Review Date: 12/05/2008

The Good Animal Citizens of Bongo Congo have petitioned King Leonardo to direct me to review a comic more relevant to their jungle nation.  As such, the King has once again proclaimed it to be Super Heroine Week, and declares that we begin with the following jungle review:

Captain America: White Issue #0
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jeph Loeb: Writer
Tim Sale: Artist
Dave Stewart: Colors

For the uninitiated reader (and to recap for those in-the-know), the acclaimed creative team of Jeph Loeb as writer and Tim Sale as artist have been developing a unique style at Marvel of providing their own limited-series reinterpretations of the early years of key Marvel superheroes.  Often known as the color-coded series, the team began in 2002 with Daredevil: Yellow and progressed to Spiderman: Blue in 2003 and Hulk: Gray in 2004.

Now in 2008, Loeb and Sale give us Captain America: White, with Marvel publishing this month an issue #0 as a precurser to the upcoming six-issue miniseries.  Issue #0 consists of a 17-page story, followed by an 11-page combination black-and-white sketchbook and interview with the creative duo as conducted by Richard Starkings.

Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon for Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics in 1941, Captain America is often referred to as Marvel's All-American superhero equivalent to D.C.'s Superman, and was a key American popular culture icon during World War II in rallying the American public for the war effort.  A super-soldier created by the U.S. Army, Cap and his teenage sidekick Bucky fought the Nazis and the infamous evil Red Skull.  The comic was discontinued in the mid-1950's and revived to immense acclaim by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the Silver Age 1960's, continuing up to now with many interpretations too numerous to address in this review.

While the high quality that Loeb and Sale bring to any comic series that they create (either as a team or individually) is automatic every time, their color-coded origin series for Marvel also included a very wistful and frankly sad storytone to each origin interpretation.  Although each series was of high artistic quality, both Daredevil: Yellow and Spiderman: Blue struck me as so respectively joyless and melancholy that I skipped reading Hulk: Gray entirely.

However, in the WWII origin story of Captain America, there's doubtless no more naturally melancholy a comic lineage tale than the origins of Cap and his sidekick Bucky, leading to Bucky's early death in the closing days of World War II.  It's not overkill to characterize the often-told story as the comic world's premier attempt at Shakespearian tragedy, and an excellent effort at that.  As such, the Loeb-Sale Marvel origins approach that so bummed me out in their Daredevil and Spiderman efforts should be perfectly suited to the world of Cap and Bucky.  The key question then becomes whether or not the team pulls it off in both quality and original effect.

I'm both happy and relieved as a fan of the pair to report that in issue #0 they've successfully achieved this quality, thus at least getting the upcoming series off on the right foot.  The brief story begins with the U.S. Army basic training period in which James Buchanon Barnes discovers that Private Steve Rodgers is really Captain America, and thus is trained to become his sidekick Bucky Barnes.  It ends with their first WWII battle in Europe.

The key to success in this first issue is Loeb's just-right narrative touch.  Without being too light or heavy, he strikes just the proper maudlin tone in clearly letting the reader know that Captain America is narrating the tale as a grief-filled recollection of Bucky's death, and that Cap was worried sick from day one that the tale would end the way it did.  How Loeb and Sale take us through the upcoming journey to the inevitable conclusion, and how they give us their particular spin on this well-known ending should only add a fine interpretation to the Captain America story history, and certainly deserves a recommended thumbs-up.

One final review comment: do not skip reading the 11-page Loeb-Sale interview in issue #0.  There are many fascinating conversational nuggets here on brainstorming the Captain America story details, including the difficulty of realistically putting Cap's teenage sidekick smack-in-the-middle of a war zone, a story element unique among young sidekicks in comic history.

Uncanny X-Men #504
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Terry Dodson: Penciler
Rachel Dodson: Inker
Justin Ponser: Colors


The current run of Marvel's She-Hulk is at issue #34.  I was a faithful reader of this comic in its first Eisner award-winning year, and looked forward to revisiting it this week to see how its been holding-up.

Lawyer Jennifer Walters has the ability to transform into She-Hulk due to a blood transfusion from her cousin (guess who!) Bruce Banner, the Hulk.  After bouncing around the Marvel Universe for over 25 years, Marvel began a new She-Hulk storyline that's now up to the current issue #34.

The first 12 issues put a fresh and humorous face on the She-Hulk franchise, centering on Jennifer's legal work in the Superhuman Law Division of a New York law firm.  It was an extremely fresh and funny spin on comic plotting; picture one of the law firm-based television dramas with both good and evil superheros as clients and you have an accurate idea of how the storyline was structured.

As issue #34 shows, a lot has changed for Jennifer in a few years.  She's no longer a practicing lawyer, instead partnering as a bounty hunter with a female Skrull partner named Jazinda.  In this issue, Jennifer assembles Jazinda, Valkyrie, Thundra and Invisible Girl Sue Storm into a team known as the Lady Liberators.  The plot centers on the team planning and beginning a mission to the third world country of Marinmer to force that country's dictator to release withheld earthquake disaster aid to his suffering subjects.

Initially, I was very disappointed that the superhero law firm world is now history in this comic, and I was apprehensive that the comic might have taken a turn for the worse.  Luckily, I was happy to find that the quality writing that made She-Hulk a premiere hit three years ago is still front and center here.  Writer Peter David maintains the same successful balancing act of equal parts comedy and timely drama.  The comedy in this issue works well in providing both Valkyrie and Thundra, two starchy and overly-serious characters, with a goofy side to their personalities.  The serious plot thread addresses the too-real problem in our world of oppressive regimes sometimes withholding disaster relief from their own populace.  Its clear that the fictional "Marinmer" is based on last year's real situation of the military regime of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, withholding international disaster aid from its own population after a devastating earthquake.

The basic plotline here is not brand new; many comics over the years have given us stories of superheros frustrated by world political and social problems to the point of trying to break through the bureaucratic system and take matters into their own powerful hands.  The quality of this particular effort at this theme is good enough that I for one want to stick around and see how it plays out.  My fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc tells me that Marvel is scheduled to end this current run of She-Hulk at #36, so this is basically a three-issue storyline.  My recommendation is to definitely read issues #34 through #36, then enjoy the previous issues in the graphic compilation volumes that are currently available.

So an enthusiastic paws-up from the assembled citizens of Bongo Congo for both of this week's Superheroine issues.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Marc Guggenheim: Writer
Mike McCone: Pencils
Andy Lanning: Inks
 Jeremy Cox: Colors

As I mentioned above, I was attracted to this comic by the beautiful cover.  It's equal in quality to the 200th issue cover of Amazing Spider-Man way back in the day.  I'm not a big fan of the Annual issues of any comic line; the stories generally seem forced to me and out-of-synch with the regular action of whatever's going on in the monthly issues.  So let's see if this issue follows that pattern or not:

This Spider-Man annual is written by Marc Guggenheim with art by Mike McCone, Andy Lanning and Jeromy Cox.  The issue is entitled "A Tale Of Two Jackpots" and centers on Spider-Man trying to figure-out the secret identity of Jackpot, a new super-heroine who recently started fighting crime in New York.  Spidey's frankly obsessed with figuring-out who she really is, as she physically resembles his long-time love Mary Jane.  The good Peter Parker really gets pulled into the mystery when Jackpot gives him a fake identity and he meets-up with the real civilian who she falsely claims to be.

This comic happily broke the pattern for me that I complained about above regarding unsatisfying Annual issues, for several reasons.  The mystery of Jackpot's secret identity was very compelling.  I liked how writer Marc Guggenheim combined that mystery with an equal surprise regarding the actual source of Jackpot's superhero abilities, which I obviously won't give away in this review.  But trust me, it was enjoyable and served well as an example of a very relevant social problem that we struggle with today in our real world.

The comic's creative team also gives us excellent interior art in this comic, equal to the cover that I can't stop praising.  There are some excellent Spiderman and Jackpot action sequences as the two superheros team-up together to battle costumed bad guys Blindside and his girlfriend Commanda.  Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards also appears in this issue in a strong supporting cast role.  Finally, the story gives us a poignant, moving ending revolving around a character's death, but nicely leaves open the possibly of introducing another new superhero in an upcoming Spider-Man issue.

On a final note, although this Annual issue is higher priced at $3.99, at least the reader gets a full 38 pages of story, nicely structured into five Chapters, giving the creative team a fuller length to present us with a more richly-detailed narrative and extra art compared to the more compressed story structure of most comics these days.

So we're fortunate this week to hit a trifecta of three high quality, top-notch Marvel comic issues.  The good subjects of Bongo Congo couldn't ask for anything more in this post-Thanksgiving week, and thank our Good King Leonardo for adding an extra comic to this week's review list.  See you back here in our jungle-nation next week with two new reviews from the world of D.C. Comics!


As of today, for the first time we haven't received any entries to one of our contests, so by Royal Proclamation the King extends the current contest for a few more days, until midnight this coming Wednesday, December 10.  As a reminder, this contest challenges you to pitch to us your favorite work of comic-related fiction, anything from a novel to a short story.  It can be comic-based or about the creative comic world, such as The Amazing Adventures Of Cavalier & Clay. 

C'mon folks, we know that you occasionally read the printed fiction word without pretty comic pictures!  Don't make me award this contest to the Good King's cousin, Prince Itchy-his entries never stack-up to you guys!  So e-mail an entry to Gordon_A@msn.com, again no later than midnight on Wednesday, December 10.


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