Friday, October 3, 2014

Comic Reviews 10/3/14

Here In Bongo Congo

     The Fall season is moving forward, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review an eclectic variety of comics to go along with your New England foliage viewing. So let's get right to it and see how these issues stack-up against each other:
Copperhead #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Jay Faerber: Writer
Scott Godlewski: Art
Ron Riley: Colors

     Image Comics recently published issue #1 of a new science fiction-themed comic book series entitled "Copperhead." This is a space opera or space western-style series. For the uninitiated, there's a long history within science fiction publishing of this sub-genre, which sets storylines in an Old West-type of society out in interstellar space or on a colonized planet. This latest addition into the subgenre is written by Jay Faerber with art by Scott Godlewski and colors by Ron Riley.

     The Copperhead of the series title refers to a Western-style town situated on the colony planet of Jasper.  The plot quickly introduces us to Clara Bronson, the newly-appointed Sheriff in Town, arriving from off-world with her young son Zeke in tow.  The bulk of the kick-off issue establishes a handful of sub-plots, each of which serve in-turn to present strong challenges for Bronson in establishing her credibility in the new frontier society.  The difficulties include an alien deputy sidekick who resents being passed over for the Sheriff slot, an alien redneck family that's consistently violent and a human businessman who runs the Town's political structure through payoffs and threats.  The fourth challenge for Bronson is raising Zeke in this rough society. The issue concludes in a bridge to issue #2 on that sub-plot, as Zeke and a new playmate explore the nighttime countryside with the expected adventure consequences.

     Space opera science fiction is such a picked-over genre that its extremely tough for a new story or series to add anything significant to the style.  Happily, the creative team manages to avoid the rehash trap by incorporating several elements that elevate this new series into the highly entertaining and fresh reading category.  First-up is writer Jay Faerber's creative twist of centering the storyverse on Bronson's double-plight of establishing her sheriffing and single parenting creds in the context of a tough frontier world.  Without being too philosophical, there's a lot of entertaining story detail that serves as an apt metaphor for modern real-world women facing the same challenges in our society. I liked the little plot twist of naming our heroine "Bronson." Its an appropriate homage to the 1960's-1970's movie image of actor Charles Bronson; similar to him, our heroine seems mild-mannered in general but when needed explodes into a dynamo of a hand-to-hand combat expert who can kick butt against the biggest and baddest aliens in Town.

     Secondly, a tip-of-the-review hat is due to the visual team.  Scott Godlewski and Ron Riley provide a dead-on appropriate graphic styling, evoking at the same time both the bleakness and beauty of a harsh frontier society on the edges of an intergalactic society.  Third, issue #1 scatters a fair amount of interesting small plot ideas about the story, many of which hold the potential for some interesting upcoming story developments.  My favorite is a repeated reference and focus on a recently-concluded intergalactic war, which the human race appears to have won but not without much alien resentment still actively simmering just under the surface of the town of Copperfield, ready to burst-out into frontier violence at anytime.

     Issue #1 concludes with an effective back-of-the-book column by writer Jay Faerber, who offers useful reader insight into both the general nature of the space opera sci-fi subgenre as well as his thinking process in creating the Copperhead storyverse.  So all-in-all, this issue provides the treat of a fresh and very entertaining new addition to this style of outer space science fiction storytelling, well-worth the read by both genre fans and general comic book readers alike.

Batman/Superman: Future's End #1 (One-Shot)
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Greg Pak: Writer
Cliff Richards, Jack Herbert & Vicente Cifuentes: Art

     DC Comics recently released a Batman/Superman one-shot issue as part of its Future's End mega-event, which features the young Batman/Terry of the futuristic Beyond Batman title time-traveling from 50 years in the future to a timeframe 5 years from now, to try and stop the DC storyverse catastrophe of the Batman-created Brother Eye technology from enslaving all of humankind.  I reviewed in my last column a Superman one-shot issue in this series, and wanted to check-out the combined Batman/Superman issue, also. The title is scripted by Greg Pak with art by the trio of Cliff Richards, Jack Herbert and Vicente Cifuentes.

     The one-shot storyline is entitled "Undone" and presents scenes and events in Batman's life four years from the present day.  Without detailing specific scene sequences, in general, Bruce Wayne is recovering from a massive spinal injury incurred during previous DC story events. We learn in an unexpected plot twist that the injury was caused in an attack on Batman by Superman, angered by Batman's actions during an earlier world-wide war with alien invaders. The bulk of the issue then focuses on Batman coming to terms with the now-missing Superman's actions against him. After a battle with a new foe, Batman sacrifices his ability to walk and ruminates some more about how the world needs Superman to reappear given the status of world events.

     If the plot summary paragraph above seems vague and overly-generic, that's because this comic book suffers from the same problems, mostly dominated by two constructive flaws.  First, this is the second Future's End comic book title in which I've encountered a stand-alone tale that just seems too focused won an overly self-absorbed superhero who's stepped-away from the Future's End theme and ruminates inwardly about hurt feelings.  While emotional contemplation is a fine story element, when its the only element, the resulting plot is sluggish, dull and frankly boring.  Secondly, this entire series suffers badly from a lack of front-page narrative that would greatly help the reader understand the Future's End overall theme, putting the particular issue within the context of this event series.

     I don't like the trend I'm seeing in both Future's End comic books that I've reviewed so far, and I'm fearing that we have a dud of a new series on our ever-lovin' DC-reading hands. So unfortunately, I have to recommend that all good DC readers take a pass on at least this particular disjointed and unenjoyable contribution to the Future's End series. Let's just hope that the next Future's End issue that I review turns the tide from the flawed structure of the two issues reviewed so far, or the Future's End event series is in real trouble.

Edge Of Spider-Verse #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jason Latour: Writer
Robbi Rodriguez: Art
Rico Renzi: Colors

     Marvel Comics has published issue #2 of its Edge Of Spider-Verse title, which currently features a role-reversal alternate version of the traditional Spider-Man origin tale, with Peter Parker's famed blond girlfriend Gwen Stacy in the role of the webslinger. A back-of-the-book narrative explains that this issue is part of a wide-ranging, multi-title mini-series which introduces a whole range of different versions of Spider-Man, all of whom eventually play a coordinated role in a major story event.  The current issue is written by Jason Latour with art by Robbi Rodriguez and colors by Rico Renzi.

     The first three pages of issue #2 catch-us-up on issue #1, neatly summarizing the differences in the alternate storyline from the original tale.  In a nutshell, female rock band drummer Gwen gets bitten by the radioactive bug and becomes Spidey, while her high school best male buddy Peter Parker becomes her foe The Lizard and eventually dies from the transformative process. In this version, Gwen is also being hunted by her Police Chief Dad, who has no idea that his daughter is the costumed crimefighter falsely accused of being a costumed supervillain.  Without spoiling any details, the bulk of issue #2 portrays Gwen avoiding various attempts at capture. The issue ends in a very dramatic bridge as Gwen saves her Dad from an actual supervillain and in the process unavoidably reveals her identity to her shocked father.

      This is a very enjoyable and entertaining new version of Spider-Man comics, which succeeds by incorporating the elements of success which are missing from the Batman/Superman Future's End comic book reviewed above in this column.  First, both the three-page summary of last month's issue and a back-of-the-book explanation of the overall Edge Of Spider-Verse mega-event do wonders in clarifying for the reader the overall storyverse theme, as well as placing the current issue within the context of the wider ongoing storyline.  Secondly, the alternate universe plot particulars are fresh, creative and just-plain-fun.  These days, no one in the comic book publishing industry does alternate versions of their traditional heroes better than Marvel Comics (see the wide-ranging Ultimates stable of Marvel titles), and this comic book just keeps that success coming.

      There's nothing more fun in reading a Marvel Comics alternate universe tale than looking for and savoring the little differences that are presented from the structure of the traditional, well-known reality and this issue is no exception.  My personal favorite in this issue is the inclusion of Matt Murdock as an evil lawyer representing organized crime against Spider-Woman. It will be interesting to see if the story eventually includes Matt putting-on his Daredevil costume to operate as a supervillain (let's hope so!).

      Most importantly, the strong writing, fantastic alternate universe story twists and excellent artwork combine to give us a comic book that simply whetted my appetite to check-out all of the other comic book issues in this current, title-spanning Marvel story event.  So an obvious positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this issue and a "well-done!" shout-out goes out to Marvel Comics for bringing us one of the better current major event comic book series currently out on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify any American city or town whose name begins and ends with the same  letter. We had several entries which fit the bill, so by a roll-of-the-dice, our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who submitted the city of Lowell, Massachusetts for his entry.  Lowell is actually rarer than most such names, as it has two letter "L's" at the end of its name, giving it a total of three of the same letter on both ends of its name. Congratulations to Mike, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     To commemorate the conclusion of the difficult 2014 Red Sox season, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that we challenge you this week with a Red Sox history trivia contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at no later than Wednesday, October 15 with the answer to the following: Correctly identify what key jobs were held by Sherm Feller and John Kiley for many decades in the 20th century at Fenway Park. Both gentlemen were well-known for their enjoyable roles at Fenway home games, so tell us what those roles were!  Please note that our $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store, on-going specials, only.  That's all for now, so have two great Boston Bruins pre-season watching (Go Broons!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 17 Here In Bongo Congo!

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