Review Date: 12/15/2012

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week an eclectic mix of comic books, so let's get right to it and see what these new titles are all about:

Nowhere Men #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Eric Stephenson: Writer
Nate Bellegarde: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Image Comics has recently published issue #1 of a new comic book entitled "Nowhere Men."  The title is a direct reference to the Beatles song "Nowhere Man" and is an appropriate name for this new series, which chronicles the science action-adventures of four scientists who physically resemble the Beatles.  This Fab Four of science forms a "scientific supergroup" in which they pool their brainpower to run World Corp., their own scientific organization that works to both revolutionize science and make great technological strides to advance the human race.  The new series is scripted by Eric Stephenson with art by Nate Bellegrade and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 kicks-off the general concept of this title by presenting two sub-plots.  In the first storythread, we initially meet the quartet in a one-page brief 1960's mod-era flashback, in which they take advantage of their "young-scientists-with-celebrity-rockstar-status" image to form their own company.  Flash forward quickly to the present, in which we witness via a lengthy multi-page scene how the partnership is dissolving.  Paralleling the infamous Beatles break-up, the conflict is driven by disagreement over their responsibility whenever one of their cuting-edge science experiments goes awry and innocent staffers or by-standers are killed.  Our second sub-plot unfolds as the third portion of the tale; the setting is an orbiting Earth space station owned by World Corp., where we witness the scientific staff struggle to understand a virus that's infected the crew and is causing physical abnormalities.  By issue's end, we've been introduced to the varied personalities and agendas of the crew and its revealed that their presence in space is a mysterious secret mission.

      While I'm giving this new title a positive thumbs-up review recommendation, its only a barely average quality review for a mix of reasons.  On the plus side, this title a creative and interesting idea that symbolically transforms the aura and style of the early Beatles into the world of science fiction adventuring.  To his credit, writer Eric Stephenson doesn't carbon-copy the Beatles, but blends aspects of their identity with new character elements, for instance, making three of the team Americans as well as one member African-American.  There's also a nice sly Beatles reference on page one of the story, which works very well both to establish a slightly connected identity between the Beatles and our World Corp. foursome.  So there's a lot of fresh science adventure storytelling potential within this title which could lead to some entertaining future issues.

     However, two concerns do drag-down the quality of this issue to the just-average level of quality.  The first is an over-emphasis of narrative talking head dialogue at the expense of any action-adventure.  There's a hint of action here with a brief depiction of a science experiment gone awry, but the entire remainder of the issue consists of extensive brainstorming dialogue and verbal arguing.  There's two issue's worth of conversation here, that should have been chopped-up into two monthly issues and buffered by some story action, which is sorely missing.  Secondly, both the style and details of the issue #1 story are too similar to the atmosphere and story concept of Warren Ellis's acclaimed Planetary series of a few years ago.  The creative team needs to very quickly step-out of Planetary's storyverse shadow in next month's issue, or else Nowhere Men is doomed to go nowhere, parden the pun.  Even the World Corp. concept is too eerily similar to the Tesladyne Industries element in the Atomic Robo comic book title and needs somewhat of a make-over to establish its own comic book identity.

     So bottom line, a positive review recommendation is deserved to check-out issue #1 of Nowhere Men as an interesting new science adventure series.  But a warning that the series really needs to evolve some major unique storytelling in upcoming issues, to avoid being labelled as a knock-off of the Planetary and Atomic Robo storyverses.

Archer & Armstrong #4
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Fred Van Lente: Writer
Clayton Henry & Pere Perez: Art
Matt Milla: Colors

     Valiant Entertainment is up to issue #4 of a science fiction-oriented action-adventure series entitled Archer & Armstrong.  An inside-the-front cover narrative brings the reader up-to-date on the story progession so far. 10,000 years ago, three ancient-world brothers stole a mysterious device of immense power.  When activating it, one brother became immortal (Armstrong) while the device's activation destroyed most of the ancient world.  Flash-forward to 2012, where evil folk are trying to reassemble the device from its six scattered parts.  Armstrong is aided in his effort to stop this scheme by Archer, the renegade teenaged son of a family that's part of the world-wide Sect, the shady group attempting reassembly in order to gain world-wide domination.  The series is scripted by Fred Van Lente with art by Clayton Henry and Pere Perez, and colors by Matt Lilla.

      The issue #4 story segment is set in a Tibetan monastery, where Archer and Armstrong show-up just after the baddies arrive to assemble the six captured device pieces with the assistance of the bizarre monastery monks, who practice a mixture of Buddism and Nazi ideology (I kid you not, that's the real hybrid, here!).  In one action-adventure plotthread, Archer & Armstrong implement a plan to enter the monastery, while in a parallel sub-plot, a former ally of the duo realizes that she's been duped into helping the Sect.  Midway through the issue the device gets activated and without being a story spoiler, several expected and unexpected results impact upon the gathered assembly.  The issue ends with Archer and Armstrong fleeing the monastery ahead of an impending very dangerous result of their halting the device's activation, a side effect that will be the center of next month's issue #5 story segment.

      This comic book deserves a positive review recommendation for at least three reasons.  First and foremost is the high quality of this science fiction adventure story concept.  Its pretty rare to find a new comic book these days with a science fiction story theme that's both unique and well-written, and this comic book has both elements going for it.  Secondly, the plotline has a unique and well-balanced blend of drama and humor that makes for a very entertaining read; writer Fred Van Lente inserts light moments of levity at very unexpected moments that play-off very well against some of the more dramatic segments of the story.  Third, the creative team does an excellent job in blending a few varied fictional genres into one seamless storyline.  Unlike the XO Mano-War comic title (also published by Valiant Entertainment) that we reviewed in our last column, here we have a blend of historical, science fiction and action-adventure storytelling genres that work very well together in presenting a comic book tale that's just plain interesting and entertaining.

     So an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation for this very original and enjoyable new science fiction action-adventure series.  I plan to backtrack and check-out the first three issues in this new series and I'd recommend that you do, too, then keep reading the further adventures of Archer and Armstrong as they unfold in the months to come!

Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes #9
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Among the many Avengers-related titles that Marvel Comics currently publishes is "Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes," a monthly comic book based upon an Avengers animated television show.  The series is drawn in television cartoon show animation style, with the current issue #9 presenting a 10-page lead story, a 3-page mid-issue tale and a third, 9-page concluding story.  Each tale is the product of a different creative team.

    Our lead story is entitled "The Skrull Skull!" and is written by Louise Simonson with art by Ramon Bachs and Raul Fonts.  The plot stars Thor and Ms. Marvel in an outer space adventure.  True to the story title, the duo battle a giant robotic skull that was created eons ago by the evil Skrull Empire and is intent on attacking Earth.  Story number two is a three-page "Fury File," in which narrator Nick Fury presents a SHIELD briefing-style presentation of the background and abilities of Marvel universe hero Luke Cage/Power Man.  The concluding story is entitled "The Skies Are...Doomed!"  Written by Jen Van Meter, the tale is an action-adventure in which The Black Widow and The Wasp pair-up to rescue two kidnapped scientists from the clutches of well-known supervillain Dr. Doom.

     I found this comic book entertaining and I was also impressed with the storytelling level of the Simonson and Van Meter-scripted stories.  Too often comics based upon animated television series are geared solely to the reading level of kids.  However, both writers succeed in delivering scripts that function as interesting and enjoyable superhero entertainment for readers of all ages.  The Fury File interlude really isn't even a story, but rather a plotless summary of the basics regarding the background and abilities of Luke Cage.  But the "Fury Files" series does serve a purpose of educating new, young comic book readers to the particular hero being examined in each monthly issue of this series and as such balances-out o.k. with the two lengthier, plot-driven storylines.

     In addition, a hats-off is also due to writers Simonson and Van Meter for incorporating in each of their respective tales a sub-plot emphasizing the important life lesson of cooperation; in both stories, the Avengers duo puts aside some petty squabbling and/or personality differences in order to face their responsibilties as a team and get the job at hand done properly.  That's not a bad lesson for readers of all ages to experience and take back with them to the everyday real world from the reading of this comic book.  And last but hardly least, its just plain fun to see the traditional Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel character in a new comic book issue, as opposed to the "Captain Marvel" make-over that unfolded as a dud earlier this year in other corners of the Marvel Comics publishing world.  So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this high quality and fun-reading cartoon animation-styled Avengers comic book.

Battle Beasts #4
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Bobby Gurnow: Writer
Valerio Schiti: Art
Claudia SGC: Colors

     IDW Publishing is up to issue #4 of a new science fiction-themed comic book entitled "Battle Beasts," based on the action figures of the same name.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the plot to-date.  An alien warrior race of sentient animals called Battle Beasts has arrived in San Francisco in search of their mythical Dread Weapons.  A young woman named Bliss Reynolds is a linguist who manages to translate the alien language and at the same time comes into possession of the Dread Weapons.  Story segments prior to this month's issue have introduced to the plot Bliss's teenaged brother Tate along with three young Battle Beasts whom they have befriended: Vorin, Merk and Gruntos.  The comic book is scripted by Bobby Gurnow with art by Valerio Schiti and colors by Claudia SGC.

     The issue #4 untitled story segment evolves the ongoing story to an action-adventure climax.  Bliss's boss, research scientist Dr. Richard Ullin, has accessed the Dread Weapons and is transformed into a drunk-with-power superbeing.  The bulk of the plot unfolds a lengthy and detailed confrontation that interweaves two storythreads: various Battle beasts taking turns attacking Dr. Ullin who easily repeals each in turn, interspersed with Bliss trying to verbally convince her boss to give-up the weapons before he goes totally evil rogue.  Bliss's brother Tate jumps into the fray late in the confrontation, but ultimately Bliss herself resolves the stand-off.  The issue ends on a double cliffhanger, as the young Battle Beasts entrust the Dread Weapons to their new frind and ally Bliss for her care and actual use, while at the same time we learn that off-world Battle Beast senior leadership is plotting to grab the weapons from Bliss and her young allies.

     I immensely enjoyed this comic book and give it an enthusiastic recommendation, with the exception of one major storyline flaw that I'll point out below.  On the plus side, the art is exquisite and the storyline is very well-crafted by writer Bobby Gurnow.  Best of all is the portrayal of the various Battle Beast characters.  Picture the transformation of the colorful character's within Thor's storyverse into animal form and you get a sense of what Battle Beasts is all about.  The result is a wonderful blend of humor, action and drama as the various Norse warrior-like animal people bound about within the story.  The style of artwork only accentuates the quality of the writing and overall delivers a very fresh and fun comic book.

     But there is one very major illogical plot glitch that tarnishes the script quality: essentially, after an issue-long battle sequence in which Dr. Ullin handily bloodies everyone who gets in his way, Bliss just decides he's had enough time to voluntarily give-up the alien weaponry and as such she simply speaks an alien phrase that shuts the weapons off and returns them to her possession.  This conclusion to the issue begs for the screaming question to be answered: why the heck didn't she just speak the magic phrase right off the bat and avoid page-after-page of needless battle and bloodshed? The obvious answer is that a) there would be no story with that solution and b) unfortunately, the writer couldn't come-up with a more suitable story conclusion and winged it with this completely disconnected solution to the extended storyline.

     If you can suspend your "say what, now?" reaction to the poor resolution of the story action at-hand, the reading journey that gets us to the end of this issue is a lot of well-crafted comic book fun, so Battle Beasts is still worthy of a positive review recommendation.  Issue #4 ends with the statement "The End For Now!" so while its not definitively stated, it appears that this is a limited four-issue story run with a cliffhanger ending.  So my advice is to check-out the previous three issues to see how these characters and their story evolves, then top it all off with a read of issue #4.  Hopefully, IDW Publishing will give this worthwhile action figure-based comic book title some continued publishing life in the near future.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

        Our latest contest is in follow-up to a previous contest in which we identified President Howard Taft as our heaviest-weighing U.S. President.  This time around we challenged you to tell us who was the lightest U.S. President.  And our winner selected via a roll-of-the-dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Gregory Goding, who correctly identified President James Madison as our smallest President, weighing-in at a paltry 100 pounds.  Congratulations to Gregory who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     It's that time of year again for our annual Year's Best Comic Books Contest!  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, December 26 with your choices for your favorite comic book title or titles of the year.  Don't forget to tell us a bit about why you feel your choices deserve to be considered as among the best of 2012.  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 two great holiday season and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 28 Here In Bongo Congo!

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