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Review Date: Friday, December 27, 2013

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has selected an eclectic mix of new comic book titles for our 2013 year-end review column, so let's get right to it and see how these various new issues stack-up against each other:
 
Doc Savage #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Chris Roberson: Writer
Bilquis Evely: Art
Daniela Miwa: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment has added to its ever-growing inventory of Pulp-Era comic book titles with the release of Doc Savage #1.  Most baby boomer pulp fans are familiar with the 1930's-era action-adventurer from the very popular 1960's-1970's series of Doc Savage paperback novels, published by Bantam Books and known for their iconic front cover portraits of the golden-hued Doc, symbolic of his full title of Doc Savage, The Man Of Bronze.  The new Dynamite series is scripted by veteran writer Chris Roberson with art by Bilquis Evely and colors by Daniela Miwa.

     Issue #1 presents a one-issue, stand-alone story plot set in 1933 New York City that alternates between two storythreads.  In the shorter sub-plot, we're introduced to the college professor/adventurer Doc and his merry team of fellow adventurers, including sidekicks Monk, Ham, Johnny, Long Tom and Renny. The more substantial storyline throws the crew into a New York mystery adventure, as they track an unknown scientist who is operating a device in mid-town Manhattan that drives ordinary citizens into a mindless, violent rage. Without being a detail spoiler, Doc and his team use their mix of unique science and sleuthing skills to learn the details of the phenomenon, track the bad guy scientist and confront him atop the Empire State Building with a satisfying conclusion to the adventure.

     My fanboy reading interest in Doc Savage goes back to that iconic run of 1960's-70's era Bantam paperback books, and ever since then I've gone out of my way to read at least a few issues of each successive Doc Savage comic book title that periodically reaches the new issues shelves.  As such, I'm pleased to report that with the exception of one production element, this is the best comic book format Doc Savage title that I've come across to-date, for a few reasons. Veteran writer Chris Roberson's writing skills are front-and-center with a high quality script that delivers in two ways. First, it beautifully replicates the Art Deco culture of 1933 New York City, from the characters' speaking dialogue to their style of dress and onto the great architectural background of 1933 New York City itself.  Secondly, the action-adventure of the plot successfully incorporates the 1930's Pulp Era-style of magazine adventure storytelling, as Doc and crew use that era's analog-style of technical knowledge to advance their adventure sleuthing.

     Third, writer Chris Roberson incorporates a neat element of ongoing tension in the Doc Savage storyverse, explaining that Doc has an aversion to the flaws in New York's criminal justice system, leading him to try and address criminal behavior outside of the law.  There are references to a secret Arkham Asylum-like facility that he runs to try and scientifically "cure" criminals of their behavior, which should lead to some interesting upcoming story segments.  Finally, I was intrigued by a notice in the back of the issue that the comic book's timeperiod will be moved-up in issue #2 from 1933 to 1949.  I think that's a good move, as the issue #1 origin storyarc gave us a nice 1933 feel for Doc's origin's while the post-World War II era setting will allow for an entertaining hybrid of Golden Age and more modern-era story structuring that 2013 readers might find somewhat more relevant.

     As for that one constructive criticism element mentioned above, unfortunately artist Bilquis Evely's penciling style is extremely stiff and primitive. While on its own it takes away from some of issue #1's quality, fortunately Chris Roberson's A-Plus storytelling saves the day for an overall high quality production.  So whether you're an old-school Doc Savage fan like me, a newcomer to the Doc or a fan that falls somewhere in-between the two extremes, you'll be well-entertained with this excellent return of this iconic Pulp-Era action-adventurer.  And a well-deserved Tip-Of-The-Review-Hat to Dynamite Entertainment, a publisher that's second-to-none these days in offering a wide-range of very high quality Pulp-Era comic book titles!


Green Arrow #26
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Jeff Lemire: Writer
Andrea Sorrentino: Art
Marcelo Maiolo: Colors

     DC's latest title featuring Green Arrow is up to issue #26.  This is a revamped version of the well-known Oliver Queen/Green Arrow hero, in which he's recast into a younger twenty-something adult,  no doubt to coincide with the younger age of the Green Arrow in the popular television series on the CW Network.  The comic book is scripted by Jeff Lemire with art by Andrea Sorrentino and colors by Marcelo Maiolo.

     Issue #26 is part one of a new multi-issue story arc entitled "Return To The Island."  The plot co-stars a team-up of the young Green Arrow and Shado, a rogue female archer who apparently was Ollie's deceased father Robert's lover and the mother of Oliver's missing half-sister Emiko.  The plot accelerates after this introductory who's-who, as Ollie and Shado journey to an isolated island for the purposes of obtaining an ultra-powerful "totem arrow," rescuing Emiko from her kidnapper who's named Komodo and killing Komodo for murdering Robert Queen.  The second half of the story segment presents the pair's journey around the island and ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #27 as they obtain the totem arrow and are about to be attacked by a mysterious bad guy ninja group who are also hell-bent on grabbing the totem arrow.

     This is a mixed-quality issue that does deserve a positive review recommendation but only in the average-quality category.  On the plus side, its fun to meet this revised younger version of Ollie Queen/Green Arrow, who does breathe some fresh life into this longtime DC hero character.  The general concept of the plot is interesting and the artwork is breathtakingly exsquisite, with the island adventure scenes depicted in one of the nicest visual styles to come along in a superhero comic book in quite awhile.

     On the negative side, this comic book title needs a front page summary narrative more than any comic book that I've read this year.  For newcomers like me, its extremely difficult to figure-out the storyverse structure as well as the complicated relationships between the altered main and secondary characters in this brave new world of a younger Green Arrow.  The first five pages are almost nonsensical, forcing me to re-read them a few times and also do some background research on the internet.  Once I understood the storyworld structure, the rest of the unfolding plot was enjoyable, but it was a long road to travel just to understand the story logic of this new Green Arrow comic book series.

     So to summarize: issue #26 deserves a positive average quality thumbs-up review recommendation, but with the caveat that if you haven't been reading this title on a monthly basis, be prepared for some work in getting to fully understand the basic premise of Green Arrow. Or you can backtrack to read a few of the previous issues in this series, all available on the new issues shelves at That's Entertainment.  Hopefully, my review comments above will also assist any of you newcomers in gaining a quick and easy understanding of the 2013 version of Green Arrow!


The Emerald City Of OZ #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Eric Shanower: Writer
Skottie Young: Art
Jean-Francois Beaulieu: Colors

     Marvel Comics has published the first few issues of a new five-issue limited Wizard Of Oz series, so I backtracked to the first issue to get a feel for the title from its kick-off.  This particular series is an adaptation of "The Emerald City Of Oz," one of L. Frank Baum's later books in follow-up to the original Wizard Of OZ novel, which was first published in 1900.  The comic book adaptation is scripted by Eric Shanower with art by Skottie Young and colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

     Issue #1 alternates two sub-plots in three story sections.  Act One focuses on the Nome King, Roquat The Red, who rules an evil underground kingdom of many furry folk in the Land of OZ. The very angry king wants to attack The Emerald City and destroy it in order to regain from the City's Princess Ozma a powerful magic belt which Dorothy apparently stole from him in an earlier novel in the OZ series.  Act Two shifts the plot back to Kansas, where Dorothy, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry face financial ruin and eviction from the family farm.  So Dorothy transports the threesome, her dog Toto and cat Eureka through her magic bedroom mirror to all live with Princess Ozma in The Emerald City Royal Palace.  And Act Three shifts us back to the scheming of the evil nome king, as his emissaries visit another Land Of Oz bad guy race, The Whimsies, in order to forge a powerful alliance pending their upcoming attack on The Emerald City.

     I've never read any of L.Frank Baum's thirteen sequel novels to his original 1900 classic The Wizard Of Oz.  So it was fun to read in this comic book a further adventure of Dorothy and friends adapted from a plot written by Baum himself.  The comic book succeeds in three ways. First, there's the fascination that I just mentioned, of reading a new tale originally penned by the master Oz storyteller Baum.  Secondly, the creative team does a great job in converting the storyline to graphic format, balancing action, adventure and personal emotion reminiscent of the style of the classic 1939 Oz movie that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy.  And third, the artwork is a pitch-perfect style for this type of fantasy adventure, with facial expressions of Dorothy and her pets that are just plain adorable.

      My one review constructive criticism is that this isn't a comic book for very little kids.  Given a mild but at times surprising element of violence amongst the nome kingdom dwellers, I'd recommend that kids be at least say 10-years-old before they become readers of this particular series.  But for kids 10-to-80, this is a fun and very entertaining comic book adaptation of a classic fantasy novel series. 

     And one last fun fact:  apparently, L. Frank Baum eventually became so sick of writing the OZ novels, that after publishing this one as the fifth sequel in the series, he announced to the children of America that the Land of OZ had mysteriously "lost contact" with the U.S., thereby rendering it impossible for him to "update" the kids of America with any new books on the latest doings in the Emerald Kingdom.  Apparently, the kids of 1911 didn't buy that excuse for one minute, flooding Baum's house with thousands of complaint letters which prompted him to unconditionally surrender and write a new Oz sequel novel every year from 1913 until his death in 1919.  The moral of that story: writers beware, don't mess with your loyal fan base!


Letter 44 #1
Publisher: Oni Press
Charles Soule: Writer
Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque: Art
Guy Major: Colors


     Oni Press has published the first two issues in a new science fiction thriller comic book entitled "Letter 44." This new title explores the popular science fiction premise of national political leaders keeping secret the threat of a potential alien invasion of Earth.  I backtracked to the kick-off issue to get an understanding of this series from its very beginning.  Issue #1 is being offered at a special introductory price of only $1.00.  The new title is scripted by writer Charles Soule with art by Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque and colors by Guy Major.

     Issue #1 presents the first day on the job for new 44th U.S. President Stephen Blades, who finds a handwritten letter in an envelope marked "44"awaiting him in the Oval Office. In the letter, his predecessor President Carroll reveals the existence of a mysterious alien mining operation discovered three years earlier in our Solar System's asteroid belt.  Due to fear of public panic, to-date only a very select team of civilian and military advisors are aware of and addressing the situation.  After this initial reveal, the storyline splits into two alternating subplots. In the Earthside storythread, Blades meets with his secret situation team and brainstorms his way through analyzing options for handling the unexpected first crisis of his young presidency.  The second plotline presents the 9-member crew of a U.S. space team sent three years earlier to confront the aliens in the asteroid belt.  The issue concludes in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, as the space explorers are about to finally arrive in a direct confrontation with the yet-to-be-revealed alien presence.

      Similar to the Green Arrow comic book reviewed above, I had a mixed review reaction to this comic book, again concluding that it deserves a positive review but at the same time very disappointed that a few key elements drag this comic down to the barely average category.  On the plus side, writer Charles Soule puts a very fresh spin on the secret alien threat theme in two ways.  First, he creatively mirrors the real world presidential transition of January 2008, with the comic's two presidents closely mirroring George Bush and Barack Obama in personality and style.  Secondly, there are some very entertaining soap opera-style elements to this story that I won't spoil with any details, beyond saying that some center around political maneuvering among the Earthside crisis advisors, while a few emotional blockbusters are revealed among the 9-member space team.  And third, there's a very interesting back-of-the-book essay written by Oni Press Editor Jill Beaton, in which she muses about some of the very intriguing directions that the various plot elements could take us in upcoming issues.

      Now for the flip side of this title. Three elements weigh down the really good parts of this comic book to the borderline of mediocrity.  The first is a poor quality artwork consisting of a weirdly loose, abstract penciling that's so offputting that I saw the characters almost as weird aliens themselves as opposed to human beings.  A talented grade school kid could provide a more suitable visual style for this comic book than the work of penciller Alburquerque.  Also very grating are some illogical details in the plot including the behavior of some characters in on the big alien secret, President Blades learning about the most serious crisis in human history via a scrap of paper left on an open empty desk, the at-times amateurish dialogue of the players dealing with this event and worst of all, a really stupid reveal for why we fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that try to connect both conflicts to the alien crisis.

     But the biggest failure of logic in this comic is the nature of the secrecy itself.  Its just too illogical to accept that after three years, no one else on Earth besides the U.S. federal government is aware of a huge alien presence that really isn't doing much to hide itself as it operates out in the asteroid belt.  Either we would have pulled trusted allies into the situation, gossip leaks would have occurred or most likely of all, the non-governmental, academic astronomy community would have easily seen what's going on out there and talked about it worldwide.  That's how true astronomy works.  It's just too much to expect science fiction fans to buy into the idea of a "chosen few" being able to both see this large-scale outer space activity and keep their mouths shut for three years. The idiots in our real world D.C. can't handle the simplest of daily cubicle government operations these days and we're supposed to expect the same fools to keep a three-year secret of alien invasion? Please!

     So the bottom line: my advice is to be nice and make an effort to suspend some standard real world logic in order to give this well-intentioned new science fiction title a try for a few issues worth of reading.  The worthy plot concept here deserves that initial break, but if the creative team doesn't get its act together with better graphics and some more credible storytelling common sense, then "Letter 44" isn't going to come anywhere close to lasting for 44 monthly issues.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest was our annual end-of-the-year challenge for you to tell us what was your favorite comic book title of 2013 and why you liked that particular book or books so much.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who nominates Valiant Comics' return of its popular Archer & Armstrong title.  I wrote a very positive review about a year ago of one issue, which features the two title characters as a pair of men, one of whom hasn't aged since ancient times, who deal with action-adventures in our modern world.  Mike writes that he didn't think the latest series could be as good as the original 1990's run but he was wrong.  He adds that the comic book "not only entertains, but provides the most "laugh out loud" moments of any book on the market."

     An excellent explanation of a very entertaining 2013 comic book series.  Congratulations to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!!!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     We're heading into the Oscar season for the movies, and as such The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges have decreed that we kick-off the new year's movie season with an appropriate movie trivia question.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, January 8 with the correct answer to the following question: Who is the only movie star in all of Hollywood movie history to have headlined in at least one #1 film opening at the box office for five decades in a row?  That's right, there's a movie star out there who has starred in a at least one film for 5 consecutive decades that opened at #1 in movie attendance!

     As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, our contest winner will be selected via a roll-of-the-dice.  Please note that our $10.00 first prize 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 a very happy and healthy New Year as well as two great comic book reading weeks, and see you again on Friday, January 10 Here In Bongo Congo!

 
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