Review Date: Thursday, October 31, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has declared that we review a wide variety of comic book titles this week, so let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:

Mega Man #28
Publisher: Archie Comics Publications, Inc.
Ian Flynn: Writer
Ryan Jampole: Pencils
Gary Martin: Inks
Matt Herms: Colors

     Archie Comics is the publisher of the Mega Man comic book title, which features the anime-style hero featured since 1987 in a very popular Nintendo video game from Capcom.  For the uninitiated (including non-video-gamer me), our hero is a good-guy android who fights bad robots while wielding a cannon weapon attached to his arm.  Other significant characters in the Mega Man storyverse include his scientist creator/father Dr. Light, bad-guy Scientist Dr. Wily, Mega-Man's robot sister Roll and his renegade android brother Break Man a.k.a. Blue.  The comic book series is scripted by Ian Flynn with pencils by Ryan Jampole, inks by Gary Martin and colors by Matt Herms.

     Issue #28 features an ongoing multi-issue story segment entitled "The Return: Prelude To Ra Moon"  which alternates two connected sub-plots.  Our first storythread features fast action, as Mega Man and his Robot Master sidekick buddies battle the evil Break Man. Our hero has no idea that Break Man is actually his missing brother Blue.  When his robot sister Roll discovers the truth and intercedes she's accidentally badly wounded, leading to a further escalation in the heated battle. 

     Our second subplot features the evil Dr. Wily engaged in his own battle-to-the-death against his own out-of-control robotic sidekick.  We learn via an extended flashback that the sidekick is actually an ancient alien device that had carefully manipulated Dr. Wily into a scenario that will lead to the end of mankind and its accompanying robots.  The two subplots build to a dramatic bridge to next month's issue, as the alien device initiates its long-held plan, sending an electromagnetic pulse around the world that disables (for the time being, at least) all forms of electronics including the robotic Mega Man along with his friends and foes.

     When I selected this comic for review, I expected to read a children's-level story based on a kid's video game.  As such, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover a very sophisticated, well-constructed plot clearly written for the enjoyment of both teen and adult readers.  The story is very entertaining, with detailed, often complex dialogue and story elements usually only seen in the more dramatic mainstream superhero comics books.  This storyline could easily have been presented within any DC or Marvel Comics storyverse and been just as effective and enjoyable a read.  In the Mega Man storyverse, it adds a depth of story structure that's usually lacking in comic books based upon video game characters.

     Two additional positive elements of this comic book are worth noting.  The first is the interesting soap opera-style dynamic among Mega Man's family members, including the story twist of Break Man's secret identity as Mega Man's long-lost brother Blue.  Secondly, this issue follows the usual Archie Comics marketing strategy of including in the comic book lots of interesting catalogue-style promos and ads for other Mega Man reading products.  Most interesting is the ad for a new Sonic The Hedgehog/Mega Man crossover event graphic novel series, with Volume 1 currently available for the very reasonable sale price of $8.99.

      So whether you're a Mega Man newbie like me or an already-devoted fan of the android hero and his friends, its well-worth your comic book reading time to add this very entertaining and unexpectedly sophisticated video game-based series to your ever-growing new issues comic book reading pile!

Sidekick #1
Publisher: Image Comics/Joe's Comics
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Tom Mandrake: Art

     Image Comics in partnership with the new start-up creator-owned comics publisher Joe's Comics has published the first two issues of a new series entitled Sidekick.  The concept of this series is to focus on the reaI world-style trials and tribulations of washed-up superhero sidekick Flyboy.  I backtracked to last month's issue #1 in order to get a feel for this series from its start.  The new title is scripted by A-list writer J. Michael Straczynski with art by Tom Mandrake.

     The issue #1 story segment kicks-off the concept of this gritty storyverse.  We're quickly introduced to the superhero partneship of Sol City's main hero The Red Cowl and his sidekick Flyboy.  When The Red Cowl is assassinated by an unknown sniper, Flyboy's life spirrals out-of-control into bankruptcy and unemployment.  The second half of the issue #1 plot depicts his efforts to regain some professional credibility as he botches both superheroing on his own and desperately trying to regain employment as any hero's faithful sidekick.  The premier issue storyline ends on a dramatic bridge to issue #2 with a shocking reveal that The Red Cowl faked his death and is living in secret tropical luxury.

     While there are a few bright spots in this new title, they're not enough to escape the weight of failure that drags this title down into a negative review recommendation.  On the plus side, the unpopular attitude held by the Sol City populace to the minor role of sidekicks in this storyverse is interesting, as is the character of Melody, the sexy assistant to our duo who seems positioned to play a growing and interesting role as either ally or foe to Flyboy in upcoming issues.

     The most glaring misstep of this new title is writer Straczynski's D-list quality script, which tanks on two counts.  First, he provides the story characters with dull dialogue and frankly boring story sequences, the result of which provides nothing new or creative to the idea of the put-upon, under-appreciated hero sidekick story concept.  The second misstep is Straczynski's decision to replace narrative quality with hacky shock value.  True to his back-of-the-issue editorial promise to drag Flyboy "deeper into madness, mayhem and depravity" than most comic sidekicks experience, he focuses mostly on the sleazy aspects of Flyboy's struggle as opposed to plot quality.  The overall result is an amateurish, non-entertaining, whiny mess of a story idea.

   Given the amazingly high quality of Straczynski's previous award-winning work at DC and Marvel Comics, including his iconic run on both DC's The Brave & The Bold and Superman titles, its doubly-disappointing to witness this failure of a non-entertaining comic book from his efforts.  However, it just confirms my oft-expressed opinion that the creator-owned comic book publishing efforts of even the best writers are usually flat, dull D-list quality products skating on the thin ice of the creator's previously-achieved high reputation.  Think about it: if the indie comic book concept was any good, wouldn't a big publisher snap it up for big bucks, versus passing on the dreck concept, thus leaving the creator to peddle the piece of junk on his or her own for a few meager sales?

      I look forward to the day that this regular pattern is countered with a new trend of small creator-owned titles producing a regular pattern of high quality and entertainment.  But until that tide turns, my review advice is to stay away from such non-entertaining creator-owned title failures such as Sidekick and enjoy the mainstream high quality products of writer Straczynski and his fellow comic book creators.  At the very least, this particular creator-owned alternative product by such a renowned writer isn't worth the reading effort.

Velvet #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Ed Brubaker: Writer
Steve Epting: Art
Elizabeth Breitweiser: Colors

     Image Comics has a new espionage thriller-themed comic book title out on the new issues shelves entitled "Velvet." This series is set in the 1970's and presents a fresh take on the James Bond-style spy thriller by focusing on that high stakes spycraft world from the perspective of Velvet Templeton, the office secretary for the director of the super-secret British government spy agency ARC-7.  The new series reunites the renowned A-list creative team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, with colors provided by Elizabeth Breitweiser.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "Before The Living End" by presenting two interweaving sub-plots.  One storythread fleshes-out the background of Velvet herself; while in the 1973 main storysetting she's the mild-mannered spy director's secretary, it's clear that she's sharper than most of the agency's stable of suave male spies and clearly has more extensive previous spy experience that will no doubt be revealed in upcoming issues.  The second sub-plot presents the main plotline, that of a mysterious anonymous killer who is knocking-off retired ARC-7 spies, each of whom has a previous romantic history with Velvet. Those personal feelings lead Velvet to conduct her own secret investigation of the incidents.  The issue ends in a dramatic and high-action story bridge to issue #2 as Velvet is discovered by the ARC-7 investigators at the latest murder scene, leading to a major fight scene as she's mistakenly branded as the killer.

     This new title succeeds as an entertaining addition to the spy thriller comic book genre for several reasons.  First, its a very fresh and intriguing idea to present the 1970's male-dominated James Bond-style spy world from the perspective of a woman.  Veteran writer Ed Brubaker is skilled enough to credibly flesh-out Velvet's personality as a better-than-the-males spy who dominates this book from start-to-finish with an interesting personality and action-oriented skilled fighter.  Secondly, Brubaker is smart enough to set this series in the 1970's, the perfect timeframe for a James Bond-style spy tale.  The glitter and elegance of those classic Bond-era spy story settings illuminate this tale in a way that a 2013 story setting would never have allowed.

     The third major plus for this new title is the reuniting of creative master Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.  Brubaker's writing skills and Epting's visual stylings perfectly complement each other like two naturally-conencted parts of a whole, producing a spy noir story product that has as cinematic a feel as possible within the comic book format.  Once in awhile I comment that the comic book being reviewed is perfect for adaptation to the television screen.  In this instance, I can see Velvet as absolutely perfect for not only t.v. adaption but also for a series of movies similar to the James Bond movie series.

      So all-in-all, this latest Brubaker-Epting collaboration delivers for spy thriller entertainmnet, great story scripting and fantastic spy noir art visuals, all adding-up to a very well-deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation for All Good Readers to add this spy thriller to their ever-growing new issues comic book reading piles!

Marvel: Now What?! (One-Shot)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Marvel has new one-shot satire comic book out entitled "Marvel: Now What?!"  This appropriately-titled issue is a send-up of the current "Marvel: Now!" rebranding of the company's publishing inventory that began last October in follow-up to the conclusion of the Avengers versus X-Men mega-event.  A wide range of writers and artists take turns creating the eight featured stories, which range from one-page to 5 pages in length.

     All eight tales feature humor that self-satirizes the standard Marvel storyverse characters and history.  "The Puppet's Master" is the longest story, a 5-page tale in which the villain Dr. Octopus tries life as a t.v. talent show contestant. Three tales are one-page wonders featuring the cartoon comedians Elliott and Wyatt, who make wacky observations on the inherent weirdness inhabiting certain corners of the Marvel storyverse.  A wide range of Marvel characters are represented in this issue, including the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four and The Watcher.  The story lay-out is bookended by a humorous prelude and concluding commentary on the focus of comics marketing on younger versus older readers.

     I enjoyed this one-shot collection very much and was pleased to find no real duds among the inventory, with the weakest stories being at least average in quality and entertainment value, while several tales rose above the herd with exceptional quality.  Three of these vignettes stood-out for my taste as real gems.  "Cap-Fished" is a hilarious four-page take on the internet Catfish dating scam, as a hapless Captain America looks for internet love and ends-up with The Red Skull as his Catfish scammer (yeesh!).  "Ladies Who Brunch" is a three-page beauty of a funny tale starring She-Hulk, Sue Storm, The Wasp and Thor, chockfull of sharp humor on the theme of gender inequality in the superhero community.  The concluding tale is the perfect bookend to this collection; entitled "Intervention," its a sharply satirical Watcher tale that balances very funny observations about the role of The Watchers in the Marvel universe with some sharp and accurate humor about psychological therapy.

     All of these short tales feature a detail of narrative and depth of conversation among the characters that's rarely seen in such brief little story riffs.  This effort by the various creative teams really pays-off in major humor dividends, the overall result of which is a very comprehensive humorous riff on All-Things-Marvel.  I would love to see more of this style of self-deprecating humor from both Marvel and DC, either in a regular monthly series or at least a mini-series (note to DC: why not meet the challenge of Marvel: Now What?! with your own funny take on The New 52?).  But in the meantime, this one-shot is here in all its wacky glory for us to enjoy right now.  So get on down to That's Entertainment and read this eight-story answer to the big question: Marvel, Now What?!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our current contest offered-up a baseball trivia challenge, asking you to identify the third oldest Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium in America, after the two well-known oldest venues of Fenway Park (our Boston Red Sox) and Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs).  We received several correct answers, so via a roll-of-the-dice our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) David McBarron, who correctly identified Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles as our third-oldest park.  From a historic preservation point-of-view its kind of depressing that a 1962 ballpark is the third-oldest active field remaining in The Grand Olde Game, but that's the reality of it.  So congratulations to David who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges have decreed that we cleanse our trivia palate this week with a world history/geography contest question.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, November 13 with the correct answer to the following question: we all know that Washington, D.C. is named after the first U.S. President George Washington.  What is the only capital of a foreign country also named after a U.S. President? Correctly identify the name of that foreign capital city and its country and you could be our next contest winner! 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, ongoing specials, only.

 That's all for now, so have two great POST-WORLD SERIES RED SOX VICTORY CELEBRATION WEEKS (CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2013 WORLD CHAMPION RED SOX!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, November 15 Here In Bongo Congo!

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