Review Date: Monday, July 30, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Since our good readers have been coping as best they can with the recent heatwave, Good King Leonardo has decreed that we try to beat this never-ending summer heat with some refreshing new comic books. So let's check-out some of the latest cool offerings from the new comic book shelves:

Publisher:  D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Jonathan Glapion: Inks
Fco Plascencia: Colors
     The multi-issue "Night Of The Owls" storyline that's been unfolding in The New 52 reboot of Batman concludes in this month's issue #11.  I reviewed an earlier installment in the saga, which introduces to the Batman storyverse a seemingly omnipotent evil organization called The Court Of Owls, which has been secretly operating in Gotham for several generations, using costumed operatives known as "Talons," as a kind of anti-Batman group of costumed evildoers.  The storyline is the creation of A-list writer Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Jonathan Glapion and colors by Fco Plascencia.
     The issue #11 wrap-up story segment unfolds in two parts.  Part One presents a final battle confrontation between Batman and a powerful Talon who is revealed as Gotham politician Lincoln March.  March is under the belief that he's actually Thomas Wayne, Jr. the long-lost brother of Bruce Wayne who Bruce believes died in a childhood accident.  Part two of the tale takes place in the aftermath of the big battle; as Bruce recuperates from major injuries, he and Dick Grayson/Robin hold an extended dialogue regarding the vagueness of Lincoln's claim as well as the mystery of Lincoln disappearing at the end of the mega-fight.  The discussion concludes with the dynamic duo making peace regarding some lingering issues between the pair, as well as leaving the threat of the Court Of Owls and the mystery of Lincoln March's true identity open for consideration in future issues of Batman.
      Since I've only read one previous Court of Owls story, I was concerned that issue #11 wouldn't hold-up as a stand-alone issue to read.  Happily, the issue works very well both on its own and as a satisfying conclusion to the ongoing saga.  During the past few years, writer Scott Snyder has contributed some major new lore to the Batman storyverse and he's hit another homerun here with the concept of "The Owls."  I loved the twist of a potential evil Wayne brother confronting Bruce Wayne/Batman, and enjoyed very much the ambiguity of the situation; there's a nice emphasis here that the lost brother story could be true or false, and it will be up to future Batman issues to either put Lincoln's belief to rest as a grand allusion or alternately welcome him to the extended Batman family as the latest bad sheep of the family (maybe he can be roommates with the bratty Damian version of Robin!).
     Its important to also acknowledge a second story in this issue, scripted by the writing partnership of Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV.  Entitled "The Fall Of The House Of Wayne," its an elequent and emotional tale alternating present-day and flashback scenes that connect Batman's faithful butler Alfred as well as Alfred's father Jarvis to the multi-generational struggle between the Batman family and The Owls.  So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation for The Good DC Reader to enjoy this high quality issue #11 of Batman both as a satisfying conclusion to the current Owls storyarc and as an entertaining standalone Batman comic tale.

Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Jason Fabok: Art
Peter Steigerwald: Colors
     DC's latest Batman Annual features a story in which Batman fights his well-known supervillain foe Mister Freeze.  The plot also connects somewhat with the ongoing Night Of The Owls event that concludes in the regular monthly issue #11 reviewed above.    Scott Snyder writes this story in partnership with James Tynion IV, with art by Jason Fabok and colors by Peter Steigerwald.
    The story in this Annual issue, entitled "Night Of The Owls-First Snow," is bracketed front and end with flashbacks to an event in Mr. Freeze's childhood during a snowy winter in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The bulk of the tale consists of a traditional-style confrontation between Freeze and The Caped Crusader.  After an extended thriller scene in which our villain escapes from the infamous Arkham Asylum, Freeze has an even lengthier confrontation with Batman, Nightwing and the bratty Damien version of Robin.  The goal of Freeze's effort is to seize from control from Bruce Wayne of the frozen body of Freeze's terminally ill wife Nora so she can be thawed, cured and restored to life with an antidote that Freeze initially developed for The Court of Owls.  I don't want to be a story spoiler and reveal how this plan concludes, beyond mentioning that there's a very interesting surprise plot twist that concludes the storyline.  The Annual plotline wraps-up with a two-page return to the childhood flashback that began the story, also providing an unexpected plot twist to the backstory segment of the tale.
     The creative team does an excellent job of providing us with a feature-length annual story that works well on three counts.  First, we're treated to a solid story addition to the long-running set of tales featuring Batman's battles with one of his more traditional foes.  There's even a brief appearance by The Penguin in the midst of this situation that adds an additional nice retro flair to the story.  Secondly, the art team's style and coloring is pitch perfect for portraying the impact of Batman's cold warrior foe.  I actually felt cold reading some of the more visually frosty scenes in this issue.  And third but hardly least, the writing team's surprise plot twist is both unexpected and among the best story surprises that I've read in any comic book over the past few years.  I actually fell for the deliberate writer's trap of sympathizing for Freeze's longing for his lost wife while wondering why Bruce Wayne was seemingly in the wrong in this scenario, until the plot twist revealed the true meaning of the storyline.
     So another worthy thumbs-up recommendation is due for this new issue comic book that succeeds on three counts: providing an entertaining Batman tale, presenting top-notch graphic visuals and perhaps most importantly, giving us all a chilled Mr. Freeze feel that we could all use in the middle of The Great Heatwave of 2012!

Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions, Inc.
Christos Gage: Writer
Jorge Lucas: Art

     Image Comics and Top Cow Productions have just published a comic issue offering a first look at a portion of a new graphic novel entitled "Sunset."  The creator-owned production is written by Christos Gage with art by Jorge Lucas.  For the affordable price of $1.00, the comic book apparently presents the first 22 pages of a book-length tale that is also currently available in original hardcover format.

     The plot centers on Nick Bellamy, a California retiree who, together with his housekeeper, cares for his apparently Altzeimer-afflicted aged wife.  The stoic Nick clearly sees society as having declined in civility, as on a trip to the local supermarket he encounters several crass and extremely rude younger folk.  Nick's errand is interrupted by three mobsters who confront him to collect money that he supposedly took from their boss decades earlier.  The story explodes into a slaughterfest, as Nick kills his attackers in an unexpected display of sharp reflexes and visciousness, then returns home to slaughter more bad guys who had killed his wife and the housekeeper while waiting for Nick's return.  The preview issue concludes with Nick torching his house and setting-off to confront the mobster responsible for the attack.

     I was not entertained by this comic book, for a few reasons.  First, in characterization and story concept, Sunset is a carbon copy of the acclaimed 2008 movie "Grand Torino," which starred Clint Eastwood as an aged loner in a very similar life circumstance, i.e., American society has declined to sucky incivility and only one senior citizen continues to comport himself with personal grace and dignity.  Secondly, after viewing the high quality of the Eastwood film, its jarring to see the same tale painted-over with heavy layers of blood and gore.  And third, the black-and-white art combined with Jorge Lucas's particular graphic style is a very uncomfortable viewing experience.  It didn't take long for me to dread turning the page to continue squinting at this difficult visual presentation.

     I'm a huge fan of Worcester native Chris Gage's prolific and high quality comic book scripting, particularly his excellent work at Marvel.  But while Gage's scripting here is professional and strong, the negatives outlined above tip the balance in this instance into a negative review recommendation.  If you're a fan of Gage's work in general, feel free to add this comic book and/or the accompanying graphic novel to your collection as another example of his body of work.  But if you're just looking for a stand-alone, summertime thriller or noir-style comic book read, I'd recommend searching further along the new issues shelves for another title.

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Brian Wood: Writer
Kristian Donaldson: Art
Dave Stewart: Colors
     Dark Horse Comics is in the middle of publishing a three-issue premier story arc for a new science fiction series entitled The Massive.  The series follows the dramatic struggles of a band of seafaring environmentalists struggling to survive in a post-crash world.  Issue #1 kicks-off the three-part story entitled "Landfall," establishing the concept that the global environment and world social order has collapsed following a series of unexplained environmental mega-disasters.  The Ninth Wave oceanic activist group is patrolling the Bering Strait searching for their lost sister ship called The Massive when they're attacked by Siberian pirates.  Sub-plots established in issue #1 included the pirate attack and mysteries surrounding both the fate of The Massive and the cause of the world-wide collapse.  The series is scripted by Brian Wood with art by Kristian Donaldson and colors by Dave Stewart.

     Issue #2 advances the plot in three alternating storythreads.  A new subplot focuses on the struggles of The Ninth Wave activists one year ago at the start of the world-wide collapse.  Group leader Israel Callum leads the battered team into Hong Kong harbor in search of fuel and supplies within the partly-submerged city.  Action ensues as the team has a deadly confrontation with local residents struggling to establish a new social order.  The additional two subplots continue story elements from issue #1, further progressing the Siberian pirate confrontation and the slow revealing of the details of the world-wide collapse.  By issue's end, the crew has discovered a bit more about the origins of the pirate attack, while a few of the environmentalists begin crossing the Bering Strait to seek help in what's left of Alaska.

     This is a suspenseful and entertaining sci-fi adventure series that works well for several reasons.  The best thing that this series has going for it is the strong writing skills of A-list scripter Brian Woods.  Woods avoids the easy trap of environmental preachiness, using the main event of worldwide collapse as an always close backdrop while he focuses on unfolding a traditional thriller adventure tale.  His cast of characters are diverse and well-rounded, from group leader Israel Callum through the main and supporting cast members.  I particularly enjoyed the air of mystery saturating this tale; at every twist and turn there are one or more mysteries thrown at the reader, from the origins of the world disaster to the mystery of the missing ship, all the way down to the vague personal backgrounds and hidden secrets of just about every crew member.

     There's a lot of engrossing entertainment in the first two issues of this series, so much so that I'm wondering how the creative team is going to give us any sense of story arc completeness with only one more monthly issue remaining in this brief kick-off three-part story arc.  But in the hands of this skilled creative team, I'm confident that the initial story conclusion in next month's issue #3 will establish enough goings-on to carry this title into worthwhile additional monthly story adventures.  So get on down to That's Entertainment and add this very enjoyable science fiction adventure series to your always-growing summertime new issues reading pile!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to correctly identify the few players in Major League Baseball history who have actually played all nine (9) field positions in only one game.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Ray Loughlin III, who correctly identified the five following players who have achieved the rare feat: Bert Campaneris (A's, 1965), Cesar Tovar (Twins, 1968), Jose Oquendo (Cardinals, 1988), Scott Shelden (Rangers, 2000) and Shane Halter (Tigers, 2000).  Congratulations to Ray, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Since we're in the middle of the baseball season, let's stick with baseball for our new contest.  Our latest contest challenge is an off-beat Red Sox trivia question suggested by Ray Loughlin, Jr., father of our contest winner above.  Your new challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, August 8 listing as many Red Sox players as you can find in the history of the team whose last name is the same as a Massachusetts city or town.  Whoever correctly lists the most players in this category will win our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment.  In the event of multiple entries of lists with the same number of correct players, the winner will be selected from among those 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 2012 London Olympics-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 10 Here In Bongo Congo!

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