Review Date: Monday, May 5, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we get back to our roots this week by reviewing four new comic book issues that each star a traditional comic book costumed hero.  So let's get right to it and see how these new issues each stack-up against each other:

Batman Eternal #2
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV: Writers
Jason Fabok: Art
Brad Anderson: Colors

     DC Comics is currently up to issue #2 of a new Batman series entitled Batman Eternal.  The title is co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by Jason Fabok and colors by Brad Anderson.  Interestingly, three additional writers are credited with being "consulting writers" on this issue: Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley.

     Issue #2 is the second installment of a multi-issue storyarc with a plotline centering on well-know Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.  Its clear from the early panels of this issue that in issue #1 Gordon had been arrested for shooting an unarmed man in a Gotham subway tunnel, resulting in a subway train crash that's killed dozens of people.  Obviously, the entire incident is a set-up, and as such the creative team alternates between two sub-plots that lead the reader to a reveal of the criminal mastermind on the last page of this issue.  In one sub-plot, Batman interviews Gordon in prison and sets-off on a search for clues.  In mid-sleuthing he's joined in this effort by Catwoman/Selena Kyle.  The second alternating storythread centers on the actual culprit, a figure who speaks from the shadows in a rooftop conversation with corrupt Gotham Mayor Sebastian Hady.  Their conversation builds page-by-page with small clues regarding the bad guy's previous Gotham-based criminal history. By issue's end, the dual plotlines come together as simultaneously Batman and Catwoman figure-out the mastermind's identity just as the baddie steps-out of the shadows, revealing his identity.

     Co-writers Snyder and Tynion are two of the most highly skilled Batman writers of the past few years and once again bring that A-list storytelling quality to this new Batman title. While the basic plot concept is routine and repetitive from many a previous Batman title (Jim Gordon framed for a crime he didn't commit), the details of their storytelling narrative elevates it to the category of exceptional Batman comic book entertainment.  Most impressive is a multi-page story sequence in which a wide range of Batman Family members, scattered about both Gotham City and the world, are each featured learning of the Jim Gordon arrest via television or internet breaking news coverage and each reacting in kind according to their particular personalities. Its a very well-presented and creative story scene and hints at the possibility that some of these folk will be drawn into the story as it continues in future monthly installments.

     There's also a hint of mystery woven into the plot via two short scenes.  In the first, a particular supervillain imprisoned in Arkham Asylum is visited by what seems to be a supernatural evil being, while in the second scene an investigating detective arrives on the scene of the subway train disaster and exhibits mind-altering powers that appear evil in origin.  My only question about this issue is the choice of the actual evil mastermind behind the entire set-up of Commissioner Gordon.  One the one hand, this person is a good choice given his lengthy and well-presented use in previous Batman titles.  On the other hand, without being a detail spoiler, I have to comment that its a bit of a let-down to have a non-superpowered bad guy revealed as the mastermind of what appears to be such an extraordinary event.  But perhaps future story segments will connect this baddie to the two paranormal events briefly revealed in issue #2.

    So the final result of this effort is a high quality comic book story that nicely balances some traditional Batman storyverse characters and story themes with many fresh and well-crafted new plot details.  Irregardless of readers' potential positive or negative reaction to the writers' choice of featured villain in this storyline, Batman Eternal #2 clearly deserves a thumbs-up positive review recommendation, both as an entertaining stand-alone Batman story segment and as a worthwhile new addition to the many Batman comic book titles currently available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.

All-New Ultimates #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Michel Fiffe: Writer
Amilcar Pinna: Art
Nolan Woodard: Color

     Marvel Comics recently published issue #1 of a new Ultimates series entitled All-New Ultimates.  For the uninitiated, Marvel's series of Ultimates titles presents an "alternate universe" version of the well-known, standard Marvel storyverse. The various titles and issues have been very popular over the years as they present an at-times very different version of our well-known Marvel heroes and settings.  This latest Ultimates title is scripted by Michel Fiffe with art by Amilcar Pinna and colors by Nolan Woodard.

     This new series kicks-off a multi-issue storyline entitled "Power For Power" and introduces a new five-member team of Manhattan-based Marvel teen heroes, consisting of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, the duo Clock and Dagger, and a young female hero named Bombshell. The story interweaves two alternating sub-plots.  One focuses on the team just trying to figure-out how to mesh together and begin working as a crime-fighting unit.  A portion of this storythread includes the efforts of Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman to convince a very reluctant former X-Man Kitty Pryde to join the new group.  The second subplot features more action, as the team tackles the dual problem of a corporate experiment mutating inner city residents, while a mutated street gang works to take over and terrorize the inner city.  The issue ends in a bridge to next month's issue #2 story segment, as the street gang appears to have gained the upper-hand against local police and our teenaged heroes.

     I'm giving this new series a deserved thumbs-up positive review recommendation, albeit with some qualifications.  On the plus side, its a very well-drawn, visually pleasing comic series that premiers in issue #1 with a high quality script and a nice balance between talking-head narrative and fast action-adventure.  I also like the differences between the standard Marvel storyverse and the altered reality of Ultimates Comics.  Without being a story spoiler, a few interesting Ultimates changes include a reference to SHIELD no longer in existence as well as the previous death of Captain America.  I also think that a tiny deliberate change is sneaked-in in the form of one of our heroes pulling the tab off of a soda can, a la the real world 1970's soda can design, versus today's pop-in soda can tabs!

     Two constructive criticism elements balance the good stuff in this issue.  First, the plot and specific dialogue just scream-out for a teen reader audience, so much so that I don't believe older readers can immerse themselves into an enjoyable read of this new series. As a baby boomer reader, I felt like an aged visitor to this series; it definitely isn't structured to reach out to readers of all ages.  Secondly, the series desperately needs a front page narrative that fills-in newcomers on the basics of this changed Ultimates storyverse.  There are a lot of references to previous Ultimates developments that went right over my head as a newcomer to this side of the Marvel publishing line. A little upfront narrative would go a long way toward clarifying and making readers feel at home in this brave new world of Marvel story developments.

     So in sum, this is an entertaining and well-constructed new Ultimates title for teenaged readers, but needs some tweaking as described above to expand its entertainment value for older readers.  For us oldsters, I'd recommend first trying-out one of the many other Ultimates titles available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves.  But for younger readers, I'd recommend diving right in and enjoying this new comic book series.

Flash Gordon #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Jeff Parker: Writer
Evan Shaner: Art
Jordie Bellaire: Colors

     Dynamite Comics has just published issue #1 of a new Flash Gordon comic book title.  I was curious to review it since I've also reviewed in the past year a new Buck Rogers title that was created by well-known comic book creator Howard Chaykin.  As such, I wanted to compare how these new versions of the two iconic Golden Age heroes hold-up.  The new series is scripted by Jeff Parker with art by Evan Shaner and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

     Issue #1 modernizes the storyverse of Flash Gordon from its 1920's-30's pulp-era roots.  American adventurer Alex "Flash" Gordon, television reporter Dale Arden and scientist Dr. Zarkov live in our modern Earth and via a "quantum crystal" access a teleportation portal to the planet Mongo, where they have action-adventures against the evil Emperor Ming.  This kick-off multi-issue story segment introduces us to our three heroes via an Earth-based flashback to a year ago, then fast forwards to our heroes already established on Mongo and being pursued by the Emperor's airship troopers.  Without being a detail spoiler, the chase flits between several of the alien system's planets via the portal devices.  By issue's end, Dale Arden successfully implements a scheme to trick the natives of one planet to shield them for now against the still-pursuing troops of Ming.

     After Howard Chaykin's enjoyable but radically revised Buck Rogers interpretation, I was a bit wary of how this latest effort would approach portraying this iconic comic character's storytelling world.  As such, I was very relieved to find that the creative team stuck to the good basic story elements of All Things Flash Gordon, while modernizing him to function in the realtime of 2014. Yet the strongest element of this title is writer Jeff Parker's skill in evolving the individual personalities of our three heroes.  The pulp-era Flash was very egocentric while Dale was a wallflower and Dr. Zarkov was a one-dimensional character. Here, Dale is more the smart team leader, with the men portrayed with more modern-day personalities and behavior patterns.

     The creative team's storytelling style all makes for a very enjoyable story comic book adventure that modern-day readers can relate to.  While its always fun to read a retro version of Flash Gordon, this new title adds more dimension to the wide inventory of Flash Gordon comic books that have been published over the many decades.  So a positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this latest version of Flash Gordon comics.  The series is a must read for long-time Flash Gordon fans and a very entertaining title to check-out for newcomers to the interplanetary adventures of this iconic Golden Age pulp adventure hero.

Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle 31
Publisher: Moonstone Entertainment, Inc.
David DeSouza & Steven DeSouza: Writers
Jake Minor: Art
James Brown: Colors

     Moonstone Entertainment recently revived the well-known Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle comic book title.  The iconic, Golden Age female Tarzan-like character has seen publishing life over the decades via many titles and publishers, including a version that I reviewed awhile ago.  This new series is co-written by David DeSouza & Steven DeSouza with art by Jake Minor and colors by James Brown.

      Issue #1 is the first installment of a multi-issue story arc entitled "Return of the Jaguar Men" and alternates between two sub-plots.  One storythread introduces this latest version of the Sheena storyverse. By day, this Sheena is a wealthy cosmopolitan heiress living on an African estate owned by her wealthy grandfather. At night, she roams the jungle as Sheena, righting wrongs with the help of her animal team that consists of a monkey, parrot and a jaguar. 

     Our second storyline adds mystery and murder to the plot. Without being a detail spoiler, the presence of an American college archeology team at a dig site on the estate leads to soap opera romance among the team members as well as murder. There's an old legend of murderous magical jaguar men among the locals, which offers the tantalizing possibility of a mystical source of the deaths.  But by issue's end, at least for now it appears that Sheena's jaguar partner may have gone inexplicably violent and killed at least the latest murder victim.

     Every Sheena title that I've read over the years has its own unique style and flavor, and this one's no exception.  Its an entertaining and well-produced product worthy of a positive review.  The visual style is more that of a television animation series, which led me to conclude that this version of Sheena could probably evolve into a pretty decent animated television show.  The brothers DeSouza provide a strong plot, loaded with interesting dialogue, unique characters and enough mystery elements to fill a few comic book story segments.  I also got a kick out of the distinct personalities of Sheen's animal sidekicks, who are characters equal to the depth of the humans in the tale.

     Its important to note that some previous Sheena titles have been more adult-themed and oriented in terms of both the storyline and/or the visual sexiness of Sheena herself.  This particular version is devoid of either element; this is a mainstream, fun-for-all-ages version of Sheena that works pretty well for appropriateness and reading enjoyment for all ages.  So by all means, add issue #1 of Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle to your ever-growing new issues reading pile!

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenged you to tell us how the house band on The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson is different from all other television late night talk show bands.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Erin O'Connor, who correctly explained that the band, called "Alfredo Sauce And The Shy Fellas," is no band at all! The running gag is that they're so shy that they hide behind a stage curtain.  The show runs on taped music and when host Craig Ferguson talks with the band, actors speak back from behind the curtain! It's all a very funny comedy concept and well-worth checking-out if you haven't already seen it.  Congratulations to Erin who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge!!!

     Its that time of year again when we offer-up our Summer Blockbuster Movie Contest Challenge! It seems like we hold this contest earlier each year, as Hollywood seems to start the big summer season earlier into the Spring each year.  So your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, May 14 and pitch to us which of the many upcoming highly anticipated summer movie releases you're most looking forward to seeing and why.  It should be interesting to see whether or not our entries turn-out to be hits or misses by the end of the summer movie-viewing season.  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 hockey play-off watching (Go Broons!!!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 16 Here In Bongo Congo!

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