Review Date: Friday, July 19, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is looking for some cool relief from this current stretch of mid-summer heat, so let's get right to it and see if this week's comics are cool enough to provide that relief!

Wild Blue Yonder #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Mike Raicht: Writer
Zach Howard: Art
Nelson Daniel: Colors

     IDW Publishing has recently released issue #1 of a new science fiction action-adventure comic book entitled Wild Blue Yonder.  This is a post-apocalyptic themed comic book; after civilization collapses from radiation and pollution, humanity's survivors assemble into two camps, an underclass of underground miners and a "privileged few" who live in massive airfleets and wage war on each other as they live on mountaintops and battle among the clouds.  The series is written by Mike Raicht with art by Zach Howard and colors by Nelson Daniel.

     Issue #1 introduces two interweaving sub-plots.  In the first storythread we're introduced to Cola, a young "good guy" fighter pilot and her dog/sidekick named Critter.  At a mountaintop bar, Cola recruits a young unemployed miner named Tug to be her new gunner, after which the two spend most of the issue in an extended aerial firefight against the forces of evil in this storyverse.  The second storythread introduces the bigger theme of the comic book, that of the war between Cola's extended family and friends who make-up the last surviving group of good guy fighters versus the huge armada of bad guys, led by a hard-nosed dictator named "The Judge."  Without spoiling any details, by issue's end, the good aviators have won their latest skirmish but not without The Judge patiently laying the groundwork for advancing his long-range schemes against this last band of hardy flying foes.

     I liked many aspects of this comic book, but in the end I'm giving it an average, mixed-bag positive review.  Three strong story elements stand-out on the plus side of this new title.  The art is mind-boggingly exquisite, with the visual team providing amazingly detailed aerial battle scenes that pull the reader into an almost 3-D reading experience.  Secondly, the personalities of the main characters are both interesting and heart-warming, including the young, brash female pilot Cola, her down-to-earth new sidekick Tug, the human-like dog Critter and their fighter buddy Scram.  Third, there's a neat mix of Rocketeer-style fighters in the mix (including the afrementioned Scram), who jetpack around the fighter planes adding an exhilarating dimension to the action sequences.

     On the downside of this new title, the emphasis on this being a post-apocalyptic, fall-of-civilization version of the future dampens much of the story logic.  The world is portrayed as just too much of a wreck to sustain the level of massive, constant air combat and colossal waste of dwindling resources that are applied to the full-throttle, all-out warfare of this series.  Even for the suspension of logic that's routinely allowed in the world of comic book publishing, much of this version of reality is a stretch for a science fiction fan to accept as doable even in a funny book world.

     In sum, I couldn't help but feel that the creative team got so wrapped-up in the visual beauty of what they were creating that they forgot to balance it with enough plot logic to make many adult readers willing to commit to being monthly fans of this storyverse.  That doesn't completely take away from the positive and entertaining aspects of this new series, it just keeps it, for now at least, from being a top-of-the-comic book pile success.  So bottom line, for some mindless, harmless mid-summertime comic book reading, by all means take Wild Blue Yonder out for a spin and see for yourself what you think of this "world of the future" new comic book series!

Suicide Squad #21
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Ales Kot: Writer
Patrick Zircher: Art
Jason Keith: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #21 of its latest Suicide Squad title.   This is the third incarnation of the Suicide Squad, which had its debut in 1959 in issue #25 of The Brave and The Bold.  The current team consists of a group of anti-hero supervillains who act as deniable assets for the U.S. government, carrying-out Black Ops assignments in exchange for an eventual commute of their prison sentences.  The team operates out of Belle Reve Penitentiary under the command of government agent Amanda Waller.  The title's creative team consists of writer Ales Kot with art by Patrick Zircher and colors by Jason Keith.

     Issue #21 presents the final installment of a two-issue storyarc entitled "Discipline And Punish,"  and alternates two sub-plots.  In the briefer storythread that is set 17 days in the future and both starts and concludes the issue, we see members of the Suicide Squad battle a giant Frankenstein-like creation on the streets of Las Vegas.  The more dominent storyline fills the bulk of the issue, and presents a present-day revolt against both the Suicide Squad and Agent Waller by well-known Joker girlfriend Harley Quinn.

     After escaping the confinement of her Belle Reve prison cell, Harley runs amok throughout the prison, taking Agent Waller hostage while seriously wounding a Squad member.  Without spoiling too many details, the incident builds to a tense armed stand-off between Quinn and Squad member Jim Gordon, Jr., with Agent Waller perilously in the line of fire.  Quinn suddenly states that she wishes to negotiate a better prison commutation deal for the Squad via her hostage negotiation with Gordon, whereupon we're tossed back to that ongoing Vegas street battle set 17 days from the present time of the hostage stand-off.

     This comic book deserves a very positive review, albeit with one final significant point of criticism.  On the plus side, the art is excellent and the Suicide Squad team make-up is fun and entertaining, including the aforementioned Jim Gordon, Jr., introduced over the past few years in the Batman storyverse as the previously-unknown, criminally-insane son of Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon.  Best of all in this issue is the presented personality of Harley Quinn; while various DC writers have each crafted their own take on her behavior, writer Ales Kot gives us a fresh and wonderful reinterpretation, cutting-back on the child-like innocence of her personality and emphasizing the stone-cold killer side of her criminal psychosis.  His dialogue for Quinn is flat-out great, peppering her language with sharp and creative street slang that makes her character all the more believable.

      The one glaring criticism is an odd lack of conclusion to either sub-plot in Kot's script.  This issue is the wrap-up segment of a two-part story, yet neither sub-plot concludes.  We're left hanging in the hostage stand-off sequence with Quinn's vague remark about wanting to "change the deal" on the Suicide Squad's Black Ops arrangement, and we're left in the very last story panel with the Las Vegas street battle still in full gear.  It just makes no sense to cut-off the story in mid-action for both storythreads and left me with a very dissatisfied feeling that the story didn't come to a proper and satisfying conclusion.  But the positive story elements outlined above are so strong that I happily still award this issue with a positive, thumbs-up review recommendation.  So by all means, get on-board with reading this very entertaining latest publishing incarnation of DC's long-running Suicide Squad!

Batman/Superman #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Greg Pak: Writer
Jae Lee & Ben Oliver: Art
June Chung & Daniel Brown: Colors

     DC Comics has just released issue #1 of its new Batman/Superman title within The New 52 umbrella of DC titles.  I was a big fan of the previous Batman/Superman title, which ran for many years, and as such wanted to review this latest version of pairing-up the two giants of the DC storyverse, Batman and Superman.  The new series is scripted by Greg Pak with Jae Lee and June Chung providing the artwork for the first 18 pages of the issue #1 story, while Ben Oliver and Daniel Brown create the visuals for pages 19 through 25.

     The kick-off multi-issue storyline is entitled "Crossworld," and provides a plotline that pairs the well-known main DC timestream with an alternate reality.  The alternate universe setting dominates most of the issue #1 story segment; in this timestream, both heroes are young adults and haven't met yet.  The plot is a murder mystery, as Clark Kent follows the trail of murdered Wayne Enterprises employees to Gotham City, meeting Bruce Wayne for the first time.  Action explodes as the pair unexpectedly come together during the next attempted murder.  Without being a detail spoiler, the killer is revealed to be a mystical evil spirit who unknowingly inhabits a person's body and commits the crimes.

     The final six pages of the issue shift the tale to our mainstream DC universe, as Superman is inexplicably teleported across realities to the mainstream Smallville.  Confused and outraged, he battles the mainstream-reality Batman until in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #2, Pa Kent unexpectedly arrives on the scene to intervene and save Batman's life.  The issue's final story panel centers on the malevolent spirit-being relishing the chaos and plotting his next move against our heroes.

     This is a fresh addition to the many pairings of Batman and Superman over the years that works well in three respects.  First, its always fun to read a superhero comic book with alternate reality elements that refresh well-known facts about our heroes.  I enjoyed one particular commonality between the duo in the alternate universe, that both of those heroes lost their respective parents at a very young age.  I also liked that the pair are younger adult versions of themselves who aren't yet aware of each other's existence.  Secondly, the crossworlds concept is presented very well in this premier issue and offers a huge potential of various plotlines for upcoming issues.

     Third, a hats-off is due to whoever at DC made the decision to assign separate art teams to depict each of the two alternate realities.  The non-mainstream art is a very sharp-edged, non-traditional style that adds a very alien-like atmosphere to this alternate place and time, while the mainstream universe style, reminiscent of well-known comic book artist Phil Noto, roots this world in a more familiar comic book visual palette and establishes the sense that this is the mainstream, well-known world of our usual DC story-telling.

     On a minor constructive criticism note, there is some confusion here and there in the storytelling as to who or what is responsible for certain events playing-out.  I'm still not sure if the evil spirit-being plopped the alternate Superman and himself into the main DC world or whether they're both victims of circumstance.  But there's enough high quality entertaining stuff going-on throughout this issue to allow readers to relax about those confusing plot interludes and see just where the storytelling will take us as this multi-issue storyarc unfolds.  So a positive review recommendation is deserved for all Good DC Readers to take a seat on this alternate universe-hopping express and see where it all takes us for an entertaining ride of a read!

The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nick Spencer: Writer
Steve Lieber: Art
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors

     Marvel Comics has recently published issue #1 of a new series entitled The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man.  The concept here is that five Spider-Man foes: Boomerang, Shocker, Overdrive, Speed Demon and the lone female Beetle, have joined forces as a new group called The Sinister Six (and yes, one of the lame running gags in this issue is that these hapless idiots do indeed realize that they have only five members).  The comic book is scripted by Nick Spencer with art by Steve Lieber and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

     The premier issue plot alternates between two sub-plots.  In the kick-off storythread, team leader Boomerang narrates an allegedly humorous story detailing his own origin as well as the details of how he formed the group.  The lengthier sub-plot details the group's present-day situation; with Boomerang in jail after being captured by Spider-Man, he directs the free members of the group in an elaborate effort to move stolen goods around, fulfill some group obligations to other bad guys and make some money on their own.  In a bridge to next month's issue, Boomerang is released from prison and its revealed that he's manipulating his dim-witted gang for his own selfish purposes.

     This new series is an attempt to provide the type of tongue-in-cheek, light satiric humor previously seen in such series as DC's "Formerly Known As The Justice League."  Unfortunately, it simply falls flat in trying to deliver that level of chuckle-humor.  No one is a more skilled writer than Formerly Known As The Justice League scripter Keith Giffen in delivering that type of quality, light-hearted farce; unfortunately, writer Nick Spencer is not in Keith Giffen's category, and try as he might the laughs are few and far between the mostly consistent flatness of this storyline.  While the artwork and style of narration is decent, it can't make-up for the cricket-chirping silence that results from the lack of consistent funniness in this comic book.

     So enough of the negative talk already, and let's just end this review with a "nice try pat-on-the-back" to the creative team and a review recommendation for all good fanboys and fangirls to take a pass on reading this new title.  If you really want to be entertained by a successful effort at Mad magazine-style superhero funniness, then by all means check-out the back issue bins and graphic novel reprint shelves at That's Entertainment for copies of the aforementioned excellent Formerly Known As The Justice League series.
Contest Winner Announcement!

     Our latest contest fantasized that our favorite home-away-from-home pop culture emporium That's Entertainment had a resident store cat, and challenged you to propose a genre-appropriate name of our "Comic Book Kitty".  And the contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Mike Dooley, who proposed the name T'Challa for the store cat.  For the uninitiated, T-Challa is the proper name of the Marvel Comics superhero The Black Panther.  We think that any storecat named T'Challa would protect That's Entertainment as fiercely as his namesake has protected his African Kingdom of Wakanda all these many years in Marvel Comics! Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to (where else) That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offer-up a historical trivia contest for your consideration this week.  Its a historical fact that the city of Portland, Oregon was named after Portland, Maine by one of its pioneering founders, who immigrated from Portland, Maine and won the naming rights in a famous coin toss.  Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, July 31 and tell us what other well-known New England city was the other potential name choice available in that infamous coin toss.  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 Red Sox watching (stay in first place, Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 2 Here In Bongo Congo!

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