Review Date: Friday, April 18, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Spring has finally sprung and as such Good King Leonardo has decreed that we celebrate the arrival (finally!) of the good weather by reviewing four interesting-looking new comic book titles. So let's get right to it and see how these new issues stack-up against each other:
Batman & Aquaman #29
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Peter J. Tomasi: Writer
Patrick Gleason: Pencils
Mick Gray, Mark Irwin & Norm Rapmund: Inks
John Kalisz: Colors

     DC's current Batman & Robin title is up to issue #29. The ongoing multi-issue story arc features a fresh stand-in for Robin in each issue, with the latest guest partner of Batman being Aquaman, as reflected in the special title.  The reason being that in this extended story arc, Batman is on the hunt for old foe Ras Al Ghul, who has stolen the bodies of the deceased Damien/Robin and his mother (Ras's daughter), hoping to reanimate both people in his famed Lazarus Pit.  The series is scripted by Peter J. Tomasi with a wide-ranging team of artists.

     The issue #29 story segment is entitled "Devil And The Deep Blue Sea," and kicks-off with Batman encountering Aquaman as he follows an undersea trail of clues toward Ras Al Ghul.  The pair team-up and track the bad guy to an island lair, where Ghul is using whales in a monstrous, Island Of Dr. Moreau-type creepy lab experiment to birth mutant monster versions of Damien from the female whales (yeesh!). In an extended battle, our duo thwart Ghul's island efforts but can't prevent him from escaping to another lair for next month's continued cat-and-mouse pursuit.  The issue ends in a nice bridge to that upcoming story segment, as Batman departs from Aquaman and teams-up with another familiar DC superhero for the issue #30 story segment.

     On a personal level I didn't enjoy this Batman story segment, but from a reviewer recommendation perspective it deserves a positive thumbs-up as a decent comic book tale.  Personally, there was too much gross blood and gore for my enjoyment.  While former Batman writer Scott Snyder often featured a high level of gore in his Batman tales, it was always in context and served the particular storylines well. Here, I just felt that a lot of the blood and guts was unneccessary, including some gross scenes with mutant hordes of Damien clones as well as some whale torture scenes.

     But on the other hand, if your personal reading preferences are more comfortable than me with stories soaked in blood and torture, the story and visuals within that genre result in a decently-entertaining multi-issue story arc segment.  I do very much like the creative idea of Batman pairing-up with various other DC heroes in his pursuit of Ghul and attempt to regain the remains of his family before a Frankenstein-like reanimation takes place.  Its reminiscent of the old Brave & Bold DC title that paired Batman each month with a different story partner, providing a lot of reading freshness and fun with each new monthly pairing.

     So if you're looking for a mainstream, traditional-style Batman tale, this issue most likely isn't for you.  But for a taste of an outside-the-creative-box Batman story that's more steeped in gore and horror genre overtones than your usual Batman storyline, this comic book is a well-produced and entertaining version of that genre for All Good Batman readers to enjoy.

Birds Of Prey #29
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Christy Marx: Writer
Robson Rocha: Pencils
Jonathan Glapion & Marc Deering: Inks
Chris Sotomayor: Colors

     The latest version of DC's long-running Birds Of Prey comic book title is currently up to issue #29. Regular readers know that the Birds Of Prey female hero team has evolved over time and currently consists of Batgirl, Black Canary and a ninja warrior character named Strix. These days, the series presents the team as working with a male superhero named Condor, with this foursome apparently allied with a team of good guys led by Mother Eve, an ancient woman who has Ras Al Ghul-like powers of personal immortality. Similar to the Batman & Aquaman comic book reviewed above, the current plotline has everybody in conflict with bad guy (and Batman's father-in-law!) Ras Al Ghul. The title is written by Christy Marx with pencils by Robson Rocha, inks by the team of Jonathan Glapion and Marc Deering and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

     The issue #29 story segment is entitled "Eve Of Battle" and alternates between two subplots.  The first storythread is soap opera-driven: as Black Canary's husband Kurt Lance lies in a coma, Condor struggles with his conflicted feelings of unrequited love for Canary and jealousy that Lance is still alive and therefore blocking his possibilities of having a relationship with Canary.  The second sub-plot reflects the story title, as this large group team-up prepares for the arrival of Ras Al Ghul, to fulfill an ancient prophesied battle between himself and Mother Eve.  The two subplots interweave as Ghul reaches-out to Condor, offering to kill Kurt Lance if Condor stays out of the impending battle.  The drama heightens as Mother Eve, the Birds of Prey and Condor strategize and prepare for the arrival of Ghul, and the issue concludes in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #30 as Ghul's forces hit the ground hard against our band of heroes.

     I haven't read an issue of Birds Of Prey for a few years and as such enjoyed this particular issue for a few reasons.  First, the soap opera elements of the plot were well-crafted and frankly intriguing. While the love triangle element was routine, the element of Condor striking a Faustian deal with Ghul was very fresh and frankly shocking; I can't think of another comic book tale in which a supposed good hero agrees to have his romantic rival killed-off so he can get the girl himself, so a hats-off is due to writer Christy Marx for having the storytelling guts to throw that element into the storyline as an unexpected and interesting plot twist.  Secondly, I really enjoyed the yin-and-yang contrast between Mother Eve and Ras Al Ghul. Its a very entertaining story concept to introduce a female good guy who has Al Ghul's resurrection abilities and not only uses them for the cause of good, but has an ancient, highly ritualized blood oath conflict with Ghul.  Its very neat to see this whole history between the pair coming to a dramatic head in this current multi-issue story arc.

     The artwork from this large team of visual creators is also of very high quality, with a well-chosen visual style for this type of large team-up, action-adventure plot.  My only constructive criticism is that it personally felt very weird for me to read a comic book tale in which Black Canary is married to some guy who I've personally never heard of. As a baby boomer, I'm used to generations of comic books in which Canary's romantic interest is The Green Arrow/Oliver Queen.  But that's just a personal reaction that doesn't take away from the high quality production of this solidly entertaining comic book issue.  And maybe a little bit of storyverse romantic change is a good thing! So for both regular fans of Birds Of Prey as well as for All Good DC Readers who haven't been regular readers of this title, the current Birds Of Prey ongoing storyline is well worth reading and enjoying!

Moon Knight #2
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Warren Ellis: Writer
Declan Shalvey: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     The latest Moon Knight comic book title is currently up to issue #2.  Often referred to as Marvel's version of Batman, the Moon Knight is former mercenary Marc Spector, who died on a mission in Egypt under a statue of the ancient deity Khonshu, was returned to life under the shadow of the moon god and as such fights crime Batman-style in a Moon Knight costume.  This new Moon Knight series is written by Warren Ellis with art by Declan Shalvey and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     The issue #2 story segment is entitled "Sniper" and unfolds in two extended scenes. Scene One juxtaposes the daily routines of seven seemingly unconnected men and women, of whom we eventually learn are the now-retired members of a former black ops for-hire global security team. In turn, six of the seven folks are killed by the aforementioned unidentified sniper.  When the Moon Knight confronts the killer, he explains that the operation is in revenge for the team abandoning him for dead on an old botched mission.  After an extended battle scene between the duo that lasts for the entire second half of the issue, the seventh still-living member of the old black ops team arrives on the scene and kills the sniper, concluding the issue with a brief explanation to the Moon Knight of why they all left their previous careers.

     This is one stinkeroo failure of a comic book.  Once again, I took a chance on reading a Warren Ellis-written comic book and once again he's proven that he's completely lost his previous writing skills with which he received rightful acclaim for such early series as Planetary.  There's literally about one-quarter of a normal story idea and plotline here, stretched superthin into a normal-length series of single-issue comic book pages.  Instead of roughly four pages of storyline (7 people are hunted by an assassin, 6 get killed and Moon Knight shows up) to start a plot, Ellis and team have the nerve to excruciatingly spread it out using three very cheap tricks.  One is to follow these 6 folks in the boring, mind-numbing trivia details of their current lives for half of an entire issue, while the second is to intersperse these panels with huge chucks of blank white space trying to make it all look artsy to hide the thinness of detail. And the third scam is to hide the lack of storyline with a 10-page extended fight scene that deserved one or two pages, at most.

     Ellis has previously used the trick of following characters in trivial but overly-lengthy details of their lives in previous failed comics. Its just more proof that he can't come-up with a normal-length comic book plotline anymore and tries to complete his work assignments with mindless filler.  And to top it all off, we're forced to endure one of his usual personal political rants, this time in the form of the sniper raging to Moon Knight that his old black ops team not only deserves to die for abandoning him but also because they now "work for banks."  Ellis needs to save his personal leftist British political rantings for his own personal blog (if one exists, I have no desire to look for it) and not force-feed it to readers just looking for some decent comic book reading entertainment.

     So in sum, bad comic book. Bad, bad comic book.  But the silver ling here is that I've finally learned my lesson and hereby take the following pledge: I will never, ever review or read another Warren Ellis-written new issue comic book.  Feel free to take this pledge with me.  Go ahead. You'll feel all the better for it. Life will be fresh and hopeful again, and all of the wonderful, comic book titles out there that are not written by Warren Ellis will seem that much sweeter to enjoy. In the words of the great Stan Lee: 'Nuff Said.

Silver Surfer #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Dan Slott & Michael Allred: Writer
Michael Allred: Art
Laura Allred: Colors

     After a few years hiatus, the Silver Surfer is once again back in his own solo comic book title.  The new series is co-written by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, with art by Michael Allred and colors by Laura Allred.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue story arc entitled "The Most Important Person In The Universe," alternating back-and-forth between two sub-plots.  The first plotline presents the childhood and present-day lives of Dawn and Eve, two sisters who along with their father operate a Cape Cod seaside bed-and-breakfast inn. While Dawn is the stay-at-home sister who deeply loves her Cape Cod town, Eve travels the world marketing their business and chiding her sister for never leaving home.  Our second storythread stars the Silver Surfer, who is contacted  by Zed, the leader of an immense hidden galactic vacation planet, who begs our hero to defend the world from an impending threat by The Never Queen, a Galactus-like pending invader. Upon agreeing to do so, the Surfer learns that the custom of the planet is to hold hostage the person "who means the most to its appointed champion".  Upon demanding to see who has been kidnapped in his name, the Surfer learns on the final page of issue #1 that Zed has kidnapped (you guessed it) old stay-at-home Earth woman Dawn as the Surfer's emotional hostage.

     This new comic book series excels as a wonderful mash-up of the two distinctive yet compatible comic book creating styles of this creative team.  On the one hand, we're treated to the droll humor and highly skilled scripting of A-list writer Dan Slott.  I personally loved his award-winning writing of She-Hulk a few years back and he repeats that same element of lightness and humor in this issue.  On the other hand, we're also treated to the strong writing and distinctive visual skills of the husband-and-wife Allred team.  Their very unique artistic stylings are perfectly suited to both the domestic Cape Cod scenes and the alien stylings of both the galactic tourist planet and the features of the aliens themselves.  There's a just plain wonderful sequence of Zed giving the Silver Surfer a tour of the funkiness of the mega-tourism planet, including a poster-worthy two-page display of the wacky place that's equal to the 1960's pop art that's clearly inspired the Allreds in their career art stylings.

     My personal favorite choice bit from this comic is the creative team's great final panel, in which after ranting to Zed against the concept of stealing whomever is supposed to mean the most to him, the Surfer gazes upon Dawn and flatly states: "Okay. I have absolutely no idea who that is." This a great plot twist, in that we the reader know from Dawn's childhood flashback why she is so seemingly inexplicably important to him. Its a neat storythread which should be lead to some very entertaining comic book reading as the creative team expands upon it in upcoming issues.

     So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this excellent new Silver Surfer title and a tip-of-the-review-hat is also due to the head honchos at Marvel Comics, for taking an outside-of-the-creative box chance and greenlighting this unusual and unique creative team, whose talents are adding a fun and fresh perspective to the well-known storyverse of the Silver Surfer.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us which American City has the unfortunate distinction of having the most multiple pro sports losing streaks in the U.S.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who correctly answered Cleveland, whose NBA Cavaliers tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for worst professional basketball losing streak and whose former Major League Baseball team, the Cleveland Spiders (yeesh, what a team name!) in 1899 set the MLB losing streak record. The Philadelphia Phillies also tied that record in the modern baseball era, so we would have accepted Philly as a correct answer along with Cleveland, but no one submitted Philadelphia as a contest entry. 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 have decreed that we offer a late night television talk show trivia contest this week.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, April 30 with the correct answer to the following question: As you know, all late night talk shows (David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, etc.) have an on-show musical house band. Your contest challenge is to give us the correct full name of the house band on The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson (CBS, 12:37 a.m. weeknights) and also tell us what is unique and different about the band compared to all of the other house bands among the many late night talk shows on network television.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner 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 NHL playoffs-watching (Go Broons!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 2 Here In Bongo Congo!

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