatic bridge to the issue #2 story segment.

      While this comic deserves a positive review recommendation, it comes-in at the average entertainment level for a few critical comment reasons.  On the plus side, the basic story outline is well-crafted and interesting, serving-up an entertaining thriller/suspense story concept with interesting twists and turns as the betrayals and shifty activities (along with the body count!) pile-up.  The artwork is also strong and appropriate for this genre of graphic storytelling.  On the downside, writer Steven Grant plods too slowly through the plot, laying-out extensive scenes of narrative posturing and character explanations that need some editing; issue #1 could have been compressed into about two-thirds of a standard storyline, with the remaining pages devoted to moving this kick-off tale into some more advanced single-issue storytelling.

      Two additional, albeit minor elements pressed on my reading nerve like a scratch along a chalkboard.  The first was scattered instances of dialogue that were just plain amateurish in tone and style, giving an unfortunate aura of fanboyish writing quality instead of the professional polish that this decent story concept deserved.  Secondly, I wanted to scream when writer Grant reveals the names of the two lead Russian mobsters; instead of taking two minutes to select real Russian surnames, he literally scrambles some letters together on the premise that they might pass for vaguely resembling Cyrillic names.  It’s a minor point but it stands-out like a sore thumb and again, added to the amateurish feel to this writing effort.

      So in sum, what we have in issue #1 of 3 Guns is a pretty solid idea that’s presented with a mixture of pro and con qualities. But there’s enough good and interesting stuff here to recommend that readers give it a try and hope that by the second or third issue of this limited edition six-issue series, the writer gets his act together to address the problems detailed above and gives us an undercover cop series worth sticking with throughout its entire planned publishing run.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to open your eyes to the world right in front of you and tell us how many stories tall is the Parkview Office Tower, located on Park Avenue directly across from our favorite pop culture emporium home-away-from-home, That’s Entertainment!  And our observant contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries is (drumroll, please…) Erin O’Connor, who correctly counted 11 stories in the office tower.  Congratulations to Erin, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That’s Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

      As the Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges continue to digest this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, they’re inspired to offer-up a Thanksgiving trivia contest for your consideration.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, December 11 with the correct answer to the following question: In what year did Thanksgiving first become a recognized national federal legal holiday and what was the reason for formally establishing the day as an official national legal holiday?  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 $10.00 first prize 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 holiday shopping (pace yourselves at the mall!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 13 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Comic reviews 11/15/13

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has found four interesting-looking and eclectic new comic books on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so let's get right to it and see how these latest titles stack-up against each other:
Pretty Deadly #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Writer
Emma Rios: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Image Comics recently published issue #1 of a new comic book series entitled Pretty Deadly.  The title is scripted by Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble author Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Emma Rios and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

       The storyline has a Western genre setting that plays-out in three acts. Act One introduces us to the young girl Sissy and her elderly blind companion Fox, who travel among small Western towns staging small outdoor plays and grifting the locals.  The action picks-up in Act Two, in which Sissy pickpockets a cowboy with deadly results, as it turns-out that the papers she stole are being hunted-for by a deadly female gunslinger named Alice.  The tension ratchets-up further in Act Three, as Fox and Sissy flee to an ally named Sarah, to plan their stand against the inevitable arrival of the extremely dangerous and seemingly unstoppable Alice.

     I'm giving issue #1 of Pretty Deadly an average quality positive review, albeit one that barely avoids a negative review recommendation.  On the plus side, we have some pretty interesting mystery elements woven into this dystopian Western genre setting.  I liked writer Kelly Sue DeConnick's approach of keeping the tension high with a strong dose of mystery.  Particularly intriguing is the yet-to-be-explained nature of the stolen notes as well as the mysterious background of Alice the deadly gunslinger.  I also enjoyed the dialogue repartee between our core main characters of Sissy and Fox.  Third, I enjoyed the visual style of this comic book, which suited its Western fiction theme very well.

     On the negative side, I couldn't stand McConnick's strategy of presenting a large portion of the story dialogue in the form of song.  Two important and lengthy chunks of the plot consist of Sissy belting-out the narrative, once during one of her plays and secondly as a song to soothe the fear of a scared child.  It both annoyed me to no end and was difficult to understand in relation to whatever the heck was supposed to be happening plot-wise in both scenes.  This "movie musical" style results in an overall plot that requires a lot of doubling-back to re-read scenes for better understanding.  I wasn't a fan of what I saw as poor quality scripting by McConnick in her previous Avengers Assemble outing and I'm even less of a fan of hers after reading this weird musical number of a plot.

      So the end result is a muddled kick-off issue of Pretty Deadly, one that presents some interesting mystery elements within a Wild West tale but gets dragged-down to the very edge of a potential dud by a poor style choice by the writer for story presentation.  I'm personally willing to check-out another issue or two of this new title, but I'm also fearful that writer McConnick just doesn't have the writing chops to keep this intriguing story concept from ultimately crashing and burning-out within a few more issues.

Half Past Danger #1
Publisher: IDW
Stephen Mooney: Writer and Artist

     IDW is up to issue #5 of a thriller/adventure-themed comic book entitled Half Past Danger.  The noir mystery title and the very beautiful art deco-style front cover looked intriguing enough for me to backtrack to issue #1 to get a review feel for this new series from its very beginning.  The comic book is both written and drawn by creator Stephen Mooney.

     Issue #1 introduces the storyline with a Chapter One tale entitled "Bite The Bullet." The first half of the story unfolds a science fiction plot set in the World War II Pacific Theatre.  Our main character is U.S. Army Sergeant Tom Flynn, who makes two unexpected discoveries as he leads his small recon patrol into the deep jungle of a Pacific Island.  The first is a secret Nazi air base with sci-fi style aircraft, while the second surprise are various rampaging dinosaurs.  This sub-plot features fast action, concluding with Flynn as the only U.S. soldier surviving the dino attack.  Sub-plot Number Two is set back in New York City a few months later. As Flynn tries to cope on-leave with the trauma of his weird adventure, he's confronted by a secretive military trio consisting of a sexy female British Agent, a Steve Rodgers-like U.S. super soldier and a mysterious Japanese ninja expert.  The issue ends in a bridge to issue #2, as the group coerces Flynn to join their cause for further wartime adventuring.

     The most positive aspect of this title is writer Stephen Mooney's strong skill in taking some often-presented comic book story themes and successfully mxing them together into a fresh and very entertaining new comic book series.  Sure, we've all read a gazillion comic books that feature dinosaurs running amok either in in modern-day society or in wartime, but Mooney gives us such beautiful artwork, interesting characters and crisp dialogue that its all very fresh and new.  There's also an very nice sense of mystery, here.  By the end of issue #1, I was hooked on wanting see where this plot line is heading in future issues.  If the quality of issue #1 is any indication, Mooney will no doubt nicely balance the mystery of the Pacific Island dinos, sci-fi style Nazis and the mysterious team of Flynn and his new buddies into some wide-ranging and interesting mixed-genre comic book storytelling.

      So a very positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this interesting and entertaining new comic title that mixes thriller, adventure and science fiction storytelling themes into one successful art deco-styled comic book title.  And the best part is, copies of issues #1 through #5 of this new series are all still available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves for your reading pleasure!

Buck Rodgers #1
Publisher: Hermes Press
Howard Chaykin: Writer & Artist
Jesus Aburto: Colors

     The accomplished veteran comic book creator Howard Chaykin is currently reinterpreting Buck Rodgers for publisher Hermes Press.  Most dedicated comics fans are at least somewhat familiar with the iconic Buck Rodgers character, created in 1928 by Philip Francis Nowlan as a popular newspaper comic strip, and eventually evolving into a wildly popular movie serial.  This latest Buck Rodgers comic book is up to issue #2, so I backtracked to last month's issue #1 in order to get a good feel for this series from its beginning.  Howard Chaykin is both writer and artist for the title, with colors provided by Jesus Aburto.

     Issue #1 alternates between two interweaving sub-plots.  In one storythread, Buck recounts via flashback his well-known origin story, as a 20th-century American who was knocked unconscious in a mineshaft accident by a mysterious natural gas, sleeping for 500 years until his awakening in the 25th century.  The origin portrays the world of the 25th century the same as in the previous Buck Rodgers comic strip, that of a planet ruled by China, with what's left of America populated by struggling factions of rocket jetpack-flying pirate-like factions.

     The second sub-plot focuses on Buck and Colonel Wilma Deering, as together they lead Buck's newly-adopted pack of heroes in a conflict with a nearby warring faction.  Without being a detail spoiler, we're introduced to several secondary characters very familiar from the famed comic strip.  After a lengthy airborne battle Buck and his allies win the day.  In a dramatic bridge to issue #2, Buck discovers a strange book left on the battlefield with the intriguing title of "Americaland."

     I enjoyed reading this new take on the classic Buck Rodgers science fiction character and was particularly impressed with Howard Chaykin's success in evenly balancing his plot with equal portions of traditional and new Buck Rodgers story elements.  In the traditional category, the basic storyverse which made this series so popular is faithfully replicated, from specific story characters to the political world of the 25th century, with the Chinese Han government, scattered U.S. factions and the well-known bad guy "Ming The Merciless" either featured in this tale or referenced for future issues.

     The new story elements are particularly interesting.  Chaykin is known for using his storytelling as a platform to present in a visual format his own views on life, society and politics.  In that vein, here he recasts Buck as a 20th century political activist, leading blue collar workers in early 20th-century populist union activities.  He then carries this personality trait into the 25th century, as Buck tries throughout this tale to convince his allies to stop squabbling with their fellow American factions and instead unite against their common oppression by the conquering Han Chinese.  Its a clear metaphor for unions uniting for their rights versus corporate management.  Whether you support one side or another on this issue, it all makes for a credible and entertaining plot addition to the well-known backstory of Buck Rodgers.

     In addition to the well-crafted script, its worth giving a shout-out to two additional successful elements of this comic book: the excellent-as-usual graphics of Chaykin's artwork, which is a perfect visual style for this storyline, and an interesting back-of-the-issue question-and-answer interview of Chaykin by the publisher.  So whether you're an old-school Buck Rodgers fan or a newcomer to this particular science fiction comic book character, its well-worth checking-out this latest version of all things Buck Rodgers!

Kings Watch
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Jeff Parker: Writer
Marc Laming: Art
Jordan Boyd: Colors

      Dynamite Entertainment recently introduced a new comic book entitled "Kings Watch," featuring a team-up of the Pulp-era heroes The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake The Magician.  The series is up to issue #2, so once again I took a short step back to last month's issue #1 to get a good feel for the title from its kick-off issue.  The series is scripted by Jeff Parker with art by Marc Laming and colors by Jordan Boyd.

      The issue #1 storyline alternates among four interweaving sub-plots, all with the interconnected theme that strange lights have appeared world-wide in the night sky, triggering creepy nightmares among most of humanity consisting of vivid visions of an impending demon monster invasion.  Without being a detail spoiler, The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake The Magician star in three of these plotthreads, as they individually cope with circumstances of the phenomena in their separate settings. 

     The fourth vignette stars Flash Gordon's girlfriend Eve Arden, who is cast in this title as a Lois Lane-style journalist trying to cope with her own nightmares from the situation.  A major highlight of the issue is an extended action sequence in which The Phantom fights and defeats a dinosaur-like creature in Africa, no doubt also linked to the strange doings. The issue ends in a dramatic action scene, as Flash Gordon rockets into Earth orbit to investigate the light phenomena.  We also learn that a demonic cult is seeking to open the mysterious "Kings Watch" to trigger the demonic invasion.

     I couldn't help but compare this comic book to the Buck Rodgers issue reviewed above, given that they're both new titles featuring the return of some of the most popular pulp-era comic strip and comic book action heroes.  And in that regard, this comic book also scores high on the scales of both high quality and worthwhile entertainment.  Similar to Chaykin's scripting style in Buck Rodgers, Kings Watch writer Jeff Parker provides an equal blend of old and new elements in this script.  I was particularly impressed with his decision to place the setting of the story in the current world of 2013.  While his characters all maintain their early 20th-century personality traits, they still manage to blend well into the structure of our high tech, instant communication world.  The result is a very entertaining fresh take on these iconic Pulp-era action heroes, presented with some very appropriate and enjoyable artwork.

     So another thumbs-up positive review recommendation for All Good Readers to take advantage of the rare treat this week of two excellent pre-Golden Age-themed action comic books available for your reading pleasure on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify the only capital of a foreign country named after a U.S. President.  We received several correct entries, so via a roll-of-the-dice, our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Christopher Begley, who identified the capital city and country as Monrovia, Liberia.  Liberia was colonized beginning in 1820 by African-American freed slaves, resulting in an eventual naming of the capital city after U.S. President James Monroe.  Congratulations to Chris who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenges you with a trivia question with the answer available right here in the Park Avenue neighborhood of That's Entertainment.  All good customers of our favorite pop culture emporium are aware that across the street from the store is the Park View Tower office building, the tallest building along the Park Avenue commercial corridor.  Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, November 27 with the correct answer to the following question: how many stories tall is the Park View Tower?  The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges bets that most readers have never bothered to count the number of floors in the building height.  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 $10.00 first prize 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 holiday season (Happy Thanksgiving!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 29 Here In Bongo Congo!