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 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!

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