Review Date: 02/05/2009

Although our Good King Leonardo is monarch-for-life Here In Bongo Congo, he greatly admires the American democratic system (particularly our veterinary health care!), and as such has decreed that we begin our reviews this week with the two recent comics that honor our new President Barack Obama:

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  -   Presidential Material: Barack Obama
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Jeff Mariotte: Writer
Tom Morgan: Artist
Len O'Grady: Colorist

IDW Publishing has issued the first biographical comic of newly-elected President Barack Obama.  The 28-page story scripted by Jeff Mariotte begins with Obama's childhood years and concludes with his November election as the 44th President of the United States.

     Mariotte does an excellent job in giving equal plot time to the various stages of Obama's life, to give the reader an effective story of who Barack Obama is and what he stands for politically.  Several pages are excellent graphic representations of key points in Obama's childhood and young adult years directly taken from his autobiography "Dreams Of My Father," while other sections of the plot are derived from his second book about his early political years, "The Audacity Of Hope."

     Prior to reading the comic, I was concerned that Obama's well-known personal story was so richly-detailed that it might not translate well to a single-issue comic representation.  As such, I was very glad to see that the creative team did an amazing job in developing a well-flowing graphic presentation of the key points of Obama's overall life story.  After two years of the most recent national presidential campaign, I assumed that I had nothing new to learn about Obama's (or any of the other candidate's, for that matter) personal backstory.  But I did learn a lot of new details from this comic about his early years.  The pages portraying his deceased mother and how she shaped his outlook on life were particularly engrossing, and the personality given to his grandfather who helped raise him in Hawaii lent a new element to the Obama family history.

     I would have been happy just to see that this comic avoided the clunkiness, both plot-wise and artistically, that so many biographical comics over the years seem to have fallen into.  As such, the high quality of this comic was thus the more gratifying, and comparable to the best of the old Classics Illustrated comic line.  Irregardless of your personal political opinions or allegiances, one should read this high quality comic as a deeply moving portrayal of one man's success in achieving The American Dream and what his election means to all Americans in these troubled times.  As such, I'd recommend this comic to readers of all ages. 

      Additional kudos also go out to the artistic team for rendering the features of the key political players of the recent election so accurately.  Another nice extra feature of the comic is a complete, two-page reprint of Obama's Election-Eve victory speech made November 4 in Grant Park, Chicago.

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  -   The Amazing Spider-Man #583
Publisher: Marval Comics
Mark Waid & Zeb Wells: Writers
Barry Kitson, Mark Farmer & Todd Nauck: Artists
Andres Mossa & Frank D'Armata: Colors

Our second President Obama-oriented comic is this month's Amazing Spider-Man #583, with a fun cover of Spidey asking the President, "if you get to be on my cover, can I be on the dollar bill?"  This cover marketing is a bit misleading, as the two-story issue consists of a 23-page conventional Spiderman story, followed by the brief, six-page self-described "Marvel Bonus Back-Up Feature!" that squeezes-in the Barack Obama tale.

     The first story is entitled "With Friends Like These..." and centers on the friendship between Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman and Betty Brant, former secretary to Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson and now an investigative journalist.  While this very in-depth story has a standard amount of Spiderman action, it really shines on an unexpected level, giving us a richly-plotted story about friendship and relationships.  A sub-plot in which Peter gives speed dating a try is both hilarious and a dead-on comment on the nature of blind dating.

     Through the first half of the story, as Peter plans a surpise birthday party for Betty, the reader is led to believe that Betty is a popular friend among all of the Spidey comic regulars.  The plot takes an very unexpected turn when we suddenly learn that Betty has alienated just about everyone she knows with her take-no-prisoners style of journalism, and no one but Peter wants to have anything to do with her on her birthday.  Writer Mark Waid's style of having Betty as the story narrator is extremely effective here, giving us a tale at times humorous, mostly moving and concluding with a very satisfying, realistic message about the nature of true friendship.

     Our quick President Obama story focuses on Pater Parker interceding as Spiderman while in Washington to cover the inaugural, as two identical Obamas show-up for the motorcade to the event.  Spidey, the Secret Service and the real Obama think quickly and on-their-feet in proving who's real, who's the imposter and why this is going-on. The story is fun as a read for all age groups, and has just the right mix of action, humor and mental challenge for the reader to enjoy trying to figure-out what's happening here and why.

     I'm definitely giving an enthusistic thumbs-up to this comic, for both the unexpected, very high quality main story and the fun Obama bonus short.  However, Ken at That's Entertainment made a very good point in chatting with me last week about this comic, in that the cover misleads potential buyers into believing that they're getting a full-issue Obama story.  It should also be noted that the main story with its take on adult dating and friendship/relationship issues would seem pretty boring to any kids who might be looking to buy this comic for the Spidey-President tale.  So just realize the accurate nature of this issue and read it for what it is, thereby avoiding any dashed expectations or unexpected storylines.

Bonus: Two Out'A Three Ain't Bad Department!

In the spirit of the Marvel Bonus Obama story reviewed above, Good King Leonardo has decreed this week that I offer as a review bonus the following three quick mini-reviews:

Mini-Review Number One: Batman #685-Entitled "Catspaw", this is one of DC's current Faces Of Evil comics, featuring the main series protagonist in various DC comic lines.  For Batman, that means Catwoman's up at-bat, of course!  Quick Mini-Review Comments:  A well-scripted story by Paul Dini, excellent art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, including an iconic Catwoman cover that would make a great comic poster.  An exotic story setting in Southeast Asia, centering on Catwoman's affinity for saving exotic wildlife (big cats included, of course!), as well as the various Batman Family characters dealing with the ongoing changes in the Batman line with the recent "death of Batman" shenanigans that DC's been putting-out of late.  Mini-review bottom line: Thumbs-up, a keeper.

Mini-Review Number Two: Batman: Gotham After Midnight #8.  Issue #8 in an intriguing mini-series scripted by Steve Niles with art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen.  Quick Mini-Review Comments: A fresh, original serial killer mystery series.  Very inventive, unique art style adds a nice new dimension to the Batman comic genre.  The creative team gives us a high-thriller atmosphere as Batman races to try to stem the fast-paced serial killing while at the same time trying to winnow-out the madman's identity from the list of suspects.  A bit more gory than I prefer for my Batman comic fix, but the dark humor and unique style make it well-worth the read.  Mini-review bottom line:  Thumbs-up, a worthy addition to the various interpretations within the Batman genre.

Mini-Review Number Three: Ultimate Hulk Annual #1: March On Ultimatum.  Quick Mini-Review Comments: And here I was hoping that my aversion to the old-school Hulk was permanently in remission after the last two or three good reviews that I gave to issues of various Hulk comic lines.  The plot centers on a confrontation between Hulk and Zarda, a gorgeous albeit super-violent psycho supposed warrior goddess from another dimension who's trying to "play nice" in our world by not killing anyone who mildly ticks her off.  While the art by Ed McGuinness, et al is excellent, Jeph Loeb stumbles badly story-wise here, with a "Dumb And Dumber" plot weighed-down by lame humor focusing on Hulk not wearing any pants in this issue, culminating in a stupid Hulk sex joke that the entire issue seemed to focus on building toward.  A clear example of an influential writer overindulged by a comic publisher to the point that they don't have the guts to honestly tell him that no writer is great every time, and some pathetic plot ideas are just that, suitable more for snarky high school fanboys to giggle over as they fantasize how they could write a supposedly funny comic story.  Mini-review bottom line: Note To Comic Shops-burn this comic before it infects the other healthy comics in your store inventory.

Well, two out'a three ain't bad!  From all of us here in the good land of
Bongo Congo, have a great comic reading week and see you next time!

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