Review Date: 09/03/2010

To paraphrase the esteemed Stan Lee, it's "Make Mine Marvel" Week here in Bongo Congo, with reviews
of four interesting-looking new Marvel Comics issues. So let's see how they stack-up against each other:

The Heroic Age: Avengers #4
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
John Romita Jr.: Pencils
Klaus Janson: Inks
Dean White: Colors

Issue #4 was just published in the new Avengers title within Marvel's The Heroic Age series. The comic book is written by A-list veteran Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by the renowned John Romita Jr., inks by Klaus Janson and colors by Dean White. For the uninitiated, The Heroic Age is Marvel's current event series in follow-up to the Seige mega-event. The goal of the Avengers title in The Heroic Age is to bring some stability back to the Avengers, re-uniting Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as a nucleus of leaders around which the Avengers reassemble and settle-back into a standard comic book storytelling world.

Issue #4 of this series continues the multi-issue story arc of the regrouped Avengers kick-off adventure. Its a time-travel tale on a grand scale, in which Kang The Conquerer has contacted the Avengers to inform them that their future children, in alliance with an older Hulk/Bruce Banner, have taken actions that will both unravel the timestream and doom future mankind. The first three issues of the series covered the Avengers coming to terms with this news and splitting into two sub-teams, one to stay in the present and deal with the unraveling of time and the second to travel to the future and confront their children's actions.

The two interweaving sub-plots continue in this latest issue. The present-day group is presented in a complex and high action battle in New York City, as warring parties from across time descend upon the city and turn it into a massive across-the-timestream battleground. One of the more interesting segments of this plotline centers on the group, led by Spider-Man, allying themselves with a time-traveling Killraven. The future group, led by Iron Man and Captain America, arrives at their destination in the midst of a similar battle. Unexpectedly and quickly captured by their future children, they confront the aged future Hulk. The story segment ends with a very surprising confrontation with an additional aged well-known superhero, who I won't identify and spoil the fun for you the reader.

What's really entertaining about this issue is the creative team's skill in mixing epic-scale high action with the quieter, more introspective style of story narration for which Bendis is renowned at delivering. The result is the rarely-seen best of both worlds, a story which visually mesmerizes the reader with wonderful large-scale action scenes, interspersed with down-to-earth, realistic dialogue between the characters. My favorite examples in this issue from each of these two story-telling styles is the two-page spread of Thor hovering over the New York City timestream battlefield, and the concluding segment of the issue, with Bendis's wonderful dialogue in which the Avengers are surprised by the mysterious aged hero. While this is a very entertaining stand-alone comic book issue, I'd also recommend jumping-back and catching-up with the three previous issues in this new title, all still available at That's Entertainment.

The Heroic Age: Prince Of Power #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente: Writers
Reilly Brown: Pencils
Terry Pallot and Jason Paz: Inks
Val Staples: Colors

Another comic title in The Heroic Age event series is Prince Of Power, a four-issue mini-series starring Hercules and his friend, the teenaged genius Amadeus Cho. The title is scripted by the team of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, with art by Reilly Brown, Terry Pallot, Jason Paz and Val Staples. Last year, I reviewed an issue of The Incredible Hercules that starred this latest version of Hercules in team-up with Cho, billed as "the 7th smartest person on Earth" and designated by the mythical gods of Olympus as Hercules's modern-day successor here on Earth. Thus old Herc is destined to be the kid's sidekick and mentor in this concept.

Issue #1 in this limited series is entitled "Blasphemy Can be Fun." The issue sets-up the storyline of Hercules being presumed dead due to the scheming of the goddess Athena, thus leaving Amadeus Cho to manage alone his Olympus Group think tank/corporation. When Cho learns that Hercules is just lost in a parallel reality, he teams-up with Bruce Banner and Herc's girlfriend Hebe to try to pinpoint his friend and rescue him. Without going into heavy potential spoiler detail, Cho follows the recommendation of a demi-god to retrieve certain items of the gods which can be used in a rescue attempt. The issue ends with Cho being misunderstood as a thief in his article retrieval quest, thereby setting-up a potential conflict in issue #2 with our old friend The Mighty Thor.

This is a light and enjoyable comic book, not as serious and literate as The Avengers Heroic Age title reviewed above. The dialogue, character's behavior and style of humor seem to me to be geared to a younger readership, most likely of teen reading age. But the comic also works well for older readers as an old school-style adventure comic. I particularly enjoyed the role and behavior of several secondary characters in this story, including Hercules's girlfriend Hebe, who works as a modern-day corporate assistant in the Olympus Group's corporate structure. A well-deserved thumbs-up is also due to the art team for providing the right touch of graphic style for the tone of this tale. On a final note, the main story is followed by a black-and-white sketched preview of issue #1 of The Heroic Age: Atlas, which I reviewed back on June 25.

So a definite thumbs-up to balance your more heavier, serious Heroic Age series reading with this lighter and more humorous take on some of what's going-on in this latest series-wide reinterpretation of the Marvel universe.

Ultimate Mystery #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Rafa Sandoval: Pencils
Roger Bonet: Inks
Matthew Wilson: Colors

Marvel's new "Ultimate Mystery" title is up to issue #2. This is one of many titles in Marvel's ongoing Ultimates series. As I mentioned back in my July 30 review of Ultimate New Ultimates #3, this is an alternate universe from the mainstream traditional Marvel universe, with some intriguing differences regarding the backgrounds and fates of many of the well-known Marvel Comics characters. This current issue is part two of a four-part multi-issue story arc and is scripted by Brian Michael Bendis, with art by the team of Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet and Matthew Wilson. Its not clear whether this is a stand-alone, four-part mini-series or merely a four-issue kick-off to an ongoing new monthly title.

A first-page narrative brings us up-to-date on the story so far, in which an unearthly force has attacked both the Baxter Building and the Roxxon Corporation, killing Reed Richards and transforming Ben Grimm/The Thing into human form with untested superhero powers. Issue #2 presents action in three ongoing sub-plots. In the first, Spider-Woman and Spider-Man hatch a plot for Spider-Woman to infiltrate the Roxxon Corporation as a new employee to learn of the attack details on that company. In a second storythread, a super-powered, Human Torch-like Rick Jones confronts Captain Marvel at a SHIELD facility, warning him of a foretold coming alien attack on Earth. And a third plotline focuses on the surviving members of the Fantastic Four trying to figure-out the origins of the attack as they sift through the rubble of the Baxter Building. The issue ends in a cliffhanger for next month's story segment, as Rick Jones and the three remaining FF members are attacked by an out-of-control, alien-infected Captain Marvel.

I was very impressed with the structure of this comic, which manages in a standard 23-page issue to rapidly move all three plotlines forward, with a nice mix of intense action and storytelling narration. As I mentioned last month, I'm new to the alternate Marvel universe of Ultimates, and just love the little alternate touches that make so many standard characters fresh and unique all over again. Some of those interesting differences here include the Human Torch-like Rick Jones, Spider-Woman actually being a clone of Spider-Man and of course, this supposed death of Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards.

So far, Ultimates this summer have been hitting all the right marks in giving us a nice mix of traditional and alternate Marvel universe characters with entertaining storylines. So whether you're a regular Ultimates series reader or just looking for a different take on all things Marvel, here's a definite thumbs-up recommendation for this well-produced and enjoyable Marvel Comic.

X-Women (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Chris Claremont: Writer
Milo Manara: Art
Dave Stewart: Colors

Marvel has just published an over-sized, 48-page one-shot comic book entitled X-Women, written by veteran writer Chris Claremont with art by Milo Manara and colors by Dave Stewart. The comic stars various female X-Men in a lengthy adventure tale, including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke and Kitty Pryde.

The plot is an adventure- thriller, starting with the ladies enjoying a girls-only vacation seaside in Greece. They're attacked by bad guys and the international adventure begins as one X-Woman is kidnapped and the rest are off to rescue her on the exotic tropical island of Madripoor. I don't have much more to say about the plot because about a third of the way into this read I just couldn't stand it anymore and for the first time in a very long time, I just page-by-page skimmed the rest of the comic and tossed it aside.

The problem here isn't the script, which is a standard and decent action adventure story starring the X-Women as penned by veteran writer Chris Claremont. The problem is Marvel's selection of artist Milo Manara. Manara is renowned as the artist and creator of many erotic and risque Italian-based graphic novels and comic adventure series, including the popular "Click" and some serialized work in the 1980's here in the U.S. published in Heavy Metal magazine. He takes the exact same approach here, just drawing the X-Women standing or moving in preening, semi-nude positions as if posing constantly for pin-ups. The result is a feel that you're not reading a comic book tale but instead are riffling through a portfolio of oddly-posed cheesecake sketches. There's nothing wrong if that's what you're looking to read, but its creepy and weird to see an X-Men story adapted to Manara's fantasy world of pin-up erotica. The disparate worlds of Marvel's X-Men and Manara's fantasy women just don't work together, and the clash of it all just plain wore-out for me after about a third of the comic.

So a quick bottom line: if you're a Manara fan and you want to see how he would approach an X-Men comic in his own disconnected way, then by all means, give this comic book a reading whirl. But if not, you might want to skip it, or else I guarantee you'll be turning the pages and asking yourself "why are all of the X-Women constantly pirouetting on tippy-toes with what little clothing they're wearing falling off of them? And why does this behavior never, ever, ever stop from the start to the finish of this comic book?"

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which Major League baseball player has the longest last name. Mike Dooley is our winner, telling us that the holder of the longest name is the Red Sox's back-up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. My fellow reviewer Dave LeBlanc also correctly answered and pointed-out that Saltalamacchia played for the Texas Rangers this year before being recently traded to our own Red Sox. Congratulations to Mike Dooley, who wins the prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's take a break this week from trivia questions and once again put-on our creative comic book thinking caps. Here's a simple but potentially very interesting contest challenge: e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us who your favorite current comic book writer or writers are and why they are above and beyond as the best in your opinion. There's lots of great writers out there with large followings right now, such as Bendis, Straczynski, Johns, Simone, etc. But you can also give us an entry and make a case for someone who you think is wonderful but not that well-known. So e-mail us soon with your thoughts. Our contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

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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