Review Date: Friday, June 7, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo found an interesting variety of new comic books to review this week, so let's get right to it and see what this eclectic "bunch 'o books" are all about:

Batman Incorporated #11
Chris Burnham: Writer
Jorge Lucas: Art
Ian Hannin: Colors

     Batman Incorporated is currently up to issue #11 this month.  For the uninitiated, the premise of this title is that of Bruce Wayne/Batman establishing a global network of franchised surrogate Batmans, thereby evolving his persona into an internartional corporate crimefighting franchise.  The series was originally written by Grant Morrison with art by Chris Burnham.  Burnham currently scripts the series, with the issue #11 art produced by Jorge Lucas and colors provided by Ian Hannin.

     The issue #11 story is entitled "Interlude: A Bird In The Hand," and features Jiro, the Japanese Batman with his girlfriend/sidekick, the six-inch tall winged superheroine Canary.  The story unfolds in three acts; Act One is fast action, as the Japanese dynamic duo wage battle on the streets of Tokyo with a mysterious gang of high tech female motorcycle-riding villains.  The Second Act follows the bad girls back to their lair, where we discover that they're actually the Japanese chapter of Batman, Inc.'s world-wide foe Leviathan and they're led by a lioness-costumed bad girl.  Act Three brings the foes back together for a final battle, which of course our heroes win, but not before resorting to some very ingenious high tech trickery of their own, the details of which I won't reveal in the review.

    I got quite a kick out of this comic book.  As a certified Batman nut, I'm also usually a Silver Age purist and as such, I sometimes hate to see some of the major revamping of Batman that naturally occurs from time-to-time within the DC storyverse.  But Batman, Incorporated is the safety zone of alternate Batman stuff for we Batguy traditionalists, a title whose main theme is to stake-out a neautral storyverse territory for taking alternative creative stabs at the character stylings of Batman.  Taking Batman around-the globe is a brilliant addition to The Caped Crusdaer's story heritage, giving readers all sorts of foreign Batman takes through the eyes of fresh overseas versions of our hero, while maintaining his original Gotham persona intact in order for him to interact periodically with his corporate franchisees.

     The creative team does a wonderful job here in presenting the Japanese Batman.  The artistic style blends-in a fair amount of manga/anime visuals, including redesigning Jiro/Batman's cowl with a Japanese flair.  But the real beauty here is writer Chris Burnham's script, which neatly balances the kitchiness of Japanese pop culture with a fun action plot. Of particular worthy note is the wacky humor, from the oddball romantic banter between Jiro and Canary, to the campiness of the futuristic biker gang girls and their weird partly-bionic lioness leader.  Picture the campy 1960's Batman t.v. series updated into a Japanese manga storyverse and you get a fairly accurate vision of the odd-but-endearing atmosphere of this comic book.

    I'm not a regular reader of Batman, Incorporated, but after reading issue #11 and a few previous scattered issues, I have to give the various creative teams a lot of well-deserved credit for establishing their own fresh storytelling niche in the Batman world, delivering-up a fun variety of new global Batmans as they all fight for good in their respective international settings.  So by all means, add this very entertaining issue #11 of Batman, Incorporated to the top of your new issues reading pile!

Powers: The Bureau #4
Publisher: Marvel/Icon Comics
Brian Michael Bendis:  Writer
Michael Avon Oeming: Art
Nick Filardi: Colors

     Marvel's Icon imprint is up to issue #4 of the latest Powers comic book series, entitled Powers: The Bureau.  For the uninitiated, creators Bendis and Oeming originated the series back in 2000, as a superheroes-meet-real-world-cops story concept.  The initial series starred police detective Deena Pilgrim and her partner Christian Walker in a murder mystery, as they investigated the death of a "Powers," slang for superhero, named Retro Girl.  Three unique elements of the storyline included casting various other superheroes as the murder suspects, identifying Christian Walker himself was a retired Power and also revealing via flashbacks that Walker is an amnesiatic immortal, having survived through previous historical millennia in various lifestyles.  The current Powers title is published by the Icon imprint of Marvel Comics, with creators Bendis and Oeming at the helm and colors by Nick Filardi.

     An issue #4 inside-the front-cover-narrative brings the reader up-to-date on the story so far.  Walker and Pilgrim are now Federal agents, in follow-up to the government declaring that all Powers-related crime cases now have Federal jurisdiction.  Prior to this month's issue, Walker has gone undercover to track a criminal group that's selling black market Powers sperm to anyone who wants a superpowered offspring.  The action-oriented current issue unfolds two efforts of the undercover operation.  The first several pages present an elaborate ruse, the details of which I won't spoil in this review, by which Pilgrim and Walker manage to convince the bad guys that Walker's criminal cover is the real thing.  The lengthier second sub-plot leads Walker deep into the black market operation.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment, as Walker is seemingly shot while trying to protect a kidnapped Power-pregnant woman from the criminal plot.

     From 2000 to 2004, Powers was one of my top five favorite comic book titles during each of those years.  The "Who Killed Retro Girl?" series transcended comic book storytelling, basically presenting a slice of American literature in graphic format.  While it wasn't at the very highest quality level of either "Watchmen" or "Maus," it occupied the next quality level just below those two iconic books.  I drifted away from reading the series as the quality naturally came back down to earth after 2004, as no continual series can sustain that level of greatness for more than a limited timeperiod.  As such, I was very curious to check-out the current series and see how all-things-Powers are holding-up in 2013.

     My reaction is a mix of relief and disappointment, resulting in a barely-average quality review recommendation for Powers: The Bureau.  First, the relief: for the newbie reader, the creative team still has the creative juices flowing enough to deliver a decent enough stand-alone action-adventure storyline, thick with a detective/criminal noir atmosphere and fast-paced action-adventure.  But three additional elements provide the disappointment.  First, the story lay-out continues a post-2004 flaw of being paper-thin on narrative, spreading-out too many panels and pages of wordless or one-word action scenes, resulting in the feel that we're reading much less than a full issue's worth of storyline.  I've suspected for years that the detail thinness of the later-period Powers issues is due to the hectic, multi-tasking schedules of its A-list creators, and this issue continues to fuel that suspicion. 

     Secondly, the language raunchiness of our detective duo is layered-on so thick as to feel desperate.  Again, this has been an ongoing flaw for years in this title.  I'm not being a prude, here;  it's just that Bendis delights so much in tossing freshly-creative raunchy quotes and sayings into his Powers dialogue that the result is a level of raunchy slang overkill that feels both overloaded and frankly amateurish.

     The third and final flaw is that the current storyline just can't live-up to the freshness and rare quality of the original series.  Read on its own, this is a fairly decent and entertaining superheroes-meets-cops comic book title.  But within the framework of the previous timelessness and greatness of this series, it just all feels dull and tired.  It's not fair to blame Bendis or Oeming for this decline in the series's specialness and I wouldn't presume to do so; as I mentioned above, its a natural progression of any fictional series over time.  But for fans of the original series, the lack of pre-2004 greatness will leave a bad taste after reading the 2013 version. 

     So back to that mixed thumbs-up positive review recommendation.  If you're a newcomer to all-things-Powers, then by all means check-out this averagely-solid noir-meets-superheroes comic book, then prepare to be blown away as you backtrack through the That's Entertainment back issues bins to the rarified preciousness of the early days of this title.  And if you're an old-school Powers fanboy or fangirl, walk away now and just enjoy the old-school original series both in memory and re-reads, or fill-in the blanks of your original Powers reading with the back issues or graphic reprints of the 2000-2004 Image Comics run of this title.

Star Wars: Legacy #3
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman: Writers
Gabriel Hardman: Art
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics is up to issue #3 of the Volume 2 re-boot of its popular Star Wars: Legacy comic book title.  The series takes place approximately 138 years after the events of the very first Star Wars movie, officially entitled "Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope" within the six current films of this renowned science fiction movie franchise.  The comic book is scripted by the husband-and-wife writing team of Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, with art by Gabriel Hardman and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

     An inside-the-front-cover narrative brings the reader up-to-date on the story so far.  Its a time of peace in the galaxy, with an uneasy political alliance ruling that includes the Jedi Knights, the Imperial Court and a remnant of the old Galactic Alliance.  Two events have unfolded in the previous two issues: the bad guy Sith have kidnapped and replaced Imperial Knight Yalta Val with an imposter, and Ania Solo (Leia and Han's descendent) has found the missing Knight's light sword and is on the run in outer space from the Sith, accompanied by both a robotic and an alien friend.

     The issue #3 story segment begins with a typical Star Wars outer space chase scene, as Ania and friends outwit their pursuers with lots of action and ingenuity.  The midpoint of the tale shifts back to the Yalta Val conspiracy, as fellow Knight Jao Assam stumbles into uncovering the ruse and also flees from the Sith.  And the last third of the story segment brings the two storythreads together; after Knight Assam helps Ania and friends fend-off a space monster attack, the group pieces together the gist of the conspiracy.  The issue ends in a cliffhanger scene as the assembled group is caught in the tractor beam of an unidentified large spaceship pursuer.

     Several years ago, I made the conscious decision to shy-away from Star Wars comic book titles, as the first few back in the day seemed to be set in the original movie world's far past or future without much connection to the film's world or characters.  I'm happy to say that this new series eliminates that issue and provides a well-structured and very interesting connection to that original heart of the franchise.  Its just plain neat to read about this Ania Solo as the lead for the series.  She's an interesting mix of familiarity and mystery; we know who she's descended from, but we don't know yet why she was living a quiet, ordinary citizen life as a junk dealer before the Imperial Knight conspiracy dropped into her life.

     Four further elements result in this as a stand-out of a new comic book title.  First, the supporting characters are a nicely-balanced mix of old and new, from Knight Jao Assam's R2-D2-like robot W3 to Ania's frog alien and droid counselor sidekick.  A tip-of-the-review-hat is also due to the writing team's very high quality script that perfectly balances adventure with quieter moments of narrative and dialogue, reflecting nicely the story atmosphere of the first three Star Wars movies.  Third, the writers construct an entertaining personality for Ania, who's tough, smart, brave and just-plain-interesting to watch in any scene.  And fourth, the art team provides a high quality and effective visual style.  As one fan writes in the issue's letters column, its reminiscent of Carmine Infantino's work on the first Star Wars title published by Marvel Comics back in the 1980's, and that's high praise, indeed.

     I haven't been following the on-line chatter regarding any plot ideas or gossip for the forthcoming new Star Wars films from Disney Productions and creator J.J. Abrams.  But they may want to consider setting at least part of the series in this future Star Wars Legacy storyverse.  It would be a shame for the well-constructed character of Ania Solo not to make it to the big screen.  So in the meantime, by all means add this entertaining and fresh new slice of the Star Wars franchise to your new comics reading list.  I plan on backtracking to the first two issues of this title and to read the new issues as they're published each month and I recommend that you do, too!

The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #1
 Publisher: D.C. Comics
Art Baltazar & Franco: Writers
Ig Guara: Pencils
J.P. Mayer: Inks
Wil Quintana: Colors

     DC Comics has just added a new comic book to its New 52 inventory entitled "The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires."  The concept assembles a group of young cutting-edge high tech-oriented people who have comic book plot action adventures.  The series is written by Art Baltazar and Franco with pencils by Ig Guara, inks by J.P. Mayer and colors by Wil Quintana.

     Issue #1 presents the creation of the team, as seen through the eyes of teenager Mohammed, the royal prince of an unnamed Middle Eastern country.  Wanting to prove himself to his father as an entepreneur, Mohammed travels to a high tech expo in the U.S. to meet and hopefully affiliate himself with Commodore Murphy, one of the richest "kids" in the world and a Bill Gates-style high tech innovator.  We meet the rest of Murphy's small inner circle, consisting of a blond movie teen actress named Cecilia Sunbeam, a cowboy hat-wearing guy named Houston and Houston's younger sister named L.L.  Cecilia also lugs around with her a baby leopard that seems to have a comic book-style smart, human-like personality.

     Most of the plot consists of Mohammed meeting the assembled team, while two sub-plots weave into the meet-and-greet session.  In the first, we learn that Murphy is soon old enough to inherit a 64 trillion dollar trust fund, while in the second storythread, Murphy obtains a high tech device that can give him superpowered armor in case some stalkers actually attack him.  Sure enough, the issue climaxes in a heavy-duty costumed stalker attack on the group, with Murphy powering-up the suit for continuation of the big fight in next month's issue #2.

     I'm giving this comic book an average-quality thumbs-up review, based mainly on its (hopeful) potential to improve.  On the plus side, I like very much the concept of high tech, non-powered whiz kids coming together to use their brains and skills in their story adventures.  The writers also built into the script a lot of real world cutting-edge high tech details that lend a nice technological authenticity to the story details.  On the negative side, the creative team is going to have to provide a much more interesting plot premise if this new title is going to have a shot at publication survival.  Most of issue #1 over-focused on introducing the team, while at the very conclusion layering-in a brief story concept about weird stalkers attacking the head whiz kid.  That's not a very interesting central plot concept to sustain a monthly comic book, so the heat is on for this comic book to evolve with a much more entertaining storyline.

     I was also put-off by the money-oriented details of the story premise.  There's a lot of talk about making money, growing money, etc. for its own sake, to the point where the kids seem to have a greed fixation, instead of wanting to increase their wealth to fund a particular worthy goal or purpose.  The concept of "teenaged trillionaires" also feels like a little kid's money fantasy; given the reality and size of the real U.S. dollar supply, tossing these kids into the "mega-trillionaire" range is just an immature babyish fantasy and stretches even comic book fiction credibility for this adult reviewer.  Two additional minor-but-annoying criticisms: there's only one teen trillionaire in this group, so the plural of the title is misleading, and the art team erroneously draws both Murphy and Houston to appear much, and I mean MUCH older than teenagers.

     So bottom line:  this comic book might be entertaining in its current issue #1 premise for young teen readers who have "get-rich-quick" fantasies, but it better mature pretty fast in terms of plot quality and story logic if its creators want it to hang around for any decent length of time on the new issues comic book shelves.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to name the "Original Six" National Hockey League (NHL) teams, that came-out of the 1942 restructuring of the League and stood alone until the next League expansion to 12 teams in 1967.  We had two correct answers to the challenge, so in honor of our Bruins doing great right now in the play-offs (Go Brooons!!!), our co-winners are (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin and David McBarron, who both tell that the six original teams are the Boston Bruins (naturally!),  Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers.  Congratulations to David and Keith, who each win a first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Its that time of year again when we offer-up our Summer Movie contest!  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, June 19 and tell us what Summer-Of-2013 movie or movies you're most looking forward to seeing and why.  Your submission could be an anticipated comic book genre blockbuster or just an all-around interesting-looking movie that you think is worth us letting the world know that they should line-up this summer to see it.  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 another two great NHL Stanley Cup Play-Offs-watching (Go Brooons!!!) and summertime comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, June 21 Here In Bongo Congo!

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