Review Date: Thursday, January 23, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we fend-off the dog days of mid-winter by reviewing a nice variety of new issue comics from the That's Entertainment shelves, so let's get right to it and see how these comic books stack-up against each other:

All-New X-Men #20
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Mahmud Asrar & Brandon Peterson: Art
Israel Silva & Marte Gracia: Colors

     Marvel's All-New X-Men comic book title is already up to issue #20.  The series focuses on the time-travel adventures of the original Silver Age team of teenaged X-Men (Jean Grey, etc.), who have time-traveled to our present-day and interact with the modern X-Men, including aged modern versions of some of themselves.  The series is scripted by A-list writer Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mahmud Asrar and Brandon Peterson, and colors by Israel Silva and Marte Gracia.

     A page-one narrative summarizes the multi-issue story arc to-date: The time-traveling X-teens have separated from Wolverine's modern-day X-Men team and have joined the present-day Cyclop's New Xavier School for gifted mutants.  Along with the school's Professor Kitty Pride, they've hunkered-down in the Weapon X facility, well-known site of previous experiments on Wolverine.  They've also recently rescued Laura Kinney, a.k.a. X-23 (Wolverine's female teenaged clone) from a militia group of anti-mutant activists based in Miami and known as The Purifiers.

     The issue #20 story segment is divided into two parts.  The first half of the issue is focused more on dialogue, as the group tries to win the trust of the recently-rescued Laura Kinney.  True to her Wolverine-like nature, she's basically got her guard-up like a trapped animal and it's touch and go as first the entire group and then the young Cyclops in a one-on-one therapeutic chat, gradually gain Laura's tentative trust.  With some trust established it's then time for some action, which kicks-off in the second half of the comic book, as the newly-united team attacks The Purifiers' Miami stronghold.  As the battle escalates to its peak the issue ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #21, as The Purifiers leader unexpectedly reveals his own mutant-like power.

     I enjoyed this comic book very much, not only for its quality but also for my own relief that it avoided a potential trap.  In the quality category, veteran writer Brian Michael Bendis takes full advantage of the fun scripting possibilities of the time-traveling X-Men teens in a modern-day setting.  Separate from the main plot elements, its a great kick to read the small but effective time travel chestnuts that Bendis builds into the script.  While there are many, a few worth mentioning in this review include the young Cyclops expressing how creepy it is to meet his older self, Laura Kinney in awe of meeting a young, living version of Jean Grey and the entire group completely freaked-out in learning the origin details of Wolverine's personal history.  In addition, the art team does a fantastic job of providing an excellent visual presentation with very effective and emotional facial expressions for the story characters.

     Regarding the potential trap avoided, I've noted in previous reviews of Bendis-scripted comic books that he has a tendency to overpreach in his dialogue, often selecting one character to drone-on for pages in a pretentious speech to the other story characters. Happily, he avoids that scripting approach here, nicely balancing the detailed dialogue in the talking-head first half of the issue.  I also hugely enjoyed the small romance element between teen-Cyclops and Laura, which include Scott/Cyclop's fumbled teen efforts to get emotionally closer to the Wolverine-wary Laura.  Without being a detail spoiler, there's a hilarious and very real-world page in which Scott decides that Laura needs a supportive hug, which alone is worth the price of admission to this comic book.

     My personal impression is that the X-Men franchise just might be offering the most titles of any comic book new issues franchise out in today's publishing world, with fifteen current X-Men storyverse titles alone advertised in a back-of-the-issue list.  While I only dip my reviewer's toe into that extensive pool from time-to-time, I'm confident from the high quality of this issue that All New X-Men deserves to be at the top of that giant X-Men pile in terms of entertainment and fun reading.  So whether you're a devoted X-Men fan or just looking to expand your reading list into the wide world of all things X-Men, a positive review recommendation is warranted for All Good Marvel Readers to check-out this very enjoyable issue #20 of All-New X-Men!

Black Widow #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nathan Edmondson: Writer
Phil Noto: Art

     Marvel Comics has recently added a new Black Widow comic book title to its new issues inventory.  A page one narrative explains that this title is a solo adventure series, in which Natasha Romanov a.k.a. the Black Widow takes time-out from her Avengers and SHIELD roles to conduct certain for-hire espionage/assassin jobs "to atone for her past." The comic book is scripted by Nathan Edmondson with art by A-lister Phil Noto.

     The kick-off multi-issue storyline is entitled "Raison D'Etre" and alternates between two interweaving sub-plots.  The first addresses the background theme of Natasha's traumatic personal history. Without directly centering on the issue, various scene narrations and story panels portray Natasha struggling to come to terms with yet-to-be-revealed past assassin and espionage deeds that trouble her.  The more direct and lengthier sub-plot unfolds her latest cryptic job-for-hire, one that focuses on an American organized crime figure on a shady mission to Dubai.  Without being a detail spoiler, action erupts when Black Widow infiltrates the crime boss's meeting.  The story segment ends in a really neat and unexpected twist as Natasha reveals that her assignment is very different from what seemed to be its obvious goal.

     This new title is one of those small-scale, almost sidebar series that come along every once in awhile to quietly examine the personality and psychology of the featured superhero or supervillain.  As such, the creative team succeeds in the twin goals of laying bare the psyche of the troubled hero and at the same time providing an entertaining comic book adventure tale.  Three positives jump-out of this issue to make it a worthwhile read.  The first strong point is writer Nathan Edmondson's skill in nicely balancing the talking head introspective side of Natasha with the heavy-duty action-adventure elements that any good Black Widow story requires.  The second plus feature is the high quality of the plot twists and turns; essentially, nothing is at it logically seems regarding Natasha's assignments, as we're treated to a few surprise twists that reveal unexpected motives or goals behind her solo adventure efforts.

      Third, a tip-of-the-review hat is due to whatever editor made the selection of Phil Noto as this title's artist. Noto has a very unique visual style that blends strong pencilling techniques with unusual choices of muted coloring.  The result is a soft-toned art style that seems to mute and calm the pace and behavior of the characters.  It sounds weird, but to me it seems that in any Noto-drawn tale, there's always a feel that the setting is a sunny end-of-the-day dusk point in time. However you personally interpret his art, there's definitely a unique atmosphere set by Noto's visuals, one that works very effectinely in this new title toward providing an entertaining and enjoyable comic book read.

      So for fans of the Black Widow as well as fans of artist Phil Noto, and for readers just looking for a solidly entertaining superhero-themed espionage thriller comic book, Black Widow #1 is an enjoyable and fun new issue worth checking-out.

Afterlife With Archie #2
Publisher: Archie Comics Publications, Inc.
Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa: Writer
Francesco Francavilla: Art

     Archie Comics has published the first two issues of "Afterlife With Archie," an Archie comic book series that takes a humor-based horror take on the Archie Comics storyverse.  Issue #2 is the second installment of a zombie-themed multi-issue storyline entitled "Escape from Riverdale" with a Chapter Two subtitle of "Dance Of The Dead." The new series is scripted by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa with artwork by Francesco Francavilla.

      Yes, the Zombie Apocalypse arrived in Riverdale and its best summed-up with a page one, full-page quote: "I didn't like Jughead when he was alive.  Now that he's dead, well...the less said the better."  The speaker is Veronica Lodge, who is retelling to her well-known wealthy Dad the evening's earlier events.  Most of the storyline is a flashback to the earlier event that kicks-off the Riverdale zombie apocalypse.  Its mentioned that in last month's issue #1, both Jughead and his dog Hot Dog somehow became zombies.  Now in issue #2, ol' undead Juggie shuffles his way into the Halloween night Riverdale High School dance and the expected zombie mayhem ensues. 

     The plot details follow the classic zombie fiction line: no one really notices Juggie is a zombie until he bites/infects Ethel Muggs, then all zombie hell breaks loose as the biting/epidemic spreads and the Archie gang hightails it out of the dance in search of safety.  The story segment ends in a dramatic bridge to issue #3, as the Veronica-Dad scenes pans back to reveal that Archie and Veronica have led a small group of nine survivors (including A-list Archie characters Betty, Reggie, Moose and Midge) to the Lodge mansion in a desperate attempt to make a stand against the ensuing zombie hordes.  Its also revealed in a cliffhanger announcement that one of the nine teens is already infected with the zombie virus, which obviously will lead to further drama in next month's issue.

     As readers of this column know, I review a few Archie comics yearly and can't help but always gush how the quality of this long-term comic book franchise continuously maintains its high standards of artwork, scripting and most importantly, the modern-day topicality of its story and cultural references.  And this issue not only is no exception, but cranks-up the creative edginess into completely new Archie storyverse realms.  This is not-your-father's-Archieverse, in two key respects.  First-off is the horror concept itself. Previous Archie titles occasionally spoof horror while staying well-within the standard art and plotting of traditional Archie Comics. Here, all barriers are completely nuked: Francesco Francavilla's amazing artwork is completely non-Archie, visually reinterpreting the series with more standard horror comic figure drawings and colorization. 

     Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa's script is equal to the artwork's edginess, leaving behind the standard "everytown" portrayal of Riverdale and its inhabitants for a darker theme.  The player's personalities and dialogue are more akin to an episode of the 1960's t.v. series "Dark Shadows" or a horror-themed episode of "The X-Files."  Two of my favorite issue #2 examples of this style are an extended edgy conversation between two malt shop-hanging Riverdale female teens about their secret lesbian relationship and secondly, Mr. Lodge's droll, muttered psychological remarks to his daughter Veronica everytime she plays the spoiled rich daddy's girl card in their extended narrative conversation.

     It may not seem like that big of a deal to offer-up a new spin on a conventional comic book storyverse, but to the degree that this new Archie series leaps away from its traditional storyverse comfort zone, it certainly is a big deal. It takes a lot of courage for the publisher to add a new title this far outside of the standard world of Archie and friends, and for that they need to be commended with a well-deserved standing round of applause.  And of course your support by getting down to That's Entertainment and picking-up your very own copy of this fantastic and just-plain-entertaining spin on Archie versus the zombie apocalypse!

Ben 10 #1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Jason Henderson: Writer
Gordon Purcell: Pencils
Scott Macrae: Inks
Jason Lewis: Colors

     IDW Publishing recently distributed issue #1 in a new kid's comic book title featuring Ben 10. For the uninitiated (which included me before I spied this comic book on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves), Ben 10 is ten-year-old Ben Tennyson, who's part of a 5-person action-adventure team that also includes his Grandpa Max, cousin Gwen, alien-like buddy Rook and old pal Kevin.  The comic book is apparently based on a popular Ben 10 animated television series on The Cartoon Network.  Ben's particular ability is to utilize an alien-created high tech wristwatch called the Omnitrix that allows him to morph into various styles of superpowered alien creatures, whichever is most appropriate for the particular action situation at-hand.  The new comic book series is scripted by Jason Henderson with pencils by Gordon Purcell, inks by Scott Macrae and colors by Jason Lewis.

     The untitled issue #1 plot kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc in which Ben and the gang head-out of San Diego for a nice and hopefully calm getaway Pacific Ocean cruise vacation.  Naturally, the vacation is anything but a getaway, as two alternating sub-plots each interfere with Ben's hope for a relaxing trip.  The first issue is the problem of Ben's celebrity, as his action-adventure notoriety results in a constant barrage of picture-taking, autograph-hounding, etc. from his fellow cruisegoers at every turn. Ben does make one legitimate friend among the cruisegoers, a girl his own age named Lorelai.  The second, more-detailed storythread begins as the cruise ship stumbles upon an attack by a snake-like bad guy named SSSerpent (yes, there are three s's in his name!) against an oil rig; as Ben and friends intervene, they discover that the rig is camoflauge for an alien-like city of fish people.  Issue #1 ends in a very dramatic bridge to issue #2, as its revealed in a very surprising and entertaining manner that Lorelai originates from the disguised city of fishfolk.

     I was surprised to learn on-line of the existence of a huge Ben 10 retail empire, which has resulted in the award of three television Emmys to the show, along with the generation of $2 billion in world-wide retail sales of over 100 million Ben 10-based toys and stuff.  After reading this comic book, I'm now not all surprised, as both the general concept of the Ben 10 storyverse as well as the quality of this series is solidly entertaining.  The comic book itself provides this quality in at least three ways.  First-up is the strength of the script itself; writer Jason Henderson doesn't just produce a kid-centric adventure story, but explores some heartfelt issues relevant to readers of all ages including loneliness, romance, family and friendship issues. 

     Secondly, the details of Ben's alien gizmo-powered abilities are entertaining.  While at first I expected a rehash of the Silver Age DC "Dial H For Hero" concept, instead the mix of alien identities and resulting powers that Ben taps into are very fresh and creative in their own right. Third, there's a very interesting element of mystery throughout this tale, as by issue's end we still don't know the details about the mysterious fish people city or the reason for Lorelai's presence on the cruise ship.

     For all of these reasons, combined with the very pleasing and appropriate television show animation style of the artwork, the Ben 10 comic book series is enjoyable as a read for kids of all ages and serves as a nice bridge back into the Ben 10 television series and merchandising empire.  I can easily see fans of the comic book further exploring the television adventures of Ben 10 and vice-versa.  There's also a decent-enough story logic and maturity to the script that's worthwhile enough for adult readers to also dip into the pages of Ben 10 for an occasional Cartoon Network-style reading of this intelligent and high quality series.  So in sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this creative animation-style comic book title.  And while you're at it, its also worth checking to see if the Cartoon Network t.v. series is as enjoyable a watch as the comic book is to read!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to identify what previously-published comic book title you'd like to see revived for a fresh 2014 new issues comic book run.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Dave McBarron, who nominates the former Kid Colt Outlaw title from Marvel Comics for reanimation.  Dave writes that as far as he knows, Marvel doesn't currently publish any new Western genre comics.  So as DC has its Jonah Hex title, Dave writes "so Marvel needs a Western title too, and it might teach the younger generation about our history in the West during the 1800's."  An excellent nomination to bring-back a very entertaining former Western comic book title. Let's hope that Marvel eventually gives it a try. But for now, congratulations to Dave for winning our first-prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment! 

New Contest Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges was inspired for our latest contest theme by the Afterlife With Archie comic book reviewed in this column above, in which the inevitable zombie apocalyse arrives in Riverdale.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, Febraury 5 and tell us what other comic book characters or comic book title you'd like to also see get the zombie treatment.  Yes, it's time for the zombie apocalypse to continue its march through the wider world of comic book publishing!  Also, just briefly tell us why you think it would be fun to see your particular nomination get zombified.  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 two great Super Bowl-watching (Go Whoever, we really don't care who wins now that the Patriots didn't get in the game!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, February 7 Here In Bongo Congo!

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