Review Date: Friday, April 12, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is thrilled that Spring has finally sprung, so let's celebrate the warming of our weather with reviews for four new comic books:

Deadpool Killustrated #1 & #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cullen Bunn: Writer
Matteo Lolli: Pencils
Sean Parsons: Inks
Veronica Gandini: Colors

     Marvel Comics has recently added to its extensive inventory of Deadpool comic book titles with a new mini-series entitled "Deadpool Killustrated."  For the uninitiated, the Deadpool comics feature the aforementioned as a masked assassin who's a mentally unstable mercenary-for-hire and most importantly, a very wacky character.  While Marvel created Deadpool as a conventional character back in the early 1990's, these days he's portrayed in a more satiric style in his various titles.  The new "Deadpool Killustrated" title is scripted by Cullen Bunn with pencils by Matteo Lolli, inks by Sean Parsons and colors by Veronica Gandini.  Since I've recently read the first two issues of this new series, I decided to write one joint review of the pair of comic books.

     This series is a beyond-Mad-Magazine satiric riff on the well-known Golden and Silver Age Classics Illustrated Comics, which presented classic tales of literature in comic book format.  The plot kicks-off with Deadpool discovering that the entire Marvel fictional multi-verse is being manipulated by unseen "creators" (obviously, the Marvel publications staff and/or we the readers).  With the help of a line-up of Marvel evil scientists, our hero manages to travel to the Classics Illustrated comic book universe, on the theory that if he slaughters his way through this early, pre-superhero comic book world, he'll get the attention of the creators and thus convince them to end his miserable life of endlessly killing folk in issue-after-issue of Marvel Comics. 

     Without being a detail spoiler, through issues #1 and #2 our anti-hero follows his plan, butchering character-after-character from so many classics, ranging Tom Sawyer to Moby Dick and beyond.  Issue #2 concludes with two events: a group of classic heroes organizes around Sherlock Holmes to stand their ground against Deadpool, along with evidence mounting that Deadpool's manipulation of these classic storylines is beginning to short-circuit and backfire in its effect upon the Classics Illustrated version of fiction.

     I'm personally averse to gory and bloody comics, but I make a decadent exception for all-things-Deadpool.  I can't resist enjoying the premise that all of his comic book issues and titles combined are just one giant, blood-soaked comment by Marvel Comics on the goofy side of the comic book genre, particularly the concept that we as fans sometimes take the specifics of any comic book storyverse too seriously.  Deadpool is consistently the best over-the-top satire to ride the currently blood-soaked surf of the publishing genre since the heyday of Mad Magazine and it shows again in this great new mini-series.  Its wonderful entertainment and just creatively brilliant to mash-up Mr. Nutbag, 21st century assassin with these Old School classic literature figures.  Two of my favorite elements here are the reaction of each classic figure as they interact with Deadpool, as well as their growing organized resistance to his intrusion into their fictional world.

     Its easy to fall into the trap of over-analyzing this mayhem with philosophical comments about the meaning of it all.  But if you do like to muse about the abstract symbolism of your comics, then this comic book series provides the best ammo for that activity than anything on the scene right now.  And alternately, if you just want a big dose of well-crafted storytelling soaked in comic book storyverse blood, blood and more blood, then by all means take a huge, gory drink of this excellent new series for your comic book entertainment!

Freelancers #4
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Eric Esquivel: Writer
Joshua Covey: Art
Vladimir Popov: Colors

     BOOM! Studios is up to issue #4 of a new thriller series entitled "Freelancers."  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the story so far: twenty-somethings Val and Cass are L.A.-based freelance security specialists/detectives.  Having been raised in the martial arts-oriented King Fu Orphanage, an ongoing theme in this title is strife among the orphanage folk, including the murder of orphanage founder Master Pierce at the hands of former teacher Drachmann, as well as Val and Cass's professional rivalry with a freelancing competitor named Katherine Rushmore.  The comic book is written by Eric Esquivel with art by Joshua Covey and colors by Vladimir Popov.

     The issue #4 story finds our freelance duo hired to protect superstar rapper Ricky Saint, a former prison guard who ripped-off the life details of a convicted drug-dealing gangster for his song lyrics and image.  Naturally, said gangster is now out on parole and gunning for revenge.  The bulk of the issue plays-out an evening in L.A. as the girls accompany Ricky Saint through his early evening concert and late-night clubbing.  It all builds to the dramatic moment when Saint is confronted by his gangster stalker.  I won't be a detail spoiler regarding the outcome, beyond revealing that our freelance duo mix-it up with the gangster in the effort to protect their client.  After concluding this scenario, the issue ends in a final page plot twist, as Val and Cass are unexpectedly confronted by rival Katherine Rushmore, who dramatically reveals that she possesses key information on the location of the fugitive murderer Drachmann.

     I was very entertained by this comic book for three main reasons.  First and foremost is the quality of Eric Esquivel's script.  The story line provides an impressive level of detailed thriller/noir narrative mixed with humorous and fun dialogue as the girls go about their L.A. nightlife-style freelance bodyguarding work.  A second strength here is the character construction of Val and Cass.  Again, kudos to writer Esquivel for developing a mix of old and new personality elements into the pair.  While we have a traditional pair of sleuths at the center of this comic book, they're infused with a fresh blend of personality traits that reflect modern-day young characters living and working in the 2013 party scene of L.A.  The result presents a pair of fun and interesting characters at the heart of this comic book concept.  And third, the artistic team brings the perfect style of visuals to this comic book.  The Joshua Covery's art style is a very nice choice for this style of comic book, similar to that in Brian Michael Bendis's popular "Powers" comic book series, while Vladimir Popov's color choices bath the scenes in perfect West Coast sunset colors reminiscent of such L.A.-based movies as the Jeff Bridges-Michelle Pfeiffer film "Tequila Sunrise."

     Every once in awhile I comment in a review that the comic book in question is a natural for a television series.  Add "Freelancers" to that short but occasionally expanding list.  I can see this title as a wonderfully entertaining weekly thriller series on a cable network such as USA, TNT or TBS.  So my review advice is for all good readers to cleanse your superhero-reading palette with a taste of Freelancers.  And here's hoping that someone out in TV land gets the message and gives this series a chance at television greatness!

Red She-Hulk #63
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Parker, Pagulayan, Alves and Staples: Creative Team

     Marvel Comics is all the way up to issue #63 of its Red She-Hulk comic book title.  I've read very few Hulk-based comics over the past few years and as such was pleased to discover in this title that the Red She-Hulk is none other than Betty Ross, former wife of the original Green Hulk, gamma ray-inflicted Dr. Bruce Banner.  A first page narrative summary of the story so far informs us that Betty/Red has partnered with Android X-51, also named Aaron Stack, to seek-out and destroy a potentially dangerous government super-soldier program.  The duo are fugitives on the run from both SHIELD and Captain America, who have appealed to the general U.S. public to help identify the fleeing pair.

     The plotline is divided into three segments.  Act One presents a television political talk show, in which the panelists summarize for us both the story so far and the background of Betty Ross as Red Hulk.  Act Two presents action-adventure; when Ross and Stack access an upstate New York military storage depot for supplies, a special SHIELD team confronts the duo.  In a lengthy battle sequence, our pair seems to be meeting its match at the hands of this very high tech-armed SHIELD hit squad.  And Act Three begins to bring Bruce Banner/Green Hulk into the storyline; as he checks-in with his SHIELD handler, he's on the edge of stumbling across knowledge of the ongoing New York field fight which would naturally result in him jumping into the fray.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment, as Red Hulk and Aaron Stack seem to get out of the frying pan of their SHIELD firefight by stumbling into the fire of a subsurface confrontation with a costumed bad guy whose identity I won't spoil to reveal in this review.

     This is the third comic book reviewed this week that I found highly entertaining.  To be frank, I think its one of the best current Marvel comics currently on the new issues shelves, for the following reasons.  First, I loved the unexpected surprise of Betty Ross as the Red Hulk.  There's some great storytelling potential here for plot interaction with Ross's former hubby Bruce Banner, which the writer obviously is planning to take advantage of with the brief but effective introduction of Banner into this issue's plotline.  Secondly, the artwork is very appropriate, presenting a tradition paneling and visual style that fits the old school Marvel Universe concept of all-things-Hulk.  And third, there are two separate moments here of unexpected wacky humor that elevate this comic up to the top of the monthly reading pile.  I won't spoil either one with explanations, beyond stating that they're obvious and each pops-up at just the right points in the plot for maximum funny effectiveness.

     My only criticism of this comic book is the technical editing glitch by which the editor omitted the full names of the creative team!  As such, their only credits are their four last names presented on the front cover: Parker, Pagulayan, Alves and Staples.  Unfortunately, I don't have the time in my busy workweek to research their full names, so I'll just say shame on you, Marvel Overlords, for neglecting to provide full credit where credit's due for treating us to this high quality and very enjoyable issue of Red Hulk, and here's hoping everyone gets their full credit due for providing us with another wonderful issue next month!

Action Comics #18
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Grant Morrison: Writer
Brad Walker & Rags Morales: Pencils
Andrew Hennessey & Cam Smith: Inks
Brad Anderson: Colors

     DC Comics re-numbered its iconic Action Comics title along with all of its other titles in this past year's New 52 DC Universe restructuring.  The new Action Comics features Superman in his redesigned costume and is currently up to issue #18.  The storyline is scripted by A-lister Grant Morrison with pencils by Brad Walker and Rags Morales, inks by Andrew Hennessey and Cam Smith, and colors by Brad Anderson.

     This issue's story segment is entitled "Last Stand" and is the final issue of an ongoing multi-issue storyarc entitled "Against The Demon from Dimension 5!"  The tale climaxes with three alternating sub-plots.  In the main battle storythread, Superman conducts a full-pitch battle with the titled ultrapowerful demon from Dimension 5.  Our second sub-plot revolves around another well-known Superman Family Dimension 5 foe, the impish Mr. Mxyzptlk.  And the third sub-plot provides us with some interesting past and present issues percolating within Mr. Mxyzptlk's family, regarding his son and wife.

     I don't want to be a detail spoiler regarding the specifics of these three storythreads, beyond mentioning that the solution to defeating the demon and resolving all of the story issues centers upon an effort to get everyone on Earth to speak a certain phrase backwards at the same time.  This oversized comic book also includes a second story set in the future Legion Of Superheroes reality, with a plot focusing on schoolchildren's experiences in visiting a futuristic Superman history museum.

      I'm giving this issue an average quality mixed-review.  On the plus side, its always fun to read a Superman tale featuring the rarely-seen Mr. Mxyzptlk.  The action-adventure is fun and the solution to the big plot problem is creative.  I also loved the final full-page story panel featuring Superman with everyone's favorite Superpup Krypto.  But the fun stuff just drowns in a weirdly disjointed story structure.  Writer Grant Morrison gives us a confusing layout of poetic rambling narratives and disjointed alternating scenes featuring way, and I mean WAY too many story characters; there are literally a few dozen present-day and future DC universe heroes and civilian characters elbowing each other for brief storytime on each page.  The result is a jumbling mess of a story progression that dampens a lot of the fun of this tale.

      So bottom line: if you're a casual Superman fan, I'd advise reading another Superman comic book available at That's Entertainment.  But if you're a diehard Superman storyverse fan, its worth adding this well-meaning but semi-successful creative attempt to your collection, for the appearances of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Krypto, as well as the back-up story that offers some nice life lessons on kindness and decency for younger readers.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     We had two correct entries to this week's trivia contest, which challenged you to provide the first names to three well-known current television show characters.  And since we haven't had a winner for two contests, we've declared both Erin O'Connor and Gregory Goding as co-winners, for their correct entries of providing the full names for Abby Scuito (NCIS), Leonard Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory) and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (The Simpsons).  Congratulations to both of our winners, who each win the first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

      The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offers-up this week an offbeat trivia challenge.  Yoru assignment is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, April 24 with the correct answer to the following question: Which large North American city is considered by nature scientists as the raccoon capital of the world?  Yes, there is one particular big city that is teeming with more than the usual number of the critters than seen in most places and it isn't Worcester!  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 great Springtime Boston sports-watching (go Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, April 26 Here In Bongo Congo!

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