Review Date: Friday, November 26, 2010

Good King Leonardo has decreed that for this Thanksgiving holiday week, we review four comic books starring very well-known heroic figures, so let's see how these titles stack-up against each other:

The Spirit #8
Publisher: D.C. Comics
David Hine: Writer
Moritat: Art
Gabriel Bautista: Colors

DC Comics is up to issue #8 in its latest incarnation of Will Eisner's well-known detective-noir character, The Spirit. This current Spirit title is published as one of the many titles within DC's ongoing First Wave event, which reintroduces and supposedly reinterprets such Golden Age comic book and pulp fiction icons as Batman, Doc Savage, The Spirit, Rima The Jungle Girl, Blackhawks and many other fictional stars of that bygone era. Issue #8 is written by David Hine with art by Moritat and colors by Gabriel Bautista.

This issue is part one of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Return Of Jimmy Bauhaus." The story begins in Central City's Wildwood Cemetary, which is also the location of Denny Colt/The Spirit's secret hideout. Our hero witnesses the funeral of Jimmy Bauhaus, a local gangster whose young widow is the daughter of another local crime family head. A mystery unfolds over the next several days, as The Spirit witnesses strange comings-and-goings by the young widow Bauhaus to the large family crypt. Colt begins to investigate and stumbles across a mystery that threatens to ignite an all-out, bloody crime war amongst the eight crime families of Central City. The issue #8 story segment climaxes in the second half of the story, as the widow supposedly murders a key crime family rival. In a dramatic bridge to next month's issue, The Spirit uncovers the real killer and faces death from the angry murderer.

This past year, I wrote one or two lukewarm reviews of early issues of DC's First Wave event titles. I'm happy to say that this latest effort is a major improvement on those earlier comic issues. Writer Hines is smart enough to only slightly modernize the story universe of The Spirit's art deco, mid-20th century detective world, while retaining the old school flavor that makes The Spirit such a wonderful comic book read. While he's retained the basic personalities of the characters, the tale is layered with a new element, that of eight city crime families who hate each other but are held together in an uncomfortable crime alliance under the control of The Spirit's archenemy, the unseen but all powerful Octopus. The result of this dynamic is a very rich and entertaining soap opera-like plot, full of intrigue and backstabbing (literally!) as these bad guys circle each other while The Spirit, Police Commissioner Dolan, his daughter the lovely Ellen and The Spirit's female sidekick Ebony work their way through the murder mystery.

So a positive review recommendation for this high quality addition to the rich and historical heritage of this iconic detective comic book icon, along with much credit due to the creative team for providing a much-improved addition to DC's ongoing First Wave event series. As a final review comment, there's also a very good black-and-white second story in this issue, equal in quality to the main feature.

Superman #705
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Wellington Dias & Eddy Barrows: Pencils
J.P. Mayer & Eber Ferreira: Inks
Rod Reis: Colors

The main Superman title is up to issue #705 this month and continues the story concept begun several months ago as scripted by A-list writer J. Michael Straczynski, with pencils by Wellington Dias and Eddy Barrows, inks by J.P. Mayer and Eber Ferreira and colors by Rod Reis. For newcomers to the title, Straczynski is in the midst of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Grounded," in which Superman responds to a personal crisis of faith regarding his worth to mankind by deciding to literally walk across America and get a feel for everyday life. The series is similar in ways to the iconic 1970's Green Lantern-Green Arrow title created by Neal Adams, in which the leading heroes tried to identify with the life of everyday people in order to truly understand the people that they serve.

The part four installment of Grounded is sub-titled "Visitation Rights," and interweaves three sub-plots. In a brief but very moving storyline, Superman is shaken to learn that many average people resent the major damage caused by his well-known battles with villains, to the point where they fear being in his presence. A second storyline presents a mystery, as Superman is trailed by a seemingly ordinary woman who appears in a dream and actually unleashes forces that physically hurt The Man Of Steel back in the real world. The third sub-plot dominates most of the issue and centers on William, a physically-abused boy who eagerly anticipates Superman's walking trek arrival in his hometown of Mt. Prospect, Illinois. Without giving away any spoiler details, the story details William's brutal abusive home situation which Superman becomes embroiled in upon his arrival, with a conclusion to the situation by issue's end.

I've said it before and I'm paraphrasing my earlier comments again here: there's no one better than Straczynski at blending together a traditional comic book plotline with moving, emotional life lessons that add another realistic dimension to our favorite comic book characters. He's done it again here, overlaying a standard Superman tale involving Lois Lane and the mysterious stalker with a more significant, real world story that addresses the relevant issue of physical abuse. What really shines here is the conclusion to the abuse situation; instead of wrapping-up the problem in an expected comic book way, Straczynski instead has Superman address the situation more as a social service or police figure would, adding much credibility to the effort of The Man Of Steel's struggles both to understand the problems of ordinary folk and relate to people via more acceptable actions.

While it all sounds like heavy stuff, it actually is a lot more entertaining and comfortable to read in the capable scripting hands of Straczynski. So a positive recommendation for the good DC reader to add this latest Superman issue to your ever-growing pile of DC comics written by this very talented and gifted writer.

The Avengers #7
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
John Romita Jr.: Pencils
Klaus Janson: Inks
Dean White: Colors

Among the many Avengers-oriented titles these days is the Avengers series scripted by Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by John Romita Jr., inks by Klaus Janson and colors by Dean White. I reviewed a previous issue of this new series, which assembles a traditional Avengers membership under the leadership of the original Captain America, Steve Rodgers. A page one narrative in this month's issue #7 summarizes that the ongoing storyline so far includes the Avengers imprisoning bad guy The Hood, as well as the team experiencing an attack by former Avenger member Wonder Man, who unexpectedly opposes the reformation of the group. The narration also reveals the identity of the Red Hulk, which I won't reveal here as a spoiler for anyone who hasn't come across that identity in another Marvel comic book.

There are two alternating sub-plots in this issue. The lengthier storyline follows the efforts of an unnamed bad guy, as he travels to exotic places to retrieve certain mega-powerful stones that appear to provide him with immense power. His journey eventually crosses paths with the Red Hulk, leading to an immediate fight. The second storyline focuses on the Avengers themselves, as Thor and Iron Man confront Wonder Man regarding his animosity toward the group. Wonder Man neither explains why he's so angry at the team nor does he agree to back-off, foreshadowing a major confrontation in the near future. The issue concludes in a dramatic scene, in which a badly injured Red Hulk is tossed by the gem-collecting bad guy into a party held by The Avengers, and mumbles the guy's name to the assembled group.

This is an entertaining and interesting story segment featuring this particular mix of Avengers. I was particularly impressed with the multi-page confrontation between Thor/Iron Man and Wonder Man. The visuals of this scene are wonderful, with the art team presenting the trio as hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge as they have their serious discussion regarding their differences. The Avengers party scene also adds a fun dose of humor to the tale, as Spider-Man provides his usual wisecracks and everyone's completely flummoxed that new Avengers team member Noh-Varr brings a normal civilian girlfriend to the gathering. My only criticism is that for the casual reader such as myself, its very unclear as to who this mysterious gem-collecting bad guy is. The story would have been more enjoyable if his identity was clarified earlier in the unfolding of this story segment.

But irregardless of the bad guy's identity, this is a well-produced and entertaining Avengers story as crafted by A-list writer Brian Michael Bendis in partnership with veteran penciler John Romita Jr., and is well-worth the read.

Red Sonja #52
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Eric Trautmann: Writer
Walter Geovani: Art
Adriano Lucas: Colors

Dynamite Entertainment is up to issue #52 of its Red Sonja comic book line. The series is the latest incarnation of the sword-and-sorcery female warrior character created back in the early 1970's by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith within the original Marvel Comics Conan The Barbarian title. The current title is written by Eric Trautmann with art by Walter Geovani and colors by Adriano Lucas.

Issue #52 is part two in a multi-issue story arc entitled "Grim Tidings." In a complex tale of political intrigue, a page one narrative updates the reader as to the various maneuverings of several kingdoms in Red Sonja's story universe, as various royal leaders hire mercenaries to either lead or advise their armies against each other. After beating a local squad of soldiers, Sonja and her band of warrior brothers are hired by the king of the City-State of Shem to assist against gathering invading forces. The plot splits into two efforts; training the local inexperienced civilians for war and scouting-out the evil invaders. After a Sonja-led scouting mission discovers a huge invading force, Sonja and the local ruler receive a grim message from the evil leader of the invaders, in the form of the severed heads of another scouting party that included a member of Sonja's warrior band.

A few years back, I read the first year's worth of this title, then drifted away from it as the scripts seemed overly-focused on one-dimensional swordfight action. As such, I was very intrigued by the more evolved scripting approach of writer Eric Trautmann in this current story arc. Trautmann gives us a tale worthy of any skilled high fantasy fiction novelist, emphasizing at this stage of the tale the political maneuvering among the various kingdom's leadership factions. As these city-states jockey for regional political power, the favored military strategy is to hire skilled mercenaries to gain advantage against foes. Its intriguing in issue #52 to see a neighboring kingdom be manipulated into battle against Sonja's employer by an evil mercenary who schemes his way into controlling the host country's military. It should be very entertaining and interesting to see how the situation unfolds both on the impending battlefield and back home in each kingdom's royal court, as the multi-issue story arc continues.

So a positive thumbs-up review for this latest tale of our well-known swordswoman. The traditional high fantasy setting and action nicely combine with a strong element of palace intrigue and soap opera-like political manipulation to deliver an entertaining Red Sonja adventure within her dangerous ancient fantasy world.

Book Announcement!!!

That's Entertainment has just stocked copies of "Strange Mysteries 2", the science fiction, fantasy and horror short story anthology from Whortleberry Press (Jean Goldstrom, Editor) that includes my short story "The Proper Equipment." So if you're looking for something fun to read or give as a holiday gift, it's available at our favorite pop culture emporium, alongside copies of two other short story collections that include stories of mine, "Strange Stories Of Sand & Sea" (Fine Tooth Press) and "Journey Into Dandelion Wine Country (Xlibris Press). Happy reading!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was once again taken straight from an episode of the t.v. sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," and challenged you to identify the iconic Silver Age issue of a DC comic book that was the subject of a bet between Sheldon and Howard. That's Entertainment owner Paul Howley was the first to correctly identify the comic book as Flash #123, the famous "Flash Of Two Worlds" cover. And the winner of our contest via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne, who correctly identified this cover, which shows both the Golden Age and Silver Age Flashes racing each other to save a guy as a building beam is about to fall on him. If you haven't seen the cover its really neat and is on display from time-to-time in the display case at That's Entertainment. Congratulations to Kevin for winning the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!

Here's a change-of-pace type of comic book-based contest challenge for you. The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges challenges you to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us your favorite name of one or more comic book characters. It can be an odd name, a name that just seems creative or appropriate for a character, a funny name, etc. Feel free to pitch the name of a well-known character or someone obscure. For example, one of my favorite comic book character names is Woozy Winks, Plastic Man's old sidekick. I just like the sound of this goofy character's name (Woozy Winks, Woozy Winks...). So e-mail us with one or more favorite or interesting names. Our first prize contest winner will receive the coveted $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

That's all for now, so hope you're having a great post-Thanksgiving holiday week along with a great comic book reading week, and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

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