Review Date: Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we select a fun mix of new comics to review this week, including the return of an old classic hero and the review of our honorary 500th review comic.  So let's get right to it and see what these latest titles are all about:

Popeye #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Roger Langridge: Writer
Bruce Ozella: Art
Luke McDonnell: Colors

     DW Publishing has just released issue #1 of a new Popeye The Sailor Man comic book title.  Hopefully, there isn't a fanboy or fangirl of any age who needs an introduction to this iconic American cartoon character, created in 1929 by legendary cartoonist E.C. Segar within his "Thimble Theatre" newspaper comic strip that went on to huge fame as a baby boom-era television cartoon show.  Popeye is joined in this new title by his familiar cast of friends and characters including girlfriend Olive Oyl, moocher friend J. Wellington Wimpy, enemies Bluto and The Sea Hag and of course, the dog-like magical pet creature Eugene The Jeep.  The new series is scripted by well-known comics creator Roger Langridge with art by Bruce Ozella and colors by Luke McDonnell.

     Issue #1 presents a single, 22-page story entitled "The Land Of Jeeps!"  Our story begins with Olive's brother, Castor Oyl, hatching a get-rich-quick scheme for the gang to journey to a mysterious island to find a female jeep for Eugene to have a litter with, upon which everyone would get rich selling rare pups to wannabe owners.  The story then progresses in three acts.  Act One presents the wacky boat trip to the island, including a nutty confrontation with rival Bluto along with the slapstick antics of Popeye's food-obsessed best buddy Wimpy.  In Act Two, the gang arrives on the mysterious island, initially confronting a mezmerising muse after which Popeye's other nemesis, The Sea Hag, arrives to meddle in the mission.  Without being a detail spoiler, fun stuff happens when the group finally finds an island-resident of the Jeep persuasion.  Our final Act Three unfolds as a humorous trip home, upon which Popeye is reunited with his baby boy Swee'Pea!

     Whether you're a baby boom-era Popeye fan like myself or a newcomer to all-things-Popeye, your heart can't help but warm to this wonderful return of one of the original American cartoon characters.  Roger Langridge has essentially written a love letter to a comic strip universe which obviously holds a special emotional place in his own heart.  Langridge makes it look easy, but he clearly put a lot of thought and effort into creating an entertaining story that succeeds in so many ways.  First, he blends all of the basic cast of characters and Popeye universe elements into the one issue-length tale, with the one absence of the well-known element of Popeye gaining superhero-strength from gulping-down an entire can of spinach.  Secondly, we have a plot with dialogue, action-adventure and plotting that's modern enough for current-day readers to both relate to and be entertained by these historic cartoon characters. 

     And third, Langridge has the sense to underlie his storytelling with a universal message about goodheartedness and decency.  At every plot-turn, Popeye shines through by taking the high road and demonstrating to everyone involved the importance of kindness, honesty and being just plain decent to humans and innocent creatures alike.  That's a message that's too often drowned-out in our jaded, high tech-obsessed 21st century popular culture.  While Popeye's always been an A-list American pop culture product, the quality of this new comic book presentation elevates the issue #1 story into the same top-of-the-peak category of story quality occupied by many of creator Carl Barks's iconic Donald Duck stories.

     I would love to go on-and-on expounding on the wonder of the new Popeye comic book.  But I'm wasting valuable time that I'd rather spend re-reading this comic book.  So I'll summarize by repeating that "w" word: This comic book is a wonder, plain and simple, and we all owe IDW Publishing and the creative team a round of thanks for treating us to this pitch-perfect return of Popeye and friends to the modern-day comic book-reading world.

Fables #115
Publisher: D.C. Vertigo
Bill Willingham: Writer/Creator
Mark Buckingham: Pencils
Steve Leialoha: Inks
Lee Loughridge: Colors

    As we mentioned in our last column, reader Christian Mock won our contest for the honorary 500th Bongo Congo comic book review with his nomination of Fables for the review.  The DC Vertigo title is the creation of writer Bill Willingham and has been well-known for years now throughout comic book fandom for its concept of the universe of traditional European fable characters (Snow White, etc.), known as "Fables," fleeing from oppression is their fairytale land and resettling in the New York area, partly in the open and partly in secret.  The very popular title is up to issue #115 this month, with the current multi-issue story arc written by Bill Willingham with pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoha and colors by Lee Loughridge.

     This month's story segment is entitled "Teddy Bear: In Which We Arrive In A Strange And Magical Land," and is part two of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Cubs In Toyland."  The story alternates between two separate plotthreads.  The lengthier subplot accurately reflects the story title: one of the Fabled children named Therese is wooed away from home by her talking toyboat and brought to an island-of-misfit-toys fantasy realm, where she's told by the battered toy residents that she's to serve as their long-awaited queen.  A second plotthread presents a New York City-based crime drama involving the Mayor of Fabletown, the Fables police force and Mrs. Spratt of the "Jack Spratt" children's rhyme tracking down a fable villain who had previously kidnapped Mrs. Spratt.  Issue #115 ends in a bridge to next month's issue with Theresa's mother having discovered the toyland kidnapping and preparing to rescue her daughter.

     Fables has received numerous awards for quality and has a large and loyal fanbase, both of which have helped the title achieve the very rare distinction in today's comic publishing world of reaching its 115th issue.  Its clear from reading this issue that Bill Willingham and crew continue to maintain the years-long high quality of fantasy entertainment that we've all come to expect and enjoy from this title.  The "Babes In Toyland" plot concept is a nicely-presented, fresh story idea that avoids a rehashing of the traditional tales and story concepts of the well-known Fables characters.  There's an entertaining balance of story-type here, with the action-adventure of the main subplot balanced with the "Spratt kidnapping" plotline which unfolds in the style of the many popular CSI-style crime television shows.  The overall result is a fantasy comic book that succeeds in entertaining us by continuing to present familiar fantasy characters in new and interesting real-world situations.

     Just two minor constructive criticism comments.  First, this story segment doesn't clearly identify the identities of many of the main characters who were most likely named in last month's story segment.  As such, I have no idea which Fable character Therese's mother is, although from the looks of her I assume she's Snow White.  Nor do we know the backstory/identity of Therese herself and her three siblings, who refer to each other as wolf cubs.  That hint led me to assume that their father is The Big Bad Wolf of fable fame.  Secondly, there's a second story in this issue that presents a three-page segment of an ongoing tale set in the Wizard Of Oz storyverse.  While interesting, its just too brief a snippet to leave the reader satisfied and needs at least three additional pages to lose the feel that we're treated to only half of a standard comic book story.

     But those two points aside, at the ripe advanced age of issue #115, Fables still continues to deliver A-list artwork and storytelling at the wonderful level of entertainment that made it a smash hit from its very beginnings.  So thanks to Christian Mock for his review nomination and if you haven't been reading Fables lately, head on down to That's Entertainment and get onboard with the latest new issues and/or the many back issues and graphic compilation reprints of previous Fables story arcs!

Daredevil #12
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Waid: Writer
Chris Samnee: Art
Javier Rodriguez: Colors

     The latest of many Daredevil comic book titles over the years is up to issue #12 this month.  As all fanboys and fangirls know, Daredevil by day is blind New York lawyer Matt Murdock, while at night he patrols the city as the costumed hero.  The radioactive accident that left him blind also gave him a superpowered version of a bat's echolocation, thereby empowering him with a superaccurate different form of vision, combined with highlighted senses of hearing and smell.  In recent year's Matt's identity of Daredevil was revealed to the public, but in the current Daredevil storyverse he's convinced the media that he was mistakenly identified as Daredevil, although many New Yorkers are still convinced that he's the costumed hero.  The current title is scripted by well-known writer Mark Waid with art by Chris Samnee and colors by Javier Rodriguez.

     The current multi-issue story arc focuses on Daredevil and Spider-Man teaming-up against an A.I.M.-like villain organization called Megacrime.  The issue #12 story segment includes two sub-plots.  The main plot portrays a humorous first date between Matt Murdock and Kirsten McDuffie, the new Assistant D.A. in town.  The two attend a carnival in which they banter back-and-forth while in both real-time and in flashback scenes, we see the humor of the pair as Kirsten tries to trip-up Matt into revealing his superhero identity.  A second storyline is all flashback, as Matt reminisces to Kirsten how he first bonded back in law school with his best buddy, fellow attorney Foggy Nelson.  Its a tale in which Foggy is falsely accused of cheating by a bitter law school professor, resulting in Matt launching a defense of his friend within the bounds of the university's political and social system.  The issue shifts from humor to drama in the final two pages of the tale, as Matt and Kirsten are confronted at their date's conclusion by a Megacrime bad guy, who warns that the organization is coming after Matt and his friends, obviously in next month's issue #13.

     With all of the Avengers movie and Avengers vs. X-Men comic book mega-event hoopla, I haven't heard much about this under-the-radar Daredevil title.  As such, I was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality of the comic book.  The creative team is an unexpected power team-up of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, who separately have produced a string of very high quality comic story runs in various titles over the past few years.  Waid's scripting is pitch perfect in conveying the budding romance between Matt and Kirsten, combining a very entertaining style of light romantic humor with real world behavior and dialogue that elevates this title to the top of the must-read list for current superhero comics.  The handful of panels in which Kirsten tries to trip-up Matt into revealing his identity are refreshingly light and all-out funny.  In addition, Samnee's art and Javier Rodriguez's coloring are the perfect match to this storyline.  The flashbacks also seamlessly integrate with the present-day story segments, resulting in a nice balance of old-school Marvel storytelling with the present-day action of the Marvel storyverse.

     In the back-of-the-issue letters column, its announced that the comic book has been honored with several nominations for this year's prestigious Eisner Awards.  The accolades are well-deserved for this pleasant surprise of a break-out hit for the latest telling of Daredevil's adventures.  So an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good readers to join the folks in the comic book industry in reading this comic book and acknowledging the quality and just-plain-fun of Daredevil's current title run.

The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Fred Van Lente: Writer
Neil Edwards & Steve Kurth: Pencils
Rick Magyar & Andrew Hennessy: Inks

     Since both the Avengers movie and the Avengers vs. X-Men comic book mega-event are currently both at the peak of fan frenzy, in follow-up to our recent Avengers vs. X-Men title review, let's review issue #1 of "The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes," a three-issue mini-series among many short-term Avengers movie tie-ins.  The front cover is actually a photo of Scarlet Johannson in her Black Widow movie role.  A page one narrative briefly explains that in this plotline, Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow is undercover as a waitress in a Moscow nightclub on the trail of some stolen Starktech computer technology.  Issue #1 is structured as two story chapters; both chapters are written by Fred Van Lente with Chapter One artwork by Neil Edwards and Rick Magyar and Chapter Two artwork by Steve Kurth and Andrew Hennessy.

     Our story kicks-off with spy thriller intrigue.  When our undercover hero identifies a suspect in the nightclub for the software theft, the effort goes awry as an unknown female assassin kills the thief.  The bulk of the storyline is all action, as Natasha in her waitress guise is falsely identified as the killer and has to fight her way out of the club and across Moscow to the safety of her hotel.  In a surprise twist, it turns-out that the assassin is a freelance female killer with a stalker-like obsession on following Natasha's career, as well as a plan to kill-off our hero and attempt to take her place as the new Black Widow.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic bridge as Natasha takes herself off of the SHIELD electronic surveillance grid to go solo against her challenger.

    This is one of those rare comics that is dangerously plot-thin but so well-presented with heavy-duty and entertaining action that it succeeds solely on the merits of page-after-page of action.  Literally 95% of the story detail consists of three separate fight scenes: the inital nightclub assassination and aftermath, Black Widow running a cross-town gauntlet to the supposed safety of her hotel and the hotel attack by her challenger, followed by the reveal of the challenger's intent to bump-off and replace the Widow.  Its all so well-presented with decent artwork and limited but quality dialogue, that it actually gives us a few issues worth of story progression in an entertaining one-issue story segment.  That's actually a pretty good accomplishment for a storyline that is planned to play-out in only three standard-length comic book issues.

     There's nothing groundbreaking here in storytelling or revealing about The Black Widow.  But this comic book series definitely deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation for delivering a very strong traditional heros-and-explosions adventure tale that's well-worth enjoying as part of the current reading season's Avengers fun.  Issue #2 hit the new issues shelves earlier this week, so get on down to That's Entertainment and pick-up both issues of the further solo adventures of our favorite current (and only) team Avenger movie heroine!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify which of the 50 U.S. states is named after a person who actually served as the governor of another state.  This was a tricky question for which we received two correct answers, so to acknowledge the feat the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges has declared co-winners.  And our co-winners are (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor and Keith Martin who both correctly identified Delaware as our state.  Delaware was named after the Delaware River, which itself was named after Sir Thomas West (Lord de la Warr), who actually served as the colonial governor of Virginia.  Congratulations to our dynamic duo of contest winners, who each receive a $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Our latest contest combines historical trivia with the world of math.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, May 23 with the answer to the following challenge:  In 1859, the very first rabbits were introduced to the continent of Australia with the release of 24 rabbits into the wild.  Within 6 years, that rabbit population grew to what number? If you can't find the actual answer out there in the wide-world of information and want to e-mail a guess to us, think really big!  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our contest winner will be selected via a roll of the dice.  If we don't receive any correct answers to this math challenge, we'll designate the winner as the entrant who comes closest to the actual answer.  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 playoff-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on May 25th Here In Bongo Congo!


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