Friday, August 22, 2014

Comic Reviews 8/22/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we still have plenty of summer left, so let's check-out four new comic book issues and see if these titles stack-up to be included in the August edition of our summertime reading list:
Magnus Robot Fighter #0
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Fred Van Lente: Writer
Roberto Castro: Art
Luigi Anderson & Mauricio Wallace: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment has so far published five issues in its revival of the famed Silver Age Magnus Robot Fighter comic book.  I decided to review issue #0, the cover of which appeared to feature a female robot fighter in place of the traditional male Magnus.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative explains that she's "the very awesome human, Leeja Clane," who polices the future city of North Am as a peacekeeper with help from robots. The series is written by Fred Van Lente with art by Roberto Castro and colors by the team of Luigi Anderson and Mauricio Wallace.

     The inside front cover narrative also explains that the events of issue #0 occur in between the plotline of issues #2 and #3.  In this sidebar plot, we're introduced to the main character, a robot named Gunbot-856. When he's dismantled in a robot fighter battle, we learn that he, along with the other North Am robots, are part of a collective consciousness that restores each robot to another body for continued life in the ongoing futuristic robot war. Via flashback, we also learn how the robot society evolved from our own present-day world. In the final few pages of issue #0, Gunbot-856 in a renewed persona battles the famed Magnus and loses, ready to be recycled by the collective consciousness for yet another personality download into another body.

     This title is an interesting successor to the Silver Age Magnus series that has a mixed quality to it, keeping it in the average-quality positive review category.  On the plus side, writer Fred Van Lente succeeds in advancing the old-school structure of the Magnus storyverse with the addition of some wonderful modern-era science fiction concepts, including an intriguing evolutionary explanation of the rise of the robot society, the inclusion of nanobots in the storyline and most importantly, the exceptional idea of a robot collective consciousness that allows the destroyed battlebots to be recycled, similar to the Cylons in the remake of the Battlestar Galactica television series.  In addition, the artwork is excellent and very appropriate for the science fiction robot plot theme.

      However, two elements drag the higher quality potential of this comic book down into the average quality category.  The first is a very muddled plotline; its impossible to get a feel where this brief, one issue story fits into the overall, ongoing theme of the monthly series.  I expected issue #0 to be just that, a prequel kick-off story leading into the monthly title. Instead, we're presented with a sidebar tale that's somehow sandwiched in between whatever is going on in issue #2 and #3, resulting in plain confusion. 

      Secondly, the front cover and narrative introduction are very deceptive, misleading the reader into believing that this series, as well as this issue in particular, stars Leeja Clane as either a female robot fighter or at the least, a female co-star with Magnus.  Instead, Leeja has an extremely brief cameo on the first page, after which the story veers completely away from her involvement.  Frankly, her starring role on the front cover is just plain deceptive and should never have been allowed, serving merely to trick readers into wanting to read this issue in expectation of a female robot fighter lead tale.

     So in sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this interesting storyverse that successfully updates to modern-day reading sensibilities the Magnus comic book series.  But that thumbs-up decision is mixed with some legitimate disappointment as to the vagueness of the plot details and the deliberate misperception of the very limited role of the supposed female star of this series in this issue, which inaccurately promotes her story presence heavily on the front cover.

Groo Vs. Conan #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier: Writers
Sergio Aragones & Thomas Yeates: Art
Tom Luth: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics has published issue #1 of a four-part mini-series entitled "Groo Versus Conan." The title is self-explanatory, pairing-up Marvel's well-known Conan The Barbarian with famed Mad Magazine artist-writer Sergio Aragones's just as well-known character Groo. For the uninitiated, Groo is a satiric riff on Conan, featuring a brainless, Homer Simpson-style idiotic version of Conan.  Aragones and Evanier co-created the "Groo The Wanderer" comic book title back in the 1970's as one of the first successful creator-owned titles in the comic book publishing industry.  Groo himself sneaks-in at number 100 on IGN's list of the "Top 100 Comic Book Heroes."  The current crossover mini-series is co-written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, with art by Sergio Aragones and Thomas Yeates, and colors by Tom Luth.

     The issue #1 story segment alternates between two sub-plots. In the first storythread, we're initially introduced to Conan doing what he does best, namely rescuing a hot damsel in distress.  Flash forward to Groo being the idiot that he usually is, in this instance being duped by an evil king into mistreating his subjects.  This first storyline ends in a bridge to issue #2, as the kingdom's subjects convince Conan to become their protector and confront Groo in next month's issue.

      The second sub-plot takes us out of the heroic fantasy plot into the "real world," focusing on the writers themselves.  As Aragones and Evanier struggle over the concept of writing this crossover series, two events combine into slapstick comedy. First, their local comic book shop is in the process of a forced eviction, leading to Aragones being hit on the head in a support demonstration.  And secondly, said head injury deludes Aragones into thinking he's Conan himself, leading to much in the way of hijinks and wackiness.  And in a weird mix of the two storylines, Aragones as the deluded Conan actually starts critiqueing a set of Groo storyboards.

     I'm a huge fan of Sergio Aragones work, from his Mad Magazine output back in my younger days through his own current comic book title, which I've previously reviewed in this column.  While I expected to be pleasantly entertained by this new title, I was also unexpectedly surprised by the very high level of satire throughout the storyline.  Perhaps its the result of the writing collaboration between Aragones and Evanier, but whatever the reason, there's an exceptional infusion of real world cultural and political satire throughout the storyline that's above and beyond the average level of humor found in a comedy-themed funny book.

     The key here is the real world sub-plot that stars the two writers.  While the Groo-Conan storythread is solid entertainment, the "Sergio and Mark" show is exceptionally funny, with a range of non-stop one-liners and socio-political riffs well-worth the price of admission.  Without being a detail spoiler, my two favorite running gags are a take-off on the state of our healthcare system, as Sergio keeps receiving opposing treatments for his head injury, and a very creative take-off on Sergio's real-world Spanish accent, which in this case has him speaking like Yoda from Star Wars.

      Had this comic book only featured a continual story starring a Conan-Groo crossover plot, it still would have deserved a positive thumbs-up review recommendation as quality reading material.  However, the alternating Sergio-Mark storythread kicks this new series up to the top of all good fanboy and fangirl reading lists.  There are only four scheduled issues in this mini-series run, so by all means get on down to That's Entertainment to snap-up your own copy of issue #1, then savor all four issues of this highly entertaining and funny riff on Conan, Groo and most importantly, the wacky adventures of their two famed writers as they strive to deal with their own nutty lives while creating a joint Conan and Groo adventure!

Adventures Of Superman #15
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Ron Marz: Writer
Evan "Doc" Shaner: Art
Matthew Wilson: Colors

     DC's Adventures Of Superman title is currently up to issue #15.  I previously reviewed an early issue, giving it a favorable review for the three short tales presented in that particular issue, and wanted to check back and see how the title is faring over a year later.  The current issue is scripted by Ron Marz with art by Evan "Doc" Shaner and colors by Matthew Wilson.

     Issue #15 features one full-length, stand alone story entitled "Only Child."  The plot features two interweaving sub-plots. The shorter storythread features Clark Kent defending against Lois Lane's cynicism a feature article he's written about two separated brothers who found each other late in life.  It's clear that Clark is defensive about the story due to his own lack of siblings.  In the lengthier storyline, when a giant robot crashes from outer space into Metropolis, it turns-out that the robot was a long-lost creation of Superman's father Jor-El, leading our hero to start having sibling feelings toward his Dad's robot creation. Without being a detail spoiler, the duo succeed in defending Earth from an alien invasion, with the robot destroyed in the process. The story ends on a poignant note, as a grieving Superman enshrines the fallen robot in his Fortress Of Solitude.

     I was very impressed with the previous issue of this title that I reviewed, in that it seems to have found its own distinctive niche in the wide range of various Superman titles by featuring both a fresh artistic vision and a unique emotional tone of Superman Family storytelling.  Issue #15 continues that exceptional creative approach in three positive ways.  First, the artistic team does a great job in presenting a fresh styling of the well-known Superman storyverse characters, with a particular emphasis on very impressive and wide-ranging, realistic facial expressions. Secondly, the emotional content of the story is very impressive. There's a lot of feeling and exploration of the human side of Superman/Clark Kent in this title. This particular story succeeds well in exploring Superman's natural feelings of loneliness due to him missing his original family, with the family robot filling the gap for awhile. Superman's grieving over the robot's death is actually quite moving and succeeds in the goal of humanizing his well-known struggle to balance his life on Earth with the emotional void in his life due to Krypton's loss.

     Third and finally, I was happy to see that the structure of this title has shifted from presenting three short tales per issue to the standard one feature-length story.  It works much better in giving the creative team adequate space and breathing room to explore the emotional content that's at the heart of the Adventures Of Superman storytelling approach.  So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this unique and refreshing Superman title, which provides a high quality and very entertaining storyline with a fresh fictional perspective on everyone's favorite Man Of Steel.

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #4
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
David Marquez: Art
Justin Ponsor: Colors

      Marvel Comics is up to issue #4 of its "Mile Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man" title. For the uninitiated, the Ultimates line of Marvel comic book titles presents alternate reality versions of well-known and traditional Marvel Comics storyverses and characters.  The much-publicized "Death of Peter Parker" event from last year occurred in this Ultimates storyverse, with Black Hispanic teenager Miles Morales picking-up the Spidey mantle from the fallen Parker.  The series is written by A-list writer Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez and colors by Justin Ponsor.

     Issue #4 is the current installment of an ongoing multi-issue storyarc and interweaves two sub-plots.  The first is more soap opera-oriented, focusing on teenage angst; after Miles reveals his superhero identity to girlfriend Katie Bishop, the girl freaks-out and in a lengthy emotional scene with her sister, talks about her fears and shock over Miles putting his life at risk as Spidey.  The lengthier second sub-plot brings thrilling action-adventure to the story installment, as Miles faces-down a buffed-up, demonic super-sized version of Norman Osbourne/The Green Goblin. The story builds to a dramatic climax as the assumed-dead Peter Parker arrives on the scene and teams-up with Miles to defeat the fire-breathing Goblin.  Next month's story installment will most likely focus on the emotional fall-out among the Spiderman support characters regarding Parker's seeming rise from the dead.

      I always enjoy reading Ultimates comic book titles, for the thrill of the alternate reality element in each presentation, and this issue is no exception.  Three major story elements combine to make this a high quality thrill-ride adventure of a read.  The first is the fun of the alternate reality details.  I just plain loved the fact that seemingly everyone who has died or disappeared over the years in the main Spider-Man story universe is alive and well in this Ultimates tale. We're treated to Gwen Stacy, Aunt May and everyone else grouped together and hanging-out in this title. Secondly, writer Bendis brings his to-be-expected A-game to the scripting, nicely balancing emotional elements and extreme action-adventure throughout the tale.  Bendis excels in this story segment in weaving all players together by the final few pages into group-wide mutual shock and emotion, as everyone reacts in their own way to the return of Peter Parker.

     Third, the artwork is exceptional here, with artist David Marquez and colorist Just Ponsor particularly excelling in portraying the Goblin-two Spideys battle scene. You can just feel the heat rising off of the pages as the Goblin wields his flaming ability against our two heroes, along with the fiery devastation of the residential neighborhood battle site.

     As a final review comment, I was also relieved to learn that the whole "Death of Peter Parker" event has taken place in the Ultimates storyverse.  I'm not a regular Spider-Man reader these days, and just assumed this past year that Marvel had positioned the event within the main Spidey title, which irked my personal preference for maintaining storyverse continuity over the years for favorite comic book characters.  But now I know that we can have our cake and eat it too, as the saying goes, with both the usual Peter Parker titles and this Ultimates spin on Spider-Man.  So enjoy the variety and definitely take the time to be entertained by this very well-crafted and high quality alternate version of everyone's favorite Wall-Crawling superhero, Spider-Man!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to pitch to us your current favorite television show or series.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who tells us in her own words: "Right now I'm really into The Leftovers on HBO. Ever since LOST ended, I've been looking for something complex and mysterious.  I love shows that challenge you to figure out what's happening and then when you think you've got it, they turn everything upside down."  An interesting choice and a good explanation/pitch for the rest of us to check-out The Leftovers.  Congratulations to Erin who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Last week was the special 60th anniversary publication milestone for the well-known sports magazine Sports Illustrated. In honor of the magazine's birthday, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges have decreed that we challenge you this week with a special Sports Illustrated trivia contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, September 3 with the correct answer to the following question:  Which famed American athlete has appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated over the years more than anyone else?  Hint: this person has appeared on the famed front cover a total of fifty (50) times!  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen via a roll of the dice.  Please note that our $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 Patriots pre-season training camp and exhibition game-watching (Go Pats!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 5 Here In Bongo Congo!

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