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Review Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Here in Bongo Congo

 Good King Leonardo hopes that you all had a good Thanksgiving and has decreed that we kick-off our holiday season comic book reading with a review of four new issues from the That's Entertainment holiday season new issues shelves.  But first, a holiday reading announcement:

Latest Story and Poetry Publishing Announcement!!!

As some of this column's readers are aware, in addition to writing Here In Bongo Congo I write science fiction and fantasy stories and poems that are published in various magazines and book anthologies. For a full listing of those writings as well as links to purchasing the issues, feel free to visit my webpage at www.alaniragordon.com.

     In addition, as we're entering the holiday shopping season, you may want to check-out "Strange Christmas," the latest holiday-themed science fiction/fantasy short story collection from Whortleberry Press, available from all standard webpage book purchase sources as well as directly from the publisher at www.whortleberrypress.com.  My story "The Christmas Raffle" is included in the collection and among other characters, the story stars That's Entertainment's own Ken Carson!  So check-out the tale and tell us what you think of Ken's holiday adventures in "The Christmas Raffle"!

Now let's get right to it and see how our review comic books stack-up against each other:

Aquaman #0
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Geoff Johns: Writer
Ivan Reis & Joe Prado: Art
Rod Reis: Colors

     Yet another entry in DC's wide-ranging prequel flashbacks to before The New 52 is issue #0 of Aquaman.  The goal of this particular issue is to provide Aquaman readers with a detailed new presentation of his standard origin story combined with particular details that illuminate some of the plot particulars ongoing within the monthly New 52 issue of this title.  The prequel issue #0 is scripted by A-list writer Geoff Johns with art by the team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, with colors by Rod Reis.

     The prequel story is entitled "Underwater" and begins with a detailed flashback to six years prior to the present day.  The flashback combines the traditional basics of the Arthur Curry-becomes-Aquaman tale with some fresh details; upon the death of his human father, Arthur begins a water and land-based search for clues to his mysterious heritage through his mother, the long-lost Queen of Atlantis.  In the current Aquaman storyverse, the media and general public are well-aware of Arthur's mixed human-Atlantean lineage. A clue leads Arthur to Vulko, an exiled Atlantean living in Norway.  Vulko educates Arthur in the backstory of his Atlantean heritage, including his mother's death at the hands of his half-brother, who now rules Atlantis as a dictator.  The issue concludes in a dramatic scene in which Arthur and Vulko together return to Atlantis to begin the sure-to-be-difficult task of reclaiming his rightful heritage as King of Atlantis.

     I haven't been reading the New 52 Aquaman title but I'm a big fan of our aquatic hero from the old Silver Age days as well as his Justice League appearances.  As such, I found this issue #0 to be both very entertaining and of high quality storytelling.  Led by veteran writer Geoff Johns, the creative team does a solid job in mixing old school Aquaman storyverse elements with fresh plot details.  I liked the element of media pressure on Arthur, as the press hounds him for details on his Atlantean heritage, and I also enjoyed the element of drama/intrigue, as Vulko introduces Arthur's backstory of family murder and betrayal, which sets the pair on a path back to Atlantis for future story action-adventure.

     Its good to see Geoff Johns back at the top of his storytelling game; my personal opinion has been that some of his writing of the past few years has slipped from his previous high quality, but this issue restores that quality, at least in this instance.  And a final tip-of-the-review hat is due to the artistic team, particularly colorist Rod Reis, who provides us with a poster-worthy, magnificent full-page final story scene that dramatically details Arthur and Vulko's return to the awe-inspiring city of Atlantis.  So kick-off your holiday season comic book reading by enjoying this very entertaining and worthwhile addition to the current Aquaman comic book title.

Fantastic Four #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Mark Bagley: Pencils
Mark Farmer: Inks
Paul Mounts: Colors

     As I mentioned in our last column, following in the footsteps of DC's before-the-new-52 makeover is Marvel's recent "Marvel Now!" effort to re-boot and re-brand across their comic book universe.  One of the latest of these kick-off new series is Fantastic Four #1.  After last month's conclusion of the acclaimed scripting run on this title by writer Jonathan Hickman, Marvel has turned the creative reins for this restart over to writer Matt Fraction with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Mark Farmer and colors by Paul Mounts.

     Issue #1 is the first installment in a new multi-issue storyarc entitled Unstable.  Our plotline begins with two initial events.  First, the FF return from a timetraveling adventure with Reed Richards having suffered a severe and mysterious injury to one of his elastic-powered arms.  Secondly, Sue Richards discovers upon their return that in their absence, her young son Franklin has had a premonition that has forwarned the family from returning to any outer space adventuring.  Naturally, as the story progresses, Reed discovers that the only cure for his injury, as well as the potential physical deterioration of the entire FF, lies in a faraway space trek.  As such, Reed convinces the FF to take their entire group of family, friends and hangers-on along on a major space adventure, concocting a false "teaching opportunity" for the kids as a cover-up of the severity of the medical threat to the group.  By issue's end, everyone's set to blast-off for the trek to begin in next month's story segment.

     If issue #1 is any indication, this new grand adventure story arc should unfold as a high quality and very entertaining addition to the lengthy story lineage of this iconic, decades-long comic book series.  While I enjoyed Jonathan Hickman's very long run writing FF, it was a story approach that was consistently dark, at times grimly serious and epic with a threat of ultimate disaster.  While new problems and challenges are already arising to the FF in issue #1, the new creative team has a more traditional and lighter touch to their story mood and approach, making it all for a more fun reading ride.  I'm also intrigued by plans to alternate between various artists on this FF re-boot, with very unique artist Mike Allred stepping into the artistic lead for issue #2.

    I will admit that I'm personally irked by the large growth in the number of characters within the extended FF family featured in their storyline over the past few years.  I'm an old-school fan of FF stories focusing mainly on the Fab 4 themselves, and I just don't enjoy as much the inclusion of this assembled modern-day FF family that includes a huge load of alien kids, including one that's just a head floating in a jar of water.  I guess the traveling-school-within-the-family concept allows for some wider storylines, but for me personally it detracts and distracts from the core possibilities of what FF stories are all about.  There's nothing wrong with this current approach and its not a review critique of the quality of this comic book, just a personal desire for the old school FF-vs.-the-world approach to these comics.  So all in all, a deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good Marvel readers to definitely enjoy this latest quality take on the Fantastic Four.

Joe Kubert Presents #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Joe Kubert, Brian Buniak & Sam GLanzman: Writing & Art

     As all good fanboys and fangirls know by know, iconic D.C. artist/writer Joe Kubert recently passed away.  Kubert is renowned for a 60-plus year DC Comics career that would take pages of narrative to describe in even general terms.  Among his more well-known works were years of artistry on Hawkman and Our Army At War-Sgt. Rock comics.  Among my personal favorite Kubert products is his 1970's run on DC's Tarzan title.  DC Comics is graciously releasing Joe's last project that was in the final stages of production at the time of his passing.  The six-issue limited series entitled is "Joe Kubert Presents" and as Kubert writes in an issue #1 column, he provides new stories of a particular artistic style and story content that are high quality but which we don't see much of in today's comic book publishing world.

     Issue #1 presents four introductory tales. Kubert writes and draws the lead story, a brand-new 22-page Hawkman adventure.  Its a revised and updated origin tale, in which Hawkman/Katar and Hawkwoman/Shayera travel from their home planet Thanagar to initially arrive on Earth in Africa.  The duo immediately become embroiled in a dramatic conflict with a native African tribe that is unwittingly being exploited by outside corporate forces.  Creator Brian Buniak presents a new Angel & The Ape tale, in which our favorite blonde human/hairy simian detective duo are hired to protect local restauranteur Walter Weissmuller, who for reasons I won't go into, had ordered a criminal execution hit on himself and nows wants protection!  A third five-page tale is entitled "Spit," and is the first installment in a multi-issue storyline by Kubert that was inspired by his repeated childhood readings of Moby Dick.  The fourth tale is an autobiographical WWII story by veteran creator Sam Glanzman, coaxed out of retirement by Kubert in order to detail Glanzman's World War II naval experiences in the Pacific campaign onboard the destroyer USS Stevens.

     You can't ask for or expect a more appropriate tribute to Kubert's professional legacy than this wonderful treasure-trove of his final comic book series.  The Hawkman story is frankly mind-blowing, hitting the trifecta of excellent Kubert-style artwork, strong storytelling and successfully incorporating the modern issue of exploiting Africa's people and resources into this iconic superhero's historic storyverse.  Brian Buniak successfully fills the shoes of previous Angel & The Ape creators, presenting a very wacky and entertaining tale in the well-known tradition of the humorous detective duo.  Sam Glanzman's tale is both a high quality production and heartbreaking in its autobiographical authenticity of the horror of war from the perspective of the average enlisted man.  It also serves as a very effective reminder for today's young and old readers alike of the heavy burden that the average draftee experienced and often sacrificed for his or her country on the front lines of World War II.

     A final review shout-out is deserved for that Kubert essay mentioned above, in which he reminisces on some aspects of his career, presents his goals for this title and shares with readers the jaw-dropping memory of holding a hot-off-the-presses, ten-cents-a-copy issue #1 of Action Comics in his DC office gofer hands back in the early Golden Age of comics!  That reminiscence alone is worth the very reasonable $4.99 price of this oversized comic book anthology issue.

     I have only one minor criticism of this issue and its regarding the story "Spit."  While its an interesting seafaring adventure tale in the spirit of Moby Dick, Kubert's decision to present the tale in a highly-detailed, black-and-white pencil sketch-style feels too unfinished and takes some of the impact away from the drama of the story.  But that's only one constructive criticism in the four story kick-off issue of Joe Kubert Presents.  So my review advice is to get on-board with issue #1 for all six scheduled issues of this limited series.  Then save this series to re-read what is sure to be a treasured representative sampling not only of Kubert and his compatriot's historic body of work but also an example of how the late master and his peers were able to produce A-plus quality work up to and including this final comic book gift to all of us.

X-O Manowar #7
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment LLC 
Robert Venditti: Writer
Lee Garbett: Pencils
Stefano Gaudiano: Inks
Moose Baumann: Colors

     Valiant Entertainment is up to issue #7 of its reboot of X-O Manowar.  For the uninitiated, the title originated in 1992 as the creation of Marvel veteran Jim Shooter and artist Bob Layton.  The very popular series is a science fiction epic tale that begins in 402 A.D. when aliens capture a Visigoth barbarian prince named Aric of Dacia.  Long story short, Aric leads an outer space revolt against the alien captors and due to space travel time dilation, returns to Earth 1600 years later in our modern era.  Aric also stole and wears the Shanhara, a sacred all-powerful advanced armor suit for which the aliens are prepared to wage an all-out war against mankind for its return.  The reboot series is scripted by Robert Venditti with pencils by Lee Garbett, inks by Stefano Gaudiano and colors by Moose Baumann.

     The issue #7 story segment is entitled "Uneasy Alliances" and presents two interconnected sub-plots.  The first is to explain further to the reader the story element of "the Vine," which is a shadowy world-wide alliance of thousands of human/alien hybrids who have infiltarted all levels of worldwide society.  Vine members have the ability to gather telpathically in an outside dimension to meet and plot their efforts.  The second sub-plot focuses on Aric himself. After being confronted by a renegade, pro-mankind Vine member and a shadowy ninja warrior, the threesome form an uneasy alliance as they brainstorm a plan to confront the Vine member who has become the head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence group.  By issue's end, the aliens forces are preparing for Earth invasion while our trio arrive at MI-6 headquarters for next issue's attack.

     This issue is my first introduction to the X-O Manowar comic book title.  While I like some of the general science fiction themes in this story concept, I'm not impressed with the details of the storytelling approach.  There are just too many mismatched fictional genres mashed together in this concept, including ancient history flashbacks, alien invasion fiction, high tech adventure/action, world-wide conspiracy fiction, etc.  The result is an overstuffed storyline that is too detailed, alternating between genre elements that don't connect well.  What's needed here is a standard, seamless story progression, but what we end-up with are a series of jarring scenes between historical epochs and genres.  The end result is a feel that a whole bunch of disconnected story ideas were glued-together in an attempt to create a standard story world.  As such, the storytelling just never gets into a comfortable narrative groove for the reader to get comfortably absorbed into and entertained by the comic book.

    As a final review comment, the concept of "the Vine" is also oddly explained.  On the one hand, its emphasized that its a "benevalent" attempt to create a hybrid race of alien-humans without any plans to interfere in humanity's business, yet they've infiltrated society's leadership and are clearly plotting world domination.  Its just a contradictory story concept that further muddies the storytelling waters and diminishes the reading entertainment value of the comic book.

     I'm aware how popular the 1990's version of this comic book series was, literally selling millions of issues during its storied initial publishing run.  I doubt if the current storytelling approach mirrors the structure and quality of that version of X-O Manowar.  So bottom line, if you're an old fan of the 1990's X-O Manowar title run, you might want to gamble a few bucks on judging this new title for yourself but my advice is to skip this jumbled puzzle of a title in favor of either back issues or reprint compilations of the old series, or just find another science fiction adventure title to read from among the many such comic books available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to name the NFL team that has won the most Super Bowls.  And our winner via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)... Nessa Shields, who correctly identified the Pittsburgh Steelers as having won a total of six Super Bowl titles in 8 trips to The Big Game.  Nessa also points out that the Green Bay Packers have won less Super Bowls than the Steelers but a league-leading total of 13 championships, starting back in the 1920's pre-Super Bowl era.  Congratulations to Nessa who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Many columns ago we challenged you to identify which U.S. President weighed the most, with our winner identifying the portly President Howard Taft as weighing-in as our plumpest Commander-In-Chief, before he eventually underwent a very successful diet.  Our latest U.S. presidential trivia challenge goes to the opposite end of the extreme.  Your challenge this time is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com  no later than Wednesday, December 12 and correctly identify which U.S. President weighed the least.  Basically, who was our lightest President?  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 holiday shopping as well as two great comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 14 Here In Bongo Congo!

 
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