Review Date: Friday, May 16, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

As all good Bongo Congo subjects know, Saturday, May 3 was National Free Comic Book Day! And in honor of our Kingdom's favorite annual holiday, Good King Leonardo has issued his annual decree that we review four of the many wonderful free comics that were available that day, both nation-wide and at our favorite local pop culture emporium, That's Entertainment!  So let's get right to it and see how these freebies faired in quality and whether or not all good readers should check-out the comic titles that each is promoting:

Skyward and Midnight Tiger
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Action Lab Comics issued a double feature comic book on Free Comic Book Day that co-starred two of that publisher's titles, Skyward and Midnight Tiger.  Skyward is a young reader-oriented Viking-style action-adventure series and led the issue. The series is scripted and drawn by Jeremy Dale, with colors by James Rochelle.  The second story featured teenaged superhero Midnight Tiger and is written by Dewayne Feenstra with art by series creator Ray-Anthony Height and colors by Paul Little.

     As mentioned above, Skyward is an action-adventure series set in an historical world populated by pre-technological tribes similar in nature to the Vikings. This issue's very brief, eight-page story is entitled "Past Sins" and serves more as a quick orientation to the Skyward storyverse rather than as a stand-alone story.  The main characters are a teenaged girl Effie and her teenaged brother Aric, who stand vigil over their mortally wounded father Hargan, their tribe's Chietain.  Very quickly, Hargan reveals the backstory of their world to the kids: how the four existing warring tribes used to be one big, peaceful tribe, until they were attacked and decimated by a mysterious tribe of outsiders.  When their father passes, Aric vows to never trust any outsiders.  Switch to the final scene, in which an outsider kid named Quinn and his dog Jack, who actually seem to be the main charcaters of this comic book title, are about to arrive as refugees in the tribe's village.

     The lengthier, twelve-page second story provides the origin tale of teenaged superhero Midnight Tiger.  We meet Gavin, an African-American teen living with his widowed dad in Los Angeles. This is a reality where both good and evil  X-Men-style "metahumans" exist, using their animal hybrid enhancements to battle amongst regular humans.  When Gavin innocently stumbles into such a battle and is mortally wounded, the good guy metahuman named Lionsblood secretly gives the kid a transfusion, thereby saving Gavin's life and empowering him with Lionsblood's enhanced strength and acrobatic abilities.  By story's end, Gavin has designed his Midnight Tiger costume and is off-and-running to live the Peter Parker/Spiderman-style life of an angst-ridden teenaged hero.

      I wasn't previously familiar with either of these comic book titles and enjoyed learning about both of them from this giveaway freebie issue.  The Skyward story was the weaker of the pair, for two reasons. First, there's no real plotline; the brief introduction essentially serves as a comic book version of an advertisement, just explaining the structural world of this series.  Secondly, the two main characters of the title, the kid Quinn and his dog Jack, are barely featured in this promo blurb.  I also wondered about the publishing legs of a title that doesn't seem to have any fantasy elements.  While interesting, its more of a historical fiction tale and I wonder if today's young readers will stick with such a mainstream offering. However, in terms of production quality the series seems like a very good version of the historical adventure comic book genre for young readers to enjoy.

     I got more of a positive kick out of reading Midnight Tiger.  A tip-of-the-review-hat is due to the creative team for successfully avoiding the trap of following in the well-worn storyverse footsteps of such well-known earlier teen hero titles as Spiderman.  This series is very fresh and unique in terms of structure and characterization.  The metahuman dilemma of human-animal hybrid heroes and villains has its own unique feel to it, and the Los Angeles society that Gavin, his father and friends live-in also has its own feel, blending our real world with a sort of post-apocalyptic atmosphere; things seem to be just at the start of societal unraveling, as these metahumans selfishly rage at each other in street battles while the humans do their best to avoid getting killed or hurt as a sideffect. There's a lot of good storytelling potential that this series can explore with these fresh themes front-and-center in this title.

      So a thumbs-up positive review recommendation is deserved for these two new series as promoted in the Free Comic Book Day giveaway.  While both titles are worth reading, its worth noting again that Skyward is more of a kid-oriented historical adventure tale while Midnight Tiger offers a traditional teenaged costumed superhero storyline.

Atomic Robo 2014 Free Comic Book Day Issue
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Brian Clevenger: Writer
Scott Wegener: Art
Anthony Clark: Colors

     One of the most popular comics issued nationwide every year on Free Comic Book Day is Atomic Robo. Published by Red 5 Comics, the series stars the aforementioned atomic robot, created in the 1920's by famed inventor Nicola Tesla, the real-life inventor rival of Thomas Edison.  Atomic Robo story settings alternate in various historic periods between the 1920's and today, and feature Robo having very funny action-adventures, along with a team of scientist support characters, as Robo fulfills his corporate duties as the head of Tesladyne, his international corporate scientific thinktank. The series is scripted by Brian Clevenger with art by Scott Wegener and colors by Anthony Clark.

     The Free Comic Day issue's story is set in present-day Centralia, an abandoned Pennsylvania coal town, where two subplots unfold.  In the first, college student Elizabeth Foley goes exploring through the town trying to figure-out why its abandoned, while in the second plotthread Atomic Robo and his team are in Town for the same purpose.  In a brief flashback to 1962, we learn that a weird rockmonster event occurred there that Atomic Robo was involved in and doesn't want to reveal to his team.  As one of the aforementioned rock monsters pops-up on the present-day scene, both Elizabeth and Robo's team come together and without spoiling any details here, have a humorous action-adventure and of course, save the day in typical, semi-wacky Atomic Robo style.

     This comic book succeeds on two counts: first, as a pretty good freebie introduction for newcomers of the storyverse of Atomic Robo and secondly, as a decent stand-alone story for loyal, regular readers of Atomic Robo, such as myself.  The regular Atomic Robo title is structured in five-issue story arcs, and the annual freebies always nicely balance those more detailed multi-issue story arcs with quick single stories that serve as fun and fresh sidebars to the longer series tales.  I was slightly disappointed that the famed Dr. Dinosaur was nowhere to be found in this issue. Robo's Free Comic Book day giveaways have become known as featuring the nutty professor evil dinosaur foe and have become popular collectibles in and of themselves.  But even without featuring our favorite idiotic dinosaur evil genius foe, the 2014 giveway issue is still a very entertaining tale that readers will enjoy. And it's all for free, to boot!

     As a final review note, the issue also includes two other brief secondary tales from Red 5 Comics, one promoting a little kid's fantasy series entitled Bodie Troll and the other introducing a new fantasy/horror series called Haunted.  Bodie Troll is geared toward preschoolers and it quickly bored me so much that I couldn't even finish reading it for a review comment. The Haunted title promo presents the concept of a barrier breakdown between our reality and "the spirit world," resulting in evil spirits and ghosts turning our world into a Terminator-like battle for the survival of reality and mankind.  The freebie tale seemed to offer an equal balance between intriguing story elements and abject plot illogical stupidity, so I'll take a review pass on this back-up tale also and suggest that readers check it out on their own to make-up their own minds about its entertainment worthiness.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Free Comic Book Day Issue
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Gene Luen Yang: Writer
Faith Erin Hicks: Art
Cris Peter: Colors

     The freebie from Dark Horse Comics for this year's Free Comic Book Day featured Avatar: The Last Airbender, a graphic novel series based on the movie from a few years back with the same name.  The comic book is scripted by Gene Luen Yang with art by Faith Erin Hicks and colors by Cris Peter.

     I didn't see the movie that this series is based-upon so I don't know how faithful the comic book/graphic novel storyverse is to that film.  But the comic book presents a fantasy-based series starring Suki, a teenaged girl living in historical Japan who is an airbender, one who has apparently been trained by the royal Avatar to harness super-style martial arts powers.  In this freebie storyline, Suki and her boyfriend Sokka befriend Giya, a shy, insecure teenaged girl who needs some coaxing out of her introverted shell.  Without being a detail spoiler, by means of telling a fable in flashback, our duo succeeds in building some self-confidence in Giya, to the point that by the end of this one-shot tale, Giya and her friends are now in self-confidence airbender training themselves as taught by the current royal avatar, alongside Suki and Sokka.

     This is an excellent teen-oriented comic book story that succeeds both as mainstream comic book entertainment and as a learning tool to offer a valuable life lesson to young readers about self-worth and personal empowerment.  I recall reading reviews of the Airbender movies that gave it lousy reviews across-the-board, which it most likely deserved given the consistency of that trashing from all reviewers.  If that's the case, the comic book creative team deserves a lot of credit for transforming a piece of movie trash into a decent and high quality comic book reading concept.  I'm sure that this Free Comic Book Day giveway issue is a typical example of the regular Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series, and as such I can highly recommend this title as one of the better youth-oriented new issue series out there right now, for the reasons listed above.

     Two additional Dark Horse title samples round-out this giveaway issue, an "Itty Bitty Hellboy" short and a story from a series entitled "Juice Squeezers." The Itty Bitty Hellboy tale is a two-page short that succeeds in providing a cute, funny G-rated little kid version of the well-known Hellboy character.  "Juice Squeezers" is so crappy a tale that I offer it up right now as The Worst Story Of The Year, and its only the month of May, right now! I'm confident that it will still hold that title come December 31, 2014.  Involving teenagers, giant mutant ants and regular-sized ants biting many of the characters in their butts, the concept had some gross-out storytelling potential.  But with a lousy script and incredibly bad artwork, it tanks fast from any cult-level likeability down into the cesspool of unredeemable failure.

     So in sum, my thumbs-up positive review recommendation is for all good fanboys and fangirls to enjoy the main featured Airbender tale, get a quick laugh out of the Itty Bitty Hellboy story, and then rip the Juice Squeezers tale out of the back of this freebie issue and throw it away. And of course, follow-up reading this issue by checking-out the regular Avatar: The Last Airbender series of graphic novels, all available at That's Entertainment!

The Simpsons
Bongo Congo Free For All!
Publisher: Bongo Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     Included in the 2014 Free Comic Book Day inventory is the annual Bongo Comics Free For All!  The issue features five Simpsons stories offering a wide variety of the many well-known and beloved characters from the long-running Simpsons cartoon show.  Various artists and writers took turns producing the five stories.

     The lead story is entitled "With Great Power..." and features Bart and his wimpy sidekick Milhouse in an homage to comic books.  When the boys realize that accidents seem to be the source of their favorite fictional superhero's powers, naturally they attempt a variety of accidents themselves to try and join the superhero club.  "Agent Vs. Agent" is a two-page Itchy and Scratchy riff on the well-known Mad Magazine feature "Spy Vs. Spy."  The third tale is entitled "Mr. Burns To The Rescue" and centers on Mr. Burns searching through his mansion's basement for his missing lackey Smithers.  Naturally, the Burns mansion basement is chock-full of all sorts of weird and delightful diversions and people.

     Our fourth tale is a two-page quickie entitled "Krustyburger Konfidential." Once again, Bart and Milhouse take center stage, this time in a fantasy riff as they imagine what it would be like if their beloved Krusty Burger fast food outlet was staffed by a bunch on chimpanzees.  The issue wraps-up with a nine-page final tale entitled "Synchronicity For Two."  When Professor Frink gives a guest lecture at Bart's school on quantum mechanics, things naturally go awry, with Frink and Bart sucked into another quantum dimension.  And as a nice change of pace, the final page of this freebie issue features a "Where's Waldo" challenge starring Martin Prince as the hard-to-spot character.

     I never cease to be amazed how both Bongo Comics's Simpsons titles and Archie Comics both manage to consistently offer-up the perfect blend of comic book story entertainment and cultural relevancy.  This 2014 Free Comic Book Day freebie is just a latest example of this well-balanced creative achievement.  While stories two through four are well-written standard Simpsons fare, the first and fifth stories are the lengthier, edgier tales in terms of some actual literacy in the telling.  "With Great Power..." is a heartfelt and just plain wonderful homage to the concept of superhero storytelling origins, with a quiet life lesson in its conclusion about the reality of everyday life versus the fantasy of comic book stories.  And where else but in a Simpsons comic book could a wacky tale like "Synchronicity For Two" give us a kid-based action-adventure tale balanced with an easily understandable lesson on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics?!

     So if you're already a Simpsons comic book fan, keep on reading these well-crafted and highly entertaining tales.  And if you're a newbie, the latest Bongo Congo Free For All! is a great place to dip your reading toe into the storyverse of all things Simpsons!

 Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest challenge was our annual competition for you to tell us what upcoming summer blockbuster movies you're most looking forward to seeing.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Mike Dooley who offers-up a few choice movies for our consideration.  Mike writes that he enjoyed already viewing the first early-release summer blockbuster of the season, Captain America: Winter Soldier.  He's also looking forward to the big special effects of the upcoming new Godzilla movie and is anticipating hopefully enjoying Sin City 2., adding that "the first movie was a great one and I look forward to a sequel."  Good choices all-around, Mike!  So congrats to Mike who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     Our latest contest is an old Saturday morning cartoon show trivia question.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, May 28 with the correct answer to the following question:  What famed national radio personality provided the voice of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick in the ever-popular Adventures Of Scooby-Doo cartoon show?  Hint: this person has been in the national news this past week for an odd reason.  As always, in the event of multiple correct entries, our contest winner will be chosen 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 playoff-watching (Go Broons!) and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, May 30 Here In Bongo Congo!

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