Review Date: Friday, May 25, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has noticed that there are lots of interesting-looking premier new comic titles on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves right now, so he's decreed that we review four of them this week.  So let's get going and see what these comic books are all about:

Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Jim McCann: Creator/Writer
Rodin Esquejo: Art

      First out of the gate this week among our non-superhero-themed comics is a new comic from Image Comics, Inc. entitled Mind The Gap.  The new series is the creation of writer Jim McCann with art by Rodin Esquejo.

     The introductory issue presents a double-sized 44-page story segment that alternates between two sub-plots.  The initial plotthread is a thriller mystery surrounding a whodunit violent assault on twenty-something New York theatre actress Elle, who is severely injured in a subway platform assault and brought in a coma to St. Francis Hospital.  As Elle's circle of friends and family gather at the hospital, various conflicts and bitter feelings among the gatherers are hinted at.  A larger conspriacy is also afoot, as we learn that the assault was part of a larger, to-date unnamed conspiracy.  Its also clear that one of the people in Elle's life is most likely behind the assault.  The second plotthread is more fantasy-oriented, as we track Elle through an out-of-body experience as she monitors the situation, floating around the hospital and interacting with both a supposed limbo guide named Bobby and some other out-of-body folks at the hospital.  The issue ends in an unexpected plot twist as Elle accidentally pops-into another comatose patient's body and begins to wake-up.

     While the basic plot idea here isn't bad, the overall story presentation is such a trainwreck that this comic title deserves a fast and furious thumbs-down negative review recommendation, for several reasons.  First-up is the poor quality story progression; panels and pages are very disjointed and lacking in logical story flow, to the point where we can't even sort-out who is phoning who in the first half of the tale as Elle's various contacts learn of her accident.  Our second glaring flaw is the cheesiness of the dialogue, as overly self-important characters make over-the-top dramatic statements that are cringe-worthy with every new pronouncement.  Third-up in awfulness is the presentation of Elle's out-of-body experience.  Since the out-of-body afterlife concept has been done to death (no pun intended) for years in film and fiction, the use of it here has to be presented in some fresh and creative manner in order to be entertaining.  Writer McKenna stumbles in the opposite direction here, giving us a tired set of "am I really dead?" cliches.  McCann also can't make-up his mind to develop Elle's experience as either a real post-life step or a figment of her injured mind, as such combining the possibility of either option into a puddle of confused mess.  Our fourth and most failed element is McCann's weak attempt to interweave song lyrics into the tale, choosing incredibly stale and unfitting songs and lyrics to the storyline.

     By issue's end, I couldn't help but visualize McCann as an older, baby-boom aged writer trying to be "hip" by blending a bunch of 1970's era story ideas into a modern-day comic book publication.  He lost my support by the issue's midpoint, when he uses one character to deliver a pretentious pitch how the old Pink Floyd song "Money" is the most unique and complex song of all time.  And as a final element of egotistical self-delusion, there's a self-congratulatory essay at the back of the book in which McCann dissects the "awesome" and "so many incredible moments" of his crappy tale as if he's just written a classic piece of American literature. 

     It's up to somebody else to deliver the dose of therapy that McCann needs to wake-up from his self-grandeur and accept this comic book for the failed piece of junk that it really is.  My role in this mess is to warn off all good readers from wasting money on this wreck and instead read one of the many decent-to-excellent comics currently available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.  So I'll end this review by adding a question mark to the end of its title and providing an answer:  Mind The Gap?  Yes...yes I do very much and I'm pretty sure that you will, too.

Publisher: Marvel ICON Imprint
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Michael Avon Oeming: Art
Nick Filardi: Colors

     Marvel's ICON Imprint has just released issue #1 in a new Takio comic book title.  The ICON Imprint allows Marvel to enter into publishing agreements with creator-owned comic book titles.  Takio is the creation of veteran collaborators Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, well-known for their work on the popular Powers comic book series, along with colorist Nick Filardi. The current Takio title apparently is being published in follow-up to a graphic novel production from last year.  The series centers on teen girl Takio and her younger sister Olivia, members of a multi-racial adoptive family.  When an accident at a friend's house gives the girls superpowers, they become the only two superheroes in the entire world, while their friend Kelly Sue becomes a supervillain.  As an inside-the-front-cover blurb states, "now the sisters have to get along, save the world and get home by six...or they are so grounded!"

     The 28-page issue #1 story is divided into three segments.  Act One is a semi-humorous scene that features the girls using their telekinetic powers to foil a robbery at a local donut shop.  It's clear that as young superhero wannabe's they have a long way to go in mastering their powers, as well as honing their battle skills.  Act Two features our heroines addressing the secret identity issue, as the young Olivia is barely reined-in by teen sister Takai from revealing their powers on the local school playground.  Takai also focuses on putting the school rumormill to rest regarding the local sighting of our dynamic duo at the donut shop robbery scene.  And Act Three shifts the story focus over onto Kelly Sue; while Kelly Sue seems negative and ambivalent about the superpower situation, her scientist dad works hard to gain an understanding of how he accidentally empowered the three kids.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as Kelly Sue's dad, aided by U.S. government operatives, seeks to create a Captain America-style supersoldier using a serum extracted from a Kelly Sue blood sample.

     I got a kick out of this comic book, for a few reasons.  First, its really fun to read a quality comic book concept from Bendis and Oeming that's lighter in tone and attitude than most of their previous outings; granted, these two guys are at the pinnacle of comic book industry quality and success, but most of their story tellings have a very sharp, dark and adult-themed atmosphere.  While it usually results in a quality comic book, its refreshing and just plain interesting to see these guys stretch their creative envelope and try their hand at a lighter storytelling approach.  Secondly, the story concept is intriguing by taking the approach that this is a non-superhero, real-world version of reality.  As such, our heroes really are superpowered in a world in which the other heroes are figments of fanboy imaginations.  Third, I'm intrigued by the characterization of Takai's friend Kelly Sue.  While she's initially referred to as going the villain route with her new powers, at least in issue #1 she's just a kid who's ticked-off about the whole situation, sitting on the sidelines wishing none of it ever happened.  At this stage of the new series, she's actually the most sympathetic of the story characters.  It should be interesting to see if and how the creative team address Kelly Sue's ambivalence toward her powers and her two friends.

     My only constructive criticism of Takai is the marketing pitch repeated throughout this issue that this is a new comic book series created "for readers of all ages."  Its an overblown and basically wrong conclusion.  This is clearly a title written at a level best enjoyed by readers up to the age of 18.  I can't believe that any post-18 aged reader with a normal sense of reading maturity would become a sincere regular fan of reading Takai.  I think it would be better to market it honestly, rather than try to lasso adult fans of the creative team into adding it to their reading pile.  But I could see parents reading the comic along with their children as a fun family experience.  So for fans in kid, teen and parent-child co-reading categories, here's a well-deserved, positive review recommendation to enjoy all of the good fun that's packed-into this new kid superhero-themed comic book title!

Publisher: IDW Publishing
John Byrne: Creator, Writer and Artist
Ronda Pattison: Colors

      IDW Publishing has just kicked-off a new superhero team comic book entitled "Trio."  The series is the creation of veteran A-list writer/artist John Byrne, with colors by Ronda Pattison.  Byrne continues his interesting pattern of offering new titles through IDW that resemble well-known, established comic book creations.  So in follow-up to "Next Men," his series with similarities to X-Men, Trio emulates the universe structure of The Fantastic Four.

     The issue #1 storyline serves the dual purpose of introducing the characters and premiering the initial story segment of a multi-issue story arc. As we're introduced to our threesome of superheroes, the character similarities to the FF are strong and obvious.  There's the Ben Grimm/Thing knock-off named "One," the cocky Johnny Storm-like "Two" and "Three," a Sue Storm female team member who has Mr. Fantastic's stretch power.  The tale kicks-off with the team foiling a mid-town Manhattan bank heist.  When "Three" is gravely injured, its up to the Thing-like "One" to stay at the scene to search for innocent victoms and fend-off the rabid media, while "Two" whisks the injured teammate back to their secret lab/headquarters for medical attention.  The story setting shifts in mid-issue, as we witness the rise of a Submariner-like sea threat in mid-ocean. In the wrap-up pages of issue #1, we learn the secret identity of "One," while the Namor-like sea baddie and his ocean hordes arrive dockside to attack The Big Apple in next month's issue #2.

     I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new title, for several reasons.  First, iconic veteran creator John Byrne does a dead-on job of emulating the Fantastic Four while adding fresh identity ingredients that prevent this title from becoming a cheap knock-off of its predecessor.  Sure we have another Thing, but he transforms at-will between human and behemoth, and his revealed secret identity is fresh and creative.  The Johnny Storm-like dude has youthful brashness and wit, but presents as an Edward Scissorhands-like knife-handed fighter instead of a firepowered hero, while the injured Three is a nice hybrid of Sue Storm and Reed Richards.  Secondly, there's an air of mystery here, with intriguing hints that the threesome are part of a wider organization that includes at least three additional players yet to be introduced.  Third, a shout-out is due to the writer side of Byrne's creative persona for his narrative style; avoiding the pretension and over-complexity too often seen in today's storytelling, Byrme gives-us a simple yet engrossing story narrative that pulls the reader into this finely-crafted new hero team's story universe.

     A fourth and final positive kudo goes to an element that I rarely-to-never comment on in these reviews, and that's the attitude of the writer.  Byrne is subtly tongue-in-cheek in this new title effort, in a way that only enhances the fun and success of Trio.  He's not laboring here to create a serious, stand-alone knock-off of the FF, but rather just having a lot of fun duplicating their concept in a light and entertaining manner.  The strategy is most evident in a wonderful Fred Hembeck-authored comic strip panel in the back of the issue, in which Hembeck confesses on Byrnes behalf that the X-Men/Next-Men and the Fantastic Four/Trio similarities are deliberate over-the-top knock-off efforts.  The end result is a respectful and enjoyable homage to the FF that's good enough to stand on its own as a fun comic book read.

     So whether you're a fan of the Fantastic Four or interested in reading about a new superhero team that respectfully stands atop the reputation of the iconic FF, you should be satisfied and entertained by this quality new superhero team title from the pen of John Byrne.

Publisher: D.C. Vertigo
Various Writers & Artists

     DC has just published a one-shot comic book issue through its Vertigo imprint entitled Mystery In Space.  The comic builds on the heritage of the Mystery In Space monthly title published by DC back in the Silver Age, which offered wonderful stand-alone outer space or alien-oriented science fiction tales.  By publishing through its Vertigo imprint, per a warning on the front cover, this one-shot issue offers several stories that include adult reader/mature reader story themes.  The issue is an oversize comic book packed with nine stories and priced at $7.99.  All nine stories have outer space and/or alien-human interaction themes and are the creation of a wide range of writers and artists. 

     For the sake of review space, I'll only highlight a few stories.  "Transmission" is an eight-page tale centering on an Earth expedition to an interstellar colony to contain a supposedly lethal virus.  As the story progresses, its revealed that both the expedition and all of humankind are controlled by human-created artificial intelligence run amok and the supposed virus is actually human ingenuity and desire for freedom.  How the crew and colonists deal with their overlord computer dictator as well as the outcome of their rebellion is not for me to spoil but rather for you to read and enjoy.  "Asleep To See You" is a brief and emotional romance, focusing on the heartbreak of two female lovers, as one chooses to travel the stars at the speed of light and one stays Earthbound, with the obvious consequences of one aging Earthbound while her partner stays youthful.  "Here Nor There" is an oddball tale of a husband and wife pair of oceanographers living in an undersea lab, whose dissolving marriage descends into venom and nastiness when one discovers an alien lifeform living in a submerged meteorite.

     DC Comics periodically publishes one-shot science fiction Mystery In Space collections, several which I've read and at least one of which I recommended in a previous positive review.  While there's nothing glaringly negative about this issue, there's also nothing top-notch in this issue either, so I'm giving this issue a mixed, fair-to-middling review recommendation.  On the plus side, we're treated to a wonderfully visual front cover of a steampunk sci-fi angel mechanically ploting the course of the cosmos.  In addition, the above-mentioned story "Transmission" is a very strong and entertaining tale with excellent visuals, a sense of mystery/tenseness and a satisfying conclusion.  Unfortunately, if you're a regular reader of science fiction, you'll find the additional eight tales ranging in quality from two godawful plot failures to a handful of stories that are just not well-presented or interesting.  The above-mentioned "Asleep To See You" is repetitive of so many sci-fi short stories published over the years on the same theme that it almost seems that it plagiarizes its predecessors.

     For the reader who's a newcomer to reading science fiction stories, either in print or graphic format, the compilation collection ain't great but is of average entertainment quality, and as such for that segment of the reading public I'd give the issue a moderate thumbs-up.  But for those readers who aren't rookie science fiction fan readers, the high quality of the story "Transmission" doesn't balance-out with the formulaic plots and carbon copy endings of the eight additional tales.  So bottom-line: newbie sci-fi readers might want to check-out this latest Mystery In Space story anthology, while veteran or faithful sci-fi genre readers would do well to skip this issue and drop an e-mail to Vertigo asking them to pour more creative juice into the mix of their next one-shot Mystery In Space science fiction story collection.  As a final review comment, both rookie and veteran sci-fi fans alike should peruse the That's Entertainment inventory for either Silver Age back issues or reprint compilations of the original Mystery In Space title, which still can't be beat for entertaining and high quality comic book sci-fi storytelling.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest was a creative math trivia challenge, asking you to answer the following: after the original group of 24 rabbits were released into the wild in Australia in 1859, how many Australian rabbit descendants did they multiply into within 6 years, by 1865.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Kevin Browne,  who correctly answered that within six years, the two dozen rabbits grew to an estimated population of two million...yes, that's right, TWO MILLION (!!!)...bunnies on the Australian continent.  We kid you not, that's the true answer!!!  Congratulations to Kevin for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate That's Entertainment, and we beg all good readers not to release any multiplying rabbits around these parts!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Its the beginning of the annual summer blockbuster season, so the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges announce our 2nd Annual Most Anticipated Summer Blockbuster Movie Contest!  Same as last year, your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, June 6 with your entry for which upcoming summer blockbuster movie you are most excited about and why you think it will be a summertime mega-hit.  Last summer's winning entry was from Mike Dooley with his pitch for the Sci-Fi Western film "Cowboys And Aliens."  So let's see what interesting cinematic gems you fanboys and fangirls suggest we keep an eye-out for at this summer's movie theatres!  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 early summertime comic book reading weeks and see you again on June 8 Here In Bongo Congo!

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