Review Date: Friday, February 21, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has found a nice variety of new comic book issues this week on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves, so let's get right to it and see how these comic books stack-up against each other:

ElfQuest: The Final Quest #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Wendy Pini & Richard Pini: Writers
Wendy Pini: Art
Sonny Strait: Colors

     Dark Horse Comics has just released issue #1 in the latest incarnation of the well-known ElfQuest comic book title.  For the uninitiated, ElfQuest is the cult-hit fantasy comic book series that features (naturally!) a tribe of elves on a primitive Earth-like world, searching for their ancestral home-land.  The group co-exists within their tribe with a pack of companion wolves that they often ride, hence the elves are sometimes referred to in the series as Wolf Riders.  The series began in 1978 as the product of married creators Wendy and Richard Pini and has had a very devoted fan following since then as it moved through various comic book publishers, including the Pini's own Warp Graphics, Marvel, DC and now Dark Horse Comics.  The Pini's are joined in the current production by colorist Sonny Strait.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Final Quest." The plot quickly introduces a wide range of main character elves along with their wolves and initially focuses on a portion of the tribe happily embarking on a long-overdue traditional hunt.  The hunt takes a dramatic turn as the group is met by Lehrigen, an elderly dying human referred to as a former ally of the tribe.  The group next confronts a marauding band of human warriors intent on destroying the elves' forest home.  After an intense intial skirmish with the human invaders, the issue ends with Lehrigen and the elves commiting to work together to further oppose this growing threat.

     I was a fan of the initial 1970's Warp graphics debut of ElfQuest and admittedly haven't read a single issue of any subsequent runs of the title.  So it was fun to revisit this acclaimed fantasy series and double the fun to enjoy this well-constructed latest version of the series.  The visual presentation of the series is integral to this particular comic book storyverse and artist Wendy Pini along with colorist Sonny Strait provide an A-list quality visual style.  The Pini's story is solid, too. I particularly was impressed with a sub-plot portraying tension between a few of the elves and the human Lehrigen; there's a lot of unfinished business implied among these wary folks, which lends a layer of distrust and wariness among the reunited former allies.  It should be interesting to see how this tension plays-out in upcoming story segments.

      My one constructive criticism of issue #1 is a decision by the Pini's to cram a huge amount of individual tribe members into the kick-off issue story segment. Notice I haven't named one individual elf in the above story summary.  That's because there are too many of them each briefly shoved forward for a brief few story panels before the next elf takes center stage.  Hard-core ElfQuest fans might enjoy this cavalcade of stars but for the newbie or casual reader, its somewhat confusing and jarring. But hopefully, the series will settle-down in the next few issues and not feel as overcrowded as issue #1.

     On a final review note, there are two fun and interesting back-of-the-book features in this issue, the first being an analysis of evolving ElfQuest cover stylings over the years and the second presenting a neat article about dialogue font in the series. Lettering font sounds like a boring topic, but writer Nate Piekos actually does provides a fun piece on the topic. So in sum, this latest revival of ElfQuest deserves a positive thumbs-up review recommendation as an enjoyable and entertaining read for old and new fans alike!

Disney Kingdoms: Seekers Of The Weird #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Brandon Seifert: Writer
Karl Moline: Pencils
Rick Magyar: Inks
Jean-Francois Beaulieu: Colors

     Marvel Comics recently published issue #1 of a new occult-themed series entitled "Disney Kingdoms: Seekers Of The Weird."  The new title is based upon an interesting Disney historical footnote: apparently back in the 1960's Walt Disney and his staff designer Rolly Crump completed plans for a Museum Of The Weird, which was never constructed within the Disney theme park system.  This comic book reimagines that basic concept within a new action-adventure story series.  The title is scripted by Brandon Seifert with pencils by Karl Moline, inks by Rick Magyar and colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

     The plot is set in New Orleans and stars Melody and Maxwell, two high school-aged siblings who live with their parents in an apartment above "Keep It Weird," the family's curio shop that sells all sorts of weird/occult merchandise. Picture the occult shop from the later years of the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" t.v. series and you get the picture.  When a casting spell goes awry and the duo's parents are sucked into another spooky dimension, their long-lost Uncle Roland appears to help, revealing that the store is actually a portal into a huge-scaled Museum Of The Weird. Its soon revealed that other-dimensional demons are holding the kid's parents hostage in exchange for a museum artifact called the coffin clock.  Without being a detail spoiler, the issue ends in a very dramatic bridge as the family efforts to find the coffin clock along the museum artifacts go horribly awry, possibly killing Uncle Roland and leaving Mel and Max to try to figure-out their next move on their own.

     This a very unique and entertaining new addition to the genre of occult-based comic book adventuring that has several solid features to it.  The first is the fun connection to the old Disney theme park concept of a Museum Of The Weird.  The details of the Museum are very similar to the real-world Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a layer of occult spookiness thrown-in.  Mix-in the New Orleans story setting and this holds the potential for some interesting upcoming story segments.  Secondly, writer Brandon Seifert does a great job in developing colorful and credible personalities for each of the main story characters that include the studious and reserved Max, adventurous and athletic Mel, their eccentric parents and Uncle Roland.  Roland is particularly interesting, portrayed as a pirate-like swashbuckling adventurer who is a veteran of many occult adventures. I truly hope that he's still alive after the unresolved cliffhanger ending to issue #1.  Third, the artwork is of a very appropriate style, with a television animation flair that well-suits the action-adventure theme of the comic book series.

      Finally, I was impressed by the tone of this particular occult adventuring storyverse.  Unlike many modern occult series, the dark theme here is more subtle and not steeped in gore and heavy violence.  True to its Disney roots, this new series is truly designed for readers of all ages in the style of a Disney television show or movie.  And it does work as a credible entertainment for all ages of readers; kids can identify with the young adventurers Max and Mel, while adult readers will be very entertained by the rich details of the creative occult elements that appear throughout the story action.

     So all-in-all, a positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this revival of an interesting 1960's Disney Kingdom idea into a fresh 2013 creative concept in the form of an excellent new comic book action-adventure series.

The Flash #27
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Brian Buccellato: Writer
Patrick Zircher: Art
Matt Hollingsworth: Colors

    The current version of DC's The Flash comic book title is up to issue #27.  The series stars DC's well-known "scarlet speedster," who in his civilian identity is Central City police forensic analyst Barry Allen.  In 2009, DC restored Barry Allen as the identity of The Flash, after a few years of other fictional folk wearing the cowl of the speedster, including Barry's former Kid Flash sidekick, Wally West.  One of the ongoing storythreads of The Flash comics these days is Barry's attempt to solve the mysterious murder of his mother. The current storyline is written by Brian Buccellato with art by Patrick Zircher and colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

     Issue #27 kicks-off a new multi-issue storyarc entitled "History Lessons." The plot begins with a brief flashback to an old 19th-century murder from the early days of Central City. Shifting back to the present, a street battle between The Flash and two supervillains ends in a cave-in that reveals a cache of old human remains. When police conclude its the work of a now-imprisoned serial killer, Barry/The Flash has his doubts and follows a trail of clues both in his civilian police investigator role and in his guise as The Flash.  The trail includes an extended scene of high drama as The Flash confronts the imprisoned serial killer and tangles with an imprisoned supervillain housed in the same cellblock as the suspect.  Finally, the story segment ends in a dramatic cliffhanger set in a local cemetery, as The Flash both discovers an odd clue to the mystery and is simultaneously attacked by what seems to be a ghost connected to the opening scene's 19th century historic murder.

     The basic plot and presentation of this latest Flash issue is entertaining and fits well within the long lineage of varied stylings of The Flash, for at least three reasons. First, there's a nice character balance in the presentation as Barry equally alternates between his civilian police identity and superhero persona in pursuing the murder mystery.  Secondly, I was particularly impressed with the art team's visual style; it can be an artistic challenge to present the hyper-speed elements of The Flash's activities, but in this case artists Patrick Zircher and Matt Hollingsworth rise to the occasion. Their speedster scenes are frankly exceptional, conveying a wonderful sense of superspeed motion to the appropriate story panels.  Third, subplot of the 19th century flashback murder adds an interesting extra element to the storyline.  While only briefly introduced in issue #27, it promises to play a larger role in the plot as the multi-issue storyline continues to unfold.

     The last time that I reviewed a Flash comic book was a few years ago, when DC had Barry Allen is flux, trying to adjust his basic storyverse with changes to the backstory of his usual support characters, including that of his wife Iris.  Its important to note that apparently a lot of those changes took root in this title.  Barry's wife Iris is no longer in the picture; I have no idea if she's dead, divorced or DC just conveniently erased her from The Flash storyverse, but she's gone and Barry now has a police investigator girlfriend named Patty.  Barry's dad is also in prison.  While the reason isn't clear in issue #27, it looks to me like he was wrongly convicted of Barry's mom's death, which could add a sense of motivation to Barry's search for the real killer.

     So in sum, the latest issue of The Flash confirms that DC seems to have succeeded in providing a worthwhile upgrade to the world of The Flash.  The updated and revised character structure seems to work well and the creative team effectively uses that new storyverse structure to deliver an enjoyable and intriguing first segment of a multi-issue murder mystery tale, one that's well-worth the attention of all good fanboys and fangirls.

Ms. Marvel #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
G. Willow Wilson: Writer
Adrian Alphona: Art
Ian Herring: Colors

     Marvel Comics recently released issue #1 of a much-anticipated new version of Ms. Marvel. The re-boot of Ms. Marvel with a new character in the title role is in follow-up to the July 2012 re-tooling of the traditional Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel character into "Captain Marvel," as she replaced Marvel Comics' original now-deceased Captain Marvel character. I gave a negative review to the Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel overhaul (a trainwreck of a re-boot, in my opinion), so I was very eager to check-out this new incarnation of Ms. Marvel to see how it does or doesn't fill the shoes of the old-school Ms. Marvel title. The new series is scripted by A-list writer G. Willow Wilson with art by Adrian Alphona and colors by Ian Herring.

     Issue #1 is the origin tale of our new Ms. Marvel, who is 16-year-old New Jersey teenager Kamala Khan.  The first two-thirds of the plot introduces Kamala's life situation.  We meet her Pakistani immigrant family along with her best friend Nakia ("Kiki"), male friend Bruno and the "cool kids" at Kamala's high school, an inner clique of jocks and beauty queens to whom, like any typical high school kid, Kamala is both attracted to emulate and repelled by their oafish behavior at the same time.  Kamala struggles to balance conforming to her parents expected good girl behavior with the desire to rebel and "party like its 1999." This conflict peaks mid-point in the story, when she sneaks out of the house one evening to attend the proverbial high school "kegger in the woods." 

     After some typical high school social pecking order drama occurs at the party, Kamala heads home and here's where the Ms. Marvel plotline takes over for the final third of the storyline.  After a mysterious fog envelops her route home causing her to pass-out, Kamala awakens on the street to be confronted by the mystical force of "Faith," which appears in the familiar guises of Kamala's favorite Marvel heroes, those of Ms. Marvel, Captain America and Iron Man.  Speaking for the group, Ms. Marvel/Faith explains that Kamala's life is at a crossroads, whereupon Kamala and the mystical presence have a discussion about the conflicting desires in Kamala's life.  When our teened heroine wishes outloud that she was Ms. Marvel, the mystical Ms. Marvel figure announces that Kamala is about to "get the kind of total reboot most people only dream about," but warns that its not going to turn out the way that Kamala thinks this fantasy will.  Without spoiling any details, the issue concludes with a two-page scene in which Kamala morphs into a teen-aged blonde, masked and costumed version of Ms. Marvel.

     G. Willow Wilson is a comic book and general fiction writer/journalist of Muslim faith acclaimed for her Middle East and Muslim cultural-based themes in such works as her acclaimed graphic novel Cairo and her World Fantasy Award-winning novel Alif The Unseen, as well as previous comic titles such as Air (DC's Vertigo Imprint).  Here, she mixes her well-honed writing skills and Muslim cultural interest together to provide an exceptional reinterpretation of the Ms. Marvel comic book character.  Too often, a reboot of any comic book character fails as either a wooden recasting of the familiar storyverse or straying just too far afield from the traits that made the original storyverse so popular to begin with.  That unfortunately for me was the case with the off-putting reboot awhile ago of the traditional Ms. Marvel into the Captain Marvel persona.

      Wilson completely avoids that trap, with a wonderful mix of old and new in the personage of Kamala Khan. The girl has many of the same self-doubts and personal issues of her predecessor Carol Danvers along with the new issue of being a teenaged Pakistani immigrant in the strange new land of New Jersey.  Wilson hits a home run in providing a rich and wonderful variety of support characters in this title, all ably portraying aspects of the overarching and conflicting theme Kamal's life, that of balancing her heritage against the deceptive siren song of 21st century American pop culture.  Its not only very relevant to the melting pot theme of American immigrant life, but provides for a very engrossing and absorbing read.  Mix all this in with the superhero element of the tale and we end-up with a wonderfully entertaining new take on Ms. Marvel to add to the previous interpretations of this Marvel superheroine.

     I can't end this review without commenting on the parallels of this re-boot to two other well-creafted fictional standards.  The first is the original Silver Age version of Peter Parker/Spiderman, whose teenaged angst and high school situation are closely mirrored in this re-boot.  And the second is the 2002 British hit movie "Bend It Like Beckham," which also brought the same type of warmth and introspection that Willow brings to this take on immigrant life in a strange new land.  So don't just take my word for it, get on down to That's Entertainment and get a copy to read for yourself of this very entertaining and high quality new spin on the further adventures of Ms. Marvel!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest took advantage of our current 2014 Winter Olympics fever, challenging you to pitch to us what Olympic sport you're most looking forward to watching.  And our winner is (drumroll, please)...Erin O'Connor, who tells us that she's been really looking forward to checking-out the sport of Skeleton at the Sochi Winter Olympics.  Eric writes "I was first intrigued by the name, but then the fact that they ride a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down is what sold me."  This is opposed to Luge, in which the sled rider lies face-up on the sled. We're also pleased to report that last Friday evening, American female athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace won the silver medal in Women's Skeleton! So congratulations to Erin, who wins our $10.00 first prize gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

     And on a final Winter Olympics note, my fellow That's Entertainment reviewer Dave LeBlanc reports that his favorite Winter Olympics sport is Curling, because in Dave's own words, in what other sport can you participate and also drink a beer at the same time?!

New Contest Announcement!!!

     For some strange reason, the Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges has suddenly contracted robot fever and has decreed that we offer-up a robot trivia contest question.  So your latest challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, March 5 with the answer to the following question: What was the actual name of the robot on the famous 1960's science fiction television series "Lost In Space"?  That's right, while the character was often just referred to as "Robot" on most episodes, it actually did have a formal name.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, the winner of our $10.00 first prize gift cetrificate to That's Entertainment 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 two great Major League Baseball Spring Training (Welcome Back, Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 7 Here In Bongo Congo! 

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