Review Date: 09/30/2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo noticed lots of premier new comic book titles out there this week, so let's see how three of these issue #1's stack-up against each other:

John Carter Of Mars: A Princess Of Mars #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Roger Langridge: Writer
Filipe Andrade: Art
Sunny Gho: Colors

In lead-up to next summer's Marvel Comics/Disney movie production of John Carter Of Mars, Marvel Comics has just published issue #1 of a 5-issue mini-series of the story. I've previously reviewed a few issues of various Dynamite Comics titles which either re-tell or add new adventures to the well-known Edgar Rice Burroughs-penned science fiction tale of a 19th century American who's mysteriously teleported to Mars (called Barsoom by the natives) and has many pulp adventures with the various Martian indigenous races, along with a romance with Martian Princess Deja Thoris. This latest interpretation of the tale is scripted by Roger Langridge with art by FilipeAndrade and colors by Sunny Gho.

Our new re-telling of the tale is entitled "First Contact!" Its a fast-moving plot which begins with Carter disoriented after teleporting to Mars and being captured by the dominant, green-skinned warrior race. Most of the issue #1 storyline balances the desire of Carter to escape his captors with the fact that he and the Martians actually warm to each other as they each get to know a bit about the other side. When an opportintuy to escape does arise, Carter walks into danger only to be rescued by his giant Martian guard dog. The incident further bonds Carter to the aliens, just in time for a high tech battle to ensue between Barsoomian races. The premier issue story segment ends in a dramatic bridge, as Carter and his jailers/new allies capture a battle survivor, who turns-out to be none other than Princess Deja Thoris herself.

There have been so many comic book and fictional tellings of this tale, that a new comic title better bring something very special to the reading table if its going to make its own mark within the wide inventory of John Carter storytellings. Both surprisingly and happily, this new title adds such groundbreaking quality and storytelling to the well-worn franchise. I suppose this success really shouldn't be that much of a surprise, given that Roger Langridge scripts the title. Langridge proved in last year's popular "Thor The Mighty Avenger" series that he has a strong ability to add a fresh perspective to a well-known, established fictional storyline. He wonderfully repeats that Thor franchise success here with John Carter. From the dialogue to the visual presentation to the basic story action/panel lay-out, the Langridge-led creative team gives us a very fresh and entertaining new storytelling spin, to the point where by issue's end, I felt as if I'd read a brand-new John Carter adventure, as opposed to a very creative re-telling of a familiar pulp science fiction classic story.

So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation to read this new mini-series, whether you're already a John Carter fan or just looking for something new to experience. And if the quality of next summer's tie-in movie is anything close to the creative and high quality approach of this comic book title, there's going to one mega-box office blockbuster hit out there in the cinematic version of this excellent comic book series.

Stormwatch #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Cornell: Writer
Miguel Sepulveda: Art
Allen Passalaqua: Colors

Among the many new titles being released as part of DC's "New 52" restructuring is Stormwatch #1. For the uninitiated, Stormwatch is a title created by Jim Lee at Image Comics which further evolved at Wildstorm Publishing and is currently revamped for inclusion in the new DC universe. The concept is that Stormwatch is an international team of heroes, currently affiliated with the United Nations, that has secretly protected mankind from alien threats over the centuries. The DC revival of the series includes some previous Stormwatch characters, a few new team members and DC's well-known superhero the Martian Manhunter. The title is scripted by Paul Cornell with art by Miguel Sepulveda and colors by Allen Passalaqua.

The issue #1 storyline is part one of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Dark Side." The story mixes three sub-plots together to re-start the world of Stormwatch. In Moscow, a team of Stormwatch folk including the Martian Manhunter pursue and confront a citizen with mysterious powers who has no intention of getting involved in superbeing do-gooding. In a very unique plotthread, an alien artifact transforms the moon into a sentient being equipped with giant claws and a huge eye, intent on threatening the Earth. And in the Himalayas, a pair of superpowered Stormwatch members trackdown a giant, frozen worm creature (shades of Dune!) for unexplained purposes. The issue ends in a dramatic bridge as the Moscow team is defeated by the mysterious superbeing Midnighter, who offers the pursued Moscow super-citizen a chance to kill every bad guy on the planet.

I had a mixed reaction to reading issue #1 of this new title. On the positive side, there's a lot of fun and intriguing story stuff jam-packed into this issue. Any one of the three sub-plots has enough action, adventure and fresh plot concepts to stand-alone as a full-issue storyline. I particularly enjoyed two story elements: the "rogue sentient moon" plotthread and writer Paul Cornell's style of dropping into the dialogue intriguing backhistory treats about various team members, which reflect their centuries-long history and lives. There's also a nice feel of grand-scale, science fiction-like events unfolding in these storylines, similar to Warren Ellis's story approach in the acclaimed Planetary series, which was a sister publication to Stormwatch in its earlier Wildstorm Publishing incarnation.

Balancing this good story stuff is a very jumbled story presentation; the fun stuff is just thrown all over the story lay-out with absolutely no explanation of the Stormwatch team concept or their backstory. Everything that I've described so far in this review about the Stormwatch universe was derived from sources outside of issue #1. This premier issue gives the reader absolutely no orientation or explanation of who the heck these folk are or what they're all about. So a mixed review, here: a definite recommendation to check-out this title, along with the helpful warning that DC better add some page-one narrative details to future issues, or the confusion's gonna mount for "New 52" readers who aren't veteran Stormwatch fans, and the title will be in danger of fading in fanbase support.

Static Shock #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott McDaniel & John Rozum: Writers
Scott McDaniel: Pencils
Jonathan Glapion & Le Beau Underwood: Inks
Guy Major: Colors

Another one of the "New 52" titles premiering this past week is issue #1 of Static Shock. Again for the uninitiated, Static Shock is 15-year-old African-American teen Virgil Hawkins, who has costumed hero adventures using his electromagnetic powers. The character has been around the DC and animated television universe for a few decades and actually originated as a proposed concept for Marvel Comics based on the Spiderman teen-angst model. The new title is scripted by the team of Scott McDaniel and John Rozum, with pencils by Scott McDaniel, inks by Jonathan Glapion and Le Beau Underwood and colors by Guy Major.

The issue #1 re-boot is appropriately entitled "Recharged" and opens with a fast-action sequence as Static battles to control a renegade STAR Labs technician who's out-of-control wearing an electromagnetic power suit. The plot shifts to more of a mystery/intrigue theme as we learn that the lab tech was actually manipulated by a large supervillain syndicate led by the villain Piranha. A second plotline focuses on Virgil Hawkins's civilian life, as he tries to adjust to his family relocating from Dakota to New York City. Virgil's civilian and hero identities blend together in his daily life when he spends time in his new role as a student intern at STAR Labs. The issue #1 story introduction ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue as Virgil/Static is attacked on his patrol of the city by members of the superhero gang.

This is a decent and entertaining read for teenaged fanboys and fangirls as well as older readers. Its the first DC comic that I've read since the most recent Blue Beetle title of a few years ago that specifically stars an average-teen-with-powers and as such does an admirable job of filling the shoes of that previous teen-oriented comic book. You can definitiely see how the original teen angst persona of Peter Parker/Spider-Man influenced the Static creators. Beyond that target audience effort, I was impressed with the quality of the storytelling. The writers have a knack for weaving subtle but intriguing story elements into this issue which most likely will lay the groundwork for interesting developments in future monthly issues of Static Shock. My two favorites were an unexpected reference to the possibility of events attracting Hawkman's attention and the presence of some corrupt police detectives as active members of the villainous syndicate.

So a positive thumbs-up recommendation to both check-out issue #1 of this latest incarnation of Static Shock and to stick around for the upcoming issues to see where some of these interesting plotthreads lead over the next several months.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to e-mail us with your honest opinion, good, bad or anywhere in between, regarding the quality of all or some of the many "New 52" titles that are part of the ongoing re-boot of the DC Comics universe. And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who tells us that so far he's read the New 52 Detective Comics, Action Comics and Green Lantern issues. David tells us that he thought that the Superman plot in Action actually was similar in some aspects to a Spider-Man story element. In addition, he adds "The stories seem good so far and the art was excellent...it also seems that the heroes in these books are more on the edge and are a little more gritty...I will keep reading them for awhile and see what happens." Sounds like some good obervations and advice from David as we all continue to read various New 52 titles. Congratulations to David as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

Let's try another local Worcester piece of trivia again for our latest contest. Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with the correct answer to the following question: What well-known (and well-traveled!) Worcester roadway has been nicknamed "The Speedway" by generations of Worcester drivers? As always, in the event of more than one correct contest entry, our 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 two weeks of comic book reading (and baseball playoffs watching!) and see you again on October 14 Here In Bongo Congo!


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