Review Date: Friday, April 26, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week two comic books each from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, so let's get right to it and see how these new issues from "The Big Two" comic book publishers stack-up against each other:

Batman: Li'l Gotham #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs: Writers
Dustin Nguyen: Art

      DC Comics has recently published issue #1 of a new Batman Family comic book entitled "Batman: Li'l Gotham."  While not specifically geared to the small child reader market, the series features the adult Batman pairing with a small child version of Damien/Robin Hood as they interact with a mix of adult and kid-sized versions of familiar Gotham characters, both good and bad-guys.  The series is co-scripted by Dustin Nguyen and Derak Fridolfs with art by Dustin Nguyen.

     The premier issue of this new title features two holiday-themed tales.  Story number one is set on Halloween and alternates two sub-plots.  In the main storythread, Batman tries to teach the ever-cynical Damien not only to understand the concept of Halloween, but also to let loose for just one night and actually enjoy a bit of trick-or-treating with the other kids.  In the second sub-plot, Batman subtlely conducts an effort behind Damien's back to conclude the Halloween festivities with a group capture of Gotham's most famous supervillains.  I won't spoil in this review either the results of the trick-or treating or the supervillain sting operation, beyond stating that both conclude together by the story's end.

     Our second holiday tale features a Thanksgiving story, again with two sub-plots.  The main storythread centers upon an elaborate scheme by the Penguin to disrupt the annual Gotham City Thanksgiving Day parade, while the second sub-plot focuses upon the details of the Thanksgiving Day feast being prepared by Alfred for a wide range of guests, encompassing all of the usual Batman family members (i.e., Barbara Gordon, the many versions of Robin in their civilian personas, etc.).  Again, both sub-plots neatly tie together by the story's conclusion.

     I got quite a kick out of the originality of this Li'l Gotham comic book.  Its both cute and entertaining for readers of all ages.  I liked the way that the creative team managed to maintain Damien's core personality cynicism and fanatical devotion to constant crime-fighting while removing his usual creepy bitterness, instead mixing into his Li'l Gotham personality a bit of little kid pleasantness.  There are a couple of cute scenes that particularly mix this all up nicely.  My two favorites are a Halloween tale scene in which Damien reports back to Batman with the results of his bewildered attempt at trick-or-treating, and a Thanksgiving tale scene in which Damien plays Pied Piper, musically leading a bunch of Penguin-waylayed turkeys off to the safety of a nearby petting zoo.

     I've expressed my displeasure in many previous reviews with the nasty side of Damien/Robin's personality as portrayed in many DC Comics, so its nice to have a new interpretation of this character that tones that element down into something a bit more enjoyable to read.  And on a final review note, a hats-off is due to Dustin Nguyen for utilizing a sketch-like, unfinished artistic style that actually very well suits the "Li'l Gotham" concept of this comic book title.  So a definite and positive thumbs-up review recommendation to try something different and add this creative and fresh new Batman Family title to your ever-growing new issues reading pile!

Batman Incorporated #8
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Grant Morrison: Writer
Chris Burnham & Jason Masters: Art
Nathan Fairbairn: Colors

     DC Comics's latest multi-title event presents the death of the Damian Wayne version of Robin, The Boy Wonder.  The storyline begins in the latest issue of Batman Incorporated and continues across a range of Batman Family titles.  For the uninitiated, the latest Robin is the biological son of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Talia al Ghul, daughter of Batman comic book villain Ra's al Ghul.  The kick-off issue #8 is scripted by veteran DC writer Grant Morrison with art by Chris Burnham and Jason Masters, and colors by Nathan Fairbairn.

     The issue #8 story segment is entitled "The Boy Wonder Returns."  We're thrown right into action-adventure, as a major battle is ongoing throughout Gotham City between all of the Batman Family members on one side versus Talia herself and Leviathan, the hive-mind mentality evil that often manifests as crowds of evil children.  The storyline alternates between two segments of the battle.  In the main storythread, Damian/Robin partners with Nightwing/Dick Grayson in the lobby of the Wayne Building as they try to battle their way through Leviathan hosts toward the penthouse lair of Damian's evil Mom.  The second storythread focuses on Batman struggling at the top of the skyscraper with the same objective.

     We all know that this issue is structured to conclude with Damian's death.  So I won't be a spoiler with any further plot details, beyond commenting that both sub-plots weave complex and detailed battle sequences toward the inevitable conclusion.  Thus, by the final page of this issue, we witness the expected scene of Batman holding his dead son in his arms, as the Gotham sky weeps symbolic rain.

    Feel free to call me cynical, but I'm no softee these days for any superhero comic's "death of our hero" storylines.  That's because A-list comic characters never truly die, they're just marketed with a "temporary death of" storyline and eventually brought back to much marketing fanfare.  And we all know that if Mother Talia has her way (and there's already a hint of this point in this issue #8), eventually Damian's going to take a dip in his maternal grandfather's famed Lazarus Pool and be resurrected for further Batman storyverse adventures.

     But in the meantime, reviewing the quality of this issue on its own merits, we do have an entertaining and high quality comic book to enjoy, for a few reasons.  First, we have a script that reflects A-list writer Grant Morrison at the top of his writing game, with the dialogue and scenes properly dramatic to fit the seriousness of the topic.  Secondly, Morrison does a superb job of adding some redeeming value into Damian's attitude in this issue.  I've never hid my reviewer's dislike for the over-the-top snarkiness and intensity of this particular Robin, so I'm pleased to see Morrison dial-it-down a bit in this tale; Damian's still a psychotic nutbag killer, but an element of goodness rises to the top of his actions in this tale, imbuing the kid with just enough selfless heroism to make us appreciate his ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of Gotham City, his family and colleagues.

     The third positive story element is the exquisite artistic style presented by the creative team, reminiscent of the best that artist Frank Quitely presented to us a few years back in the popular All-Star Superman comic book title.  So add all three elements up and this comic book clearly deserves a positive thumbs-up review recommendation.  Again, I really believe that Damian/Robin's coming back at a future point in the DC Universe, but for now, its well-worth enjoying both the drama and the high quality of this "Death of Robin" publishing event and read how it all plays-out across the various titles of the Batman comic book franchise.

Journey Into Mystery #646
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kathryn Immonen: Writer
Valerio Schiti: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Marvel's long-running Journey Into Mystery title is up to Part 5 in the current issue #650 of a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Stronger Than Monsters," starring the Asgardian warrior and noblewoman Lady Sif, Thor's longtime girlfriend.  I backtracked to January's issue #646 in order to give this storyline a review from the kick-off of the five-segment monthly plot.  This new storyline is in follow-up to creator Kieron Gillen's acclaimed JIM run and brings the events of the title into the Marvel NOW! event series, with a fresh focus on Lady Sif and her fellow Asgardians.  The series is scripted by Kathryn Immonen with art by Valerio Immonen and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Our new storyline kicks-off with the actions of Lady Sif herself.  After saving a child during the destruction of Asgard's library, Sif decides that she must follow an enchanted path in order to obtain an ancient powerful spell that will make her an ever-stronger guardian of her beloved realm.  The bulk of the issue focuses on two extended scenes.  In the first, Sif confronts in the underworld the giant corpse-eating dragon Midhogg, who directs her to follow the mystical path to enchantress Aerndis.  The just-as-lengthy following scene presents Sif's cat-and-mouse encounter with the omni-powerful magical warriorwoman.  Without spoiling the details of the dramatic climax of this encounter, Sif manages to receive the all-powerful spell she seeks while in a very bloody manner defeating the enchantress to further her goals when she returns next issue to our Earthly realm.

     This issue has several entertaining elements mixed with one critical flaw which I'll get to in a moment.  On the plus side, the creative team gives us a fantastic artistic style, reminiscent of the stylings from Dan Slott's acclaimed run a few years back on She-Hulk.  I loved the quality of the emotive facial expressions that this style of rendering delivers so well.  Writer Kathryn Immonen also gives us a nice blend of humor that lightens the plot's heaviness at appropriate moments, toning-down the grand seriousness of the mythic Norse elements of this tale.  My favorite humor centers on the lightly funny verbal sparring between Sif and the underworld's corpse-eating dragon Midhogg, who has moreso the personality of a lazy human couch potato than a fearsome mystical beast.

     The one difficulty of this issue is a lack of narrative, either as a brief story prologue or at appropriate points in the tale itself, to help readers understand exactly what is motivating Sif and driving her on this risky gambit for enchanted power.  Most likely other Thor titles are connected to these developments, but as a non-regular Thor reader, I could have used a bit of explanation of context here.  While the result is still a fun stand-alone tale, I was left with the very strong feeling that I'm missing a lot of what's really happening in the bigger picture of this ongoing new storyline.  Unfortunately, that's an oft-times confusing and muddling way to kick-off a brand new multi-issue story arc that could have and should have been avoided with just some further narrative explanation.

     So while there's a flaw here in failing to assist new readers to immerse themselves in understanding some of the bigger-picture plot developments, this is still a very good, well-crafted kick-off issue for a five-part tale.  Just the artwork, sense of humor and that unexpected bloody yet fascinating bridge to issue #647 alone make it worth sticking with this series to see how these intriguing Asgardian adventure elements play-out over the span of the five-issue story segments, all currently available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves for your reading enjoyment.

All-New X-Men #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Stuart Immonen: Pencils
Wade Von Grawbadger: Inks
Marte Gracia: Colors

     The "All-New X-Men" title is up to issue #6 this month.  As with the Journey Into Mystery title reviewed above, I decided to backtrack to the January kick-off issue #1 to get a good feel from the very start of this latest addition to the very wide world of X-Men storyverse titles.  The series is scripted by A-list writer Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by Stuart Immonen, inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and colors by Marte Gracia.

     A front page narrative sets the tone for this series, explaining that X-Men leader Cyclops has gone rogue in follow-up to this past year's mutant/humankind struggles.  The remainder of the issue is divided into two acts.  Act One details the consequences of this rift; while Cyclops with his new partners Magneto and Emma Frost try to recruit confused teenaged mutants to their rebellious cause, the core of today's X-Men team brainstorms back at the Jean Grey Academy on how to confront him.  A sub-plot reveals that Hank/The Beast is undergoing an uncontrolled further mutation that seems to be killing him.  Act Two shifts the plot and scene to a last-ditch, desperate strategy, as the ill Hank time-travels to the early X-Men years.  Confronting the original team that includes his younger self, he implores the young version of Cyclops to journey forward to the present to try and convince his older renegade self to stand-down before mutant genocide erupts.

      This is a great addition to the inventory of X-Men comic books for several reasons.  Brian Michael Bendis delivers an excellent script, fully fleshing-out the varied personalities, conflicts and multiple plot issues flowing through this dramatic and dangerous intra-mutant conflict.  The time-travel element is unexpected and fun, clearly leading to the core of this new title, the concept of the original Silver Age teen version of X-Men journeying to our world and coping with the grand mess of the 2013 world of all-things-X-Men.

     The real fun of this new title run will be two-fold: seeing how the 1960's X-Kids react to our radically-different society and how they react to seeing the warped paths that all of their lives have taken over the decades.  There's a wonderful glimpse of those possibilities initially presented here in issue #1, in the high quality scene in which the time-traveling Beast and his 1960's persona react to and apprise each other.  I also enjoyed very much the particular assembled cast of X-Men starring in this title.  I've drifted away from being an X-Men fan as the line-up evolved over the past 20 years or so.  As such, it was great fun to see the mix of the 60's kids with a present-day cast that centers on a core traditional line-up including the adult versions of the original cast along with Storm and Kitty Pryde.

      So a well-deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good Marvel readers to backpedal like I did to the readily-available issue #1 and quickly catch-up (as I plan to do!) with the additional monthly issues, all readily available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify which large metropolitan city is considered by nature experts to be the "raccoon capital of North America."  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly identified Toronto, Canada as that city.  There's a great episode this past year of the PBS television series Nature that further explores the hows and whys of Toronto being the Raccoon capital of this continent, so check it out sometime and learn something new about nature!  Congratulations to Keith who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offers-up this week a riddle contest for your consideration.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, May 8 with the answer to the following riddle:  If A represents Boston, B represents New York and C represents Philadelphia, what cities do D, E and F represent?  The answer is right on something that we all deal with just about every day in our lives, so tell us the correct completion of this sequence.  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 Red Sox-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 10 Here In Bongo Congo!

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