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Review Date: Friday, March 16, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

We've got a very eclectic mix of comic book titles to review this week, so let's get right to it and see what these varied titles are all about:

Ralph Wiggum Comics #1
Publisher: Bongo Comics
Various Writers and Artists
Bongo Comics is kicking-off a new series of one-shot comics each featuring a different secondary character from The Simpsons.  The series starts this month with a one-shot comic book starring everyone's favorite good-natured idiot-with-a-heart-of-gold, Police Chief Wiggum's son Ralph Wiggum.  The stories are the creation of various featured writers and artists.

     The issue features five stories of varying length.  The 7-page kick-off story is entitled "The Man Of The House" and gives us a plot in which Ralphie is home alone and has a grand disfunctional time wrecking the house as he tries to make breakfast.  "Ralph's Room" is a one-page silent feature with story and art by well-known humorist Sergio Aragones.  Story number three is a 7-page tale entitled "Ralph Wiggum's Day Off," in which Ralph inadvertently skips school and wanders the Town of Springfield, convincing himself that he's having a time-travel adventure in a future Springfield.  Sergio Aragones returns again in the fourth story feature with a two-page tale that is also entitled "Ralph's Room," which features Ralph's adventure in a school costume contest.  Our fifth and final story is a 7-page tale scripted by Jesse McCann entitled "Ralph The Role Model."  This story has a fantasy theme, in which Ralph is being harrassed by an evil Leprecaun and unwittingly bests the bad guy at every turn.

     I've been impressed with every Bongo Congo Simpsons comic book that I've read or reviewed regarding the consistency of the comic creators in matching the iconic Simpsons television series in terms of story content and character style.  Happily, this one-shot title is no exception to that strong point.  The endearingness of Ralph Wiggum isn't his low IQ goofiness, but instead his heart of gold that leads him in the longer stories in this comic to unwittingly either honestly help folks or do the right thing in an important situation.  There's actually a very moving moment in the "Ralph The Role Model" tale in which his genuine niceness moves a woman to tears.  I don't want to over analyze a simple Simpsons comic book, but its worth noting that there is definitely an bit of fictional depth beneath the simple story surface here that, similar to the t.v. show, makes this comic book an entertaining read for both kids and adults alike.

     As a final review note, besides the five stories reviewed above, there's a bunch of fun kid activities in this issue, including a one-page "Where's Ralph?" puzzle similar to Where's Waldo?, a very funny letters page and a kid's contest on the last page of the issue.  So overall, a very well-deserved thumbs-up review recommendation for fans of all ages to read this comic book.  Keep an eye out for the next issue in this series, advertised as a one-shot Bart Simpson's Pal Milhouse issue, scheduled for release in May.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Adam Beechen: Writer
Norm Breyfogle: Art
Andrew Elder: Colors
DC has just reintroduced the Batman Beyond concept in a new series entitled "Batman Beyond Unlimited."  I've reviewed a few issues of the previous Batman Beyond series, which stars Terry McGinnis as the teenaged new Batman in a future Neo-Gotham, mentored via electronic communication during his adventures around the city by a now-elderly and retired Bruce Wayne.  This kick-off new series issue #1 features two stories, the first from the creative team of Adam Beechen, Norm Breyfogle and Andrew Elder and the second story produced by Derek Fridolfs, Dustin Nguyen and Randy Mayor.

    The first tale is entitled "10,000 Clowns (Prelude)" and centers on Batman/Terry's ongoing conflict from last year's series with the roving gangs of future Gotham street teens known as Jokerz, who worship the original present-day Joker and emulate him by designing their own unique Joker style costumes.  There's some tongue-in-cheek humor in this story as Terry deals with a varied range of goofy-looking but extremely dangerous teen Joker wannabes.  Three plot threads interweave here: Terry fighting a couple of Jokerz street gangs while on patrol, the aged Bruce Wayne and Police Commissioner Barbara Jordan identifying a troubling pattern of out-of-town Jokerz mysteriousily migrating to Gotham and Terry's computer hacker friend Max getting herself entangled in an ongoing computer crime scheme.

     Our second story is entitled "Konstriction" and features Terry as an active member of this future world's Neo Gotham-based Justice League of America.  The plot initially centers on a drug war turf conflict between two types of Neo-Gotham street gangs, a group of Jokerz and a gang of teens surgically enhanced into various predator animal forms.  As the gang war erupts, our future JLA jumps-into the mix to deal with both street gang groups.  The story abruptly changes direction with a visit from an aging but still very active Superman, who introduces some interesting espionage story elements that involve both the evil organization Kobra and a secret undercover superhero spy within Kobra, who may or may not have turned rogue against the good guys.

     DC has played it smart by reintroducing the Batman Beyond storyverse into its monthly line-up without revising it in any way from last year's popular and high quality series.  I love the blend of superhero old and new in this future Gotham concept; Superman and Bruce Wayne may be officially elderly, but they haven't given-up the ghost just yet, not just mentoring the new generation of heroes but leading them into battle in new and entertaining ways. While both issue #1 stories are entertaining, if I had to rank them I'd list "Konstriction" as the better of the two due to the new JLA's starring role.  I really enjoy these new JLA characters who are inheritors of the present-day JLA team members, including a next generation Aquagirl, a new Barda, a Hawkman successor named Warhawk, a new Atom and an alien boy as the future Green Lantern for Earth's sector of space.  Our grey-haired older Superman fits in well as a member and wise mentor of this team.

     So a review hats-off to both DC and the two creative teams that produced this excellent return to the very entertaining and fun world of Batman Beyond.  And if you haven't read any of the previous Batman Beyond series, by all means get on-board by checking out the back issue bins and graphic reprint shelves at That's Entertainment for stories from last year's fun series.

Supurbia #1
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Grace Randolph: Writer
Russell Dauterman: Art
Gabriel Cassata: Colors
Issue #1 of a new four-issue mini-series  from Boom! Studios entitled "Supurbia" is on the new issues shelves this week.  Picture the ABC hit television series "Desperate Housewives" with a superhero living in each household on the suburban neighborhood cul-de-sac and you have a good feel for the premise of this new comic book.  The series is created and written by Grace Randolph with art by Russell Dauterman and colors by Gabriel Cassata.

     The first issue story segment has two goals: to introduce us to the various superhero/normal human couples on the street and to establish the initial soap opera shenanigans going-on in the neighborhood.  By issue's end, we're familiar with five various couples and their issues.  There's Night Fox and his human wife, who's just discovered her husband's affair with his male sidekick.  There's the Superman-like Sovereign and Helen, his reformed villain live-in girlfriend.  There's the Wonder Woman-like Bright Moon and her normal husband and two kids.  There's newcomers Bulldog and his registered nurse wife Eve.  And finally, there's aged superhero Marine Omega and his wife Ruth Smith.  Together the heroes form the superteam known as the Meta Legion.  In addition to Night Fox's affair, there's dirt a'brewin' in each household.  It's also clear that someone is poisoning the elderly ailing team leader Marine Omega and by issue's end the neighborhood culprit in dramatically revealed for further intrigue in next month's issue #2.

     The heavy advertising campaign for this series led me to mistakenly believe that this comic was more of a take-off on "The Real Housewives Of..." reality t.v. series, so at first I was disappointed to find more of a comic book take on the fictional concept of Desperate Housewives.  But once I started reading this comic book, any misgivings quickly disappeared.  This is a very entertaining concept that blends the world of soap operas and superheroes into one successful hybrid of reading fun.  Much credit is deservedly due to series creator/writer Grace Randolph for constructing a very layered and interesting series of sub-plots for each of the neighborhood households, all of which seamlessly weave together into one big dramatic and kitschy tale.  There are also several minor story elements that no doubt will grow and unfold in upcoming issues, among them nurse Eve's overall nosiness which obviously will lead her right into uncovering the secret poisoning of Marine Omega.

    I could comment on many more sopa opera plot twists and turns throughout issue #1.  But why ruin the fun for you good readers?  Instead, let's just sum-up with a well-deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for this very original spin on the everyday lives of superheroes just trying to find a way to fit into the American suburban way of life. So check-out this comic book and see for yourself what type of intrigue is unfolding in Supurbia!

The Manhattan Projects #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Nick Pitarra: Art
Cris Peter: Colors
Image Comics has a new science fiction comic title out this past week entitled The Manhattan Projects.  As a blurb on the front cover explains, the comic is an alternate history take on the real world Manhattan Project, in which a team of U.S. scientists led by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer developed the atomic bomb during World War II.  This new series is scripted by A-list writer Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra and colors by Cris Peter.

     Issue #1 gives us an alternate reality version of the beginnings of The Manhattan Project in 1942, when U.S. Army General Groves appointed Oppenheimer as head of the secret project.  Two sub-plots alternate throughout this issue.  In the first, Groves gives Oppenheimer a tour of the secret project facility, revealing that the bomb project is a front for the true purpose of the project, which is to explore paranormal and sci-fi issues for the war effort, including other dimensions, mystical issues and of course, UFO's.  The second sub-plot is a detailed flashback that follows Oppenheimer's life from childhood onward in parallel with a mentally disturbed serial killer twin brother.  By issue's end, its revealed that the evil twin recently murdered the real Dr. Oppenheimer and has secretly taken his place in his role as the new director of the Manhattan Project.

     This is a disappointing example of a wonderfully creative idea gone very bad in its actual production.  The core idea here is excellent and intriguing, that of an alternate, science fiction take on this famous real World War II historical secret scientific program.  But the details here misfire in major ways.  While I didn't think much of the squiggly art style, the biggest flaws here are two-fold.  First, there are just too many alternate reality facts and elements jammed-in here to provide an entertaining plot progression.  Hickman should have cut at least in half the many sci-fi ideas that he grocerylisted and briefly dropped into this tale and instead allowed a few of them to take root and grow in the story.  The result is a mish-mash of sci-fi stuff that's jarring and confusing.  Secondly, the whole twin brother serial killer thing is just plain gross.  The sickening details of mutiliation and bloodiness needlessly divert this sci-fi genre tale into gross-out horror, which doesn't fit with the theme of the story.  This is a clear example of less being more effective; structuring Oppenheimer's twin as a regular bad guy/murderer would have been enough and avoided the failure of the serial killer thread as detailed in the story.

     I'm a huge and unapologetic fan of the wonderful scripting work that Jonathan Hickman has produced for a few years now over at Marvel's Fantastic Four title.  I guess the silver lining here is that this creative bump in the road proves that Hickman is as human and fallible as the rest of us and was due for a miss to be included with his illustrious line of creative hits.  So bottom line, skip this well-intentioned but not very good title and check-out some of Hickman's better work available on the new issues shelves and back issues bins at That's Entertainment.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to identify the one episode of a television series that has been rebroadcast more than any other series episode in U.S. television history.  And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who correctly identified the episode of The Brady Bunch is which Marcia asks Davy Jones from The Monkees to sing at her prom.  This trivia fact was mentioned during the ABC Nightly News tribute to Davy Jones upon his recent unfortunate passing.  Congrats to David who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that we challenge you this week with the first of two trivia contests with facts regarding U.S. Presidents.  Your current challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, March 28 with the correct answer to the following question:  Which U.S. President is the actual inventor of the original version of the coathanger?  In my personal opinion, this is probably the most useful one thing that any U.S. President has ever done for his country!  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of our first prize $10.00 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, for have two great NCAA Basketball March Madness viewing and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 30 Here In Bongo Congo!
 
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