Review Date: Friday, September 6, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo can't believe that summertime is just about over, and as such has decreed that we kick-off the early Fall comic book-reading season with a review of four interesting-looking new comics fresh off of That's Entertainment's new issues shelves.  So let's get right to it and see how these titles stack-up against each other:

Daredevil #30
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Waid: Writer
Chris Smanee: Art
Javier Rodriguez: Colors

      The latest incarnation of Marvel's long-running Daredevil comic book title is currently up to issue #30.  The series has received much critical and readership attention for its fresh approach to presenting the further adventures of blind lawyer Matt Murdock/Daredevil as he protects his beloved Hell's Kitchen inner-city New York neighborhood.  The current title is scripted by acclaimed A-list writer Mark Waid with art by equally-acclaimed artist Chris Samnee and colors by Javier Rodriguez.

     Issue #30 presents the latest installment of an ongoing multi-issue storyline entitled "Help Wanted," in the form of two sub-plots.  A limited plothread addresses Matt's personal feelings for and relationship with ex-Assistant District Attorney Kirsten McDuffie, who recently broke-up from dating Matt but has decided to step-into law partner Foggie Nelson's shoes while Foggy is being treated for cancer.  The lengthier, dominating plotline features intergalactic action-adventure in a Manhattan setting, as an alien named Ru'Ach arrives at Matt/Daredevil's doorstep. 

     The alien is a troublemaking trickster who initially convinces Matt that he's being wrongly hunted by a predator, who turns-out to be our old friend The Silver Surfer.  Without giving away any significant plot details, a mistaken battle between Daredevil and the Surfer leads to a partnership against Ru'Ach, with a very clever strategy leading to our duo of heroes saving the day.  The storyline ends on a very clever and poignant note, as the trickster provides a very ambiguous taunt to Matt regarding the future of his on-again, off-again love affair with Kirsten.

     I've read a few  previous issues of the current Daredevil title run and quickly became a fan of the series, as those issues provided a fresh and very entertaining narrative and visual approach to Daredevil comics.  I'm pleased to say that the creative team has actually ratcheted-up that quality with the current issue.  Having two of the topmost present-day comic book creators in Mark Waid and Chris Samnee producing the issue is a superstar dream come true; the story concept is engrossing and pulls the reader deep into a storyverse filled with wonderful narrative, while Javier Rodriguez's art deco colors are pitch-perfect for the tone of this tale.

     I was most impressed with the understated yet emotionally-powerful love affair between Matt and Kirsten.  The pair work hard to hide their true feelings for each other, yet those feelings spill-out onto the story pages at unexpected moments, culminating in that very emotional, punch-to-the-gut story climax instigated by the trickery of the alien antagonist.  In sum, it all makes for a very entertaining storyline mix of high adventure with more personal emotional storytelling in a successful balance that rarely is seen in most comic book storylines.

     So whether you're already a devoted fan of the many wonderful Waid and Samnee-produced comic titles (i.e., Madame Xanadu and The Mighty Thor) or a newcomer to the work of this creative team, you can't miss getting your money's worth from this excellent current Daredevil storyline.  And by all means, check-out the previous 29 issues of this Daredevil series, all available both on the new issues shelves and in the back issue bins at That's Entertainment!

Tom Strong And The Planet Of Peril #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics/Vertigo Imprint
 Peter Hogan: Writer
Chris Sprouse: Pencils
Karl Story: Inker
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     D.C. Comics through its Verigo imprint has just kicked-off a new Tom Strong title.  For the uninitiated, Tom Strong is a Superman-styled character created in the late-1990's by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse.  He has somewhat of a steampunk-style origin tale, having gained super-strength from being raised in a high gravity chanber by Victorian-era scientist parents, while also ingesting a South Seas island root that added to his powers.  Moore, Sprouse and several subsequent creative teams have provided a lengthy inventory of Tom Strong comic book titles over the years, presenting Strong and his support characters as "science heroes," often dealing with quantum physics issues that lead them to interacting with alternate reality or out-of-timeline versions of themselves.  This latest series is written by Peter Hogan with pencils by Chris Sprouse, inks by Karl Story and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 is the start of a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Girl In The Bubble."  In the first half of this issue, we learn that the aforementioned bubble girl is Tom's pregnant daughter Tesla, who's married to Val, a Human Torch-like superhero.  The family faces a crisis when its determined that the baby will exhibit human torch flame powers and most likely kill Tesla during her eventual labor.  So everyone has one month to figure-out a solution to the upcoming "fiery birth labor."

     The second half of the plotline leads Tom to discover that the solution to the problem exists on one of the alternate Earths across the galaxy, previously featured in earlier Tom Strong storylines.  Most of this story section fills-in the reader on the nature of the planet and its alternate version of Tom, named "Tom Strange."  The issue ends in a dramatic cliffhanger, as Tom and his fiery son-in-law arrive at the alternate Earth via quick quantum travel, to discover a problem which I won't spoiler reveal in this review.

     I enjoyed reading this new Tom Strong title for four reasons.  First, the plot itself is fresh and exciting, with a "ticking timebomb" tenseness to it as everyone races to find a solution to the impending "baby human torch birth." Secondly, the artwork is excellent, anchored by co-creator Chris Sprouse's iconic Tom Strong penciling.  Third, the creative team does a great job of mixing-into the tale a wide representation of the many support characters in the Tom Strong storyverse, including Tom's wife Dhalua.  Fourth, the issue serves as an excellent primer for newcomers to this storyverse by summarizing key historic points in the long-running history of Tom Strong's comic book world.  Highlights include an effective two-page flashback to Tom's childhood with his scientist parents and a simply stunning two-page presentation of the many key superheroes who live on the alternate Earth on the other side of the galaxy.

      But the most impressive strong point of this issue and the Tom Strong line of comics in general is the success of co-creators Moore and Sprouse in creating a credible, brand-new world of superheroes on par with the quality of the mainstream DC and Marvel stable of characters.  Most attempts to introduce new characters to comic book publishing either provide weak character personalities and just can't find enough fan base support to last beyond a brief publishing timeframe.  Tom Strong has probably succeeded more than any other storyverse of the past generation in avoiding both pitfalls.  As such, its great to see the latest series title continue that level of high quality and entertainment, for old fans and newcomers alike.

     So stop reading about me talking about Tom Strong and get yourself down to That's Entertainment for your very own issue #1 copy of Tom Strong And The Planet Of Peril!

Collider #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics (Vertigo Imprint)
Simon Oliver: Writer
Robbi Rodriguez: Art
Rico Renzi: Colors

     DC's Vertigo Imprint of comic book titles is up to issue #2 of a new comic book entitled Colliders, so I backtracked to issue #1 in order to get a feel for this new title from its kick-off.  The premise here is that the basic rules of quantum physics are starting to unravel in our world, leading to incidences of loss of gravity, timeline fluctuations, etc. among everyday people.  In response, the government has established the "Federal Bureau Of Physics," or FBP, and staffed it with a range of science cop personalities who respond to 911 calls regarding this phenomena.  The series is scripted by Simon Oliver with art by Robbi Rodriguez and colors by Rico Renzi.

     Issue #1 begins the initial multi-issue story arc entitled "The Paradigm Shift" that introduces both the basic scientific situation and the main characters at the FBP.  In the town of Southland, the FBP team responds to an incident of gravity loss at the local high school, where we meet our team members as they frantically work in tandem to seal the breach and restore gravity.  There's Adam Hardy, son of a missing pioneering expert in the phenomena, grizzled veteran agent Jay Kelly and their obnoxious young genius team leader Cicero DeLuca.  Most of the issue #1 plotline details the team's response effort, which cascades into a mysterious near-failure which almost takes Adam's life.  Two sub-plots alternate with the main storyline.  First, via flashback we meet Adam's missing father in the early years of his research into the mysterious quantum phenomena.  Secondly, a new plothread is introduced as a dramatic climax at the issue's conclusion, as we learn that Jay Kelly is on the take as a mole for a mysterious federal government opponent of the FBP.

     This is an intriguing new comic title that offers an very fresh mix of police drama, science fiction and thriller mystery fiction.  The comic has three strong points to it, with one draw-back that keeps it in the "solid entertainment" positive category as opposed to the "best new comics out there right now" grouping.  First, the premise is unique and solidly fleshed-out from the very start.  Issue #1 gives us a detailed feel for the situation of the basic rules of physics gradually failing in everyday life.  While issue #1 only explores the loss-of-gravity phenomena, it should be fun to read about other quantum incidents in future issues, such as breakdown of the steady timestream.  Secondly, writer Simon Oliver does a great job in giving the team distinct and interesting personalities; our three main characters are very different from each other and interact in very realistic, real-world workplace ways.  Third, the art team brings a very appropriate visual style to this storyverse, with a loose, stretchy style of depicting people and locations through which you can almost feel the universe gradually falling apart at its gooey seams.

      My one constructive criticism of issue #1 is that the plot drags quite a bit.  Its almost a metaphor for the loss of gravity, as both the basic introduction of these characters and the main action scene of the anti-gravity breach response drag-on way too long to fill the entire issue.  The storyline should have been constructed much tighter, compressing the basics of this sequence into the first half of the issue, with the second half being devoted to some lengthier details regarding both of the sub-plots, that of Adam's mysterious father and Jay Kelly's growing betrayal of his team.  But there's enough good stuff also being introduced in this slow-motion introductory issue to still make this comic book a very worthwhile recommended read.

      So let's hope that the creative team picks-up the pace in upcoming issues for all of the interesting stuff happening in the Collider storyverse.  And a definite thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for All Good Readers to get on-board and check-out the premier issue of this entertaining and fresh new approach to science fiction/crime adventure comic book storytelling!

Fables #131
Publisher: D.C. Comics Vertigo Imprint
Bill Willingham: Writer/Creator
Mark Buckingham: Pencils
Steve Leialoha: Inks
Lee Loughridge: Colors

     DC's Vertigo imprint is up to issue #132 of its very long-running Fables title, which as just about every comic book reader knows by now is a series in which the many familiar fairy tale/fable characters from Western literature have adventures as secret refugees living both in Manhattan and on a "Fables Farm" secreted in upstate New York.  For this review, I backtracked to last month's issue #131 in order to get a feel for the kick-off segment of a new multi-issue story arc entitled "Camelot."  The series is still scripted by Fables creator Bill Willingham with pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoha and colors by Lee Loughridge.

     While the issue is billed as the start of a new story arc, its actually a continuation of the previous story arc.  The plot seems to alternate between three ongoing sub-plots.  In the first, Fable character Mrs. Sprat and Fabletown mayor Old King Cole brainstorm a difficult strategy to gather-up a shattered and widely scattered glass statue, which is actually the enchanted remains of another well-known Fables character.  The second plotthread also stars Mrs. Sprat, as she assists the Town's doctor is an autopsy of a human previously killed in a swordfight.  And the third storythread features well-known Fables character Rose Red, as she returns home to discover that a friend named Therese has returned from an adventure with her age somehow magically altered.

     As readers know from my occasional previous Fables reviews, I'm a loyal fan of this series and usually give it an A-plus review.  But this time around, I'm confused by the plot to the point of lowering this issue's review to an average-quality rating, with a final piece of advice at the end of this review.  I can't for the life of me figure-out why this comic book is billed as the premier issue of a new multi-issue story arc.  The plot is so hip-deep in details continued from previous issues that I barely understood any of the storyline. At a minimum, a front-page narrative summary would have helped comprehend the previous story details. At the least, I'd like to understand the backstory on Therese's magical age transformation; I couldn't even tell from this issue whether she became older or younger than her proper age as a result of her misadventure.

     So all-in-all, there's a lot of interesting stuff happening in this comic book, but any reader would be in the dark to understand most of it without having read at least a few previous issues.  I'm still giving the issue a positive review based on the quality of the three aforementioned sub-plots, but its a very average quality thumbs-up, with the strong advice that any interested reader should definitely backtrack through at least a few month's worth of issues in order to both fully understand and enjoy this always intriguing fantasy comic book series.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our current contest challenged you to name the only Major League Baseball (MLB) player who won the coverted annual Most Valuable Player Award playing in both leagues.  We had many correct entries for this contest and via a roll of the dice from among those correct entries our winner is (drumroll, please)...Jeff Matthews, who identified Frank Robinson as the dual-league winner.  Robinson played from 1956 to 1976, winning the National League MVP in 1961 as a Cincinnati Red and again in 1966 in the American League as a Baltimore Oriole.  Congratulations to Jeff for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The early Fall weather is beautiful this week, inspiring the Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges to challenge you with a contest that gets All Good Readers out of that reading chair and out into the fresh air.  As we all know, That's Entertainment is located on Park Avenue in Worcester at the foot of Newton Hill, which is part of the City's Elm Park.  If you take one of the many comfortable walking trails to the top of Newton Hill, you'll find a former airplane beacon with the elevation painted at the top of the beacon pole.

     Your contest challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later that Wednesday, September 18 with the correct elevation number that's painted at the top of that beacon.  The beacon isn't very tall, maybe about 10 feet or so in height, so its really easy to read if you stand there and look at it.  Come on people, its only a five minute walk up that hill, it's good for your health and its a very short path toward earning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!  Friends of Good King Leonardo have told him that people today are too couch-potato lazy to take-up this contest challenge, but the King has faith in you, his loyal reader subjects!  So get-on up that hill and claim that prize!  We'll even give you a hint to motivate you, the top-of-the-hill/beacon elevation is three numbers and begins with 6!  Five-minute walk, $10.00 first prize gift certificate, it's that easy!

     As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, the winner of the first prize 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, ongoing specials, only. 

That's all for now, so have two great Red Sox-watching (heading for the playoffs, Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, September 20 Here In Bongo Congo!

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