Review Date: Thursday, November 10, 2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is so happy that the power is finally back on after the October snowstorm that he's decreed that we celebrate with an eclectic selection of four new comic book reviews. So let's see how this wide-ranging variety of comic story themes and titles stack-up against each other for our review:

Peanuts #0
Publisher: Kaboom! Entertainment
Various Writers and Artists

Although esteemed creator Charles M. Schulz passed away over ten years ago, Peanuts lives on forever in our hearts, minds and the endless reprints of his beloved syndicated newspaper comic strip. Happily, the kid-oriented Kaboom! division of Boom! Entertainment has just published the premier #0 issue of a Peanuts comic book with brand new stories. The issue features two new tales by the creative team of writer/penciler Vicki Scott, artist Ron Zorman and colorist Lisa Moore. Also included is a preview of an upcoming new Peanuts graphic novel, along with several one-page reprints of classic Peanuts Sunday funnies by Schulz himself.

Both new stories star the Peanuts gang's animal buddies. "Carnival Of The Animals" features Snoopy being full of puppy energy as he does several funny impressions of wild animals, which leads to an interesting philosophical discussion between Charlie Brown and Violet regarding the power of imagination. "Woodstock's New Nest" is just that, a cute tale in which Snoopy wordlessly helps his bird buddy Woodstock find the perfect nest. The three classic Schultz Sunday funnies reprints feature Peanuts gang members Sally and Linus, along with a classic Charlie Brown and Lucy football sketch. And last but hardly least, the issue concludes with a four-page preview of the upcoming "Happiness Is A Warm Blanket" graphic novel.

This new Peanuts comic book has a lot of good things going for it. I liked the successful blend of old and new; the creative team gives us a few fresh Peanuts stories but faithfully sticks with Schulz's graphic style and story characterization. It was also smart to sprinkle into the comic book the three one-page Schulz reprints, adding a nice classic tone to the overall effort. My only constructive comment is regarding the graphic novel preview, which presents four brief Peanuts story vignettes which are basically reprints of well-known Peanuts routines from previous Schultz comic strips or story collections. I'm hoping that the complete graphic novel doesn't just give us a reprint effort and instead adds something new to the Peanuts genre. The new comic book succeeds in that regard, so here's an enthusiastic review recommendation to get onboard with this brand-new Peanuts title. And by the way, the promo issue #0 is priced at only a buck, so get your copy now, before That's Entertainment is all sold out!

Dark Shadows #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Stuart Manning: Writer
Aaron Campbell: Art
Carlos Lopez: Colors

In the midst of all of the Twilight movie series fan frenzy these days, its easy to forget that one of the original vampire fan favorite series of an earlier era was the 1960's television show "Dark Shadows." Dynamite Entertainment revisits those baby boomer vampire roots with a new comic book title of this iconic t.v. vampire show, which starred actor Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, the 200-year-old vampire head of the wealthy Collins family. The ABC network series was an afternoon daily soap opera, in which the extended wealthy Collins family, mostly unaware that the family head Barnabas was a vampire, had soap opera dramatic experiences and adventures living in their creepy mansion on the rural, rocky (and seemingly always stormy) coast of Maine. The new comic book is scripted by Stuart Manning with art by Aaron Campbell and colors by Carlos Lopez.

An inside cover narrative quickly brings the reader up-to-date on the Collins family situation. The first segment of the plotline introduces various family members familiar from the t.v. series, including family matron Elizabeth, her brother Roger and most importantly, the 20-something family members, creepy cousin Quentin and Elizabeth's pretty daughter Carolyn. The issue #1 plot interweaves two sub-plots. In the first, family doctor Julia Hoffman is working diligently to find a "cure" for Barnabas's vampirism, failing in issue #1 with her latest experimental injection. The second plothread focuses on Carolyn trying to cope with the to-date unexplained death of her latest boyfriend, while suffering from unwelcome visions of a vampire who looks like Barnabas. The issue ends on a very dramatic note, as Barnabas comes across an unconscious Carolyn, who's been attacked by an unknown vampire.

The joy of the Dark Shadows television series was ABC's decision to take a routine daytime soap opera, already on-air for a year, and unexpectedly drop a horror element into a standard daytime soap opera story world. The comic book creative team sticks to the same successful story structure; we're clearly reading a small-town soap opera tale with horror layered on top of the base soap opera genre. The results are two-fold: a wonderful homage to one of the 1960's most original and high quality t.v. shows, combined with an excellent comic book plot that mixes vampire horror with a nice issue #1 mystery regarding the introduction of a second, unknown vampire to the remote Maine township of Collinsport. It should make for a lot of fun in upcoming monthly issues as the drama and mystery unfold.

On a final review note, word on the vampire street is that Director Tim Burton will be releasing a new Dark Shadows movie sometime in 2012 starring Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas Collins. So until this franchise hits the silver screen, whether you're an old Dark Shadows fan like me or a newcomer who just plain enjoys vampire stories, I know you'll appreciate and be very entertained by the return of Barnabas Collins and family to the modern-day world of vampires. This comic book (and I'm sure the upcoming movie) gives the story world of Twilight a run for its vampire money!

Zorro Rides Again #2
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Matt Wagner: Writer
Esteve Polls: Art
Oscar Manuel Martin: Colors

Issue #2 is on the new comic books shelves this week of a three-issue Zorro Rides Again mini-series. The series stars the well-known Zorro, the masked swordsman who operates for all good in colonial Spanish-ruled Alta California. This new series is scripted by A-list writer Matt Wagner with art by Esteve Polls and colors by Oscar Manuel Martin.

Issue #2 alternates between two separate sub-plots. The main storyline centers on Zorro assisting his friend Lolita and her father Don Carlos, who are being pressured by the corrupt governor of Spanish Alta California to give-up their land. Both Lolita and Zorro's own father are both aware of his split identity between his civilian and swordsman life, a fact which the father is conflicted about. A secondary plotline continues a storythread from issue #1, in which a beautiful woman takes refuge in a monastary after the corrupt governor has her husband and child killed. Upon learning of Zorro's exploits from the monks, the woman sets off in search of our hero for assistance in taking revenge against the really, really bad governor.

This is an interesting Zorro storytelling effort, with gifted writer Matt Wagner emphasizing quality dialogue over fast action. While issue #1 may have been more sword-and-adventure oriented, this issue at least presents all of the major players in the story as brainstorming their next moves against each other, all of which no doubt will play-out in next month's issue #3. It all works well in this issue, presenting a storyline that feels like scenes from an old-time Zorro movie. Given the dialogue and panel lay-out, I felt at times as if I was reading an old Classics Illustrated comic book retelling of a classic literature tale. And that's not a bad way of presenting a graphic telling of an old-school, historical-era tale of adventure such as Zorro. So my review advice is to take a break from the many modern-era and futuristic-era superhero comics and give a worthwhile read to this entertaining telling of the historic masked adventurer, El Zorro!

Avengers Origins: Ant-Man & The Wasp
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa: Writer
Stephanie Hans: Art

Marvel Comics has a new comic title featuring a different featured one-shot origins story in each monthly issue for various members of the Avengers. This month's issue features a new presentation of the combined origin story of Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp. The tale is scripted by Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa with art by Stephanie Hans.

This origin plot progresses through the basic well-known general facts of the duo's origin, starting with introspective scientist Hank Pym developing his shrinking technology, meeting and successfully communicating with ants and evolving into the role of the tiny crimefighter Ant-Man. Along the way he meets chic fashion student Janet Van Dyne and her scientist father. When the elder Dr. Van Dyne is murdered, Janet not only turns to Hank/Ant-Man to solve the murder but joins him as his new sidekick The Wasp in solving the case. Without being a detail spoiler, its worth noting that there's an interesting science fiction element to the murder mystery, as Dr. Pym was killed by an alien entity which our tiny heroes discover and defeat by issue's end.

I enjoyed this one-shot origin issue for a few reasons. First, the origin story is a very nice, modern-day refresher for Avengers fans of the old-school origin details of this duo, first told by Stan Lee in the very early days of the Silver Age. Secondly, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa adds a very strong emotional element to the re-telling, emphasizing the emotional struggle that bonds our heroes together, as Pym grieves the earlier murder of his wife Maria and Janet newly-grieves her father's death. Third, the art work is simply exquisite and unique, giving us a panel lay-out and graphic style that's both fresh and photographic in a very entertaining manner. And finally, there is a goofy, cheesy element to some of the story dialogue that adds a nice, 1960's throwback feel to this story. Whether intentional or not, it reconnects these two mainstays of the original Avengers team back to their Stan Lee origin routes in a nice way that makes it all the more fun to dive into this retelling of one of the earliest origin tales of the modern-day Marvel Comics universe.

Next month's Avengers Origins issue will give us a one-shot origin of The Vision. In the meantime, why not start-off your collection of this worthwhile new Avengers title with this month's high quality and very entertaining re-telling of the Ant-Man and Wasp origin story.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

Our latest contest challenged you to correctly identify the most commonly-used street name in America. We had several correct entries, so via a roll-of-the-dice our winner is (drumroll, please)...Ray Loughlin III, who correctly tells us that "Second Street" is the most common American street name. Ironically, "First Street" is the sixth most common street name in the U.S. Many Mid-Westerm communities were laid-out in a grid street pattern, and as such it was very common to identify the street closest to Main Street/Central Street/First Street, etc. as Second Street (versus our New England habit of paving-over old cowpaths and naming them after folks in the community!). Congratulations to Ray who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

One of our most popular contests in recent months asked you to identify the most popular fruit eaten in the U.S., which is the banana. So following in the "fruit steps" of that contest, our latest contest takes us to the world stage and challenges you to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com with the correct answer to the question of what is the most popular fruit eaten in the entire world. It might be the banana or it might be something else, so e-mail us with your entry no later than Wednesday, November 23. As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen via a roll of the dice.

That's all for now, so have a great couple of comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 25 Here In Bongo Congo!


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