Review Date: Friday, February 8, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo notes that we have about a month of winter remaining, so let's review four new comic books that hopefully will keep us entertained as we wait for Spring to arrive:

Young Avengers #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kieron Gillen: Writer
Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton: Art
Matthew Wilson: Colors

     Marvel Comics has rebooted its Young Avengers team with a new title that just kicked-off with its issue #1.  The new series adjusts the previous team make-up of these Avengers young wannabes by keeping previous team members Wiccan (son of the Scarlet Witch), Hulkling and Hawkeye and adding to the team the young Kid Loki, Marvel Boy/Noh-Varr and the teenaged America Chavez/Ms. America.  This new series is scripted by Kieron Gillen with art by Jamie Mckelvie and Mike Norton, and colors by Matthew Wilson.  I had written a positive review this past year of a short Young Avengers prequel tale in a Marvel Comics multi-story preview issue and wanted to see how this new concept gets out of the gate with the actual premier issue of this new series.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Young Avengers: Style Over Substance." The plotline weaves together two sub-plots that focus on personal relationships among various team members.  In the first storyline, we learn that Ms. America and Noh-Varr have just come off of a one night stand that may or may not lead into a romantic relationship.  Our second longer plot segment introduces teenaged angst in a romantic relationship between Teddy/Hulkling and Billy/Wiccan.  We also learn that Hulkling is mourning the death of his changling mother while both teens are living with Billy's foster parents.  Drama builds when Billy casts a spell that brings to our timeline an alternate reality version of Hulkling's deceased mom.  The issue ends in a very startling cliffhanger with horror fiction elements as the new mom turns out to be a monster and seemingly kills Billy's foster parents.

     While this comic book deserves a positive review recommendation, a mixed bag of positive and negative story elements keep it in the category of average quality.  On the plus side, the art team provides an excellent graphic style with some innovative panel lay-outs.  The character's personalities and interpersonal relationship details are interesting, and the membership of the restructured  team seems to mesh well together for a teen superhero comic book title.  Also, a hats-off is due to Marvel Comics for having the confidence to place a romantic relationship between two gay teenagers at the heart of an entire comic book issue.

     On the negative side, the issue #1 storyline is just too top-heavy with emotional relationship issues.  There's no balance here between superhero comic book action/adventure and the interpersonal side of these characters.  This might work in a later issue of a title, but for the premier issue of a new title we need a little less romantic teeth-gnashing and a lot more story progression.  As an adult reader, I was really bored with the sluggish relationship posturing and I think that teen readers would likely feel the same.  But there is some good stuff mixed-into the plot as detailed above, which gives this title the potential to get into a better-paced storytelling groove and move the action along in upcoming issues. I'd also like to see a lot more of Kid Loki, who's one of the more interesting members of this team and only makes a token appearance in issue #1. 

     So in sum, its worth a read to check-out the interesting elements of this title and here's hoping that the creative team picks-up the pace with a better balance between emotion and adventure in upcoming issues.

FF #3
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Michael Allred: Art
Laura Allred: Colors

     Marvel's FF title is currently up to issue #3.  I reviewed issue #1, in which by issue's end the FF family leaves on a space expedition with a back-up superhero team filling-in for them while they're gone.  Issue #2 began a multi-issue storyarc featuring the FF substitute team of Ant Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and Darla Deering/Ms. Thing. By issue's end, Darla had already had enough and fled the new team.  Matt Fraction is the new series writer with art provided by the popular art team of Michael Allred and Laura Allred.

     The issue #3 story is entitled "Old John Storm," with the main plotline beginning with the arrival from the future of a battle-scarred, middle-aged Johnny Storm who announces that the rest of the FF died during their space adventure at the hands of a group of supervillains led by Doctor Doom.  The story proceeds from John's announcement in three directions. First, Ant-Man reacts to the announcement by pursuing the departed Darla Deering to rejoin the team.  Secondly, Medusa and She-Hulk begin the process of trying to determine whether the time-traveling John is actually Johnny Storm or an imposter.  And third, the three underground Moloid children, familiar to FF readers as members of the extended FF family, confront their former ruler The Moleman is response to his request for some assistance.  By issue's end, after research seems to confirm Jon Storm's identity, the players assemble for Ant-Man to present a plan to eradicate Doctor Doom.

     This new comic book series is one wild and fun ride that breathes incredibly fresh new life into the Fantastic Four storyverse.  On the scripting side, writer Matt Fraction mixes equal parts drama, standard humor and a subtle but very effective element of slapstick into one of the most entertaining storylines currently out there in the new comic publishing world.  I won't give much of the slapstick away, but the extended, multi-page plotline of Ant-Man literally chasing Darla to return to the FF is equal to the best of mid-20th century Hollywood romantic movie comedies.  And there's a tiny, two-panel scene of the Moloid kids oogling She-Hulk that's probably the funniest bit in the comic book.

     Regarding the visuals, the husband and wife team of Michael and Laura Allred do a simply fantastic job of portraying this story with a combination of conventional and unique panel lay-outs.  Most impressive is the unexpected visual effectiveness of the Allreds's' graphic style. The stiff primitivism of their drawing surprisingly blends beautifully with the specifics of this story situation, actually elevating the fun and wackiness of this reading experience.  I'm a fan of the Allred's "I, Zombie" comic book and as such I can't help but describe this FF title as "the FF enters the comic book world of I, Zombie," in terms of story approach, effective visuals and tongue-in-cheek humor.

     So hats-off to Marvel Comics for going outside of the standard comic book creative envelope and assembling this unusual creative team.  The result is one funky, fun rollercoaster ride of a Fantastic Four reading experience like you've never seen, but will certainly wish to read again and again in future issues of this inventively new comic book title.

Ame-Comi Girls Featuring Power Girl #4
Publisher: D.C. Comics
 Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray: Writers
Mike Bowden: Art
Randy Mayor: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #4 of its Ame-Comic Girls title.  I previously reviewed issue #1 of this series, which reinterprets traditional DC female superheros as younger versions of their usual characterizations, in the anime/manga style of the popular Ame-Comi Girls line of collectible statuettes.  Each issue stars a different DC Universe heroine, kicking-off a multi-issue storyline that either continues in another DC comic book title or in the following month's Ame-Comi issue.  Issue #4 stars Power Girl in a tale scripted by the A-list writing duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by Mike Bowden and colors by Randy Mayor.

      Our untitled tale unfolds in three interconnected story segments.  Act One introduces our younger, teenaged version of Power Girl who lives in a version of Metropolis unlike that portrayed in other DC titles.  Here, Power Girl has introduced to the city populace Kryptonian technology which has transformed the city into a futuristic version of its standard self.  The mid-third of the issue unfolds a backlash against Power Girl for this action, as an anonymous villain directs a team of armored female baddies to either kill or exile Power Girl as an "alien scourge" on their fair city.  And the final third of this issue heralds the arrival on Earth of the Ame-Comi version of the traditional Kara Zor-El/Supergirl.  Supergirl is immediately tossed into the fight as a newbie ally of her Power Girl cousin, with the fight leading to a dramatic bridge to next month's issue with the unexpected arrival on the scene of a major well-known Superman Family bad guy.

     As with the well-received Issue #1 of this title that starred Wonder Woman, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a solid job in giving us a younger, teenaged version of a traditional DC female hero.  While the story is entertaining in its own right, the addition of an atypical layer of youthfulness to the characters is a fun and refreshing alternative to the usual versions of these folks.  Even more fun are the little tweakings that the writers make to the fabric of the DC storytelling universe, adding some alternate reality flavor to the story.  My two favorites are a passing reference to the "31st Century Legion Of Super-Villains" and subtle diffrences in Kara/Supergirl's traditional origin story.  On a final note, there's also a heartwarming sub-plot here in which the average folk of Metropolis rally around Power Girl at a key point in her mega-battle with the baddies, making a nice plot point about our hero's acceptance by the people of her adopted hometown.

     So a posiitve review recommendation is well-desrved for the latest issue in the Ame-Comi Girls series.  You don't have to be a fan of the collectible figurines or a teenaged reader to both enjoy and appreciate the level of high quality and entertainment that this series provides for readers of all ages.

The Silver Surfer (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Stan Lee: Writer
Moebius: Artist
Mark Chiarello & John Wellington: Colors

      Marvel Comics has recently released an oversized one-shot Silver Surfer comic book.  This is a reprint that combines a two-issue Silver Surfer tale that was published in magazine format back in 1988.  The project was a one-time creative collaboration between Stan Lee and well-known European artist Moebius, with colors by the team of Mark Chiarello and John Wellington.

     The 55-page tale is entitled "Parable," and unfolds a plot that centers on the classic and oft-repeated theme of direct conflict between the Silver Surfer and his former boss Galactus.  Two subplots interweave throughout the storyline.  In one storythread, Galactus returns to Earth and presents himself to the human race as a godlike being to be worshipped as omnipotent.  Galactus's sly goal here is to create social chaos with a resulting breakdown of civilization, allowing him to take advantage of society's decline and thereby break his well-known vow to the Surfer to not destroy Earth.  The basic plan is to blame mankind for destroying themselves, i.e., blame the victims for their own demise and thus move into the vacuum of social disorder to dismantle the planet for his planet-devouring purposes.

     The second plotline explores various themes of religion, as the Surfer interacts with Colton, a charismatic televangelist takes advantage of the situation, declaring himself as the leader of a new religion and urging the human race to follow him as Galactus's representaive on the planet.  Without being a detail spoiler, the Surfer and Colton's sister Elyna work together to try and counter his scheme, with tragic results that actually turn Colton into an opponent of Galactus.  While the Surfer ultimately persuades Galactus to yet again spare Earth from destruction, the story actually concludes with a multi-page scene beyond this victory, in which the Surfer has a lengthy confrontation with Mankind's leaders at the U.N. trying to persuade them to lead mankind in a less violent direction.  As usual in the Silver Surfer storyverse, his good intentions trigger an emotional backlash against our hero and he returns to his isolated life of wandering the Earth as an exiled noble figure from the stars.

     In an interesting inside-the-front-cover essay, Stan Lee explains that Moebius asked him to write a script that would return the Surfer to his original story concept of an ignored prophet wandering among mankind and also explore quasireligious themes.  The resultant collaboration succeeds very well in centering these story themes within an entertaining two-issue story arc.  The well-crafted tale sends a message about the dangers of leadership and deception of the masses, as both Galactus and Colton take their respective turns at manipulating mankind for their own selfish purposes.  The creative team clearly achieves their goal a presenting a story within the comic book concept of the original Silver Age title of the Surfer, in which Stan Lee presented our hero as a disrespected herald or prophet, who tries repeatedly to save mankind from itself and always fails.

     In addition to the graphic treat of a Stan Lee-Moebius story collaboration, this oversized one-shot comic book includes a few dozen additional pages detailing extensive interviews with the creative team regarding their process of producing the story, as well as several Silver Surfer cover reproductions and a beautiful gallery of full-page renderings by Moebius of various Marvel superhero characters.  That's an incredible amount of high quality reading material, well-worth the $7.99 issue price.  So a positive recommendation is well-deserved for both old and new Silver Surfer fans to get on down to That's Entertainment and pick-up a copy of this rare compilation reprint issue.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which famous 1950's-era Western series television star was actually a direct descendent of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone.  And our contest winner via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please...) David McBarron, who correctly tells us that Richard Boone , the star of the Western series Have Gun, Will Travel is the correct answer.  While singers Pat Boone and Debbie Boone, along with 1950's Western television star Randy Boone (The Virginian) also claim to be Daniel Boone's direct descendents, some geneaology sources confirm them to be descended for other Boone relatives.  Congratulations to David who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

      Red Sox pitchers and catchers are scheduled to arrive in Florida next week for the start of Major League Baseball spring training, so let's celebrate this sign of impending Spring with a baseball trivia contest.  You challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, February 20 with the correct answer to the following question: Which historic Major League Baseball player appears on the most expensive collectible baseball card sold to-date?  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our contest winner will be selected via a roll of the dice from among the correct entries.  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 Major League Baseball spring training (Go Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, February 22 Here In Bongo Congo!

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