Review Date: Friday, January 6, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo wishes everyone a very Happy New Year and has decreed that we kick-off 2012 with reviews of the following eclectic variety of comic book titles, fresh off of That's Entertainment's new issues shelves:

My Greatest Adventure #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Various Writers & Artists
DC Comics is up to issue #3 of a six-issue mini-series entitled "My Greatest Adventure."  This series is an homage to the original Silver Age "My Greatest Adventure" title, which began in 1955 as an adventure anthology series and morphed into a science fiction adventure title.  After introducing The Doom Patrol in the early 60's, the title was quickly revamped into The Doom Patrol's own titled comic book.  The current mini-series presents three short tales in each issue with continuing, multi-issue story arcs, respectively starring Doom Patrol team member Robotman, followed by new characters Garbage Man and Tanga.  Each storyline is assigned a different creative team of writer/artists.  I decided to backtrack to issue #1 for this review, in order to get an accurate feel for the series from the premier of the three parallel tales.

     The initial Robotman story segment is entitled "Uncanny Valley" and has two plotthreads.  One storyline establishes the basic world of Robotman these days, as he's established himself as a solo superhero-for-hire based in Las Vegas, complete with a human staff assistant.  Our second plot thread kicks-off our hero's first adventure, as a missing person case leads him to Cuba and smack into the middle of zombie-based adventure.  "Garbage Man Returns" is an origin story of this new character, in which a corporate drone living and working in Gotham City named Richard Morse seemingly stumbles his way into an eventual Swamp Thing-like transformation.  Our third tale is entitled "Restrained" and features an alien female superbeing named Tanga, who is struggling on an alien planet to help a local populace in their issues with a benevolant but extremely arrogant superbeing ruler.  Without spoiling plot details, there's an interesting mix of sharp humor and action/conflict in this storyline.

     This is a pretty entertaining new comic book title, for a few reasons.  First, I really enjoyed the all-too-rare-these-days structure of featuring three ongoing stories in one standard-sized comic book.  In this case, it really is like getting three comic books for the price of one.  Secondly, while the Robotman story succeeded as a well-drawn adventure story segment, it also had an intriguing sub-theme, in which Robotman struggles internally to deal with the fact that he was once human and is now a brain trapped inside a machine.  And third, writer-artist Kevin Maguire's Tanga story is a real treat.  A new character whom Maguire introduced earlier this year in the Weird Worlds mini-series, Tanga is a female alien super-powered hero in the style of the well-known Legion Of Super-Heroes members.  Maguire mixes her Spider-Man style of sharp-edged humor with a cast of unique alien story characters, resulting in a very fresh and entertaining science fiction-based comic book story.

     My only negative review comment concerns the Garbage Man tale, which is aptly named given the garbage-level quality of a muddled script from writer and Garbage Man creator Aaron Lopresti.  This throwaway tale is vague and sketchy, with the result that by the end of this premier story segment we still don't know how Richard Morse evolved into the trash-dude.  But overall, two strong stories out of the three deserves a well-earned thumbs-up positive review recommendation for this new anthology series from DC Comics.

The Legend Of Oz: The Wicked West
Publisher: Big Dog Ink
Tom Hutchinson: Writer
Alisson Borges: Art
Kate Finnegan: Colors
Big Dog Ink has published issue #1 in a new, six-issue limited series of a Wizard Of Oz-based comic book entitled "The Legend Of Oz: The Wicked West."  The new title is scripted by Tom Hutchinson with art by Alisson Borges and colors by Kate Finnegan.

     The concept of this series is a re-telling of the familiar Wizard Of Oz story from more of a Wild West adventure approach.  In the premier issue, we learn that Dorothy Gale and her horse Toto have been wandering around Oz for three years now, trying to find their way home to Kansas.  This is a harsher, Wild West version of the fabled Land of Oz, full of 19th century-style Southwest towns populated by gunslingers both bad and good, along with mythical Oz universe creatures.  The issue #1 plotline begins with Dorothy picking her way down the shattered and sparse remnants of the former Yellow Brick Road in search of the Emerald City.  After wandering into one of the atypical small towns, she has a Wild West confrontation with all sorts of characters populating the local saloon.  Without being a plot spoiler, by issue's end Dorothy has interacted with very different versions of the well-known Cowardly Lion and Tin Man, and is poised for further unique adventure as both the story and her efforts to reach The Emerald City continue in the upcoming issue #2.

     I was blown away by the high quality and entertainment of this new Oz title.  There's nothing more fun than coming across a fresh reinterpretation of a well-known classic tale, and we're fortunate to have such a rare gem in this new mini-series.  Writer Tom Hutchinson does a brilliant job in crafting a tale chock-full of new spins on the classic Dorothy of Oz fable.  Again, I don't want to spoil the fun for potential readers, so I'll only mention a few examples.  My personal favorite realignments of the tale are two-fold: First, the recasting of Dorothy Gale as a tough Western gunslinger chick who isn't afraid of a confrontation, whether its a verbal or literal shoot-out.  And secondly, the transformation of Dorothy's well-known little doggie sidekick Toto into a faithful horse, with a streak of smarts and independence worthy of the Lone Ranger's Silver.

     In addition to the fun story detail transformations referenced above, I was struck by the unique revision to the general atmosphere of the Oz tale.  The creative team has blended together the script and visual presentation to present a Western-style Oz adventure comparable to two other classic science fiction/fantasy tales that utilize Western themes: Stephen King's well-known Dark Tower/Gunslinger novel series and science fiction novelist Mike Resnick's western-themed novel entitled Santiago (along with its sequel, The Return Of Santiago).  The King, Resnick and Big Dog efforts all utilize the Wild West story universe structure to the utmost to produce meaningful fictional additions to their respective story genres.

     This is one of the few comics that made such an impression on me regarding literary quality and entertainment that I immediately re-read it in order to double-check and make sure I didn't miss anything meaningful, entertaining or just plain fun regarding the wonderous adventure being re-served to the reader in a brand new manner.  I've said it about the comic titles "Locke & Key," "Jersey Gods" and "I, Zombie" and I'll say it once again, here: there's a smash Showtime, HBO or SYFY Channel series just waiting to bust-out of this comic book onto the television screen.  So obviously, my review advice is to get down to That's Entertainment and pick-up your own issue #1 copy of The Legend Of Oz: The Wicked West and re-read it a few times, yourself!

Shame Itself #1 (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists
  Marvel Comics recently released a one-shot spoof of its Fear Itself event series entitled "Shame Itself."  The issue features ten tales ranging from several one-page quick comedy riffs to a few multi-page stories, along with a three-page illustrated short story.  While there are many writers and artists involved in this comedy compilation, its worth noting that the team of six writers includes Wyatt Cenac and Elliott Kalan, both accomplished comedy writters for The Daily Show With John Stewart.

     The issue kicks-off with a direct spoof of the Fear Itself series in a story entitled "The Last Attack."  While it provides a funhouse mirror comedy version of Fear Itself, it also goes off on its own nutty tangent as various famous Marvel Universe supervillains become preoccupied negotiating a schedule for taking turns in trying to destroy mankind.  The story resurfaces for a conclusion at the end of the issue, while in-between the creative team fills the comic book with all types of Mad Magazine-style comedy riffs on the culture of the Marvel Comics universe.  Rather than list-out the many offerings, I'll feature my two favorites in this review.  "Unholy Reunion" is a very entertaining four-page tale from writer Elliot Kalan and Artist Dean Haspiel, in which Reed Richards and The Thing attend their college reunion.  The comedy is sharp and the story cleverly reverses their roles, as the pair revert to their respective nerd and jock stations on the college social ladder.  "M Marvelous" consists of three e-mailed dating advice questions to the publisher, each of which are answered by various Marvel superheroes.  The answers are completely nutty and provide very funny comments on the worlds of these Marvel characters.

     Much credit is due to Marvel for bringing in an A-plus team of professional comedians to script the material for this one-shot issue.  It clearly pays-off, as the quality of the funny material transcends the standard comic book funny business fare, resulting in a wide range of comedy more comparable to the sophisticated humor of, say, The Daily Show With John Stewart that writers Cenac and Kalan include in their resumes.  I know its a lot of work to put together a multi-sketch issue such as this title, but I'd love to see more of this type of ensemble comedy material from Marvel, as well as any other comic book publisher.  While a monthly schedule might be too much to expect, perhaps Marvel could consider a quarterly or bi-monthly schedule of Shame Itself or a similar series with an appropriate wacky title.

     In the meantime, my obvious thumbs-up positive advice is to savor and cherish this very creative, and more importantly hilarious, variety show of a comic riffing on all things nutty in the wide world of Marvel Comics.

Archie Meets Kiss #627
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications, Inc.
Alex Segura: Writer
Dan Parent: Pencils
Rich Koslowski: Inks
The venerable and long-lasting flagship Archie Comics title is up to issue #627 with a special "Archie Meets Kiss" storyline.  This is part one of a two-issue multiple story arc scripted by Alex Segura with pencils by Dan Parent and inks by Rich Koslowski.

     This kick-off story segment is entitled "Riverdale Rock City."  Our plot can be divided into two scenes.  Scene one begins with the Archie gang getting together with Sabrina The Teenaged Witch to help cast a complicated spell that will protect the Town of Riverdale from a potential Halloween Eve monster invasion.  Naturally, Veronica and Reggie mess things up, resulting in the invasion of monsters which are actually humorous caricatures of various Twilight movie series characters.  In scene two, the band Kiss magically appears as part of the miscast spell.  It turns-out that the band are expert monster chasers and plan to try and make everything right again in Riverdale.  As Kiss goes off to try and do their monster thing, the Archie gang mysteriously disappears one-by-one, until Archie dramatically discovers that the monster visitors are somehow turning everyone in Riverdale into "Mindless Zombies!!!".

     Over the past few years I've reviewed a few editions of the monthly Archie comic book and I'm continually impressed with the combination of high quality writing that incorporates very relevant and recent pop culture references.  Given how long old Archie has been on the comic book publishing scene, I always expect a dated or stale storyline.  While in last year's reviewed issues we were treated to very relevant national political satire and modern perspectives on dating and marriage, here we're treated to a lighter but just as funny take on the current pop culture horror genre.  The take-off on the Twlight movies works well here, updating 1950's monster mash-type story material into the style of the current 21st century horror movie trend.  In the hands of the creative team, the idea of mixing old school pop culture icons Kiss with this theme also works well, proving to me, at least, that Kiss transcends the turnover of pop culture generations very nicely.

     On a final review note, its also fun to read this issue for the many interesting ads promoting additional Archie comics titles.  It amazes me how many varied titles that feature alternate interpretations of Archie and his gang are thriving within the Archie Comics Publications empire, including spin-off titles of every single Archie universe character, as well as a series in which the gang is drawn in a more "real world" visual style.  Issue #627 also heavily promotes the February 14, 2012 premier issue of a new series starring new character Kevin Keller, who has received national media coverage as the first openly gay character added to the 70-plus year-old Archie Comics universe.

     So in review summary, by all means don't shy away from revisiting the old Riverdale Gang in your wide-ranging monthly comic book reading; there's plenty of modern-day relevant and entertaining humor packed-into issue #627 of Archie.  And stick around to see how Kiss saves the day as the storyline concludes in issue #628!

Contest  Winner Announcement!!!

Our current contest challenged you to correctly identify the one winner of the Best Male Actor Oscar who was denied receiving the award, which then went to the second-place runner-up.  This is a tough answer to find, so unfortunately we didn't receive any entries.  But for you trivia buffs, the answer is (drumroll, please)...that famous movie dog Rin Tin Tin!  According to Susan Orleans's current best selling Rin Tin Tin biography, the immensely-popular movie pup won the first Oscar in 1929 for his movies roles from mid-1927 to mid-1928.  But the Academy Board of Directors was upset and felt that the award would be cheapened if in its very first year it went to a dog, so they awarded the statue to runner-up human actor Emil Jannings.  Read the Orleans-penned bio for more interesting facts about Rin Tin Tin and other movie dog actors.

New Contest Announcement!!!

Its time to usher-out 2011 and welcome-in 2012 with our annual Year's Best Comic Books contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com by noontime on Wednesday, January 18 and pitch to us your favorite comic book or books published in 2011 and tell us why you liked it/them so much.  Regarding my own personal favorites, stand-outs from amongst the 2011 crowd included three DC "New 52" titles (Deadman, Wonder Woman and Justice League Dark), the "Spider Island" event series from Marvel Comics, the Boom Studios Star Wars satire "Space Warped," the 2011 run of "Atomic Robo" published by Red 5 Comics and the new "The Legend Of Oz: The Wicked West" comic book published by Big Dog Ink and reviewed in this column above.  As always, our contest winner will receive the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment, which you can use to buy next year's "best of 2012" comic book nominees!

That's all for now, so have a great two weeks of mid-winter comic book reading and see you again on Friday, January 20 Here In Bongo Congo!


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