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Review Date: 11/14/2008

Welcome, Good Comic Reader, to the official christening of a name for my little corner of the comic review world.  It's been suggested that we need to add some identity to this little patch of opinion, a naming of place so to speak. These reviews are subjective, in that they're strictly my personal opinion, based on my own comic world likes or dislikes.  As such, they evolve from my own comic experience, influenced by personal memories stretching back over the years and decades of the comics that I've been fortunate enough to read, enjoy and love.
     I want to reach back as far as possible, to the very beginning, to the earliest memory that I can clearly recall of a comic world of stories, characters and wonder, and I'd like to bring that memory back to the present, share it with you and honor it by naming this review place after that first comic encounter.  This first memory of mine predates reading, even.  Its of an early 1960's Saturday morning cartoon show.  It was called Bongo Congo, and offered a world of talking animals in this ficticious African country, including the lion ruler Good King Leonardo, his advisor True Blue Odie and a host of other characters.
     You may ask why I chose a t.v. cartoon show setting rather than a comic book world to name this column.  The answer is simple, in that I believe that we baby boomers got hooked on comics mainly because of Saturday morning cartoons.  Think about it for a moment: we watched and fell in love with t.v. cartoons as toddlers, before we could even read.  That interest was naturally expanded to include the written word on the graphic page as we first learned to read.  Admit it to yourself; there isn't a comic lover in the world who didn't start as a Saturday morning cartoon person, and who to this day doesn't carry on the intertwined traditions of comics and t.v. cartoons.  That's the reason why adults nationwide have made The Simpsons the longest-running half-hour sitcom, live or animated, in television history.
     So come join me each week "Here In Bongo Congo", Good Comic Reader.  Perhaps Leonardo and Odie will weigh-in from time-to-time with their own opinions, or to help-out with the comic contest judging.  It's all in good fun, and we could all do worse than taking a few moments each week to hang-out here in Bongo Congo.  Now on to this week's reviews!

 Terra #1
Amanda Conner: penciler, inker,
Jimmy Palmiotti: writer, inker,
Justin Gray: writer

     D.C. has just released issue #1 of a four issue mini-series entitled "Terra."  The title character is a fairly new, young DC Universe superheroine who first appeared in Supergirl #12.  As such, she's a completely different character from a few previous Terra's who have inhabited various DC comic lines since the early 1980's.
     This mini-series is written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Palmiotti and Amanda Conner.  In issue #1, we're introduced to the new Terra, a subterranean human who uses her powers to manipulate the earth and solid materials to rescue a group of trapped Virginia coal miners.  The comic writers are adept at moving a lot more than the standard number of story plot elements quickly forward, as a series of Terra's rescue actions serve to introduce her to an entire world of average citizens as well as established superheros who weren't previously aware of her existance.
     We also learn a lot about Terra's subterranean world inhabited by exotic creatures, some intelligent and some not, who are either allies or enemies of Terra and her referenced species of underground humans.  There's another sub-plot woven-in of mining developers and government agents intruding into this underground world.  Finally, toss Powergirl into this stew as the established superhero character who has first contact with this mysterious newcomer and you've got quite a lot of storytelling crammed into the first issue of this mini-series.
     It would be easy to assume from the above summary that there might be too many plot elements going on in one standard-sized comic to avoid confusion.  But the creative team behind this comic actually pulls it all off very well.  It's a well-crafted comic story, comfortably serving the reader a mix of information on Terra's abilities, the struggle between the surface world and her mysterious underground land, and lots of interesting action and story elements as she throws herself into saving folks around the world from natural disasters.
     The style of art in this comic is a more critical element here than in most comics that I've been reading of late.  Similar to Frank Cho's style in comics such as Liberty Meadows and the current issue of Hulk #7 that I reviewed last week, it's particularly effective in portraying both the needed range of character's facial expressions and the unique action required for Terra's specific earth-moving superpowers.
     All in all, I found this comic to be very fresh and unique in both storyline and artistic presentation.  Definitely a thumbs-up to check-out issue #1, and I for one will personally stick around to see where this storyline goes for the three following issues of this mini-series.


Iron Man-The End (Marvel One-Shot)
Cover By: Bob Layton
Writer: David Michelinie
Pencils: Bernard Chang

     Marvel has a new one-shot out this week entitled "Iron Man-The End."  This extra-length comic is written by David Michelinie with art by Bernard Chang, Bob Layton and Mike Cavallaro.
     The premise of this story is both original and intriguing.  The unspecified time is at least a few decades from now. Tony Stark has been Iron Man for 50 years; after five decades of armor clad battles, his battered body suffering from a degenerative nerve disorder, Stark must face the inevitability of giving-up the ghost and retiring from being Iron Man.
     Several concurrent major plot elements receive equal focus in this oversized comic issue, including Stark struggling to accept his inability to perform as Iron Man, deciding whether or not he should anoint a successor (I won't give away the details of this plot line) and his obsession through Stark Industries on completing the world's first space elevator between Earth and an orbiting geostationary space station.  Author Michelinie also portrays the inevitable stress that these issues place on Stark's long-time marriage to U.S. Senator Beth Cabe.  As such, there's a very heavy "Lion In Winter" theme to this comic, as Stark deeply struggles to cope with this host of last-stage-of-life issues.
     I had to give this comic a few days of thought between reading it and writing this review, and came away from it all with mixed feelings that lean toward the negative.  I'm bothered by the flat feeling to the story; while its partly due to the bleak themes of the plotline, its mainly because this really isn't a comic superhero story.  Instead, what we have here is a hard technology science fiction short story portrayed in graphic format.  In fact, I am positive that sometime back in the 1980's I read this exact plot as a science fiction short story by either Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven or a similar science fiction writer of that era.  That story had the exact same story elements of a scientist struggling with health issues later in life as he labored to complete the first Earth-to-space station space elevator.  Even the ending of the story was the same as this comic. 
     Since there's no statement in the comic referencing the earlier short story, I have to wonder if Marvel and the first story's author are aware of this situation.  However, that old story/new comic connection isn't the problem with this issue.  The basic fact is that while this particular hard science plot works in a short story format, its dry and frankly forced in a comic book format.  There's little real emotion of any sort, here, leaving the reader with a feeling that something standard in a superhero comic is missing that's essential to enjoying the read.
   While I'm giving this comic a general thumbs down, I'll make a qualified recommendation that die-hard, long-time Iron Man fans might still want to check it out and add it to their collection inventory, as an interesting, albeit flawed, addition to the long lineage and wide range of interpretations of Iron Man over the years.  As a die-hard Superman and Batman collector/fan, I love to check-out as many interpretive versions as possible of both D.C. heroes.  Flawed or not, each creative interpretation adds an interesting depth and distinctive flavor to my favorite heroe's comic book and popular culture legacies.  So if Iron Man is one of your top comic hero icons, feel free to add this one-shot to your inventory.  If otherwise you're just looking for a fun read, with all due respect to the creative team's effort, skip this one.


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CONTEST REMINDER!

      Just a reminder that there's one more week to enter our current contest.  Give us your entry for your favorite individual comic issue from the 1990's.  It was a great decade for comics, with such comic lines as Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Kurt Busiek's Astro City, Concrete, From Hell and D.C.'s Kingdom Come, just to name a few.  Come on, you must have a favorite issue from one of these lines, or from another 1990's series!  So e-mail me at Gordon_A@msn.com, and tell me what individual issue of a comic published between 1990 and 1999 was your favorite comic issue of that decade, and why.  Good Luck!

 
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