Review Date: Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week three comic books that vary in subject matter, but have the
common element of dark themes in their storylines. So let's see how these three issues stack-up against each other:

Shadowland-Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #510
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Andy Diggle & Antony Johnston: Writers
Marco Checchetto: Art
Matt Hollingsworth: Colors

Marvel's "Shadowland" event series continues in the new issue #510 of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Several weeks ago, I reviewed issue #1 of the five-part Shadowland mini-series, which established the basic premise of Shadowland, in which Daredevil/Matt Murdock becomes the new head of The Hand, the ninja assassin organization which he has opposed since day one of the Daredevil series. Having established a Hand headquarters in his New York City Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, Daredevil encourages the area to decline into brutal superhuman and civilian violence as a demon possesses Matt, slowly expanding its power over him and shaping him into an evil head of the assassin group. A page one narrative in issue #510 brings the reader up-to-date on the storyline so far, explaining how good and evil characters are assembling for further Shadowland conflict in the wake of Daredevil killing in cold blood his archnemesis Bullseye.

This latest installment in the multi-issue story arc initially centers on Daredevil's friends Foggy Nelson and Dakota North. The issue begins with the pair surviving a brutal attack by assassins masquerading as Hand ninjas. The battle is a spin-off of the city is cascading into brutal violence, with civilian wannabes costuming-up in mimick of both the good and bad heroes. While costumed hero Black Tarantula convinces Foggy and Dakota to leave Town, a parallel sub-plot follows several other Daredevil characters, including Luke Cage, Iron Fist and villain The Kingpin brainstorming how to team-up and take-down Daredevil as his demonic possession intensifies. The issue concludes with two dramatic climaxes. In the first, Foggy and Dakota are blocked from escaping the city and dragged into a full-scale mob riot, while in the second climax, Daredevil's footsoldier White Tiger kills Black Tarantula and dramatically announces the ascent of the demonic possession of Daredevil.

I enjoyed very much my first taste of the Shadowland event series many weeks ago, and wasn't disappointed by this latest issue read of the ongoing series. There's an awful lot of fast action, significant decisions and sharp dialogue happening here, as the many characters maneuver about Hell's Kitchen like good and bad chess pieces in a high stakes game of save-or-destroy civilization. The creative team is very adept at making it all seamless and naturally-flowing, providing both entertainment and credibility for the major changes resulting from all of the action and violence that are unfolding for both the Daredevil and general Marvel universes. What fascinates me most about this series are the significant deaths that are scattered throughout the series. From the previous death of Bullseye to this issue's killing by White Tiger of Black Tarantula, alongside some major decisions on the part of both good and bad guys, this series appears to be making some permanent and major shake-ups in the world of Daredevil. Whether they really are permanent or just reversible gimmicks of this event series will remain to be seen. But either way, there's some very engrossing action, adventure and dialogue unfolding within the Shadowland series, well-worth checking-out in this issue as well as within the other various titles and issues of Marvel's Shadowland event, all available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.

Madame Xanadu #26
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo Comics
Matt Wagner: Writer
Chris Siezullo: Art

DC's Vertigo imprint is up to issue #26 of the Madame Xanadu title. I've written very positive reviews of previous issues of this Eisner Award-nominated series, which began with a classic 20-plus issue story arc scripted by veteran Matt Wagner with art by Amy Reeder Hadley and Mike Kaluta. This comic book title took Kaluta's 1970's-created mystic character of Madame Xanadu and portrayed her journey through time, from her origin days as a wood nymph in the realm of King Arthur to modern times as a mystic seer based in New York City. Along the way, the good Madame interacted in key historical events such as the French Revolution, and surprisingly interacted with several iconic DC Golden Age heroes, influencing their lives in some very surprising and entertaining ways. DC recently announced the conclusion of the title in the near future, based on low sales in spite of its critical acclaim.

This current issue #26 presents a one-issue tale entitled "Lingering Scent." Presented with fairytale-style narrative and art, the plot features a small boy named Sammy, who gives off a horrible, gagging odor. Sammy has amnesia and has no idea who he is or where he came from. He wanders the streets of New York City, grossing-out everybody whom he encounters. When he beds-down each night in a vacant building, he has strange fairytale dreams of rescuing a princess and trying to avoid a magical witch. Toward the end of this tale, Madame Xanadu arrives on the scene, explaining that she's the witch in the dream, and she's been searching for the boy. She reveals to him that he's the lost spirit of a dead, abandoned kid and lays him back to rest in the skeleton of his original body, back in his abandoned building.

A comic book plot doesn't have to be all light and happy in order to be entertaining. However, the darkness of the tale and the extremely bleak ending aside, the quality of this story stinks, pun intended, of course, for three basic reasons. First, its extremely creepy and weird to present such a dark and disturbing tale in little kid-oriented art style and narrative. Secondly, since the conclusion of the epic, original multi-issue Madame Xanadu story arc, all of these recent stand-alone one-issue Madame Xanadu tales are extremely weak on basic story dialogue and logic. Its as if Matt Wagner is just tossing unfinished story concepts into the title, to keep it going for a few issues before the cancellation date. And third, fans of Madame Xanadu would be disappointed to see her character take such a secondary, limited role in the storylines of this issue and the previous few issues.

Any one of these flaws alone would have still given this issue a chance at mixed success. But all three combined result in a thumbs-down review recommendation. Its sad to see such a high quality title go out on such a low quality note, but on the bright side, those first 20 or so great Madame Xanadu issues are all still available at That's Entertainment, both in the back issues bins and in reprinted softcover compilation, so my positive advice is for you to really enjoy the high point of this wonderful title by reading those issues.

X-23 #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Marjorie Liu: Writer
Will Conrad: Art
John Rauch: Colors

Marvel Comics is in the midst of publishing several Wolverine-themed ongoing comic book titles. A new title in this inventory is X-23, which is the name of a female teenaged Wolverine clone. A very lengthy narrative in the back of issue #1 brings the non-Wolverine reader, such as myself, up-to-date on the place of this young woman within the Marvel comic book universe, from her upbringing as a trained child-assassin through many apparent character twists and turns that have led to this month's publication of issue #1 of her own comic book title.

Issue #1 is entitled "The Killing Dream," and is part one of a multi-issue story arc. The plot has two alternating storythreads. In one sub-plot, X-23 a.k.a. Laura is having vivid and disturbing dreams in which she visits the original Wolverine in hell, where his soul is apparently residing in other title's of the Wolverine comic book franchise. The bulk of issue #1 focuses more on x-23's personal struggles in trying to fit-in with living in the society of X-Men in the San Francisco area, dealing with rejection from the other teen X-Men and coping with her resentment of being used as an assassin by the adult X-Men. By issue's end she's thrown into another bloodthirsty situation, which I won't detail here as a spoiler.

I haven't read any of the past year's Wolverine/X-Men universe comics, so I'm coming to this character stone-cold with this issue #1. Reading this comic was a positive experience, though, in that the creative team does a credible job giving us a strong plot, interesting dialogue and entertaining subject matter. I was a bit confused by many of the references to prior developments in the X-Men universe among these characters, and as an older fanboy, I wasn't that much interested in the heavy element of teen angst and self-absorption that just radiates off of X-23 and the other teen X-Men in this title. But there's obviously a demographic of the readership base that can relate more to this style of story, and for those readers, this is a very entertaining and interesting new title and story universe. So a worthy thumbs-up for this addition to the Wolverine/X-Men franchise which highlights a female teenaged member of the growing Wolverine family.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to tell us what two current major league baseball teams evolved from the former Saint Louis Browns and Washington Senators. And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne, who correctly identified that the St. Louis Browns (no relation to Kevin!) relocated to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles, while the Washington Senators actually had two reincarnations. The original Senators relocated in the 1960's and became the Minnesota Twins; major league baseball later established a second Senators team in D.C. which eventually also migrated, becoming the Texas Rangers. We would have accepted either Washington Senators submittal as sufficient, but hats-off to Kevin for correctly identifying both Senators teams.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's go back to our comic book-thinking roots for this week's contest. As you know, each May we all celebrate National Comic Book Day with the various comic book publishers issuing on the first Saturday in May special Free Comic Book Day editions of either established or new-and-upcoming comic book titles. Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and pitch to us what comic book title or titles you think should be included in next May's Free Comic Book Day group of publications. Our selected contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment. The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges will also consider forwarding credible entries to the respective publishers for their consideration for next May's celebration.

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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