Review Date: Friday, December 10, 2010

Good King Leonardo has decreed that the occult is our theme for this week, with reviews of three new comic books that have spooky, occult themes:

Kolchak: The Night Stalker Files
Publisher: Moonstone
Christopher Mills: Writer
Jaime Martinez: Art
Jason Jenson: Colors

Moonstone Publishing has just released issue #1 of Kolchak: The Night Stalker Files, written by Christopher Mills with art by Jaime Martinez and colors by Jason Jenson. The series is based on the cult favorite 1974-75 television show The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a newspaper reporter who investigates occult and paranormal phenomena every week on the show. I was a huge fan of the t.v. series, which pioneered the idea of combining a noir detective atmosphere with horror/occult themes, and is considered the groundbreaking series which laid the path for such later shows as The X-Files and Fringe to evolve.

The issue #1 tale begins with Kolchak receiving a tip regarding many disappearances of actresses over the previous few years who acted in a string of B-horror movies filmed by a small Hollywood horror film company. Kolchak investigates, with the plot leading him to discover a sleazy Hollywood producer who has used an occult spell to summon an actual demon for the monster scenes in his successful film series. Naturally, the demon needs human meat to survive in our world, which the producer supplies from his cast of young unknown starlets. As in the t.v. series, the episode peaks with a dramatic action scene in which Kolchalk saves himself from death and also saves the day. And just like the t.v. series, the authorities don't believe a word of Kolchak's adventure and he moves on to another big city (looks like Miami for the setting of next month's issue #2) to investigate his next paranormal tip.

This is a wonderful comic book adaptation of the iconic t.v. series, enjoyable for old fans such as myself and newcomers alike, for a few reasons. The narrative style of writer Chrisopher Mills is both a perfect homage to the voice-over narrative of the t.v. series as well as the perfect vehicle for delivering this type of noir-occult tale in comic book form. The result is enough story progression to fill two comic book issues, providing lots of fun entertainment reading in just this one issue. The art is also very effective and appropriate for this particular type of tale, with the right blend of noirish colors, graphic style and panel lay-outs. And just like the t.v. show, there's a fun blend of quality story seriousness and old-school horror cheesiness so that we have equal elements of tension, excitement and humor, all resulting in a very fun comic book read.

So a definite thumbs-up recommendation to read this dead-on (no pun intended) comic book version of a wonderful t.v. show that pioneered the occult genre of television. I own a dvd of the one and only first season of the show and it still holds-up in 2010 as great entertainment, so you also might want to speak to the good staff at That's Entertainment about ordering a dvd of the series from them, too!

Madame Xanadu #29
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Matt Wagner: Writer
Amy Reeder: Pencils
Richard Friend: Inks
Guy Major: Colors

DC Comics has just released the final issue, issue #29, in its Madame Xanadu title. I wrote some enthusiastic reviews of the Eisner Award-nominated first multi-issue story arc of this title, followed by a disappointed review a few months back of the recent declining quality of this title. For the uninitiated, the good Madame Xanadu is the occult seer based in New York City, who began life as Nimue, an enchanted forest nymph in Arthurian England. In the extremely-creative hands of Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder, Madame Xanadu experienced amazing and often emotionally-moving adventures at various key points in world history, leading her though the chronology of this title to present-day New York. Along the way she had some surprising and very entertaining interactions with key superhero figures in the DC Golden Age universe, along with a continual and often-strained relationship with The Phantom Stranger.

The story in this farewell issue is entitled "The Advent Of Tomorrow," and reunites series creator Matt Wagner with the original series penciler Amy Reeder. The plot has three segments. In stage one, we follow the interactions between Madame Xanadu and college student Charlotte Blackwood, as the Madame trains the young, gifted apprentice seer in the ways of occult divination as a means to help people. The mid-section of the plot shifts the focus to the Madame visiting Barbara, a now-elderly and very troubled woman from a previous story series in this title. Their interaction focuses on the subject of faith, as the Madame attempts to convince Barbara that her visions forsee a better life for her old and embittered friend. And the third segment of the storyline brings The Phantom Stranger back into the Madame's life for the first time in many decades. I don't want to spoil any of this wonderful reunion of the pair, save to say that it interconnects Madame Xanadu with much currently happening and planned by DC in the Brightest Day event series.

Given how this exemplary title had horribly declined in both writing and art over the past several months, DC has given us a wonderful holiday gift by restoring it to its previous quality grandeur in this final issue. The duo of Wagner and Reeder give us a product on par with with best of their Eisner-nominated first-year storyline run. There's a picture-perfect mix of exquisite art, storytelling, characterization and emotion, all peaking with the return of The Phantom Stranger. I enjoyed very much the connection of Madame Xanadu through her divination visions to the rest of the DC universe; the details of this wrap-up segment of the issue give us both a satisfying conclusion to the 29-issue title run as well as a good feeling that we're bound to come across Madame Xanadu again, sooner rather than later, somewhere out there in the wide DC comics universe.

So an enthusiastic review recommendation to read this farewell issue of a wonderful comic book character and title. Thanks again to DC comics for restoring the good Madame within this good-bye issue to the quality glory that the title and character well deserves.

Zatanna #6
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Dini: Writer
Jesus Saiz: Art
John Kalisz: Colors

DC's latest title starring Zatanna is up to issue #6 this past week. The series is written by veteran scribe Paul Dini with art by Jesus Saiz and colors by John Kalisz. Regular DC Comics readers are very familiar with Zatanna, who's been a mainstay in the DC universe since the Silver Age as the beautiful female magician with some major occult/magic powers, featured over the decades both in her own right and as a member of the Justice League Of America (JLA).

The issue #6 story is entitled "Married In Vegas" and stars Zatanna alongside her magician cousin Zach. After Zatanna misses attending the premier of Zach's headlining Las Vegas magic act, he searches for her and finds her under the demon Mammon's spell, about to undergo a Vegas-style wedding that will seal Mammon's control of her soul. Zach frees his cousin from the spell and the two have a major, flat-out magic spell dual with the demon. Without spoiling any details, the good guys win but there are some very interesting and entertaining details as to how they win and the aftermath of the big magicians-versus-demon battle.

I avoided reviewing issue #1 of this latest Zatanna title after I browsed the issue on the store rack and it seemed very dark and gory. This current issue is much more mainstream in style and enjoyable. Paul Dini is one of my favorite writers, not just for his scripting skills but for his particular style of story dialgue. He doesn't fail here, delivering a tale that gives us a solid magic adventure. But what really worked for me was the double element of humor woven throughout the tale. There's a lot of subtle comedy here on the whole concept of Las Vegas, from the almost-shotgun wedding of Zatanna, to the battle with Mammon, the demon of greed and money and concluding with the undisclosed resolution of the battle, which also offers a sly commentary on greed and Vegas itself. There's also a very funny and entertaining running argument between Zatanna and cousin Zach, as in the heat of battle they still manage to bicker about Zatanna having a lucrative Vegas show contract while the Town seems to have taken Zach to the cleaners in his lousy entertainment deal. That type of midst-of-battle humor often comes off as stiff and forced, but here, Paul Dini does a great job delivering some very funny moments.

So a definite thumbs-up recommendation to add Zatanna to your ongoing list of both occult and superhero comic book reading. And a final shout-out to the art team of Jesus Saiz and John Kalisz for providing just the right style of art for portraying our favorite sexy superhero magician as she takes on the city of Vegas.

Ongoing Contest Reminder!!!

Just a reminder that to-date, we haven't received any entries to our latest Bongo Congo contest, which challenges you to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us which work of fiction that you've read do you think would make an entertaining addition to the Classics Illustrated line of comic book fiction adaptions. There's a first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainmnet at stake here, people, so come on, put on those thinking caps and e-mail us your entry no later than noontime on Wednesday, December 15!

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


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