Friday, May 30, 2014

Comic Reviews 5/30/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we celebrate the kick-off of the post-Memorial Day summer season with reviews of an eclectic variety of new comic book issues.  So let's get right to it and see how these titles stack-up against each other:

Ultimate FF #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Writer
Mario Guevara & Tom Grummett: Pencils
Juan Vlasco: Inks
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors

     Marvel Comics continues its ongoing re-boot of its Ultimate line of comic book titles with issue #1 of a reformulated Ultimate Fantastic Four team.  As I've mentioned for the benefit of the uninitiated at the start of previous Ultimate comic book reviews, this line of Marvel Comics offers intriguing alternate versions of familiar Marvel storyverse characters, identities and plot situations.  The new title is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov with pencils by Marion Guevara and Tom Grummett, inks by Juan Vlasco and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Doomed" that features the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four, which currently consists of team leader Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl, Iron Man/Tony Stark, The Falcon/Sam Wilson and Machine Man/Danny Ketch.  Calling themselves the Future Foundation (FF) instead of the Fantastic Four, the team partners with former SHIELD agent Phil Coulson to deal with a crisis when an anomaly of rifts in the "fabric of creation" causes alternate universe "goo" so to speak, to leak into the main Ultimate reality.  Most of the issue #1 storyline is action-adventure oriented; when one such rift hits midtown Manhattan, it causes a bunch of construction workers to transform into other-dimensional giant monsters. Without being a detail spoiler, as the team fails to quell the crisis, Agent Coulson takes a gamble and inserts an evil unnamed player into the confrontation, hoping that he can turn the tide.  The gambit works, and in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, the FF learns that said bad rescuer isn't the assumed Ultimate baddie Reed Richards but another major player from the well-known traditional FF storyverse (hint: check-out the title of the story!).

     I've mentioned in previous Ultimate comic book reviews that its always fun to read in these stories both the subtle and major differences from the mainstream Marvel Comics storyline, and this new FF kick-off issue doesn't fail to offer-up another batch of fresh "Easter Egg" surprises.  Granted, many of them are probably familiar to regular Ultimate devoted readers, but for the occasional Ultimate reader like me, the main ones that stand-out in this issue are the obvious fresh mix of FF team characters, the replacement of the "Fantastic Four" concept with the "Future Foundation" idea and the concept of Reed Richards characterized as the most evil mad scientist threat to mankind.  There's also the intriguing references to SHIELD no longer existing, leaving many well-known SHIELD-related Marvel characters identified in this story as being available for freelance work, which should lead to some interesting plot developments in future story segments.

     Two additional story elements add to the overall entertainment value of this new title.  First and foremost is the strength of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov's script, which successfully blends fast action, drama and humorous dialogue into a past-paced and entertaining storyline.  Secondly, the science fiction element of the storyline nicely continues the Fantastic Four tradition of blending traditional superhero storytelling with mainstream science fiction plot themes.  The alternate timeline/cracks in the plane of reality storyline is a natural fit for the FF concept and results in a very entertaining tale.  My only constructive criticism is the quality of the artwork; the penciling is very sketchy and results in an unfinished feel to many panels, which distracts at times from the quality of the storyline.  But the many positive elements of this comic book easily outweigh this one annoyance.

     So all in all, a thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this latest addition to the wide-ranging inventory of Marvel's Ultimate comic book titles!

Empowered Special #6
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Adam Warren: Writer
Brandon Graham & Adam Warren: Art

     Dark Horse Comics recently published a special one-shot issue of its Empowered title.  This popular manga-style comic book series stars Elissa Megan Powers as the superheroine Empowered (nicknamed "Emp"), whose superstrength powers derive from a skintight sexy uniform that's usually quick to fall apart into bikini-sized pieces.  The dark comedy series follows Elissa/Empowered as she lives her life in an unnamed West Coast city struggling with both superhero adventuring and body-shape, self-esteem issues.  Support characters include her best friend/sidekick Ninjette and a gang of fellow struggling heroes called "The Superhomeys," who include the reformed former villain and Emp's current boyfriend Thugboy.  Special issue #6 is scripted by Empowered creator Adam Warren, who also provides the black-and-white opening and closing sequence artwork, while artist Brandon Graham provides the mid-section color artwork.

     The special issue's 30-page story is entitled "Medicine" and provides a science fiction-themed plot.  To make a long story short, a mile-long amoeba-style space alien is threatening to destroy Emp's city if the medical staff at the "Suprahuman Wing" of the local hospital can't make her ill amoeba-baby well.  Without spoiling any plot details, its up to Emp and Ninjette to get to the 62nd floor of the alien hospital to assist or all will be lost.  Problem is, the hospital floors each exist in alternate universes/realities, so naturally a mix of insane hijinks and drama ensue as our heroic duo encounter various planes of reality and alternate situations as they try to wend their way to Floor 62.  Naturally, by issue's end all is well, but not without some very creative and dramatic situations unfolding.

     Having never read an issue of this series before, I was very impressed with and entertained by this special issue of Empowered. Writer/creator Adam Warren does an exceptional job of balancing two story elements: introducing newbies like me to the overall Empowered storyverse while providing a high quality tale that blends traditional superhero storytelling with a science fiction plot.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative achieves most of the first goal by providing a quick, yet very effective primer of the Empowered storyverse.  But its the science fiction plot that really shines, here.  The storyline actually operates on two levels: while the action-adventure elements of the plot unfold in the lengthier color-toned mid-section of the comic book, Warren provides a mind-blowing story direction in the black-and-white opening and closing sections, detailing a very serious, deadly calamity in one of the hospital's alternate realities, which includes the alternate reality Ninjette actually dying.  This leads to a very forceful and unexpectedly dramatic ending of the tale, as the alternate reality's sidekick-less Emp meets-up in the hospital elevator with our main reality's dynamic duo.  As a life-long science fiction reader and writer, I can say that its one of the best-written alternate reality sci-fi story sequences that I've ever come across in any fictional format.

      Frankly, this is a rare and special comic book series. It's not every day that a comic book creator manages to blend the elements of sexiness, satire, darkness and science fiction into one high quality piece of reading entertainment that scores high in all four stylistic categories.  But creator Adam Warren has found a way to pull it all off, with the assistance of artist Brandon Graham.  And to top it all off, the final page of the comic book advertises the availability of seven full volumes of Empowered graphic editions, from the series start in 2007 to the present-day.  So here's a double thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good fanboys and fangirls to both enjoy the current Empowered Special #6 and check-out the wide-ranging graphic inventory of this unique and highly entertaining superheroine series, all available at That's Entertainment, of course!

Batman #30
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Danny Miki: Inks

     DC's Batman title is currently up to issue #30.  As all faithful Batman readers know, writer Scott Snyder has been reinventing the Batman storyverse lineage as part of the "Zero Year" DC crossover publishing event.  Through both the Secret City and Dark City multi-issue storyarcs, we've witnessed Gotham City shattered by a mega-flood, with the chaos eventually leading to the City becoming hostage to a dictatorial young version of traditional Bat-foe The Riddler.  Issue #30 kicks-off the third multi-issue story arc of this series, entitled "Savage City." Writer Scott Snyder is joined in the effort by penciler Greg Capullo and inker Danny Miki.

      This first installment of the Savage City storyline brings Bruce Wayne/Batman back into fold of trying to overturn The Riddler's stranglehold on the damaged and cut-off Gotham City.  Two subplots alternate throughout the issue.  In the first plot-thread, Bruce Wayne awakens from a coma and learns of Gotham's fate.  Through Bruce's eyes, we learn the details of The Riddler's reign of terror and abuse of the scattered Gotham flood survivors and watch Bruce's resolve begin to jell toward redonning the famed batcape and getting into the game of underground resistance against the powerful Riddler.  In the second sub-plot, we follow the difficult efforts of Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon as he at-first single-handedly, and then with the assistance of an inserted federal government black ops squad, attempts to mount a feeble resistance effort.  Without being a detail spoiler, all seems lost for Gordon and the squad in a direct confrontation with The Riddler, until in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #31, Bruce rescues the beleaguered rebels as the returned Batman, adding hope that maybe this small band of resisters can move forward to save the half-drowned city from The Riddler's evil.

     This is an intriguing comic book series that has both strongpoints and drawbacks to it, which when mixed together result in a positive review recommendation, albeit in the average-quality category.  On the plus side, there's no one better these days than A-list writer Scott Snyder is offering-up a fresh Batman storyline and once again he provides us with a well-paced, strongly-written plot.  The dialogue is credible and the science fiction element of the half-drowned city offers an entertaining new story-telling perspective on the well-known, traditional identity of Gotham City.  I also liked very much a creative plotthread in which The Riddler challenges what's left of Gotham's populace to try and stump him once a day with a riddle; if he can't answer it, they get their city back. The details of the particular daily challenge posed in issue #30 are unique and fun to read.

     What kicks this issue's quality down to the average category is the lack of credibility regarding the concept of The Riddler managing to keep the city cut-off from the rest of the country.  I just can't shake the unconvincing and overly-simplistic logic of it all.  Writer Snyder tries to make a case that with a few set charges of bridge explosives here, and a few poison gas-filled balloons hovering over there, then voila, the populace of one of the nation's largest cities is easily and totally held immobile, while the federal government can barely drop six Black 0ps soldiers into this garrison situation.  Granted, a lot of real world logic goes out the window in comic book storytelling, but this just feels too forced a plot structure for me to buy into as an adult reader.  But the good stuff as detailed above is worthwhile enough for readers to make the effort of suspend the illogic of the hostaging of Gotham in order to see where this intriguing Batman/Riddler war takes us over the course of the Savage City storyarc.

     As a minor final constructive criticism note, there's also an odd, two-page introductory flashback scene of Bruce Wayne and an old girlfriend back in their college days that makes no sense whatsoever in the context of this Savage City story segment.  But as I'm not a monthly reader of the Batman Zero Year publishing event, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt that it might make more sense in the context of the entire unfolding story series.  So bottom line: yes, Good Batman Readers, by all means check-out this interesting and entertaining unfolding of the battle to save the soul of the half-drowned Gotham City, but be willing to accept some very illogical elements regarding the "city under siege" situation and I think you'll have a fun time reading this series.

How I Made The World #1
Publisher: How I Made The World Comics
Liz Plourde: Writer
Randy Michaels: Art

     New Hampshire-based writer Liz Plourde and artist Randy Michaels have collaborated on a new independent comic book series entitled "How I Made The World."  The series features writer Plourde's semi-autobiographical stories that follow the college experiences of undergraduate Liz at fictional "White Mountain University".  The 32-page issue #1 is set to hit the new issues shelves in That's Entertainment and other comic book stores in June.

     The issue #1 story is entitled "The Monster" and offers three interweaving storythreads.  The first plotline details Liz's semi-comical attempts to navigate the collegiate bureaucratic maze of trying to get into attractive overloaded college courses, which naturally never seem to have an open slot.  The main plotline kicks into gear when Liz gets stuck in a seemingly undesirable art sculpture course.  Liz unexpectedly warms to a particular sculpture assignment and that's when the "monster" of the story title rears its Godzilla-like head, in the form of the particular assignment taking-over Liz's life, to the point where she spends entire evenings obsessing over the project in the campus art studios.

      The third plothread works its way through the tale as an introduction to the secondary story characters in Liz's life; we're introduced to a broad array of campus friends, aquaintances and roommates, some of whom interact in Liz's obsession with the monster art assignment while others serve as welcome, temporary diversions away from the wearing project.  By story's end, Liz has overcome several real obstacles, as well as one metaphysical encounter, to finally get the project completed on-time.

      This is a well-produced, high quality indie production that deserves some enthusiastic fanboy and fangirl reading support, for several reasons.  First, you gotta give some sales support to any indie effort that breaks away from the incessant world of superhero/sci-fi/horror/etc. storylines and actually provides an all-too-rare real-world plot, featuring real people doing real things.  The college campus plot is also an attractive theme for readers aged high-school through older, reminiscing college alumni adults (like yours truly).  Secondly, Plourde's plot is rich and intricate, brimming with both well-crafted narrative and very strong characterization.  She doesn't rush her storytelling; instead, we're treated to a paced, detailed story progression that fills-out the backstories and personality quirks of a range of characters. And a wonderful cast of characters they are; while too numerous and spoiler-worthy to detail here, its worth mentioning that my favorite Liz friend is the chain-smoking Carla, her fellow night-shift artist who dishes-out both spoken and unspoken camaraderie and support through the long sleepless nights of Liz's monster-of-a-project effort.

     Third, a tip-of-the-review hat is well-due to artist Randy Michaels, whose black-and-white renderings provide a very appropriate visual style for the genre of real-world fictional storytelling.  Frankly, I was blown-away by a few very creative and unusual full-page panel lay-outs that elevate the design of this comic into a higher-than-average category of artistic creativity.  My one constructive review comment is that the issue #1 story ending was a bit flat and uneventful. After experiencing an absorbing tale that seemed to be building to an unrevealed climax, Liz just seemed to wrap-up her project and head back to her dorm.  But on the plus side, maybe that's a pretty good reflection of how college experiences actually play-out at times.  And there are always future upcoming issues in which Liz's life experiences have the potential for many different twists and turns.

     On a final review note, the main "Monster" story is followed by a 4-page secondary tale entitled "Catman." Its a very cute story starring a pre-teen Lizzy, her Uncle Pete and Lizzy's cat named Wally that balances nicely with the college theme of the main story, and is sure to be enjoyed by kids of all ages.  So in sum, an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this inventive, absorbing and very entertaining first-issue premier of the adventures of Liz and friends as they explore college life in the wilds of New Hampshire.  So c'mon, Good Indie Readers, get on-down to That's Entertainment and support the sales of this fledging new indie comic book! And for further information on all good things happening in the world of college student Liz, go to

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to identify the well-known celebrity who voiced the iconic character of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick buddy in the old Saturday morning cartoon show.  We received many correct entries, so via a roll of the dice our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Jeremy Mower, who correctly identified well-known national radio music DJ Casey Kasem as the voice of Shaggy.  Kasem has been in the national news lately as the subject of an odd family dispute, the details of which you can check-out for yourself in the media.  Congratulations to Jeremy who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges are huge fans of NCIS, the very popular t.v. drama on CBS that follows the adventures of a unit of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.  Having just finished its 12th season on-air, NCIS actually began its long broadcasting run as a spin-off of a previous very popular military-themed t.v. series.  So your challenge for this contest is to e-mail us at no later that Wednesday, June 11 and tell us what was the name of the popular t.v. series that NCIS spun-off from.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be chosen 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 Red Sox-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, June 13 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Comic Reviews 5/16/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     As all good Bongo Congo subjects know, Saturday, May 3 was National Free Comic Book Day! And in honor of our Kingdom's favorite annual holiday, Good King Leonardo has issued his annual decree that we review four of the many wonderful free comics that were available that day, both nation-wide and at our favorite local pop culture emporium, That's Entertainment!  So let's get right to it and see how these freebies faired in quality and whether or not all good readers should check-out the comic titles that each is promoting:

Skyward and Midnight Tiger
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Action Lab Comics issued a double feature comic book on Free Comic Book Day that co-starred two of that publisher's titles, Skyward and Midnight Tiger.  Skyward is a young reader-oriented Viking-style action-adventure series and led the issue. The series is scripted and drawn by Jeremy Dale, with colors by James Rochelle.  The second story featured teenaged superhero Midnight Tiger and is written by Dewayne Feenstra with art by series creator Ray-Anthony Height and colors by Paul Little.

     As mentioned above, Skyward is an action-adventure series set in an historical world populated by pre-technological tribes similar in nature to the Vikings. This issue's very brief, eight-page story is entitled "Past Sins" and serves more as a quick orientation to the Skyward storyverse rather than as a stand-alone story.  The main characters are a teenaged girl Effie and her teenaged brother Aric, who stand vigil over their mortally wounded father Hargan, their tribe's Chietain.  Very quickly, Hargan reveals the backstory of their world to the kids: how the four existing warring tribes used to be one big, peaceful tribe, until they were attacked and decimated by a mysterious tribe of outsiders.  When their father passes, Aric vows to never trust any outsiders.  Switch to the final scene, in which an outsider kid named Quinn and his dog Jack, who actually seem to be the main charcaters of this comic book title, are about to arrive as refugees in the tribe's village.

     The lengthier, twelve-page second story provides the origin tale of teenaged superhero Midnight Tiger.  We meet Gavin, an African-American teen living with his widowed dad in Los Angeles. This is a reality where both good and evil  X-Men-style "metahumans" exist, using their animal hybrid enhancements to battle amongst regular humans.  When Gavin innocently stumbles into such a battle and is mortally wounded, the good guy metahuman named Lionsblood secretly gives the kid a transfusion, thereby saving Gavin's life and empowering him with Lionsblood's enhanced strength and acrobatic abilities.  By story's end, Gavin has designed his Midnight Tiger costume and is off-and-running to live the Peter Parker/Spiderman-style life of an angst-ridden teenaged hero.

      I wasn't previously familiar with either of these comic book titles and enjoyed learning about both of them from this giveaway freebie issue.  The Skyward story was the weaker of the pair, for two reasons. First, there's no real plotline; the brief introduction essentially serves as a comic book version of an advertisement, just explaining the structural world of this series.  Secondly, the two main characters of the title, the kid Quinn and his dog Jack, are barely featured in this promo blurb.  I also wondered about the publishing legs of a title that doesn't seem to have any fantasy elements.  While interesting, its more of a historical fiction tale and I wonder if today's young readers will stick with such a mainstream offering. However, in terms of production quality the series seems like a very good version of the historical adventure comic book genre for young readers to enjoy.

     I got more of a positive kick out of reading Midnight Tiger.  A tip-of-the-review-hat is due to the creative team for successfully avoiding the trap of following in the well-worn storyverse footsteps of such well-known earlier teen hero titles as Spiderman.  This series is very fresh and unique in terms of structure and characterization.  The metahuman dilemma of human-animal hybrid heroes and villains has its own unique feel to it, and the Los Angeles society that Gavin, his father and friends live-in also has its own feel, blending our real world with a sort of post-apocalyptic atmosphere; things seem to be just at the start of societal unraveling, as these metahumans selfishly rage at each other in street battles while the humans do their best to avoid getting killed or hurt as a sideffect. There's a lot of good storytelling potential that this series can explore with these fresh themes front-and-center in this title.

      So a thumbs-up positive review recommendation is deserved for these two new series as promoted in the Free Comic Book Day giveaway.  While both titles are worth reading, its worth noting again that Skyward is more of a kid-oriented historical adventure tale while Midnight Tiger offers a traditional teenaged costumed superhero storyline.

Atomic Robo 2014 Free Comic Book Day Issue
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Brian Clevenger: Writer
Scott Wegener: Art
Anthony Clark: Colors

     One of the most popular comics issued nationwide every year on Free Comic Book Day is Atomic Robo. Published by Red 5 Comics, the series stars the aforementioned atomic robot, created in the 1920's by famed inventor Nicola Tesla, the real-life inventor rival of Thomas Edison.  Atomic Robo story settings alternate in various historic periods between the 1920's and today, and feature Robo having very funny action-adventures, along with a team of scientist support characters, as Robo fulfills his corporate duties as the head of Tesladyne, his international corporate scientific thinktank. The series is scripted by Brian Clevenger with art by Scott Wegener and colors by Anthony Clark.

     The Free Comic Day issue's story is set in present-day Centralia, an abandoned Pennsylvania coal town, where two subplots unfold.  In the first, college student Elizabeth Foley goes exploring through the town trying to figure-out why its abandoned, while in the second plotthread Atomic Robo and his team are in Town for the same purpose.  In a brief flashback to 1962, we learn that a weird rockmonster event occurred there that Atomic Robo was involved in and doesn't want to reveal to his team.  As one of the aforementioned rock monsters pops-up on the present-day scene, both Elizabeth and Robo's team come together and without spoiling any details here, have a humorous action-adventure and of course, save the day in typical, semi-wacky Atomic Robo style.

     This comic book succeeds on two counts: first, as a pretty good freebie introduction for newcomers of the storyverse of Atomic Robo and secondly, as a decent stand-alone story for loyal, regular readers of Atomic Robo, such as myself.  The regular Atomic Robo title is structured in five-issue story arcs, and the annual freebies always nicely balance those more detailed multi-issue story arcs with quick single stories that serve as fun and fresh sidebars to the longer series tales.  I was slightly disappointed that the famed Dr. Dinosaur was nowhere to be found in this issue. Robo's Free Comic Book day giveaways have become known as featuring the nutty professor evil dinosaur foe and have become popular collectibles in and of themselves.  But even without featuring our favorite idiotic dinosaur evil genius foe, the 2014 giveway issue is still a very entertaining tale that readers will enjoy. And it's all for free, to boot!

     As a final review note, the issue also includes two other brief secondary tales from Red 5 Comics, one promoting a little kid's fantasy series entitled Bodie Troll and the other introducing a new fantasy/horror series called Haunted.  Bodie Troll is geared toward preschoolers and it quickly bored me so much that I couldn't even finish reading it for a review comment. The Haunted title promo presents the concept of a barrier breakdown between our reality and "the spirit world," resulting in evil spirits and ghosts turning our world into a Terminator-like battle for the survival of reality and mankind.  The freebie tale seemed to offer an equal balance between intriguing story elements and abject plot illogical stupidity, so I'll take a review pass on this back-up tale also and suggest that readers check it out on their own to make-up their own minds about its entertainment worthiness.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Free Comic Book Day Issue
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Gene Luen Yang: Writer
Faith Erin Hicks: Art
Cris Peter: Colors

     The freebie from Dark Horse Comics for this year's Free Comic Book Day featured Avatar: The Last Airbender, a graphic novel series based on the movie from a few years back with the same name.  The comic book is scripted by Gene Luen Yang with art by Faith Erin Hicks and colors by Cris Peter.

     I didn't see the movie that this series is based-upon so I don't know how faithful the comic book/graphic novel storyverse is to that film.  But the comic book presents a fantasy-based series starring Suki, a teenaged girl living in historical Japan who is an airbender, one who has apparently been trained by the royal Avatar to harness super-style martial arts powers.  In this freebie storyline, Suki and her boyfriend Sokka befriend Giya, a shy, insecure teenaged girl who needs some coaxing out of her introverted shell.  Without being a detail spoiler, by means of telling a fable in flashback, our duo succeeds in building some self-confidence in Giya, to the point that by the end of this one-shot tale, Giya and her friends are now in self-confidence airbender training themselves as taught by the current royal avatar, alongside Suki and Sokka.

     This is an excellent teen-oriented comic book story that succeeds both as mainstream comic book entertainment and as a learning tool to offer a valuable life lesson to young readers about self-worth and personal empowerment.  I recall reading reviews of the Airbender movies that gave it lousy reviews across-the-board, which it most likely deserved given the consistency of that trashing from all reviewers.  If that's the case, the comic book creative team deserves a lot of credit for transforming a piece of movie trash into a decent and high quality comic book reading concept.  I'm sure that this Free Comic Book Day giveway issue is a typical example of the regular Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series, and as such I can highly recommend this title as one of the better youth-oriented new issue series out there right now, for the reasons listed above.

     Two additional Dark Horse title samples round-out this giveaway issue, an "Itty Bitty Hellboy" short and a story from a series entitled "Juice Squeezers." The Itty Bitty Hellboy tale is a two-page short that succeeds in providing a cute, funny G-rated little kid version of the well-known Hellboy character.  "Juice Squeezers" is so crappy a tale that I offer it up right now as The Worst Story Of The Year, and its only the month of May, right now! I'm confident that it will still hold that title come December 31, 2014.  Involving teenagers, giant mutant ants and regular-sized ants biting many of the characters in their butts, the concept had some gross-out storytelling potential.  But with a lousy script and incredibly bad artwork, it tanks fast from any cult-level likeability down into the cesspool of unredeemable failure.

     So in sum, my thumbs-up positive review recommendation is for all good fanboys and fangirls to enjoy the main featured Airbender tale, get a quick laugh out of the Itty Bitty Hellboy story, and then rip the Juice Squeezers tale out of the back of this freebie issue and throw it away. And of course, follow-up reading this issue by checking-out the regular Avatar: The Last Airbender series of graphic novels, all available at That's Entertainment!

The Simpsons
Bongo Congo Free For All!
Publisher: Bongo Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Included in the 2014 Free Comic Book Day inventory is the annual Bongo Comics Free For All!  The issue features five Simpsons stories offering a wide variety of the many well-known and beloved characters from the long-running Simpsons cartoon show.  Various artists and writers took turns producing the five stories.

     The lead story is entitled "With Great Power..." and features Bart and his wimpy sidekick Milhouse in an homage to comic books.  When the boys realize that accidents seem to be the source of their favorite fictional superhero's powers, naturally they attempt a variety of accidents themselves to try and join the superhero club.  "Agent Vs. Agent" is a two-page Itchy and Scratchy riff on the well-known Mad Magazine feature "Spy Vs. Spy."  The third tale is entitled "Mr. Burns To The Rescue" and centers on Mr. Burns searching through his mansion's basement for his missing lackey Smithers.  Naturally, the Burns mansion basement is chock-full of all sorts of weird and delightful diversions and people.

     Our fourth tale is a two-page quickie entitled "Krustyburger Konfidential." Once again, Bart and Milhouse take center stage, this time in a fantasy riff as they imagine what it would be like if their beloved Krusty Burger fast food outlet was staffed by a bunch on chimpanzees.  The issue wraps-up with a nine-page final tale entitled "Synchronicity For Two."  When Professor Frink gives a guest lecture at Bart's school on quantum mechanics, things naturally go awry, with Frink and Bart sucked into another quantum dimension.  And as a nice change of pace, the final page of this freebie issue features a "Where's Waldo" challenge starring Martin Prince as the hard-to-spot character.

     I never cease to be amazed how both Bongo Comics's Simpsons titles and Archie Comics both manage to consistently offer-up the perfect blend of comic book story entertainment and cultural relevancy.  This 2014 Free Comic Book Day freebie is just a latest example of this well-balanced creative achievement.  While stories two through four are well-written standard Simpsons fare, the first and fifth stories are the lengthier, edgier tales in terms of some actual literacy in the telling.  "With Great Power..." is a heartfelt and just plain wonderful homage to the concept of superhero storytelling origins, with a quiet life lesson in its conclusion about the reality of everyday life versus the fantasy of comic book stories.  And where else but in a Simpsons comic book could a wacky tale like "Synchronicity For Two" give us a kid-based action-adventure tale balanced with an easily understandable lesson on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics?!

     So if you're already a Simpsons comic book fan, keep on reading these well-crafted and highly entertaining tales.  And if you're a newbie, the latest Bongo Congo Free For All! is a great place to dip your reading toe into the storyverse of all things Simpsons!

 Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenge was our annual competition for you to tell us what upcoming summer blockbuster movies you're most looking forward to seeing.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley who offers-up a few choice movies for our consideration.  Mike writes that he enjoyed already viewing the first early-release summer blockbuster of the season, Captain America: Winter Soldier.  He's also looking forward to the big special effects of the upcoming new Godzilla movie and is anticipating hopefully enjoying Sin City 2., adding that "the first movie was a great one and I look forward to a sequel."  Good choices all-around, Mike!  So congrats to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest is an old Saturday morning cartoon show trivia question.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, May 28 with the correct answer to the following question:  What famed national radio personality provided the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick in the ever-popular Adventures Of Scooby-Doo cartoon show?  Hint: this person has been in the national news this past week for an odd reason.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be chosen 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 NHL playoff-watching (Go Broons!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 30 Here In Bongo Congo!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Comic Reviews 05/5/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we get back to our roots this week by reviewing four new comic book issues that each star a traditional comic book costumed hero.  So let's get right to it and see how these new issues each stack-up against each other:


Batman Eternal #2

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV: Writers

Jason Fabok: Art

Brad Anderson: Colors

     DC Comics is currently up to issue #2 of a new Batman series entitled Batman Eternal.  The title is co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by Jason Fabok and colors by Brad Anderson.  Interestingly, three additional writers are credited with being "consulting writers" on this issue: Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley.

     Issue #2 is the second installment of a multi-issue storyarc with a plotline centering on well-know Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.  Its clear from the early panels of this issue that in issue #1 Gordon had been arrested for shooting an unarmed man in a Gotham subway tunnel, resulting in a subway train crash that's killed dozens of people.  Obviously, the entire incident is a set-up, and as such the creative team alternates between two sub-plots that lead the reader to a reveal of the criminal mastermind on the last page of this issue.  In one sub-plot, Batman interviews Gordon in prison and sets-off on a search for clues.  In mid-sleuthing he's joined in this effort by Catwoman/Selena Kyle.  The second alternating storythread centers on the actual culprit, a figure who speaks from the shadows in a rooftop conversation with corrupt Gotham Mayor Sebastian Hady.  Their conversation builds page-by-page with small clues regarding the bad guy's previous Gotham-based criminal history. By issue's end, the dual plotlines come together as simultaneously Batman and Catwoman figure-out the mastermind's identity just as the baddie steps-out of the shadows, revealing his identity.

     Co-writers Snyder and Tynion are two of the most highly skilled Batman writers of the past few years and once again bring that A-list storytelling quality to this new Batman title. While the basic plot concept is routine and repetitive from many a previous Batman title (Jim Gordon framed for a crime he didn't commit), the details of their storytelling narrative elevates it to the category of exceptional Batman comic book entertainment.  Most impressive is a multi-page story sequence in which a wide range of Batman Family members, scattered about both Gotham City and the world, are each featured learning of the Jim Gordon arrest via television or internet breaking news coverage and each reacting in kind according to their particular personalities. Its a very well-presented and creative story scene and hints at the possibility that some of these folk will be drawn into the story as it continues in future monthly installments.

     There's also a hint of mystery woven into the plot via two short scenes.  In the first, a particular supervillain imprisoned in Arkham Asylum is visited by what seems to be a supernatural evil being, while in the second scene an investigating detective arrives on the scene of the subway train disaster and exhibits mind-altering powers that appear evil in origin.  My only question about this issue is the choice of the actual evil mastermind behind the entire set-up of Commissioner Gordon.  One the one hand, this person is a good choice given his lengthy and well-presented use in previous Batman titles.  On the other hand, without being a detail spoiler, I have to comment that its a bit of a let-down to have a non-superpowered bad guy revealed as the mastermind of what appears to be such an extraordinary event.  But perhaps future story segments will connect this baddie to the two paranormal events briefly revealed in issue #2.

    So the final result of this effort is a high quality comic book story that nicely balances some traditional Batman storyverse characters and story themes with many fresh and well-crafted new plot details.  Irregardless of readers' potential positive or negative reaction to the writers' choice of featured villain in this storyline, Batman Eternal #2 clearly deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation, both as an entertaining stand-alone Batman story segment and as a worthwhile new addition to the many Batman comic book titles currently available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

All-New Ultimates #1

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Michel Fiffe: Writer

Amilcar Pinna: Art

Nolan Woodard: Color

     Marvel Comics recently published issue #1 of a new Ultimates series entitled All-New Ultimates.  For the uninitiated, Marvel's series of Ultimates titles presents an "alternate universe" version of the well-known, standard Marvel storyverse. The various titles and issues have been very popular over the years as they present an at-times very different version of our well-known Marvel heroes and settings.  This latest Ultimates title is scripted by Michel Fiffe with art by Amilcar Pinna and colors by Nolan Woodard.

     This new series kicks-off a multi-issue storyline entitled "Power For Power" and introduces a new five-member team of Manhattan-based Marvel teen heroes, consisting of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, the duo Clock and Dagger, and a young female hero named Bombshell. The story interweaves two alternating sub-plots.  One focuses on the team just trying to figure-out how to mesh together and begin working as a crime-fighting unit.  A portion of this storythread includes the efforts of Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman to convince a very reluctant former X-Man Kitty Pryde to join the new group.  The second subplot features more action, as the team tackles the dual problem of a corporate experiment mutating inner city residents, while a mutated street gang works to take over and terrorize the inner city.  The issue ends in a bridge to next month's issue #2 story segment, as the street gang appears to have gained the upper-hand against local police and our teenaged heroes.

     I'm giving this new series a deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation, albeit with some qualifications.  On the plus side, its a very well-drawn, visually pleasing comic series that premiers in issue #1 with a high quality script and a nice balance between talking-head narrative and fast action-adventure.  I also like the differences between the standard Marvel storyverse and the altered reality of Ultimates Comics.  Without being a story spoiler, a few interesting Ultimates changes include a reference to SHIELD no longer in existence as well as the previous death of Captain America.  I also think that a tiny deliberate change is sneaked-in in the form of one of our heroes pulling the tab off of a soda can, a la the real world 1970's soda can design, versus today's pop-in soda can tabs!

     Two constructive criticism elements balance the good stuff in this issue.  First, the plot and specific dialogue just scream-out for a teen reader audience, so much so that I don't believe older readers can immerse themselves into an enjoyable read of this new series. As a baby boomer reader, I felt like an aged visitor to this series; it definitely isn't structured to reach out to readers of all ages.  Secondly, the series desperately needs a front page narrative that fills-in newcomers on the basics of this changed Ultimates storyverse.  There are a lot of references to previous Ultimates developments that went right over my head as a newcomer to this side of the Marvel publishing line. A little upfront narrative would go a long way toward clarifying and making readers feel at home in this brave new world of Marvel story developments.

     So in sum, this is an entertaining and well-constructed new Ultimates title for teenaged readers, but needs some tweaking as described above to expand its entertainment value for older readers.  For us oldsters, I'd recommend first trying-out one of the many other Ultimates titles available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.  But for younger readers, I'd recommend diving right in and enjoying this new comic book series.

Flash Gordon #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Jeff Parker: Writer
Evan Shaner: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Dynamite Comics has just published issue #1 of a new Flash Gordon comic book title.  I was curious to review it since I've also reviewed in the past year a new Buck Rogers title that was created by well-known comic book creator Howard Chaykin.  As such, I wanted to compare how these new versions of the two iconic Golden Age heroes hold-up.  The new series is scripted by Jeff Parker with art by Evan Shaner and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 modernizes the storyverse of Flash Gordon from its 1920's-30's pulp-era roots.  American adventurer Alex "Flash" Gordon, television reporter Dale Arden and scientist Dr. Zarkov live in our modern Earth and via a "quantum crystal" access a teleportation portal to the planet Mongo, where they have action-adventures against the evil Emperor Ming.  This kick-off multi-issue story segment introduces us to our three heroes via an Earth-based flashback to a year ago, then fast forwards to our heroes already established on Mongo and being pursued by the Emperor's airship troopers.  Without being a detail spoiler, the chase flits between several of the alien system's planets via the portal devices.  By issue's end, Dale Arden successfully implements a scheme to trick the natives of one planet to shield them for now against the still-pursuing troops of Ming.

     After Howard Chaykin's enjoyable but radically revised Buck Rogers interpretation, I was a bit wary of how this latest effort would approach portraying this iconic comic character's storytelling world.  As such, I was very relieved to find that the creative team stuck to the good basic story elements of All Things Flash Gordon, while modernizing him to function in the realtime of 2014. Yet the strongest element of this title is writer Jeff Parker's skill in evolving the individual personalities of our three heroes.  The pulp-era Flash was very egocentric while Dale was a wallflower and Dr. Zarkov was a one-dimensional character. Here, Dale is more the smart team leader, with the men portrayed with more modern-day personalities and behavior patterns.

     The creative team's storytelling style all makes for a very enjoyable story comic book adventure that modern-day readers can relate to.  While its always fun to read a retro version of Flash Gordon, this new title adds more dimension to the wide inventory of Flash Gordon comic books that have been published over the many decades.  So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this latest version of Flash Gordon comics.  The series is a must read for long-time Flash Gordon fans and a very entertaining title to check-out for newcomers to the interplanetary adventures of this iconic Golden Age pulp adventure hero.

Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle 31
Publisher: Moonstone Entertainment, Inc.
David DeSouza & Steven DeSouza: Writers
Jake Minor: Art
James Brown: Colors

     Moonstone Entertainment recently revived the well-known Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle comic book title.  The iconic, Golden Age female Tarzan-like character has seen publishing life over the decades via many titles and publishers, including a version that I reviewed awhile ago.  This new series is co-written by David DeSouza & Steven DeSouza with art by Jake Minor and colors by James Brown.

      Issue #1 is the first installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Return of the Jaguar Men" and alternates between two sub-plots.  One storythread introduces this latest version of the Sheena storyverse. By day, this Sheena is a wealthy cosmopolitan heiress living on an African estate owned by her wealthy grandfather. At night, she roams the jungle as Sheena, righting wrongs with the help of her animal team that consists of a monkey, parrot and a jaguar. 

     Our second storyline adds mystery and murder to the plot. Without being a detail spoiler, the presence of an American college archeology team at a dig site on the estate leads to soap opera romance among the team members as well as murder. There's an old legend of murderous magical jaguar men among the locals, which offers the tantalizing possibility of a mystical source of the deaths.  But by issue's end, at least for now it appears that Sheena's jaguar partner may have gone inexplicably violent and killed at least the latest murder victim.

     Every Sheena title that I've read over the years has its own unique style and flavor, and this one's no exception.  Its an entertaining and well-produced product worthy of a positive review.  The visual style is more that of a television animation series, which led me to conclude that this version of Sheena could probably evolve into a pretty decent animated television show.  The brothers DeSouza provide a strong plot, loaded with interesting dialogue, unique characters and enough mystery elements to fill a few comic book story segments.  I also got a kick out of the distinct personalities of Sheen's animal sidekicks, who are characters equal to the depth of the humans in the tale.

     Its important to note that some previous Sheena titles have been more adult-themed and oriented in terms of both the storyline and/or the visual sexiness of Sheena herself.  This particular version is devoid of either element; this is a mainstream, fun-for-all-ages version of Sheena that works pretty well for appropriateness and reading enjoyment for all ages.  So by all means, add issue #1 of Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle to your ever-growing new issues reading pile!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us how the house band on The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson is different from all other television late night talk show bands.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who correctly explained that the band, called "Alfredo Sauce And The Shy Fellas," is no band at all! The running gag is that they're so shy that they hide behind a stage curtain.  The show runs on taped music and when host Craig Ferguson talks with the band, actors speak back from behind the curtain! It's all a very funny comedy concept and well-worth checking-out if you haven't already seen it.  Congratulations to Erin who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Its that time of year again when we offer-up our Summer Blockbuster Movie Contest Challenge! It seems like we hold this contest earlier each year, as Hollywood seems to start the big summer season earlier into the Spring each year.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, May 14 and pitch to us which of the many upcoming highly anticipated summer movie releases you're most looking forward to seeing and why.  It should be interesting to see whether or not our entries turn-out to be hits or misses by the end of the summer movie-viewing season.  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 NHL hockey play-off watching (Go Broons!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 16 Here In Bongo Congo!