Review Date: 02/15/2009

Here in Bongo Congo, our Good King Leonardo is very excited regarding our review below of Issue #1 of the new Black Panther comic line.  The King hasn't stopped reminding us all week that he and the Panther family are royal cousins!  But first, a review of one of the standards of the Marvel comic universe:

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  -   Captain America #46
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ed Brubaker: Writer
Steve Epting: Artist
Frank D'Armata: Colors

The latest issue of Captain America is the first story in a three-issue story arc entitled "Old Friends And Enemies."  I was drawn (no comic-related pun intended) to read the comic in light of the past year's well-publicized death of Steve Rodgers, a.k.a. Captain America.  For those uninitiated readers, Marvel at this stage of the game has Cap's old sidekick, James "Bucky" Barnes, putting on the famed cowl and picking-up the shield to carry-on the famed Captain America legacy.

     Issue #46 begins with a first-page narrative that provides a backstory explanation that during World War II, Cap and Bucky rescued 12-year-old Chinese supergenius Zhang Chin, who as an adult scientist today has recovered the remains of the original Human Torch and is secretly racing to revive him as a slave.  The issue alternates between the present-day, where the new Captain America is traveling to China with The Submariner to try to stop the mad experiment, and two flashback periods: the original 1942 rescue of the boy-scientist by the heroes, and a 1968 botched assassination attempt on Zhang Chin by Bucky in his role as the Soviet-controlled Winter Soldier, which ended in the death of Zhang's wife.  An entertaining sub-plot has The Black Widow assisting the heroes in obtaining Zhang's whereabouts through her international espionage contacts.

     I was very impressed with Ed Brubaker's plotting of this story, which seamlessly combines the WW II-era activities of Captain America, Bucky and Submariner with their present-day actions.   It seems rare to me, at least, to come across a Marvel Comic story these days that isn't either squarely set in the present or alternately set completely back in the Golden Age.  Much credit is due to Brubaker for skillfully combining both eras into one competent plot.  Presented with Epting and D'Armata's quality art, and we have one very entertaining kick-off to this three- issue story arc. 

      My only criticism is that the issue's cover is very misleading.  While it's a beautiful rendering by Epting of Captain America and The Submariner battling each other in the water, it has nothing to do with the plot of the two working together as teammates to try and help The Human Torch. But its a minor point, which doesn't take away from an enthusiastic thumbs-up for this comic book that features two of Marvel's classic A-list superhero characters.

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  -   Black Panther-Dark Reign#1
Publisher: Marvel
Reginald Hudlin: Writer
Ken Lashley: Pencils
Paul Neary: Inks
Paul Mounts: Colors

As part of the across-the-company Dark Reign series, Marvel has released issue #1 of a new Black Panther comic book series.  Black Panther was originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the 1960's as T'Challa, ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a high-tech land based on the existence of a rare element known as Vibranium.  The ruler of the land traditionally wears the Black Panther garb as head-of-state, and has access to a rare herb that grants him super strength and agility.  The character has a long and storied past in many Marvel Comic series beginning with the Fantastic Four in the 1960's.  My personal favorite was the Black Panther's own Kirby-penned title that ran in the late 1970's, which involved interesting science fiction and time-travel themes.

     As mentioned above, the latest Black Panther comic takes place in the new Dark Reign Marvel plotline, in which Harry Osborne is taking control of national security issues.  The first issue storyline alternates between two sub-plots.  In the first, T'Challa's wife Storm, of the X-Men, witnesses a plane-crash in Wakanda, in which T'Challa is critically injured.  Its determined that the crash was caused by sabatauge, leading the royal family to realize that at least for now, they need to immediately designate a new Black Panther leader to don the costume and lead the nation against further possible attack.

     The second storyline consists of flashbacks over the previous day, as T'Challa has tense confrontations with both The Submariner and Dr. Doom over the Norman Osborn situation, hinting to the reader that these conflicts led to the deadly plane crash.  Although its not included by the end of the first issue, it's clear from the comic book cover as well as Marvel's advertising campaign that issue #2 will anoint an unknown female to take T'Challa's place as the new Black Panther.

     As a big Black Panther fan, I was happy to see this new comic line begin.  I found the flashback sub-plot well-paced and entertaining, but the main storyline surrounding the crash and leadership crisis dragged much too slowly.  By the end of the issue, we only know that a new leader needs to be appointed, with absolutely no reference yet to the main plotpoint of a new female leader emerging.  This extra-large, $3.99 issue concludes the story after 22 pages, followed by an extremely-detailed, 10-page historical chronology of the character, and then a 6-page "preview" of issue #2.  I suspect that Marvel had a deadline issue here, choosing to publish an incomplete story combined with filler to keep issue #1's publication on-schedule.

     While this is a high-quality production, we really are given only about two-third's of a normal issue storyline, which really isn't fair to the casual reader.  I recommend the comic to Black Panther fans who plan on commiting to reading the series beyond issue #1, but warn the casual reader that reading only this issue leaves you hanging with the feeling that part of the issue is missing.  Here's hoping that Marvel gives us more complete story segments in the upcoming issues, which both this fine title and the readers deserve.


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Contest Winner Announcement!

     Our latest contest was for you to submit your favorite comic book single issue from the decade of the 1970's and tell us why the "That 70's Show" issue is so near and dear to your comic book lovin' heart.  The Bongo Congo panel of judges didn't receive as many entries as we did for our decade of the 80's contest, but that's o.k., its harder for the aging fans of the older decades to figure-out how to use this new-fangled e-mail thing!
     Ken at That's Entertainment offered a fond memory for Avengers #142, an issue entitled "Go West, Young Gods!" The issue featured Thor, Moondragon and Immortus time-traveling to 1873 in search of Hawkeye, giving us a nice mix of Marvel superheroes and western heroes.  Ken says what really grabbed him about this comic was the incredible, misleading spectacle of a cover by the esteemed Gil Kane, along with some excellent interior art from George Perez's early days.
     My own personal favorite 70's comic emerged from Jack Kirby's 1970's resurgence over at DC Comics, as he single-handedly produced the wide-ranging Kirby's Fourth World series, starting in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson and creating such new comic series as The Forever People, Kamandi, OMAC, The Sandman and Mister Miracle.  If I had to pick one issue from this wonderful mix, I would have to put forth Kamandi #2. 
     While Kamandi issue #1 gave us Kirby's credible spin on The Planet Of The Apes story theme, issue #2 really began to provide the reader with Kirby's wonderful and very unique take on this futuristic, post-civilization world of sentient animals intent on recreating our civilization while repeating all of the same human mistakes that we're known for.  Kirby also established in issue #2 his amazing two-page panaromic scene on pages 2 and 3 of many of the Kamandi series.  I seem to recall one of the issues in the series giving us a fantastic recreation of The Charge Of The Light Brigade featuring sentient, military leopards.
     And now onto our contest winner!  Our judges have selected (drumroll, please)...Bret Herholz with his submittal of Star Wars issue #26.  Bret tells us that the legendary Carmine Infantino gave us artwork for this one that looked nothing like the Star Wars characters, with Luke Skywalker actually looking like a cross between Conan The Barbarian and Kamandi! 
     This issue had Luke on the cover, standing over the smoldering remains of R2D2.  It made such a strong impression on Bret when he first read it back in the second grade at West Main Street School in Spencer, that he bought two more copies over the years as it wore out from re-reading, and he now has one fine issue hanging on his wall, signed by Carmine Infantino at last year's Boston Comic Con!  An excellent choice of a favorite 1970's comic book with some fine comic memories.  Great choice, Bret, King Leonardo is jealous and decrees that we hunt-down Mr. Infantino to provide our Lion King with his own autographed copy!

So there you have it, good readers.  From everyone Here In Bongo Congo, have a great comic reading
week and be sure to come back next week for new comic reviews and a new contest announcement.


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