Review Date: Friday, August 23, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

It's time for more summertime comic book reading recommendations, so let's get right to four new issue comic books that Good King Leonardo has checked-out for your end-of-the-summer-season comic book reading consideration:

Archie #645
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications, Inc.
Various Writers & Artists

     It isn't truly summertime unless I've reviewed at least one summer-themed Archie comic book, so this week I'm reviewing Archie #645, sub-titled on the front cover as "Archie's Ultimate Guide To Summer Fun!"  The giant-sized summer spectacular features three full-length tales; the first story is scripted by Tom Defalco with pencils by Rex Lindsey and inks by Rich Koslowski, while the second and third tales are scripted, penciled and colored by Dan Parent with inks by Rick Koslowski.

     The kick-off story is entitled "Summer Daze" and charts the misadventures of Archie on the first day of school break summer vacation.  Its a light slapstick tale in which from morning to dusk, any harmless summertime activity that Archie tries (waterskiing, carnival fun, a dance, etc.) ends with disastrous pratfall results for Archie.  The story concludes with a funny strategy that Archie adopts to try and get through the rest of the summer harm-free.  "Catch The Wave" is the brief, 5-page second tale and is a cute commentary on the pros and cons of video gaming, as Betty, Veronica and Veronica's parents, Mr. & Mrs. Lodge, become obsessed with playing a wi-style interactive surfing game on the Lodge's television.  "Surf's Up" is the third story with an actual real-world surfing plot, as Betty teaches Veronica how to actually surf so she might get hired for a reality-television series starring a hunky professional surfer.

      With every Archie comic book that I periodically check-out, it never ceases to amaze me how this old-school series maintains its relevance, stellar production quality and overall high level of reading entertainment.  The current issue delivers in that way on four counts.  First, the three story plots are balanced with a variety of themes.  The first tale delivers light-hearted Archie-as-endearing-goofball slapstick, the second provides social commentary on the potential obsessiveness of video gaming and the third delivers a meaningful and heartwarming life lesson on female empowerment and girl power.  Secondly, the production is very solid, delivering the familiar and consistent Archie Comics visual style among the various art teams along with a nice balance of appearances by the Archie storyverse support characters, including Jughead, Reggie, Midge, Moose and Principal Weatherbee.  Third, this seemingly old-fashioned comic book is anything but outdated, as each story is chock-full of effective references to modern technology and current-day pop culture.

     Fourth but hardly least, unlike any other current comic book series, the Archie Comics publishers stuff this comic with so many promos, sneak peaks and interesting samples of other Archie titles and series that its essentially as much an Archie Publications catalog as it is a stand-alone comic book.  And that's just as much fun as reading the three stories.  Among this particular issue's promo stand-outs that caught my eye are a set of three 400-page jumbo-sized "Best Of Archie" compilations for only $7.49 each, a beautiful, high-end "The Art Of Betty And Veronica" coffee table book and an "Everything's Archie" promo page that lists enough variety of Archie publications and products to last a year, at least.

     In sum, while we all started-out reading Archie Comics as kids, issue #645 proves once again that the world of Archie continues to be relevant to modern-day reading sensibilities, as well as a very entertaining comic book for readers of all ages.  So get-on over to That's Entertainment and check-out issue #645 as well as the rest of the store's wide range of Archie Comics inventory!

Six-Gun Gorilla #1 & #2
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Simon Spurrier: Creator & Writer
Jeff Stokely: Art
Andre May: Colors

     Boom! Studios has so far published the first two issues of a new six-issue comic book mini-series entitled "Six-Gun Gorilla."  While I initially read issue #2 first, I decided to also backtrack and read the premier issue and thus provide a more informative combined review for both issues combined.  The new title is the creation of writer Simon Spurrier, with art by Jeff Stokely and colors by Andre May.

     The series is a science fiction storyverse centering on the well-known plot theme of reality television run amok.  In a nutshell, the Bluetech Corporation ships suicidal volunteers off to the planet Blister, where they're filmed for reality t.v. viewers back home to view while they serve as very expendable cannon fodder in a corporate war against the Wild West-style Earth settlers of the planet, who crave independence from Earth.  Corporate hell breaks loose when a volunteer simply known as Blue is asked by a dying army general to return a watch to his wife back home.  Without being a detail spoiler, issue #1 climaxes with Blue handily rescued from the developing corporate intrigue shenanigans by the title's six-gun wielding talking gorilla, who is the result of a corporate biotech research project run amok.  Issue #2 finds our duo on the run from the corporate bad guys.  A good portion of this issue details the pair getting to know the unique and eccentric inhabitants of a small frontier town on Blister.  This issue ends in a very dramatic bridge to next month's issue #3, as Gorilla and Blue face overwhelming odds against a huge army force arriving in town looking for their respective heads.

     This very unique science fiction comic series reminds me more than anything of the many fresh and creative animation series that MTV pumped-out on a regular schedule back in the 1980's.  Like those shows, the plotline is a mish-mash of varied and disconnected plot themes, which in this instance include the wild west, interstellar warfare, corporate intrigue and reality television.  Yet in the hands of the very capable creative team, this seemingly random stew blends into a well-balanced and delicious meal of an entertainment.  There's some intriguing soap opera-style relationship drama among the players, as well as a lot of small tidbits about the dangers of the weird planet Blister, both from within the planet's oddball eco-system and imported to the battlefield by the warring human parties, enough to intrigue both the science fiction faithful and newcomers, alike.  The storyline also has a calm, measured pace to it that's rare to see in a six-issue limited series; in fact, the title's six-gun gorilla doesn't even make an appearance until the very last page of issue #1.  That's one bold and gutsy move that reflects the amount of story-telling confidence that the creative team has in its strong new series.

     I can't finish this review without a shout-out for the unique artistic style of this comic book.  The jagged, sharp-edged penciling and selected color palette deliver the perfect atmosphere of a dry, dusty alien planet run overrun with foolish Earthlings who bring their particular brand of meaningless violence and idiocy to this barren new world.  So a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good readers who are fans of science fiction, corporate intrigue and/or gorilla tales to check-out this very original new comic book series!

Revival #12
Publisher: Image Comics
Tim Seeley: Writer
Mike Norton & Art Baltazar: Art
Mark Englert: Colors

     Image Comics is up to issue #12 of a supernatural-themed comic book entitled Revival, sub-titled "A Rural Noir."  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the previous plot development: in the rural area around Wausau, Wisconsin, for one day the recent dead came back to life as non-zombie, living people and have resumed their previous lives.  The main character is police officer Dana Cypress, who is dealing with a multitude of soap opera-style issues resulting from the ensuing turmoil and basic weirdness.  The series is written by Tim Seeley with art by Mike Norton and Art Balazar, and colors by Mark Englert.

     Issue #12 advances the storyline by alternating between nine scenes populated by Dana and the story's additional characters.  There's Martha, Dana's sister who struggles with the knowledge of herself being one of the "Revivers." Other significant scenes address Dana dealing with her son's trauma of witnessing his aunt as both a Reviver and as his protector from a violent crime, a sub-plot about body part smugglers, plothreads featuring respective child and elderly Revivers and a murder-mystery storyline.  Issue #12 ends on a scene in which the extent of Dana's son's trauma is further revealed.

     In all of my many baby boomer years of comic book reading, I have never loved a comic title concept so much while simulataeously being so disappointed with its story quality.  I'm head-over-heels with the idea of this mysterious one-day rising of the dead, with the folks affected just resuming their old lives.  No zombies here, just regular folks who died recently, revived and went back to their lives with various degrees of puzzlement.  There's some great potential here for fine storytelling.

     The pitfall here is that writer Tim Seeley doesn't provide that fine storytelling.  Issue #12 is incredibly disjointed and jumbled; instead of the standard three-scene comic book story segment, we mistreated to the aforementioned nine quickie scenes which never allow the plot to hit a satisfying pace of story progression.  We're jerked in-and-out of too many scenes with too many characters and disconnected issues shmushed-together, thereby never establishing an enjoyable and entertaining storytelling atmosphere.  I still don't understand quite a bit of the story situation for some of these characters, given the jarring jump-around that we're forced to endure in this story lay-out.

     I thought about my reaction to this issue for a day after I read it, hoping that I'd be able to come around and recommend this really neat story premise.  But my gut tells me to be faithful to my initial reaction, and the "inner fanboy" deep down inside tells me to unfortunately praise the concept but recommend a negative thumbs-down pass for this well-meaning but seriously flawed and uncomfortable portrayal of this supernatural storyverse.  Here's hoping that the creative team gets its act together and can evolve this series into a better format, but until that day might come, for now I recommend looking to other comic books at That's Entertainment for your fix of an X-Files style of dark mystery spookiness.

Quantum And Woody #1
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
James Asmus: Writer
Tom Fowler: Art

    As many readers know, Valiant Entertainment has been releasing over the past few years re-imagined versions of its 1990's stable of story characters.  The latest Valiant characters to emerge from retirement are the superteam of Quantum and Woody.  In the original series run, the duo were friends, while in the revised new series the pair are brothers, with Eric's (Quantum's) parents having adopted Woody when the pair were teenagers.  While the first two issues are on the new issues shelves, I decided to review issue #1 to get a feel for the new title's direction from the very start.  The new series is scripted by James Asmus with art by Tom Fowler.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue revised origin story entitled "World's Worst."  Via alternating flashback scenes, we learn of the duo's family origins in their teen years.  Flash- forward to the present and the pair's scientist father is mysteriously murdered, bringing the now-estranged Eric and Woody together to investigate the murder mystery.  The trail of clues leads back to their Dad's research facility and the issue ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as the duo accidentally trigger one of their Dad's energy research experiments, which clearly embues them with superpowers that will lead to Eric adopting the Quantum superhero persona in issue #2.

     I enjoyed this revision of the 1990's superduo for a few reasons.  First, James Asmus's script is extremely polished and of high quality, mixing the drama and humor in equal balance.  There's a lot of first-class and entertaining dialogue throughout this issue in which the pair wade their way through situations that are both serious and funny in equal portions.  Asmus also hits a homerun in structuring the personal dynamic between the pair, who clearly have a loving brotherly bond but are struggling with both past and present family dynamic issues.  Third, I liked the fresh spin of an African-American family (Eric's parents) adopting a troubled white street teen.  Its a nice break from the stereotypical and over-done pop culture template of the white family "rescuing" a minority kid from the streets.  Finally, the particular visual style of artist Tom Fowler is very appropriate and pleasing for this 1990's-style fictional storyverse brought back to life here in 2013.

     That last critical point was a key for me liking this comic book; it's nice to see a comic series that represented the best of the 1990's-era comics come back to life and again be an entertaining success, as a balance to so much of the modern-day dark-themed, lesser-quality new stuff floating out in the publishing world.  It proves that many older storyverses can have relevance for today's generation of readers and can continue to succeed in providing high quality entertainment for modern-day readers.

     So a definite and enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation for readers young-and-old-alike to check-out the return of Valiant Entertainment's Quantum And Woody, with both issues #1 and #2 currently available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest took us back to the early days of television (that's the device that people used to watch before they had I-Phones).  Your challenge was to name the very first nationally televised children's show back in the pioneering days of t.v.  We had a few incorrect answers that made logical sense and came close (i.e., Captain Kangaroo and Kukla, Fran & Ollie).  And our contest winner with the correct answer is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who correctly identified the old Howdy Doody Show as that first national kids show that ran from 1947 to 1960.  Ironically, while some folks submitted Captain Kangaroo as their answer, the good Captain himself, Bob Keeshan, first played the original Clarabell The Clown on Howdy Doody before making his own debut as Captain Kangaroo in 1955.  Congratulations to Mike, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     We're in the dog days of summer, which means that we're also in the thick of the Major League Baseball (MLB) pennant races.  Which inspired our Bongo Congo panel of contest judges to challenge you with a baseball trivia question.  Only one player in the history of the game has completed the rare feat of winning the annual Most Valuable Player Award in both the National and American Leagues.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, September 4 and correctly identify that player who won the award in both leagues.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of the 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, so have two great Red Sox watching (stay in first place, Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 6 Here In Bongo Congo!

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