Review Date: Friday, March 7, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has found lots of good new comic books this week on the new issues shelves, so let's get right to it and see how these titles stack-up against each other:
She-Hulk #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Charles Soule: Writer
Javier Pulido: Art
Muntsa Vicente: Colors

     After a hiatus of a few years, Marvel Comics has once again revived its well-known She-Hulk title.  For the few folk who aren't aware of the Green Goddess's background, she's Jennifer Walters, cousin to the original Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner.  She gained her ability to transform into the Hulk through a blood transfusion from her cousin and unlike her cousin, she doesn't lose her normal personality when she physically transforms. Jen actually practices as an attorney, both in her human and Hulk-like roles.  The previous She-Hulk run of a few years ago was an acclaimed series scripted by Dan Slott.  The new title is written by Charles Soule with art by Javier Pulido and colors by Muntsa Vicente.

      In the last series, Jen worked for a large Manhattan law firm which specialized in providing legal services to superheroes and supervillains.  The plot of issue #1 is entitled "Motion," and literally finds Jen in motion in two ways.  First, she quickly quits the law firm when she finds that the senior partners are manipulating her presence merely to bag major superhero clients.  The bulk of the plot is pure comedy; nursing her new unemployment in a bar, Jen meets the widow of a deceased supervillain, who actually has proof that Tony Stark/Iron Man had stolen her husband's patented supertechnology.

     Slapstick comedy ensues as Jen moves into legal motion, both in a courtroom lawsuit and in trying to wind her way through the endless bureaucracy of Stark Enterprises in order to connect with Tony and negoatiate a fair settlement to the lawsuit.  i really don't want to spoil any of the funny details, suffice to say that Tony Stark is not a bad guy in this case and that in the end, Stark himself, the widowed client and Jen all come-out winners. The issue concludes with Jen deciding to open by herself a one-woman law firm to continue her unique combination of lawyering and she-hulking in next month's issue #2 and beyond.

     I was a huge fan of the most recent previous She-Hulk title, particularly for its strong element of comedy in the storyline.  So I'm pleased to report that the latest creative team continues that tradition with strong positive results.  The comedy is now blended with the tongue-in-cheek narrative style of Marvel's acclaimed current Hawkeye comic book title, resulting in a wry storytone that while funny, also allows for some valuable dramatic emotion to weave into the tale.  Similar to Hawkeye, humor is used here to explore and promote some valuable life lessons.  In issue #1, that life lesson focuses on Tony Stark/Iron Man, and presents a worthwhile lesson on personal responsibility when Tony discovers how unbenownst to him, his company was financially mistreating the villain's widow and orphans.

     Two other story elements also contribute to making this new title a winner.  The first is the artwork, which very effectively visually duplicates Marvel's Hawkeye title in its t.v. animation cartoony-style. Secondly, I liked very much the Hawkeye-like plot approach in which folks in this storyverse aren't clearly characterized as either good guys or baddies.  The deceased villain's innocent wife and kids are clearly good people; Jen knows that and when she comes through for them, they both treat and reward her accordingly.  Tony Stark's company is clearly a bad guy early in the storyline, but by issue's end, good guy Tony makes things right, taking responsibility and literally cleaning his own house.

     I could continue writing about all of the good and interesting elements of this comic book.  But I've given you enough of a picture, already.  So in sum, a very positive review recommendation is well-deserved, for all of the above reasons, for this latest She-Hulk title.  So thank you, Marvel Comics, for bringing back Jen Walters, for another hopefully lengthy run as everyone's favorite green-skinned crusading lawyer!

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Rick Remender: Writer
Roland Boschi: Art
Chris Chuckry: Colors

     Marvel Comics has just released issue #1 of a new title featuring its well-known Winter Soldier character.  For the uninitiated, The Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes, Captain America's original youthful sidekick and partner.  The Winter Soldier concept was created several years ago by Marvel and proposes that similarly to Captain America's frozen history, Barnes's frozen body was found post-World War II by the Soviets, whereupon he was revived and brainwashed into functioning as a seemingly unstoppable, international Soviet assassin codenamed The Winter Soldier.  This new comic book series is scripted by Rick Remender with art by Roland Boschi and colors by Chris Chuckry.

     Issue #1 kicks-off "The Bitter March," a multi-issue story arc.  Set in 1966, the initial story segment is a SHIELD action-adventure thriller starring Nick Fury and his 1960's SHIELD partner Agent Ran Shen.  When the evil organization HYDRA kidnaps two former husband-and-wife Nazi scientists to exploit their secret weaponry knowledge, its up to Fury and Ran Shen to grab the evil spouses for U.S. control of their invention.  In a lengthy James Bond-style undercover sequence, Agent Ran infiltrates the mountaintop castle HYDRA headquarters. Without being a key detail spoiler, the tide turns against our duo as a sexy HYDRA operative turns-out to have creepy evil superpowers.

   The plot dramatically introduces The Winter Soldier in the final third of the issue #1 storyline; when our SHIELD guys manage to escape with the evil scientist duo, Bucky arrives on the scene and in a very dramatic mountaintop action sequence, attempts to kidnap the evil scientist duo for Soviet purposes.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a cliffhanger as The Winter Soldier is gearing himself into unstoppable mode in hot pursuit of the fleeing escapees.

     This new Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier title is very entertaining, incorporating four strong production elements.  The first is writer Rick Remender's plotting style, which effectively cribs the story atmosphere and tone of 1960's James Bond spy movies.  Agent Ran Shen is cast in the Sean Connery/James Bond role and does a wonderful job, gliding his tuxedoed way through the upscale HYDRA castle reception with the sexy evil hydra supervillain on his arm.  There's also a nice balance between humor and drama in the plot; on the humor side, Fury and Shen engage in a constant and effective witty competitive banter, while the drama explodes at every key turn in the plot progression.  Third, it was a brilliant idea to introduce the partnership of Fury and Shen as the featured stars of the issue #1 story segment.  Via both the story action and the narration, we see The Winter Soldier from the outside perspective of these other key players, thereby reinforcing the fear factor of his image as an unstoppable machine-cold killer.  It will be interesting to see if and how the creative team chooses to add some humanity to Bucky Barnes as the multi-issue story arc unfolds.

     Fourth and finally, while the overall artwork is pleasing, colorist Chris Chuckry does an exceptional job is choosing the perfect color palette for conveying the outdoor mountaintop action-adventure elements of this thriller storyline.  So an obvious positive review recommendation is well-deserved for issue #1 of Winter Soldier: The Bitter March, which rightfully takes its place as a fresh and unique addition to Marvel's ever-growing Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier story inventory.

Miracleman #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Artists and Writers

     Marvel Comics recently began publishing a reprint title of Miracleman.  For the uninitiated (and that includes me before I spotted this issue on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves), Miracleman is a 1950's Golden Age British knock-off of the well-known Captain Marvel storyverse from American comic book publishing. Created by writer-artist Mick Anglo, the character was actually called Marvelman in its native British run and renamed to Miracleman for its U.S. editions.  Following its 1954-1963 original publishing run, the series was revived in 1982 by famed writer Alan Moore, with a run of 1990's tales scripted by Neil Gaiman.  This over-sized new issue #1 comic book presents six (6) reprint stories created by various artists and writers.

     The first tale is a Mick Anglo-scripted story from 1985 entitled "Prologue 1956-The Invaders From The Future." Its a detailed time travel story, in which Buck Rodgers-like bad guys from the far future of 1981 (!!!) invade 1956.  The story is a good vehicle to introduce today's readers to both Miracleman and his two Marvel Family-style sidekicks, Kid Miracleman and Young Miracleman.  The second and third tales are interconnected stories from our hero's 1982 run.  While creator credits aren't listed, these are clearly Alan Moore-scripted stories; there's more of a dark, sophisticated Watchman-like tone to the plot, which centers upon an amnesia-ridden Miracleman regaining his identity after several years and having to cope with a civilian wife who had no idea of his true background.  The second half of this extra-large comic book reprints three of the earliest black-and-white 1950's-era stories as created by Mick Anglo, including the very first Miracleman story from 1954.

     I was pleasantly blown-away by stumbling-upon this almost "alternate universe" British version of Captain Marvel. If you're a Captain Marvel and/or Golden Age comics fan, its incredibly entertaining and absorbing to dive into this knock-off of the well-known Captain's storyverse.  And a true knock-off it is.  To me, its a miracle that Fawcett Comics never sued Mick Anglo back in the day, in the famous manner that DC Comics sued Fawcett  over alleged copyright infringement regarding Captain Marvel vs. Superman (DC lost that case and Fawcett continued to publish the famed Captain Marvel series).  Even the little details of characterization are duplicated. My favorite is how paperboy Micky Moran transforms into his superhero identity by shouting "Kimota!", a backwards version of atomic, similar to the famed "Shazam!" shout of Billy Batson/Captain Marvel.

     My guess is that Fawcett probably sympathized with Mick Anglo's efforts after experiencing their own lawsuit from DC. They might have also seen this overseas franchise as a well-constructed homage to their own series, one which could only boost the popularity of both.  The three 1950's-era tales are decent-enough for comic tales of that era, while the 1980's tales in the front of issue #1 frankly shine.  "Prologue 1956" is very entertaining, both as an at-times complex time travel paradox tale and as a tongue-in-cheek riff on Buck Rodgers-style futurism.  I loved the way this 1985-published tale portrays the year 1981 as a 25th century jetpack-style world of tomorrow.  Alternately, "A Dream Of Flying" actually brings the reader dramatically down-to-earth with Alan Moore's realistic two stories of Miracleman literally waking-up in a very realistic version of a civilian life and having to cope on-the-fly with his lifetime as a married civilian.  There's a connection here to Moore's parallel efforts at the time in writing Watchman, which alone makes these two tales combine as a precious and important piece of comic book history to read.

     In addition to the six reprint tales, equally enjoyable in this oversized issue are page-after-page of extras, including reprints of key Miracleman covers, background articles on this storyverse and most enjoyably, an excellent reprinted interview conducted in 2010 by Marvels' Joe Quesada with Marvelman creator Mick Anglo, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 95.  So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this kick-off issue #1 of Miracleman.  Here's hoping that future issues include some reprints of the 1990's-era tales scripted by Neil Gaiman.  Irregardless, this is a reprint series worthy of providing enjoyment to old and new fans alike of this intriguing iconic superhero from "across the pond" in Britain.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Greg Pak: Writer
Mirko Colak: Art
Lauren Affe: Colors

     Dynamite Comics is in the process of reviving several Silver Age comic book titles published by Gold Key, including a new interpretation of Turok: Son Of Stone.  The original series ran off-and-on from 1954 to 1982 through publishers Dell, Gold Key and finally Whitman Comics.  It featured the aforementioned Turok and his brother Andar as two pre-Columbian Native Americans who stumble-into and become trapped within an unknown North American "Land Of The Lost" full of dinosaurs.  This latest Turok series is scripted by Greg Pak with art by Mirko Colak and colors by Lauren Affe.

     The kick-off segment of this multi-issue story arc is entitled "Sanctuary" and introduces us to a significantly revised version of the Turok origin tale.  In this new version, Turok is a young adult loner, living an isolated life as an in-touch-with-nature shaman, barely connecting with his nearby tribe as he goes about a solitary existence honoring his deceased parents.  Constant bullying by fellow tribesmen led by the lead bully Andar comes to a head in a very violent confrontation among all of these players.  Without spoiling the details, the situation becomes a life-or-death struggle for Turok. Suddenly, the entire situation grinds to a halt when the tribe is attacked by vicious dinosaurs, throwing Turok and Andar into an unexpected alliance to try and live through the assault.  The issue #1 story segment ends in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue as its revealed that the time and place of the setting is the year 1210 in pre-Columbian rural Manhattan and invading English Crusaders have brought with them and unleashed the dinosaurs on the tribe.

      This is a disappointing failure of a comic book that deserves a thumbs-down negative review recommendation for three reasons.  First and foremost is the atmosphere of the storyverse.  In my last column's review of the re-booted Ms. Marvel comic book, I wrote that there's a danger when rebooting a previous popular series in drifting too far afield from the elements that made the previous series great.  While it worked in Ms. Marvel, here writer Greg Pak steps on that landmine, in two respects. First, he adds a very jaded and harsh atmosphere to this entire storyverse, replacing the very popular heritage of television series-style action-adventuring with some nasty 2014 storytelling elements. He lost me as soon as Andar's bullying included slaughtering all of Turok's pet animals.

     Secondly, the big reveal of the story setting of Crusaders-as-antagonists flopped.  Shifting the setting from a Land Of The Lost to the real world takes away from the fantasy heritage of this acclaimed series, while the introduction of dinosaur-toting Crusaders is both jarring and logically dumb, even for the flexible bounds of the funny book storytelling genre. And third, some basic editing is needed regarding the tribal conflict portions of the plot.  I still can't figure-out who's smacking who around in the various tribal conflict panels, nor is it easy to discern between the present-day and seemingly flashback scenes pertaining to Turok's earlier years.

     In short, we have a muddled and unenjoyable mess of an attempted revival of an iconic comic book series that deserves so much better treatment from a publisher.  Valiant Comics did a pretty good job of reviving Turok in the 1990's, even adding-in some storyverse changes that didn't overwhelm the good elements that are at the very heart of the Turok series.  So we know it can be done. Dynamite Comics is usually top notch at reviving Pulp-era comic titles, so why can't they treat this Silver Age storyverse re-boot with the same respect and quality that its rich storytelling heritage deserves?  They can and they should, but until then, my advice is to avoid this harsh, confusing and poor quality Turok re-boot and instead check-out the better previous runs of Turok, all available in the back issue bins and among the reprint compilation inventory of That's Entertainment.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us the actual name of the well-known robot from the 1960's science fiction television show "Lost In Space," given that he was usually just called "robot" in the show's episodes.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please)...Keith Martin, who provided one of actually two possible correct answers.  While the robot was referred to briefly as "B-9," in addition in a time-travel episode, viewers learned that the robot was originally named 'GUNTER," an acronym that stands for "General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot."  Congratulations to Keith, who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel of Contest Judges enjoyed watching The Oscars on television earlier this week, but they yawned a lot during many of the overly-long acceptance speeches.  As such, we challenge you this week to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, March 19 with the correct answer to the following question: What was the shortest acceptance speech in televised Oscar history?  One hint: it wasn't on this week's 2014 broadcast, for sure!  So tell us what was said and who said it!  As always, in the event of multiple correct answers, the winner of our first prize $10.00 gift certificate 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 another two great Red Sox Spring Training (Go Red Sox!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, March 21 Here In Bongo Congo!

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