Review Date: Friday, November 16, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we celebrate the recent conclusion of our long national election season with reviews of four interesting-looking new comic books, so let's forget all about politics (for now, at least!) and get right to it and see what these new issues are all about:

Marvel Now! Point One (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     On a parallel track to recent storyverse overhauls within the DC Comics publishing universe, Marvel Comics has recently initiated its own fictional universe overhaul entitled "Marvel Now!" The shake-up is in follow-up to the recent Avengers vs. X-Men storyline and is intended to market all-things-Marvel in an effort to attract expanded readership to the wide range of Marvel titles. The "Marvel Now! Point One" issue is an oversized comic book featuring six stories with the goal of providing background information for a handful of the standard Marvel titles included in the relaunch. While a large group of writers and artists are involved in producing these six tales, its worth noting that this eclectic group includes A-list creators Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Allred, Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness.

     The six featured stories provide fresh storyline beginnings for various players within the Marvel universe. Five of the tales are presented as alternate happenings away from the action of a main SHIELD story, which unfolds in-between the settings of the additional five stories. In the SHIELD tale, Nick Fury and his team attempt the debriefing of a supposed timetraveler from the future, who plays a cat-and-mouse verbal headgame of taunting Fury with tantalizing hints of "significant events" about to unfold in the days to come. Our remaining five stories are presented in-between scenes of this mysterious debriefing and serve as prequels to the following new Marvel Now! titles: Fantastic Four #1 featuring Ant-Man, Young Avengers #1 featuring a Miss America & young Loki plotline, the origin of Nova in a new Nova #1 title, a Cable & X-Force #1 issue re-boot and a Guardians Of The Galaxy title featuring Star-Lord.

     This prequel anthology concept is similar to the DC Universe Presents #0 issue that I reviewed in our last column. Similar to that DC effort, the issue works very well in providing the reader with useful background and understanding of the re-boot details across a wide range of Marvel comic book titles. While the entire six-tale effort succeeds, a few of the individual stories stand-out from among the crowd. Writer Nick Spenser deserves a shout-out for penning the Nick Fury/SHIELD tale; his dialogue for the trickster time-traveler is as good as science fiction narrative gets, as the captive futurebeing weaves a web of things-to-come hints that may be true or may be part of an elaborate scam. Likewise, writers Brian Michael Bendis in the Star Lord story and Jeph Loeb in the Nova origin tale each give us a mix of action, sharp dialogue and story action worth ranking at the top of anyone's current comic book reading list. But my favorite story is the Young Avengers tale starring Miss America and Loki, which combines writer Kieron Gillen's edgy dialogue and wonderful artwork from Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton as the kick-off for a title reboot that's sure to provide a lot of entertainment.

     My only constructive review criticism of this Point One issue is regarding the lay-out style of the six-story presentation. Unlike the DC Universe Presents title which clearly presented six stand-alone tales, Point One attempts to interconnect these stories by presenting five of them as alternating sidebars sandwiched in-between sections of the kick-off Nick Fury tale. Since the six tales have absolutely no interconnection between their respective plots, this alternating style is at times confusing and/or just plain jarring. Its not a major flaw of this issue, just a needless annoyance that thankfully isn't bothersome enough to sink the high level of entertainment and quality of this issue.

     If this prequel primer issue is any indication, the new Marvel Now! storyverse reboot is going to provide us with a lot of reading fun. So a definite positive review recommendation for all good Marvel fanboys and fangirls to read this one-shot Marvel Now! issue, both as an informative prequel primer of all things Marvel Now! as well as for the stand-alone entertainment of the six stories in this excellent oversized issue that's well-worth the $5.99 price.

Sword Of Sorcery Featuring: Amethyst #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Christy Marx: Writer
Aaron Lopresti: Art

     DC Comics is including in its latest batch of New 52 features a "Sword Of Sorcery" comic book featuring the return of a 1980's fantasy character, Amethyst: Princess Of Gemworld. The original series was geared toward young readers and featured as the main character Amy Winston, an orphaned Earth girl who discovers that she's actually the exiled princess of the magical Gemworld. Amy's adventures centered on her return to Gemworld to avenge her dead parents and fight the evil ruler Dark Opal. The new series updates and revises the Amethyst storyverse to satisfy modern reader sensibilities in today's DC publishing universe. This revival series is scripted by Christy Marx with art by Aaron Lopresti.

     The prequel issue #0 storyline is entitled "Homecoming" and revises/updates our young heroine's origin story. The storyline alternates between three interweaving sub-plots. In the main storythread, we meet Amy Winston on the eve of her 17th birthday. Amy's single mother has moved her from town-to-town, harboring a family secret which she promises to reveal at a specific crucial moment on the eve of Amy's birthday. The second sub-plot focuses on Amy interacting with her new high school classmates, as we're introduced to various teen characters ranging in behavior from good to bad. And our third sub-plot updates life in the other-dimensional realm of Nilaa. Here we learn that Amy's folks had ruled the House Of Amthyst and that her mother had fled to Earth with her as a baby after Amy's evil aunt killed her father and took over the kingdom. The issue climaxes as Amy's mom teleports the pair back to the magical realm at the moment of revealing her origin, throwing mother and daughter into a pitched battle between their old allies and the evil aunt's forces.

     I couldn't help but compare this comic book to the Robyn Hood title from Dynamite Comics that I reviewed two columns ago; both titles premise the hiding of a magical realm girl on our Earth, who as a teen learns of her heritage and returns home to battle evil. While I liked the Robyn Hood tale, this Amethyst storyline has much more depth to it than its initial 1980's publication run, providing more story possibilities in the latest title version. I loved the many little changes to the 1980's Amethyst storyverse, all of which successfully update the title for a modern-day quality of entertainment. My three favorite revisions include first, the living presence of Amy's mother as a guide/mentor/partner in her adventures and secondly, the implied reference in a back-of-the-book narrative that this storyline will feature Amy shuttling back-and-forth between Earth and Nilaa, thus balancing her fantasy adventures with her efforts to cope within a typical high school environment. Third, I like the updating of the fantasy realm, renaming it from Gemworld to planet Nilaa, on which several gem-named royal kingdoms, all jockey for position against one another. This situation allows for the possibility of some entertaining story alliances and conflicts among all parties.

     Credit is due to writer Christy Marx for transforming a 1980's style teenaged girl fantasy comic book into a more sophisticated fictional concept, one that successfully balances old and new Amethyst elements into a fresh comic book title to be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Normally, I wouldn't read this style of comic book story beyond a review issue, but there's enough intrigue and story possibilities built into this re-boot that I've decided to check-out next month's issue to see where this story arc takes us. And a final shout-out is deserved to artist Aaron Lopresti for his high quality renderings of both worlds that Amy and her mom inhabit in their dual-world adventure. So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this excellent DC Comics edition to the fantasy comic book genre.

Princeless #1
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment
Jeremy Whitley: Writer
Nancy King, Quinne Larsen & Emily Martin: Art

     In follow-up to the above review of DC's reboot of its Amethyst fantasy title, I thought it would be interesting to review another new title that also features a fantasy princess storyline. The small press publisher Action Lab Entertainment has just released issue #1 of a two-issue mini-series entitled Princeless. Subtitled "Short Stories For Warrior Women," the comic book is in follow-up to a 4-issue mini-series of the same title published in 2011. The series depicts the adventures of the preteen Princess Adrienne who lives with her family and subjects in the fantasy kingdom of Ashland. The three short tales presented in issue #1 are written by Jeremy Whitley with art by Nancy King, Quinne Larsen and Emily Martin.

     Our first short tale, entitled "The Thing In The Dungeon," introduces Princess Adrienne and her playmates. Excitement ensues when Adrienne and her friend Devin nose around the castle's dungeon, leading to an unexpected enounter with a dragon. Story number two is entitled "The Merry Adventures Of Young Prince Ash" and introduces us to the Prince Ash of the title, who is at least a teenager if not a young adult. The plot is a flashback, in which Prince Ash recounts to the King an adventure that he experienced during a footrace through an enchanted forest. Our third tale is a five-page preview of a longer story scheduled for next month's issue, in which the King gathers together a colorful assortment of knights, challenging them to capture a rogue knight and dragon with the victor receiving the hand of any one of the King's princess daughters.

     This is a cute and harmless comic series drawn in the manner of a Saturday morning cartoon with storylines definitely geared to very young readers. As such, it serves as a pretty decent introduction for youngsters to the fantasy genre of fiction. Its colorful, while the stories are very brief and simplistic. Most important of all, the issue is crammed with pin-ups, ads and promos of the Princeless storyverse, all of which provide a nice mix of short attention-span amusement for little kids. The second tale in the issue that features the adventure recollection of Prince Ash does have the potential of a spin-off series that could be scripted to the entertainment level of teenaged readers. But for now, what we have is a high quality fantasy comic book for little kids. So a thumbs-up positive review recommendation for you older readers to encourage younger readers to check-out this new children's fantasy comic book series.

The Bionic Woman #5
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Paul Tobin: Writer
Daniel Leister: Art
Kristy Swam: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment is up to issue #5 of its Bionic Woman comic book. Aging fanboys and fangirls will remember the popular 1970's television shows The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman, in which the respective characters Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers were partially rebuilt with bionic parts, after which they had action adventures as federal government agents. The Bionic Woman comic book series is scripted by Paul Tobin with art by Daniel Leister and colors by Kristy Swam.

     Issue #5 is the latest segment of an untitled multi-issue story arc in which Jamie tracks and confronts a criminal organization that traffics in black market bionic body parts. The first half of the issue is very dialogue-oriented, as Jamie has an extended conversation with Nora, a young woman with flame-producing powers. The focus here is Nora's struggle with her guilt over badly burning one of the black market bad guys back in issue #4. The action kicks-in midway through the story, as Jamie and Nora infiltrate the secret black market facility, where they discover a gruesome organ-harvesting operation with partially dismembered victims kept alive for their parts. Naturally, a battle ensues which builds to an end-of-the-issue cliffhanger as one of the baddies tosses Nora off of the building roof.

     I really disliked this issue for two reasons. The main flaw here is the manner in which the creative team has updated the Bionic Woman story style from its 1970's television kitchiness to a 2012 version that's bloody, coldly violent and gruesome in its depiction of the story victims. The charm of the original series concept is completely erased and replaced with a gruesome style which is overly violent. Most disturbing is the casual manner in which Jamie Summers now barehandedly kills her opponents. The second negative here is artist Daniel Leister's bizarre decision to draw every woman in this comic book, and I mean every single women in this storyverse, as the drop-dead gorgeous replica of a Playboy centerfold. Its just fanboy nerd creepy when this happens as it does in the occasional comic book, and just seems more geared to a male teen-aged reader's fantasy rather than creating a product even semi-realistic and readable for general fandom.

     So bottom line, a thumbs-down negative review recommendation on The Bionic Woman. If you're a fan of the 1970's version of this fiction franchise you'll just be plain depressed at how the current reboot takes all of the original style and fun out of this storyverse and if you're a new fan, you'll find that this series is just a thin replica of so many much better action-adventure series available throughout the new issue shelves at That's Entertainment.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to correctly tell us what is the most filmed fiction story of all time. We had only one correct entry this week and our winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who correctly identifies Dracula as the most filmed story in history! Congratulations to Erin who now has the opportunity (if she so wishes) to use her first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment to buy any Dracula-related stuff available in the store!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Since we're about halfway through the 2012 National Football League (NFL) season, this week's contest offers-up a football trivia question. Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, November 28 with the correct answer to the following question: What NFL team has won the most Superbowls and how many Superbowls have they won? We all know that the Yankees have won the most baseball World Series, but how many of us know which NFL team is the all-time leader in Super Bowl championship wins? As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our winner of the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected 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 on-going specials, only.

That's all for now, so have a great Thanksgiving holiday as well as two great comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 30 Here In Bongo Congo!

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