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Review Date: Friday, October 4, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we kick-off the Fall comic book reading season with an eclectic mix of new comics to review, so let's get right to it and see how these four new issues stack-up against each other:

    
 
Infinity #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman: Writer
Jim Cheung: Pencils
Mark Morales: Inks
Justin Ponsor: Colors

     Marvel Comics has recently kicked-off a new comic book event called Infinity.  The wide-ranging tale of intergalactic Marvel storyverse mega-events is structured to be presented in a six-issue oversized limited series, along with ten (10) issues of the Avengers and New Avengers titles and a scattering of tie-in plots among other Marvel titles.  The first three issues are currently available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so I backtracked to the kick-off issue to get a good feel for this series.  Issue #1 is scripted by A-list writer Jonathan Hickman with pencils by Jim Cheung, inks by Mark Morales and colors by Justin Ponsor.

     Issue #1 begins this epic galactic tale with two alternating plotlines.  One subplot centers on the evildoings of the well-known Marvel storyverse alien supervillain Thanos.  From a creepy alien world, Thanos dispatches an even creepier bioengineered monster assassin; arriving on Earth, the thing mindmelds its way through various superheroes in search of a unnamed deep dark secret.  Without being a detail spoiler, by issue's end the thing has reported back to Thanos with successful news, leading Thanos to plan for further trouble Earthside in next month's issue.

    The second subplot dominates the storyline, as the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. learn that a very ancient alien race called The Builders are on a warpath of intergalactic destruction, with Earth smack in the path of their Galaxy-spanning onslaught.  After confirming that Earth would never survive a direct attack, the Avengers assemble all the known Marvel Universe hero groups into one complete armada, to journey off and join a group of alien civilizations for a last-ditch stand outside of our universe.  Meanwhile, Iron Man stays behind with only a handful of heroes to plan for a meager evacuation if Earth's doom is inevitable.  The two storylines come together at the end of issue #1 as Thanos plots to bring his scheming to Earth once the Avengers depart.

     Page one of this issue proclaims this saga as "A Marvel Comics Event," which is a very accurate summation of this new series approach.  I've written in previous reviews that no one in current-day comic book publishing is more adept than writer Jonathan Hickman in bringing "end of the world" storytelling on a grand epic scale to a comic book title.  Hickman outshines himself here with his best production to-date of this story genre.  The scale of the conflict is actually beyond epic, encompassing forces of good and evil across the physical known universe as well as across the cast of Marvel Comics characters.

      Three elements of this approach particularly shine.  First, Hickman does a great job of balancing six core Marvel character teams into the plot: The Illuminati, X-Men, Spaceknights, Avengers, Inhumans and "The Builders," that ancient seemingly unstoppable force.  Secondly, he blends their interactions together seamlessly.  There are no clunky panels or token guest-featuring of these folk, but rather each team is allotted a respectible chunk of the developing plot in which to take turn at center stage.  And third, the two sub-plots are neatly balanced with each other.  It will be interesting to see how future issues unfold the storythread of intergalactic warfare against the Earth-bound, almost behind-the-scenes afforts of Thanos to take advantage of the situation back Earthside.

     While I'm obviously a huge Hickman fan, some of his previous "threat to all life" plots often left me feeling creeped-out by the doom-soaked tone of the stories.  Not so in this issue, which instead gives-off a positive and interesting vibe of upcoming Marvel heroic adventuring, epic action and just-plain-fun reading entertainment.  So whether you plan on checking-out just the six-issue Infinity title or commiting to a complete read of the cross-over issues, based on the quality of issue #1, you won't be disappointed with the entertainment of this great new comic book series.


Action Comics #23.3
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Charles Soule: Writer
Raymund Bermudez: Pencils
Dan Green: Inks
Ulises Arreola: Colors

     The current issue of Action Comics is part of the ongoing DC Comics event this month that places famous DC storyverse supervillains front-and-center in the current storyline features.  The latest Action Comics issue thus stars traditional Superman genius foe Lex Luthor.  The story is scripted by Charles Soule with pencils by Raymund Bermudez, inks by Dan Green and colors by Ulises Arreola.

     This issue kicks-off a new multi-issue storyline appropriately titled for a Superman-themed tale as "Up, Up And Away!"  After initially presenting Luthor's release from federal prison, the storyline details his first day of freedom as he multi-tasks his way through officially commencing a wide range of evil plots, all with the common goal of Superman's destruction.  Without being a detail spoiler, these efforts include a strategy to ruin a major corporate business rival, checking-out his corporate research programs which are working on Superman-related plots and most deadly of all, setting a major trap for Superman with the lives of four Luthor Corp. astronauts at stake.  Running through this tale is a sub-plot of Superman inexplicably missing that day from the world-wide scene.  The issue ends in a dramatic climax as Luthor's plots fail to flush-out the Man Of Steel, leading to both bloodshed and an anticipation that this situation will worsen in next month's story installment.

     This is an entertaining Action Comics issue for a few reasons.  First and foremost, writer Charles Soule deserves a tip-of-the-review-cap for his clever concept of highlighting Luthor in this "bad guys month" of DC Comics by completely taking Superman out of the picture.  Its neat how while Superman is nowhere to be found, he's still front-and-center in crazy Luthor's brain, driving his every waking moment of evildoing.  Secondly, the story details provide a nice traditional presentation of all the Lex Luthor details that we've come to know over the years, including his personality quirks and skills at genius-level tasking, albeit on a bad-guy level.  And third, the artwork is nice, presenting a style that befits well with the world of the Superman storyverse.

     My only constructive criticism is that I was somewhat surprised at the level of killing at Lex Luthor's hands, with five innocent people slaughtered by Lex in the course of his first day back on the crazy-bad-guy job.  While murder is not new to this character, my own personal reading experience is that he's usually more of the mad scientist baddie, even if his science actions eventually lead to deaths.  Here, he's just plain killing folks, and that creeps me out as just another needless escalation of the level of violence in our current popular culture.

     But that one observation aside, on the whole this is a well-produced and solidly entertaining addition to the current inventory of Superman Family new comics, as well as a worthwhile issue within DC's current "Bad Guys Month" publishing event.


Secret Avengers #9
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nick Spencer: Writer
Butch Guice: Art
Matthew Wilson: Colors

     My wandering reviewer's eye this week caught issue #9 of Marvel's Secret Avengers title on the new issues shelves, so I decided to take it out for a review spin.  For the uninitiated, the Secret Avengers are a top secret black ops team deep within SHIELD.  Apparently, after each mission the team members have their memories wiped of all mission information.  Among the varied team members are SHIELD members Nick Fury and Agent Phil Coulson, along with superheroes Hawkeye, Black Widow and The Hulk.  The series is written by Nick Spencer with art by Butch Guice and colors by Matthew Wilson.

     Issue #9 is the latest installment of an ongoing story arc entitled "Collapse" and centers upon a team leadership struggle between acting leader Maria Hill and suspended leader Daisy Johnson, on leave due to a previous blundered tactical decision against the evil organization AIM.  Alternating present and flashback scenes unfold the back-and-forth interactions between the two SHIELD agents that led-up to the leadership switch.  A parallel issue is the mind-wiping policy for the team, which Daisy and Maria struggle to both implement and accept morally as leaders of a group of good guys who deserve to be trusted.  A minor amount of action-adventure features Daisy trying and failing in an espionage attempt to access some of her wiped memories which are stored on a restricted computer.  The issue ends on a dramatic note as Daisy attempts to recruit Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier to assist her in trying again to access the memory storage technology.

     The creative team pulls-off the rare feat here of making a very conversational, talking-head storyline both interesting and moving forward with a pacing usually only found in action-adventure storylines.  Even though most of the tale consists of Daisy and Maria brainstorming their team leadership and memory-wipe policy issues, the styling of the flashbacks, the exotic setting of the espionage world and the fresh dialogue all combine to pull the reader into the plot as effectively as fight scenes and action usually do.  It also helps that various well-known Marvel/SHIELD characters unexpectedly wander into the storyline at key moments, thereby heightening the interesting plot.  I also was very impressed with the particular visual style of the art team, which complimented nicely the setting of the secret world of SHIELD, as well as the eye-catching front cover by top-notch guest artist Alex Maleev.

     I only have two minor peeves about this issue.  My first is the surprising comment by Nick Fury about team leader Daisy Hill being only 19-years-old.  It seems unconvincing and weird, as both her visual depiction and personality scream that she's a much older and wiser character than any fictional teen could ever pull-off.  The second concern is a nagging feeling about the mind-wiping element of the storyline.  It just feels like a weak and illogical plot premise that there would be any reason for these A-list Marvel superheroes and SHIELD agents to have their memories wiped of any missions.  I just can't buy into the supposed reason for it.  Hopefully, either previous or future issues attempt to make a case for the weird practice but if they don't, then the creative team really needs to dump this concept and focus on more convincing storytelling plot details.  But these story elements don't take away from the overall quality and entertainment of this comic book, so by all means a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for All Good Readers to check-out this interesting combination superhero/espionage comic book title.


Injustice: Gods Among Us #9
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Tom Taylor: Writer
Bruno Redondo, Tom Derenick & Jheremy Raapack: Art
David Lopez: Colors

     DC Comics is up to issue #9 of a superhero comic book entitled Injustice: Gods Among Us.  A statement in the credits mentions that the title is based on a video game of the same name.  The series is scripted by Tom Taylor and drawn by the three artists listed above, with colors by David Lopez.

     The issue #9 story segment is entitled "Worship" and continues an ongoing multi-issue storyline in which the familar wide range of DC superheroes are divided into two camps.  On the one hand is a Superman-led group who have bought into The Man Of Steel's desire to rid the world of evildoing by forcing people against their will into better behavior patterns.  This group is working with a seemingly reformed Lex Luthor to use Kryptonian-based technology to create human supersoldiers to police mankind.  The other group is led by (naturally!) Batman and completely opposes these strong-arming ideals.  Two minor sub-plots weave into the main storyline: an interesting dialogue between Luthor, Martha Kent and Jonathan Kent on Superman's childhood insecurities and some nasty tension between Batman and his son Damian/Robin over events from previous issues.

      This is an interesting and entertaining comic book for a few reasons.  First, I enjoyed very much the structure of the split in the wider DC Comics family of heroes, with certain characters and personalities naturally gravitating toward each other on each side of this social divide.  Secondly, the main plot theme is intriguing, the desire of one superpowered being to use his abilities to force humans into better behavior "for their own good," versus the camp which supports free will, even at the expense of allowing people to make bad decisions.  Third, the comic holds-up very well in story quality for a video game-based title.  Most such comics seem stiff and clunky to me in their storytelling, but this one flows as naturally as any other decent DC comic book.  It would be interesting to know to what degree the creative team stuck with the video-game premise or alternately struck-out on their own storytelling path.

     On a final note, there's a very effective scene early in the issue in which Batman reveals himself as Bruce Wayne to his team members as a gesture of trust-building.  Its a rare and very effective moment in the long lineage of DC comic book publishing and although its a quick, one-page scene, its very detailed and enjoyable regarding the team member's varied reactions to the big reveal.  So overall, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is very well-deserved for this enjoyable comic book which provides a well-presented ensemble cast of DC characters in their multi-team adventuring.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest offered-up a comic book trivia question, challenging you to tell us the significance of the street address of "1938 Sullivan Place" within the DC Comics storytelling universe.  And our contest winner chosen via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly tells us that the address is the home of Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  The number 1938 is symbolic for the year that Superman made his very first appearance in Action Comics #1 and Sullivan Place is a tribute to Vincent Sullivan, the first editor of Superman comic books.  Congratulations to Keith, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     For our new contest, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges offer-up our very first Star Trek trivia contest!!!  Your challenge for this week is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, October 16 with the correct answer to the following question:  Who is the well-known actor who is the only individual in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise to actually utter the phrase "Star Trek" in a story plot of the series?  We'll give you one hint, it happened in one of the Star Trek movies and not in any of the television series.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be determined 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 another two great Red Sox Play-Offs Watching (Go, Red Sox!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, October 18 Here In Bongo Congo!!!

 
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