Review Date: Friday, October 5, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has declared that its yet again Eclectic Week here in Bongo Congo, so let's see what our wide-ranging variety of new comic books are all about:

Thun'da #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Robert Place Napton: Writer
Cliff Richards: Art
Esther Sanz: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment has published the first two issues of a new science fiction-themed jungle adventure series entitled Thun'da.  This is a reboot of the classic Golden Age title created and drawn by Frank Frazetta.  The original series featured WWII pilot Roger Dunn, who was shot-down over Africa and crashlanded in a lost valley, where he had monthly adventures with the lost land's dinosaurs, ape-men and primitive human tribespeople.  The comic book was so popular that in 1952 Columbia Pictures brought it to the silver screen in a serial starring Buster Crabbe.  The new Thun'da comic book is scripted by Robert Place Napton with art by Cliff Richards and colors by Esther Sanz. Naturally, in order to get a good feel for the concept of this series I decided to review last month's premier issue #1.

     Issue #1 presents a 22-page reinterpretation of the classic origin tale of Thun'da, followed by a back-of-the-book reprint of the Golden Age origin tale.  The remade origin tale sets a slower, more measured pace than the Golden Age classic.  In the first half of the tale, we witness three consecutive events:  Roger Dunn's modern-day military helicoptor crash into the hidden valley, his partial amnesia resulting from the crash and his discovery that he's somehow landed himself in the "land that time forgot" which is full of dinosaurs.  The second half of the storyline progresses Dunn into survival mode, as he struggles to understand and utilize partially-recalled memories of his survival skills and gains a sabertoothed tiger cub as a sidekick.  The issue ends on a cliffhanger as Roger and his new cat-buddy are attacked by (what else?) a rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex.

     The genius of this new comic book is the publisher's decision to mix old and new into one feature presentation.  Regarding the new, we have a reboot of the origin tale of this classic adventure series told at a more measured modern pace, with 21st century story structure, action-adventure details and a solid artistic style very suitable to jungle adventure comic book storytelling.  Writer Napton successfully leads us along the first tentative steps of Roger Dunn transforming from 21st century chopper pilot into eventually becoming the prehistoric jungle king Thun'da.  By the end of the issue #1 story segment, he's still American military pilot Roger Dunn, but we can see the strength of character in him that will eventually help him transform into Thun'da, king of the jungle.

     As for the old element, the second feature story is a Golden Age delight, as writer Gardner Fox crams about three stories worth of plot progression into one frantic tale in which Dunn makes the entire transformation in one blurring 10-page story feature.  While it feels kind of jarring to read this overly jam-packed adventure, Frank Franzetta's breathtaking artwork and the entertaining particulars of Fox's classic pulp adventure plot make it the perfect accompaniment to the new re-telling.  In an oddly satisfying way, I felt as if I was reading an illustrated Wikipedia summary of the Thun'da origin adventure as a side reference to the new modern re-telling that was unspooling in the front of this comic book at a more measured pace.

     Most successful jungle adventure comics of the past few years have been re-tellings of familiar Golden Age jungle comic book characters (i.e., Sheena and Jungle Girl).  This strategy is again paying-off with this latest return of a well-known Golden Age jungle comic book character.  So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation to enjoy this new comic book title, which provides the double-treat of a solid new version of the origin of Thun'da combined with the reprint of a gem of a Golden Age origin tale from the classic Golden Age creative team of Gardner Fox and Frank Frazetta.

Fashion Beast #1
Publisher: Avatar Press, Inc.
Alan Moore: Writer
Facundo Percio: Art

     Avatar Press has published a new comic book series entitled Fashion Beast.  Marketing information promotes it as a "sequential adaptation," whatever that means, by British comic book writer Antony Johnson of a script by Alan Moore based on a story by Alan Moore and the late Malcolm McClaren.  McClaren was a well-known figure on the British arts scene, involved in music, film and fashion.  He's also known as the former manager of the music groups The Sex Pistols and The New York Dolls.  Fashion Beast is based on a movie concept of the same name that Moore and McClaren unsuccessfully tried to get produced back in the 1980's.  The art in this series is provided by Facundo Percio.

     Issue #1 presents an odd, fantasy version of life in London.  The reader is introduced to a series of unnamed characters whose lives revolve around The Celestine, a gritty London nightclub that seems more like a working industrial factory than a club.  We briefly meet a shadowy patron named Le Patron as well as a pair of creepy elderly women who run the place.  The bulk of issue #1 follows two plothreads.  In one, we follow a lengthy, panel-by-panel sequence of a bunch of local residents as they primp and dress for attending the club.  In the second sub-plot, we meet the transvestite club receptionist who also takes the club stage in a lengthy scene in which she vogue dances.  The issue ends with the receptionist having a weird altercation with an street person who tried to crash the club.

     This may be the most disjointed piece of fiction that I've ever read in any format, comic book or otherwise.  There's an interesting story seed buried somewhere in this unformed concept, revolving around both the gritty world of the 1970's punk rock and the glam rock scene that Michael McClaron personally knew very well.  But it never has the chance to flourish in the oddly disjointed presentation.  There's just too much meaningless primping here, with page-upon-page of folks getting dressed, admiring themselves and emptily prancing about the story panels.  In the end, what we're served is a series of visuals of a story idea in which no one made the effort to structure a real plot with actual story events proceeding forward.  Its appropriate that the big dance scene presents the anonymous receptionist voguing, an 80's dance style promoted by Madonna in a popular video in which the dancer strikes a series of poses.  That's all this comic book is, a series of meaningless visual poses with no accompanying story presentation.

    I can't wrap-up this review without also commenting on the weirdness of the writing credits.  I can only assume that the "sequential adaptation" credit for Antony Johnson means that British writer Johnson, known for his post-apocalyptic comic series Wasteland, was roped-into the task of dusting-off Moore and McClaren's 1980's movie idea and blew the assignment.  So I'll sum-up with two negative review recommendations.  First, a definite thumbs-down to avoid spending your hard-earned cash on this train-wreck of a comic book that presents unformed visual panels without a real story structure.  And secondly, its time to take a more cautionary approach to any new comic title that has Alan Moore's name attached to it.  While Moore will be forever be deservedly acclaimed as the co-creator of the classic Watchman series, I think we've entered "Stan Lee territory," with Mr. Moore, in which a lot of stuff with his name on it is a promotional affiliation or a dusting-off of a weak and/or faded idea with the intent of generating sales based upon the author's reputation for other and better comic book projects.

World's Finest #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Levitz: Writer
Kevin Maguire & Wes Craig: Art
Rosemary Cheetham: Colors

     Included among the many titles in DC's new "Before The New 52" event series is World's Finest #0.  This latest re-boot of the iconic World's Finest title is up to its regular monthly issue #4; the multi-issue storyline pairs alternate Earth 2 heroes Supergirl/Kara Zor-El and the female Robin/Helena Wayne.  Now stranded in our Earth 1 in follow-up to the Earth 2 war with Darkseid, the pair battle all things bad wearing their new respective costumed identities of Power Girl and Huntress.  The issue #0 story is scripted by writer Paul Levitz with art by Kevin Maguire and Wes Craig, along with colors by Rosemary Cheetham.

     The issue #0 stand-alone tale is aptly entitled "Beginnings" and is set several years prior to the events of the ongoing monthly title.  While the central plotline portrays the first meeting of our duo in younger days, there are two interweaving sub-plots which fill-in the background bios of both characters.  In one bio-line, we learn that Robin/Helena is the daughter of Earth 2's Batman and Catwoman and we learn of the close relationship dynamics among the three family members.  In a parallel sub-plot we learn of the family/mentoring relationship of the Earth 2 Superman and his young cousin Supergirl.  Without spoiling any plot details, these background elements weave into the main storyline, which unfolds an early attack on Gotham by Darkseid's forces, resulting in Catwoman's death, the first public appearance of the heretofore reclusive Supergirl and the resultant initial bonding of Supergirl and Robin as close friends and future superheroing partners.

     I've been very impressed by the quality of the storyverse unfolding in the latest World's Finest reissuance and the creative team only adds in several ways  to that strong effort with this issue #0 prequel.  Writer Paul Levitz is in the midst of developing one of DC's finest-ever alternate world realities for DC's mainstream heroes, taking bold leaps of fictional faith that include killing-off the big three of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman and providing fresh origin tales and interpretations for so many other A-list DC heroes.  The issue #0 flashback story enhances the already-established strong and effective personality details of both Helena and Kara.  The strengths of their respective civilian personalities carry this series moreso than their costumed personas, to the point where it doesn't really matter whether the girls are in their Earth 1 or Earth 2 hero personas.  Either way, they both work well together and support each other throughout their shared experiences between the two alternate Earth realities.

     An additional tip-of-the-review-hat is due to the creative team for the wonderful artwork.  And a final positive shout-out is deserved for the fresh and interesting interweaving of the Darkseid/Apokolips storyline with the mainstream DC superhero universe.  Since the late Jack Kirby created the Fourth World storyverse back in the 1970's, so many of the subsequent portrayals of that side of the DC line-up have felt flat and uninteresting.  Its a pleasure to witness Levitz and team finally breathing some solid storytelling life into the Fourth World elements on an equal par of quality entertainment with the early Jack Kirby presentations.

     So in sum, a very positive review recommendation is well-deserved for the "Before The New 52" issue #0 of World's Finest for a nicely long list of reasons, including its entertaining one-shot script quality, its contribution to the ongoing multi-issue story unfolding in this title and for the many beautifully-crafted alternate bio details and story elements that make this current Earth 1/Earth 2 storyline one of the most entertaining tales currently being published in the DC universe.

Wolverine and The X-Men #17
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron: Writer
Michael Allred: Art
Laura Allred: Colors

     Marvel Comics is up to issue #17 of its Wolverine & The X-Men title.  The premise of this series is that Wolverine and a handful of other X-Men have moved back to their old stomping grounds in Westchester, New York and founded a new academy for gifted teen mutants called the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning.  Wolverine himself is the school headmaster while Kitty Pryde shares administrative duties as the headmistress.  The current issue is scripted by Jason Aaron with art by Michael Allred and colors by Laura Allred.

     The issue #17 one-shot story is entitled "Wolverine's Secret Weapon."  The tale is a flat-out comedy that stars Doop, the weird green blobbed character that Mike Allred created several years ago with writer Peter Milligan.  For the uninitiated, Doop has many goofy abilities along with superstrength and superpowers, and speaks an indecipherable language.  Picture a green-blobbed alien Homer Simpson-type and you're in the Doop ballpark.  In this plotline, Wolverine has recruited Doop as a special security staffer for the school.  Two subplots alternate throughout the issue.  In the first, we're witness to all of Doop's gross and funny antics, resulting in both faculty and students constantly questioning Doop's worth to Wolverine.  Our second sub-plot answers the question multiple times, as behind the scenes Doop constantly foils threats to the school, ranging from the merely absurb to the completely nutty.  By issue's end, Doop receives a well-earned "keep up the good work" compliment from headmaster Wolverine.

      This is both the funniest comic book that I've read in a very long while and the most successful Mad Magazine-style comic parody that I've come across since DC's excellent Ambush Bug mini-series of a few years ago.  While both the single jokes and multi-panel wacky situations are fresh and over-the-top funny, the creative team never drifts away from the main goal here of using humor to prove the touching point that our green blob goofball friend is a true and worthy member of the Jean Grey School family.  Part of the joke is that he's likely the most important member of the group given his expertise in school security issues, yet ironically only he and Wolverine share that knowledge.  A review kudo is also directed to Michael and Laura Allred's particular artistic style; their format of oddly stiff, almost mannequin-like figures worked well in the I, Zombie comic title and is also weirdly perfect for the bizarreness and humor of this issue.

     Its clear from next month's issue #18 promo in the back of this book that this was a one-shot humor issue with the Allreds as guest artists.  That makes it even all the more important for readers grab onto this issue while its still available to enjoy one of the funniest comic books that you'll read all year!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify who was the first character in the very first of the original Star Wars movies to utter a speaking line in the film.  And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Mike Dooley, who correctly identified everybody's favorite Sheldon Cooper-like robot C3P0 as the first speaker in the Star Wars movie series.  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     For our latest Bongo Congo contest challenge, your assignment is to e-mail us no later than Wednesday, October 17 at Gordon_A@msn.com with your completion of the following sentence: "I like to visit That's Entertainment because...(fill-in the rest of the sentence here)."  That's right, tell us why you like to visit our favorite Pop Culture Emporium home-away-from home, That's Entertainment!  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 Major League Baseball (MBL) play-off watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 19 Here In Bongo Congo!

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