Review Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we drown our sorrows regarding our Patriots losing the Super Bowl in some fun comic book reading, so let's see how the following four new issues stack-up against each other:

Fatale #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Ed Brubaker: Writer
Sean Phillips: Artist
Dave Stewart: Colors
  Image Comics has just published the first two issues of Fatale, a new comic book title scripted by renowned A-list writer Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips and colors by Dave Stewart.  This title is the latest in a series of detective noir/hardboiled private investigator-style comics that the creative duo of Brubaker and Phillips have been creating for Image Comics.  A full listing of these titles along with cover samples are presented in the inside back cover of Fatale #1.

     Issue #1 is Book One of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Death Chases Me".  The plot introduces a noir mystery plot that alternates in setting between the present-day and the 1950's.  In the present-day story segment, Nicholas Lash has just buried his father's elderly friend, the popular mystery writer Dominic Raines, when he's confronted after the funeral by the mysterious and beautiful Josephine.  Mystery ensues later that evening, as Nicholas is attacked by armed gunmen back at Dominic's creepy Victorian mansion, just as he discovers a weird unpublished novel that the old man wrote back in the 1950's.  Nicholas is rescued by the mysterious Josephine, who kills one of the attackers but also causes an accident, in which Nicholas is badly maimed.  The second plotthread tosses the reader back to the 1950's, and is clearly a series of true events that become fictionalized in the unpublished novel.  Without going into spoiler detail, we learn that Josephine was involved with a younger, 1950's version of Dominic along with a corrupt L.A. cop.  A horror element is also primary to this plothread, as we learn that Josephine and the cop are involved in some major, gory occult doings, which results in Josephine never aging.

     This is a very mixed bag of a comic book.  On the plus side, we have a very skilled and accomplished veteran comic book team presenting us with a new comic that's beautiful in graphic presentation, including a wonderful visual sense of a detective noir setting combined with appropriate color tones from master colorist Dave Stewart.  In addition, the detective noir elements of the plot and artwork are pitch perfect for that particular genre, giving us a cinematic sense of mid-20th century hardboiled detective thriller storytelling.  On the negative side, about halfway through issue #1 we're jarringly thrown into a completely different fictional genre, as Brubaker suddenly takes the story into the world of horror, emphasizing in plot and artwork a gory segment about a cult that butchers human victims.  There's even a creepy page flashing back to the cult's World War II Nazi origins, including the involvement of a hellish demon wearling a Nazi uniform.

      By issue's end, I felt that I had read two separate story ideas that were clumsily spliced together.  There just isn't a smooth connection between the detective and the horror story elements to make this work as a credible comic book tale.  I think the big mistake was to set-up an entire half-issue as conventional detective storytelling, resulting in a very disorienting feel when we're suddently plunged into heavy-duty blood, guts and demonic creepiness.  I've read many comics over the years that successfully combine two or more seemingly imcompatible fiction genres into one worthwhile story arc; unfortunately, Brubaker and Phillips just don't succeed in achieving that credible combination with the presentation style that they use in this instance.  So unfortunately, I'm giving this comic a reluctant thumbs-down.  Feel free to stick with this title if you wish to take a gamble and see if the creative team can overcome the clunkiness of their issue #1 story approach, but my advice is that there are many comics on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves that provide a better quality of detective noir and/or horror genre entertainment.

Superman #5
Publisher: D.C. Comics
George Perez: Writer
Nicola Scott: Penciller
Trevor Scott: Inker
Brett Smith: Colors
Its time to add the flagship Superman title to our ever-growing list of comics reviewed within DC's "New 52" rebooting of the DC universe.  As a huge Superman fan, I've hesitated to take the plunge to see if and how DC's greatest American hero has been revised in this restructuring effort.  But there's no time like the present, so here goes.  Issue #5 is scripted by veteran writer/artist George Perez, with pencils by Nicola Scott, inks by Trevor Scott and colors  by Brett Smith.

     Issue #5 is entitled "Menace!" and is the latest installment of a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Attack Of The Superpowers!"  The plot kicks-off with all of Metropolis riveted on a weird event, in which Superman seems trapped in a giant whirlwind consisting of both fire and ice that mysteriously appears in downtown Metropolis.  After the phenomenon just as mysteriously disappears, Superman begins acting oddly, speaking about Metropolis as if he owns the city and everyone in it.  Tension is heightened as page-by-panel The Man Of Steel goes renegade, taking vigilante justice into his own hands, to the point where he begins murdering both really bad guys as well as average folks who cause minor infractions (don't jaywalk in this new version of Metropolis!).  Naturally, our real hero would never act this way, so by issue's end we learn the details of who this wacko is and where the real Superman has been stashed, just in time for the good versus bad Superman struggles to continue in next month's issue #6.

     I enjoyed this comic book for a few reasons.  First, its a very mainstream, traditional Superman story presentation, with a solid plot by George Perez, one of the creative giants of DC and Marvel comics since the 1970's, combined with solid artwork.  Secondly, this is a thinking fan's story, with plenty of action but also lots of dialogue and discussion among the story players over the crisis situation at hand.  It all makes for a very absorbing and entertaining read.  And third, I personally wasn't looking forward to a major shake-up of the iconic Superman universe, which some folks predicted, within the New 52 publishing event.  As far as I can see from issue #5, the only real change here is the slight redesign of the big guy's uniform, which after seeing it in this issue for myself, I personally have no problem with.

     While we're still given a standard Superman tale in this renumbering of the long-lasting Superman main monthly title, we're also lucky enough to have a new creative team onboard, led by George Perez, who brings it home with this enjoyable and entertaining latest Superman story arc.  So my advice is to get onboard and see how Superman, Jimmy Olson, Lois Lane and everyone else in the extended Superman Family save the day from the menace of the evil Superman wannabe!

Orchid #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Tom Morello: Writer
Scott Hepburn: Art
Dan Jackson: Colors
Dark Horse Comics is up to issue #4 in a 12-issue limited edition series of a comic entitled Orchid.  This new title has a unique marketing strategy; the author is Tom Morello, a well-known guitarist who was part of the bands Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, among other musical accomplishments.  The comic series is a post-apocalyptic tale starring a teenage prostitute named Orchid, who struggles to survive in an "after the fall of Earth's civilization" world.  The marketing gimmick here is that Tom Morello is releasing a new song, accessible on-line, to accompany each comic book issue.  I decided to backtrack to issue #1 for this review, in order to get a better sense of the concept of this new series.  In addition to Morello's scripting of the series, art is by Scott Hepburn with colors by Dan Jackson.

     The issue #1 story segment is divided into three distinct sections.  Part one provides a narrative overview of the post-apocalyptic world, in which rising climate-change oceans, combined with toxic world-wide pollution, drops civilization back to a medieval level of society.  Powerful elites control blighted, polluted feudal townships, while the poor are either enslaved, fleeing slavery situations or trying to avoid being eaten by the weird wildlife spawned by the polluted environment.  The second plot segment introduces some story action as we meet Simon, a young rebel who experiences some action-adventure as he flees the nasty bad guys, ultimately meeting Orchid's mother and young brother.  The third plothread finally introduces the young prostitute heroine Orchid, who unwittingly leads the bad guys to her home, resulting in a dramatic bridge to issue #2 as Orchid's mother is murdered and the baddies capture Orchid, her young brother and Simon for intended enslavement.

     I was attracted to giving this comic book a review read, as the concept reminded me of the Jack Kirby 1970's classic DC title Kamandi.  And in a sense, the story universe of Orchid is an updating of that earlier post-apocalyptic classic, replacing nuclear disaster with environmental melt-down, and recasting the young hero role into the jaded, 21st century identity of a prostitute.  While this is a worthy attempt at this type of science fiction storytelling, I'm giving it a mixed review.  On the negative side, this comic badly needs an experienced professional comic book writer to properly present the plot details of this bad new world.  Everything just feels amateurish and unpolished in the plot details, as if a high school kid is trying to patch together a story narrative for a school writing class.  Even for the make-believe world of comic books, the devil is in the details, and many of the details here seem implausible and irrational even for a funny book.  On the plus side, the artwork is very good, the science fiction concept is worthy and I give Tom Morello a lot of credit, both for stretching his personal boundaries beyond music and for testing the unique idea of wedding a new song on-line every month to each issue of Orchid.

     So my review recommendation suggests two options.  If you're a Tom Morello fan and like the idea his idea of connecting a song to each monthly issue, then by all means check-out the issue and its on-line song and see what you think of this multi-media concept.  But if you're a fanboy or fangirl just looking for a sci-fi comic world to check-out, my reaction is that this new comic title doesn't have strong legs for the type of genre tale its shooting for, and as such I'd suggest passing on this particular title.  There's probably some worthwhile back issues or reprint copies of Kirby's old Kamandi series available at That's Entertainment for more worthwhile sci-fi reading enjoyment.

Thief Of Thieves #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Robert Kirkman & Nick Spencer: Writers
Shawn Martinbrough: Art
Felix Serrano: Colors
Image Comics has just premiered a new comic book entitled Thief Of Thieves.  The comic focuses on the adventures of Redmond and Celia, two international con artists who have developed a very successful career of scamming the wealthy elite out of their prized (and of course very expensive!) personal possessions. Think of a comic book version of the popular Oceans 11 movies and you have a good sense of this new comic book.  The initial story concept is from writer Robert Kirkman with scripting by Nick Spencer, art by Shawn Martinbrough and colors by Felix Serrano.

     The issue #1 storyline is a balance of light humor and drama presented in three chapters.  Chapter one is entitled "The Thief and His Apprentice" and gives us a good sense of how Redmond and Celia's international thievery operations play-out as they conduct an Oceans 11-style scam, successfully stealing jewels from the safe of a cruiseship.  Chapter two is entitled "How Celia & Redmond Met, Or How To Steal A Car" and adds the humor into the mix, presenting a funny flashback of how Redmond and Celia first met and became partners in crime.  And Chapter 3 is entitled "The Unexpected Meeting Or An Uncomfortable Moment" and plays-out a tense scene in which Redmond confronts a scary client along with his entire team of professional scammers and dramatically announces that he's quitting the con game.

     There are several strengths to this new comic book title, the best of which is the story script, which seamlessly blends the humor and drama/tenseness of the life of the con artists.  It seems like Redmond and Celia just can't turn it off, playing the con out every waking moment of their lives beyond the focus on the professional scam itself, to the point where they're literally conning each other.  The artistic style is also appropriate to the theme of the story, bathing the panels and pages in glows that reminded me of scenes from various movies about con artists and their schemes.  There's also a nice presentation of the two main character's personalities; by the end of issue #1, we've learned that Redmond and Celia are truly among the best of international con artists but we also see the decent sides of their respective personalities.  As such, we can't help but like them and root for their success and safety as the endless conning plays-out in this and future issues.

     Just two minor constructive criticisms.  First, the sub-title of this series states "There is nothing he can't steal, nothing he can't have...except for the life he left behind."  Obviously, this statement refers to Redmond, but beyond him seemingly quitting the con at the end of this issue, there's nothing in the story foreshadowing this regret for a previous life.  While most likely that story direction will commence in issue #2, at least a hint of that storyline should have been woven into the kick-off issue #1.  And secondly, there's a very weird, rambling and just plain disjointed essay in the back of issue #1 penned by Robert Kirkman in which he babbles something or other about how important non-superhero comic books are to human life on this planet.  The whole mess of an essay is so self-important and pretentious that I'd advise just ignoring that page of this issue.  So in sum, an enthusiatic thumbs-up positive review recommendation is warranted for this very entertaining new edition to the genre of con man adventure storytelling.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     The second of our three U.S. state trivia contests challenged you to name the only state in America that doesn't have either a National Park or a National Monument.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who correctly identified poor little Delaware as the only state without one of these attractions.  This was a slightly tricky question, as Idaho also doesn't have a National Park but does have one National Monument, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, a 54,000 acre desert and lava area (sounds like a fun place to visit!) created by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.  Congrats to Eric for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

    For our third U.S. state-related trivia contest, we challenge you to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com by Wednesday, February 29 with the correct answer to the following question: What was the name of the former U.S. state that was formed as an autonomous state in 1784, functioned as an independent state for 4 years and fell two Congressional votes shy of being admitted to the Union as a federal state, thus being dissolved and absorbed into two abutting present-day U.S. States?  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of the $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.  Please note that the gift certificate is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store ongoing specials, only.

That's all for now, so have two great end-of-the-winter comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 2 Here In Bongo Congo!

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