Review Date: Friday, May 30, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that we celebrate the kick-off of the post-Memorial Day summer season with reviews of an eclectic variety of new comic book issues.  So let's get right to it and see how these titles stack-up against each other:

Ultimate FF #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Writer
Mario Guevara & Tom Grummett: Pencils
Juan Vlasco: Inks
Rachelle Rosenberg: Colors

     Marvel Comics continues its ongoing re-boot of its Ultimate line of comic book titles with issue #1 of a reformulated Ultimate Fantastic Four team.  As I've mentioned for the benefit of the uninitiated at the start of previous Ultimate comic book reviews, this line of Marvel Comics offers intriguing alternate versions of familiar Marvel storyverse characters, identities and plot situations.  The new title is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov with pencils by Marion Guevara and Tom Grummett, inks by Juan Vlasco and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.

     Issue #1 kicks-off a multi-issue storyarc entitled "Doomed" that features the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four, which currently consists of team leader Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl, Iron Man/Tony Stark, The Falcon/Sam Wilson and Machine Man/Danny Ketch.  Calling themselves the Future Foundation (FF) instead of the Fantastic Four, the team partners with former SHIELD agent Phil Coulson to deal with a crisis when an anomaly of rifts in the "fabric of creation" causes alternate universe "goo" so to speak, to leak into the main Ultimate reality.  Most of the issue #1 storyline is action-adventure oriented; when one such rift hits midtown Manhattan, it causes a bunch of construction workers to transform into other-dimensional giant monsters. Without being a detail spoiler, as the team fails to quell the crisis, Agent Coulson takes a gamble and inserts an evil unnamed player into the confrontation, hoping that he can turn the tide.  The gambit works, and in a dramatic bridge to issue #2, the FF learns that said bad rescuer isn't the assumed Ultimate baddie Reed Richards but another major player from the well-known traditional FF storyverse (hint: check-out the title of the story!).

     I've mentioned in previous Ultimate comic book reviews that its always fun to read in these stories both the subtle and major differences from the mainstream Marvel Comics storyline, and this new FF kick-off issue doesn't fail to offer-up another batch of fresh "Easter Egg" surprises.  Granted, many of them are probably familiar to regular Ultimate devoted readers, but for the occasional Ultimate reader like me, the main ones that stand-out in this issue are the obvious fresh mix of FF team characters, the replacement of the "Fantastic Four" concept with the "Future Foundation" idea and the concept of Reed Richards characterized as the most evil mad scientist threat to mankind.  There's also the intriguing references to SHIELD no longer existing, leaving many well-known SHIELD-related Marvel characters identified in this story as being available for freelance work, which should lead to some interesting plot developments in future story segments.

     Two additional story elements add to the overall entertainment value of this new title.  First and foremost is the strength of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov's script, which successfully blends fast action, drama and humorous dialogue into a past-paced and entertaining storyline.  Secondly, the science fiction element of the storyline nicely continues the Fantastic Four tradition of blending traditional superhero storytelling with mainstream science fiction plot themes.  The alternate timeline/cracks in the plane of reality storyline is a natural fit for the FF concept and results in a very entertaining tale.  My only constructive criticism is the quality of the artwork; the penciling is very sketchy and results in an unfinished feel to many panels, which distracts at times from the quality of the storyline.  But the many positive elements of this comic book easily outweigh this one annoyance.

     So all in all, a thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this latest addition to the wide-ranging inventory of Marvel's Ultimate comic book titles!

Empowered Special #6
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Adam Warren: Writer
Brandon Graham & Adam Warren: Art

     Dark Horse Comics recently published a special one-shot issue of its Empowered title.  This popular manga-style comic book series stars Elissa Megan Powers as the superheroine Empowered (nicknamed "Emp"), whose superstrength powers derive from a skintight sexy uniform that's usually quick to fall apart into bikini-sized pieces.  The dark comedy series follows Elissa/Empowered as she lives her life in an unnamed West Coast city struggling with both superhero adventuring and body-shape, self-esteem issues.  Support characters include her best friend/sidekick Ninjette and a gang of fellow struggling heroes called "The Superhomeys," who include the reformed former villain and Emp's current boyfriend Thugboy.  Special issue #6 is scripted by Empowered creator Adam Warren, who also provides the black-and-white opening and closing sequence artwork, while artist Brandon Graham provides the mid-section color artwork.

     The special issue's 30-page story is entitled "Medicine" and provides a science fiction-themed plot.  To make a long story short, a mile-long amoeba-style space alien is threatening to destroy Emp's city if the medical staff at the "Suprahuman Wing" of the local hospital can't make her ill amoeba-baby well.  Without spoiling any plot details, its up to Emp and Ninjette to get to the 62nd floor of the alien hospital to assist or all will be lost.  Problem is, the hospital floors each exist in alternate universes/realities, so naturally a mix of insane hijinks and drama ensue as our heroic duo encounter various planes of reality and alternate situations as they try to wend their way to Floor 62.  Naturally, by issue's end all is well, but not without some very creative and dramatic situations unfolding.

     Having never read an issue of this series before, I was very impressed with and entertained by this special issue of Empowered. Writer/creator Adam Warren does an exceptional job of balancing two story elements: introducing newbies like me to the overall Empowered storyverse while providing a high quality tale that blends traditional superhero storytelling with a science fiction plot.  An inside-the-front-cover narrative achieves most of the first goal by providing a quick, yet very effective primer of the Empowered storyverse.  But its the science fiction plot that really shines, here.  The storyline actually operates on two levels: while the action-adventure elements of the plot unfold in the lengthier color-toned mid-section of the comic book, Warren provides a mind-blowing story direction in the black-and-white opening and closing sections, detailing a very serious, deadly calamity in one of the hospital's alternate realities, which includes the alternate reality Ninjette actually dying.  This leads to a very forceful and unexpectedly dramatic ending of the tale, as the alternate reality's sidekick-less Emp meets-up in the hospital elevator with our main reality's dynamic duo.  As a life-long science fiction reader and writer, I can say that its one of the best-written alternate reality sci-fi story sequences that I've ever come across in any fictional format.

      Frankly, this is a rare and special comic book series. It's not every day that a comic book creator manages to blend the elements of sexiness, satire, darkness and science fiction into one high quality piece of reading entertainment that scores high in all four stylistic categories.  But creator Adam Warren has found a way to pull it all off, with the assistance of artist Brandon Graham.  And to top it all off, the final page of the comic book advertises the availability of seven full volumes of Empowered graphic editions, from the series start in 2007 to the present-day.  So here's a double thumbs-up positive review recommendation for all good fanboys and fangirls to both enjoy the current Empowered Special #6 and check-out the wide-ranging graphic inventory of this unique and highly entertaining superheroine series, all available at That's Entertainment, of course!

Batman #30
Publisher: D.C. Comics
Scott Snyder: Writer
Greg Capullo: Pencils
Danny Miki: Inks

     DC's Batman title is currently up to issue #30.  As all faithful Batman readers know, writer Scott Snyder has been reinventing the Batman storyverse lineage as part of the "Zero Year" DC crossover publishing event.  Through both the Secret City and Dark City multi-issue storyarcs, we've witnessed Gotham City shattered by a mega-flood, with the chaos eventually leading to the City becoming hostage to a dictatorial young version of traditional Bat-foe The Riddler.  Issue #30 kicks-off the third multi-issue story arc of this series, entitled "Savage City." Writer Scott Snyder is joined in the effort by penciler Greg Capullo and inker Danny Miki.

      This first installment of the Savage City storyline brings Bruce Wayne/Batman back into fold of trying to overturn The Riddler's stranglehold on the damaged and cut-off Gotham City.  Two subplots alternate throughout the issue.  In the first plot-thread, Bruce Wayne awakens from a coma and learns of Gotham's fate.  Through Bruce's eyes, we learn the details of The Riddler's reign of terror and abuse of the scattered Gotham flood survivors and watch Bruce's resolve begin to jell toward redonning the famed batcape and getting into the game of underground resistance against the powerful Riddler.  In the second sub-plot, we follow the difficult efforts of Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon as he at-first single-handedly, and then with the assistance of an inserted federal government black ops squad, attempts to mount a feeble resistance effort.  Without being a detail spoiler, all seems lost for Gordon and the squad in a direct confrontation with The Riddler, until in a dramatic bridge to next month's issue #31, Bruce rescues the beleaguered rebels as the returned Batman, adding hope that maybe this small band of resisters can move forward to save the half-drowned city from The Riddler's evil.

     This is an intriguing comic book series that has both strongpoints and drawbacks to it, which when mixed together result in a positive review recommendation, albeit in the average-quality category.  On the plus side, there's no one better these days than A-list writer Scott Snyder is offering-up a fresh Batman storyline and once again he provides us with a well-paced, strongly-written plot.  The dialogue is credible and the science fiction element of the half-drowned city offers an entertaining new story-telling perspective on the well-known, traditional identity of Gotham City.  I also liked very much a creative plotthread in which The Riddler challenges what's left of Gotham's populace to try and stump him once a day with a riddle; if he can't answer it, they get their city back. The details of the particular daily challenge posed in issue #30 are unique and fun to read.

     What kicks this issue's quality down to the average category is the lack of credibility regarding the concept of The Riddler managing to keep the city cut-off from the rest of the country.  I just can't shake the unconvincing and overly-simplistic logic of it all.  Writer Snyder tries to make a case that with a few set charges of bridge explosives here, and a few poison gas-filled balloons hovering over there, then voila, the populace of one of the nation's largest cities is easily and totally held immobile, while the federal government can barely drop six Black 0ps soldiers into this garrison situation.  Granted, a lot of real world logic goes out the window in comic book storytelling, but this just feels too forced a plot structure for me to buy into as an adult reader.  But the good stuff as detailed above is worthwhile enough for readers to make the effort of suspend the illogic of the hostaging of Gotham in order to see where this intriguing Batman/Riddler war takes us over the course of the Savage City storyarc.

     As a minor final constructive criticism note, there's also an odd, two-page introductory flashback scene of Bruce Wayne and an old girlfriend back in their college days that makes no sense whatsoever in the context of this Savage City story segment.  But as I'm not a monthly reader of the Batman Zero Year publishing event, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt that it might make more sense in the context of the entire unfolding story series.  So bottom line: yes, Good Batman Readers, by all means check-out this interesting and entertaining unfolding of the battle to save the soul of the half-drowned Gotham City, but be willing to accept some very illogical elements regarding the "city under siege" situation and I think you'll have a fun time reading this series.

How I Made The World #1
Publisher: How I Made The World Comics
Liz Plourde: Writer
Randy Michaels: Art

     New Hampshire-based writer Liz Plourde and artist Randy Michaels have collaborated on a new independent comic book series entitled "How I Made The World."  The series features writer Plourde's semi-autobiographical stories that follow the college experiences of undergraduate Liz at fictional "White Mountain University".  The 32-page issue #1 is set to hit the new issues shelves in That's Entertainment and other comic book stores in June.

     The issue #1 story is entitled "The Monster" and offers three interweaving storythreads.  The first plotline details Liz's semi-comical attempts to navigate the collegiate bureaucratic maze of trying to get into attractive overloaded college courses, which naturally never seem to have an open slot.  The main plotline kicks into gear when Liz gets stuck in a seemingly undesirable art sculpture course.  Liz unexpectedly warms to a particular sculpture assignment and that's when the "monster" of the story title rears its Godzilla-like head, in the form of the particular assignment taking-over Liz's life, to the point where she spends entire evenings obsessing over the project in the campus art studios.

      The third plothread works its way through the tale as an introduction to the secondary story characters in Liz's life; we're introduced to a broad array of campus friends, aquaintances and roommates, some of whom interact in Liz's obsession with the monster art assignment while others serve as welcome, temporary diversions away from the wearing project.  By story's end, Liz has overcome several real obstacles, as well as one metaphysical encounter, to finally get the project completed on-time.

      This is a well-produced, high quality indie production that deserves some enthusiastic fanboy and fangirl reading support, for several reasons.  First, you gotta give some sales support to any indie effort that breaks away from the incessant world of superhero/sci-fi/horror/etc. storylines and actually provides an all-too-rare real-world plot, featuring real people doing real things.  The college campus plot is also an attractive theme for readers aged high-school through older, reminiscing college alumni adults (like yours truly).  Secondly, Plourde's plot is rich and intricate, brimming with both well-crafted narrative and very strong characterization.  She doesn't rush her storytelling; instead, we're treated to a paced, detailed story progression that fills-out the backstories and personality quirks of a range of characters. And a wonderful cast of characters they are; while too numerous and spoiler-worthy to detail here, its worth mentioning that my favorite Liz friend is the chain-smoking Carla, her fellow night-shift artist who dishes-out both spoken and unspoken camaraderie and support through the long sleepless nights of Liz's monster-of-a-project effort.

     Third, a tip-of-the-review hat is well-due to artist Randy Michaels, whose black-and-white renderings provide a very appropriate visual style for the genre of real-world fictional storytelling.  Frankly, I was blown-away by a few very creative and unusual full-page panel lay-outs that elevate the design of this comic into a higher-than-average category of artistic creativity.  My one constructive review comment is that the issue #1 story ending was a bit flat and uneventful. After experiencing an absorbing tale that seemed to be building to an unrevealed climax, Liz just seemed to wrap-up her project and head back to her dorm.  But on the plus side, maybe that's a pretty good reflection of how college experiences actually play-out at times.  And there are always future upcoming issues in which Liz's life experiences have the potential for many different twists and turns.

     On a final review note, the main "Monster" story is followed by a 4-page secondary tale entitled "Catman." Its a very cute story starring a pre-teen Lizzy, her Uncle Pete and Lizzy's cat named Wally that balances nicely with the college theme of the main story, and is sure to be enjoyed by kids of all ages.  So in sum, an enthusiastic thumbs-up positive review recommendation is well-deserved for this inventive, absorbing and very entertaining first-issue premier of the adventures of Liz and friends as they explore college life in the wilds of New Hampshire.  So c'mon, Good Indie Readers, get on-down to That's Entertainment and support the sales of this fledging new indie comic book! And for further information on all good things happening in the world of college student Liz, go to www.howimadetheworld.com.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

      Our latest contest challenged you to identify the well-known celebrity who voiced the iconic character of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo's sidekick buddy in the old Saturday morning cartoon show.  We received many correct entries, so via a roll of the dice our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Jeremy Mower, who correctly identified well-known national radio music DJ Casey Kasem as the voice of Shaggy.  Kasem has been in the national news lately as the subject of an odd family dispute, the details of which you can check-out for yourself in the media.  Congratulations to Jeremy who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo Panel Of Contest Judges are huge fans of NCIS, the very popular t.v. drama on CBS that follows the adventures of a unit of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.  Having just finished its 12th season on-air, NCIS actually began its long broadcasting run as a spin-off of a previous very popular military-themed t.v. series.  So your challenge for this contest is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later that Wednesday, June 11 and tell us what was the name of the popular t.v. series that NCIS spun-off from.  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 Red Sox-watching and comic book reading weeks and see you again on Friday, June 13 Here In Bongo Congo!

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