Review Date: Friday, December 13, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we come up for air for a moment from our frantic holiday shopping to check-out four new comic book titles for your review enjoyment.  So before we head back to the holiday sales at the mall, let's see how these new titles stack-up against each other:

Rocket Girl #1 & #2
Publisher: Image Comics
Brandon Montclare: Writer
Amy Reeder: Art

     Image Comics has recently published the first two issues of a new comic book entitled "Rocket Girl." The front cover artwork was so beautiful that I decided to read both issues for a combined two-issue review.  The new series is scripted by Brandon Montclare with artwork by A-list artist Amy Reeder.

     This is a time travel science fiction storyline that alternates between "present day 1986" and a futuristic version of 2013.  Rocket Girl is 15-year-old Dayoung Johansson, who serves as a New York City "Teen Rocket Cop" in a very sci-fi version of 2013. We quickly learn that this is a society of futuristic high tech and rocketeering, in which the entire NYC police force is manned by jetpack-wearing 13 to 18-year-olds, because, as stated by a teen cop in issue #2, "it's grown-ups you can't trust...that's why they hire people like us."  In issue #1, Dayoung stumbles upon timestream-altering corruption by the Quintum Mechanics Corporation, a company which initially manipulated the timestream back in 1986 to create this future version of 2013.  So Dayoung timetravels back to 1986 in order to stop the "corporate corruption" and prevent the Buck Rogers-style urban world from ever happening.

     The bulk of issue #1 and all of issue #2 follow Dayoung during her first few days in 1986, as she connects with some young Quintum Corp. scientists who are innocent of the upper management timestream alteration shenanigans.  There's an alternating subplot throughout the two issues, of Dayoung naively responding to street crimes to help the 1986 New York police force, jetpacking in-and-out of typical New York crime situations with the expected theatrical results. By the end of issue #2, Dayoung is bumbling her way out of her latest failed attempt to help the cops, as the 1986 cops decide to arrest her as an interfering, weirdo vigilante kid.

     I'm giving this new title a type of mixed review that I've never written before.  Essentially, I'm giving it a very enthusiatic thumbs-up positive review for teen readers and an adament thumbs-down negative review for adults.  So let's start positive with the teen reader review.  The creative team does a great job delivering a young adult science fiction storyline that teen readers can personally identify with.  Every real-world teen gets frustrated at times with the rules and ways of our society and what better way to vent against that reality than to delve into a comic book in which the teens are given the reins to actually police the sci-fi world of the future?  Writer Brandon Montclare delivers a script that speaks to teens and A-list artist Amy Reeder (one of my favorites since her iconic run a few years ago on DC's Madame Xanadu title) provides gorgeous interior and cover artwork.

      On the flip side, for anyone over the age of 18, the basic premise of this series is just too overwhelmingly illogical to sustain a commitment to read more than one issue out of curiosity.  Even a funny book version of reality needs a thin layer of plot logic, and its impossible for an adult fan reader to accept the idea that society willingly transfers the entire New York City police force over to a bunch of 13-to-18-year olds.  Two tweaks of this plot premise would have worked better: either make the kids a "teen brigade" within the larger traditional NYPD or camp-it-up like the old Batman t.v. series and make this title a satiric joke that we can laugh about and enjoy.  Unfortunately, the chosen approach of the creative team takes neither road, leaving us with an idea that again, any adult reader with an ounce of maturity in them just couldn't enjoy.

      So reviewer's bottom line: kids should be able to get a kick out of this "hey, we're running the world, now!" story concept, while the average adult fan should focus their reading time and budget on the many other science fiction titles available on the That's Entertainment new issue shelves and back issue bins.

Batwoman #25
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Marc Andreyko: Writer
Trevor McCarthy, Andrea Mutti, Pat Olliffe & Jim Fern: Art
Jay Leisten & Tom Nguyen: Inks
Guy Major: Colors

     DC Comics is currently up to issue #25 of its Batwoman title.  For the uninitiated, there have been several incarnations of  Batwoman since the Golden Age. Our latest Batwoman is Kate Kane, whose modern-day debut in 2006 gained some mainstream media attention as the first major DC character with a lesbian identity.  The latest storyline is part of the wide-ranging "Zero Year" event within the overall Batman publishing storyverse, which revises some of the standard structure of the world of Batman as The Riddler sends Gotham into a catastrophic power failure event.  The current Batwoman issue is scripted by Marc Andreyko with a very large art team consisting of artists Trevor McCarthy, Andrea Mutti, Pat Olliffe and Jim Ferm, inkers Jay Leisten and Tom Nguyen, and colorist Guy Major.

     The issue #25 story is entitled "...Or High Water" and is set six years in the past, with the plot centering on West Point Cadet Kate returning home for the funeral of her killed Uncle Phil Kane.  The tale is woven from two alternating sub-plots.  The first storythread reveals soap opera-style dynamics among the various members of the extended Kane-Wayne family both during and after the funeral.  Naturally, everyone is put-off by the seemingly cool and domineering Cousin Bruce Wayne, who hosts and controls the funeral-related family activities.  The action picks-up in the second sub-plot; as Gotham City descends into the Riddler's power black-out, Kate goes on nighttime vigilante patrol. Without being a detail spoiler, she sees some interesting action dealing with street criminals as well as interacting with a group of Metropolis cops who are augmenting the Gotham P.D. to assist in the black-out.  By issue's end, Kate successfully deals with her corner of the blacked-out Gotham and reunites with her retired Army Colonel and mentor Dad to await another storyline in next month's issue #26.

     I liked this comic book for three reasons.  First, it makes an entertaining and interesting supporting plot contribution to the main "Year Zero" storyline unfolding in other Batman-related titles.  Secondly, I also enjoyed the story as a one-issue stand-alone script, which had a nice single-issue start and finish as opposed to the multi-issue storylines which are the norm in most new comic books these days. And third, I got a big kick out of the catty dynamics among the members of the extended Kane-Wayne family, as they unfolded around the funeral.  The highlight is a wildly entertaining tiff between Bruce Wayne and a teen cousin named Bette, in which the two back-and-forth diss each other in a scene worthy of a cheesy television soap opera episode.  That catty scene alone (rowr!) is worth the price of admission to reading this comic book!

     On a final review note, I was at first confused about some changes to Kate's personal situation.  I was aware that DC had made some revisions to her storyverse since I last reviewed Batwoman a few years ago, but was surprised to see that the Kane and Wayne families are now cousins and she's actually now portrayed as a blood relative of Bruce Wayne.  On the other hand, it is a neat story structure development and adds a nice counterbalance to Bruce Wayne's traditional identity as a lonely Playboy millionaire. I was also intrigued by the inference in this issue that, at least in this six-years-ago flashback tale, Kate has no idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman.   So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this solidly entertaining latest issue addition to both the Batwoman comic book title and the wide-ranging "Zero Year" Batman storyverse mega-event.

The Maxx: Maxximized #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Sam Keith and William Messner-Loebs: Writers
Sam Keith: Art
Jim Sinclair: Inks
Ronda Pattison: Colors

     IDW Publishing recently released issue #1 in a returned series of The Maxx.  For the uninitiated, The Maxx was a popular alternative comic book title in the mid-1990's that spun-off a very popular animated cartoon series version that was broadcast on MTV in that timeperiod.  This is a very existential, abstract comic book storyverse set in a violent inner-city urban environment and centering upon three main characters: The Maxx, an odd, Wolverine-like creature who lives an urban homeless life, Julie, his hooker-like city-assigned social worker and Mr. Gone, a serial rapist who has metaphysical abilities similar to Dr. Strange in Marvel Comics.  The new series is scripted by Maxx-creator Sam Keith and co-written by William Messner-Loebs, with art by Sam Keith, inks by Jim Sinclair and colors by Ronda Pattision.

      As a back-of-the-book narrative explains, this new series is a revised edition of the original Maxx comic book run.  Thus, issue #1 presents a tweaked update of the original Maxx origin story segment.  The plot alternates between introducing the main characters and presenting the first plotthread.  We meet The Maxx, a confused homeless creature who worries that he is mentally ill as he alternates between his urban homeless situation and another reality in which he's living in the Australian Outback where he roams as a spirit animal named Br'er Lappin.  We meet Julie, the "freelance social worker" who handles The Maxx's case for City Social Services yet dresses and behaves like a street prostitute.  And in the main plotthread we follow the vicious trail of the creepy Mr. Gone, who mesmerizes his female victims before brutally raping and maiming them.  Issue #1 ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as the good-hearted Maxx follows Mr. Gone's trail and confronts him for further action in next month's story segment.

      The storyverse of The Maxx is an acquired taste; this is a comic book concept geared toward a narrow niche of readers who enjoy very abstract, hallucinagenic-style fiction in the vein of such literary giants as William Burroughs.  The original comic book series and animated t.v. series succeeded in delivering this style and plot very effectively and in an entertaining manner, and I'm pleased to report that the reissued and revised title does the same.  Think of this as a Director's Cut of the title, in which creator Sam Keith doesn't make any drastic changes to the product, just makes story and artwork tweaks here and there that adjust the tempo and details of the issue in a way that's more personally satisfying to him and refreshing for the fan base.

     My favorite element of this new series is a clarification regarding the alternate reality element of the tale.  It was very muddled and confusing in the first run of The Maxx, and as such Sam Keith makes the situation much more understandable from the get-go in the new issue #1.  Hence we understand from the very start of this saga that there are two legitimate realities at play here.  The Maxx isn't crazy, he's actually ping-ponging between a dreary urban street existence and the alternate reality of an Australian nature setting, full of good and evil spirit animals and fantastic action situations.

      This isn't a comic book series for young readers or for folks looking for a traditional comic book fictional read.  But if you're an adult fan of outside-of-the-envelope existential and experimental fiction, I can't think of a comic book title of the past few decades that has provided a better graphic product within that genre than Sam Keith's The Maxx.  So welcome back, 2013 version of The Maxx, and here's hoping that our beleagered anti-hero continues his monthly adventures in such high quality issues as the excellent issue #1 of this revised series!

The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #24
Publisher: IDW Publishing
James Roberts & John Barber: Writers
Several Artists & Colorists

     IDW Publishing currently publishes three separate comic book titles featuring the well-known Transformers, those popular outer space sentient robots warriors that began merchandise life as a Hasbro toy and morphed into movies and comics.  I've never read one of these popular comic books and decided to check-out the current issue #24 of their "More Than Meets The Eye" title.  This issue is installment number four of an ongoing 12-issue story arc that crosses among the three Transformer titles.  The series is scripted by James Roberts and John Barber and is drawn by a wide-ranging team of seven artists and colorists.

     Issue #24 kicks-off with a very useful one-page summary of the story to-date, explaining that three separate teams of Transformers are having an interconnected adventure in three different outer space locations.  While we read a few brief scenes about two of the adventuring Transformer teams, most of this issue focuses on the third team that's manning The Lost Light, a massive Transformer spaceship that hyperjumped and landed deep undersea on an alien water planet.  The crew quickly learns that a mysterious army of mini-transformers have hitched a ride on their quantum light jump; the situation quickly escalates into an all-out battle between both groups, as the mini-guys assemble/transform themselves into one giant warrior robot. The issue concludes in a dramatic bridge to the next story segment, as The Lost Light crew makes an exciting discovery about a missing giant Titan robot that led them into their mission in the first place.

     This is a solid and entertaining comic book read for a few reasons.  First, the co-writers give us a credible plot that transcends the idea of just presenting the toy-based Transformers in comic book format.  This quality outer space science fiction plotline could have easily been presented in any standard superhero comic book series, which gives the Transformers more credibility as actual story characters as opposed to stiff playthings off of a toystore shelf.  Secondly, the writers duplicate the subtle sense of humor among the Transformers that was evident in the first Transformer movie and which helped make that film such an entertaining success.  These guys may have robot bodies, but their personalities are as quirky and fun as the living beings presented in many quality comic books.  And third, a shout-out is well-deserved to that huge art team for providing high quality and well-crafted artwork. I was particularly impressed by the final dramatic page in which The Lost Light crew stumbles upon their gargantuan quarry.

      My only constructive criticism review comment is that its somewhat hard at times to differentiate among the various Transformers, given that they all basically look alike and that there are so many of them.  Page 2 of this issue actually presents a "roll call" listing of 28 main characters in this 12-issue story arc.  But I think the tale still provides a high level of reading entertainment if you do what I did: just ignore trying to sort these guys out and follow the story flow for a ride through the action-adventure of these neat and entertaining outer space robot warriors-with-human-hearts.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to correctly tell us the origins of establishing Thanksgiving as a legal federal holiday.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly tells us that President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation in 1863 establishing the legal holiday as an annual National Day Of Thanks in the midst of the ongoing terrible Civil War conflict.  Congratulations to Keith who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Its that time of the year again that the Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges holds our annual "Best Of The Year" comic book contest!  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, December 25 (Christmas Day!) and tell us what your favorite 2013 comic book title or titles have been, with a few words about why you liked the comic(s) so much.  Among my personal favorites this past year were Marvel's Daredevil and Hawkeye titles, as well as this year's story arcs of Atomic Robo from Red 5 Comics.  So tell us what you loved from among the many 2013 offerings on those new issues shelves at That's Entertainment!  Please note that our $10.00 first prize 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 holiday season and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, December 27 Here In Bongo Congo!

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