Review Date: Friday, May 20, 2011

Good King Leonardo has decreed that its once again Women In Comic Books Week here in Bongo Congo. So let's see how the following three comic books starring strong female characters stack-up against each other:

The New York Five
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo Comics
Brian Wood: Writer
Ryan Kelly: Art
DC's Vertigo imprint of comic books has just completed publishing a 4-issue limited mini-series entitled "The New York Five." The series is a sequel to "The New York Four" mini-series, which followed the first semester experiences of four female college freshmen attending New York University. Both series are the creation of writer Brian Wood and artist Ryan Kelly. Wood is renowned for writing very character-driven comic book and graphic novel tales that have a strong short story fiction feel, in collaboration with Kelly, who produces the tales in a striking and effective back-and-white format. As all four issues are still available on the That's Entertainmnent new issues shelves, I decided to review issue #1 in the just completed limited series, in order to get a feel for the storyline from the very beginning.

The issue #1 storyline is entitled "Mistaken For Strangers" and reintroduces the four freshmen roommates (Riley, Lona, Merissa and Ren) as they reassemble in their apartment at the start of their freshman year second semester. The plot proceeds by introducing each of the four's current personal dilemmas, in two storythreads. In one plotline, each girl participates in a college therapy session, unloading their current personal dramas on the therapist. In a lengthier storythread, the actual events that they explain in therapy are portrayed. Without being a story spoiler, the issues range from Riley having drama with her estranged sister and her sister's sleazy boyfriend, Merissa having family issues, Ren dating guys too old for her and Lona behaving as a complete psychotic nutball by planning some unknown scary revenge against a professor for daring to give her a B instead of an A for a course grade.

I'm giving this comic book a qualified mixed-bag review. I think the plotline is very well-written, but its a very specialized type of story that I think is only of interest to a limited reader demographic, namely, high school and college age women, for two reasons. First, its extremely soap opera in plot style and secondly, there are no main or support characters present in this series outside of the college girl age range. As an aging fanboy, I felt like an outsider reading this plotline, a feeling that outweighed any sense of entertainment and which I suspect any reader outside of the high-school/college female readership pool would also experience. But as a reviewer, its always fun to check-out the latest comic title produced by Wood and Kelly, just to see what this extremely talented creative team are currently up to. So again, I'm giving a well-deserved thumbs-up recommendation for the high school/college age fangirl base to check-out this title, combined with a recommendation for the rest of the good comic book readership pool to pass on this very specialized story theme.

The Spirit #13
Publisher: D.C. Comics
David Hine: Writer
Moritat: Art
Gabe Bautista: Colors
The current title run of Will Eisner's The Spirit is up to issue #13. This particular Spirit series is published by DC Comics as part of its First Wave series, a group of interconnected titles featuring pulp heroes such as Doc Savage along with several golden age comic book figures, such as Denny Colt a.k.a. Central City's favorite masked noir detective The Spirit. The series is currently scripted by David Hine with art by Moritat and colors by Gabe Bautista.

Issue #13 is the third and final installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Clockwork Killer." A page one narrative updates the reader on the story to-date, in which a New York gangster named Shonder Zeev is trying to muscle-in on the established Central City crime families. In the issue #13 story segment, Zeev hires a weird elderly hitman named The Professor to kill Police Commissioner Dolan. Instead, The Professor falls for Dolan's daughter Ellen (also The Spirit's girlfriend), building an Ellen look-alike robot and kidnapping Ellen in a bizarre scheme to help him program the robot to be like her. Hijinks ensue as the kidnapping and the out-of-town crime boss invasion come together by issue's end in a mutual conclusion.

While I'm a fanatical follower of The Spirit and have a soft place in my comic book reading heart for all things Spirit, even a more objective reader would conclude that this is a high quality and very entertaining Spirit tale. The story itself is fresh and fun, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Writer David Hine pitches just the right balance of noir detective thriller and light humor that Spirit creator Will Eisner originally mixed into this comic book franchise, resulting in acclaim for this classic golden age comic book figure.

But in line with our "Women In Comic Books" theme of this week's review column, the best feature of issue #13 is the central and starring role of Ellen Dolan in this storyline. Always portrayed as a strong personality with an independent streak of resourcefulness, writer Hine adds just the right dash of humor and glamour girl glitz to the 1940's retro Ellen, updating her into a very entertaining character who starts as kidnap victim and evolves into saving both herself and the overall story situation in a very entertaining manner. And a special hats-off is due to the art team for giving us a great visual interpretation of Ellen with a fantastic range of comedic facial expressions.

So add Ellen Dolan and her sidekick's in this story, including The Spirit, to your ever-growing new comics reading pile!

Warlord Of Mars: Dejah Thoris #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Arvid Nelson: Writer
Carlos Rafael: Art
Carlos Lopez: Colors
Dynamite Comics is currently publishing a few comics exploring the science fiction world of Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic novel "John Carter, Warlord Of Mars." In honor of this week's Women In Comics Books review theme, I decided to review issue #1 of the title that stars Dejah Thoris, Carter's Martian Princess girlfriend from the series of novels. The comic book is scripted by Arvid Nelson with art by Carlos Rafael and colors by Carlos Lopez. That's Entertainment actually has copies of the first three issues in this new title on the new issues shelves in the store.

An inside-the-front-cover narrative informs the reader that the setting of this tale is 437 years before Carter's adventures on Mars, or "Barsoom" as the natives call it. The never-aging Princess Thoris is smack in the middle of a civil war between the cities of Lesser and Greater Helium. Without spoiling interesting plot details, in general terms this is a tale of political intrigue between warring parties. In the midst of the war, a higher Martian royal official mandates a truce and orders that Princess Thoris marry his son. By issue's end, all parties figure-out that the shotgun wedding idea is a trick by which the greater royal powers on Mars hope to conquer both feudal cities for their own purposes. The issue ends in a double dramatic bridge to issue #2, as fighting breaks-out against the royal schemers and an alien surprise is discovered buried deep beneath Helium.

I was prepared for this comic to be light on plot and heavy on action, and as such was pleased to discover that it provides a decent mix of both story elements. In between the royal warring, writer Arvid Nelson loads the script with detailed and intriguing dialogue, as the royal leaders of the two warring cities and the higher royal powers of Barsoom maneuver around and against each other for control and power. Similar to the Ellen Dolan figure in The Spirit comic book reviewed above, we're provided here with a very smart and savvy version of Princess Dejah Thoris, who steps-out from John Carter's shadow and solos on her own as both a story star and a strong political leader of both her royal family and the Martian people.

So a very positive thumbs-up recommendation for this new comic book addition to the wide-ranging Warlord Of Mars science fiction franchise. I plan on continuing to read this series, starting with issues #2 and #3 available right now at That's Entertainment and continuing on with future monthly issues of this comic book title.

Current Contest Results!!!

Surprisingly, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges did not receive any entries to our current contest, which challenged you to tell us what your favorite three Free Comic Book Day comics were and why you liked them so much. So we'll move-on with our new contest below.

New Contest Announcement!!!

As all good fanboys and fangirls know, the newest Marvel Comics cross-over mega-event series is the "Fear Itself" series, featuring the God Of Fear, a supervillain who uses superheroes's worst fears against them. We gave a positive review a few weeks ago to the Prologue one-shot issue that kicked-off this new crossover event.

By now, readers have had a chance to start reading some of the many comics in this series. As such, your contest challenge this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and give us your opinion as to why you either like or dislike this series. The selected winning entry will receive the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.

That's all for now, so try to dry-off from all of this past week's rain by having a great comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!

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