Review Date: Friday, December 3, 2010

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review three new comic books this week, two that offer new beginnings for established DC and Marvel comics heroes and one that offers a new start for an iconic comic book creator:

Batwoman #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman: Writers
J. H. Williams & Amy Reeder: Art
Richard Friend: Inks
Dave Stewart: Colors

D.C. Comics is launching Batwoman into her own comic book title with the publication of Batwoman issue #0. For the past few years, the character has had a popular run in Detective Comics. For the uninitiated, Batwoman is Gotham City crimefighter Kate Kane. The masked heroine is a revival of the Golden Age Batwoman DC character. In the current version, Kate fights crime with the mentoring of her retired military officer father, Jacob Kane, to avenge the deaths of her mother and twin sister at the hands of terrorists. The character received much media attention a few years back when DC announced her as one of the few starring gay characters published by the major comic book companies these days.

The issue #0 story is entitled "Beyond A Shadow," which accurately summarizes the main focus of the story plot, in which Gotham's main caped crusader, Batman, conducts discrete surveillance to try and confirm his suspicions that wealthy Gotham socialite Kate Kane is indeed the Batwoman. The story is structured with a diary narrative, illustrating Batman's various entries as he tails Kate/Batwoman, observing both her costumed crimefighting and her civilian activies. Without being a story spoiler, the story builds to a climax in which Batman in a civilian disguise steps-in and tests Kate, ultimately getting the proof he needs that she is indeed the Batwoman. The story ends with a bridge to next month's #1 issue, as Batman decides to confront Batwoman regarding her crimefighting role on his turf.

This issue #0 prequel is an excellent primer for the newcomer to Batwoman regarding her character profile and also serves as a nice transition story for the character to move from a guest star role in Detective Comics over to her own independent title. I very much liked the unique narrative style and story panel lay-out, with Batman literally proving a narrative voice-over of his surveillance diary entries as the story unfolds. While it appears that writer-artist J.H. Williams will draw the upcoming monthly issues, at least in issue #0 he splits the art duty with one of my favorite current artists, Amy Reeder, who produced some amazing work in 2008-2009 within the first multi-issue story arc in the Madame Xanadu comic book title. My only criticism is that the very entertaining 16-page story feels much too short, as its crowded by a follow-up 4-page preview of next month's issue #1 and a 7-page preview of Detective Comics issue #871.

But I'm sure that next month's issue #1 will cut-back on the other issue previews and focus on a stand-alone Batwoman tale. So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to check-out this latest new title edition to the ever-growing group of Batman universe titles published these days by DC Comics.

Astonishing Thor #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Robert Rodi: Writer
Mike Choi: Art
Frank D'Armata: Colors

Marvel Comics unveiled its latest Thor title this past week with the publication of Astonishing Thor #1. The comic book is scripted by Robert Rodi with art by Mike Choi and colors by Frank D'Armata.

Issue #1 kicks-off an untitled multi-issue story arc. After spending the first several pages of the story preventing a giant tidal wave from destroying Manhattan, Thor is summoned back to the ruins of Asgard by Heimdall, guardian of The Rainbow Bridge. Heimdall informs Thor of the approach toward Earth of a giant object. After a brief flashback interlude that provides a romantic sub-plot to the storyline, Thor investigates the approaching stellar object and discovers that its something called Ego, The Living Planet, literally a giant roving evil planet with a huge human face on its surface(!!!). The issue #1 story segment ends by revealing that the evil planet (bad planet...bad, bad planet!) is in league with another Marvel universe villain, whose identity I won't reveal, except to say that he informs Thor that he is the evil creator of the bad roaming planet.

I got a kick out of this comic book, which to me, at least, seems to be an interesting blend of serious storytelling and either intentional or possibly unintentional campiness. I'm not a regular Thor reader, but I got the impression that Thor and Ego The Living Planet have crossed paths before. I couldn't stop laughing reading about the bad planet, drawn with a scowling human face on its surface as it wanders the universe, looking perpetually constipated. Irregardless of the intent of writer Robert Rodi, it all comes off as a very fun mix of action/adventure, grandiose Thor dialogue and 1980's style grand Marvel goofiness that's worth the price of admission. On a final serious note, a well-deserved thumbs-up is due to the art team of Mike Choi and Frank D'Armata, who provide some magnificent, two-page panel spreads throughout this tale, utilizing a classic art style that very well suits the grandeur of our favorite Marvel old school mythological superhero.

The Traveler #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Mark Waid: Writer
Chad Hardin: Art
Blond: Colors

BOOM! Studios has just published issue #1 of a new comic entitled The Traveler. This is one of a few comics being heavily marketed by the publisher as supposedly created by renowned Marvel comic creator Stan Lee. The credits in this issue list Lee as "Grand Poobah," with scripting by BOOM! publisher/writer Mark Waid, art by Chad Hardin and colors by someone going by the one-word name of Blond.

The plot is a time traveling action adventure tale. A mysterious costumed figure arrives one day in Richmond, Virginia and attacks a woman using magnetic powers. The woman is rescued by The Traveler, another costumed figure who explains that he is in a constant battle with three time-traveling futuristic villains known as the Split-Second Men, assassins from the future who inhabit the moments in between seconds to travel back in time and assassinate people. As the story unfolds, The Traveler prevents the Split-Second Men from killing three local citizens. The story climaxes as two FBI agents interfere and attempt to detain The Travelor, thereby allowing the assassins to succeed in seemingly killing a fourth local target.

This is an entertaining comic book that succeeds in the difficult task of presenting brand-new superhero characters within an engaging plot. The time-travel action-adventure storyline works very well here, with A-list writer Mark Waid withholding enough of the explanation from the reader to maintain an interesting level of mystery throughout the tale. By issue's end, I was intrigued enough to want to read next month's issue and learn the answers (or at least get some clues) to several questions, including who these mystery heroes/villains are and why are they battling over the lives of seemingly innocent civilians in Richmond, Virginia.

While this new comic book well-deserves a positive recommendation, I'm really put-out by the whole "from the mind of Stan Lee" marketing campaign surrounding both this comic title and BOOM ! Studios's new "Soldier Zero" title. Even if both comic concepts actually were germinated from elderly Stan Lee's mind, he's clearly not involved in any way in actually writing this Mark Waid/BOOM! scripted productions. Other than the words "Stan" and "Lee" in the overbearing marketing blitz material, there isn't even a comment blurb from Stan anywhere in this issue. So my advice to the publisher: tone down the smoke-and-mirrors marketing ploy of renting-out Stan Lee's good name and just let the legitimate quality of the comic stand for itself.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our current contest challenge was for you to e-mail us with your favorite comic book character's name, telling us also why you like that name so much. We had some entries that gave us interesting complaints about why certain character's names seemed inappropriate or ill-fitting to a character, but we were really looking for a name that you found interesting and liked.

And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Gordon Dupuis who makes a worthy case for why he thinks the most interesting comic character name is DC's The Phantom Stranger. Gordon writes that he likes the name because its "elegant yet staightforward, with a 70's horror feel...has just the slightest hint of goth about it...the character is strong, lonely and mystifying." An interesting submittal of, when you really think about, an unusual and creative comic book character name. Congratulations to Gordon for winning the first prize contest $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges came-up with this new contest challenge when recently flipping through the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and coming across the section listing back issues of the old Classics Illustrated comic book. For those fans too young to remember, Classics Illustrated was a wonderful Silver Age title that published abridged, graphic versions of traditional classic works of fiction in comic book form.

Your challenge for this contest is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with your entry of a particular work of fiction that you think in today's world it would be entertaining and worthwhile to publish in Classics Illustrated comic book form. It can be a genre piece of fiction (science fiction, fanatsy or horror, etc.) or just a mainstream work of fiction, best-selling book or just an obscure favorite read of yours. Just tell us what the work is and why you think it would be a fun read in comic book form. Who knows, maybe someone out there in the wide world of comic book publishing will read your winning entry and publish your idea in comic book form! Our first prize winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

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


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