Review Date: Friday, June 29, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review four interesting new comic books this week, so let's get right to it and see what these new titles are all about:

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Darwyn Cooke: Writer and Artist
Phil Noto: Colors

     DC Comics has just launched a new interconnected mini-series of comic book titles set within the storyverse of the acclaimed Watchmen graphic novel.  I don't think that I need to detail the background of Watchmen, as there probably isn't a fanboy or fangirl on the planet who isn't at least minimally aware of the iconic and unique superhero series created in the 1980's by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  The idea here is to feature a prequel series starring The Minutemen, the 1940's-era group of superheros featured in the graphic novel (and subsequent movie) who were succeeded a generation later by the Watchmen group of heroes.  Watchmen members also star in this series, in stories set prior to the era of the original graphic series.  I chose to review the kick-off issue of the Minutemen title, which is written and drawn by a-list comic book creator Darwyn Cooke with colors by Phil Noto.

       Issue #1 begins a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Minute Of Truth."  The plot begins with the present-day reminiscences of elderly former Minuteman The Nite Owl as he muses over the draft of a tell-all book about his superhero experiences.  The bulk of the issue consists of an extended flashback to 1939; in a series of vignettes, each member of the Minutemen is introduced at the very start of their young careers.  Thus we see the early efforts of Hooded Justice, Sally Jupitor, The Nite Owl, Eddy Blake, Byron Lewis, Dollar Bill, Avenging Angel and Nelson Gardner as they each in turn jumpstart their respective solo crimefighting careers.  The issue concludes with a focus on Nelson Gardner as he reaches out to the other individuals with the suggestion that they team-up into the Minutemen.

     Creator Darwyn Cooke is both smart and skilled enough to avoid trying to match the literary quality of the classic Watchmen series.  Instead, he expands the range of that world using his own unique artistic and narrative style to add a new comic book flavor to the Watchmen franchise. The result is high quality entertainment, an interpretation of the world-of-Watchmen that's less grand and epic than the original, but frankly filled with a lot more basic comic book storytelling entertainment.  Credit is also due to Cooke for structuring the kick-off issue as a series of mini-vignettes revealing the early days of each Minuteman team member.  It all serves as both a fun read and an excellent briefing on who these folks are, prior to next month's issue when they start to gather for team adventure.

     In addition to the Minutemen title in this series, DC has released first issues of Before Watchmen titles starring Nite Owl himself and two of the actual Watchmen, both Silk Spectre and the infamous Comedian.  I'm personally looking forward to next checking-out Silk Spectre #1, given that Darwyn Cooke and fellow A-list creator Amanda Connor team-up to produce what potentially could be a gem of a title. Word on the street is that Watchmen creator Alan Moore is furious the DC is exercising their publishing rights and producing this prequel series. That's a shame, for while I respect the creator's feelings, this is a harmless and enjoyable addition to the Watchman storyverse.  So a definite positive thumbs-up review recommendation to kick-off the start of your comic book reading summer by diving-into Minutemen and the other connected titles in DC's new Before Watchmen event series!

Fury Max #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Garth Ennis: Writer
Goran Parlov: Art
Lee Loughridge: Colors

     The Max Comics imprint published by Marvel Comics recently began publishing a new Nick Fury comic book title.  For the uninitiated, Marvel created the Max comics line in 2001 in order to publish a line of adult story-themed titles, with content equivalent to that of an R-rated movie.  Previous Nick Fury titles within the imprint have been heavily criticized by Nick Fury creator Stan Lee as needlessly over-the-top violent and gory.  This latest Fury series is set in 1950's French-controlled Indochina, with Fury as an American agent assigned to advise the French in the well-known colonial war that evolved into the Vietnam War in the 1960's.  The title is scripted by Garth Ennis of "Hellblazer" and "Preacher" fame, with art by Goran Parlov and colors by Lee Loughridge.

     The title of this multi-issue story arc is "My War Gone By."  Issue #2 interweaves two sub-plots that began in the previous premier issue.  One storythread focuses on the interactions between Fury, visiting American Congressman "Pug" McClusky and his sexy staffer Shirley Defabio, with whom Fury falls into a heavy sexual relationship.  This storythread focuses both on the passionate personal relationship and the trio engaging in diplomatic maneuvering with the French authorities.  Our second plotline is more action-oriented, as Fury and his military attache George Hatherly get out into the countryside into the thick of the wartime action.  This storythread dominates the second half of the issue by unfolding a very detailed battle sequence which climaxes with a major act of bravery by Hatherly.

     This is a wonderful new Nick Fury character interpretation to add to the decades-long archive of Nick Fury titles. Whether or not its in reaction to Stan Lee's criticism, the excessive gore and violence of the earlier Max Fury title is missing.  In the hands of A-list writer Garth Ennis, this latest Fury is the perfect blend of the well-known curmudgeon of a career warrior acting-out in a more adult-world setting.  Ennis seamlessly blends the use of adult language and heavy sexuality with the traditional Fury character without the oft-repeated mistake of many adult-themed comics, of overshadowing basic storytelling elements with gore, sex or strong language just for its own sake.  The result is a perfect-pitch Nick Fury tale that feels much more real-world than the average non-superhero comic book tale.

     A tip-of-the-review hat is also due to the creative team for two additional story features.  The first is the art team's graphic style, which is both fresh and very appropriate for this type of military adventure comic book.  The second is the skill that writter Ennis brings in weaving a story theme into the plot regarding the difficulty of comfortably separating good and evil in wartime situations.  This issue is effectively and dramatically illustrated in the ongoing hateful relationship between Fury's good guy attache Hathaway and Sergeant Steinhoff, an unrepentent German Nazi now advising the French colonial forces and pairing with Fury and Hathaway in the current wartime scene.

     So another worthy positive review recommendation is deserved for this new title.  Whether you're a fan of Nick Fury himself or just looking for a military adventure-themed comic book, you'll be highly entertained by this very well-crafted new addition to the military adventure comic book genre.

All Star Western #7
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray: Writers
Moritat: Artist
Gabriel Bautista: Colors

     DC Comics's "New 52" re-boot of All Star Western is currently up to issue #7.  This is the third version published by DC over the years of this well-know western comic book series.  It currently connects with the "Night Of The Owls" Batman publishing event by presenting an multi-issue story arc starring Jonah Hex, Amadeus Arkham and other 19th century-era familiar DC characters in an Old West adventure taking place in historical Gotham City.  The series is co-written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by Moritat and Gabriel Bautista.

    The ongoing story is entitled "Vengeance In The Big Easy" and advances the multi-issue tale by advancing the plot in three acts.  Act One tosses the reader into the thick of an ongoing battle between good and bad guys in "The Big Easy" of New Orleans that seems to be a culmination of an adventure that mostly played-out in the previous issue. For several pages, a group of heroes that includes Jonah Hex and the masked adventurer duo of Nighthawk and Cinnamon struggle with and eventually subdue a crew of masked and ordinary bad guys.  Act Two occurs hours after the battle, as Jonah Hex has a confrontation with a mysterious 19th century version of one of the masked owl baddies familiar to readers of the main "Night Of The Owls" Batman storyline. Our final Act Three shifts the plot back to 19th century Gotham City, in which a Wild West adventurer named Tallulah Black confronts a gathering of Gotham's power elite, including a Bruce Wayne ancestor, to seek revenge for a western land grab scheme. The episode ends in a bridge to issue #10 as Jonah Hex and friends wade-into the confrontation.

     While this is an interesting and entertaining slice of the 19th century historical period of the DC Universe, the issue could really use a brief kick-off summary narrative of the storyline to-date; this is one of the more difficult comic books that I've come across in awhile to fully decipher all of the story elements without the aid of a brief narrative link to the previous story installments.  Still, its a very fun read, with a plot of the usual high quality from the A-list writing partnership of Palmiotti and Gray, as well as excellent western-genre story art from Moritat and Bautista.  However, its clear that the one-shot reader such as myself is missing-out on appreciating a lot of the little nuances along with the full texture and depth of this multi-issue story arc.  One nuance that's worth mentioning and actually is understandable for the casual reader is a hilarious mid-issue discussion of a past marriage of Jonah Hex, the details of which I'll leave for readers to fully enjoy themselves.

     There's also a brief back-up tale in this issue starring the duo of Nighthawk and Cinnamon.  That secondary story plot does stand-alone very well on its own two feet.  So while I'm giving this comic book a deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation, its with the caveat that The Good DC Reader consider backpedaling to check-out one or two of the previous month's issues of All Star Western, in order to fully appreciate this segment of the multi-issue story arc.  However, if you're not able to do so, this is still an entertaining enough western genre comic book to read in its own right.

The Ravagers #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Howard Mackie: Writer
Ian Churchill: Art
Norm Rapmund & Ian Churchill: Inks
Alex Sollazzo: Colors

     Among the newly-issued comic books within DC's "Second Wave" of titles that both follow-up and tweak the "New 52" publishing event is a series entitled "The Ravagers."  Issue #1 continues an origin story begun in the recent Teen Titans #9 comic book, presenting a new group of Teen Heroes led by Dr. Caitlin Fairchild, a good-looking scientist who rescued the superpowered teens from a prison lab and attempts to form the ragtag fugitives into a working team.  The new title is scripted by Howard Mackie with art by Ian Churchill, inks by Norm Rapmund and Ian Churchill and colors by Alex Sollazo.

     The new adventure plot, entitled "Children Of Destiny," consists of a one issue-length scene detailing the group's attempt to survive their initial prison lab break, as they make a stand in the icy nowhere of northern Alaska.  The issue #1 story segment mixes equal portions of battle action and emotional angst.  On the battle side of the story, both the main group of fugitives and various breakaway members fight separate battles against their seemingly relentless and overpowering prison lab pursuers.  The angst pie is split in half and shared respectively by Dr. Fairchild and a brother-sister duo of fugitives.  Dr. Fairchild muses throughout the issue in a narrative voice in which she expresses her insecurities in getting these meta-human teens to both respect her and follow her leadership, while the superpowered siblings struggle with balancing their thirst for revenge vs. fleeing to safety.  Without being a detail spoiler, the issue concludes with a very dramatic and risky last-ditch effort by the group to evade their close-at-hand pursuers.

     Similar to the All Star Western title reviewed above, I have a mixed reaction to this comic book, which ultimately lands the issue in qualified positive review territory.  On the plus side, I'm intrigued by this fresh mix of Teen Titan-like heroes, mixing a few familiar young heroes such as Beast Boy and Terra with some fresh meta-humans, all led by an implausibly sexy young scientist who looks like a redhaired version of Power Girl, if Power Girl picked-up a science Ph.D and worked undercover in an evil science lab.  There's enough kitsch and story potential in that premise alone to last at least 12 issue's worth of storytelling.  But writer Howard Mackie's plot is too loaded with overly lengthy, plodding scenes in which the teen characters hash over the details of every felt emotion or impulse.  Its like watching a few scenes from Beverly Hills 90210 stuck on an endless repeated loop.  Note to creative team: less can be so much more when exploring teen angst and issues of insecurities, especially in a comic book adventure with superpowered bad guys hot on the good guy's meta-human tails.

     Teenaged readers can probably relate better to that level of teen emotional introspection, so for those readers I'd recommend that they dive-into reading and enjoying this latest new teen-aged group of powered teens.  For post-teenaged adult readers, I'd recommend checking-out this new title for the curiosity of seeing the membership of this new team.  But unless the story approach matures in an issue or two, I can't forsee the average mature comic book reader (is that phrase a potential contradiction in terms?) becoming a loyal monthly reader of this new series.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our current contest challenged you to identify which popular science fiction/fantasy/horror genre television character died in a popular t.v. series and ended up with the cheesy epitaph "She Saved The World A Lot" on her gravestone.  We had several correct entries, so via a roll of the dice our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Christopher Begley, who correctly named the well-known Buffy Summers of "Buffy The Vampire" fame as our heroine-with-the-oddball-gravestone.  For the uninitiated, Buffy died saving the world (once again!) at the end of Season 5, then was resurrected at the beginning of Season 6 for two more television season's worth of vampire slaying/loving and demon fighting.  Congrats to Christopher, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Our above contest inspired the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges to announce another television-based contest.  As such, your new challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, July 11 identifying your favorite television series currently on-air within the science fiction, fantasy and/or horror genres.  Besides naming the show, tell us a bit about why this show rises above the pack as your favorite series.  Remember, we want a show that's currently on-air, anywhere from this past television season onward.  We'll hold a future contest asking for favorite shows from the past.  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 summertime Red Sox watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on July 13 Here In Bongo Congo!

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