Review Date: Sunday, August 14, 2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is back from a great vacation and has decreed that we review this week three new comic books, one that features Captain America and Bucky along with two that star Batman. So let's see how these comics stack-up for some August summertime comic book reading:

Captain America & Bucky #620
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko: Writers
Chris Samnee: Art
Bettie Breitweiser: Colors

The long-running Captain America title is up to issue #620 this month; in its current incarnation, the series is emphasizing the Captain America/Bucky partnership by publishing under the full "Captain America & Bucky" title. The latest multi-issue story arc is scripted by the team of Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko, with art by Chris Samnee and colors by Bettie Breitweiser.

Issue #620 begins a fresh five-issue story arc entitled "Masks." The first issue in this story is a retelling of the well-known origin of Cap's sidekick Bucky. The spin here is a fresh narrative of the tale, using the concept of a costumed hero's facemask as a metaphor for Bucky's tough childhood experiences. We learn page-by-page the details of Bucky's early life and how he ultimately wore three different masks at different stages of his life: an emotional mask of indifference as a shield against family tragedy, a mask of toughness as he trains to ultimately become eligible as Cap's sidekick, and finally an actual costumed hero facemask as Bucky, thereby allowing him to drop the emotional masks and function as more of a normal human being in his civilian identity.

Given the summertime popularity of Marvel's Captain America movie (a great movie, by the way!), a fresh comic book revisit to Cap and Bucky's World War II origin days couldn't be timed any better. The writing team of Ed Brubaker and Mark Andreyko are at the peak of their narrative skills here, giving us a storyline that balances moving personal emotion with building action that will obviously explore the heroic duo's early wartime adventures in the next four issues of this multi-issue story arc. The biggest plus here is Chris Samnee's wonderful artistic presentation. Samnee developed a wide fan folllowing (myself included) with his top notch work in last year's eight-issue "Thor, The Mighty Avenger" title. As I mentioned in a review of that series, Samnee is similar to well-known artist/writer Tim Sale both in graphic style and a highly skilled ability to convey heartfelt emotion through both his character's facial expressions and style of panel lay-out. The result here is to add a valuable new interpretation to the many tales of the early days of the Cap/Bucky partnership, one that should only increase in emotional impact and old-fashioned action-adventure with each further issue of this five-part storyline.

So do yourself a favor and give yourself a double treat this week by seeing the Captain America movie at the cinema and getting-in on the ground floor with the first issue of this very entertaining new Captain America and Bucky storyline!

Batman Beyond #8
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Adam Beechen: Writer
Chris Batista: Pencils
Rich Perrotta: Inks
David Baron: Colors

DC's Batman Beyond title is up to issue #8 this month. For the uninitiated, this is a futuristic Batman title in which teenager Terry McGinnis fights crime in a very high tech future Gotham City, mentored by an elderly Bruce Wayne. The current monthly series is a follow-up to the animated television series and a previous Batman Beyond mini-series. The comic book is scripted by Adam Beechen with pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rich Perrotta and colors by David Baron.

The issue #8 storyline is entitled "Inque," (pronounced "ink") and interweaves two storythreads. One is a detailed flashback personal history, filling-in the origin of the supposed supervillain Inque, a woman who turns to a life of high tech supervillain crime in follow-up to medical experimentation that gave her the ability to transform into a rubbery, inky slinky-like creature tough to stop or control. Without being a detail spoiler, we learn some very personal details of why this woman chose to follow a path of crime instead of the superhero life. A second plotthread is more high action-oriented, as our young futuristic Batman does battle with Inque. The issue climaxes as the past and present storythreads nicely blend together into a very personal moment in Inque's battered life, dealing with love and family ties.

I've enjoyed every issue of both of the Batman Beyond comic book titles and this current issue is no exception. The personal backstory of Inque is both heartbreaking and very relevant to today's real-world situation of poor folk in third world countries trying to survive while being exploited in human trafficking situations. While the young Terry/Batman is almost a secondary character behind the main Inque origin story sequences, this is still a credible Batman tale that adds well to the wide-ranging Batman story and family universe in both an emotionally moving and entertaining manner. An editor's note at the end of the story announces that within the upcoming September DC publishing title shake-up, "Batman Beyond" will return in a comic entitled "10,000 Clouds," coming soon from DC.

So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to round-out the current Batman Beyond eight-issue title run with this month's issue and keep an eye out for the continuing entertaining adventures of our futuristic Bat-Boy within this Fall's revamped DC comic book title publishing structure.

Flashpoint: Batman Knight Of Vengeance #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Brian Azzarello: Writer
Eduardo Risso: Art
Patricia Mulvihill: Colors

Yet another among the many DC Comics Flashpoint mega-event mini-series is the three-issue "Flashpoint: Knight Of Vengeance" title. Since all three issues of this short series are currently on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment, I decided to review the kick-off issue #1. The series is scripted by veteran comic book scribe Brian Azzarello with art by Eduardo Risso and colors by Patricia Mulvihill. For those very few readers not familiar with the very popular Flashpoint series, the various titles present a DC universe altered by a foe of The Flash, to the point where we literally have an alternate reality in which the backstories and present-day roles of most DC heroes and villains are significantly altered. The Flashpoint universe also is experiencing a world war in which Wonder Woman and Aquaman lead their respective empires in a brutal war against mankind, with the main battlefield in Western Europe.

Issue #1 of the Batman mini-series constructs for the reader the basics of the altered Batman portion of the Flashpoint universe. In the Flashpoint reality, the young boy Bruce Wayne died in his family's robbery, leaving the father Thomas Wayne to evolve into an angry, violent and extremely bitter version of Batman. The family business empire rests upon Wayne Casinos, run by Wayne's chief flunky Oswald Cobblepot, who never becomes The Penguin. The plot focuses on Wayne and Police Commissioner Gordon beginning to investigate the kidnapping of Gotham Judge Harvey Dent's twin toddlers by who else, The Joker. Action ensues as clues lead Batman into a confrontation with a very different, alternate version of Swamp Thing. Without being a detail spoiler, the Swamp Thing confrontation gets wrapped-up by issue's end, leaving the final page of issue #1 as a prequel to issue #2's expected Batman/Joker confrontation.

I have a mixed reaction to issue #1 of this mini-series. On the plus side, in the capable hands of the creative team this is a very entertaining reinterpretation of the Batman legend. As with the other Flashpoint series titles that I've read and reviewed, its a real fun kick to absorb the many alternate universe adjustments to our familiar DC universe friends and foes. My particular favorite here was a major alteration regarding Police Commissioner Gordon and the Gotham Police Department, which I won't reveal in this review. On the negative side, there's no connection in this plot to the events of the wider Flashpoint series (i.e., the world war). The plot seemed to drag with this disconnection. As such, I'm giving this comic book title a conditional thumbs-up positive recommendation. As a stand-alone Batman story, it is fun and worth reading. However, there's a disconnect with the bigger Flashpoint universe, to the point that leads me to place this title toward the bottom of the Flashpoint reading list. As such, I'd recommend reading most of the other Flashpoint titles first if you wish to stay up-to-date on the story progression of this DC mega-event.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to correctly tell us which nearby U.S. state was originally part of Massachusetts before gaining its independent statehood. And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries is (drumroll, please)...David Ruiz, who correctly identified Maine. A few folks assumed the correct answer was one of the states physically bordering Massachusetts, but Maine was an "exclave," which is a territory physically separated and noncontiguous from the remainder of the same territory. In 1820, as a result of a growing population and a political deal regarding slavery, Maine became the 23rd state under the Missouri Compromise. Congratulations to David as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment! And a worthy shout-out to two other correct entrants, Stan Hosmer who tells us that he's descended from either the first or second Maine Governor and Keith Martin, who tells us that he's a former Maine resident.

New Contest Announcement!

Since we had a lot of interest in last week's question, before we offer another comic book-related contest, let's try one more geography trivia contest. Now that you all know what an exclave is from the answer above, your challenge this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and identify to us at least one existing exclave that exists somewhere in the U.S., today. Believe it or not, there are a few locations in the U.S. considered territory of specific states but completely surrounded by land of other states, thereby totally separated from the rest of their home state. As always, in the event of more than one correct entry, 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 summertime comic book reading week and see you again next week Here In Bongo Congo!


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