Review Date: Friday, April 27, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has informed us that there's a nice variety of different genres of fresh comics on the new issues shelves lately, so let's review a sampling of this variety and see how they stack-up against each other:

Alabaster: Wolves #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Caitlin R. Kiernan: Writer
Steve Lieber: Art
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors
Dark Horse Comics has just published issue #1 of a five-issue mini-series entitled "Alabaster: Wolves."  The comic book is the graphic adaptation of a series of short stories written by dark fantasy/science fiction writer Caitlin R. Kiernan that star teenaged heroine Darcy Flammarion.  Darcy is an albino girl and monster killer whose stories are set in backwoods locations in the Gothic Southeast, as she hunts monsters while guided by a being that may or may not be an angel.  This comic book adaptation of the Darcy stories is scripted by Kiernan with art by Steve Lieber and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

     The issue #1 story segment introduces readers to the basic features of Darcy's fictional story universe.  While waiting alone for a bus in a desolate South Carolina abandoned town, Darcy is joined by a killer werewolf in teenaged girl form.  Sent to slay Darcy, the overconfident hunter plays-out an elaborate mindgame challenge, offering a multiple-riddle contest with Darcy's life riding on the contest outcome.  Without being a detail spoiler, the mental jousting between the pair elevates panel-by-panel, leading to the inevitable physical battle between the pair in the final panels of the issue.  While Darcy obviously survives the encounter (she is our story heroine, after all!), there are unexpected plot twists and turns both thoughout the episode and in the story segment conclusion.

    I'm very impressed with this adaptation of the popular Darcy Flammarion body of work penned by Caitlin R. Kiernan.  Its tough in today's fiction and graphic publishing worlds to carve-out a fresh teen horror niche amongst the many horror titles that include the Twilight series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer titles/spinoffs and so many wannabe horror franchises all jostling for finite reader attention.  Regarding story concept and plot, Kiernan has done an exceptional job in giving us a hero and accompanying story concept that effectively blends traditional horror concepts with fresh and entertaining story elements.  The creative team moves quickly in the early pages of issue #1, clearly establishing Darcy's monster hunter background for unfamiliar readers such as myself, then plunging Darcy into the mental joust with the wereteen.  The combination of script and skilled artwork produces a confrontation that's just as tense, engrossing and ultimately satisfying as any fast-action battle scene.  Artist Steve Lieber's visual portrayal of this cocky, unnamed wereteen as a confident, toying killer is almost beyond description in depth of facial emotions and cinematic-like presentation.

     Two particular story elements deserve particular notice and praise.  The first is Kiernan's inventive creation of the "angel advisor" to Darcy, a spirit guide about whom Darcy and readers will share a worthwhile doubt as to whether this creature is good, evil or a mix of both.  Secondly, the rural Southern atmosphere of this comic book tale, ripe with the feel of small town/rural blight, humidity and dankness, is so well-constructed that it holds its own in comparison to the fictional settings of many classic William Faulkner tales.  That's saying a lot about the literary quality of the basic story presentation in this comic book format.

      It isn't every day that we have the chance to read a new comic book title that succeeds in both adding a new take on well-known horror themes and hits the mark so well in literary quality and presentation.  So whether you're a horror genre fan and or just looking for some quality basic comic book entertainment, don't miss-out on reading this instant classic from the beginning of its limited series comic book run.

Secret #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Ryan Bodenheim: Art
Michael Garland: Colors
Image Comics has just released issue #1 of a new comic book entitled Secret.  The corporate espionage title is scripted by well-known writer Jonathan Hickman with art by Ryan Bodenheim and colors by Michael Garland.  The issue #1 kick-off segment of the premier multi-issue story arc is subtitled "Chapter One: Teeth With Which To Eat."  This is the second recent debut of an Image Comics title scripted by Hickman, acclaimed for his work on Marvel's Fantastic Four title, the other Image comic book being the Manhattan Project title that I recently reviewed in a previous column.

     The thriller plotline begins with a nighttime home invasion at the residence of wealthy executive Roger Dunn.  After extensive torture at the hands of the masked assailant, Dunn gives-up the access code to his corporation's computer network.  The bulk of the plot shifts to the law firm setting of Dunn's legal advisor, William Gerry, who both advises Dunn to utilize his law firm's private security company to deal with the threat and himself deals with the security firm as it tries to upgrade the law firm's security system by proving its flaws.  A third story segment plays-out an extended discussion between Dunn and Grant Miller of the security firm.  After hiring Miller to help him defend against the home invasion situation, its revealed in a bridge to next month's issue that Miller and his supposed security firm are scamming everyone involved and actually carried-out the home invasion.

     If the above plot summary sounds dull and bureaucratic as a story summary, imagine slogging your way through reading this thing.  At first I was going to give this comic book a mediocre thumbs-up recommendation, but it didn't take long to reconsider and switch to a disappointed thumbs-down, for a combination of reasons.  While the plot idea itself is worthy of a comic story, that of a corporate security firm that seems to be playing both sides of the game of crime versus protection, the dialogue and story lay-out is slow, dry and ultimately just plain boring.  Colorist Michael Garland's creepy monotone color choices accentuate the slowness and drabness of the entire effort.  Most disappointing is the fact that this below-par tale issues from the pen of Jonathan Hickman, who also scripted the aforementioned godawful new Manhattan Project title from Image.  Hickman doesn't seem to have either the good fortune and/or the writing chops to maintain the stellar scripting quality of his Fantastic Four run.  This pattern reminds me of the writing trough that Warren Ellis has tripped face-down into from time-to-time in between producing his better comic book writing efforts.

     There's so much good stuff out there among the new issues titles that I can't recommend expending the energy effort to crawl through the gooey, oozing slowness of this boring comic book with the creepy teeth photo on its cover.  So skip this yawning effort and instead get yourself a power energy jolt of good reading entertainment from among the many other espionage genre titles available throughout the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.

Batman #7
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Jonathan Glapion: Inks
The re-numbering of the main Batman title within DC's "The New 52" storyverse is up to issue #7 this month.  The multi-issue story arc continues "The Court Of Owls" plot, in which Batman/Bruce Wayne discovers a secret evil society that has been operating in Gotham since the days of his ancestor Alan Wayne.  Prior to issue #7, Batman apparently fought a masked owl-costumed villain known as The Talon, barely surviving the encounter while The Talon died.  The storyline is scripted by A-list writer Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo and inks by Jonathan Glapion.

     The issue #7 story segment is entitled "The Talons Strike!" After being revived from near death by Harper, a teenage girl wannabe sidekick, the severely-wounded Batman returns to the safety of the Batcave, where he discovers that Alfred has secured the body of his deceased foe The Talon.  The mid-point of the tale alternates between two connected storythreads.  In the first, Wayne conducts a forensic analysis of the body, while in a parallel dialogue/subplot he has a running argument with Robin/Dick Grayson, who observes the forensic analysis while expounding on Wayne's lack of trusting him on the details of his findings.  The story builds to a double climax; first, Wayne finally opens-up and reveals a shocking previously unknown connection between The Talon and Dick Grayson, one that traces back to Grayson's family roots and alters their understanding of his origins as Robin.  The issue ends on the second dramatic reveal, as we learn that the The Court Of Owls has just unleased dozens of additional owl-costumed Talon baddies to create havoc throughout Gotham in next month's issue #8.

     While we're running a contest right now requesting suggestions for our 500th comic book review, technically this review is our actual 500th, with the winner of the contest receiving an "honorary 500th review."  As such, I was hoping that this issue of Batman was worthy in quality and entertainment of our 500th listing and I wasn't disappointed.  Writer Scott Snyder excelled during his stint last year scripting Detective Comics in blending new, exciting story reveals to the well-known historical details of Batman's personal legacy, and he continues to hit it out of the storytelling park employing that scripting style to "The Court Of Owls" storyverse.  The big reveal, of course, is the new spin on Robin's family background and origin, none of which I will spoil here beyond commenting that it manages to maintain the well-known history of Robin but add new, entertaining angles to the well-known story, thereby connecting it into the present-day Batman vs. The Owls conflict.  There's also a wonderful three-page intro to this comic book, in which Snyder actually takes a fun spin at altering the well-known "Father, I shall become a bat..." origin moment of Batman himself, following the iconic bat talisman out of the Wayne Manor study window for its own metaphorical encounter with an owl foe!

     So enough with the details, already, for fear of revealing any more of the surprise details of Snyder and the art team's excellent new contribution to the world of our favorite hero of the Gotham night.  Suffice to say that the creative team delivers a high quality and entertaining comic book series that mixes some stuff old and much stuff new into an entertaining product that is well-deserved of selection for our milestone 500th Here In Bongo Congo comic book review.

Supergirl #7
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Michael Green & Mike Johnson: Writers
Mahmud Asrar: Art
Dave McCaig: Colors
DC's revamped "The New 52" version of its Supergirl title is currently up to issue #7 this month.  The comic book is co-written by the team of Michael Green and Mike Johnson with art by Mahmud Asrar and colors by Dave McCaig.

     The issue #7 story is a one-shot stand-alone tale entitled "Graduation Day."  A quick page one backstory lays-out the concept that an abandoned former Kryptonian research space station hatched four bioengineered representatives of various alien races, who were genetically programmed to be world killers.  The foursome have made their way to Earth, home of the last few Kryptonians including our hero Supergirl/Kara Zor-El, in order to avenge themselves by destroying their mysterious creator's adopted planet.  The bulk of the storyline consists of a detailed and very action-oriented battle on the busy streets of Metropolis between the bad guy alien foursome and our heroine.  The battle presents a double challenge to Kara; while she's stretched to her power limits in dealing with these extremely powerful supervillains, at the same time she has to meet the intellectual challenge of analyzing how to use her foe's complex mix of alien powers against them.  Without being a spoiler, by issue's end our heroine comes-up with a very creative strategy to help win the day for the city of Metropolis and the planet Earth against these mega-foes.

     I enjoyed this comic book very much for a few reasons.  First, as I've mentioned in a few previous reviews, its rare these days to find a major comic book title that offers a decent single-issue, standalone story as opposed to the usual multi-issue story arcs.  As such, it was fun to read a decent story from start-to-finish in one single read.  And a decent story it certainly is, as secondly the writing duo of Green and Johnson give us a tale that successfully blends aliens and action into one entertaining adventure.  Thirdly, the writers keep-up the traditional Supergirl title fictional theme of the teenaged heroine trying to find herself both as a typical teenager and as an emerging superbeing.  Hence the "Graduation Day" story title, which accurately refers to Kara's successful dual accomplishments of defeating on her own an overwhelming team of foes while also reaching a new emotional level of personal confidence and maturity.  And last but hardly least, a tip-of-the-review-hat is due to the art team of Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig for giving us a top notch visual depiction of our heroine that's a worthy addition to the many excellent Supergirl visual representations that precede this current issue.

     So all in all, the current Supergirl title is certainly deserved to be ranked among the better quality and entertaining DC comics produced within The New 52 publishing event and is well-worth the reading attention of all good DC readers.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     As we mentioned above, while Batman #7 is our offical 500th review, our latest contest challenge called for entries for a designated honorary 500th comic as suggested by our readers.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Christain Mock, who suggests reviewing a current issue of Fables for the honor.  Christian makes his case by stating that Fables is worthy because its a quality fantasy comic title that connects well with such popular television series of the fantasy genre such as Grimm and Once Upon A Time.  He adds that "Fables is a great gateway comic for those who (like myself) have always primarily been "capes & tights" readers... Willingham's writing is strong, the covers have ALWAYS been gorgeous and the levels and twists of the story is unparalleled."  Excellent points in support of the worthiness of the nomination.  Congrats to Christian for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment and we'll review a current issue of Fables in our next column.

New Contest Announcement!!!

      The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges challenge you this week with another geography trivia contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, May 9 with the correct answer to the following question: which one state among the 50 U.S. states is named after an individual who was actually the governor of another state?  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.  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 Celtics play-off watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 11 Here In Bongo Congo!


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