Review Date: Friday, January 21, 2011

Good King Leonardo has decreed that it's once again Women In Comic Books Week, so let's review the following three comics starring three empowered (pun intended) super-heroines:

Power Girl #19
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Judd Winick: Writer
Sam Basri: Art
Sunny Gho & Jessica Kholinne: Colors
Last year I reviewed kick-off issues #1 and #2 of the Power Girl title, and I just finished reading the initial 12-issue story arc borrowed from my brother Dave, so I though it would be interesting to read and review this month's latest issue #19 of Power Girl. For the uninitiated, Power Girl is Kara Zor-L, Superman's cousin as the last survivor of a vanished alternate universe, now living in our world and trying to establish herself as both a superhero and as businesswoman Karen Starr. The title got off to an immensely popular start last year, with the first year's storyline scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Amanda Conners. The current issue is written by Judd Winick with art by Sam Basri and colors by Sunny Gho and Jessica Kholinne.

Issue #19 is entitled "One Step Forward...Two Steps Back." The title is very appropriate, as the plot centers on a major memory problem plauging Power Girl and her fellow JSA members. It seems that none of our heroes remember DC Universe bad guy Max Lord and all of the very bad stuff that he's done over the past few year's in the DC universe storyline, including killing The Blue Beetle. Toward the beginning of the issue, Power Girl does remember and convinces a skeptical JSA, with the trust of Batman, that they've all suffered a legitimate memory loss engineered by Lord, covering-up his identity and all that he's caused. As the story progresses, Lord somehow again erases Power Girls' memory of his existence and past actions, thus leading to the various heroes wandering off in false directions away from the true evil situation. By issue's end, Power Girl's amnesia leads her to wander to the jungles of Vietnam, where she stumbles across a re-established Cadmus Project, the well-known DC universe secret superpower-related research facility.

While I was initially disappointed that the creative team of Palmiotti and Conner are no longer working on this title, I was quickly won over to the new direction in which the current creative team has taken this title. This is a darker, more serious interpretation of Power Girl than Year One readers of the comic book would expect. We're provided with several emotional and deeply moving story scenes, as the characters struggle to remember their erased past, knowing all the while that they're caught in some form of a Groundhog Day situation, constantly rediscovering some lost past only to lose it again as soon as they break the spell of Max Lord's grand deception. One particular scene is particularly gut wrenching, as Power Girl weeps knowing that she's just again lost a vital memory but has no idea what it is. The theme of the meaningfulness of memory is best portrayed here in the five-page opening scene, in which Power Girl reminisces about a JSA past battle victory, involving Max Lord before he broke bad. Aging fanboys like myself will get a nostalgic kick out of this plot thread, as it stars the old Royal Flush Gang as the villains in the battle; I for one haven't seen a DC comic featuring those guys since the early Silver Age issues of The Justice League. So welcome back, Royal Flush Gang, even if its just for this well-presented cameo appearance!

A final review shout-out has to go to the coloring duo of Sunny Gho and Jessica Kholinne. Its rare that I mention the colors in a review, but the praise is well-deserved, here; the duo's choice of pastel shadings are unique and just plain beautiful, reminding me most of artist Phil Noto's work on the Superman/Maelstrom mini-series of a few year's ago. So a very well-deserved positive thumbs-up recommendation for the latest issue of Power Girl. While the current run isn't in the vein of the more humorous Palmiotti/Conner take on the title, its extremely well-crafted and very entertaining in its own right, as a more emotional and serious perspective on this always-interesting DC universe superheroine.

Wonder Woman #605
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J. Michael Straczynski & Phil Hester: Writers
Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica & Daniel Hdr: Pencils
Alex Sinclair: Colors
The long-running Wonder Woman title is up to issue #605 this past week. A-list writer J. Michael Straczynski took over scripting duties with the #600 anniversary issue, and partners with writer Phil Hester in the current issue. Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica and Daniel Hdr provide the pencils with colors by Alex Sinclair and inks by a large group of artists including Jay Leisten, Marlo Alquiza, Wayne Faucher and Eber Ferreira.

The issue #605 story, entitled "Runaway Fate," provides two interweaving storylines. In the main plot thread, we're introduced to The Morrigan, a team of three evil mythological women, one each from Celtic, Roman and Greek mythology, with the Greek partner in this evil turning-out to be the well-known head of Medusa, whose gaze turns all who look upon her to stone. It seems that the team is alive and kicking in modern-day New York City, and planning a trap for Wonder Woman. A secondary plotline is a flashback to Wonder Woman's childhood, in which she narrates a memory of standing-up for oppressed mortals during her childhood in a remote area of present-day Turkey. By issue's end, the Morrigan have sprung their trap against Wonder Woman, badly injuring her as a cliffhanger for next issue's resumed all-out attack on our hero and her Amazon allies.

While this is an entertaining and well-produced Wonder Woman comic book, it's important to note that the story doesn't have that the style that fans of writer J. Michael Straczynski have come to know and expect from him. My guess is that co-writer Phil Hester is taking the lead here, while Straczynski focuses more on the other DC universe writing efforts that he's responsible for at the moment. There's nothing wrong with that, given that we're still served a high-quality tale that mixes characters and elements of ancient mythology in a modern-day story setting. As with any good Wonder Woman tale, there's equal portions here of grand action and soap opera drama, as our heroine juggles personal friendship issues with all of the "save the world" adventure that's heaped upon her by her supernatural foes. And it all works, advancing the story in ways that are at times absorbing and always entertaining, leaving us with a to-be-continued dramatic cliffhanger for next month's story installment.

So a deserved positive recommendation for this comic book, with the caveat that its a worthwhile read but lacking the particular "bells and whistles" that Straczynski has been bringing to his solo writing efforts in other DC and Marvel titles over the past few years.

Batgirl #17
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Bryan Q. Wilson: Writer
Pere Perez: Art
Guy Major: Colors
The latest Batgirl title is already up to issue #17 this month. Bryan Q. Wilson continues his ongoing writing of this title, with art by Pere Perez and colors by Guy Major. For the uninitiated, the latest Batgirl is Gotham University student Stephanie Brown, who lives with her physician mother, hiding her crimefighting identity from the world by day while at night she patrolling Gotham, while being mentored via high tech by former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, now known as the computer crimefighting consultant The Oracle.

Issue #17 has the lengthy story title "Batgirl: The Lesson-Frogs, Snails & Puppy-Dog Tails..." Its a very appropriate title, as the plot continues the recent partnering of Batgirl with Damien, the ten-year-old son of Bruce Wayne, who serves as the latest Robin. The pair spontaneously pair-up while on Gotham patrol, to try to solve the mystery of disappearing school children. After infiltrating in civilian guise a school field trip to a museum, the pair discover that a kidnap ring is behind the disappearances. Fast action ensues as our heroes take-on the kidnappers in a runaway bus full of field trip kids, saving the day of course, and freeing the other previously missing schoolkids to boot.

While the above brief story synopsis hits the main points of the storyline, it can't do justice to conveying the wonderful style that the creative team keeps bringing to monthly issues of this title. Writer Bryan Q. Wilson in Number One these days in providing crisp humor, one-liners and a fresh sense of humor that never strays into snarkiness. There's a very strong story element woven throughout this issue, of Batgirl figuring-out how to get through the unbelievably strong walls of isolation that this Damien kid has built about his personality; without being a detail spoiler, Batgirl successfully chips-away at these psychic barriers around the kid, and by story's end she's established a small but significant foothold into helping the human, ten-year-old side of Damien begin to emerge.

Prior to the teaming of this duo in some recent issues of this title, I despised this Robin character as being too killing-machine, one-dimensional as portrayed by various DC writers. Happily, the character has found a home in this comic book, in the hands of writer Wilson and in partnership with Stephanie Brown/Batgirl, who gets this kid's personality and is up to the task of humanizing him. So get on-board for the continuing adventures of this seemingly-mismatched, but actually well-balanced, team of young heroes as they continue to bicker their way together across the detective-noir evening skies of Gotham, in search of bad guys, adventure and trying to satisfy their mutual craving for Batman's paternal approval!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

We had several correct entries to our current contest, which asked you to tell us what those mysterious "13.1" bumper stickers mean on all of those cars driving around Worcester these days. And our winner via a roll of the dice from amongst the correct entries is (drumroll, please)... David McBarron, who correctly tells us that the bumper stickers stand for the distance of a half-marathon (26.2 miles being a full marathon), and are seen on the cars of folks (including my neighbor Ray!) who successfully ran in a half-marathon. Congratulations to David, who's the winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

New Contest Announcement!!!

As you know, this column is named after a popular group of 1960's Saturday morning television cartoon characters. The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges recently realized that we just don't keep-up these days with the current television cartoon shows related to today's comic book characters.

As such, your new contest challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us what your favorite current comic book character-related cartoon show or shows are, and why you're a fan of your choice. Your entries can be very mainstream, such as a DC or Marvel character-based show, or something that's really under the radar, if you wish. As always, our first prize contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

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


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