Review Date: 09/15/2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is back this week with an interesting variety of new issue comic books to review, so let's get right to it and see how these comics stack-up against each other:

Reed Gunther #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Shane Houghton: Writer
Chris Houghton: Art

Image Comics has a new comic book series out entitled "Reed Gunther." There are four monthly issues on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves of this comic book with a Western Adventure theme that's billed as fun "for all ages". I decided to review issue #1 to get a better feel for the premise of the comic book. The series is scripted by Shane Houghton with art by his brother (I presume) Chris Houghton. A back-of-the-book blurb explains that the pair initially was producing this series as a black-and-white independent comic until it was picked-up and produced in color by Image Comics.

Our issue #1 storyline is entitled "Reed Gunther And The Steak Snacking Snake!" Our heroes are cowboy-for-hire Reed and his sidekick, Sterling the bear, who doesn't speak but is clearly "smarter-than-the-average-bear", as our old friend Yogi Bear used to say. While out camping, our heroes come to the rescue of Starla, a woman rancher whose cattle are disappearing one-by-one. Its quickly discovered that a gigantic snake is devouring cattle one huge gulp at a time, hence the title of the story. Hijinks ensue as our trio tries different strategies to defeat the snake rustler. Without being a detail spoiler, by issue's end the problem is solved. And on the last page we see Reed riding off on Sterling's back into the classic Western sunset, in search of next month's issue #2 Wild West adventure.

This new title is an adorable and very entertaining fresh addition to the Western Adventure comic book storytelling genre. The Houghton brothers succeed on all counts in creating a comic book world that's clearly geared to kid-level reading and entertainment while still providing enough high-quality storytelling to serve as a worthwhile reading pasttime for teen and adult readers, alike. Two particular storytelling elements stand-out in distinction. The first is the decision to use a very cartoony graphic style for this comic book. It works extremely well to convey the emotions and facial expressions of the characters, which is particularly important when one of the lead story stars is a non-talking bear who communicates through facial cues. Secondly, there's a nicely-constructed sub-plot here in which Starla and Reed get off on the wrong foot, which to me at least, ultimately conveyed a nice life lesson for young readers about trust and getting along with others.

In sum, its both refreshing and just-plain-fun to have a new and cute addition to the non-superhero world of comics that doesn't take itself seriously in delivering-up some good old-fashioned comic book entertainment. So using one of Reed Gunter's favorite expressions, for pickled beets sake, folks, go out and read this comic book!

Zatanna #16
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Writer & Art: Adam Beechen and Victor Ibanez

While there's a lot of attention this past week among fanboys and fangirls regarding DC Comics rolling-out its company-wide "New 52" make-over, there are a lot of traditional DC new issues titles still on the new issues shelves from just the past few weeks of publishing. One of them is issue #16 of the ever-popular "Zatanna" comic book, starring the DC universe's favorite good-looking magician/sorceress. Issue #16 is written and drawn by the creative team of Adam Beechen and Victor Ibanez.

The storyline is entitled "The Sorceress's Apprentice." Its a humorous, tongue-in-cheek plotline in which a sleep-deprived Zatanna is unexpectedly visited by the blue-skinned Klarion, an impish sorcerer-boy from Limbo Town, the magical place in the DC universe that's also the hometown of Klarion The Witch Boy. The creepy kid claims he wishes to becomes Zatanna's magical apprentice, but its soon apparent that he has an ulterior motive for getting into her secret magician's library. Without revealing any details, the bulk of the plot consists of Zatanna giving chase to Klarian from her library through many magical dimensions, ultimately foiling the brat's scheme and dumping him back in Limbo Town where he can do no more harm. The issue wraps-up in a nice joke that began on page one of the issue, relating to sleep deprivation and dreaming.

I've reviewed a few previous issues of this title run and have always been impressed with the creative team's ability to mix quality light humor with a magical thriller plotline. This issue is no exception, and actually exceeds the quality of previous issues in this regard. The art is of very high quality and just the perfect graphic style for conveying the colorful magic realism scenes of Zatanna and brat-boy hopping through very creative other-dimensional scenery in their magical adventure. Two particular full-page panels, one conveying the magical vastness of Zatanna's library and one when she finally catches Klarian in another magical dimension are among the most poster-worthy comic book scenes of the year. And finally, a deserved shout-out to the creative team for bringing this title to a pre-New 52 close with that nice, understated final scene that combines a cute joke with some relevant pop culture references.

So a very positive thumbs-up recommendation to check-out this final issue in the latest Zatanna comic title run. Let's hope that there's room someplace in the DC universe after all of the "New 52" bedlam and consternation subsides for a similar high quality Zatanna title. In the meantime, I'd suggest reading issue #16 and backtracking through the That's Entertainment new issues and back issues inventory for copies of the previous 15 Zatanna issues and/or softcover reprint compilations.

Batgirl #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Gail Simone: Writer
Ardian Syaf: Pencils
Vicente Cifuentes: Inks
Ulises Arreola: Colors

Well, the "New 52" brave new world of DC Comics is finally here and for my first review of the bunch I chose issue #1 of the new Batgirl title. The reboot of Batgirl is scripted by veteran writer Gail Simone with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Vicente Cifuentes and colors by Ulises Arreola.

The issue #1 story is entitled "Shattered" and stars the original Barbara Gordon/Batgirl character. While its acknowledged throughout the tale that Barbara has undergone some sort of miraculous experience to regain her mobility and leave behind her wheelchair-bound Oracle persona, we're not let-in on any of the details in this premier issue. Instead, a few sub-plots are threaded-together that focus on Barbara/Batgirl literally getting back on her feet into everyday life, both as a costumed crimefighter and a civilian. We see Batgirl in her first new crimefighting effort, rescuing an innocent couple from potential gruesome torture and murder by masked home invaders. Barbara spreads her wings and finds herself an eccentric new roommate. And finally, Batgirl trails a mysterious masked murderer and in confronting him in a hospital, fails to prevent the villain's latest murder, as such accused by a cop on the scene as being "a murderer" for hesitating for a moment and not stopping the hit.

As both a comic book reviewer and a longtime fanboy I try to be a pragmatic guy, cherishing old comic book traditions and legacies while also embracing inevitable change and new, fun publishing ideas. So I'm not completely opposed to the DC attempt to shake things up with the New 52 effort, although I don't like the renumbering of landmark titles such as Action Comics and I still believe that the old numbering will be restored in a few years as landmark old-numbering anniversary issues come-up on the publishing horizon. However, I'm also a believer in the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and as such I'm critical of this new Batgirl rebooting.

The 25-issue Stephanie Brown/Batgirl series ran circles around this first issue Batgirl reboot regarding both artistic quality and story content. At the risk of ticking off the gazillions of Gail Simone fans, this is a dull and weak story representation of Batgirl. I felt like I was reading a DC tale written in the duller stretches of the 1980's, full of hokey dialogue and stiff character behavior. The dialogue between Barbara and her new roommate is just amateurish writing, but worst of all is the Just-Plain-Stupid cliffhanger ending, in which a cop screams "murderer" at Batgirl for failing to stop the bad guy. If a return to such tired mid-20th century comic plot cliches as supposed cliffhangers is what's in store for readers in the "New 52," we're all in big comic book reading trouble.

So to get to the point asap, a disappointed thumbs-down recommendation on this particular New 52 reboot effort. When DC files for the inevitable bankruptcy when the New 52 doesn't resolve the company's ongoing financial solvency problems, let's hope that the new company investor overlords, Chinese or otherwise, do us all a favor and apply the common sense of restoring Batgirl and a few of the other "unbroke" titles to their pre-New 52 quality.

Atomic Robo #1 (Volume 6)
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Brian Clevinger: Writer
Scott Wegener: Art
Ronda Pattison: Colors

Red 5 Comics has has just published issue #1 in the sixth and latest 5-issue Atomic Robo mini-series. As Atomic Robo fanatics like me can tell non-readers, the series chronicles the tongue-in-cheek adventures of our favorite Robot lad, created back in the 1920's by Thomas Edison's main inventor rival Nichola Tesla. The previous volumes of this series each features a multi-issue story arc set in a different 20th century historical period, blending the pop culture and scientific technology of each era into a very entertaining science-based action adventure. The comic book is scripted by Brian Clevinger with art by Scott Wegener and colors by Ronda Pattison.

The new volume 6 series is the first plotline set in the present-day August of 2011. As head of his scientific research company Tesladyne, Atomic Robo receives an emergency request from NASA to rescue 5 astronauts stuck in Earth orbit. The plotline follows a 7-hour countdown, as Robo and his scientist support team, all featured in previous storylines, scramble to figure out how to get-up into orbit and save the astronauts. An interweaving sub-plot features two ultra-nerd Tesladyne scientists, who Robo dispatches to London to assist Scotland Yard in investigating the mysterious vanishing of a London building. Issue #1 ends in a dramatic cliffhanger, as Robo gets up to Earth orbit to find a situation that no one on Earth expected.

The key to the very popular success of this comic book franchise is the creative team's skill in blending some really interesting science action adventure plot details with a very witty, well-presented sense of humor on the part of Robo and his co-stars. The closest comparison that I can make is to the comic strip Dilbert's sense of humor, toned-down a bit and mixed in with old-school science fiction pulp storytelling, and you're in the Atomic Robo ballpark. Volume 6 keeps the Atomic Robo series winstreak intact, giving us a much-needed fix of this wonderful, wacky and funny blend of unique comic book adventure and humor. Its also fun to read a Robo tale set in the present-day for a change. Note to Red 5 Comics: after five volumes of historical story settings as well as the current present-day setting, how about setting the upcoming Volume 7 series sometime in the future?

So stop reading this review already and get down to That's Entertainment to pick-up your very own issue #1 copy of this latest Volume 6 series starring everyone's favorite Atomic Robo!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenge was for you to correctly tell us which Red Sox player has hit the longest home run in Fenway Park's history and also tell us in what permanent way has the team commemorated the event at the stadium. And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Keith Martin, who correctly identified Red Sox slugger Ted Williams as the player who belted the longest-ever Fenway home run into the right field bleachers. The homer was belted on June 9, 1946 in a game against the Detroit Tigers and traveled 502 feet before it landed at the fan seated in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21. Its estimated that the ball would have traveled a total of 535 feet if the seat hadn't gotten in its way! The seat is painted red among a sea of green bleacher seats to permanently honor The Splendid Splinter's achievement and game tickets to sit in the seat can be purchased for $23.00 a game. Congrats to Keith who wins our contest first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's focus this week on the current mega-event in the comic book reading world, DC's roll-out of The New 52. Your challenge this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us what you think, either positively, negatively or a mix of both, about specific New 52 premier issues. I'm hearing all sorts of opinions ranging from very good, unfortunately bad and much in-between, so let's hear from you about which titles you like or dislike, and why. I personally was disappointed in Batgirl #1 (see review above) and my brother Dave tells me that Animal Man #1 and Action #1 are really, really good comics. So tell us what you think! As always, our first prize contest winner will receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment (you can buy more issues of The New 52 with your prize)!

That's all for now, so have two great comic book reading weeks and see you again on September 30 Here In Bongo Congo!


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