Friday, August 8, 2014

Comic Reviews 8/8/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     The summer weather has been great lately, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review a nice variety of four interesting-looking new comic books to see whether or not they're worthy for everyone's summertime reading pleasure! So let's get right to it and see how these four titles stack-up against each other:
Vampirella #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Nancy A. Collins: Writer
Patrick Berkenkotter: Pencils
Dennis Crisostomo: Inks
Jorge Sutil: Colors

     In honor of everybody's favorite sexy vampire being honored recently with this year's Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide front cover honor, I decided to review this week issue #1 of Dynamite Comics's new Vampirella comic book title. For the uninitiated, Vampirella was created in 1969 by legendary comics creator Forest J. Ackerman as the hostess/narrator for Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror magazine line.  Over time, she evolved into a main story character herself, portrayed at various times in either satiric or dramatic horror storylines.  This new title is written by Nancy A. Collins with pencils by Patrick Berkenkotter, inks by Dennis Crisostomo and colors by Jorge Sutil.

     This new title continues the storyverse from an earlier title run, in which Vampirella worked in partnership with a secret society within the Catholic Church, fighting against demons and evil, including the Cult of Chaos, led by the evil Ethan Shroud.  In this kick-off segment of a new multi-issue storyline, Shroud's spirit has possessed an innocent man, who's kidnapped his young daughter with plans to sacrifice her to allow a powerful demon to enter our reality and destroy mankind.  So the secret church group dispatches Vampirella to investigate the situation, whereupon she stumbles upon the plot.  Without being a detail spoiler, an extended confrontation with the cult goes badly for our heroine and by issues end, her church allies are considering the possibility of having to kill Vampirella to keep her from being controlled by the cult and turned against humanity.

     I've never read more than a few Vampirella comics and magazines over the years and as such had no previous preference among the many stylistic interpretations that have been produced over the years by various publishers of this horror character. As such, I was very entertained and comfortable with this latest spin on the fanged heroine.  A few strong points are worth noting.  First, writer Nancy A. Collins's script is top-notch, providing a plot that's dramatic, scary and rich in believable narrative and characterization.  She blindsides the reader at key points with unexpected horror twists that are intense but not excessively gory to the point of distracting the reader from the storyline.

     Secondly, the artwork is appropriate, giving us the extremely sexy Vampirella which is a major point of this character in the first place.  She's probably the sexiest horror character ever created in comics publishing, ranked 35th in the Comics Buyer's Guide list of "100 Sexiest Women In Comics."  And finally, the whole concept of the uneasy alliance between vampiress and Catholic Church as partners against evil is a fascinating twist on the traditional religion vs. vampire story structure. The kick-off storyline brings a nice dramatic major element to that situation, with Vampirella becoming likely spell-bound to the cult, leaving us with the cliffhanger of the church possibly having to kill the contaminated Vampirella.

     So in sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this new comic book title that features our current Overstreet Price Guide covergirl.  This new title is an entertaining and worthwhile read for both horror genre and non-genre fanboys and fangirls, alike.

The City On The Edge Of Forever #2
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Scott Tipton & David Tipton: Writers
J.K. Woodward: Art

     IDW Publishing is up to issue #2 of a limited series adaptation of Harlan Ellison's original teleplay for the famed 1967 Season One Star Trek episode "City On The Edge Of Forever."  For the uninitiated, the award-winning episode by famed writer Harlan Ellison is considered one of the most iconic science fiction stand-alone episodes in the history of television.  The comic book adaption's goal is to reintroduce many of Ellison's original teleplay story features and details which didn't make it into the television episode.  The adaption co-writers are Scott Tipton and David Tipton with art by J.K. Woodward.

     The basic premise of either version of the plot is time travel.  When the Star Trek crew encounters the "Guardian Of Forever" on a distant planet, a delusional Dr. McCoy uses the Guardian's time portal to visit Earth's past and dangerously alter history and the present. So its up to Kirk and Spock to chase Bones to depression-era Chicago, where the plot branches into both sci-fi drama and romance, as Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler, played in the t.v. episode by actress Joan Collins.  Without being a detail spoiler, the plot becomes very emotional as Kirk has to choose between saving Emily's life and alternately letting her die in order to save the proper timeline.

     This is a highly entertaining and wonderful adaptation of the classic Star Trek episode that succeeds for at least three reasons.  First, its just plain fun for readers to compare the differences between the original television episode and the comic book adaptation.  This issue #2 story segment unfolds the section of the story in which Kirk and Spock both discover that the timeline has been altered and initially arrive back in 1930's Chicago.  Two major differences in the storytelling stand-out: first, the nature of the timeportal Guardian is radically different from the t.v. show. Secondly, Ellison's script surprisingly highlighted the role of crewmember Yeoman Rand in the story. Here, she's a key player and one tough cookie in dealing with the timeline changes onboard The Enterprise, toughly holding down the fort as Kirk and Spock head-off on their adventure into the past.

     Third, J.K. Woodward's artwork is exceptional, providing us with oil painting-like renderings in the style of acclaimed comic artist Alex Ross.  Woodward more than meets the tough challenge of having to duplicate the facial features of the well-known Star Trek television actors, which he pulls-off to perfection.  IDW Publishing is also smart enough to provide the reader with "Edge Words," a three -page back-of-the-issue monthly column in which Harlan Ellison converses with fans, friends and commentators about the ongoing adaptation.  Its a fun and fascinating dialogue, as we learn a lot about the process back in 1967 that shaped the t.v. episode in ways both similar and different from Ellison's original teleplay.

     So a very positive tip-of-the-review hat is due to the creative team, IDW Publishing and of course Harlan Ellison himself, for teaming-up to provide readers with this gem of a comic book adaptation of this Star Trek episode which holds such an honored place in the history of broadcast television.

Grayson #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Tim Seeley & Tom King: Writers
Mikel Janin: Art
Jeremy Cox: Colors

      Another new comic book title in DC's "The New 52!" line-up is Grayson, featuring a new role for the former original Robin, Dick Grayson.  The new series is written by Tim Seeley from a plot provided by Tom King, with art by Mikel Janin and colors by Jeremy Cox.

     This new series is a spin-off from DC's Forever Evil title, in which Dick Grayson's Nightwing superheroing identity was apparently revealed to the world by the Crime Syndicate Of America.  In this premier issue, Dick goes undercover to infiltrate the dangerous spy organization known as Spyral.  Most of the plot is high adventure, as Grayson and some spy team members ride the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway on a mission to abduct a Russian passenger.  Without being a detail spoiler, after a lot of dramatic action the abduction is successful, whereupon Dick learns of an unexpected superpower wielded by the supposedly harmless passenger.  By issue's end, the danger from the abductee is nullified, while Dick gets ready for more internal mole spying against Spyral as the organization plans to publicly reveal more famous superhero identities in next month's story segment.

     I enjoyed reading this kick-off issue of Grayson and give it an average to above-average positive review recommendation.  There's nothing exceptional or earth-shattering to this storyline, just three positive elements that result in a solidly entertaining read.  The first is the new perspective on Dick Grayson. Its fresh and interesting to read a tale in which the whole world knows that he's Robin/Nightwing. Secondly, its fun to see Grayson in a "civilian spy" role, instead of galevanting as a costumed superhero.  And finally, the artwork is very well-done, with some exceptional panels effectively conveying the fast action-adventure sequences of spy-versus-spy conflict on the fast-moving train.

     So in sum, Grayson is a solid, well-produced new title that provides both an interesting new take on the seemingly ever-changing identity of the former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson.  It should also be interesting to read the eventual future issue/story segment when Dick's former mentor Batman/Bruce Wayne inevitably makes a guest appearance on the scene.

Batman #33
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Danny Miki: Inks
Fco Plascencia: Colors

     This month's Batman issue #33 concludes the ongoing "Zero Year Savage City" multi-issue storyline.  I had reviewed an earlier issue in this series, the plot of which centers upon The Riddler cutting-off Gotham City from the outside world and running the captive metropolis as his personal playground.  The storyline is scripted by A-list writer Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki and colors by Fco Pascencia.

     The plot comes to a dramatic head at the very start of this concluding issue: with military jets bearing-down to bomb the city free from The Riddler's grasp, its up to a captive Batman to correctly answer twelve of The Riddler's riddles, upon which the baddie will free the city and avoid the bombing campaign.  I won't reveal a single detail of the riddle challenge, other than to comment that its the center of the plot, its extremely dramatic and takes a very unexpected turn in mid-challenge that leads to Batman's triumph.  Two sub-plots interweave with this main storythread.  One features a focus on Police Commissioner Jim Gordon as he leads a ragtag street-level guerilla combat action to assist Batman's efforts, while the other is a flashback storythread focusing on a college-age Bruce Wayne in deep mental health crisis over his emotional baggage and scars from the well-known murder of his parents.

     I was very impressed with the previous issue segment that I reviewed of this multi-issue story arc, and I have to say that this current issue #33 story concluding story segment frankly blew me away. This is A-list writer Scott Snyder exceeding his previous writing quality excellence into a new A-plus quality category.  We're in fictional literature territory with Snyder's script, brimming with tight, mature and absorbing dialogue and characterization.  My two favorite elements among many stand-out points are first of all, the creative team's particular perspective on The Riddler/Ed Nygma.  This is a young, brash punk personality version of the familiar Batman foe that deserves a place at the very top of the list of many different creative versions of this foe. The artistic team's vision of the character combines perfectly with the personality that Snyder writes for evil Ed.

    Secondly, the final eight pages of the tale take a breathtakingly unexpected turn away from the story's action-adventure into stunning emotional territory.  An old familiar girlfriend arrives at Bruce Wayne's doorstep, toward whom he relies on Alfred to determine whether he should reach out to her or rebuff her visit to protect his Batman responsibilities.  Two alternate possible futures are portrayed as Alfred weighs his decision on Bruce's behalf, and the end result is simply the most heartbreaking Batman story sequence that this aging baby boomer has ever come across in all of my Batman-reading years.  On this story element alone, Scott Snyder and the artistic team have produced that rare comic tale that deserves a place in the very small category of comic book perfection, along with a Eisner Award nomination.

     In sum, its frankly a privilege for all Batman fans to have the opportunity to enjoy this work. So by all means, catch-up on the previous issues in the Batman Zero Year series and get on down to That's Entertainment as soon as possible for a copy of this concluding issue #33!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which famous well-known former Red Sox player has current Sox slugger David Ortiz just passed to rise in rank to number 36 on the list of all-time Major League Baseball (MLB) home run leaders.  We had several correct entries for this contest, so via a roll-of-the-dice, our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who correctly tells us that David Ortiz just passed Red Sox Hall Of Famer Carl Yastrzemski into 36th place.  Mike adds that all those years of him listening to sports talk radio finally paid off!  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges have decreed that we take a break this week from sports trivia challenges and cleanse our contest palates with a television-themed contest.  So your challenge this week is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, August 20 and tell us what current television show or series is your favorite and why you like it so much.  There's lots of good stuff out there right now, from summer replacement series to cable t.v. shows to hits galore.  So make a pitch to us of why your favorite show should be must-see t.v. for the rest of us!  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 August beach-going and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 22 Here In Bongo Congo!

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