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Review Date: Friday, December 9, 2011

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we once again review an eclectic group of new comic book issues, so let's get right to this varied bunch and see how they fare:

Fantastic Four #600
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Various Artists
Marvel Comics has finally reached the milestone issue #600 of one of its original Silver Age titles, the Fantastic Four.  This is also the 50th anniversary issue of the title.  The oversized, 100-page commemorative comic book is scripted by Jonathan Hickman with art by a wide-ranging team of artists, who take turns illustrating Hickman's overall script in five separate story parts or chapters.  For the uninitiated, Hickman has been unfolding a grand, epic-scale Fantastic Four storyline for a few years now, involving a large group of old and new Marvel Universe characters within this science fiction adventure that takes place on Earth but also spans outer space, other planets, dimensions and various alien races.  The approach here is to bring many of these storythreads together in issue #600 for some significant Fantastic Four universe developments.

     Part One of this issue serves as an orientation to the reader of all that Hickman has previously laid-out.  Everyone initially comes together in a New York City-based battle, including the FF, other Marvel heroes, lots of bad guys and aliens both good and bad.  The new reader will learn that Johnny Storm/The Human Torch is supposedly dead and has been replaced on the FF by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  The plot narrows-down in Part Two to focus on bad alien Annihulus trying to invade our world with his army of monsters from the otherwordly Negative Zone.  Through alternating past and present scenes, we learn that The Human Torch is alive and a captive of Annihulus.  The bulk of the plotline unfolds with Johnny Storm and his fellow alien captives planning and undertaking a revolt against their captors, leading to a dramatic, epic conclusion, the details of which I won't reveal in this review.

     Praise is definitely due to writer Jonathan Hickman for managing to bring his lengthy and detailed sci-fi FF tale to a head in an entertaining and credible manner in this special issue.  I've read several of his previous story installments and reviewed a few to boot, and while I've enjoyed it a lot, I questioned how this large-scale story spanning so many key characters, races and locations would eventually come together in a satisfying manner for us readers.  Suffice to say that Hickman and team pull it off with a high-grade story segment that deserves the attention of a 100-page spread that its afforded in this jumbo issue.  While major stuff happens here, the story is by no means concluded; instead, issue #600 serves as a satisfying intersection, a point where many story elements progress nicely and take a different turn to continue down the road of future monthly issues.

     As a final review note, there's a very interesting one-page column in the back of the issue in which Marvel colorist Stan Goldberg reflects on his 50 years of working at Marvel.  That alone is worth the price of admission to this special anniversary event! So by all means, enjoy the grandeur, plot quality and overall just-plain-fun of this Fantastic Four special tribute issue!

The Flash #3
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato: Writers
Francis Manapul: Art
Brian Buccellato: Colors
DC Comics is up to issue #3 of the new Flash title currently published under "The New 52" event umbrella.  This re-booted Flash comic book is co-scripted by the team of Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, with art by Francis Manapul and colors by Brian Buccellato.

     This issue is the latest installment in a multi-issue story arc entitled "Lights Out," in which the Flash and support characters deal with a range of action/adventure situations and issues resulting from a mysterious electromagnetic pulse which has knocked-out all power throughout the Central City-Keystone City metropolitan area.  Interweaving sub-plots include our hero saving a powerless jetliner, local scientist Darwin Elias sleuthing to solve the mystery of the strange pulse and the local police improvising old-school, power-free solutions to address emergencies.  A fourth and final sub-plot features The Flash/Barry Allen in his police staffer guise, along with his policewoman partner, stumbling into a mystery involving a former military black ops team-turned-criminals, which concludes in a very dramatic bridge to next month's issue #4 of this title.

     A positive thumbs-up recommendation is due for this New 52 re-boot of The Flash.  While its not a cutting-edge or great comic, the quality is very solid in terms of an interesting and entertaining plot, and is a major improvement on the stale (to me, at least) Flash universe structure that DC ran with for a few years prior to the New 52 re-boot.  I like very much the support structure around Barry Allen/The Flash within this New 52 universe, which includes several well-crafted local police department characters, as well as local scientist Darwin Elias.  The science sleuthing of Elias was very interesting, with some dramatic thriller twists that intrigued me enough to want to go back and read issues #1 and #2 in order to fully understand and appreciate the plot twists that Elias experiences in this issue #3.

     My only constructive criticism of this issue is colorist Brian Buccellato's color tone choices, which for about two-third's of the panels and pages are very bleak and dark.  It makes for an uncomfortable visual experience and just seems out of place for the style of this comic, adding a Dark Knight atmosphere to this more mainstream-style superhero story, which doesn't blend with that type of coloring.  But that one comment aside, this is a very entertaining and enjoyable new Flash tale that definitely deserves a place in the positive column of worthwhile New 52 DC universe comics for all good DC readers to check-out.  And if you're like me and want to backtrack to the recent beginning of this new title, there are still copies of all three monthly issues available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

X-Men Giant-Size #1
 Publisher: Marvel Comics
Christopher Yost: Writer
Various Artists
Marvel has recently added to its very wide-ranging inventory of X-Men titles a new X-Men Giant-Size title.  The comic book is scripted by Christopher Yost with various story sections prepared by alternating teams of artists.  The concept here is to present a multi-issue story arc entitled "First To Last," by balancing a present-day, modern X-men team sub-plot with a second storythread starring the original team of X-Men at the beginning of the Marvel Silver Age.

     In the present-day storythread, the San Francisco-based X-Men, led by Scott/Cyclops and Emma Frost, are attacked by an offshoot group of mutants named The Neo.  Similar to the X-Men in powers, The Neo are seemingly invincible.  In an extended battle scene, The Neo are unstoppable until a mysterious alien race called The Evolutionaries intercede in the struggle on the side of our heroes.  In the alternating throwback storythread, the original, old-school team of X-Men experience a similar battle with the Magneto-led bad mutants, with the same result of The Evolutionaries interceding at a crucial moment to help the X-Men.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue as The Evolutionaries are revealed to wield devastating power, instantaneously slaughtering all worldwide members of The Neo as their choice of how to protect the favored X-Men.

     Lifelong X-Men fans such as myself are always on the lookout for a new title or issue that provides a fresh approach to the huge inventory of X-Men comics out there.  I'm happy to say that this new comic book falls into that hoped-for reading category for four strong reasons. The first positive element is the story structure, which is well-balanced between the original team and modern-day team story segments, seamlessly alternating throughout the issue between the tales.  Secondly, writer Christopher Yost skillfully connects the two sub-plots together, with a storyline in which Scott/Cyclops has somehow caused a problem with The Evolutionaries in the past tale, resulting in their devastating return to Earth in the modern day.  Third, The Evolutionaries themselves are an entertaining threat in this comic, serving as omnipotent, Earth-busting visitors wielding a judgmental, robotic and narrow sense of right-and-wrong.  You just know that one wrong comment from the X-Men and these powerful visitors could blow the world away.  And fourth but hardly least, the wide-ranging art team provides an excellent mix of alternating visual styles between the modern and past eras of X-Men.

     So my thumbs-up, positive review recommendation is for all readers to experience this rare two-for-one opportunity to enjoy in one giant-sized mix both the old-school Silver Age and modern-day teams of X-Men in interconnected story action and entertainment.  This one's an X-Men keeper, for sure!

Decision 2012: Ron Paul #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Dean Kotz: Art
Lisa Moore: Colors
Earlier this Fall as the 2012 Presidential primary season got underway, BOOM! Studios released a series of eight "Decision 2012" comic book biographies of potential presidential candidates.  The series includes bio comics of President Barack Obama and seven Republican contenders (or potential contenders): Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.  The comics are currently on display in front of the That's Entertainment cash register, so on a review whim last week I randomly selected the Ron Paul comic book bio for a review look.  The title is drawn by Dean Kotz with colors by Lisa Moore.  Strangely, a writer credit is not listed in the comic book.

     The comic book plotline and visual lay-out follows a traditional chronological biographical presentation.  The first half of the comic presents details about Ron Paul's childhood and teen years growing-up in Pennsylvania from the mid-1930's to the 1950's, followed by his career as an Air Force flight surgeon and accomplished civilian surgeon in Texas.  By mid-comic book, the bio tale switches to Paul's political career as a Congressman from a Texas district.  We learn that his congressional career followed a pattern of winning many two-year terms in Congress, with a few losses in between campaign comebacks.  Mixed-into the bio story is information on the development of Paul's national economic philosophy, as he became a proponent of a well-known Austrian economist.  By issue's end, the Ron Paul bio takes us up to the present day in which he's thrown his hat into the current Republican presidential primary race.

     The purpose (and responsibility) of any personal biography published in comic book format is the same as any conventional bio journal article or book: to help the reader learn facts and details about the biographical subject while presenting it all in an interesting and entertaining manner.  As such, this BOOM! Studios bio succeeds in presenting Ron Paul's personal storyline in comic book format.  Its hard in today's high tech media circus environment to strip away political spin and campaign rhetoric and just learn something as simple as the basic facts of who any particular candidate is and what his or her life's journey has been about.  Readers of this comic, and I suspect the rest of the Decision 2012 comic series, will definitely be able to learn those interesting personal details regarding Ron Paul and the other candidates.

     Three quick technical comments regarding the comic.  On the negative side, the artwork in many panels is oddly sketchy and unfinished.  On the weird side, it just seems odd to me that a writer is not listed in the comic's credits; even a bio story obviously has a writer who applies his or her skills toward organizing the true tale, an effort that our mystery writer does very well here and deserves a well-earned credit shout-out.  And on a final positive note, in a fun and creative twist, one or more trivia facts are listed at the bottom of every page of this comic book, related to the information presented in the story panels of that particular page.  It adds kind of a VH1/MTV "pop-up video" trivia element to the story that's actually pretty interesting.

     So a positive recommendation for all good fanboys and fangirls to expand your reading horizons beyond superhero drama; throw yourselves into the current presidential political season by doing your duty as adult voters (and young reader future voters) and read as many of the Decision 2012 comic book series as are available at That's Entertainment!  Then make-up your minds and cast a vote for somebody in next year's election-and don't even think of voting for Superman, Wonder Woman or Spider-Man instead of a real human being!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

    Our latest contest challenged you to tell us who your favorite Marvel Comics Avenger team member is and why.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Giovanni Petrella, who nominates Captain America for his favorite Avenger.  Our winner tells us that "my favorite Avenger by far is Captain America because he fights for the American Way, he uses a shield for offense and defense and he is a classic super hero."  An excellent nomination for a superhero who's had a great year with a smash new movie along with many excellent comic book adventures.  Congratulations to Giovanni as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     As the holiday season is upon us, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges has decreed that we offer to you this week a seasonal holiday contest challenge.  As such, our contest subject this week isn't about the holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwaanza, but instead honors the lesser-known seasonal holiday of...Festivus!  That's right, the holiday invented back in the 1990's on the Seinfeld show by George Costanza's father, crazy Frank himself...Festivus, or as Frank called it "the holiday for the rest of us!"  Who can forget such very special Festivus holiday family traditions as "the airing of greivances" or "the feats of strength."  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com and tell us what your favorite Festivus family tradition is.  It could be a tradition from one of the Festivus episodes of Seinfeld, or one from writer Allen Salkin's popular Festivus book, or one that you made-up yourself for your own Festivus celebration (or just for the purposes of this contest!).  So come-one, come-all and share your Festivus holiday cheer with "the rest of us"!  Our contest winner will receive our first place prize of a $10.00 gift certificate to that special place of seasonal Festivus cheer, That's Entertainment!

That's all for now, so have two great holiday season and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 23 Here In Bongo Congo!
 
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