Review Date: Friday, September 7, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has selected an eclectic variety of new comic books for us to review this week.  So let's get right to it and see for ouselves what these new issue titles are all about:

Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Adam Hughes: Art
Laura Martin: Colors

     DC Comics has expanded its stable of Before Watchmen titles by publishing issue #1 of a four-issue mini-series focusing on everybody's favorite blue-skinned scientist superhero, Dr. Manhattan.  For the uninitiated, we're currently in the middle of a DC mega-event which features a series of prequel comic titles to Alan Moore's acclaimed Watchmen comic series/graphic novel.  Each limited series centers on different characters from Watchmen, including Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, Rorschach, The Minutemen and now Dr. Manhattan.  Again for non-Watchmen fans, Dr. Manhattan is scientist Dr. Jon Osterman, the victim of a 1950's science accident who can manipulate the laws of quantum mechanics to travel the timestream and to some degree manipulate probabilities and outcomes of events.

    The issue #1 storyline is entitled "What's In The Box?" and alternates between three sub-plots.  One storythread is a basic background primer on Jon himself, alternating scenes from various stages of his life, as such briefing the reader on the childhood, teen year and adult episodes of his life that molded the stoic personality that readers came to know in the original 1980's Watchmen series.  A brief second storythread connects this title to events also unfolding in the other Before Watchmen titles, as Dr. Manhattan slightly alters probability events to assure that his attraction to Silk Spectre blossoms into romance.  Our third sub-plot follows Dr. Manhattan in a risky experiment in which he timetravels back to observe the accident that created his altered state of being.  The issue ends in a surprise cliffhanger, as the good Doctor discovers a shocking difference in the accident completely at odds with his original experience.

     As a regular reader of most of the Before Watchmen titles, I've found the quality of those other titles ranging from average to above average, with none of them approaching the classic narrative and literary quality of Moore's original series.  But if anyone could near that level of storytelling greatness its A-plus writer J. Michael Straczynski and sure enough, he's pulled himself pretty darn close to Moore's writing level with this new series.  While the other series writers seek instead to add their own perspective to the Watchmen universe, Straczynski rolls the dice and immerses himself right into Alan Moore's take on Dr. Manhattan as a haunted and tragic story figure.  The same melancholy riffs on the nature of life and being are here, mixed-in with the soap opera issues that Manhattan, Silk Spectre and the rest of the Watchmen crew experience, all played-out against the tense, ticking backdrop of impending universal doom.

     Straczynski and the art team pull-off this Moore-like storytelling approach so well that in my opinion, one could read this issue and assume that Alan Moore himself had written this particular prequel.  While Moore most likely would be furious to read that observation given his well-publicized opposition to DC's prequel publishing event, that's a complement to this creative team that's very well-deserved.  Its also worth noting that of the four Before Watchmen titles that I'm currently reading, this series succeeds the most as both a stand-alone read and a component within the overall multi-title series narrative.

     So enough already with my praise!  Dr. Manhattan is by far the best piece of the Before Watchmen universe, so my review advice is to either focus on this title if you're selectively choosing among the series titles or alternately, savor this title amongst all of the titles as another major product from the keyboard of J. Michael Straczynski, proving once again that he's in a rare league of his own at the very top of today's comic book writing profession.

Young Justice #18
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Greg Weisman: Writer
Christopher Jones: Art
Zac Atkinson: Colors

     DC's Young Justice comic book title is up to issue #18 this month.  The series is a kid-friendly comic book counterpart to the Cartoon Network television show featuring a teenaged version of the Justice League.  The team make-up includes Superboy, Robin/Dick Grayson, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Miss Martian and a female teen Green Arrow-type named Artemis Crock.  The series is scripted by Greg Weisman with art by Christopher Jones and colors by Zac Atkinson.

     The current multi-issue story arc is entitled "Monkey Business" and features an ongoing confrontation between the teen heroes and The Brain, a giant villainous superbrain (naturally!) who's assisted in his bad deeds by a bunch of scientifically-enhanced, super-intelligent gorillas including our old Flash storyverse friend Gorilla Grodd.  After a three-page introductory visual summary of the story to-date, the superteens get into an issue-long extended jungle battle with the bad guys.  After much back-and-forth maneuvering, the supergorrillas manage to capture most of the team, with the exception of Miss Martian and Superboy's pet wolf (named "Wolf," of course).  The issue concludes in an interesting twist of a bridge to next month's installment, as it appears that there are cracks in the unity of the villains, with Gorilla Grodd unexpectedly attempting to ally with the on-the-run Miss Martian against The Brain.

     DC markets the segment of its title inventory which includes Young Justice as comic books that are kid-friendly yet entertaining for readers of all ages.  I agreed with this pitch when I previously reviewed the "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" title and I agree even more after reading Young Justice #18.  This title has a bunch of good stuff going for it.  First-up is the writing skill of Greg Weisman, who gives us a story with a pitch-perfect blend of teen humor and comic book drama.  The television cartoon visual style of Jones and Atkinson also fits very well to this type of young teen comic book storytelling.  I also was impressed with the seamless weaving of old and new DC storyverse elements into this tale.  Entertaining old-school story elements included the featuring of Flash storyverse supergorillas (for which I have a major fan weakness!) along with secondary character use of Batman and Captain Marvel as mentors to the team.  Regarding new elements, I enjoyed the prominence of Miss Martian and Artemis in this series, who as female teenaged heroes embodied more loose, realworld teenlike personalities than their stodgy male senior counterparts.

     So a double thumbs-up positive review recommendation for Young Justice, both as an excellent comic book series for younger readers and also for living-up to its expectations as a comic book that truly can be enjoyed by fanboys and fangirls of all reading ages, from young kid to old adult and everyone in between!

Publisher: D.C. Comics
Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti: Writers
Cat Staggs: Pencils
Tom Derenick: Inks
Jason Wright: Colors
     DC Comics has just published issue #1 of a four-issue mini-series starring Phantom Lady and Doll Man.  Both characters originated back in the earliest days of the Golden Age of comics.   While there have been a zillion different versions over the decades of these two costumed heroes, its interesting to note that Doll Man was created in 1939 by the legendary Will Eisner and as such predated DC's The Atom as the first shrinking comic book superhero.  This latest title pairs the duo in a storyline scripted by the team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with pencils by Cat Staggs, inks by Tom Derenick and colors by Jason Wright.

    The multi-issue story arc is entitled "Chasing Shadows" and alternates between flashback and present-day scenes to present the storyline.  Phantom Lady is Jennifer Bender, who as a child witnessed her parents murder at the hands of a Metropolis crime boss.  Now a young adult, Jennifer has infiltrated the ranks of the crime boss's family by dating one of his violently looney sons.  To make a long story short, Jennifer's cover is blown, whereupon her female best friend is badly beaten as a warning to her; Jennider flees to her male buddy Dane, who in this title is a loner scientist working to create his shrinking technology.  When the gangsters track down and retaliate further against Jennifer, Dan's shrinking machine accidentally works on him, with his newly-discovered ability primed and ready for use in next month's issue #2.

     My initial reaction to this comic was to consider giving it a mixed, albeit slightly positive review.  But after mulling it over for a day or so, I shifted to a more-deserved thumbs-down negative recommendation, for a few reasons.  My biggest peeve is the decision of the writing team to paint Jennifer as a weak victim in this storyline.  Here's a woman who demonstrates some real superpowers abilities, but consistently behaves in her personal life as an emotionally-abused, mousy victim of a gangster boyfriend.  It also creeps me out that she's willing to sleep with a murderer to get closer to avenging her dead parents.  Throughout the issue, there's an over-the-top, non-stop barrage of physical and emotional abuse of Jennifer and her girlfriend at the hands of these serial killers to the point where an eventual flowering of her superhero persona in upcoming issues just doesn't connect with the overall approach to this storyline.

     While I'm a fan of many comic books scripted by the Gray-Palmiotti writing duo, once in awhile the pair goes off the beaten path to pursue what they no doubt feel is dramatic storytelling edginess, but instead produces a product that tanks into a cheesy, flat story.  Mix into my criticisms above some unbearably flat dialogue between Jennifer and Dane in which he whines about wanting them to be more than "just friends" and you can sort this title into the cheesy-flat pile of the Gray-Palmiotti story inventory.  And that's a shame, because these two iconic, early-Golden Age superhero characters deserve better storytelling treatment than the third-rate dialogue and story convolution that's rampant throughout this latest Phantom Lady-Doll Man presentation.

Publisher: D.C. Comics
Geoff Johns: Writer
Jim Lee: Pencils
Many Inkers & Colorists

     I recently read that Justice League is one of the most popular superhero comic titles currently being published, so I decided to review the current issue #12.  The latest team membership is fairly traditional and includes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash and someone called Cyborg.  The current plot is written by Geoff Johns with pencils by Jim Lee.  Oddly, fourteen different artists share the credits for each producing a portion of this issue's inking and coloring.

     The current tale is entitled "Rescue From Within" and is being marketed as including a big first kiss in DC's long history between iconic A-listers Superman and Wonder Woman.  There are three sub-plots that weave around each other to move this storyline forward toward the conclusion's expected "super smooch."  Without being a detail spoiler, there's a battle scene and ongoing conflict between the Justice Leagers and an ordinary journalist who becomes possessed by evil spirits that empower him with superpowered abilities.  A second plot thread features Wonder Woman's former boyfriend Colonel Steve Trevor, who represents the team as their liaison with the media and the government.  A third sub-plot dominates the second half of the issue; after enduring public backlash against the team in follow-up to their most recent public battles, the League has a dramatic, multi-page meeting to hash-out their problems.  The issue ends on a double dramatic note, as one team member resigns as a public relations move to protect the team, while Superman and Wonder Woman feel lonely and have a bonding conversation that leads to that kiss.

     This is an interesting Justice League storyline.  While nothing classic or mega-event is going-on, there are three elements that make the issue a very solid read.  The first is the well-crafted dialogue and strong artwork; writer Johns and penciler Lee balance the story very well among all members of the League, giving us a tale that nicely features everyone dealing with the story situation as a working superteam.  Secondly, I liked the storythread in which the team struggles to deal with their rapidly declining image among the general populace.  There's an intriguing debate among the members as to whether superheros should just go about their world-saving business or prioritize improving their likability and comfort factor with the general population. 

     And third is the issue of "the big kiss."  While it might seem somewhat overblown in today's more explicit pop culture environment, it is interesting that as far as I know, there's never been any real romantic development between these two characters over the many decades of the DC universe.  It would be fun for this little plot element to grow into something more serious between the pair; I personally would like DC to throw the dice and echo the old Batman/daughter-of-Ras Al Ghul soap opera, a romance which produced the bratty Damian Robin.  Can you imagine a bratty Superkid as the son of Superman and Wonder Woman?!  Chances are this smooch ain't going anywhere in terms of major DC universe soap opera shenanigans, but its still fun to speculate and it adds a nice story element to this title. 

     On a final review note, there's a nice three-page back-of-the-book preview of upcoming story developments in this title, including a neat two-page spread introducing a rival Justice League that will challenge this traditional team make-up.  I was very intrigued by the make-up of the second team, which presents a nice mix of older and more recent DC superheroes, along with one well-known character who's often a villainess (guess who!).  So by all means check-out the many goings-on in this enjoyable latest issue of Justice League.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest was posted in light of our Red Sox missing this year's upcoming Major League Baseball postseason play-offs.  We challenged you to tell us what other MLB team you'd be rooting for to make the play-offs.  And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who tells us that he'd like the Washington, D.C.-based Nationals to win because "they've been miserable dating back to their days as the (Montreal) Expos.  Also, they built their team mainly through the draft which is more acceptable than buying a team like the Yankees and both LA teams have done."  Some good analysis and reasoning by Gregory as to why this non-Red Sox team deserves its turn at the championship podium.  So congratulations to Gregory who wins our first-prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Its time to put our creative thinking caps back on with a new comic book-based contest.  So let's play "What If."  In the Justice League comic book review above, we mentioned that it would be fun for DC to roll the dice, having Superman and Wonder Woman's romance blossom to the point where they have a Superkid, a la the bratty Batman progeny Damien/Robin.  Your challenge this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, September 19 and pitch to us your own idea for an unexpected comic book character/story development that you'd like to see.  Take a risk here, propose some hero or story character(s) unexpectedly dying, changing identities, behaving or doing something completely unexpected and out-of-character, etc.  Maybe you have an idea for a good guy to become a villain or vice-versa. You get the picture!
     We'll not only choose a winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment, but we'll forward any interesting ideas to the respective publishers and maybe you'll eventually see your creative idea in a published storyline!  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 NFL watching (Go Patriots!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 21 Here In Bongo Congo!

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