Review Date: Friday, March 29, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that our theme this week is to review alternate versions of traditional superhero storyverses, with three reviewed comics presenting either alternate realities or alternate versions of their character's well-known personalities.  We're reviewing three comics this week instead of our usual four titles, in order to make room in this column for the following announcement:

William Watts "Buck" Biggers (1927-2013)

     Our friend and colleague Ron Niquette of Rising Moon Genealogy, Inc. informed us this past week of the passing of television animation giant William Watts "Buck" Biggers.  Biggers was actually living in Manomet, Massachusetts when he passed away on February 10, 2013 at the age of 85.  He's best known as the creator of of Underdog, the popular 1960's television cartoon starring our favorite canine superhero along with such supporting characters as Sweet Polly Purebread and Simon Bar Sinister.   But we honor him today at the top of this column for his role as the creator of our namesake, Good King Leonardo.  In his first 1960's animated series entitled "King Leonardo and his Short Subjects," he created the King himself, the King's supporting characters led by True Blue Odie and the entire talking animal kingdom of Bongo Congo. Other well-known 1960's animated television series created by Biggers, his working partners and studio staff included Tennesse Tuxedo and His Tales, Go Go Gophers, Tooter Turtle, The World Of Commander McBragg and Klondike Kat. 
     As an interesting trivia footnote, Biggers based his Total TeleVision (TTV) Studio here in Massachusetts on Cape Cod, creating and managing all of his successful 1960's television titles locally "on the Cape" with the animation produced at Gamma Studios in Mexico.  He closed Gamma Studios at the end of the 1960's due to the loss of General Mills as chief financial sponsor and headed to NBC for a successful stint as Vice-President of Creative Services.  Eventually relocating back to Cape Cod, he co-founded Victory Over Violence, a Boston-based organization dedicated to developing positive attitudes to counter the growing cynicism and negativity in the media with which we're all unfortunately too familiar.  He often used Underdog as a promotional character for Victory Over Violence's efforts.
     While all baby boomer fanboys and fangirls are grateful for the many wonderfully creative and entertaining television series created by Mr. Biggers, I'm particularly grateful for his inspiration that led to our Here In Bongo Congo comic book review column concept.  So Good King Leonardo hereby dedicates this biweekly issue of our column to the recent passing of Mr. William Watts "Buck" Biggers, as well as all future issues of our column to both his memory and inspiration.

Ame-Comi Girls #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jimmy Palimiotti & Justin Gray: Writers
Eduardo Francisco: Art
David Lopez & Santi Casas: Colors

     I've reviewed a few issues of the previous DC Ame-Comi Girls title and thought it would be worthwhile to check-out issue #1 of DC's second phase revamping of this series.  For the uninitiated, the series reinterprets traditional female DC heroes in an alternate, anime-style style of their personas as younger-than-usual teenaged characters.  The comic book is based on a popular series of Ame-Comi Girls collectible statuettes.  While the previous title focused on individual female heroes in alternating adventures, the new title brings the entire cast together in a wide-ranging large team adventure.  The revamped series is co-written by A-list writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Eduardo Francisco and colors by the team of David Lopez and Santi Casas.

     Issue #1 is the kick-off of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Rise Of The Brainiac."  The creative team presents a very fast-paced action tale in which a large team of Ame-Comi Girls fights an Earth-invading, Ame-Comi teenaged female version of traditional Superman Family foe Brainiac.  Four sub-plots weave together thoughout the issue: While Batgirl works to disrupt Brainiac within the invader's large spaceship, Powergirl confronts an army of Brainiac-controlled robots beneath the Earth's surface.  In the meantime, teen female versions of Wonder Woman, Robin, Catwoman, Steel and The Flash have a drag-out fight with Supergirl, who's turned evil from exposure to black kryptonite.  And in a fourth plot thread, Ame-Comi versions of Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Duela Dent break their alliance with Brainiac and side with our heroes in the pitched battle to save the entire human race from Brainiac's brain-sucking evil plot.  I won't spoil any of the many sub-plot details here, except to say that the battle continues into next month's issue #2 on a cliffhanger in which Power Girl is in mortal danger in her section of the battle.

     This is a high quality and entertaining comic book for a few reasons.  First, in keeping with this week's "alternate reality" review theme, writers Palmiotti and Gray do a great job in recrafting the traditional roles of our well-known superheroes and villains into the Ame-Comi version of the DC Universe.  Even more fun is the creative idea of redesigning or replacing male DC stars with female teenaged versions, including Brainiac himself, Robin, Steel, The Flash and Duela Dent.  The plotline is also top notch, presenting exciting, non-stop battle action with a substantial narrative plot that all balances together into a wild and fun superhero storyline.  Third, the new title meets the series goals of smoothly bringing-together the indivdual character storylines that were presented in the previous Ame-Comi Girls title.  As a reader of that series, its a lot of fun to see the second phase of this title evolve the ongoing story situations into one large group feature.

      On a constructive criticism note, I was surprised to see that the current artistic team seems to have abandoned the title's previous anime-oriented visual style for a more traditional artistic approach.  While there's some anime visual element evident, the characters are mostly presented in a traditional rendering style, albeit younger versions of their usual adult selves.  But that's a minor criticism, given the overall fun and entertainment value of this comic book.  So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all Good DC Readers to by all means check-out this excellent latest version of DC's ongoing storyverse of Ami-Comi Girls!

Dark Avengers #187
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jeff Parker: Writer
Neil Edwards: Pencils
Terry Pallot: Inks
Chris Sotomayor: Colors

     Marvel's Dark Avengers title is currently all the way up to issue #187.  As regular readers know, this particular title among the many Avengers titles features a team of supervillains assembled by bad guy Norman Osborn who, unknown to the public, are masquerading as the Avengers.  The series began in 2009 with A-list writer Brian Michael Bendis at the scripting helm.  After 16 issues, it shifted over to the Thunderbolts title with issue #175 of that series, which was retitled to Dark Avengers and continued the issue numbering of that previous comic book line.  The series is currently written by Jeff Parker with pencils by Neil Edwards, inks by Terry Pallot and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

     The current multi-issue story arc is an alternate reality tale entitled "The World Is A Dangerous Place."  A front-page summary of the story so far explains that the Dark Avengers have been tossed into an alternate reality version of New York City, in which Earth's well-known Marvel heroes have splintered into rival factions, each of which controls a section of the City.  The storyline of the current issue alternates among a few sub-plots in which the scattered Dark Avengers have conflicts with evil versions of our world's superheros.  Without revealing specific details, conflicts include the team members battling an evil Ben Grimm/The Thing, interacting with a really evil version of Iron Man who's oppressing both the alternate world's version of Hank Pym/Ant Man as well as a clone of Thor, and dealing with a nasty street crew who include in their ranks alternate versions of Hawkeye, Spiderman and Daredevil, among others.  The issue concludes in a very dramatic bridge to next month's story segment, as it appears that the evil Ben Grimm has killed a key member of the Dark Avengers.

      This is an intriguing alternate version of the Marvel Universe that deserves a positive review recommendation, although there's one negative story concept that holds it back from the ranks of the highest quality category of comic tale.  Writer Jeff Parker does a stand-up job of recrafting many of our favorite Marvel storyverse heroes into alternate reality versions of themselves, with personalities that range from pure evil to just plain nasty folk.  While the evil Ben Grimm is a run-of-the-mill character, the evil Iron Man is frankly chilling and the alternate Spiderman is insect-like creepy to the point where he just might be non-human under that mask.  The overall result is a fresh perspective on the world of Marvel Comics with a really neat science fiction feel to the whole concept.  Hats-off is also due to the art team, which provides the right visual style for this type of comic book tale.

     As I mentioned above, one story element does keep this comic book in the "very good" category as opposed to an exemplary product, and that's the desnity of the presented sub-plots.  There's just so much story action and narrative detail jammed into the quickly alternating sub-plots, featuring a huge cast of characters, that the storyline is hard to understand in some places.  This overstuffed format also seems to rush the plot along at too fast a pace for absorbing the story progression for a normal read.  Similar to some other overly jam-packed comics that I've previously reviewed, we'd all be better entertained if the creative team took a deep breath and adjusted the story pace and alternating sub-plots down to a routine speed, making the multi-issue story arc reading experience all the better.

      To be honest, due to the story pacing, I had to re-read the issue a second time to get a good feel for everything that's frantically going-on in the many corners of this wide-ranging alternate reality tale.  But it is a unique and extremely interesting story and as such well-worth it for readers to check-out, although you'll be back-checking a bit to keep-up with all the good story stuff happening in this exciting Dark Avengers action-adventure.

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #22
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Sam Humphries: Writer
Joe Bennett: Pencils
Ruy Jose: Inks
Matt Milla: Colors

      Literally "the ultimate" in alternate reality superhero comics being published these days is Marvel's Ultimates comic book universe, in which the basics of the well-known Marvel Avengers superhero personalities and traditional fictional roles are often altered to the extreme from their familiar fictional roots.  The Ultimates concept was launched in 2002 and rebranded in 2011 with writer Jonathan Hickman at the helm as "Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates."  The series is currently up to issue #22 and is scripted by Sam Humphries with pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Ruy Jose and colors by Matt Milla.

     Issue #22 is the latest installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Reconstruction." A front page narrative summarizes the story so far: In the wake of previous major conflicts among the Marvel heroes and within U.S. society, Captain America is now the U.S. President and struggles to manage many domestic threats, including terrorism by HYDRA and a successionist movement by the state of California.  The current issue plot consists of three storythreads.  In the first, Cap-As-President has a verbal confrontation in Washington with one of the leaders of the California successionist effort, who isn't intimidated at all by Cap's national leadership.   Our second storythread is more action-adventure, as in a flashback we learn the brief history of a previous team of government-enhanced metahumans who were put in stasis by the Feds due to their dangerous personality traits.  The third sub-plot focuses on Tony Stark/Iron Man, who has a brain tumor that he's personalized within his perception of reality as a young child named Anthony, as a means of controlling the tumor and enhancing his intellectual abilities.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge bringing together all three sub-plots, as the California rebels defy Cap by unleashing the hidden unstable metahuman team with a vicious attack directly on Tony Stark.

     Much credit is due to the creative team in living up to this title's name and giving us an ultimate, extreme alternate reality version of our familiar Marvel storyverse.  Writer Sam Humphries rolls the dice with his extreme restructuring of this reality and the result in a very creative and entertaining story structure and plot.  Beyond just the basic factual reality changes, two particular creative plot elements stand-out in this tale.  The first is the personality trait of Captain America.  His persona is one of aloof authority and commanding behavior; rather than roll up his sleeves and work on government issues, he arrogantly tells all parties involved in these topics to go and work out their own differences.  I loved one scene in which he locks two cabinet members in the Oval Office, telling them that he'll return when they work their differing opinions out.  Its a childish, overly simplistic attitude toward governing that's clearly a failure and already leading to some very bad consequences evolving in the story.

     The second story element stand-out is the very unique idea of Tony Stark's coping with his brain tumor.  It's abstract and kind of wacky, but Stark's literal visualizing of his tumor as a kid named Anthony who hangs out with him in his penthouse is an extremely creative and ultimate (no pun intended) plot twist that fits very well into the situation.  In Stark's parental role to this vision, he's able to both control the tumor and use that afflicted part of his brain to its unusual intellectual ability as a junior partner in his creative efforts.  There are a ton of intriguing storyline possibilities within his concept, and it should be very interesting to see which direction among them that writer Humphries selects to advance this weird but impressive plot idea.

     So all-in-all, while all three of our reviews this week present excellent alternate reality superhero comic book stories, Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #22 advances this story concept to the farthest reaches of the alternate reality story genre.  If you're looking for an entertaining story that really pushes the envelop of this type of storytelling, then this issue is clearly for you!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
     Our contest this week was another Worcester trivia question, challenging you to identify two famous and very popular baby boomer-era businesses in Worcester that had the word "House" in their business names.  Although a few people gave it a try, for the first time in a few years, no one correctly answered our contest.  The correct answers are "The White House," which was a very popular local restaurant on Park Avenue and "The Treasure House," which was a coin and stamp hobby shop located downtown across from City Hall on Franklin Street. Both businesses flourished for decades until they closed sometime in the late 1970's-early 1980's.

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!
     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that we offer-up a television trivia contest this week.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, April 3 with the correct answer to the following.  Correctly fill-in the blanks identifying the first names of the following three current regular characters on three of the most popular shows currently on t.v.: __________ Sciuto, __________ Hofstadter and __________ Nahasapeemapetilon.  All three shows that these characters star on are ranked number one these days in at least one category of television viewing.  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 beginning-of-Springtime (finally!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, April 5 Here In Bongo Congo!

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