Review Date: Friday, February 22, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has an eclectic mix of new comic books to review this week, so let's get right to it and see how these varied titles stack-up against each other:
The Fearless Defenders #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cullen Bunn: Writer
Will Sliney: Art
Veronica Gandini: Colors

     Marvel Comics has published issue #1 of a new Defenders comic book entitled The Fearless Defenders.  Long-time Defenders fans will remember the original iconic cover art from 1971's Marvel Feature #1, which introduced the original Defenders team of Dr. Strange, The Submariner and the Hulk.  The membership of the Defenders has often changed over the years; issue #1 of The Fearless Defenders offers a new membership centered around Valkyrie and Misty Knight, with a back-of-the-book letter from writer Cullen Bunn promising additional team additions and guest memberships in upcoming issues.  The new series is scripted by Cullen Bunn with art by Will Sliney and colors by Veronica Gandini.

     The premier issue kicks-off a multi-issue story arc with action-adventure, as Misty Knight breaks-up a smuggling ring specializing in mysterious ancient Asgardian artifacts.  Misty brings one artifact to her archaeologist client Dr. Annabelle Riggs, who accidentally triggers a musical component of the item, with two consequences: the resulting music causes the malevolent spirits of dead evil Vikings to arise and attack Dr. Riggs's excavation team, while at the same time summoning Valkyrie to the scene.  An extended battle scene results, with of course our new core duo of Defenders ultimately saving the day.  The issue ends in a bridge to further adventure with the artifact, as Valkyrie announces that the music warned her of the coming of a mystical evil group called the Doommaidens.

     This new title is a solidly produced and entertaining addition to the long and storied lineage of Defenders comic book titles.  Irregardless of the particular make-up of the group, the core idea of The Defenders is to present the superhero adventures of a very small team of heroes, in a setting less grandiose than the larger Marvel hero teams, such as X-Men or Avengers.  The current concept works very well in that respect with our fresh duo of Valkyrie and Misty Knight teaming-up with human scientist Annabelle Riggs to follow in the footsteps of the original trio of Defenders.  The details of the action-adventure plot also fit nicely within the standard Defenders storyverse structure and the artwork is of an appropriate style for this type of superhero tale.

     My one construction criticism of the storyline is a weird subplot in which Annabelle Riggs is romantically attracted to Valkyrie.  I have no problem with the same-sex romaticism, but the specific details of it are irrationally presented even for the reality of a comic book story, in that Riggs decides to try and make-out with Valkyrie at the height of the intense and bloody battle with the Viking spirits.  It just feels like a flawed and awkward point in the heavy-duty action for writer Cullen to introduce this personal element into the storyline.  Hopefully, he'll find a more rational way to continue this story element in upcoming monthly issues.

    So that one minor story structure concern aside, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this entertaining new title addition to the very long and storied tradition of various Defenders comic book titles produced in Marvel's publishing inventory.

Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time #1
IDW Publishing
Scott & David Tipton: Writers
Simon Fraser: Art
Gary Caldwell: Colors

     IDW Publishing has added a new Doctor Who comic book to its inventory.  Entitled "Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time," the series is a year-long multi-issue celebration of the 50th anniversary of the long-running BBC syndicated science fiction series.  Each monthly issue of the extended storyline features one of the eleven different physical incarnations of the Good Doctor, in tribute to each of the actors who played Doctor Who in the decades-long series.  As such, the issue #1 Doctor Who is drawn to resemble original series actor William Hartnell.  This tribute comic book series is scripted by Scott & David Tipton with art by Simon Fraser and colors by Gary Caldwell.

     Prisoner of Time begins with a three-page introductory summation of the concept of Doctor Who, explaining that he's the last of the omnipotent time-traveling Time Lords, who enjoys the accompaniment of interchanging human friends in his adventures.  We quickly learn that an anonymous villain is providing this summation as he plots the Doctor's downfall.  The bulk of the issue presents a time travel adventure, as Doctor Who and three human friends visit Victorian London to hobnob with their friend, 19th century writer Aldous Huxley.  Without being a detail spoiler, the group has an issue-length science fiction adventure in the subway tunnels of London, involving alien creatures and a familiar Doctor Who alien enemy.  While the initial alien threat seems to be vanquished, we learn in a bridge to next month's story segment that the entire adventure was a successful diversion that allows Doctor Who's anonymous nemesis to kidnap his human traveling companions.

     I've reviewed a few issues of IDW Publishing's other Doctor Who titles and I'm glad to report that this new title is equal to the high quality entertainment of those previous issues, for at least three reasons.  First, it's a wonderfully creative idea to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of this longest-running of all syndicated television series with a title that features the Doctor in all of his eleven television actor incarnations.  There will be a lot of reading fun in seeing the good Doctor behave and act differently, per each well-established Doctor Who persona, as this series plays-out.  Secondly, writers Scott and David Tipton succeed in giving us a plot that entertains both as a traditional Doctor Who-style tale and as a stand-alone science fiction tale.  And third, a tip-of-the-review hat is due to artists Simon Fraser and Gary Caldwell for successfully reproducing the features of our well-know television actors, which is no mean feat when trying to duplicate the success of a popular television series in comic book format.

     So a positive, thumbs-up review recommendation for all good readers not to miss-out on this excellent new series which succeeds both as a special Doctor Who 50th anniversary commemoration and as a stand-alone science fiction adventure.

The New Ghostbusters #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Erik Burnham: Writer
Dan Schoening: Art
Luis Antonio Delgado & Andrew Harmon: Colors

     IDW Publishing has expanded its Ghostbusters title inventory by adding a "New" Ghostbusters title.  With the first few issues already on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, I jumped back to issue #1 in order to get a feel for this spin-off title from its premier issue.  As long-time fans of the Ghostbusters franchise already know, the comic book is itself a spin-off of the smash 1984 comedy movie that starred Bill Murray and friends as they operated their New York City-based "Ghostbusters" company like a pest control service, capturing all types of pesty ghosts who were infesting New York City homes and businesses.  The new comic book title is scripted by Erik Burnham with art by Dan Schoening and colors by Luis Antonio Delgado and Andrew Harmon.

     The issue #1 kick-off story unfolds in two plot segments.  In act one, a mysterious ghost kidnaps each of the original four Ghostbusters in turn, depositing them in another dimension for as-yet-unrevealed purposes.  Act two is the lengthier sub-plot; in reaction to the ghostly kidnapping, the team's long-suffering secretary Janine (played by Annie Potts in the movie) forms a substitute team for the crew, consisting of herself, occult bookstore manager Kylie Griffin and FBI Special Agent Melanie Ortiz.  Naturally, the team messes-up the city trying to apprehend gooey corporeal ghosts, resulting in their arrest.  When the Mayor and his staff assistant decide to release our friends to fill the city protection shoes of our missing heroes, there are two big conditions: acceptance of a city staff liaision for public relations purposes and the addition of Ron Alexander to the team.  Its explained that Ron is a convicted huckster and former Ghostbuster competitor, who's high-tech know-how is vital for keeping the new team's Ghostbusting equipment in working shape.  By issue's end, we catch a glimpse of the story's direction in next month's issue #2 segment, as the old Ghostbusters begin to explore their extradimensional prison and the new team gears-up to face their new working challenges in New York City.

     While I've always enjoyed IDW Publishing's main Ghostbusters title, I have to say that I love this new title even moreso, for four great reasons.  Number one is by far the very fresh and original idea of adding a second team of new Ghostbusters to this storied science fiction comedy franchise.  I say "add" because there's clearly no replacement here of the original Fab Four of ghost-wrangling.  Its clear that eventually our veteran cast members will work their way back to the real world and we'll have a blending of the old and new casts.  The make-up of the new cast is pitch perfect, adding both a younger generation and a needed female mix to the growing team.  Secondly, writer Erik Burnham provides a very polished story script, with some surprisingly sophisticated plot twists and turns as the Mayor and his conniving staff assistant scheme to take advantage of our newbies for their own political purposes.  Our third positive story element is the artwork, with the art team providing a rarely-seen visual style that resembles high-quality animation story cells moreso than routine comic book art.  And our fourth kudo actually goes to a very creative and brief secondary tale in this issue.  It's a two-page segment of a four-part story that cleverly answers the question of what happens next to all of the gooey captured ghosties once they enter one of those little electronic Ghostbuster prison boxes.

     Its not very often that a comic book treatment of a well-known movie or television series franchise manages to take a new approach within its storyverse, to the point that the creative infusion in some ways surpasses the quality of the original series' storytelling structure.  Joss Whedon and his creative team have been achieving this rare distinction for some time now over in his Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic book storyverse, and I'm pretty confident that we're seeing the beginnings of a similar creative evolution with issue #1 of the new Ghostbusters.  So by all means, get on-board with issue #1 and enjoy the new teammembers, entertaining storyline and exquisite artwork as this new IDW Publishing series breathes a fresh and fun charge of ectoplasmic comedy life into one of the best science fiction movie-based comic book series on the new issues reading shelves!

Batgirl #17
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Ray Fawkes: Writer
Daniel Sampere: Pencils
Vicente Cifuentes: Inks
Blond: Colors

       DC's New 52 re-boot of Batgirl is currently up to issue #17.  For non-Batgirl followers, the new title replaced Gotham college student Stephanie Brown as the latest Batgirl with the return of original Batgirl Barbara Gordon, including restoring her mobility.  Fans will recall that she previously spent many years in the DC universe as the wheelchair-bound Oracle, fighting crime using her computer tech skills.  The new Batgirl series is scripted by Ray Fawkes with pencils by Daniel Dampere, inks by Vicente Cifuentes and colors by Blond.

     The issue #17 story segment is entitled "Endure The Flame" and is the latest installment in an ongoing multi-issue storyarc.  There's a lot of fast action in this storyline built upon the foundation of three subplots.  In one plothread, Barbara relies on her old Oracle computer skills to help the Gotham police track-down various members of The Joker's gang.  The second story element directly refers to the story title, as an unknown villain is firebombing various police efforts around Gotham.  Our third storyline is more personal, as Barbara, her father Police Commissioner James Gordon and her hospitalized mother all interact with her insanely evil brother James, Jr. as he roams the streets of Gotham off of his psychiatric meds.  This issue ends with Barbara confronting the mysterious firebombing costumed villain at the same time that brother James begins planning his next villanous deed, with both developments ready to play-out further in next month's issue #18.

     I'm a big fan of the previous Batgirl incarnation of Stephanie Brown and still mourn DC's decision to table her (at least for now) to make way for the return of the original Barbara Gordon Batgirl.  However, all comic books deserve to be reviewed on their own merits and in that sense, this is a very well-crafted and entertaining Batgirl story in its own right.  I wasn't previously aware of the existence of Barbara's evil brother James, Jr., and really enjoyed this fresh infusion of internal conflict within Gotham's crimefighting Gordon family.  A tip-of-the-review-hat is also deserved for writer Ray Fawkes, who delivers a very past-paced action-adventure script that occasionally takes the breather from the streetfighting for some necessary narrative developments among the key storyplayers.  And a final kudo is due to the art team, who provide very high quality artwork that's among some of the best being produced right now among the various new issues available in the wide-ranging Batman comic book title inventory.

      So I'll put aside for a moment my pining-away for the Stephanie Brown/Batgirl and give fair credit where its due to this very entertaining and well-produced latest segment in the very long-running comic book universe of all-things-Batgirl.  Whether you're a regular Batgirl reader or just looking for some fun superheroing action-adventure, this comic book's for you!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us what baseball player is featured on the most expensive collectible baseball card sold to-date.  And our contest winner selected via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please)...Keith Martin, who correctly identified old-time Pittsburgh Pirates ballplayer Honus Wagner as the face of the card.  There are only 57 copies known to be in extistence of the famous "T206 Honus Wagner Card," the most expensive of which was purchased at auction in 2007 by the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks major league baseball team for $2.8 million (yow!).  Congratulations to Keith who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!
     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that we try something a bit creatively outside-of-the-box for our latest contest, this time within the topic of alternative rock music.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, March 6 with your answer to filling-in the blank in the following statement taken from a very popular MTV music video from the year 2005: "Before There Was Weezer There Was _________."  Tell us "what there was before Weezer" and you could be our contest winner!  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, 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, ongoing specials, only.

That's all for now, so have two more great Red Sox spring training and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 8 Here In Bongo Congo!

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