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Review Date: 07/23/2010

Good King Leonardo has declared it to be science fiction week Here In Bongo Congo, so we're back this week with an eclectic variety of comics to review, which include
two comic books from the genre of traditional science fiction, a horror/science fiction-themed comic and of course, our old friend the Batman in a science fictional setting!
 
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Strange Science Fantasy #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Scott Morse: Writer and Artist

 
 

           
     IDW Publishing has just introduced a new science fiction-themed comic book entitled Strange Science Fantasy. Issue #1 is written and drawn by Scott Morse. The atmosphere is established from the very start with an inside cover dedication "For our forefathers of pulp...for the future of our civilization! These are the panels of hope. These are your Strange Science Fantasies!"

This premier story is entitled Dawn Of The Gearheads, and is a satiric take on the 1950's hot rod culture. The entire tale is essentially a narrative poem, presented visually in 3 panels per page. In this Mad Max-style society, a violent series of hot rod races leads to death and disaster, with one injured driver rebuilt with a headlight for his mechanized face. Known as "The Headlight," this hot rod cyborg leads his mechanized hot rod forces against the cops trying to stop them from their life of wild drag racing. The plot climaxes in a big battle between the hot rodders, who use partly mechanized animals from a local zoo as allies, versus the cops. All seems lost until the day is saved for the hot rodders with the arrival into the battle of the old school, aging, overweight traditional hot rodders! Flush with victory, The Headlight uses his face beacon to summon more potential allies from across the Mad Max wasteland for future hot rod adventures.

This is very light summer-time comic book reading presented in a fresh and entertaining format. The whole thing reminded me of an old EC Weird Fantasy or Weird Science story, only with a much lighter tone than the darker EC stories were known for. There is no traditional story structure here, just an original fable-like narration about Mad Max-type hot rodders in their science fiction racing world, presented as limited narrative with three panels per page. Its almost like reading a set of storyboards for a proposed animated cartoon episode. But it works really well as a change-of-pace science fiction satire in the month of July. So if you're an old EC Comics fan or just looking for a summertime change of pace with a science fiction and fun oddball twist, give this new comic book title an enjoyable read.

 
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Doctor Solar, Man Of The Atom #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Jim Shooter: Writer
Dennis Calero: Art and Colors

 
 

     
    Dark Horse Comics has just released issue #1 in a revival of the 1960's Gold Key Comics hero Doctor Solar. Dark Horse also is scheduled to revive next month two additional iconic silver age Gold Key heroes, Magnus Robot Fighter and Turok, Son Of Stone. This past May, I reviewed the Free Comic Book Day promotional preview issues of both Doctor Solar and Magnus Robot Fighter. This premier issue is written by comic book veteran Jim Shooter with art by Dennis Calero.

The issue #1 story is entirled "Lust And Leviathan," and is part one of a multi-issue story arc. The plot kicks-in with a high action street battle between Doctor Solar and a mysterious masked muscle man, short on brains but big on basic strength. We quickly learn that the villain is actually the product of a nearby fiction writer's mind; the writer was affected by the same nuclear experiment that gave Doctor Solar his powers. A second sub-plot gives us an extended scientific dialogue between Doctor Solar and a scientist colleague as a method of updating new readers on Doctor Solar's origin and the range of energy powers. As the plot advances, the writer creates a second female character from his fertile imagination and by issue's end all four characters in this tale are coming together at the writer's house for an issue #2 confrontation.

Its an old and often well-worn fiction plot to base a story on a writer's fictional characters suddenly coming to life. However, in the hands of the very skilled veteran Jim Shooter, the theme is represented here with freshness and a solid level of entertainment. There's a very subtle humorous element to the phenomenon, as the characters come to life with such literal devotion to their fictional descriptions, that they're unintentionally bizarre or repulsive. The second sub-plot is also very entertaining, as Shooter updates the details of Doctor Solar's origin and his powers by adding modern 21st century details. A thumbs-up also is deserved for Dennis Calero's quality artwork, which echoes the oil-based covers for which the old Gold Key issues of Doctor Solar were well-known.

The overall result is a modern-day makeover of this mid-20th century comic book character that's sure to be entertaining both to Silver Age fans and newcomers, alike. On a final review note, this extra-length 48-page premier issue includes as a second story a reprint of the original Doctor Solar story as published in the October, 1962 premier issue. It's actually a lot of fun to compare the differences between the old-school hard science details of the 1962 story and the 2010 modern science details of the new tale.

 
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Batman Beyond #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Adam Beechen: Writer
Ryan Benjamin: Pencils
John Stanisci: Inks
David Baron: Colors

 
 

 
         DC Comics has recently begun publishing a new Batman series entitled "Batman Beyond," scheduled as a six-issue mini-series. Issue #1 is written by Adam Beechen with pencils by Ryan Benjamin, inks by John Stanisci and colors by David Baron. A brief introductory paragraph in issue #1 explains that the setting is the far future city of "Neo-Gotham," in which a reclusive elderly Bruce Wayne is training teenager Terry McGinnis to walk in his footsteps as the new Batman of this future world.

Issue #1 interweaves two sub-plots. The first storythread introduces us to the dynamic of what is essentially a two-man team, in which the McGinnis Batman is electronically-linked to the elderly Bruce Wayne, who guides him through the story action. We see McGinnis out on night patrol, monitored and mentored through his crimefighting by the stay-at-home Bruce Wayne. The second storyline details the escape of an unidentified super-criminal from Cadmus Labs, whose goal is to taunt the elderly Bruce Wayne by killing one-by-one each of his famous now elderly foes. At the issue's end, when the young Batman interrupts one attempted killing, we learn who the surprise old school villain is. Of course, I won't give away the identity in this review or you won't have the fun of reading the surprise for yourself!

This is a really fun new series, that establishes an interesting science fiction futuristic setting for a new chapter in the Batman family universe. Much credit is due to writer Adam Beechen not only for the strong script and excellent Neo-Gotham setting, but for the little touches that make this an A-list adventure tale. I loved the realationship dynamic between the teenaged Terry McGinnis Batman and the elderly curmudgeon Bruce Wayne, which is very similar to the dynamic between Barbara Gordon/The Oracle and Stephanie Brown/Batgirl in the current Batgirl title. There's also a nice smaller plotline in which Batman interacts with a futuristic version of The Justice League. Finally, there's the cute addition of a loyal big dog by Bruce Wayne's side, who I'm hoping has a larger story role in future issues.

It's very enjoyable to read for a change a future Batman story that isn't over-the-top bleak and apocalyptic. Instead, we have in this new series a future Batman story that succeeds in placing our hero in a classic futuristic setting, with high quality art to boot. So a definite thumbs-up to get on-board this limited six-issue run. If issue #1 is any indication, your only disappointment will be a let-down that the series is scheduled for only a brief six issues.

 
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Turf #2
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Jonathan Ross: Writer
Tommy Lee Edwards: Art

 
 

 
    Image Comics is up to issue #2 in its five-issue mini-series entitled Turf. The title is co-created by writer Jonathan Ross and artist Tommy Lee Edwards. Similar to the Marvel Comics-published Scarlett comic book reviewed last week, this is a "creator-owned book," in which the creators retain the ownership rights to a degree usually held by the publisher.

As explained in an inside cover introduction, the setting of this comic book story is 1920's New York City, where the police and organized crime gangs struggle over Prohibition-era illegal trades. The twist here is that a new gang has come to Town led by the Dragonmir family, who all happen to be vampires. While the majority of the plot gives us a three-way gangland struggle between the Vampire gang, human gangs and the cops, a second storyline throws monster aliens into the mix, interplanetary smugglers who've been shot down by other aliens and have crashlanded at Coney Island.

I won't provide any story details beyond the basic plot premise outlined above, because I'd rather reserve the rest of this review space not to just recommend, but to beg you readers to avoid this lousy comic book. I might have been able to rationalize the incredibly lousy art, amateurish dialogue and poorly laid-out paneling and still give at least a sympathy mixed review. But throwing flying saucer monster aliens into this setting was just the last nail in the vampire's coffin, here. It makes absolutely no sense at all to mix two such completely different fiction genres in the manner that this title does. Tossing science fiction aliens into this heavily detailed 1920's vampire tale is just plain jarring, weird and uncomfortable, and mercifully kills the whole mess. So if you need a fix for a vampire comic set in an American historical setting, check-out instead the excellent American Vampire series currently published by DC Vertigo Comics.

Between last week's Scarlett comic book and this wreck, I'm starting to see a disturbing trend in the quality of the "creator-owned comic" concept, to the point where the creator-owned comic seems to embody some flawed story idea that's near and dear to the creator's heart, but which could only succeed if traditional publisher control and editing were in place. My guess is that publishers are agreeing to creator-owned rights when they review a comic book concept that they can forsee as shaping-up to be a real stinker of a product. I hope I'm wrong about this concern, but lately the telltales are there to possibly foreshadow this negative trend for this type of comic book creative process.

So there you have it for this week, three science fiction-themed comic books that deserve a positive reading recommendation and one mess of a supernatural/science fiction tale with a blaring warning signal to avoid.

 
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Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to tell us your favorite comic book moment, one that made a significant impression on you, for whatever reason. And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne, who submits as his favorite comic book moment the confrontation between Captain America and Baron Zemo II in Avengers #277, the conclusion of the Masters of Evil siege of Avengers mansion.

Kevin writes that up to that point, he had been a very casual comic book reading fan. Reading this particular comic book moment made Kevin the life-long fan that he is today. In his own words, "the inherent drama of the confrontation between Captain America and Baron Zemo II, the triumph against incredible odds, the recovery from the brutal attacks on Hercules and Avengers' butler Edwin Jarvis, and the final victory over evil all fired my imagination and inspired me to pursue these heroes in their further adventures."

Congratulations to Kevin, who wins the $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Football season isn't here yet, but some NFL summer training camp action is going on, so its not too early to hold a football trivia contest. This contest is sort of similar to those old-time contests in which you had to guess the number of jelly beans (or something similar) in a large glass jar.

Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with your answer to the following football question: How many footballs does the NFL use every season and how many cows does it take to supply the cowhide for those footballs? So you're giving us two numbers in this contest, the number of annual footballs used in the NFL and the number of cows sacrificed to make those footballs. As a hint, the answer was actually published in a recent issue of a comic book title published by (naturally!) Top Cow Comics!

If we don't receive the correct answer, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges will award the $10.00 That's Entertainment gift certificate to the closest guess to the correct answer. If we receive multiple correct answers, the winner will be chosen from among those correct answers by a roll of the dice.

That's all for now, so have a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

 
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