Review Date: Friday, January 10, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo wishes all a very Happy New Year and has decreed that we kick-off the 2014 comic book review season with a "Science Fiction Week" theme Here In Bongo Congo, featuring an interesting-looking mix of science fiction-oriented comic book titles that are currently on the new issue shelves.  So let's get right to it and see how these New Year's comics stack-up against each other:

The Saviors #1
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
James Robinson: Writer
J. Bone: Art

      Image Comics recently added to its inventory a new science fiction-themed comic book entitled "The Saviors." The theme of this series is the well-known secret alien invasion genre.  The title is the co-creation of writer James Robinson and artist J Bone.  British writer Robinson is WELL-known for his work at DC Comics, including acclaimed runs on Starman back in the 1990's and more recently Justice Society of America.

     The main character of The Saviors is Tomas Ramirez, the native resident of the Southwest desert small town of Passburg.  Tomas is a gentle-souled hometown slacker; while his high school buddies all moved-on to out-of-town college and careers, Tomas settled-into a life of smoking pot, pumping gas and watching air shows at the nearby U.S. Air Force range.  The issue #1 plot can be separated into two parts. Act One introduces Tomas's life situation along with story support characters who include the Town's Sheriff Doyle, Tomas's best buddy Frank, who runs a car junkyard, and the nearby air base's unnamed commanding general.  Tomas also pumps gas for a handsome and mysterious stranger who arrives in Town and claims to deal in vintage autos, resulting in Tomas connecting the guy with his friend Frank.

     The science-fiction mystery kicks-in at the plot's midpoint. While smoking pot in a secluded location, Tomas follows the sounds of an alien language being spoken and stumbles upon a meeting of Sheriff Doyle and the Air Force base commander, both in their true identities as alien lizard-like invaders. Without being a detail spoiler, from that point on the chase is on, as Tomas flees the exposed monster duo.  The action peaks with a confrontation at Frank's junkyard that include the trio, Frank himself and the car-collecting mysterious stranger, who seems to knows the details of the alien conspiracy and appears to be a newfound ally of Tomas.  The encounter spins into very deadly violence and ends in a literal cliffhanger leading to issue #2, as the monstrous lizard persona of Sheriff Doyle has Tomas hanging off the edge of a desert cliff in a life-or-death moment in this dramatic storyline.

     The Saviors is a very entertaining and strongly-produced addition to the oft-visited theme of secret alien invasion fiction.  The theme itself has a rich history originating in Golden Age science fiction stories and novels and entering into mid-20th century television culture with episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the popular 1960's television series "The Invaders."  Here, the creative duo of Robinson and Bone breath fresh life into the concept by way of their respective creative talents.  On the artistic side, J Bone produces his excellent panels in black-and-white, lending a storyboard style to the art product that effectively connects the tale to its television visual heritage.  Equal to the skilled artwork is Robinson's scripting.  While there's nothing really new in his approach to the alien invasion concept, his crafting of Tomas's personality in simply exceptional.  We're presented with a classic fictional portrayal of an ordinary man living a life of simple contentment suddenly thrust into the unwanted role of world savior.  Reminiscent of "The Invaders" t.v. show concept, its clear that Tomas's work is cut-out for him to convince anyone that a stoned slacker such as himself has credible knowledge of a secret alien infiltration, a situation that offers some very interesting story opportunities for upcoming issues.

     So in sum, a very positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this entertaining and well-crafted latest addition to the "secret alien conspiracy" genre of science fiction storytelling.  Whether you're a science fiction fan or just enjoy good comic book storytelling, this new comic book is well-worth the reading experience!

The Midas Flesh #1
Publisher: Boom! Box
Ryan North: Creator & Writer
Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb: Art

     The Midas Flesh is a new science fiction adventure title from Boom! Box. A back-of-the-book editor's column explains that Boom! Box is a new publishing imprint from the well-known comic book publisher Boom! Entertainment.  The stated goal of the division is "a space to publish the kind of comics you do for the love of it...for the sake of having them out in the world because you think they're hecka neat."  Midas Flesh is created and scripted by Ryan North, best known for his writing of the title "Adventure Time," with artwork by the team of Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb.

     The plot of Midas Flesh #1 presents alternating far future and ancient past sub-plots.  The far future storythread introduces us to a trio of three kid spacefarers, the human boy Joey, girl Fatima and a dinosaur boy named Cooper.  They're on a secret mission to a planet far from their origin.  It's quickly revealed that the surprise planet is Earth, and after a lengthy action-packed sequence in which they fight and defeat the world's ancient automated satellite defenses, its further revealed that Earth is a dead planet consisting of solid gold.  The second sub-plot revises the well-known King Midas fable to explain the "Gold Fingering" of Earth, if I may shamelessly steal a phrase from the James Bond storyverse.  Without spoiling any story details, writer Ryan North alters the Greek fable so in his version, when the Greek Gods grant Midas his wish that everything he touch turns to gold, it has a retro effect of running wild, immediately spreading across anything he touched in his entire life as it quickly virals to wipe-out all planetary life by transforming the entire Earth into gold.  Issue #1 concludes with a flash forward back to our three kid adventurers, as a lone orbiting Earth sentry discovers their presence and initiates an attack on their secret mission.

      I'll get right to it and try to be as brief as possible: this is simply one lousy comic book, with the basic problem being a lack of standard plot theme and direction.  Instead, we're subjected to a mishmash compilation of writing styles and story elements that don't connect together into either a sensible or comfortable read.  The comic book has bits and pieces of incompatible story identities: for a few pages its a kid's outer space science adventure, then its an ancient world fable; in some scenes the dialogue and narrative are written at the adult reader level while alternating scenes are written at a childish little kid reader level.  I also found incredibly grating on my reading nerves writer North's decision to present the ancient Greek sub-plot dialogue in "Valley Girl" style, modernizing the language so that ancient King Midas and his co-horts basically "Hey, Dude!" each other in an excruciating modern-day slang that's just plain weird for an ancient Greek storyline.

      I have no idea whether or not Boom! Box is a creator-owned comic book publishing venture.  But its clear from that Letter From The Editor column mentioned above as well as a pretentious post-story interview with writer Chris North that The Midas Flesh is a crappy "dear to the heart" unsalable story concept that North carried around with him for years and finally conned someone into letting him publish.  That stated goal of Boom! Box to publish comics "...for the love of it...because they're hecka neat," actually translates into "we're publishing a flawed story idea based on the reputation of the writer's better-written products," a trap that we too often see in some creator-owned series and which unfortunately is duplicated in this title. I've said it before when reviewing most "personal favorite" story concepts of accomplished writers and I'll say it again right now: if the favorite chestnut of an idea was so great, it would have been snapped-up by a mainstream publishing line a long time ago instead of surfacing years later in a creator-owned, alternate or experimental small imprint, such as the fledgling Boom Box!  So bottom line for the first failed comic that we review for the year 2014: an emphatic negative review recommendation is well-deserved for The Midas Flesh, which offers "fool's gold" in place of any legitimate storytelling gold.

Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Bill Willingham: Writer
Sergio Davila: Art
Wes Hartman: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainment released this past week issue #1 in the eagerly-anticipated "Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure," an eight -issue mini-series scripted by A-list writer Bill Willingham, best known as the creator/writer of the acclaimed "Fables" comic book title published by DC's Vertigo imprint.  The concept of Legenderry is to present a Steampunk Victorian-style science fiction adventure/thriller series featuring a wide-range of classic comic book heroes including but not limited to Vampirella, Red Sonja, The Green Hornet and Kato, The Phantom and Dracula.  In addition to writer Willingham, the creative team includes artist Sergio Davila and colorist Wes Hartman.

     The issue #1 story segment is entitled "Ceremonies In Dark Men And Scarlet Women" and interweaves two storythreads.  The first sub-plot introduces the reader to the basic world structure of this Steampunk storyverse. Via the narration of radio gossip columnist Felix Avalon, we're introduced to "The Big City" and more specifically The Scarlet Club, the City's hottest steampunk nightclub, owned and operated by Vampirella in her proprietress guise of Madam Pendragon.  The second sub-plot kicks-in with explosive action, as Pendragon and her friend, publisher Britt Reid (aka The Green Hornet) confront a team of seven steampunk thugs who've chased a young red-haired woman into the club.  After literally tearing the attackers apart limb-from-limb, Vampirella and Reid learn the girl's backstory: the women is Magda Spadarossa, younger sister of Red Sonja, who's been missing for a year while traveling abroad.  Via flashback, we learn that Dracula has threatened Magda and set the thugs on her to eliminate her inquiries into her missing sister's fate.  By issue's end, Madam Pendragon and Britt Reid begin their efforts to pull additional Steampunk superheroes into the situation for further adventuring in next month's issue #2.

     Reader expectations have been very high for months now in anticipation of this Steampunk adventure series and I'm pleased to report that the creative team has clearly met the high bar of expectations for this new series.  Writer Bill Willingham is at his very best on two levels in his scripting of this series.  First, he skillfully creates the pitch-perfect Steampunk storyverse for these well-known heroes to function within.  It's a blast to read Victorian-style mannerisms and dialogue issuing from the traditionally non-Steampunk personas of Vampirella and friends.  Secondly, Willingham has kicked-off in issue #1 a multiple-issue storyarc with an intriguing action-adventure plotline that transcends its Steampunk stylings as a solid mystery-thriller tale. At its heart, the story would be entertaining with or without its Steampunk trappings.  Readers will be pulled into the basics of the tale on its own accord, including the mystery of the missing Red Sonja, the role of Dracula in the situation and the roles of various secondary story characters of The Big City who interact with our heroes as the adventure unfolds through its eight monthly issues.

     The review of any Steampunk comic book has to address the visual style of the series, given how heavily dependent this science fiction subgenre is on the fashion and stylings of its characters.  As all Steampunk fans know, the current standard for that element was set in 2010by artist/creator Joe Benitez in his acclaimed "Lady Mechanika" comic book mini-series.  While its too much to expect anyone to match or exceed the exceptional talent and uniqueness of Benitez's product, artist Sergio Davila and colorist Wes Hartman are smart enough to avoid going head-to-head with Benitez in a futile effort to match his Lady Mechanika visual product.  Instead, they venture-out with their own unique Steampunk artistic interpretative stylings, resulting in a very credible and enjoyable work of art in its own right apart that doesn't need any comparisons to any previous Steampunk comic book titles.

     In sum, Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure succeeds as a worthwhile comic book read on four counts: as a strong addition to the renowned storytelling inventory of writer Bill Willingham, as a beautiful visual product of this stylized storyverse, and most importantly, as a very entertaining comic book read for both veteran Steampunk fans and newcomers to this Victorian-style science fiction adventure genre. So get onboard the steam-powered train and ride-on down to That's Entertainment for your very own issue #1 copy of this fun new series!

The Twilight Zone #1
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
J. Michael Straczynski: Writer
Guiu Vilanova: Art
Vinicius Andrade: Colors

     Dynamite Entertainmernt has also just released another eagerly anticipated new comic book with its revival of "The Twilight Zone" series.  Baby boomers are well-familiar with the famed 1960's science fiction television series hosted by creator Rod Serling, as well as the previous Silver Age comic book run of this title as published by Gold Key.  This latest Twilight Zone incarnation is scripted by A-list writer J. Michael Straczynski with art by Guiu Vilanova and colors by Vinicius Andrade.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a premier multi-issue storyarc entitled "The Way Out."  The plot stars Trevor Richmond, a supposed "golden boy" of his Wall Street financial firm, who seemingly is successful as a genius at increasing his company's financial success. The issue #1 storyline plays-out in three acts.  Act One introduces the reader to the details of Richmond's success as well as his glamorous life, then exposes this image as we learn the truth of his scamming having brought the company to the edge of ruin.  Act Two introduces the Twilight Zone story element, as Richmond obtains the services of the mysterious Mr. Wylde, whose company assists fugitives by drastically altering their body's structure as well as covering all personal and financial trails.

     Act Three expands upon the mysterious doings; after a major body-altering effort leads to Richmond's successful escape from the legal consequences of his actions, we see him settle into a new hidden life that allows him to remain in Manhattan and witness first-hand both the media coverage and the painful financial ruin of those he scammed.  The issue ends in a dramatic bridge to the continued story arc in next month's issue #2, as in a stunning turn of events, an exact duplicate of Trevor Richmond appears in public and calls a press conference to make an "important announcement."

     The success of any Twilight Zone comic book title is measured in two ways: the usual comic book quality elements of writing and visual presentation, as well as the degree to which the title invokes the unique science fiction style, atmosphere and general feel of the iconic 1960's television series.  Happily, the creative team hits the bullseye on all of these elements, delivering a very well-crafted and entertaining new comic book series.  Writer J. Michael Straczynski provides his usual stellar effort in high quality scripting, with smart dialogue, interesting characters and a nice presentation style that invokes Rod Serling's narration from the t.v. series.  The artwork is also appropriate, invoking both the t.v. show style as well as the similar paranormal mystery feel of the old X-Files comic book series published in the 1990's by Topps Publishing.

      Straczynski really hits his Twilight Zone mark by successfully invoking both the spookiness and psychological tenseness of the t.v. show.  On every page of issue #1, we're challenged to wonder how and when this situation is going to blow-up in bad guy Richmond's face.  I particularly loved the mystery surrounding two support characters, company head Mr. Black and Diana, a local coffeeshop employee, both of whom clearly play yet-to-be-revealed key roles in this storyline as it unfolds in future monthly issues.

     My only question about this comic book is the decision by the editor and writer to present multi-issue story arcs.  The Twilight Zone t.v. show was both famous and very popular for wrapping-up each tale in its own neat, one half-hour package.  As such, I was surprised that this new series is going with extended multi-issue story arcs instead of stand-alone single issue storylines.  We'll have to wait and see whether this story structure adds or detracts from the ultimate quality of the series.  But in the meantime, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for the issue #1 comic book return of one of the most famous science fiction television series of all time, The Twilight Zone!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to correctly tell us which Hollywood movie star is the only person in movie history to have starred in at least one #1 box office movie opening in five consecutive decades.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who correctly identified Sylvester Stallone as that uniquely-successful Hollywood actor.  For the record, Stallone's amazing accomplishment of #1 box office openings includes Rocky (of course!) and Rocky 2 in the 1970's, five movies in the 1980's, five more movies in the 1990's, the movie "Driven" in 2001 and the movie "The Expendables" in 2010. Quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations to Erin who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     Dynamite Entertainment's revival of The Twilight Zone comic book series (see review above) got the Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges thinking about other former comic book titles that we'd like to see return to the new issues shelves.  So your new challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, January 22 with your entry for a formerly-published comic book series that you'd like to see revived for a fresh 2014 title run.  Give us the title and a brief comment on why you think the series should be brought back to comic book life.  Please note that our $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment is redeemable for regular retail merchandise and or in-store, ongoing specials, only.

That's all for now, so have two great National Football League (NFL) playoff-watching (Go Patriots!) and comic book reading weeks, and see you again on Friday, January 24 Here In Bongo Congo!

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