Thursday, November 13, 2014

Here In Bongo Congo

     As readers are probably aware of by now, That's Entertainment is streamlining the process of publishing its weekly e-newsletter, which includes putting my Here In Bongo Congo comic book review column on hold for the time being. My fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc posted his farewells last week, so this week its my turn.

     Its been a great experience, reading and reviewing hundreds of comic books over the last 7 years, ranging from "The Big Two" publishers DC and Marvel to the many moderate and small-sized publishing houses.  Thanks to Ken at That's Entertainment for giving me the opportunity to join my more-experienced fellow reviewer Dave side-by-side in these review trenches, and thanks to Evan for formatting and posting the many columns.

     Two additional thanks are in order: first, a sincere and heartfelt thank you to the readers of the reviews over the years, particularly a loyal core of regulars who consistently entered and took turns winning our trivia contests. And also a thanks to the new issues comic book publishing industry. During the life of my review effort, I was so happy to find that the quality of new issues comic book storylines and artistic efforts has been top-notch and as strong as ever, resulting in the positive reviews far outweighing in number the very occasional negative review.  That says a lot about a positive comic book publishing trend which I expect will continue.

     We'll hopefully be back in the on-line review mix if That's Entertainment eventually gets back into the on-line postings process, but if not, thanks again to all you good fanboys and fangirls for reading and enjoying my column, and hopefully we'll see you all again sometime, somewhere and somewhen Here In Bongo Congo!

Final Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest and last contest challenged you to pitch to us your prediction as to which NBA team will win the 2014-2015 NBA Championship. And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who predicts that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win it all this basketball season.  Mike writes that with the return of LeBron James to his hometown team, "in a way, it will be poetic justice for the fans in Cleveland. After all they have been through, they have it coming." An excellent choice, Mike, one that has a very strong chance of becoming fulfilled.  Congrats to Mike, who wins our $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

     That's all for now, so keep enjoying your comic book reading and hopefully we'll see you again someday Here In Bongo Congo!

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 Gordon_A@msn.com 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!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Comic Reviews 10/20/14

Here In Bongo Congo

      There's lots of interesting new comic book issues on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves this week, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we take a break from our Fall leaf-peeping and take a peak (or peep, as it were!) at three of them. So let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:
 
Thor #1

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Jason Aaron: Writer

Russell Dauterman: Art

Matthew Wilson: Colors


     By now, all good fanboys and fangirls have heard through the comic book publishing grapevine that Marvel's latest addition to its wide stable of Thor comics features a new, female version of the famed Norse warrior superhero.  Marvel even had the creative and clever marketing idea of initially announcing the premier of the title on the highly-rated daytime television talk show "The View."  The new series is written by Jason Aaron with art by Russell Dauterman and colors by Matthew Wilson.

     The kick-off story segment of the multi-issue story arc is entitled "If He Be Worthy," and presents a King Arthur, sword-in-the-stone style of origin tale for our new Norse super-goddess. A very useful inside-the-front-cover narrative explains that in the previous Thor title, during an epic battle on the Moon, Nick Fury whispers a secret comment into Thor's ear which was supplied to him by The Watcher, causing Thor to lose his famed connection to Mjolnir, his ultra-powerful hammer. With the powerful hammer now immersed in the Moon's surface, neither Thor nor anyone else from Asgardia can left and thus connect to it.  In addition to the plot focusing on various attempts to lift the hammer, an additional sub-plot is woven through issue #1. The famed evil Frost Giants have returned to Earth, attacking and decimating an underwater human science colony. When Thor arrives on the scene to assist without his hammer, a major personal disaster (which I won't spoil reveal in this review) is inflicted on our hero by an evil enchanted ally of the Frost Giants.  And on the very last page of this issue #1, parallel to all that is directly happening to Thor, an armored, unidentified Norse Woman arrives on the Moon's surface and with the dramatic utterance of the phrase "There must always be a Thor," easily lifts the hammer, thus inheriting the mantle of Norse God warrior.

     Once again, Marvel Comics has extended its seemingly endless streak these days of coming-up with a new and successful twist on a well-familiar, established superhero that provides a wonderfully fresh and highly entertaining new spin on the hero's storyverse.  This new series hits the success bullseye in many ways. The art is pitch perfect for the nature of the Thor storyverse, reminiscent of the detailed pencil stylings of Frank Quist in his popular DC All-Star Superman series of a few years back.  Writer Jason Aaron's plot details are solid and entertaining, with a nice back-and-forth balance between the two sub-plots of the stuck-in-the-moon hammer dilemma and the Earthside Frost Giant attack crisis. I particularly enjoyed a minor but effective technique of Aaron's, to place both ongoing scenes in spots where the humans can't breathe without assistance, namely the Moon and undersea. Having the good and bad Asgardians easily prance around in these settings very effectively underscored their ultrapowerful abilities while emphasizing the weaknesses of we mere mortals.

     A very well-presented additional plot element also runs throughout the tale, that of a major and growing conflict between the recently-returned Odin and his Queen Feyja, who effectively ruled the renamed Asgardia in his absence. There's a major conflict brewing between these two over who will run the kingdom now, which should lend itself to some interesting and entertaining plot twists as this series unfolds.  As a final review comment, its worth commending the creative team for taking its time to pace the issue #1 storyline, to the point where our new Thor (or Thoress, as it were) doesn't even appear on the scene until the very last page. Its a smart move on Marvel's part to first solidly establish with the reader the complex and vital elements of the various ongoing plot conflicts and then reveal in upcoming issues how our new heroine reacts to the situations. I think it will all make for a great new series which should provide some fun reading in the months ahead.

    So in sum, a very positive review recommendation is well-deserved for All Good Marvel Readers to get on the New Thor bandwagon and pick-up a copy of issue #1 off of the That's Entertainment new issues shelves!


Gotham Academy #1

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher: Writers

Karl Kerschl: Art

Dave McCaig: Colors

     DC Comics recently published issue #1 in a new series entitled Gotham Academy.  The comic book focuses on a private kids school located, of course, in Gotham City. The title is scripted by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl and colors by Dave McCaig.

     The issue #1 story is entitled "Welcome To Gotham Academy" and alternates between two interweaving sub-plots.  The first storythread introduces us to the starring assortment of the Academy's students and teachers through the eyes of the main character Olive Silverlock. Among the featured players are her jock boyfriend Kyle, his little sister Maps, a gang of Olive's fellow student enemies and a few teachers.  The second storyline features mystery; warned by the Headmaster to stay away from the Academy's North Hall due to mysterious doings there, naturally Olive and Maps seek-out the source by spying at it from the rickety belltower of the school.  After the girls mess-up their surveillance, they briefly interact with Bruce Wayne, who is visiting the school on that day as an alumni speaker.  The issue ends with a hint furthering the North Hall mystery, as we learn that Olive and her roommate are being spied on by a lizard-like creature living in their dorm room wall.

     I'm giving issue #1 of this new series a mixed review.  It's a definite thumbs-down for any readers over the age of 16 or so, as its 100% geared toward kid readers.  In that respect, for the younger readers its an average quality comic book.  While the artwork is solid enough, the Gotham Academy storyverse concept suffers from being too much a carbon copy of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter book and movie franchise.  Writers Cloonan and Fletcher trip-up by too closely duplicating all the basics of the Hogwarts environment, from rival factions of good and bad kids to the mystery of the odd doings in the North Hall.  The result is an introductory issue that is mildly entertaining and holds potential, but only if the creative team gets into some unique story structure starting in issue #2. If not, then Gotham Academy isn't going to have enough of its own unique identity to last for more than a handful of monthly issues.

     Of course, the obvious and simplest solution is for Olive and her cohorts to start interacting with Batman and his wide assortment of friends and enemies as soon as possible in next month's issue.  The brief passing appearance of Bruce Wayne in issue #1 isn't enough to provide assurance that familiar Bat-Family co-stars will appear center stage in the series, which they very much need to do.  For now, we're treated to a few small but fun references to the history of Gotham City as presented in the kids' history class, via some neat references to various Cobblepots in previous generations of the city.  But it ain't enough, I'm afraid, to jumpstart the tepid kick-off plot presented in issue #1.

     So in sum, older teens and adults should avoid this kidcentric series, while DC Comics needs to quickly ramp-up the Batman Family involvement and resulting Bat-action, if the decent premise of this new series is to have an even chance of lasting more than a handful of issues. And a quick note to the writers: please get as far away as possible from the Hogwarts duplicating of the Academy's characters and school atmosphere, or even the appearance of Batman isn't going to be able to keep this series alive for long.



Teen Dog #1

Publisher: Boom! Entertainment

Jake Lawrence: Story and Art

     The Boom! Box division of Boom! Entertainment recently published issue #1 in an eight-issue mini-series of a new teen-oriented comic book entitled Teen Dog. The series follows the high school trials and tribulations of (naturally) a teen-aged human-style dog, simply named Teen Dog, who attends Tantamount High School in an unnamed community. The series is the creation of writer/artist  Jake Lawrence.

     The kick-off issue consists of a series of short, one to two-page vignettes through which Teen Dog interacts with his support characters, and through which we as readers get a sense of the personalities and philosophies of the various characters as they make it through their typical high school day. The wide-ranging styles of characters include Teen Dog's female best buddy Mariella, female football star Sara Sato, another footballer named Jim, and a curmudgeon fellow human-like dog who professes to dislike Teen Dog (but we can see really doesn't) named Thug Pug.  Each small scene/vignette has a title (i.e., Dog House, The Test, History, etc.) and each serves a dual purpose: first, to provide just a fun and entertaining story scene and secondly, to impart a bit of Teen Dog wisdom about life as a teen in high school.  The issue ends with everyone high-fiving at the end of their typical school day and heading home, to begin a new teen day in next month's issue #2.

     This is a superb, fresh new comic series that achieves the twin feat, ever rarer these days, of succeeding as an entertaining comic book read for young and older readers, alike.  Creator Jake Lawrence clearly has a well thought-out outlook on both being a teenager and a general philosophy ( at times a bit metaphysical) of the positivity of day-to-day living, and has the writing and artistic skills to successfully express his unique vision on the comic book page. Its a simply brilliant move to structure the comic book as a series of interconnected vignettes, each aptly titled with the theme of the scene. My favorite is entitled "History;" in a one page, five-box scene, Teen Dog good-naturedly spars with his history teacher during a quiz. A simple enough concept, yet Jake Lawrence has the genius to create a funny scene that serves the dual purpose of also presenting Teen Dog's unique philosophy of life. Without being a scene spoiler, I'll just say here that the scene includes my favorite line in the entire comic book, namely, "What did you do with Eisenhower?!"

     Too many comics these days come across as overly pretentious, as the creators shoot for relevance or hipness and try too hard in the failed effort.  Its incredibly rare for a creator to be comfortable within his or her own creative skin, enough to take an easy pace, simply presenting a storyverse that has basic charm, clever wit and an equal mix of fresh humor and a philosophy of life.  The last time I read a comic concept that pulled it all off so well was back in the 1980's, in the story world of "Eyebeam," Sam Hurt's cult classic which began as a University of Texas at Austin college newspaper comic strip and blossomed into a national graphic novel and comic book phenomenon.  Its been a long wait since then, but well-worth it, as Teen Dog aptly provides that wonderful philosophical addition to the current world of new comic book publishing.

     As a final review comment, its worth mentioning that there's a very interesting back-of-the-book interview of creator Jake Lawrence by Editor Shannon Watters, as well as full-page ads for two additional Boom! Box comic books entitled Cyanide & Happiness and Lumberjanes, both of which I'm hoping to review in future columns.  So again, whether you're a teenaged or older reader, by all means don't miss-out on this premier issue of Teen Dog and stick around to enjoy all eight issues of the series. Something tells me that Teen Dog will be around having high school adventures well-beyond this initial eight-issue publishing run.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

       Our latest contest challenged you to identify the roles that two well-known longtime 20th century Red Sox employees played in the cultural fabric of the team and Fenway Park, itself. We received a few correct answers,  so by a roll of the dice our winner is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who identified John Kiley as the famed Fenway Park organist and Sherm Feller as the just-as-famous longtime public address announcer at the Park. Congratulations to Erin 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 this week we return to our reading roots with a comics-related contest challenge.  In addition to comic books and graphic novels, we all remember (and hopefully still read from time-to-time!) newspaper comic strips.  As such, your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, October 29 and tell us what your favorite comic strip or strips have been, either past or present, including telling us a bit about why your submission is your favorite.  Your submittal could be a well-known favorite such as Peanuts or something more obscure that you'd like to share with the rest of us. Either way, let's all get the word out that there are some great newspaper comic strips out there that deserve some attention!

     Please note that our first prize $10.00 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 World Series watching (Go Kansas City Royals!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 31 (Halloween!) Here In Bongo Congo!

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 Gordon_A@msn.com 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!