Review Date: Monday, October 21, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo is enjoying our crisp early Fall New England weather lately, and has decreed that we add to that enjoyment with a look at four new comic books.  So let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:

The Star Wars #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
J.W. Rinzler: Writer
Mike Mayhew: Art
Rain Beredo: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics recently expanded its wide range of Star Wars-themed comic book titles with a new series entitled "The Star Wars."  This intriguing new series is apparently based on a 1974 very raw first draft of the first Star Wars movie, as penned by Star Wars creator George Lucas.  The comic book series is adapted from that script by writer J.W. Rinzler with art by Mike Mayhew and colors by Rain Beredo.

     Our untitled tale begins in typical Star Wars fashion, with an outer space moving narrative page detailing a different version of the nature of the Galactic civilization, but one in which familiar Jedi, Empire and Rebellion folks jostle with each other in a state of war.  The plot unfolds in three scenes.  In Scene One, we're introduced to Jedi Kane Starkiller who loses one son in a Sith ambush but saves his other son Annikan from harm.  Scene two shifts to a rebel leadership meeting on the Planet Aquilae, as the planet's ruler along with his aged military strategist General Luke Skywalker (!) debate strategy against the inevitable attack on their starsystem by the evil and familiar Galactic Emperor.  We also meet young Princess Leia, who departs Aquilae for an off-planet school semester.

     Our third story segment features Jedi Starkiller bringing young Annikan to General Skywalker and begging him to train his son to become a Jedi.  Its revealed through their dialogue that General Skywalker is already an advanced Jedi warrior and that he and Starkiller are the last of their kind.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue in which it's discovered that "something big" has been observed in outer space heading toward our heroes from the direction of the evil Empire.

     I got quite a kick out of this issue's version of Star Wars, for two reasons.  First, as a writer I was very intrigued with the opportunity to look into George Lucas's thinking process as he sketched-out the concept of the Star Wars storyverse in a very raw, first draft manner.  Secondly, wearing my hat as a fan of the series, its utterly fascinating to read this "alternate universe" version of our so well-known Star Wars storyline.  Its a lot of fun to pick-out the bits and pieces of both familiarity and differences among the story details.  As my favorite example, in this storyverse Darth Vader is one of the Emperor's generals but is portrayed as a regular person without the black armor.  While we learned in the movies that he was born as Annikan Skywalker and is Luke's father ("Luke...I am your Father..."), the Annikan in this storyline is a second, completely different person.  And finally, a hats-off is due to the creative team for adapting this first-draft tale into a comic book that has enough storyline and artistic solidness to stand on its own feet as an entertaining and enjoyable read.

     However, I can't help but also conclude that if Lucas had stuck with this version of his vision, the resulting movie most likely would never have been the pop culture megahit that changed the entire nature of science fiction movie production.  That's because most of these story characters are either too aged or too stiff for the average 1970's moviegoer to identify and bond with.  People could imagine themselves with the movie version's young Luke/Leah/Han Solo character group, who along with the friendly cast of their alien and robot friends took on the older generation baddies and won the day.  Here, the good guys are just as aged and stodgy as the baddies and there are no furry alien allies or goofy robot buddies in sight.  It's still a good comic book, but it doesn't come anywhere near presenting a genre-altering story concept.

     So a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this interesting and entertaining peek into the early evolution of the iconic Star Wars world of science fiction.  And a very big thanks is also due to Star Wars creator George Lucas for having the patience and creative commitment to evolve this concept from its early mushy beginnings into the well-known mega-blockbuster format that we're all familiar with and cherish to this very day.

Captain America: Living Legend #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Andy Diggle: Writer
Adi Granov: Art

     The latest edition to the wide selection of Captain America comic books on the new issues shelves is "Captain America: Living Legend."  This new series emphasizes the "Living Legend" aspect of Captain America's well-known personal origin/story background by combining 1940's and modern-day elements of Cap's adventuring into one multi-issue action-adventure-mystery tale.  Issue #1 is scripted by writer Andy Diggle with art by Adi Granov.

     This kick-off issue presents a storyline that interweaves story segments from three timeperiods into a common theme of Captain America interacting with a Soviet soldier named Comrade Volkov.  The lengthier, first subplot features a 1945 confrontation between Cap and a young Volkov in the waning days of WWII, during a very tense American-Soviet stand-off over control of German scientific secret war inventions.  Without being a story spoiler, Cap wins the day while Volkov is seriously injured.  Subplot two jumps us ahead to the 1960's, where we briefly witness Volkov as a middle-aged cosmonaut participating in a super-secret moon launch, the results of which are shrouded in mystery.  Our third and final story segment is set in the present on today's International Space Station, where a team of American scientists initiate a very risky dark matter experiment.  When the experiment goes horribly wrong and the spaceship crashes back to Earth, SHIELD and Cap investigate.  Issue #1 ends on a dramatic bridge to next month's story segment as Cap learns that the ship was actually pulled down to Siberia and that our old friend Volkov was somehow involved in the deception.

     This issue has three positive elements that combine into a decent and entertaining new comic book series.  First, writer Andy Diggle lives-up to the "Living Legend" aspect of this title, by providing a very creative script that uses alternating timeperiod scenes to successfully blend the WWII and present-day personas of Captain America into one seamless and workable storyline.  That's not an easy task to achieve, but the introduction of Comrade Volkov as an adversary who transcends the historical timeperiods, a la The Red Skull, makes it all credible and logical within the Captain America storyverse.  Secondly, there's a neat traditional science fiction plot element to the tale, which heightens the story's sense of mystery.  Its clear that something very sci-fi weird happened during Volkov's secret 1960's moon trip, something that is causing odd things to happen today and which no doubt will be revealed in upcoming story segments.  And third, a tip-of-the-review-hat is well-due to artist Adi Granov for his high quality visual production, which presents a very formal, oil painting-like artistic style both appropriate for this story theme and reminiscent of Alex Ross's artwork on such well-known titles as Marvels and Kingdom Come.

     In sum, readers are treated to a rare bargain here, as issue #1 provides us with enough equally large portions of both the WWII and present-day Captain America storylines to the point where we're almost getting two issues combined into one.  So for an entertaining double-dose of Marvel's iconic All-American hero, pick-up your very own copy of the premier issue of this new Captain America series!

Superman/Wonder Woman #1
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Charles Soule: Writer
Tony S. Daniel: Pencils
Batt: Inks
Tomeu Morey: Colors

     A new addition to DC's "The new 52" titles is a brand-new Superman and Wonder Woman pair-up.  The general concept in this title is that the pair of superheroes are actually dating (I wonder how Lois Lane feels about this?!) and at least in issue #1 are trying to keep their relationship a secret from the public and the ever-prying media.  The comic book is scripted by Charles Soule with pencils by Tony S. Daniel, inks by Batt and colors by Tomeu Morey.

      Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Power Couple."  This first issue alternates between three interconnected sub-plots.  The first storythread is all action-adventure, as The Dating Duo respond to a Katrina-level ocean mega-storm.  As the pair struggle to save a storm-tossed airplane, its quickly apparent that the storm has an artificial origin.  The second sub-plot focuses on the new dating relationship between our heroes, in which we wirtness Clark Kent and Diana Prince in a lengthy conversation as they try to figure-out how the relationship will work.  The pair also have differing opinions on whether they keep their situation secret (Clark) or whether they might eventuially go public (Diana).  And our third subplot follows a brief trail of a computer flashdrive sent by a mysterious stranger to reporter Cat Grant, which will obviously reveal the secret relationship in issue #2.

      While this new series isn't an instant classic or an A-plus quality great new series, it is very well-constructed and entertaining and well-deserved of a postive thumbs-up review recommendation.  Writer Charles Soule succeeds on two fronts: first, nicely balancing the action-adventure storm sequences with the talking-head, more cerebral story segments that focus on the relationship.  Secondly, Soule does a very credible job of giving Clark and Diana some real-world relationship dialogue that lends some immediate authenticity to the budding romance.

      I was aware of this new title's dating premise prior to reading it and wasn't sure how I'd react to it all. But all-in-all, I felt positive about DC rolling the dice with the superdating scheme, given the quality of the creative team's script and visual product.  And regarding my Lois Lane joke above, I hope that future monthly story segments do answer that question, incorporating Lois Lane into the scenario as opposed to keeping her conveniently out of the picture.  It could all make for some fun soap opera scenarios, with Wonder Woman and Lois bearing their respective claws out over Superman.

     So all-in-all, this new title and story concept is both a high quality entertainment and does find a comfortable nitch among the many other what if?-style storylines in the ever-expanding archives of Superman Family comic books.  So get yourself a copy of Superman/Wonder Woman #1 and see for yourself how this brave new world of super-dating plays-out!

World's Finest #16
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Paul Levitz: Writer
RB Silva: Pencils
Joe Weems: Inks
Jason Wright: Colors

     The latest incarnation of DC's long-running World's Finest title is up to issue #16.  I gave a positive review to an early issue in this series, which pairs the Earth 2 female Robin, daughter of that reality's Batman and Catwoman, with Power Girl.  The premise here is that after a war with Apokolips, the pair was stranded in our Earth 1 reality and function as crime-fighting heroes without revealing their true backgrounds to either the standard DC superheroes or to law enforcement.  The latest issue is scripted by veteran writer Paul Levitz with pencils by RB Silva, inks by Joe Weems and colors by Jason Wright.

     Issue #16 kicks-off a new multi-issue storyarc entitled "Burning Questions."  True to that title, its Fashion Week in New York City and someone is firebombing the fashion events.  The main plotline focuses on Robin's investigation of the bombings; she quickly stumbles upon a superpowered unnamed villainness who has very unusual powers that seem to defy quantum physics.  A secondary storythread follows the problems of Power Girl, who has the dual challenges of fighting to regain control of her previously-lost corporate empire while struggling with the loss of her superpowers at unpredictable moments.  The storylines neatly come together in a battle scene pitting our two heroes against the firebomber, which ends inconclusively for more of the same to continue in next month's issue #17.

     This is an average-decent installment of the ongoing adventures of this unique crimefighting dup.  There are no major developments going-on here regarding the duo, just some mystery adventure-oriented crimefighting that sets the stage for more major events to unfold in future story segments.  As such, its an entertaining read as a stand-alone interlude tale and for new readers to get acquainted with this storyverse.

     I frankly love the creative concept of this pair of heroes stranded from Earth 2, but I continue to be very frustrated that the editors/creative teams involved to-date in this title have made the decision to keep their true identities/backgrounds secret from the rest of the DC heroes.  A very weak explanation for this decision was floated in an earlier issue, in which Robin assumes that no one will believe them and would thus assume that they're a threat to our world's heroes.  I just feel that some great storytelling and plot ideas are being avoided with this policy, script ideas that would both entertain readers and could move this title up from the ranks of the decent comics into something really special to read.

      So here's hoping that there's an eventual "big reveal" for our hardworking Earth 2 heroines, but in the meantime a positive review recommendation is still well-deserved for this unique and entertaining duo of DC heroines!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us who was the actor who had the honor of uttering the phrase "Star Trek" for the only time it was ever spoken in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise.  And our contest winner via a roll of the dice from among several correct entries is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who correctly identified that actor as James Cromwell, who played Zefram Cochrane in the movie "Star Trek: First Contact." When the time-traveling crew try to convince Cochrane of their true identity, he replies "and you're all astronauts on some kind of star trek?"  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment-may he use his prize to boldly go where no That's Entertainment customer has gone before!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has decreed that we honor our Red Sox's battle in this week's ALCS Play-Off Series with a baseball trivia contest.  It's common knowledge that Fenway Park (home of the Red Sox) and Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs) are the two oldest active ballparks in Major League Baseball.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, October 30 and correctly identify the third-oldest ballpark currently in use in the majors.  The answer is actually surprising and kind of depressing, if you're a fan of historic preservation.  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 let's all have yet another two great Red Sox play-offs watching (Go, Red Sox!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 1 Here In Bongo Congo!

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