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!

No comments:

Post a Comment