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Review Date: Friday, June 8, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that its another Official Eclectic Week Here In Bongo Congo, so let's review a wide variety of comic book titles for this week's four reviews:

G.I. Combat #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J.T. Krul, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti: Writers
Ariel Olivetti & Dan Panosian: Art
Rob Schwager: Colors

     D.C. Comics has recently premiered several new titles as part of its "Second Wave" marketing event, which adjusts the publishing inventory of its "New 52" titles after one year of that grouping of DC comic books being published.  One of the Second Wave titles is the return of the Silver Age iconic army comic book, "G.I. Combat."  Issue #1 features two stories, each of which kicks-off a respective multi-issue story arc.  The first tale is a science fiction/military adventure written by J.T. Krul with art by Ariel Olivetti and the second story is an Unknown Soldier feature scripted by the A-list writing duo of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Dan Panosian and colors by Rob Schwager.

     The main feature story is entitled "The War That Time Forgot" and is a retake of the classic comic book/science fiction plotline of modern-day soldiers fighting dangerous dinosaurs.  In this instance, the setting is North Korea; when U.S. intelligence monitoring discovers a dead communications zone in that country, a U.S. Special Forces team is sent-in to investigate.  When the Special Forces coptor convoy is attacked by prehistoric pterodactyls, only two soldiers survive to wander the woods and wonder how prehistoric creatures are alive and kicking.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic two-page, single scene spread, as the pair stumble into an all-out battle between local North Korean troops and a herd of giant dinosaurs including T Rex's.  Our second story is a reinterpretation of the origins of The Unknown Soldier.  In this version of his story, our anonymous hero comes of age on the Afghanistan battlefield.  After his initial battlefield heroism and resulting facial mutiliation, the Soldier comes to the attention of the Army brass.  Via flashback, he details his military history, progressing from the death of his family in a London terrorist attack to failing the medical exam for U.S. Army enlistment and finally enlisting in the South African Army, thereby gaining access to fighting in the war against terrorism overseas.  The initial story segment concludes with our hero being informed that he's being recruited by U.S. intelligence for bigger and better action in next month's issue #2 story segment.

     DC's G.I. Combat title has a long publication history as well as a distinguished reputation for bringing a wide variety of military genre storytelling to generations of comic book reading fans.  I'm pleased to write that this latest installment succeeds in maintaining that level of story quality and tradition.  "The War That Time Forgot" walks a well-worn trail with yet another retelling of the often-presented soldiers-vs.-dinos comic book tale.  Yet the creative team avoids the hack retread trap by making a strong effort to update the story details into our present-day world.  The story's relevant setting within the ongoing real-world U.S.-North Korean tension, combined with the current events details of today's Special Forces operations makes for a fresh and entertaining re-telling of this type of sci-fi/military adventure.  It should be interesting to see how future segments of this story arc mix the dinosaur sub-plot with the emerging sub-plot of U.S. military forces operating (and stranded) in a hostile country's terrritory.  The Unknown Soldier back-up story is even more entertaining than the feature tale.  There's no comic book writing partnership better these days than Gray and Palmiotti, and their skills are on full display here with sharp dialogue, engrossing story details and a just-plain-refreshing re-boot of the Unknown Soldier story concept to fit our modern world.

      My only constructive criticism is that the editors should have flipped the order of these two tales.  Without taking anything away from the fun and quality of "The War That Time Forgot," in the hands of Gray and Palmiotti there's just more story detail, dialogue and substance to The Unknown Soldier tale, resulting in a story that deserves the lead slot in this issue.  I suspect that DC made the decision to kick-off with the dinos-vs.-soldiers tale, along with its featured place on the issue #1 cover, to take advantage of the summertime movie blockbuster marketing strategy of featuring the more sci-fi genre fare that summertime and beach readers prefer this time of year.  Nothing wrong with that, given that we're still getting our fanboy and fangirl money's worth with both of these high quality stories in one comic book issue. So by all means get down to That's Entertainment and add this entertaining return of G.I. Combat to your very own
summertime comic book reading pile!

Dorothy Of Oz Prequel #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Denton J. Tipton: Writer
Blair Shedd: Art
Joana Lafuente: Colors

     IDW Publishing has already published three monthly issues of its new Dorothy Of Oz Prequel title.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative explains that in a separate Dorothy Of Oz IDW title, our well-known fantasy heroine is magically transported back to Oz after her original safe return to Kansas that concluded her famous original storyline.  This prequel title documents adventures and developments in the Land of Oz that occur prior to Dorothy's second visit to the magical kingdom.  I decided to review the kick-off issue #1 of this new series, in order to get a good feel for the current multi-issue story arc from the beginning.  The comic book is scripted by Denton J. Tipton with art by Blair Shedd and colors by Joana Lafuente.

       The issue #1 story segment is entitled "The Jester and the Magic Sceptor."  The plot introduces a replacement evil character for the dead Wicked Witch Of The West, in the guise of her brother The Jester.  Settling-into her castle and taking control of her army of flying monkeys, The Jester plots to transform the witch's infamous broom into an all-powerful evil sceptor.  The midsection of the storyline details both his successful effort to steal the broom from the safety of The Emerald City and sleuthing at the crime scene by Dorothy's old pals the (formerly cowardly) Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow.  The final third of the comic book details The Jester's initial efforts to wield the Sceptor's evil power as he causes trouble in Munchkin Land, ultimately kidnapping the Munchkin Mayor as step one toward further shenanigans in issue #2.

     Over the past few years, there's been a run on comic book publishers mining the gold of the Wizard Of Oz story franchise for further adventures and/or reinterpretations of the original Frank L. Baum-authored storyverse that has become so ingrained in the fabric of American pop culture.  High quality examples that I've reviewed in the past year or two include Marvel's Dorothy of Oz limited series and Big Dog Ink's Legend Of Oz Wicked West, one of the best new comic industry titles of 2011.  Maybe I'm just a softie for all things Oz, but in general I've been very impressed with the quality of these efforts, as well as their success in balancing between sticking to the basics of Baum's Oz story universe and presenting fresh plots and story elements for new generations of readers.

     The new Dorothy Of Oz Prequel storyline further adds to the inventory of these high quality and entertaining efforts, for at least three reasons.  First, the series finds its own unique and unexplored niche in the Oz timeline, featuring a timeperiod just after the original story ended and filling-in that gap nicely for the second-coming-of-Dorothy storyline in IDW's other Dorothy title.  Secondly, the new Jester villain is creative and represents a nice direct link to his sister, the deceased Wicked Witch of the West.  Third, the creative team succeeds in balancing the atmosphere of the story so that its entertaining for both little kids and adults, alike.  The basic story details are entertaining for adult readers, while writer Denton J. Tipton throws in light jokes or pratfalls at just the right pace and moments so as not to dissuade younger kids from enjoying the story.  As such, unlike the inaccurate marketing for the Takio comic book reviewed in our last column, this title is truly a comic book for readers of all ages.

     So in sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this new Dorothy of Oz title to be added to your summertime new issues reading pile.  It offers a fun and refreshing light fantasy change-of-pace to mix-in with the many superhero genre comics that always dominate the summer season's reading lists and new issues shelves.

The Defenders #6
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Victor Ibanez: Art
Chris Sotomayer: Colors

      In December, Marvel began publishing a new version of The Defenders superhero team-up.  Silver Age fans will no doubt remember the iconic front cover of Marvel Feature #1, that introduced the original Defenders as a superhero trio consisting of Dr. Strange, The Submariner and The Hulk.  Since then, the team has undergone various team member adjustments as well as several title runs up to the latest incarnation of the group.  The current Defenders line-up consists of original members Dr. Strange and Namor/The Submariner along with new members The Silver Surfer, Iron Fist and the Red She-Hulk.  This month's issue #6 is scripted by Matt Fraction with art by Victor Ibanez and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

     A page one narrative in issue #6 catches-up the reader to previous developments in this ongoing multi-issue story arc.  To date, the team has stumbled upon two ancient machines that have the immense power of warping space and time.  Dr. Strange had discovered the technology's immeasurable potential as one of the devices read his mind and brought a deceased former girlfriend temporarily back to life.  The challenge of the machines deepens in issue #6 in the face of two parallel mysteries.  First, Iron Fist finds that several of his former superpowered collegues have been systematically murdered, with circumstances pointing to the machines as the cause.  Secondly, Iron Fist and The Silver Surfer stumble across research material that documents an unknown, early 20th century Avengers-like team of heroes who previously interacted with the machines.  It appears that the very public history of this older superhero team has been erased from society's memory, with the clues of this erasure again pointing to the machines.  The issue ends in a bridge to next month's story segment, as a surprise human protector of the technology arrives on the scene, leading Iron Fist to determine that The Defenders must shut-down the machines in order to save mankind.

     The Defenders has a lot going for it in adding an excellent multi-issue storyline to the very long history of Defenders comic books.  Three story elements stand-put for particular recognition.  The first is the new team make-up, which nicely blends the two original members with the three newcomers.  While the Red She-Hulk isn't featured in issue #6, I think she's a great new addition as the Hulk Family successor to the original Hulk.  I also liked learning that Betty Ross is the identity of this new member of the ever-growing Hulk clan.  Secondly, the science fiction element of this plot is original and very well-presented.  Writer Matt Fraction's skill in weaving a sci-fi based tale featuring omnipotent, reality-altering technology is on a par with writer Jonathan Hickman's sci-fi storytelling of the past few years in Marvel's Fantastic Four title, securing Marvel's place as the top publisher of new issue superhero comics that offer quality science fiction genre storylines for readers.  And third is a very effective humanizing of our heroes in this storyline.  While everyone displays their usual superhuman abilities, writer Fraction displays a light, down-to-earth side of some of our heroes, which results in making our heroes more sympathetic and relatable to readers.  Thus we see a Dr. Strange who has normal girlfriend struggles, a Silver Surfer who in his Earthly guise is trying to fit in as an ordinary small-town citizen, and an Iron Fist who has enough Everyman self-doubts in his life to rival Peter Parker/Spiderman in that category.

      A final shout-out must go out to the creative team's extremely entertaining two-page flashback montage that fills-in the reader regarding the team membership and adventures of the Avengers-like mystery team of historic heroes.  Maybe I've missed these folk in some previous Marvel comic book, but they're a new entity to me and they're presented so well in this story segment that I'm hooked on wanting to read more about these guys, hopefully in a comic book title all their own.  So for all of these reasons detailed above as well as lots more story details that I don't want to dwell on for fear of being a story spoiler, by all means all good Marvel readers should come home to the world of The Defenders with this high quality and entertaining latest version of the team.

Hell Yeah #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Joe Keatinge: Writer
Andre Szymanowicz: Art
Jason Lewis: Colors

     Image Comics has already published the first few issues of a new comic entitled Hell Yeah (The Last Generation Of Heroes).  I backtracked to April's issue #1 to get a good feel for this new title from its premier story segment.  April's issue is already in its second printing, which is a good indicator of a strong positive reader response to the new series.  This comic title presents its version of the theme of disaffected children of superheroes trying to make their way in the world, balancing their heritage with their desire to live the life of a normal human being. The title is written by Joe Keatinge with art by Andre Szymanowicz and colors by Jason Lewis.

     The kick-off story segment is set in Portland, Oregon and stars Benjamin, who has a normal father and a superpowered mother.  Benjamin himself harbors some limited powers of strength and endurance, and as such attends a local college for the children of superbeings.  The plot alternates between two subplots; one is a flashback sequence to the Kuwaiti War of 20 years ago, in which unknown superhumans mysteriously arrived on the scene, rescuing Ben's military dad from Iraqi capture.  The current-day subplot alternates between scenes of the superheroes transforming the world into an advanced society over the next 20 years and scenes of Ben's troubled life, as he struggles with violent tendencies that get him into trouble with his college's administration and his parents.  Issue #1 ends in a very dramatic story sequence, as three superpowered women suddenly confront Ben on-campus and announce that they've been searching for him because he's dead in all alternate realities.

     I enjoyed this comic book very much, in spite of a few structural flaws.  On the negative side, writer Keatinge boomerangs somewhat all over the story scene by cramming a few too many story concepts into one kick-off comic book issue.  After layering-in the themes of parental superhero angst, mysterious heroes arriving and changing the world and college-age soap opera drama, we're suddenly confronted with an extra plot layer of alternate reality sci-fi.  On the plus side, while it does feel a bit too cramped for one standard-sized comic book issue, it all somehow manages to coalesce into a logical and entertaining story progression.  I also liked two threads of story mystery woven throughout the tale:  first, the obvious unanswered question of just who the heck are these mysterious powered beings who appeared out of nowhere and secondly, a clever mystery regarding Benjamin's mother.  We never see her visually but only hear her off-stage and thus learn two things about her-Ben and his Dad are scared stiff that she has a murderous temper and both Mom and Dad are hiding a huge mystery regarding the true, hidden identity of their small family.  And as a final review comment, I'm very curious about the series title "Hell Yeah," which doesn't relate to the issue #1 storyline but hopefully will make sense as the plot moves forward.

     There have been too many comic titles to easily count over the past decade that offer one or a combination of the story themes outlined above.  But credit is due to this particular creative team for reinvigorating a well-worn theme with a fresh approach to plot and characters.  Mix-into the recipe the mysteries presented in issue #1 and the end product is a decent, entertaining addition to this subgenre of superhero storytelling, well-worth the attention of readers.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest is our second annual Summer Movie Blockbuster Challenge, in which you pitched to us your pick for most anticipated movie of the 2012 summer movie season.  We had two excellent finalists and since one is a Marvel-based submittal and one is a DC Comics submittal, to avoid a Coke versus Pepsi decision, we're awarding both entries co-winner status.  And our co-winners are (drumroll, please)...Mike Dooley and Gregory Goding!  Mike was our First Annual Summer Movie Blockbuster Challenge winner last year with his Cowboys Vs. Aliens entry.  This year, Mike makes a strong case for "The Avengers" as the biggest mega-hit of summer 2012, writing that while there are many other strong movie contenders such as Men In Black 3 and Spider-Man, The Avengers is the ultimate culmination of so many previous individual hero Marvel Movies.  He further offers the intriguing idea of following-up this movie not with an Avengers sequel, but instead a Marvel/DC comic universe crossover event!  Co-winner Gregory takes the DC Comics route with his nomination of this summer's installment in the Batman franchise, "The Dark Knight Rises."  Gregory writes that while he thinks the movie won't top its predeccessor "The Dark Knight," the Bane villain character is very compelling and could equal Heath Ledger's Joker in character quality.  He adds that even if the movie quality isn't perfect, there's enough mega-hype marketing frenzy around it to push it to the top of the heap of Summer Movie Moneymaking Blockbusters (SMMB!).  Congrats to our co-winners, who each win a $10.00 gift certificate to our favorite summer blockbuster pop culture emporium, That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!
     Our latest contest challenges you to email us at Gordon_A@msn.com with the correct answer to the following television series trivia question:  What popular television character in a science fiction/fantasy/horror genre t.v. series was killed at the end of Season 5 of the series and had the epitaph placed on her tombstone stating "She saved the world a lot"?  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected from among the correct entries 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 June 22 Here In Bongo Congo!


 
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