Review Date: Friday, February 7, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has declared that its superhero week Here In Bongo Congo and has decreed that we review comic titles featuring solo caped crusaders in action.  Per royal decree, we've selected three comic books featuring new heroes in action, including two interconnected titles from Dark Horse Comics, along with one title featuring a well-known Marvel action hero.  So let's get right to it and see how this fearsome foursome stack-up against each other:
Captain Midnight #6
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Joshua Williamson: Writer
Eduardo Francisco: Artist
Stefani Rennee: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics is up to issue #6 of its Captain Midnight comic book title.  The series is a modernization of the famous Captain Midnight hero who originated within a 1930's radio program and has evolved over the decades through various comic series and publishers.  The Captain himself is WWI U.S. Army pilot Jim Albright, an inventor of early high tech that allows him to function as a flying caped crusader.  The current Dark Horse series updates the premise by having the Captain time travel via the Bermuda Triangle to 2014, where he battles former familiar baddies including the organization "Black Sky," a secret government unit that's using his invented technology for evil purposes.  The title is scripted by Joshua Williamson with art by Eduardo Franco and colors by Stefani Rennee.

     Issue #6 is part one of a two-issue story arc entitled "Mission: Midnight!"  The plot features two alternating storythreads. In the main, lengthier sub-plot, Captain Midnight develops a strategy and implements an assault on a secret Washington D.C. location of a Black Sky unit.  We're introduced in this effort to two allies of Captain Midnight, Federal Agent Marvin Jones and Rick Marshall, an historian of the Captain's pre-time travel exploits.  As the trio prepare their Black Sky attack plan, we presented with the technical details of the Captain's self-invented technology that allows him to function as a superhero. 

     The second, briefer sub-plot focuses on Charlotte Ryan, the granddaughter of Joyce Ryan, Captain Midnight's love interest from his earlier life.  Charlotte visits the now-elderly Joyce to discuss her grandmother's past issues in the relationship, whereupon Charlotte vows to bring the time traveler to visit his aged love for a confrontation.  The issue #6 storyline ends in a dramatic cliffhanger to next month's story segment, as both Captain Midnight and Agent Ryan appear to be thwarted in their Black Sky attack by a superstrong freelancer-for-hire bad guy named Hollow.

     The standard for success for a comic book that revises an old pulp-era hero is two-fold: to present an entertaining plot and to make credible the challenge the handling of the old-school character's adjustment to both our modern era popular culture and the style of modern-day comic book storytelling.  Captian Midnight happily succeeds very well on both counts. Writer Joshua Williamson does a great job of giving us a well-paced action-adventure storyline and more importantly, fleshes-out very well the various personalities of the Captain's new allies.  On the second count, the creative team also does a solid job of addressing those man-out-of-time story nuances.  I liked the Captain's realistic reactions to learning of 2014 societal developments including the constant presence and use by everybody of the internet.

     Most intriguing of all is the plothread centering on his aged love, Joyce Ryan. So far, the situation is being presented with heartfelt and realistic plotting, and it offers some very interesting story possibilities as their eventual interaction with each other will unfold. As a final review comment, I also enjoyed the structuring of Captain Midnight's personality and speech as a 1930's era do-gooder.  His dialogue and mannerisms truly present him as a fish-out-of-water time traveler and only reinforces the storytelling possibilities for this new series.

     So in sum, a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this new title, which reinterprets and extends the storytelling of an iconic Pulp-era superhero crusader into the world of modern-day comic book adventuring.

Skyman #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Writer
Manuel Garcia: Pencils
Marta Martinez: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics has recently published issue #1 in a new series entitled Skyman.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative connects the series to the Captain Midnight comic book reviewed above, explaining that in the decades since Midnight's Bermuda Triangle disappearance, the U.S. military has used his superheroing technology to create The Skyman Program, consisting of a secret U.S. Army unit of Captain Midnight-style flying caped crusaders.  The new comic book is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov with pencils by Manual Garcia and colors by Marta Martinez.

     The issue #1 storyline presents a Skyman Program in disarray, as an expelled unit member goes berserk and in a very brutal multipage scene, murders innocent people while spewing an offensively racial rant against President Obama.  As social media broadcasts the carnage and rant, the President and U.S. Army General Abernathy move to revamp the program, adding to the lily-white battalian a handicapped African-American Army veteran hero named Eric Reid.  Reid signs-on with the plan when he learns that wearing the Skyman technology temporarily restores his ability to walk.

     The second half of the premier issue moves the gameplan into action.  We witness the training regiment of Eric under the tutelage of his sadistic Skyman handler Lieutenant Sharp.  Racial tensions build between the pair, resulting in a violent fight between the two that doesn't resolve the conflict but at least leads to some wary mutual respect between them.  The issue concludes with Eric's dramatic airborne entrance to a public rally in Washington, D.C., where he's enthusiastically introduced by the president as the first Skyman Program unit member to be publicly identified by his true, unmasked identity.

     This is a very interesting companion title to Captain Midnight, that both interconnects the heroing worlds of these titles while presenting two storyverses that are very different from each other.  While there's a Golden Age Pulp Era innocence and gentleness to the world of Captain Midnight, alternately the Skyman storyworld is full-throttle real world 2014, full of story characters brimming with anger, bigotry and the ability to carry-out pure brutality on innocent victims.  The bridge between the two comic books is the common Captain Midnight technology, but the directions that each creative team chooses to take in exploring storytelling have no commonality yet.  Its inevitable that the worlds of Captain Midnight and The Skyman Program will eventually cross-connect in both titles, and it should be fascinating to see how that head-on collision meets and explodes in potential plot opportunities.

      On its own, Skyman offers the same high quality scripting, character development and decent artwork that Captain Midnight offers.  A tip-of-the-review-hat is also deserved for the creative team's skillful approach in exploring the issue of present-day racism within the context of the script.  The dialogue and the issues of resentment and anger among all parties to the story are presented in a very literate manner and are equal to the effort that acclaimed creator Neal Adams produced in his iconic Green Lantern-Green Arrow series at DC Comics back in the 1970's.  There's the potential here for a multi-issue comic book storyline that goes beyond standard reading entertainment to join Neil Adam's work as an example for making some important statements about the nature of racism and the lessons we can learn on the subject from a well-crafted work of fiction. Time will tell whether this title heads in that literary direction or not.

      So Skyman succeeds as a new comic book issue on three counts: as a worthy partner title to Captain Midnight, as an entertaining and well-produced comic book read in its own right and as a new addition to the long lineage of Amercian comic book titles that address serious societal issues in both an entertaining and literate manner.

Iron Man #20
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kieron Gillen: Writer
Joe Bennett: Pencils
Scott Hanna: Inks

     Marvel's latest Iron Man title is up to issue #20 and presents part 3 of a 5-issue story arc entitled Iron Metropolitan.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative summarizes the tale to-date which interweaves two sub-plots: Tony Stark and his newly-found brother Arno constructing high tech cities of the future, and the now-dead supervillain the Mandarin's famous set of 10 rings gaining sentience and searching for evildoers as their new hosts.  The comic book is scripted by Kieron Gillen with pencils by Joe Bennett and inks by Scott Hanna.

     Issue #20 kicks-off with a fast action battle scene, as Tony Stark/Iron Man confronts Abigail Burns, a left-wing journalist who has become a Human Torch-like host to the Mandarin's former seventh ring, called Incinerator.  The battle continues for about two-thirds of the issue, as the duo fight to a standstill while Abigail spouts her political philosophy against Tony's plans for his cities of the future.  The final third of the storyline focuses the plot back on the 10 Mandarin rings themselves, as Tony visits a top secret Avengers storage facility and discovers that the now-sentient rings have escaped the facility and are off in search of various hosts in order to create a team of supervillains.  The story segment ends in a one-page bridge to next month's part four, as the rings become aware of Tony's discovery and communicate with each other a decision to accelerate their evil plan.

     This is a decent comic book that delivers solid entertainment for a few reasons.  First, it breathes two fresh story elements in the very long-running and familiar Iron Man storyverse, both the introduction of Tony's brother Arno and the concept of the Mandarin's rings having artificial intelligence.  I was very intrigued with the concept of Arno being disabled to the point of having to live in an iron lung, a very creative metaphor for Tony's brother being entrapped by his necessary life-giving technology while Tony is alternately empowered by his life-giving Iron Man high tech.  Its a neat fictional concept and lends itself well to some interesting future story opportunities.  Secondly, its a very fun and interesting idea to give the Mandarin's rings each their own sentient personality and particular power, such as ring #7/Incinerator bestowing Human Torch-like powers on its wearer.  Its as if the 10 rings themselves constitute a League of Supervillains and should also provide some entertaining direction for upcoming story segments.  Third, the artwork provides a very appropriate style for the action-adventure concept of this storyline.

     As a minor constructive criticism, I found the action battle scene between Iron Man and Abigail too long as it ate-up two-thirds of the entire issue.  But I see the point of the lengthy albeit a bit tedious scene, given that this is a 5-issue story arc and that the ongoing conversational banter between the battling duo is crucial to the overall multi-issue story concept.  I personally would have preferred a shortened battle scene to allow a page or two of issue #20 to address the cities-of-the-future project that Tony and Arno are obviously working on.  But I'm sure that a reading commitment to the entire 5-issue series will provide a nice overall balance to the two alternating sub-plots.

     So in sum, this latest issue #20 of Iron Man deserves a positive thumbs-up review recommendation for succeeding as an entertaining and creative comic book read, both as a stand-alone story segment and as the midway-point installment in its wider, five-issue story arc.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to build on the review in our last column of an Archie Comics title in which the zombie invasion reaches Archie's hometown of Riverdale.  We asked you to suggest another comic title that you'd also like to see receive the zombie treatment!  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley, who nominates the comic book title Eternal Warrior published by Valiant Comics to next be infected by the zombie horde.  For the uninitiated, this title features the past, present and future-day warrior adventures of Gilad, one of three immortal brothers born thousands of years ago.  The title is connected in storyverse concept to Valiant's Archer & Armstrong series.  Mike writes that "Eternal Warrior currently has a plotline ongoing in the year 4000. Since the hero will obviously still be around then, it stands to reason that he might encounter a zombified world at some point."  A very good observation and interesting zombie story proposal.  Congrats to Mike as the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to our favorite zombie-free sanctuary, That's Entertainment!

     Please note:  That's Entertainment is in no way affiliated with the "zombie-free sanctuary" joke listed above.  It is the policy of That's Entertainment to welcome all zombie customers as well as qualified zombie employees.  The store appreciates its many past and current zombie customers and is proud of its many past and current zombie employees.

New Contest Challenge!!!

     We're at a slow point this month in our annual Boston pro sports calendar, with the NFL season over, Major League Baseball (MLB) spring training yet to start and the NBA and NHL slogging along in their respective mid-seasons.  So Good King Leonardo has decreed that we turn our contest challenge focus to the next two weeks of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Your challenge is e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, February 19 and tell us which among the many scheduled Winter Olympic sports is your favorite to watch and why you're looking forward to watching it on that non-stop, 24/7 two-week television coverage.  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 Winter Olympics-watching (Go U.S.A.!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, February 21 Here In Bongo Congo!

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