Review Date: Friday, March 8, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review four new comic books this week that will hopefully serve to cheer us up through the final slushy days of winter.  So let's get right to it and see if we picked four Spring-heralding winners:

Justice League Of America #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Geoff Johns: Writer
David Finch: Artist
Sonia Oback & Jeromy Cox: Colors

     DC's latest big event is a Justice League re-boot that restores the team membership to a modified version built around the core of the original Silver Age cast.  There's also an issue #1 marketing gimick featuring 53 variant front covers of team members raising a large flag per the iconic World War II Iwo Jima flag-raising.  The flags featured among the varied covers are the American flag, the 50 state flags and the flags of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  The new series is scripted by veteran writer Geoff Johns with art by David Finch and colors by Sonia Oback and Jeromy Cox.

     Issue #1 is the first segment of a multi-issue storyarc entitled "World's Most Dangerous."  The plot is an intricately-detailed weaving of two sub-plots that focus on creating this new Justice League of America team from scratch.  The main storyline centers upon the federal government charging Wonder Woman's ex-boyfriend, Colonel Steve Trevor, to serve as a government liaison in convincing various A-list D.C. heroes to assemble as a new Justice League of America.  Without spoiling any details, Trevor focuses on his assigned players and by issue's end has firmed-up the new League to include Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Hawkman, Katana Vibe, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter, Catwoman and a few listed others not featured in this premier issue.

     Our second sub-plot follows the bloody escape effort by a presumed villain being pursued by the Big Three of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.  In a surprise twist, our barely alive escapee makes his way to Colonel Trevor and its revealed he's actually a classic DC universe superhero conducting an undercover surveillance operation.  And in a less dramatic but just-as-important bridge to next month's issue, Colonel Trevor also learns at issue's end that the federal objective of creating a new Justice League "of America" is to replace the existing, more worldwide version of the Justice League with a more traditional, American-based version of the ever-evolving team.

     This "Of America" re-boot of the Justice League is a smash success in four big ways.  First and foremost, the issue presents one of writer Geoff Johns' best scripts of the past few years.  As I mentioned above, Johns weaves an intricate tale, in which Colonel Trevor and his government handler must weave a careful strategy to convince these reluctant loner heros to band together into a new League.  The resulting fresh and fascinating game is part-blackmail, part psychological warfare and all-entertaining, as one-by-one the players are forced or duped into their designated roles.  The second plus here is the plot premise that the Feds wish to replace the up-and-running Justice League with a new, more American-based retro team.  I haven't been reading the recent Justice League comic book title, but there's clearly some great storytelling potential for upcoming issues to pit this new team against both the space station-based version of the Justice League as well as the Justice League Dark version of the League.

     Third, there's a brief but very effective sub-plot introduced in which the Feds are frankly scared of any possible outcomes to the budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman, ranging from producing a family of superkids to fall-out damage to society if these two ever have a superviolent break-up.  Again, there could be some amazingly creative future storylines about the impacts of this superpowered celebrity pairing.  And last but hardly least, the mystery and reveal of the undercover, barely alive (or dying) team member adds a very creative element into this new storytelling mix.  I personally can't wait to see how writer Johns explains why our good guy was being pursued to the brink of death by the Big Three A-list heroes of the DC storyverse.  So while the variant front cover marketing gimmick is a lot of fun, there's a lot more substance behind the covers of this wonderful and very high quality reboot to Justice League of America.  Feel free to collect all of the variant cover versions that you wish to, but at the very least, pick-up one copy of the very entertaining issue #1 of this new series.  You won't be disappointed!

It Girl And The Atomics #7
Publisher: Image Comics
Jamie S. Rich: Writer
 Mike Norton: Art
Allen Passalaqua: Colors

     Image Comics is currently up to issue #7 of its It Girl & The Atomics comic book series.  This is a follow-up series to Mike Allred's "The Atomics" comic book title that was initially published about 12 years ago.  The tongue-in-cheek series features a 1950's beatnik-style group of misfit superheroes, led by Dr. Gillespie Flem.  The current title features It Girl front-and-center, with The Atomics more in the roll of a supporting cast.  Our heroine's power seems to be the ability to convert herself into whatever type of material she touches at the time (i.e., becoming hard steel when touching a shovel, etc.).  While the series was created by the well-known writer-artist Mike Allred, the title is currently being written by Jamie S. Rich with art by Mike Norton and colors by Allen Passalaqua.

     Issue #7 kicks-off a new multi-issue storyarc entitled "The World Is Flat."  The plot features espionage adventure, as It Girl parachutes into a Swiss Alps-type setting to rescue an inventor named Professor Osamu from kidnappers.  Overtaken and imprisoned with the professor, It Girl learns that he's the keeper of an extraordinary invention which is still in his possession.  The second half of the issue is an extended escape attempt/confrontation with the kidnappers.  The issue ends in mid-fight, where It Girl discovers that a pair of the kidnappers are robots instead of human.

     This is a disappointing production of a pretty creative idea.  While hats-off is due to Mike Allred for creating a fun and funky beatnik-style riff on superheroing, this current version of his creation fails on several counts.  First, writer Jamie Rich stumbles out of the gate with a poorly conceived storyline that's both thin on plot detail (see extremely brief story outline above) and sloppy in omitting the little details that make a story enjoyable, from identifying the story setting to including some basic narrative details.  Secondly, while one goal here is to present a humorous story in the style of an old-time Saturday morning cartoon, that presentation style doesn't seem to translate well in this particular instance to the comic book page.  Again, the story details just seem unusually thin and overly simplistic, to the point where it feels as if we have about 6 pages of routine story detail overly thinned-out into a full-length issue's worth of story panels.

     My third problem with this comic is the front cover pitch proclaiming the comic as "Michael Allred's It Girls & The Atomics."  This marketing blurb, combined with Allred himself drawing the front cover, misleads readers into mistakenly believing that they're buying an Allred-produced comic book with the attending high quality that goes along with most of this A-list creator's productions.  Instead, we're left with a shadow of an Allred knock-off which just doesn't make the entertainmnet grade per the reasons that I've spelled-out above.  So bottom line review recommendation: skip this one and instead check-out any of the many fine comic book titles actually produced by Mike Allred himself, all available on the new issues shelves and in the back issue bins at That's Entertainment.

Alpha: Big Time #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Joshua Hale Fialkou: Writer
Nuno Plati: Art

     Marvel Comics recently published issue #1 of a new mini-series entitled "Alpha: Big Time."  For the uninitiated, Alpha is Andy Maguire, a Pittsburgh teenager who on a school fieldtrip to Peter Parker's Manhattan-based Horizon Labs gets doused with "Parker Particles" in a lab accident, thereby endowing him with superpowers.  Marvel Comics introduced Maguire in its main Spiderman title, leading up to the recent issue #700 mega-event in which Dr. Octopus pulled-off a mind-body switch with Parker that resulted in our original webslinging hero (supposedly) dying in Doc Ock's body.  Alpha's role in the Spiderman storyverse prior to the issue #700 climax was to develop an overblown ego and mishandle his powers, putting so many people in harm's way that the pre-switch Parker deactivated the teen's powers for both his own good and the safety of all around him.  This new mini-series picks-up with Maguire's post-deactivation life and is scripted by Joshua Hale Fialkou with art by Nuno Plati.

     The issue #1 story segment is entitled "I Used To Be Big Time" and plays-out in three plot segments.  Act One provides a narrator's update of Andy/Alpha's backstory, while also presenting his fall from grace in the high school food chain, from the glory of his superhero days hobnobbing with the "beautiful teens" back down to the cafeteria lunchtable for losers.  The Act Two mid-section of the tale reunites Andy with Parker.  During Andy's monthly required check-in at Horizon Labs, the Doc Ock-possessed Parker unexpectedly decides to restore our hero's powers.  At the end of a multi-page lab procedure process, Andy's initially received a 10% restoration of his previous level of powers.  Parker/Doc Ock sends the kid back out into the world of superheroing charged with the mantra that "with great power comes great opportunity."  In Act Three, Andy returns to the crime-fighting scene in his hometown of Pittsburgh and immediately puts his restored powers to work.  After successfully helping firefighters put-out a building fire, he intercedes in a sidewalk robbery which results in disastorous consequences as a bridge to next month's issue #2.

     As a baby-boomer fanboy, I'm usually wary of the periodical efforts of both Marvel and DC to make-over the basic story structures of their A-list superheros.  As such, I've stayed away from the aformentioned "death of Spiderman" storyline, fearing that its either one of those routine temporary hero deaths for marketing purposes or alternately a sincere effort to restructure a hero's story world that strays too far from the path of my Silver Age superheroing tastes.  That said, this mini-series deserves to be reviewed on its own merits and in that respect its a very well-produced and entertaining comic book title for a few reasons.  I enjoyed very much the concept of Andy's personality and story situation.  As the creative team writes in a post-story narrative, while Andy follows in the well-worn footsteps of teen hero Spiderman, he's much more of a real-word teen who's part-has been, part-bumbling teen and part-B list jerk in the local high school social setting.  But writer Fialkou constructs Andy as a jerk with a heart of gold.  When instructed by the secretly evil neo-Parker that "with great power comes great opportunity," the kid's goodnaturedness leads him to interpret its meaning as great opportunity to help people.  Thus, we can't help but root for this loser, hoping that his second chance at greatness pans-out.

     In addition to Fialkou's top-notch script, a tip-of-the-review-hat is equally due to artist Nuno Plati for his excellent artistic style and panel presentations.  I'm not familiar with either member of the creative team but sure look forward to reading a lot more of their work, both in upcoming issues of this limited series and in other comic book titles.  So whether you're happy, sad or still on-the-fence in your opinion regarding the recent major overhaul of the all-things-Spiderman universe, I strongly recommend giving this very creative and fun new addition to the Spiderman family of comic book titles a well-deserved read.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Katie Cook: Art
Andy Price: Art
Heather Breckel: Colors

     A few columns ago, for our "odd hero pairings" contest I made a joke suggesting "Deadpool versus My Little Pony" as an example of the type of wacky pairings that we were looking for among the contest submittals.  Given both that joke and the fact that we're overdue to review another child-oriented comic book, I thought we'd round-out this week's column with a review of (you guessed it) "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic #1," the latest in a line of several My Little Pony comic book titles published by IDW Publishing.  For the uninitiated, My Little Pony is a line of very popular plastic pony toys created by Hasbro back in the early 1980's.  The design of the figures has undergone major changes over the decades to keep it fresh and popular among new generations of kids.  The toys come in a wide range of bright colors and feature various symbols on the ponies' flanks, called "cutie marks."  This new comic book title is scripted by Katie Cook with art by Andy Price and colors by Heather Breckel.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Return Of Queen Chrysalis."  The plot is a take-off on the trend of zombie stories that are currently very popular in film, as well as the classic horror film "Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers."  While galevanting around their pony town/village, a group of the young horses notice that most of the village is acting weird.  It turns-out that everyone's being replaced by evil changling ponies led by Queen Chrysalis, apparently a bad guy staple in the My Little Pony storyverse.  The changlings entrap their victims in gooey pods and then take their place around town, acting zombie-like.  Without giving away any details, by issue's end our initial group of ponies saves the day and beats back the invaders.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2 as Queen Chrysalis takes three of the ponies hostage and the main group has three days to travel to her evil land and save the entrapped trio.

     This is lighthearted fare that succeeds as a high quality kid's comic book.  It's best quality is that the creative team actually shares an issue-long confidential laugh with the reader regarding the obvious oversappiness of the "everything's a rainbow" style of this little girl's toy franchise.  There's a continual, subtle theme in this story in which the ponies sometimes step out of goody-two-shoes mode and act a bit like the characters out of a Mad Magazine satire, which makes this comic book equally entertaining for the little kids who won't notice the satirical barbs and for the parents who are reading this comic book to their young children.  While I couldn't bring myself to try and differentiate among the very numerous names and personalities of the many little ponies featured in the issue, the creative team has varied their looks and personality traits enough that young readers most likely would really get into choosing their favorite characters to follow in the title.

     As a final review comment, its worth noting that the issue also includes a second, two-page story written and drawn by Katie Cook that's a cute humorous scene geared toward very young readers.  So a definitive positive review recommendation for this latest addition to the IDW Publishing stable (pun intended!) of My Little Pony comic book titles.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
Our latest contest challenged you to fill-in the blank in the following statement from a very popular 2005 MTV music video:  "Before there was Weezer there was _______."  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who correctly completed the sentence as "Before there was Weezer, there was Weeze."  The band referred to, of course, is the alternative rock band Weezer.  This popular and very funny video spoofs the rock star celebrity life by presenting a fake flashback to the band's origins; originally known as Weeze, the fictional group is led by an out-of-control lead singer played by actress Elisha Cuthbert, who's replaced in the video's conclusion by actual Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo.  The video is a fun satire of eccentric rock star personalities and is also well-known for including in several scenes actual Weezer fans who responded to a casting call.  Congratulations to our Weezer-knowledgeable contestant Erin, who wins our first-prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!
The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that its time again for a Worcester local history trivia contest question.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, March 20 with the answer to the following question.  From at least the 1950's through the early 1980's, there were two very popular local Worcester businesses with "House" in their names, "The White House" and "The Treasure House."  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com than Wednesday, March 20 and tell us what specific type of business each of these "houses" were in.  Here's a hint to jog your history memories: one of these houses was located on Park Avenue while the other "house" was located on Franklin Street in the heart of downtown.  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, on-going specials, only.
That's all for now, so have two great Boston Celtics-watching (keep that hot win-streak going!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 22 Here In Bongo Congo

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