Friday, September 19, 2014

Comic Reviews 9/20/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Now that Fall is upon us, Good King Leonardo has decreed that we kick-off the cooler season with reviews of three new comic books, all published by D.C. Comics. Just a quick note that due to some non-comic book review commitments, for the next few months I'll be reviewing only three comic books per column instead of the usual four titles.  Our four issues per column format will return in early December.  So let's get right to it and see how this trio of DC publications stack-up against each other:
Batman '66 #14
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jeff Parker: Writer
Paul Rivoche & Craig Rousseau: Art
Paul Rivoche & Tony Avina: Colors

     DC Comics's Batman '66 title is currently up to issue #14.  I gave a positive review to an early issue in the series, which presents a comic book version of the campy, ever-popular smash 1960's Batman television show, which ran on ABC in the 1960's and starred Adam West as Batman with Burt Ward as Robin.  The current issue of this title is written by Jeff Parker with art by Paul Rivoche and Craig Rousseau, with colors by Paul Rivoche and Tony Avina.

     Issue #14 presents a stand-alone story in the campy style of the television series, entitled "The Batrobot Takes Flight!"  The title is very accurate, as the plot centers on Batman building a giant robot version of himself to fill-in on his patrols around Gotham City.  The gigantic mechanized caped crusader proves so adept at nabbing crazy costumed criminals that Batman and Robin take a break, literally going fishing in the countryside while the robot keeps Gotham safe from crime. Without being a detail spoiler, eventually The Joker and The Riddler team-up to defeat the robot...or so it seems, as in a plot twist we learn that the Bat Duo  were merely using the robot as bait to personally capture the criminal pair in the act of robot destruction.  So by issue's end, all's well in Gotham once again.

     Similar to the earlier issue of this title that I previously reviewed, this is a fun and very entertaining print version of ye olde Batman television series.  The  creative team does a wonderful job of duplicating down to the finer points both the campy plot dialogue and the 1960's pop art-style visuals.  While there are a slew of positive elements in this comic book, three particularly stand-out for enjoyment. The first is the inclusion of a wacky-style Batman '66 villain, in this case a supercriminal named Clock King who is obsessed with timepieces, of course. I can't recall if he was a featured t.v. series villain, but whether new or old, he's the perfect fit for the stylings of this series.  Secondly, the basic idea of a superrobot Batman also blends perfectly into the campy 1960's style of this series.

     And third but hardly least, writer Jeff Parker deserves a tip-of-the-review hat for ending the story in the same style as many of the television episodes, with a tongue-in-check mini-lecture lesson to the reader from Batman. In this instance, he gives a stern statement about machines and computers adding enormous value to our lives, combined with a warning that they aren't a substitute for actual people.  This final story panel actually serves as dual purpose as a modern-day social commentary on All Good DC Reader's potential overreliance on modern technology and social networking in place of real human interactions, etc.

     So all-in-all, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for the latest issue of Batman '66, a series which continues to provide a very funny and entertaining read for old-school fans of the 1960's-era television series, as well as the younger generations of Batman fandom.

Harley Quinn #10
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner: Writers
Marco Failla: Art
Brett Smith: Colors

     DC's Harley Quinn comic book series is currently up to issue #10.  Most fanboys and fangirls are familiar with the title character, the sometimes violent, usually wacky and always oddball off-and-on girlfriend of The Joker, whom she affectionately refers to as her  "Puddin'." The series is scripted by the duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, with art by Marco Failla and colors by Brett Smith.

     The issue #10 storyline is entitled "There Are No Rules!" and is the latest installment in an ongoing multi-issue storyline.  The plot unfolds in two scenes. Scene One is action-packed, as Harley and her gang of girlfriends attend an underground fight club event, in the vein of the movie "Fight Club." Naturally, Harley is featured on the evening's battle-to-the-death schedule. All sorts of wackiness ensues around Harley's featured fight including attempts by the gang to cash-in big with a bet on our heroine's battle.  Scene Two details the after-Fight Club actions of the group, in the early post-dawn hours of the evening.  While the girls go late-night ocean swimming, they bond and talk about their lives.  The issue ends on a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment; alone seaside after everyone else has called it a night, Harley witnesses the nearby crash of an unconscious Power Girl, straight from defeat in an interstellar adventure.

     This is a very solid, average-quality comic book read that I liked very much for a few reasons. First, I really enjoyed the tone and style of the storyline.  The well-known A-list writing duo of Palmiotti and Conner have crafted a plot that avoids the complexity and pretension of so many ongoing DC storyverse mega-events and series, and instead just gives us a worthwhile and interesting mix of action-adventure. The story could have been published anytime in the past 20 years of DC Comics publishing and that's meant as a compliment, that its just a good superhero-oriented and funny read.  Secondly, I liked the mix of Harley's supporting cast of characters, which include four female friends who resemble more of a roller derby team than a team of potential baddies, as well as Sy Borgman, a wheelchair-bound and partly-mechanized elderly guy who handles Harley's fighting bets and advises her through all sorts of wacky mayhem.

     Third but hardly least, I enjoyed this particular personality take on Harley Quinn. While she's often portrayed as a darker, villain-style character, here the creative team gives us more of the fun-loving, good-hearted nutjob version of Harley, which is always the best version of her for reading laughs. The result is a successful mix of storytelling humor, action, female bonding and just an overall worthwhile read, well-worth the price of admission.  On a final review note, I thought it was interesting that Palmiotti and Conner are writing this series without Conner contributing her well-known artwork.  The art team does a very credible job of replacing the always-busy Conner in that respect. So by all means, include this latest issue of Harley Quinn in your ever-growing pile of new issue comic books!

Action Comics: Future's End #1 (One-Shot)
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Sholly Fisch: Story
Pascal Alixe & Vicente Cifuentes: Art
Pete Pantazis: Colors

     DC recently included a one-shot issue of Action Comics within its wide-ranging "Future's End" new mega-event.  This is the first comic book that I'm reviewing in the Future's End series (I'm sure I'll review at least a few more), which apparently has a time travel theme of Terry from Batman Beyond time-hopping from 35 years in the future back to 5 years from now, in an attempt to prevent a world-wide disaster of the Batman-created Brother Eye from OMAC from being created and dominating mankind.  This Action Comics story segment is scripted by Sholly Fisch with art by the duo of Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes, and colors by Pete Pantazis.

     Our story is aptly entitled "Crossroads" and alternates between two sub-plots set in the Future's End reality of five years from now.  In the first, we witness Clark Kent working as a Peace Corps-style volunteer in rural Ethiopia, having abandoned his Superman identity due to a crisis of personal faith in superheroing.  An alternate sub-plot focuses on several ordinary Americans in various walks of life who suddenly each gain one of Superman's powers, with various resulting consequences.  The eventually-revealed explanation is that a mysterious Superman-like being made of sand has arisen in the missing Superman's place, who visits everyone in the story and explains that he's given each the temporary power to try and turn their troubled lives around.  The issue ends with the sand-being visiting our hero in his Ethiopian exile and having an extended discussion about responsibility, before ending the story with a creative twist on helping the Ethiopian folks in need.

      This is an oddball tale that deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation but with some mixed review comments.  On the plus side, I enjoyed it very much as a stand-alone Superman storyverse comic book.  The artwork is unique and creative, the storyline is entertaining and most impressively, the plot delivers an old-school Superman story that focuses on values and responsibilities, both on the part of a conflicted Superman/Clark Kent and on the part of the ordinary folks in the story. There's an important life lesson here offered to readers on the subject of responsibility and living one's life not solely for the sake of personal happiness and enjoyment.

     On the negative side, the entire issue just doesn't seem to relate very much to the Future's End mega-event that DC is hyping so much at the moment.  Frankly, if the words "Future's End" weren't stenciled across the top of the front cover, this story could easily stand-alone as just a decent new Superman tale, with the opening panel reference that the timeframe is five years from now. So given that this issue is supposed to have a role in the bigger Future's End picture, its overly-muted and should have a bit more  visual and/or plot connection to that emerging storyverse.  I also would have liked a front-of-the-book explanation about Clark's self-imposed abandonment of his Superman persona. Its confusing as to whether this is an ongoing Action Comics plotthread that I haven't been following or a new development for the sake of Future's End.

     But irregardless of these two construction criticisms, the positives as detailed above greatly outweigh the concerns in this one-shot Action Comics title. As such, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this initial Action Comics introductory issue to the emerging Future's End DC Comics mega-event. I'll reserve my overall reviewer's impression on the quality of the Future's End series for a future column, by which time I've hopefully reviewed a cross-section of Future's End comic book issues and story titles.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to come-up with a creative caption for a photo of That's Entertainment Assistant Manager Sierra standing in front of a herd of cows on a farm.  By way of example, my own caption was "Go, my pretty-prettys, and ravage the countryside in the name of That's Entertainment!" And my fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc's caption was "Bossy Cow: What are we going to do tonight, Sierra? Sierra: The same we do every night, Bossy, try to take over the world!" Notice the trend in both captions of cows running amok? And our caption winner is (drumroll, please...) Christopher Begley, who supplied said photo with the following caption: "Alright, guys, I know one of you is Phoney and Smiley. Fess up now before I'm forced to milk all of you."  Congratulations to Christopher, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that its time to offer-up a new geography trivia contest challenge.  So your challenge this week is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, October 1 and submit to us the name of any American city of town whose name begins and ends with the same letter of the alphabet (i.e., Amana, Iowa).  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 Red Sox and Patriots-watching (Go Sox And Pats!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 3 Here In Bongo Congo!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Comic Reviews 9/5/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Our wonderful summertime is ending all-too-soon, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we try to find four new comic books that are enjoyable enough to cushion the disappointment of summer ending. So let's get right to it and see what these comic books are all about:

Starlight #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Mark Millar: Writer
Goran Parlov: Art
Ive Svorcina: Colors

     The Image Comics title "Starlight" is currently up to issue #5, so I backtracked to issue #1 to get a good feel for this new science fiction-themed title from its very start.  The series is written and created by well-known writer Mark Millar of "Kickass" fame, with art by Goran Parlov and colors by Ive Svorcina.

     Issue #1 introduces main character Duke McQueen via two alternating sub-plots.  In the realtime storythread, Duke's an elderly yet very vibrant bull-of-a-man coping with the sudden life change of the death of his beloved wife Joanne. In several poignant scenes, we witness Duke mourn his wife and struggle in the following months to adjust to both a solitary life and the drift away of his self-absorbed two adult sons and their families.  This very human sub-plot is balanced with a classic sci-fi flashback sub-plot to 40 years earlier, in which young military pilot Duke is transported via a temporal anomaly to a faraway world, in which he experiences a Buck Rodgers-like adventure, saving an exotic civilization from an evil dictator and gaining the love of a gorgeous rescued queen.  Naturally, the two storylines come together in a dramatic bridge at the end of issue #1, as a starship from said exotic world suddenly appears in the front yard of the now-elderly Duke.

     This is a top-notch and very intriguing new science fiction-themed comic book series which succeeds in its premier issue for at least three solid reasons.  First-off is the nice balancing act of writer Mark Millar's script, which succeeds in providing some very real-world human emotion in the present-day scenes, while in the alternate plot serving-up a very fresh and interesting take on the classic art deco sci-fi stylings of the world of Buck Rodgers-style interplanetary adventuring. Second-up in the plus column is the artwork; Goran Parlov's visuals are both exquisite and breathtaking in the sci-fi scenes, while emotionally impactful in the real-world panels. And his renderings of the alien planet's sexy blond queen are among the best pin-up stylings in the long history of comic book publishing.

     Third, the storyverse that this creative team has structured is not only entertaining in its own right, but is chock-full from its issue #1 kick-off with a ton of potential interesting story direction developments.  There's a clear love affair between Duke and the Queen in the retro scenes, shaken by Duke's ultimate decision to return to Earth to marry his true Earthside love. As such, it should be fascinating see how the story progression unfolds Duke's reconnection, and most likely return, to the faraway planet and his old royal girlfriend. Some back-of-the-book sketches hint of an alien teenager in the story mix, leading me to wonder if Duke will discover that he had a child with the queen during his interstellar fling from long-ago.

      So in sum, this new science fiction series from Image Comics well-deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation on several counts which all come together as a very entertaining, well-produced and just-plain-fun addition to the long comic book heritage of interstellar outer space story adventuring. I plan on quickly catching-up and reading issues #2 through #5, all of which are still available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves and I suggest that you do, too!

Life With Archie #37
Publisher: Archie Comics
Paul Kupperberg: Writer
Fernando Ruiz, Pat & Tim Kennedy: Pencils
Bob Smith & Gary Martin: Inks

     Archie Comics recently published issue #37 of "Life With Archie," the series that presents an alternate reality version of the traditional Archie Comics storyverse.  The previous issue #36 presented the much-publicized and acclaimed "Death of Archie" story, in which Archie Andrews dies while taking an assassin's bullet meant for his friend Senator Kevin Keller. The Kevin Keller character is also known in the main Archie storyverse as the first gay character in Archie Comics. The series is scripted by Paul Kupperberg with pencils by the trio of Fernando Ruiz, Pat & Tim Kennedy and inks by Bob Smith and Gary Martin.

     Issue #37 is entitled "One Year Later" and presents all of the well-known Archie characters coming together exactly a year after Archie's death to honor him in a Town of Riverdale-wide memorial service.  The issue is a eulogy, consisting of several pre-ceremony remininscences by Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and high school principal Mr. Weatherbee, each of which illustrates a different aspect of Archie's giving personality and commitment to his friends and family.  The issue builds to a dramatic multi-page scene which details the memorial service in which Senator Keller gives a moving eulogy.  And finally, the storyline concludes on a very appropriate note in which the gang gathers in the famed Riverdale malt shop (now owned and managed by Jughead, of course!) for one final goodbye conversation about Archie.

     Time-after-time in this review column I've praised Archie Comics for being a comic book industry leader in keeping a very long-lasting traditional character storyverse fresh with entertaining and relevant storylines that relate to today's youth and culture.  And once again, the publisher and latest creative team have held true to that successful formula.  Unlike many "death of our hero" comic series, this is not a gimmick to temporarily increase sales. Rather, as Editor-In-Chief Victor Gorelick writes in an Afterward, the goal here is to address the relevant real-world topic of death through gun violence intruding all too often into the American High School system.  As such, this issue serves not only as reading entertainment but as a legitimate resource to assist today's high school students to both understand and cope with that element being ever-present in our educational system today.

      Balancing this at-times heavy and serious message within this issue is the lighter side of Archie Comics. We're treated via a handful of flashbacks to classic Archie confrontations and situations involving his close-knit friends and family, all progressing to bring the reader to the memorial scene. There are also two small but effective story touches that add to both the emotion and quality of this issue. The first is a reveal at the memorial of a Riverdale institution being re-named after Archie Andrews, which I won't spoiler reveal in this interview. And the second is a very effective decision by the creative team to include three young kids throughout the storyline who are dead ringers for Archie, Betty and Veronica, who come together nicely in that final malt shoppe scene. Its an apt and very effective metaphor and message that irregardless of personal tragedy, life and the human condition must go on.

     You don't have to be a regular Archie fan to pick-up and get some reading enjoyment out of this very special take on the Archie storyverse.  And if you are an avid Archie reader, by all means don't miss this effective addition to the wide-ranging world of Archie Comics.  And on a final review note, there's a fantastic two-page back-of-the-book spread featuring five alternative covers for issue #37 along with comments by each cover artist, including an amazing not-to-be-missed Alex Ross version of the Archie gang.

Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland #1
Eric Shanower: Writer
Gabriel Rodriquez: Art
Nelson Daniel: Colors

     IDW Comics recently premiered a new comic book title paying homage to "Little Nemo In Slumberland," the famed classic early 20th century newspaper comic strip which ran off-and-on in American newspapers from 1905 to 1926.  The original series was the creation of Windsor McCay and presented a fantasy storyline in which the child Nemo travels via his dreams to the kingdom of Slumberland, where he has adventures with many colorful characters. The series was praised in its day for detailed plots and very elaborate fantasy illustrations. This new series is written by Eric Shanower with art by Gabriel Rodriquez and colors by Nelson Daniel.

     The kick-off issue begins with a focus on James Nemo Summerton, a young modern-day American boy who is selected by Slumberland's royal advisors to be their young princess's latest number-one playmate from the real world.  The entire issue then consists of various oddball fantasy emissary's from the kingdom visiting James in his dreams to both explain the situation and coax him into voluntarily visiting Slumberland in his dreamworld.  Each night James and the latest consort progress a bit along the journey to Slumberland, with a conflict or incident marring the way and resulting in James waking-up in the morning.  By issue's end, James has reached the gates of the kingdom and is ready to enter the fantasy realm in his next night's sleep.

     I'm giving this comic book a mixed review, full of plus's and minuses that barely add-up to a lukewarm thumbs-up, semi-positive endorsement.  On the plus side, you gotta give any creative team and publisher a high-five for making the effort to bring back such an iconic early 20th century comic series in a modern-day publishing effort.  For whatever reasons, a new crack at Slumberland has been decades overdue and IDW deserves a shout-out for the effort alone. Secondly, the artwork is fantastic, on par with Windsor McCay's elaborate panoramas and creative takes on both the fantasy kingdom and Nemo's various dream-state takes on reality. And third, a hats-off is due to the creative team for being faithful to McCay's well-known gimmick of having Nemo wake-up in a bundled heap of blankets on his bedroom floor at the end of every dream adventure.

     What unfortunately drags these wonderful elements down with a thud into the realm of a barely above-water comic book is the odd incompatibility of the modern-day main character of James Nemo Summerton with the Slumberland story concept.  There is absolutely no attempt here by the creative team to update the story concept or at the least blend some new story elements into the traditional structure and atmosphere of the series.  Its extremely incompatible to dump a 21st century American kid into the almost century-old structure of McCay's original Slumberland concept. The result is jarring, incompatible dialogue between James and the Slumberland characters. I couldn't stop thinking of various Saturday Night Live skits in which a modern character is dumped into an old-time story structure. While that works for comedy, its a dud for a serious take on a comic book series.

     Even worse, at times the plot feels just plain creepy; in today's world of violence toward kids, the efforts of the weird consorts to trick and entice James into agreeing to visit Slumberland have a very uncomfortable abductor quality to it. And if James had to tell his weirdo visitors one more time that his name isn't Nemo its James, I was ready to scream and toss this comic book out the window.  So in sum, a very mixed review recommendation: if you're an old-school fan of the original Slumberland series, you might wish to check-out this take on the series and see if you agree or not with this review.  But if you're not familiar with the original series, I think you'll be extremely creeped-out by this incompatible mixing of a very old-fashioned, Victorian-style kid's fantasy world with the very different youth sensibilities and stylings of today's more jaded and violent youth culture. Again, I give credit to IDW for giving this re-boot the old college try, but maybe some series are best just left alone for enjoyment of the original run in reprints or old issues.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Gail Simone: Writer
Ethan Van Sciver: Art
Brian Miller: Colors

     D.C. Comics recently revived the Sensation Comics title. For the uninitiated, the original series ran as a Golden Age title from 1942 to 1952 and mainly featured Wonder Woman. The new title naturally also features Wonder Woman. Issue #1 is scripted by A-list writer and acclaimed Wonder Woman veteran scribe Gail Simone, with art by Ethan Van Sciver and colors by Brian Miller.

     The standalone one-issue premier story is entitled "Gothamazon" and features Wonder Woman in a Gotham City setting.  When Batman is unavailable and the various famed Gotham supervillains band together to wreck havoc, Barbara Gordon/The Oracle calls-in Wonder Woman to quell the super-baddie uprising.  The bulk of the storyline is fast action, as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman battles the group in the fiery streets of Gotham.  At the same time, she carries-out both an inner dialogue and a radio discussion with Barbara, strategizing the conflict to each supervillain's particular weaponry and talents.  There's also an interesting sub-plot in which Diana voices doubt and insecurity regarding her ability to fill Batman's vacant shoes. Without spoiling any details, by story's end Diana succeeds in using some creativity both to gain self-confidence and win the day.

     First-up in critiquing this new title is a well-served shout-out to DC Comics for reviving the iconic Sensation Comics name and title.  This is one of those occasional "why didn't they think of this sooner?" moments; since 1952, only a one-shot 1990's-era DC comic used the title and its just-plain-neat to see it alive again and joining the living ranks of its Golden Age peers such as Action Comics and World's Finest.  In addition, this is a high quality and solidly entertaining premier issue in at least three regards worth noting.  First, writer Gail Simone gives us an excellent script that successfully balances exciting action with sharp dialogue.  Secondly, the artwork is high quality and very appropriate to the Wonder Woman storyverse.

     Third, writer Gail Simone does a great job of bringing some real-world emotion to both the good and bad characters in the conflict. On the good side, Simone very effectively conveys Wonder Woman being intimidated in trying to fill Batman's shoes and more importantly, humanizes both her struggle and success in carrying it out successfully. And on the bad guy side, we're treated to some surprisingly humanized behavior by The Joker of all people, who's constrained into some very real world and at times funny normal behavior by the terms of an interesting ongoing wager with Two-Face/Harvey Dent.

     The 20-page main story is followed by a 10-page secondary tale by a different creative team that's of barely average quality. But the exceptionalism of the main story carries the day and results in a worthy issue #1 return of Sensation Comics.  Its clear that this is a stand-alone story, with my guess that the next storyline won't be set in Gotham City.  But wherever the creative team chooses to take us in future issues, the effort deserves a very positive thumbs-up review recommendation: thank you, DC Comics, for reconnecting Wonder Woman to her roots in the return of this iconic Golden Age comic book title!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which famous sports star has been most featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated during the past 60 years of the magazine's publication.  We had several correct entries, so via a roll of the dice, our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Jeremy Mower, who correctly identified NBA basketball great Michael Jordan as the most featured Sports Illustrated cover star, with a total of 50 front cover appearances. That's a lot of front covers! 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 have decreed that we offer-up to you this week our very first ever photo caption contest! And what better way to start this occasional form of contest challenge than with a photo featuring That's Entertainment's very own store assistant manager Sierra! So your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, September 17 with your proposed caption (hopefully funny) to the photo below featuring Sierra in a visit to a herd of Central Mass. cows (or perhaps the cows were visiting That's Entertainment? We're not sure!). Your caption can be store-specific, collectibles-themed or just about anything that pops into your creative mind!

     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-watching (Go Pats!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 19 Here In Bongo Congo!