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Review Date: Friday, April 22, 2011

We're back from our one-week hiatus, and as such Good King Leonardo has decreed that its "Captain America Week" here in Bongo Congo. So let's see how the good Captain fares in the following three new Marvel Comics issues:

Captain America #616
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Multiple Writers & Artists
Marvel Comics has just released Captain America #616 as an over-sized 70th Anniversary commemorative issue in honor of the iconic Marvel Universe A-List superhero. The special issue features seven stories. The kick-off tale is entitled "Gulag: Part 1," and continues the current modern-day run in this title starring Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier as the current Captain America and successor to Steve Rodgers. The story is written by veteran scribe Ed Brubacker with art by Mike Deodato and colors by Rain Beredo. The six additional stories are scripted and drawn by various artists and writers, including one tale both written and drawn by well-known comics industry veteran Howard Chaykin.

While the main "Gulag" story takes place in a 2011 setting, the follow-up tales celebrate Cap's anniversary by paying tribute to his early Marvel Universe roots. Each plot is either set in World War II or focuses on more modern circumstances colored by Captain America/Steve Rodgers's World War II experiences. My favorite tale is Howard Chaykin's "Opaque Shadows," in which Steve Rodgers attends a modern-day auction centering on a Norman Rockwell-type painting that he posed for during World War II. In flashback, we learn of a love affair between Steve and the "Rosie The Riveter" model he posed with. Its a satisfying and emotionally-moving tale with a neat present-day conclusion to the story. While the main "Gulag" tale and 4 of the additional stories are all solid and entertaining, there's one dud in the mix: "The Exhibit" is an illogical and weak Hitler-clone story that falls flat in terms of both story logic and entertainment.

In sum, I was very impressed on three counts with this issue. First, the variety and quality of the tales is top notch, along with the creative team's efforts to consciously present tales that pay sincere tribute to the early history of this iconic American comic book hero. Secondly, the jumbo size of this comic book is a real bargain for the cover price. And third, there's a nice two-page break in the middle of the issue featuring back-and-white sketches of Cap by Jim Aparo and Curt Swan, along with some tribute narrative. So an enthusiastic thumbs-up recommendation to take your time and enjoy working your way through this excellent over-sized tribute to one of the greatest of Marvel's A-List superheroes.

New Avengers #11
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Mike Deodato & Howard Chaykin: Artists
Rain Beredo & Edgar Delgado: Colors
Marvel's New Avengers title is up to issue #11 with the latest issue. The comic book is written by veteran Brian Michael Bendis with art by the team of Mike Deodato and Howard Chaykin, and colors by the team of Rain Beredo and Edgar Delgado. A page one narrative details a two sub-plot storyline to-date: in the first storythread, Captain America/Steve Rodgers has reassembled the Avengers and assigned former HAMMER badgirl Victoria Hand to be the team's liaison. The second plotline features Nick Fury forming an early Avengers team in 1959, as a counterespionage team against The Red Skull.

The present-day story segment begins with a crisis, as Avenger's member Mockingbird has been critically-wounded in the previous issue's action. As the Avengers await her prognosis, led by Spider-Man the team begins to suspect that they were set-up by Victoria Hand. Back at Avengers headquarters, Captain America and Hand herself discuss her concern that the team will blame her for the disaster. These developments are interspersed with the 1959 storythread, which is much more action-oriented as Nick Fury's new team battles the Red Skull. The issue ends in a cliffhanger as Captain America mysteriously arrives on the scene.

While there are lots of Avengers titles on the new issues shelves these days, the current issue of this particular title deserves some acclaim for at least three reasons. First and foremost is Bendis's plot structure approach to the tale. I very much enjoyed how he balanced the more introspective, dialogue-driven installment of the present day plotline with lots of fast-action in the 1950's storyline. Secondly, without being a detail spoiler, its also fun to see the creative, unusual 1950's-era early Avengers team that Bendis has scripted as Nick Fury's early-era version of the group.

And third but hardly least, its neat to see iconic artist Howard Chaykin back in the graphic saddle with a mainstream comic book publisher, both in this issue and in the Captain America issue #616 reviewed above. It's been a long time since we last saw him carrying-out mainstream monthly comic book creative duties, so let's hope that its not a temporary gig and Chaykin settles-in for awhile with Marvel Comics at these and any other monthly comic book duties that are available.

As a final review comment, for newcomers and veteran comic readers alike, you won't regret checking-out among Howard Chaykin's many accomplishments his groundbreaking work from the decade of the 1980's on the titles "American Flagg!" and "Blackhawk", available in the back issue bins at That's Entertainment.

Captain America & Batroc The Leaper (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kieron Gillen: Writer
Renato Arlem: Art
Nick Filardi: Colors
Our third Captain America title for review this week is a one-shot Marvel Comic entitled "Captain America & Batroc The Leaper." For the uninitiated, Batroc is a Silver Age Marvel Comics character who is a French mercenary-for-hire and master of the French form of kickboxing known as savate. Traditionally presented as a comic relief character, of late various Marvel creators have reinterpreted Batroc in a more serious role. This one-shot comic book follows that reinterpretive line and is written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Renato Arlem and colors by Nick Filardi.

The title of this tale is "Traceur," and develops a basic mercenary-for-hire plot set in Paris, France. Batroc is hired-out to protect a group of thieves planning a heist while somehow knowing that Captain America will intercede. When Cap arrives on the scene, the duo tangle in an elaborate setting of a blighted and semi-abandoned Parisian inner-city neighborhood. Its not spoiling any action details to reveal that while Cap obviously wins the day and foils the heist, the manner in which he does so allows Batroc to rationalize that he's achieved some personal goal of at least taking-on Cap in hand-to-hand battle and holding his own, while escaping to fight another day.

As a stand-alone comic this is an average, decent story. However, I was disappointed in this serious reinterpretation of Batroc. The whole "Dark Knight" version of this character just needlessly bleeds all of the fun out of this perennially goofy Silver Age "anti-hero with a heart of gold," replacing it with nothing but a bleak loser who rationalizes his failures by proclaiming that at least he lives to "fight another day." On the plus side, we do have a second story in the issue that's a reprint of a classic Silver Age Batroc and Captain America confrontation. So my recommendation is to read this comic book, but read the back-up retro reprint tale first to get a fun dose of what Batroc was meant to be, followed by the more avant-garde reinterpretation style of the first story in this one-shot comic book issue.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to tell us what special significance the number 2609 holds for the Boston Celtics. And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne, who tells us that although he's a Philadelphia native and is cheering for his 76ers in the NBA playoffs, 2609 is the record-setting number of three-point field goal points scored by the three-point NBA recordholder, own own Celtic Ray Allen. We won't hold Kevin's 76ers allegiance against him, so congratulations to him for winning the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

We have an interesting and offbeat baseball trivia question for you this week, that comes right out of a recent Final Jeopardy question entitled "Baseball Geography." Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with the correct answer to the following question: While Alaska is the biggest state in the U.S. not to host the home location of a Major League Baseball team, what is the second-largest state in the country that doesn't have a MLB team located in it? As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, the winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.

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

 
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