Review Date: Thursday, September 19, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we review this week three Batman-oriented comic books along with one non-Batguy title, so let's get right to it and see how these four issues stack-up against each other:

Batman Incorporated Special #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     DC Comics has recently published a Batman Incorporated special issue as a final send-off issue to this concluding comic book title.  For the uninitiated, the regular monthly series has alternately featured various Batman-appointed Bat-type heroes in various foreign settings, all operating under the supervision of Batman in his "corporate" structure.  I gave a positive review earlier this year to one of the monthly issues that featured the Japanese Batman, Jiro Osamu, with his tiny sidekick Canary.  This special issue presents five stories, each starring one of the Batman, Inc. players.  Each tale is created by a different team of writers and artists.

     Our first story is entitled "Rending Machine," and stars Hiro and Canary in an anime-like action plot as they battle "Doctor Inside-Out," a gory villain who kidnaps Japanese businessmen and harvest their organs for the black-market.  "Without You," shifts the story setting to England, presenting a poignant tale in which the Robin-like Squire struggles with the emotional fall-out following the death of her Batman-like mentor, the Knight.  "Brave" is our third tale and features Native American Batman, Inc. member Raven Red, in an emotional tale as he confronts a potential Native American elderly man who may or may not be preparing for a suicidal leap off of a Las Vegas casino rooftop.  The fourth tale stars a trio of Argentinian Batman players and ths issue concludes with a six-page story entitled "Cowardly Lot" starring (get this) a caped crusader cow named Bat-Cow!

      I liked this issue a lot, both as a stand-alone anthology featuring the various Batman, Inc. players and as a wrap-up tribute to the overall series.  Naturally, not all of the tales are of equal quality.  While All Good Readers no doubt have their own varying preferences, in my review opinion the strongest three tales were the Japanese Batman, Red Raven and believe-it- or-not, the Bat-Cow tale.  Once again, Japanese Batman writer-creator Chris Burnham delivers the perfect blend of Batman action-adventure and tongue-in-cheek send-up of Japanese pop culture.  The Red Raven tale blew me away both with its deep plot emotion and its visual style, reminiscent of the great work going-on right now over in Marvel's Daredevil title (see last column's Daredevil #30 review).

     And now for the Bat-Cow review comment!  I cannot believe that I'm actually writing this, but veteran writer Dan Didio has pulled-off the seemingly impossible, delivering not only a funny but also an extremely believable, semi-dramatic story in which it's plausible to believe that there's a crime-fighting, regular cow functioning in a seemingly real-world situation.  I can't describe it any better than that, and only add that you have to read it to believe both the plot and the excellent final goofy scene.  If there's any justice in the comic book publishing world, co-creators Dan Didio and Ethan Van Sciver will receive a special Eisner Award for this oddball of a tale.

     The issue also includes two excellent "series sign-off" elements, a prologue and epilogue featuring Batman in the Bat-Cave powering-down his Batman, Inc. computer files and a heartfelt back-of-the-book goodbye letter from Batman writer Grant Morrison, who's moving-on from managing DC's Batman franchises to try his writing hand with other DC characters.  So all-in-all, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this wide-ranging and emotionally-heartfelt tribute to all good things that make-up the Batman, Inc. storyverse.

Dream Thief #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Jai Nitz: Writer
Greg Smallwood: Art

     Dark Horse Comics has published the first few issues of a five-issue limited series entitled Dream Thief, so I backtracked to the premier first issue to review this title from its inception.  The series is written by Jai Nitz with art by Greg Smallwood.

     The first half of the issue #1 plotline introduces us to the soap opera details in the life of John Lincoln, a thirty-something slacker with unemployment, drinking and drug abuse problems.  We're also quickly introduced to his successful best friend Reggie, female friend Jen and his girlfriend Claire.  Claire is a victim of a home invasion, the trauma  of which is putting emotional strains on their relationship.  Fast-forward to the second half of issue #1 and the supernatural events commence.  John is seemingly possessed by an Australian aboriginal mask that he viewed at a museum event; after blacking-out wearing the mask, he wakes-up to find that he's killed Claire and also has the memories of a man that Claire unknowingly killed previously.  The issue ends after John wakes-up from a second black-out, again possessing a dead man's memories and this time having slaughtered the entire cast of (I'm really not making this up, folks) a gay porn movie shoot.

     I'm not sure where to begin review-trashing this piece of garbage, so I'll just randomly throw three negatives into these paragraphs and we can move on to better comic books.  I think I hated the D-list dialogue in this script even more than the jumbled supernatural story concept.  It was like listening to someone scratching a chalkboard every time one of the story characters uttered a snarky comment, creepy statement and/or out-of-place stale slang remark.  Secondly, back to the jumbled concept.  The illogical details of how the strange shenanigans are manifesting just make no sense, even for a comic book level of reality.

     Third and worst is the writer's creepy script misogyny.  Claire is clearly a violent crime victim, and the weird turn of events in which she murders someone, coupled with John's rationalization when he slaughters her that she's the bad person in this scenario, is just flat-out freakish; you don't have to be of any particular political or philosophical persuasion to feel that this concept frankly centers on gender bias against women, to the point where I actually wondered if writer Jai Nitz harbors some deep-seated emotional problems toward women that he's venting through this script.

     Something's really wrong at Dark Horse Comics these days, for their editorial system to allow this poor excuse for a comic book to be pooped-out onto the new issues comic book shelves.  If there's any justice at all in today's comic book industry, someone will be fired at Dark Horse Comics for this train wreck.  So enough said already, life's too short to be so negative: let's all take a deep breath and run as far away as possible from "The Comic Book So Bad That We Shall Never Utter It's Name Again!"

Batman Black And White #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Various Writers and Artists

     DC Comics has added a new title to its ever-expanding selection of Batman titles that emphasizes the noir detective side of the Caped Crusader's storyverse with "Batman Black And White," a new series that presents all of its stories in black-and-white.  Issue #1 features five short tales with a wide variety of creators including writer and artist veterans, interesting newcomers and cross-over creators who've achieved previous acclaim in various non-comic book visual arts formats.

     "Don't Know Where, Don't Know When", an 8-page tale written by Chip Kidd with art by Michael Cho, is a fast-paced mystery tale in which Robin, with the assistance of a familiar superhero friend, races against time to find a disappeared Batman.  "Batman Zombie" is written and drawn by veteran Neal Adams; I'll comment on the plot later in this review.  "Justice Is Served" is a Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy team-up from artist Joe Quinones and writer Maris Wicks, while John Arcudi and Sean Murphy team-up on a lightly humorous Bruce Wayne/Alfred The Butler story entitled "Driven."  The fifth and final tale is entitled "Head Games" and presents a Batman story from Howard Mackie and Chris Samnee that features traditional Batman nemesis The Dollman.

      This new comic book series is a highly entertaining and fresh presentation of the Batman storyverse that excels for several reasons.  Its strongest feature is the exceptional gallery of writers and artists, ranging from established creators including Chris Samnee, Neal Adams and Chip Kidd, to up-and-coming rookie Sean Murphy and DC Comics newcomer Maris Wicks.  Secondly, the scripting quality is exceptional, with two tales of A-plus quality and two tales in the very good category.  I consider any five-story comic book a success if at least three stories are pretty decent, so having four strong stories puts this issue at the top of the anthologies listing.  My two favorite and highest recommended stories are the lead Kidd-Cho collaboration and the story created by Wicks and Quinones.  Kidd and Cho give us a perfect tale infused with mystery, growing tenseness and small narrative features that pay homage to the Batman comic story stylings of the Golden Age Caped Crusader.  The best of the bunch is clearly the Wicks-Quinones story featuring our two well-known Batman villainesses; the story blew me away with its humor, visuals and perfect capturing of Harley Quinn's and Ivy's personalities which combine equal parts slapstick campiness and scary violence.

     I review other anthology-style comic books from time-to-time and this comic deserves to be added to the top of that list of short-story format anthology comic book titles.  I only have two constructive criticism comments to offer.  First, similar to Red Five Comic's "Real Science Adventures" Atomic Robo anthology title, this series would serve readers better if the number of stories was reduced from five to three per issue.  Each tale feels rushed in this crowded format, and a reduced story number would give each creative team some breathing space to really explore their respective unique black-and-white stylings of the Bat Universe. 

     Secondly, I have to express my disappointment with the quality of the one story dud in issue #1, which unfortunately is the Neal Adams tale.  It's hard to write this, given Adams's iconic role in the 1970's as the number one Batman/all-around DC Comics creator, but the plot is a metaphorical, garbled mess while the artwork is less a black-and-white finished interpretation and more a raw, messy series of panels as a base for a more finished, colorized product.  Most cringe-worthy is Adams's attempt to include relevant social and economic topics in the tale.  His clumsiness with these elements are both non-realistic and an embarrassing shadow of the topical and socially-relevant plots of his 1970's Green Lantern run, which forever changed the nature of comic book storytelling.  Its clear that Adams's ability is just plain gone for being able to deliver a decent Batman tale; a few previous attempts over the past few years were flat, but this tale is so poorly presented that I pray that DC doesn't tarnish the Adams legacy with any future attempts to capitalize on his long-gone Batman storyverse creative legacy.

    But as I mentioned above, we have four very strong and entertaining tales in this issue, which demonstrate the amazing variety and alternate Batman perspectives of a wonderful group of comics creators.  My final review comment: keep an eye-out for more great things from writer Maris Wicks; her Harley-Ivy tale is so exceptional that with this one story, as far as I'm concerned, she's launched herself to the very pinnacle of female comics creators on par with the likes of Gail Simone and Amanda Connor.  Welcome, Maris, and let's hope DC and eventually Marvel take full advantage of your incredible writing talents.  But don't just take my word for it, get on down to That's Entertainment and pick-up a copy of Batman Black And White #1 for yourself!

Harley Quinn #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Matt Kindt: Writer
Neil Googe; Art
Wil Quintana: Colors

     A current D.C. publishing event is to prominently feature their famous costumed villains in this month's new comics and that includes the premier of a new Harley Quinn title.  For the uninitiated, our Ms. Quinn is a former girlfriend of The Joker, usually depicted in some form of sexy harlequinn/jester outfit and also usually having a personality mix of goofiness and non-lethal bad girl behavior.  The new series is scripted by Matt Kindt with art by Neil Googe and colors by Wil Quintana.

     The issue #1 story is entitled "Harley Lives" and consists of two alternating sub-plots.  One storythread provides us with a flashback origin tale, in which we follow the progression of her life from young genius psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel to her ill-fated practice at Gotham City's infamous Arkham Asylum, where she becomes spellbound by The Joker and transforms into his crazed villanous girlfriend.  The second plotline focuses on Harley in the present, as she struggles with an inner dialogue between her former good self and her current bad-girl personality as she settles back into the Gotham crime life after having departed from the Suicide Squad.  The issue concludes with her struggling over whether or not to return to the Squad, with the plot continued in Suicide Squad issue #24.

     I have a real schizophrenic review recommendation for this comic book.  On the plus side, writer Matt Kindt provides a top-notch script, bursting with sharp dialogue and structured with an exceptional, almost poetic narrative as Harley speaks to the reader throughout the storyline in her inner voice alternating between the weakening good side the strengthening bad side of her personality.  Secondly, the artwork is just plain great, with the visual team giving us their excellent, sexy spin on the look of many a fanboy's favorite DC villainess, combined with a very expressive facial range of character's emotions throughout the tale.

     On the flip side, what trips me up from personally embracing this issue is the creative team's decision to portray Harley more deep into the world of pure evil than I have personally ever read before.  I didn't mind establishing her character as more violent than her normal portrayal, and I cringed but was still onboard as she brutally maimed and killed her way through the tale's midpoint.  However, without being a spoiler on the specific event details, I rejected this tale when at story's end Harley's previous actions come together resulting in her literally slaughtering hundreds of Gotham City's children.

     I'm neither squeamish nor politically correct, but I am deeply personally offended that in this year after the Connecticut elementary school shooting massacre, DC Comics would be so stupid and callous to play this card in a comic book.  I'm sure that their response would be some double-speak statement about not endorsing such action, etc., but that's not good enough: younger and teen readers aren't going to interpret this tale in any manner other than supposed entertainment and will just absorb this action as another piece of violent "entertainment."  Its simply an inappropriate line to cross and DC shouldn't have done so.

     As a final review comment, I couldn't help to compare this storyline to the ongoing internet controversy of DC recently challenging wannabe art applicants to submit some very misogynistic portrayals of Harley.  I have no idea why both of these controversial comic issues happen to center on the character of Harley Quinn versus other DC characters, but irregardless, DC's got a huge amount of damage control to focus on.

    So, to summarize my mixed review: I'm willing to give this issue a positive review for its general quality of production and style, but I can't recommend accepting the new child violence line that DC has established in this issue. I don't like what they've produced here, but its a free country and readers have a right to check things out for themselves and then either agree or disagree with my opinion.  So those are my review comments and please feel free to make-up your own mind if you wish to do so with your own read of this issue.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to get off of your couch and take a stroll up to the top of Newton Hill, which is part of Elm Park and located right next to That's Entertainment on Park Avenue.  Then you were to e-mail us and tell us what elevation height is painted atop the old airplane beacon at the top of the hill.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please),,,Erin O'Connor, who correctly tells us that the correct elevation atop the beacon is 672 feet above sea level.  Congratulations to Erin both for winning our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment and for getting her feet moving for a healthy hike up Newton Hill!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges have decreed that this week we return to our roots and offer a comic book trivia contest.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, October 2 with the correct answer to the following question:  What significance does the fictional street address of "1938 Sullivan Place" have in the DC Comics story universe?  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries our contest winner 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 another two great Red Sox Play-Offs Watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 4 Here In Bongo Congo!

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