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Review Date: 06/26/2009

Our Good King Leonardo has decreed this to be another Victorian Era comic book week Here In Bongo Congo.  In the past, we've
reviewed
such comics as Bret Herholtz's Spaghetti Strand Murders and the latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes comics, so The Good
King suggested that we review the two latest Victorian-style comics, with a Batman comic thrown-into the mix, of course:

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The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Century: 1910
Publishers: Top Shelf Productions &  Knockabout Comics
Alan Moore: Writer
Kevin O'Neill: Art

 
 

      
         Well-known British comic writer Alan Moore began his acclaimed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book run in 1999.  The League was conceived as a late 19th century, Victorian-Era type of British Justice League, in which famous English literature figures band together to fight bad guys and evil on behalf of the British Empire.  The League is led by Mina Murray from the Dracula story along with adverturer Allan Quatermain, and includes such members as Captain Nemo and The Invisible Man.  The result has been a popular comic book concept and one very unpopular attempt at translating the series to the movie screen.

     To be honest, I've never read the series, just articles praising the quality of the volumes produced to-date.  So when Ken at That's Entertainment mentioned the latest plans for the League, I was intrigued enough to review this issue.  Sub-titled Century: 1910, this 72-page graphic novel is the first of three annual issues, in which Moore plans on taking The League through the 20th Century into today's early 21st century world.  Issues two and three will be set in 1968 and 2008, respectively, and are scheduled for publication in 2010 and 2011.

     Century: 1910 is set in the London of the title year, about 12 or 15 years after the previous time of the series, and consists of two interweaving sub-plots.  In the first, based upon the predictive dreams of Carnacki the ghost finder, Mina and Allan lead the League to begin a search in London for The Moonchild, predicted to be born in England as the leader of a cult that will eventually lead to the doom of mankind.  The second sub-plot centers on Jenny Diver, the South Seas daughter of the elderly, dying Captain Nemo.  Jenny runs away to London to escape her destiny of replacing Nemo as Captain of the famed sub The Nautilus, but throughout the issue finds that she can't escape her destiny, which follows her to London.  The last third of the issue brings the two sub-plots together, as the Nautilus arrives in London with high action and bloody results.

     I liked this issue for a few reasons.  Most importantly, it stands on its own as an understandable comic within the fictional universe that writer Moore has created for his League.   While most well-known superhero comics can be easily understood without the reader needing prep on the series background, I worried that the originality of The League concept would prevent me from understanding much of this issue's story and action without having read previous issues.  Happily, Moore comes through on this point, crafting a story that is enjoyable and understandable in its own right.  Moore also scatters just the right amount of information throughout the tale to give the newcomer a basic understanding of The League and its history over the past decade of publication.

     The comic/graphic novel also gets high marks for its historical details and dialogue.  Again, hats-off to one of our best comic writers of the past generation in capturing the flavor of this period setting at the closing days of the world reign of the British Empire.  The historical dialogue and details are colorful and accurate, and Moore adds a very creative element by having two of the characters actually sing their dialogue as story narrators.  While it may sound odd, its actually very effective and works well in moving the story along and explaining key plot details.  So a recommended thumbs-up for this quality first comic in its latest three-part series, both on its own merit and as part of the ongoing League series.  It will be very interesting to see the details of how Moore moves this acclaimed historical title into the modern world in the upcoming Century: 1968 and Century: 2008 volumes.

 
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The Umbrella Academy #6
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Gerard Way: Writer
Gabrial Ba: Artist
Dave Stewart: Colors

 
 

          
     Two years ago, I read the Free Comic Book Day issue of The Umbrella Academy and was blown-away by the freshness of this comic book world, written by Gerard Way with art by Gabrial Ba.  So naturally, I was diverted by many other comics and never returned to the title until I read this week's issue #6.  The premise of the comic series is that millionaire inventor Sir Reginald Hargreeves brought together seven 10-year-olds to form The Umbrella Academy along with a few adults.  When asked why he forms this essentially disfunctional group of superpowered people, Hargreeves only replies "To save the world."  In a previous issue, Hargreeves died and was revealed to be an alien.  While the title is not set in the 19th century, its Victorian style and atmosphere naturally place it in the subcategory of Victorian storytelling.

     The current issue #6 is actually the 12th of the title, but is the sixth and final issue in a six-book story arc entitled The Umbrella Academy: Dallas.  In this mini-series, the Academy member The Boy, who has time-traveling powers, and Alissa Hargreeves, whose power is that anything she speaks automatically becomes the truth, are sent back in time to 1963 Dallas to prevent the Kennedy assassination.  However, its also inferred that should Kennedy live, his post-November 1963 actions as President will lead to mankind's nuclear destruction.  This situation leads to fascinating maneuvering among the various issue #6 characters, including several additional Academy members who show-up in 1963.  The issue's tension and action builds panel-by-panel, exploding about two-thirds of the way through to a thrilling and moving end result, which the final third of the issue explores in several directions, following each major character as they deal with the consequences of how they handled that fateful day.

     I can't use any other word to summarize the quality of this comic other than mind-boggling.  I was mesmerized by the science fiction time-travel theme and details of this story, as The Boy actually fights with an elderly version of himself who has also traveled back to this fateful historic day with a completely different purpose in mind.  There's a great scene between the two on page 5, in which the kid yells at his older self "Why are you so stubborn?" and his elderly self yells back "You tell ME!"  While "The Fateful Day In Dallas" has been done to death by science fiction writers over the past 45-and-a-half years, Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba reinvigorate a completely new life into the event, loading their story with a freshness of fictional creative detail that is moving, entertaining and frankly just plain stunning.

     Unlike The League comic book reviewed above, there is a lot of dialogue and action in Umbrella Academy issue #6 that would be more understandable or make a stronger impression if the reader has read previous issues of this title.  However, the narrrative and artistic quality of this issue is still of such a high quality that its worthwhile to pick-up issue #6 to read right now in its own right.  So I'll stick with a recommendation to read this issue right now, if you don't want to buy back issues of #1 through #5, or alternately wait for the graphic compilation of all six of the Dallas story arc issues, scheduled for release this coming October. 

     On a final note, word on the internet has it that The Umbrella Academy: Dallas story arc has been optioned for a movie release sometime in 2012.  Let's all keep our comic book readin' fingers crossed that the right folks are hired to create the movie; if done right, this could be a cinematic classic.  The unfortunate movie fate of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen proves how random and difficult translating a unique story to the screen can be, a fate which The Umbrella Academy deserves to avoid.

 
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Batman Reborn: Batman & Robin #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Grant Morrison: Writer
Frank Quitely: Art
Alex Sinclair: Colors

 
 

          
     DC kicks-off the new Batman era this week with the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely-helmed first issue of Batman reborn, featuring former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson as the new Batman.  I reviewed in the past year Morrison and Quitely's acclaimed twelve-issue reinterpretation of Superman in All-Star Superman. 

     Issue #1 of Batman Reborn begins to establish the relationship between new Batman Dick Grayson and his new Robin, a role filled by Damian, the son of Bruce Wayne and Ras Al Ghul's daughter.  The duo apprehend a new Gotham villain known as Mr. Toad, who warns of the imminent arrival of a creepy new villain named Pyg.  Pyg arrives on the scene in the last few pages of the issue and immediately starts mutilating people.

     As a big fan of this creative team's All-Star Superman effort, I felt let-down by this issue.  I still give it a thumbs-up as recommended reading because it is a high quality effort at writing and Quitely's artistic style is always enjoyable.  But as I wrote in a previous Batman review, while the Caped Crusader is my favorite comic book character, I'm not a fan of the category of Batman interpretations that focus on gory, blood-drenched psychotic killing.  Pyg is just a gross character and I'm not into reading about a guy who tortures and butchers people.

     I also really disliked this Damian kid who's stepped-into the new Robin role.  Granted, the idea here is that Grayson takes an abrasive kid from a bad background under his wing in order to try and mold him in a positive direction.  But Morrison presents the kid as just too over-the-top nasty.  Morrison gives the character no redeemable aspects of a personality that would lead the reader to root for this kid to turn-out okay.  After a few pages of this rotten little twerp treating Alfred, or "Pennyworth" as he calls him, in a rude and rotten manner, I started to fantasize that the storyline leads to Pyg adding this punk to his victim's list.

     While I didn't personally enjoy this issue, I understand that part of the Batman comic legacy is that he's a character who confronts the deepest darkness in our society, so there is a place for this type of story within the various takes on Batman that are published over the years.  It's just not my personal cup of tea. So I'm giving this comic a mixed review.  If you're a big Batman fan, read this issue as an addition to your collection of various Batman interpretations.  If you're the casual Batman reader, then skip this issue and instead buy one of the less nasty and very enjoyable "Battle Of The Cowl" Batman titles that are currently well-stocked on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.

 
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New Contest Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest is on the subject of comic book writing.  There are some very acclaimed writers presenting some very popular comic titles these days, including such names as Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and of course Alan Moore as reviewed above, to name a few.  There are also lesser known, less publicized men and women out there laboring in the comic book scripting trenches.

     So your challenge this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com to tell us who your favorite comic book writer is these days, and why this person is your favorite writer.  The winner will not be chosen based on the fame of the writer, but rather your explanation of why you like this writer.  So don't hesitate to give us a writer who isn't famous, just give us someone who's work you like and tell us why.  King Leonardo and his panel of judges is waiting for your entry!

So that's it for this week's reviews.  Enjoy your comic book reading week, and see you next week Here In Bongo Congo!

 
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