Review Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week three Marvel comics along with a new Wildstorm title based on a video game. So let's see how the four books stack-up against each other:

Ultimate Spider-Man #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
David Lafuente: Art
Justin Ponsor: Colors

The Spider-Man title in Marvel's Ultimate series of comic books is currently up to issue #14, but there's currently a stack of last year's issue #1 on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment (most likely a reissuance), so let's go back to this premier issue and check-out the very start of this ongoing comic book title. The series is scripted by veteran writer Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Lafuente and colors by Justin Ponsor. For the uninitiated, Marvel's Ultimate series of titles constructs a Marvel comics universe with alternate or "what if" elements to the characters that differ from the mainstream, established Marvel universe.

The kick-off issue to this comic book is entitled "The New World According To Peter Parker." A page-one narrative explains that the story begins six months after a massive terrorist tidal wave caused by the evil mutant Magneto that destroyed much of New York City. In the aftermath of the disaster, both New York City and Peter Parker work to get-on with their lives. Parker is a 16-year-old high school kid in this Ulimate side-reality. Issue #1 introduces the reader to his high-school aged world, with Parker working after school at a fast food joint while trying to balance his Spider-Man responsibilities in between school, work and dating girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Sub-plots in this premier issue include Spidey nabbing some street criminals and Johnny Storm/The Human Torch showing-up at Parker's house mysteriously ill. The issue ends in a cliffhanger as a new super-villain arrives in Town, announcing himself by killing the well-known New York crime boss The Kingpin.

I've mentioned in previous reviews of Ultimate titles that its a kick to see the story elements in this series that differ from so many established basics of the mainstream Marvel Universe. Many of these changes are plot elements that we as loyal readers always wanted to see but knew didn't fit into the permanent reality of our favorite Marvel heroes. My favorite reality change here is how the young Peter Parker shares his superhero identity with his Aunt May and girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Its nice for a change to see a version of Parker who isn't so isolated and angst-ridden about his hero identity. Its also a hoot to see a version of Spider-Man that takes the main characters back to their original Silver Age high school kid roots. I'm very impressed by writer Bendis's skill in effectively protraying these characters as basic high school kids, almost as an homage to those very first years of Spider-Man comics back in the early Silver Age. The opening scene in which Parker struggles with a difficult customer at his fast-food job is a perfect balance of humor and high school-aged anxiety, setting just the right story-telling tone for this revision of the world of Spider-Man.

So a positive thumbs-up recommendation for this well-presented title. My advice is to take advantage of the availability of new copies of issue #1 of this title, and read it as an entry into this title, then catch-up as time permits with the latest monthly issues of this fun and refreshing reinterpretation of one of the best-known of Marvel's superhero characters.

Ultimate Thor #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Carlos Pacheco: Art
Dexter Vines: Inks
Edgar Delgado: Colors

Marvel Comics has expanded its inventory of Ultimate titles this month with the addition of Ultimate Thor #1. The comic is written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Carlos Pacheco, inks by Dexter Vines and colors by Edgar Delgado. The title is the start of a limited new Ultimate Thor mini-series. In previous Ultimate Thor titles, the alternate version of Thor is a separate character from traditional alter ego Dr. Donald Blake. Here, Thor is former psychiatric nurse Thorleif Golmen, a man who suffers a nervous breakdown and learns that he is Thor, albeit with weaker powers than the traditional version of the hero.

This new mini-series presents three interweaving sub-plots. In the present-day storyline, an international security agency has called-upon Dr. Donald Blake to try and understand the emotionally-troubled Thor. The pair have an intriguing cryptic conversation about an impending world-wide disaster foretold in mythology. Our second storyline is set in 1939 Nazi Germany, and focuses on the infamous bad guy Baron Zemo trying and succeeding in figuring-out how to access Asgard and gain evil mythological allies. The third plotline is set in Asgard eons ago, and presents a high action battle scene is which the very young trio of Thor, his half-brother Loki and Balder The Brave battle ice giants in defense of the fabled land. By issues end, there are hints that the three storylines will nicely weave together in future installments of this limited series.

Again, as mentioned in the Ultimate Spider-Man review above, its a lot of fun to see an alternate side of a traditional Marvel hero as presented in one of these Ultimate titles. Here, its intriguing to read a version of Thor who is weaker and mentally unstable, juxtaposed with a flashback storyline in which Thor, Loki and Balder are young and seemingly invincible. It should be interesting to hopefully learn the details of how Thor became troubled and weakened over the ages and it should also be interesting to see how Thor's evil half-brother Loki is presented in this alternate universe storyline. So far, Loki is presented as initially extremely brotherly and loyal to Thor, with a back page preview hint that in issue #2 his evil transformation will begin.

As a final review comment, an acknowledgement is deserved regarding the quality of writer Jonathan Hickman's effort, here. Hickman has been writing to popular acclaim the Fantastic Four title for quite awhile now, in which he brings a strong science fiction element to that comic book. Here, he provides more of a traditional comic book storytelling atmosphere, but still drops in some narrative touches that hint of science fiction-like events gathering on the storytelling horizon on a grand scale. It should be a lot of fun to see where Hickman and the art team take us in this very intriguing new Thor title.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Warren Ellis: Writer
Kaare Andrews: Artist
Frank D'Armata: Colors

Marvel is in the midst of a 5-issue limited X-Men series entitled "Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis." The series is written by veteran scribe Warren Ellis with art by Kaare Andres and colors by Frank D-Armata. Issue #1 begins with a series of mutant-like babies being born in a remote African village. When reports of the incidents reach the Black Panther/T-Challa, he contacts the X-Men, who decide to investigate. Issue #1 concludes with the team of six X-Men, led by Scott/Cyclops, landing their plane in Africa and being surrounded by an armed military unit.

This is a very good X-Men comic story concept presented in a below average manner. The problem, unfortunately, is Warren Ellis's heavy-handed writing style. This is at least the third Ellis comic that I've reviewed over the past few years which fell flat on its face. Here, Ellis has further devolved his writing style into a preachy and pretentious narrative that just plain drains anything worth reading out of the comic book. The bulk of the story focuses on page-after-page of various X-Man having an extended conversation during the plane flight regarding what a violent geopolitical mess the continent of Africa is in these days. While there's nothing wrong with a dose of political reality in a story, Ellis goes off the deep end with his overly preachy and personally opinionated attitudes, including some extremely creepy and conspiracy-nut remarks about Nelson Mandela. The result is a mess of a tale that just serves as a platform for Ellis to vent his own sophomoric personal views rant-style in a comic book.

So bottom line: this is a very good comic plot concept presented poorly. Unless you're a real hard-core X-Men fan looking to read an alternative spin on the X-Men, I'd advise skipping this mess and reading one of the many other X-Men titles available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.

Telara Chronicles #1
Publisher: Wildstorm Productions
Ricardo Sanchez: Writer
Pop Mhan: Art
Zac Atkinson: Colors

DC Comics's Wildstorm imprint has just begun publishing a new comic book entitled Telara Chronicles, based upon a video game called "Rift: Planes Of Telara" from Trion Worlds. The title is written by Ricardo Sanchez with art by Pop Mhan and colors by Zac Atkinson.

Issue #1 is entitled "Black And White," and stars a woman named Asha Catari, a warrior member of the Dragonslayers Covenant on a medieval-like planet called Telara. The scene is the final battle of what's known as the Mathosian Civil War, an epic conflict in which coalitions of good and evil are led by two princely brothers. As the battle escalates, the bad brother unleashes an uncontrollable mystic evil force that seems to wipe-out the world. Fast forward to 80 years later, and via some modern high tech equipment, survivors from the good side manage to resurrect from the "soulstream" our hero Asha Catari. After being briefed of the situation by an old friend and ally, the issue concludes with Asha preparing to join this new effort to continue the epic conflict.

This is an interesting comic book due to the science fiction spin to its plot. From reading the early pages of the comic, I expected a standard medieval genre battle tale, based upon a video game. So the unexpected plot turn, of tossing the main character 80 years into the future via high tech equipment, was an interesting story twist. Intererestingly, the blend of two separate genre elements, grand medieval battle stuff and future technology, seems to blend together here comfortably. If like me you're not at all familiar with the video game origins of this story, there's a nice level of stand-alone understanding and entertainment to issue #1 of this new Wildstorm title. So a positive thumbs-up recommendation to expand your superhero-reading horizons and give this video game-based comic book a try.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

We had many correct entries to our current contest, which challenged you to identify the speaker of the following quote: "If the Golden Age Green Lantern's weakness is wood, and the Silver Age Green Lantern's weakness is the color yellow, then I could take the both of them out with a number two pencil!" And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who correctly identified the speaker as fanboy and physics expert Rajesh Koothrappali from the CBS television sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." Congratulations to Gregory, who wins the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Since so many of our readers had fun with last week's contest, let's stick with our Big Bang Theory friend Koothrappali for this week's contest challenge. In a scene in another episode of "The Big Bang Theory," Rajesh, Leonard and Howard are standing in line at a comic book event waiting to get esteemed Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee's autograph. Rajesh makes an interesting observation about an odd quirk over the years in Stan Lee's pattern of naming many of Marvel's famous characters. You don't have to give us the exact quote, but your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and just tell us generally what Rajesh says about Stan Lee coming-up with comic book character names. It's funny but also very true, so send that entry in now! Our first prize winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment. As always, in the event of more than one correct entry, we'll choose our contest winner via a roll of the dice.

I'm taking next week off from this column, so we'll be back on Friday, October 29 with new comic book reviews, our contest winner announcement and a new contest challenge. So have two great comic book reading weeks, and see you again just before Halloween Here In Bongo Congo!

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