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Review Date: Friday, August 2, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Its Eclectic Week here again in Bongo Congo and as such, Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review comics this week that span a wide range of varied subjects and themes.  So let's get right to it and see how this variety-pack of titles stack-up against each other:

Red Sonja #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Gail Simone & Walter Geovani: Writers
Adriano Lucas: Colors

     The heavily-marketed debut in Dynamite Entertainment's Red Sonja title of A-list writer Gail Simone kicked-off last week with issue #1 of a new Red Sonja title run.  While the credits also list Walter Geovani as the issue's writer, I suspect its a typo and Geovani is the artist, while Adriano Lucas provides the issue's colors.

     The untitled premier story segment provides two sub-plots.  The first storythread is a brief and revised Red Sonja origin segment.  In this retelling, Good King Dimath rescues Red Sonya from near-death as a mistreated prisoner from his defeated enemy's dungeons, whereupon she heads-off into the wilderness to become the familiar warrior-princess.  Flash-forward three years later and the main storyline kicks-in.  Sonya responds to a summons from King Dimath and learns that his army has been wiped-out by a plague deliberately caused by the barbaric Zamorans.  The King begs Sonya to rapidly train the remaining women of his court to defend his realm against the oncoming Zamoran horde invasion.  The issue ends in a surprise bridge to next month's story segment, as the horde attacks and Sonja makes a dramatic and startling connection pf the Zamoran horde leader to her previous imprisoned captivity.

     I've written in previous reviews that I've been disappointed in the below-par quality of the handful of Gail Simone-written titles that I've reviewed in the past few years.  I do like her well-known previous writing efforts with DC's Wonder Woman title and I was hoping that Red Sonja would again provide me with that high level of Simone-scripted reading entertainment.  So I'm very happy to report that I found this comic book to deliver that level of high quality script entertainment.

     Two significant elements of the story production stood-out for me as most responsible for this enjoyable reading experience.  First off, I enjoyed very much Simone's particular writing style, which brought a more human touch to Red Sonya.  Our heroine has often seemed one-dimensional in the previous Dynamite Red Sonya title run, over-heavy on the Conan-like dramatic battlefield pronouncements while swimming through pools of blood.  Those elements are more balanced here with some decent personality development and more routine comic book narrative and dialogue.  Secondly, there's a steady thread of light humor throughout this issue that's rarely found in a sword-and-barbarism comic book.  My particular favorite example are two naive and hapless teen warrior girls who Sonya takes under her bemused wing to mentor.

     The result of Simone's storytelling approach is a much complex and more fully fleshed-out tale that provides a richer and more satisfying read than many previous Red Sonya storylines.  So all in all, a very positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this premier issue of the latest red Sonja title run.  Congratulations are due to Gail Simone for her excellent writing effort on this title and here's hoping that she sticks around as the latest Red Sonya writer for a long time!


Day Men #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Matt Gagnon & Michael Alan Nelson: Writers
Brian Stelfreeze: Art
Darrin Moore: Colors

     BOOM! Studios recently released issue #1 of a new vampire-themed comic book entitled Day Men.  The concept here is that vampire families employ humans, the aforementioned "Day Men," to conduct both their legitimate business affairs and their vampire shenanigans well-into the daylight hours.  The new series is co-scripted by Matt Gagnon and Michael Alan Nelson with art by Brian Stelfreeze and colors by Darrin Moore.

     Issue #1 interweaves two storythreads.  In the first sub-plot we're introduced to David Reid, the young mortal Day Man for the powerful Virgo extended vampire family.  We get a feel for his general duties and work situation along with an introduction to various Virgo family vampires.  The second storythread introduces conflict between the Virgo and Ramses vampire families.  The two storylines interconnect when David is assigned to clean-up a murder by a partyboy Virgo family vampire of a female vamp from the Ramses clan.  A shaky truce between the clans implodes over the killing, resulting in an extended battle between a handful of vampires from the two clans with David stuck in the middle.  The issue concludes with the truce badly shattered and David heading with the rest of his Virgo "family" into an upcoming period of vampire warfare.

      This is a pretty popular new title that's getting some strong positive reviews out in the fan world and I can see why.  First, the concept of "Day Men" is a creatively fresh addition to the well-worn world of vampire fiction, one of those periodical new fictional twists that makes me wonder why someone didn't come-up with the new plot idea earlier.  Secondly, the co-writers succeed in delivering a strong plot that's rich in believable dialogue, suspense and plot details that pull the reader deep into this new approach to vampire storytelling.  And third, the character development is very strong, with a range of vampire personalities that offer wonderful soap opera-style story possibilities to be explored in upcoming issues.  Finally, I liked the idea presented of fifty vampire families in a world-wide network of the vampire society, which also opens-up some fun future storytelling potential as some of these clans no-doubt enter into the fray of this new intervampire war.

      While this comic book deserves a positive review recommendation, two negative elements do keep it from getting a totally top-notch rave in my review opinion.  The first is the artwork, which is too crude and has an element of unfinished stiffness to it for my taste.  A comic of this fresh storytelling quality deserves a better visual palette.  For some reason, BOOM! Studios is marketing artist Brian Stelfreeze's work in this issue as the second coming of a Neal Adams or Jack Kirby level of talent, and that's hardly the case, here.  While Stelfreeze is acclaimed for a wonderful published portfolio of front cover artwork, that quality doesn't translate into the interior of this particular comic book.  I suppose it's all in a typical day's work of marketing a comic book for sales, but it's still inaccurate and at the end of said marketing day, we're still stuck with clunky interior artwork.

      Secondly, while it's a minor criticism, it seems illogical to me that each of the 50 vampire families employs only one lone Day Man, a sort of solo Alfred The Butler to the family's wide-ranging daytime needs.  It makes no sense, given the large size of these vampire families and their extended activities/needs that they each employ only one multi-tasking day-helper; hopefully, the creative team will evolve this item in future issues and add many more Day Men (and hopefully some Day Women?) to the limited cast of Day Guys.

     But these constructive criticisms don't damper too much the decent quality and entertainment of this new comic book series, for all of the positive reasons outlined above.  So whether you're a horror comic book fan or just looking for an entertaining fresh comic book story theme, either way Day Men is a worthy addition to your mid-summer new issues comic book reading pile!


The Rocketeer & The Spirit #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing & D.C. Comics
Mark Waid: Writer
Paul Smith: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     IDW Publishing has partnered with DC Comics to present a new comic book title pairing-up their respective pre-World War II pulp-era heroes, The Rocketeer/Cliff Secord and The Spirit/Denny Colt.  I'm a big fan of both characters and have reviewed previous issues of both of them in their respective solo titles.  As such, I was very interested to read the details of this new pairing of the duo.  The series is scripted by A-list comic book writer Mark Waid with art by Paul Smith and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 is the kick-off segment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Pulp Friction."  The plot setting is February of 1941 in The Spirit's east coast hometown of Central City.  When a City Alderman is murdered, his body mysteriously turns-up a day later in sunny Los Angeles, prompting The Spirit, Police Commissioner Dolan and the Commish's beautiful daughter (and Spirit girlfriend) Ellen to hop a plane for a bumpy, 1941-style flight out to L.A.  Hijinks quickly ensue between our two heroes, as their respective entourages mistake each other for criminal suspects.  Without going into details, after an extended action-adventure sequence, all misunderstandings are ironed-out.  The issue #1 story segment ends on a comedic note, as The Spirit and the Rocketeer's girlfriend Betty meet and Betty goes cartoony ga-ga over the visiting sleuth, to the fury of Ellen Dolan!

     I truly don't believe that you have to be a devoted Spirit and/or Rocketeer fanboy or fangirl to love this new comic book.  The series hits a grand slam on four major strengths.  First-up of course is the expert scripting by Mark Waid, who brings the perfect pitch of dialogue and personality to the plot.  More importantly, Waid captures the heartwarming and comical aspects of our favorite characters from these two respective storyverses and seamlessly blends them into one flawless script.  A newbie reader would assume that these folk have all been created together and live in one storyverse as opposed to meeting each other for the first time in this new pairing.

     Third, the art is just plain great, with an engrossing color pallette, great penciling and an overall entertaining visualization of the world of Los Angeles in the pre-World War II years.  Finally, the issue is peppered throughout with small comic stylings and moments that overshadow the bigger plot picture to provide the real fun of this read.  Among my favorites are the Archie Comics-like "Betty and Veronica" personality clash between Ellen and Betty, the funny connection between Commissioner Dolan and The Rocketeer's sidekick Peevy, and the perfect comment that Commissioner Dolan remarks upon de-planing after a bone-shaking cross-country trip in a 1940's-era passenger plane.

     I would love to ramble-on-and-on about the many pluses of this new title, but enough already.  You need to stop reading this review and get down to That's Entertainment to pick-up a copy of this new team-up comic book for your own great summertime reading enjoyment!


Batman '66 #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jeff Parker: Writer
Jonathan Case: Art & Colors
Michael & Laura Allred: Front Cover Art

     DC Comics has just expanded its wide-ranging inventory of various Batman titles with the debut of Batman '66, a deliberately campy comedy series based on the style of the pop culture phenomenon wacky Batman television series that ran for three seasons (1966 to 1968) on ABC.  The new comic book series is scripted by Jeff Parker with art and colors by Jonathan Case.  In addition, the popular art team of Michael and Laura Allred created the issue #1 front cover.

     The premier stand-alone story is entitled "The Riddler's Ruse."  When the Riddler steals the well-known "Lady Gotham Statuette" from a public dedication ceremony, our campy Dynamic Duo arrive on the scene and fight the Riddler and his gang in pop art-style (lots of Bam! Pow! Poomf! sound balloons!).  The plot thickens when the Riddler escapes and our heroes begin to follow his riddle clues in hot pursuit.  Without being a detail spoiler, in a very fun way, Catwoman has become a legitimate nightclub owner and gets involved assisting Batman and Robin against The Riddler.  After much sleuthing, comedy and a second round of "Biff! Bam! Pow!" action, the Riddler is defeated, Catwoman returns to being a harmless goofball version of a baddie and the Bat-Signal announces "The End" of our issue #1 tale.

     I could write a very lengthy list of what makes this new title a great read, but for the sake of time I'll list here my "Top Four Favorite Reasons Why Batman '66 Is Not To Be Missed!"  Number one is the plot.  Writer Jeff Parker provides a surprisingly rich, detailed and quite complex storyline that mixes mystery, action-adventure and comedy into a brilliantly entertaining read.  Secondly, the creative team scores a "Perfect 10" in exactly duplicating the campiness of the acclaimed television show's wacky campiness.  The nutty riffs and homages to the show are non-stop, including the personalities of secondary characters (i.e., Chief O'Hara and Alfred The Butler), the Laugh-In style comedy that ensues when the Dynamic Duo pass apartment windows as they scale building walls and the stuffy/nutty dialogue between Batman and Robin in the midst of all the fistfighting.

     Third, I'm blown away by how well the art team duplicates on these comic book pages the features of the famous actors from the t.v. show; we're treated here to exact facial replicas of the actors Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, Frank Gorshin as The Riddler and a purr-fect facial and sexy body replication of Julie Newmar in her famous skintight Catwoman suit (Rowrr...!).  Fourth, the creative/editing team made the right decision to emulate the t.v. series with a stand-alone story that has a neat end-of-issue conclusion, as opposed to altering the atmosphere of the series with a multi-issue story arc.

     It's ironic that the "DC Comics All Access" column in the back of this book highlights several other new issue DC titles with typical modern-day dark story themes and visuals.  It emphasizes even more how much the modern-day comic book sensibility has drifted away from its 1960's light-hearted campiness roots.  We really need the occasional dose of comic book warmheartedness and nutball humor to balance this drift to the dark side.  Creator Keith Giffen is our usual standard-bearer who lets some light into this dark comic book world, and its nice to also have this brave new edition that's both entertaining in its own right and a wonderful homage to one of the greatest superhero t.v. shows of all time.

      So if you're in a tight situation right now, my review advice is for you to "Biff! Bam! Pow!" fight your way down to That's Entertainment and relive the joy of the great 1960's televised version of Batman, Robin and their cast of wacky friends and foes in "Batman '66!"

Contest Winner Announcement!!!
     Our latest contest  challenged you to tell us the answer to an interesting history trivia question.  Portland, Oregon was named in a famous coin toss, in which the winner named the city after his hometown of Portland, Maine.  We asked you to tell us what the other New England city name was in that coin toss.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly identified Boston as the alternate name in the contest.  So somewhere in an alternate universe the coin toss went differently and there's a Boston, Oregon out there!  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 has decreed that we go back to our baby boomer television viewing roots with our latest contest challenge.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, August 21 with the correct anser to the following question: What was the very first nationally broadcast children's television show back in the pioneering era of early t.v.?  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment will be selected via a roll of the dice.  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; we're taking our annual summer vacation next week, so have three great Boston Red Sox-watching (stay in first place, Red Sox!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 23 Here In Bongo Congo!

 
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