Friday, October 31, 2014

Comic Reviews 10/31/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     Good King Leonardo has decreed that we take a break from our leaf raking and review three new comic book issues. So let's get right to it and see how these titles stack-up against each other:

Harley Quinn: Future's End #1

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Connor: Writers

Chad Hardin: Art

Alex Sinclair: Colors

     DC Comics recently published a Harley Quinn one-shot title as part of its "Future's End" publishing event.  I've previously reviewed two other Future's End series titles, with the supposed theme of the young future Batman character Terry of Batman Beyond traveling back from the far future to a point five years from now to prevent the DC storyverse disaster of Brother Eye enslaving mankind.  The Harley Quinn title is scripted by the A-list writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor with art by Chad Hardin and colors by Alex Sinclair.

     The story is entitled "Crappily Ever After" and is aptly titled, as the comedy plot centers around the bizarre wedding doings between Harley and "her puddin'," The Joker.  After her plane flight enroute to a Bermuda vacation crashes in a tropical storm, Harley washes-up on a large tropical island, where she's captured by natives and brought to their powerful god-king "Tha'Jo-Kaa" (get the name?). Turns-out The Joker had fled to the island years earlier and set himself up as their fearsome overlord in the style of the ancient Aztec kings.  And every Aztec king needs a pretty girl sacrifice to the local angry, spewing volcano gods, right?! After rekindling his romance with Harley and setting-up a false wedding planned just for that purpose, Harley figures-out the scam just as the ceremony begins. Without spoiling any details from that point on, wacky, Three Stooges-style hijinks ensue, with all's-well-ending-well for Harley but for no one else, while The Joker disappears to clash and/or romance with Harley on another day.

     As a stand-alone Harley Quinn tale, this is a solid story that deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation.  The writing dup of Palmiotti and Connor have a long history of publishing (with Connor sometimes drawing) excellent Harley Quinn tales and this one just adds to that lineage.  The plot is pitch-perfect funny, with lots of Mad Magazine-style site gags blended-in with the usual Harley Quinn wackiness.  Chad Hardin's artwork is on par with Connors well-known Harley depictions, to the point where the two stylings these days are basically interchangeable.  Harley fans will enjoy the central theme of the plot, the rekindling of the original relationship-made-in-DC-Comics-hell, that of Harley and her Puddin'. Its been awhile since we've been treated to a new storyline that features the Harley-Joker romance and this one's a treat, as our heroine gives as good as she gets in the back-and-forth love-violence nuttiness that these two love-monsters have carved out for themselves in their weirdo corner of the DC storyverse.

      My only criticism of this issue is that for the third time in recent reviews, I'm reviewing a Future's End comic book that has absolutely nothing/nada/nyet to do with the supposed overarching theme of the Future's End event series, beyond the fact that each of the three tales is set five years from the present day.  I'm beyond trying to figure-out the bizarreness of the fact that DC is scamming readers to the point of making them go on a treasure hunt to find Future's End issues that feature the main storyline.  Its a complete disrespect of loyal readers to con them with this marketing ploy.  I'll continue to read new comics with the "Future's End" logo on the front cover, but only for my interest in the story characters and not in search of this failure of a mega-event.

    So to sum-up, a major thumbs-up recommendation for readers to enjoy this very entertaining Harley Quinn one-shot comic book title, combined with a major thumbs-down recommendation for All Good DC Readers to abandon the pretext of this failed Future's End publishing event.

Black Widow #11

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Nathan Edmondson: Writer

Phil Noto: Art

     Marvel Comics is currently up to issue #11 in its Black Widow series which presents the well-known Natasha Romanova in a sidebar series in which she deals with personally-motivated assassin-for-hire situations in a solo routine away from her more well-known Avengers and SHIELD affiliations. I gave a positive review last year to this title's kick-off premier issue, and wanted to revisit the series to see how its holding-up these days. The title is scripted by Nathan Edmondson with art by the acclaimed Phil Noto.

     The issue #11 story segment is the latest installment of an ongoing multi-issue storyarc entitled "Femmes Fatales." An inside-the-front-cover narration updates the reader that to-date, Natasha's lawyer Isiah has been kidnapped by a man she tried to help years ago, at the request of a mysterious organization called Chaos.  Issue #11 unfolds the rescue attempt; after confronting Tori Raven who seems to have much information on the details of the kidnapping situation, Natasha and her sidekick X-23 (the female clone of Wolverine, for non-Marvel readers) go into rescue mode.  The bulk of the issue is one long-extended scene of bloody battle action, as our dynamic duo kill and maim their way into the kidnapper's hotel penthouse suite and without spoiling any details, have an exciting getaway with Isiah intact.  The issue ends in a mysterious bridge to next month's installment, as a telephone conversation between Tori Raven and the mysterious mastermind behind the kidnapping only deepens the mystery around Chaos and its intent against Natasha/Black Widow.

     This title has stood the test of 11 published issues and maintains all the good stuff that led me to highly recommend reading that premier issue.  The storyline as scripted by Nathan Edmondson is the appropriate blend of "Black Widowness," more action than narrative but still enough story heft to pull us into the mystery of the plot.  I like the idea of the mysterious adversary of the organization Chaos.  Baby boom-era readers will recall that the evil spy group in the famous 1960's television sitcom "Get Smart" was called C.H.A.O.S., and will no doubt enjoy the irony that there's absolutely nothing funny about the dark and dangerous Chaos group in this Black Window comic book series.

     And as always, I need to shamelessly gush for a paragraph or so about the exsquisite artwork of Phil Noto.  With his unique blend of coloring, its always detective noir/sunset time in a Phil Noto-illustrated story and this ongoing series has been blessed with that interpretation; Noto's artwork sets the unique and perfect visual tone for this tale, as the players both good and bad struggle through a dream-like setting toward whatever conclusion this ongoing storyarc will eventually bring us to.

     So again, a tip-of-the-review-hat is well-deserved to the creative team for this very enjoyable series as it maintains its monthly high quality level of entertainment. And a shout-out is also well-deserved for the editorial team at Marvel Comics, for having the creative confidence to green-light this unique and very special interpretation of the Black Widow storyverse, which adds a wonderful reading addition to the long and varied publishing history of everyone's favorite Marvel Comics female assassin-for-hire.

Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini #1

Publisher: Dynamite Comics

Anthony Del Col & Conor McCreery: Writers

Carlos Furuzono: Art

Aikau Oliva: Colors

     Dynamite Comics has just published the premier issue of a new pulp-oriented comic book entitled "Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini," which obviously presents a story match-up between the fictional British detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the real-life famed American vaudeville escape artist Harry Houdini.  The title is co-scripted by the writing team of Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, with art by Carlos Furuzono and colors by Aikau Oliva.

     Issue #1 presents the untitled first installment of a multi-issue story arc set in 1900 London, that blends a murder-mystery theme with potential occult doings, via two interweaving sub-plots. The main storythread serves to introduce the two main characters to each other. As Houdini conducts one of his famed escape routines in Scotland Yard, Holmes is present as an observing inmate, having been brought to the Scotland Yard precinct after a drug-fueled wild night-on-the-town.  As the two egocentric characters verbally spar with each other, their mental duel is interrupted by the second sub-plot as a strange occult threat is dramatically delivered to Houdini.  When Houdini repeats his escape act that evening on the London stage, the jail-sprung Holmes is there to try and debunk the act. Instead, (without being a detail spoiler), the act is again interrupted by the mysterious occult foe, concluding with an innocent bystander's murder and a direct threat against Houdini, which will no doubt play-out in next month's issue #2 story installment.

     I've written many times in this column that no publisher in today's new issue comic book industry is better than Dynamite Comics at presenting high quality Pulp-era, non-superhero adventure stories and this latest title continues that string of success.  Co-writers Del Col and McCreery deliver a very strong and entertaining plotline that features sharp dialogue and believable characterizations for both of these iconic story figures. The writers have done their homework, understanding that Holmes was written as an egomaniac of a fictional character and Houdini was an egocentric real-world star of his theatrical era. The expected "clash-of-the-egocentric-titans" is extremely credible and makes for very enjoyable, and at times humorous, issue #1 reading.  It should be a lot of fun to follow the struggle between these two in upcoming issues, as they toil to work in partnership while at the same time trying to dominate each other with their oversized personalities.

     That second sub-plot adds further mystery to the storyline, as it includes a focus on Holmes's often-present drug abuse. In this case, he's deliberately ingesting an exotic and highly dangerous drug against his sidekick Dr. Watson's wishes, in order to address a mysterious case that hasn't yet been revealed in issue #1.  This element should also lead to some interesting story developments in upcoming issues.  And a third positive story development is the plot's portrayal of Houdini's wife Bess; in real life she was an integral part of his stage act and his career management in general, an historical fact that the writers wisely chose to include in their tale, thereby elevating her to serve as an effective third major character in the plot.

     My only criticism of this comic book is in regard to the artwork, which is terrible, laced with extremely primitive facial renderings and story scenes.  While its fortunate that the very high quality of the script mutes the lousy visuals, Dynamite Comics still owes the stellar script and its loyal fans an art team swap-out as soon as possible, or this title may tank in the long run. And that would be a shame, given the high quality and just-plain-enjoyment of this fun and unique script.  So by all means, a positive thumbs-up recommendation is suggested for All Good Comic Book Readers to cleanse your superhero-reading palates with this historical action-mystery-thriller comic book, available right now on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to pitch to us your favorite newspaper comic strip or strips, either past or present. And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...)  Dave McBaron, who nominates both Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County as his two favorite newspaper comic strips of all time.  Dave tells us that they rise above the rest of the field for him because he likes "the way that they examined our society in a satirical manner".  The Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges reminds us that both classic strips have been compiled into several enjoyable soft cover reprint compilations, all of which are available on the That's Entertainment shelves. So congratulations to Dave, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to (you guessed it!) That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest theme is in honor of this week's kick-off of the new NBA basketball season, in particular the Celtics impressive game one win over the Brooklyn Nets this past Wednesday evening.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, November 12 giving us your prediction on who will win the 2014-2015 NBA season championship and why you think your pick has the right stuff to win the championship.  You could pitch to us our Celtics, last year's Champion San Antonio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers now that LeBron James has returned to his home team, or (gasp!) even the lowly L.A. Lakers!  Even though the NBA season is just beginning, let's see your predictions on where you think the season will ultimately end-up!

     Please note that our $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for retail merchandise or in-store, on-going specials, only.  That's all for now, so have two great Boston sports watching (Go Pats, Celts and Broons!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 14 Here In Bongo Congo!

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