Review Date: Friday, September 21, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has found four interesting-looking new comics on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so let's get right to it and see what these new titles are all about:

The Phantom Stranger #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Dan Didio: Writer
Brent Anderson: Pencils
Scott Hanna: Inks
Jeremy Cox: Colors
     DC Comics has just relaunched perennial mysterious favorite The Phantom Stranger into his latest title within the latest crop of New 52 storylines.  As all Good DC Readers know, The Phantom Stranger is an occult-based character with Silver Age origins who has been represented by many creative teams in many comic book titles throughout the years.  His origin has always been an intriguing point of mystery within the DC Universe, with many hints being given, most of which place him as originating back in Biblical times.  The current title is scripted by Dan Didio with pencils by Brent Anderson, inks by Scott Hanna and colors by Jeremy Cox.
     Issue #0 is a stand-alone prequel tale entitled "A Stranger Among Us."  DC has finally rolled the origin dice with this tale, presenting an actual detailed origin story for this long-lasting DC Universe figure.  The plot alternates between two storythreads.  One sub-plot expands upon one of the previously-explored origin possibilties; taking the Biblical route, its clear without actually naming him that the Phantom Stranger was originally Judas Iscariot, who for his Biblical transgressions has been judged by a powerful Council of Wizards to wander through time, attempting to make amends until a certain level of tasks is completed.  A second sub-plot focuses on the origin of The Spectre, providing a different perspective on the often-told origin tale of that superhero which reveals a major role for The Phantom Stranger as he unwittingly helps to create his fellow paranormal DC character.
     I was attracted to reviewing this comic book due to its scripting by Dan Didio, an A-list DC writing veteran and current DC co-publisher, and I wasn't disappointed in the resulting product.  Didio has done an excellent job in fleshing-out the previously referenced thin details of this occult character's background and more fully explaining his reason for existence.  There are also two very effective plot elements connecting the Stranger to additional characters for future story progression within this title.  The first obviously is the Stranger's connection to creating The Spectre, an act which The Spectre clearly resents.  The second element connects The Stranger to two other damned people who are judged along with him before the Council of Wizards, one being Pandora of the classic fable and the second rumored among fandom to be Victor Sage, the original Question.
     So for the strong plotting quality detailed above, combined with a well-paced sense of storytelling and an approriate artistic style, a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this latest worthy addition to the lengthy publishing lineage of DC's The Phantom Stranger.

Steed And Mrs. Peel #0
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Mark Waid: Writer
Steve Bryant: Art
Ron Riley: Colors
     BOOM! Studios has just released issue #0 in a new title based on the popular 1960's British television show The Avengers.  For those of you too young to remember, the show and this comic book are not based on the Marvel superhero team!  The Avengers was a very popular British spy thriller series, starring Patrick Macnee as the dapper British Gentleman spy/crimefighter John Steed.  While he had a string of co-stars come and go throughout the series, his most popular spy partner was the young and lovely Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg.  This latest comic book incarnation of the series is scripted by well-known writer Mark Waid with art by Steve Bryant and colors by Ron Riley.
     The issue #0 stand-alone introductory tale is entitled "The Dead Future."  Set in 1966 London, the plot centers on our duo investigating a science fiction-themed crime pattern.  When accelerated aged murder victims pop-up around London, Steed and Mrs. Peel's investigation leads them to The New Hellfire Club, an old British wealthy men's club that has been redesigned to promote a sci-fi decor and theme.  Steed quickly stumbles upon a club-based scam in which an accelerated aging formula is used on captured intelligence officials in an elaborate attempt to con them out of espionage information.  Without spoiling any details, action ensues as Steed becomes the latest target of the scammers.  With Mrs. Peel in the mix of the spy action all works out in the end, setting the stage for next month's kick-off issue #1 adventure.
      This new comic has several strongpoints which are unfortunately dragged down by horrendous artwork; Steve Bryant's primative visual style takes away from a lot of the fun and squanders the opportunity to provide a potentially impressive artistic depiction of 1960's British mod/pop culture.  Bryant deserves a lengthy time-out in the comic book artist's penalty box just for his unattractive and sloppy drawings of the beautiful Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel. However, Mark Waid's impressive script saves this comic book from the negative review list and elevates it up into an average decent comic book read.  A-lister Waid has the skill and most likely a fanboy devotion to the original television series that helps him to capture onto the comic book page the balanced blend of dry, British drollness and interesting spy thriller mystery/action that made the t.v. series both a hit and a continual cult treasure with devoted fans through the decades. 
     Positive review points also are deserved for the details of 1960's-era science fiction culture depicted in this issue, from bulky analog computers that spit-out ticker-tape information to the campy futuristic depiction of the year 2000 utilized in the elaborate intelligence scheme.  Its also interesting that a back-of-the-book narrative reveals that the London mod-era badguy Hellfire Club at the center of the plot is the original inspiration for its namesake in X-Men comics.  So while the art is a disappointment, Waid saves the day in giving us a worthwhile and very high grade storytelling that is well-worth gritting one's teeth a bit and tolerating visual disappointment in order to savor a very well-written homage to one of the great series spy thrillers of the 1960's television era.

Hawkeye #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
David Aja: Art
Matt Hollingsworth: Colors
     Marvel Comics is up to issue #2 of its new Hawkeye title, in which the bow and arrow-slinging Avenger member stars solo.  I decided to review last month's issue #1 to get a good feel for the title's particular concept from its kick-off issue.  The new series is scripted by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja and colors by Matt Hollingsworth.
     Issue #1 establishes an entirely fresh perspective on the solo lifestyle of Hawkeye.  The focus in this initial storyarc is on the civilian side of Hawkeye's life as he recuperates from serious injury sustained in a bad fall.  However, even in civilian guise our hero gets embroiled in conflict.  Here its in the form of a Russian mob landlord pressuring to evict Hawkeye and his neighbors from their New York tenement building.  The story alternates between present-day and flashback segments of the plot, with the pressure and heavy-duty threats ratcheting-up to the eventual, unavoidable violent confrontation between the bad guy landlord, his gang and Hawkeye.  Without being a detail spoiler, by issue's end Hawkeye not only adequately resolves the issue but gains a dog sidekick as well for further man-and-dog adventures in upcoming issues.
      While this is a highly entertaining plot, even more impressive is the creative team's very fresh new perspective on the well-known Hawkeye storyverse.  Writer Matt Fraction comes at this character from a groundbreaking new angle, presenting Haweye as a day-to-day New Yorker civilian who somewhere off-camera functions at other times as an Avenger.  I don't think I've ever read a comic book that succeeds as much as this one in humanizing a superhero; while efforts such as Tim Sale's "Superman For All Seasons" and xxx xxx's "Thor The Mighty Avenger" made some degree of progress down this storytelling road, Fraction and crew take us much farther along this path.  The result is an absorbing tale balanced with beautiful artwork, absorbing storytelling and an enchanting element of light humor that pops-up at unexpected but very effective story moments.  A final perfect brushstroke is added with the character of Hawkeye's new dog, who goes through his own trials and tribulations that by issue's end make him as worthy a superhero as his human sidekick Hawkeye.
      In sum, Hawkeye is one of those unexpected high quality surprises that seem to show-up on the new issues comic book shelves from time-to-time just when you least expect it.  So savor this treat right now, and hope that Marvel keeps publishing this wonderful new title on a monthly basis for quite a long time.

Doctor Who Special 2012
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Miscellaneous Writers & Artists
     IDW Publishing has previewed its new Doctor Who title by releasing a one-shot Doctor Who Special 2012 comic book.  The oversized edition features a sampling of four new Doctor Who tales, each produced by a different creative team.  For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is the very long-running BBC-syndicated Science Fiction television series, starring the good doctor himself as the last of an immortal race known as Time Masters.  For decades, the show has featured a string of actors taking turns playing the good doctor, who uses his time portal to have adventures across space and time accompanied by a few human friends.
     The first featured tale is entitled "In-Fez-Station" and actually takes place in the present day.  Scripted by veteran Len Wein, the tale centers on a plot uncovered by Doctor Who in which his reptilian alien enemies The Slitheen implement a scheme to destroy mankind using the Moroccan hat known as the Fez.  Without spoiling any details, the Doctor obviously prevents the bad aliens from obliterating mankind.  The next three tales follow the television show format of time-traveling adventures.  Accompanied by the human married adventurers Amy and Rory Pond, the Doctor sets his time portal in these stories for 1992, 1962 and 1936, respectively.  Each of these tales presents a plot that mixes interaction with aliens (both good and bad), action-adventure and the Doctor ultimately solving the mystery or resolving the plot conflict with the use of his handy sonic screwdriver, an all-purpose device that apparently is useful for many purposes beyond merely installing screws!
     This is a fun and entertaining compilation of Doctor Who tales that serves very well the purpose of kicking-off IDW's new Doctor Who title series.  I liked the variety of artistic story presentations; while the four tales present completely different visual styles, there's a common goal here of providing both new and old Doctor Who fans with the three basic elements of the television series: time-travel adventure, interaction with good and bad aliens, and accompaniment of the Doctor by a few trusted ordinary human sidekicks.  The characters of Amy and Rory are very well fleshed-out in all four stories, serving as equal partners in the Doctor's adventures as opposed to serving as background or supportive characters.
     As a final positive review comment, my favorite tale is the first story featuring the alien attack utilizing Moroccan hats.  The humor is cute and there's a nice twist to the story resolution.  On one negative note, there is a side to Doctor Who's personality in these stories in which he seems to behave at times as more befuddled and eccentric than the character from the television series.  It seemed a bit overdone in this issue and hopefully will be reduced in upcoming tales within the regular monthly title.  But all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this well-crafted and enjoyable primer for the new Doctor Who science fiction adventure series from IDW Publishing.
 Contest Winner Announcement!!!
     Our latest contest challenged you to think outside the box and suggest an unexpected role for one of your favorite comic book characters that could be explored in the future.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...David McBarron, who writes "I don't know if this has been done, but what if Daredevil finally snapped and turned bad and took out the King Pin.  At which point, he would take over as the new King Pin of New York."  I'm not a regular reader of Daredevil, but even if its been done, its an intriguing original proposal by David and worthy of our contest. We'll forward David's idea to Marvel Comics and see how they react.  So congrats to our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!
New Contest Announcement!!!
     In honor of the science fiction theme of some of this week's comic book reviews, the Bongo Congo panel of contest judges has decreed that we offer a science fiction trivia challenge this week.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, October 3 with the answer to the following trivia question: who was the very first character to actually speak a line of dialogue in the first Star Wars movie?  There's lots of well-known characters in that first movie and the rest of the series franchise, but one kicked it all off with the first words!  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our winner of the $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be chosen 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 Fall leaf-peeping and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 5 Here In Bongo Congo!

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