Review Date: Friday, April 13, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

There are lots of interesting new comic book issues out this week, so Good King Leonardo has decreed that we get right to it and see how they stack-up against each other:

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron: Writers
Frank Cho: Art
Jason Keith: Colors
As a prelude to the upcoming issue #1 of the Avengers vs. X-Men mega-event, Marvel Comics has released a prequel issue #0.  This comic book sets the stage for the kick-off events in issue #1 with two introductory stories, an Avengers tale starring The Scarlet Witch and an X-Men story featuring Hope Summers.  Brian Michael Bendis has scripted the Scarlet Witch story while Jason Aaron has written the Hope Summers tale.  Artist Frank Cho and colorist Jason Keith provide the artwork for both stories.

     The Scarlet Witch tale begins with fast action and takes an unexpected turn into personal soap opera.  When the Wakandan ambassador is attacked in Washington, D.C. by M.O.D.O.K., the giant-head scientist from evil A.I.M., its Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch to the rescue. Wanda wins the battle after the unexpected arrival of help in the form of Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman.  When the duo of Avengers invite Wanda back to the Avengers mansion post-battle, the soap opera kicks-in; Wanda's ex-husband, The Vision, isn't too pleased with his ex-wife's visit.  Heated words are exchanged with Avengers members emotionally squaring-off against each other by gender.  As all parties stalk away from each other, we're left with a final story panel depicting the emotionless android The Vision unexpectedly in tears.

     Untitled story number two is set in the San Francisco headquarters of the X-Men and preshadows the expected arrival on Earth of The Phoenix, the Jean Grey-connected entity that could possibly wipe-out life on the planet.  The tale is a mix of mega-event forshadowing, teen angst and fast action, as our teenaged heroine Hope Summers, the heralded messiah of all mutants, struggles both inwardly with her emotions and outwardly with team leader Scott/Cyclops regarding the growing tension of the situation.  The action explodes as Hope splits from headquarters to blow-off steam in Town by brutally foiling a bank robbery by a gang of mutant villains.  After the X-Men arrive to clean-up Hope's bloody trail through the bank battle scene, the story concludes with Hope beginning to find her emotional base in preparation for the upcoming Phoenix arrival.

     I haven't found much in many previous comic book titles to justify the use of the "issue #0" marketing concept, beyond the publisher trying to squeeze-in some extra kick-off sales for a story mega-event.  But happily in this instance, the issue #0 strategy both makes sense and adds worthwhile depth to the story universe being created.  Given that we're building toward the clash of the two A-list supergroups within the Marvel Universe, the dual prelude stories add a needed balance to the concept from the very beginning of the story arc effort.  We clearly learn from reading this issue the state of mind of both supergroups just as the mega-issues are about to be thrust upon them.  Each group has its own unique internal struggles and each group has its respective individual, in Wanda and Hope, conflicted and wanting to run-off as a loner, but bound by duty and emotions to sticking with the group.  While no doubt this month's issue #1 will adequately kick-off this new story series, reading issue #0 adds a richness to the overall storytelling that's well-worth the reading effort.  Plus if you're a huge Frank Cho fan like me, you don't want to miss his full-page, pin-up quality rendering of Wanda/The Scarlet Witch on page four of the Avengers story!

     So an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation to start with issue #0 in your planned reading of the many story segments about to unfold in Marvel's latest big-time adventure event!

Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures #1
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Brian Clevinger: Writer
Matt Speroni: Colors
Various Artists
Red 5 Comics has just published issue #1 in its first spin-off title from the enormously-popular Atomic Robo comic book.  For the uninitiated, Atomic Robo follows the humorous adventures of a very personable robot who was created by Edison's inventor rival Nicola Tesla.  Multi-issue story arcs in the series follow the adventures of Atomic Robo in various 20th century decades as he runs the scientific thinktank Tesladyne and has many worldwide action adventures.  Real Science Adventures consists of five short stories scripted by Atomic Robo creator Brian Clevinger and drawn by various artists, with all of the stories colored by Matt Speroni.

     The first story is entitled "To Kill A Sparrow" and consists of a four-page story plot segment introducing Virginia Hall and "The Sparrow," two female World War II allied spies operating in occupied France.  Story number two is "The Revenge Of Dr. Dinosaur," starring everybody's favorite Atomic Robo nutbag foe, the completely crazy Dr. Dinosaur.  "City Of Skulls" is a typical Robo mainstream tale, alternating between the years 1962 and 1992 as Robo tries to resolve the problem of a radioactive Soviet robot aimlessly wandering around a Siberian city.  "Leaping Metal Dragon" is set in the year 2010 at a Tesladyne staff facility.  The story begins as a quirky tale about employee exercise issues but takes a quick flashback turn to 1970 Hong Kong, introducing kung fu star Bruce Lee for future segments of this multi-issue story arc.  The final tale is entitled "Rocket Science Is A Two-Edged Sword" and is a four-page story segment reprinted from a longer tale previously published in the main Atomic Robo title.

     While I'm giving this issue a worthy positive review recommendation, there is a major presentation flaw in this comic book that takes away from a lot of the wonderful and unique fun of the Atomic Robo franchise.  It was a huge mistake by the publisher to try and jam five story segments into one standard-sized comic book.  What we have here are five 4-page story segments, each needlessly separated by one full title page.  This structure results in incredibly brief story snippets, each of which leaves the reader begging for just another page or two of each overly brief presentation.  It would have been much more satisfying to drop the four internal story title pages and reduce the five story lay-out to two basic stories, thereby giving two stories room to breath and be adequately absorbed and enjoyed by readers.  My advice would have been to stick with the Dr. Dinosaur and Bruce Lee tales, clearly the best of the bunch.  While the City of Skulls tale was well-presented and emotionally poignant, the Sparrow tale in its focus on two WW II female spies felt out-of-place with no connection to the Atomic Robo storyverse.  And I'm still scratching my head in puzzlement as to why a four page chunk of a previously published Robo tale is crammed in here for story number five, giving us a confusing partial piece of a longer story plot and further suffocating the lay-out of this issue.

     I guess its a complement to the wonderful world of all things Atomic Robo that in light of the major formating defects of this premier issue, its still such a worthwhile experience to read and enjoy the story concepts mashed-into this comic book.  Its kind of like really craving a McDonald's Big Mac and opening the cardbox box to discover only half a Big Mac inside; while there's a lot of disappointment in the discovery, its worth noting that half a Big Mac to savor is better than none.  So a positive review recommendation for issue #1 of this Atomic Robo spin-off, combined with the warnings above and a sincere plea to the good folk at Red 5 Comics to restructure the concept here, cutting back the number of stories per each future issue in order to let a few good tales have the room to breath and flourish for our reading enjoyment.

Journey Into Mystery #633
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kieron Gillen: Writer
Richard Elson: Art
Jessica Kholinne: Colors
Issue #633 is the latest in the long-running Marvel Comics title Journey Into Mystery.  Similar to DC's Action and Adventure comics series, this is one of the handful of iconic flagship titles originating from the late-Golden Age and early Silver Age of comic book publishing still in publication today.  Originally a science fiction and horror series, the title is famous for switching over to the superhero genre with the introduction of everyone's favorite Norse god superhero Thor, in issue #83.  Its also one of two early 1960's comics in which Atlas Comics initially announced its name change to Marvel Comics.  The current Thor storyline is scripted by Kieron Gillen with art by Richard Elson and colors by Jessica Kholinne.

     Similar to the recent Thor title that I reviewed, the Thor story universe is currently focused on the post-war effects of a massive Asgardian struggle, in which the evil Serpent was defeated and now two Asgardian cities lie in semi-ruin outside the town of Broxton, Oklahoma.  Issue #633 weaves three sub-plots into one story segment.  A brief storyline focuses on post-conflict efforts, as the good Asgardians begin to rebuilt their city and the evil Fear Lords lick their wounds and ponder their next bad guy move.  The bulk of the issue focuses on the young teen Loki, Thor's formerly evil teen half-brother.  Its a simple story segment in which he and his Norse goddess teen friend Leah have a confrontation in a Broxton ice cream shop with a human bully, after which the adult gods ground Loki, like any teenager who gets in trouble.  Our third sub-plot features a demonic good guy who's desperately trying to save scattered children across the U.S. who are dying from demonic possession.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment as the demon hunter follows a clue to Asgard and mistakenly attacks Loki as a perceived threat.

     I wrote in my previous Thor title review that I loved the new interpretation of Loki as a supposedly reformed average teen and I have to say that I'm even a bigger fan of this concept after reading this issue.  Writer Gillen is superb in developing this fresh take on Loki's personality.  The situation is reminiscent and parallel to the Superboy basic story universe over at DC, i.e., exceptional teen character trying to sincerely fit into the small town social structure, deal with parental and responsibility issues, etc.  There's a nice element of lightheartedness here, provided by Gillen's exceptional dialogue as well as two support characters, Loki's fellow Asgardian friend Leah and Loki's talking crow mentor/protector Ikol (note to all good readers: never try to separate Leah from whatever ice cream she's obsessed with at your local ice cream shop!).  And a tip-of-the-review-hat is well-deserved for artist Richard Elson and colorist Jessica Kholinne for the top notch visuals and excellent facial expressions on Loki throughout this adventurous tale.

     Its clear from the tone and enthusiasm of fan letters published in this issue's letters column that I'm not alone in my positive reaction to the current version of the Thor universe.  Big brother Thor looks due to arrive back on the story scene in next month's issue #634.  So now is a very good time to get on-board with this month's kick-off first installment of this multi-issue storyline that definitely provides one of the most entertaining superhero story arcs currently on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment!

Rocketeer Adventures (Volume 2) #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Various Writers & Artists
IDW Publishing has just released issue #1 in the second volume of its Rocketeer Adventures series.  The concept is to present three stories in each of four annual issues, featuring various writers and artists as an homage to the pulp adventure comic book series that was at its peak of popularity in the 1980's.  For the uninitiated, the Rocketeer is Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who finds a jet pack and facemask in 1938 Los Angeles and has pulp-era adventures both fighting crime and rescuing his actress girlfriend Betty. The Betty character is based on well-known Golden Age pin-up model Betty Page.  Created by the late Dave Stevens, the comic's popularity led to a successful 1991 Rocketeer movie by Disney.  I had reviewed an issue of last year's Volume 1 and decided to revisit the title with this month's kick-off Volume 2 issue #1.

     Similar to previous issues, the latest comic book features three main stories and a Betty pin-up page.  Our first tale, entitled "The Good Guys," is written by Marc Guggenheim  with art by Sandy Plunkitt.  Badly injured while crashlanding in a small Town after fighting bad guys, Cliff slowly recovers while the townfolk debate what to do with their unexpected vigilante guest, making a final decision to help Cliff by story's end.  "The Ducketeer," written by Peter David and drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, is a humorous tale in which Cliff and Betty go to a movie and Cliff is appalled to discover a Donald Duck cartoon based on his "real-life" adventures.  The issue concludes with "A Dream Of Flying," with story and art by Stan Sakai and colors by the well-known Dave Stewart.  I don't want to be a plot spoiler of this very inventive story, beyond saying that its a Rocketeer tale with a plotline that serves as a beautiful homage to DC's Superman.

     IDW Publishing hit the sweet spot of quality writing and pitch perfect artwork with last year's issue #1 of this series and has never lost that accuracy of excellence and entertainment.  While all three stories are enjoyable, "The Ducketeer" is hilarious, both in its subtle commentary on the popular media twisting of a celebrity and Cliff's grumpy reaction to being satirized by of all characters, Donald Duck!  "A Dream Of Flying" is an exceptional tale that in my opinion is the best story of the so far five-issue run of this series.  I really don't want to reveal even a bit of this Rocketeer homage to Superman, beyond commenting that its a simple and poignant tribute to the Superman story universe in the vein of Tim Sale's classic "Superman For All Seasons" series and deserves a nomination for a 2012 Eisner Award in an appropriate award category.

     As with each previous issue, this month's Betty pin-up by Arthur Adams and John Rauch is second to none in both pin-up sexiness and Rocketeer action scene quality.  And finally, all good readers must take the time to read the back-of-the-book bio and tribute to the late Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, which includes donation contact information for the Hairy Cell Leukemia Research Foundation, Inc., which strives to combat the disease that took such a talented comic book creator from us much too early in 2008.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to correctly answer which U.S. President had a famous incident of getting himself stuck in the White House bathtub.  And our winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Christopher Begley, who correctly identified William Howard Taft as the stuck President.  As our 27th President from 1909 to 1913, Taft was also the heaviest at 332 pounds.  Rumor has it that it took a gallon of butter and four White House staffers to dislodge poor Taft from the tub.  The incident must have had an impact on Taft because after leaving office he went on a very successful diet and lost 150 pounds.  Taft is also the only ex-U.S. President to be appointed as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Congratulations to Christopher who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Unless the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges miscounted, it looks like we're pretty close to reaching our 500th comic book review for this column (time flies when you're having fun!).  In recognition of this upcoming milestone, we're challenging you to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, April 25 with your recommendation for a comic book title to review for the 500th Bongo Congo review.  Tell us your proposed title along with a brief pitch for why its worthy of the 500th milestone review.  Please note that our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise or in-store ongoing specials, only.

That's all for now, so have two great Boston Bruins play-off watching (Go Bruins!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you gain on Friday, April 27 Here In Bongo Congo!

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