Review Date: Friday, July 25, 2014

Here in Bongo Congo

Good King Leonardo has decreed that as we're deep into the mid-summer comic book reading season, we review an eclectic mix of new comic books this week in order to advise you on some worthwhile beach-reading choices.  So let's get right to it and see how these varied comic books stack-up against each other:

Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #2
Publisher: D.C. Comics & Dynamite Entertainment
Kevin Smith & Ralph Garman: Writers
Ty Templeton: Art
Tony Avila: Colors

     DC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment have teamed-up to publish a six-issue mini-series which combines Batman '66 with The Green Hornet.  I've previously reviewed an issue of the popular Batman '66 title, in which the Adam West/Burt Ward 1960's campy television series-version of Batman and Robin star in new comic book adventures.  As such, I was curious to see how that well-produced title would fare in a team-up adventure with The Green Hornet and his sidekick Kato.  The mini-series is co-written by Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman with art by Ty Templeton and colors by Tony Avila.

     The current issue #2 kicks-off with the fast adventure of a cliffhanger scene from the end of issue #1, as our starring foursome are glued to the top of a high speed train by the villain they're jointly pursuing, the stamp collection-obsessed, supergluing General Gumm.  Without spoiling the details, each pair of heroes "unglues" in their own unique manner.  A squabble and separation ensues, as both hero pairs split-up for their own pursuit of General Glue.  A new sub-plot surprises us with General Glue himself teaming-up with Batman supervillain The Joker.  Again without being a detail spoiler, the plot shifts to detail Batman/Robin and The Green Hornet/Kato each using their distinct sleuthing styles and skills to simultaneously discover General Gumm's secret lair.  After the expected "Biff! Bam! Pow!" style fight scene made famous in the 1966 Batman television show, issue #2 ends on another cliffhanger, as General Gumm and The Joker capture sidekicks Robin and Kato for a tense "to be continued" stand-off between the good guys and baddies.

     I enjoyed Batman '66 immensely in my earlier positive review of that title and frankly loved this spin-off mini-series even more, for at least four worthwhile reasons.  First, the story dialogue is true to the cheesy wackiness of the original t.v. show scripting, even moreso than the main Batman '66 comic book series.  The comedy of everyone's comments, delivered in starchy, straight-faced monologues and droning conversations is a worthy sequel to the t.v. show.  My favorite goofball remark is a weird, serious quote of famed 1950's presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson delivered on page four by Batman as a lecture to Robin in the aftermath of their narrow train-gluing escape. The cheesiness of this scene alone is worth reading this comic book.  Secondly, campiness quality aside, the story itself is strongly-written and very entertaining, full of interesting mystery clues and plot twists that keep the reader absorbed into the adventure.  I've criticized Kevin Smith's writing in several previous comic book reviews, to the point where I avoid reading new Kevin Smith-scripted comics.  So I was pleased to see a return in this issue to a better Kevin Smith scripting effort.  Perhaps its due to his partnering with co-writer Ralph Garman or alternately a love for the old Batman '66 storytelling style. But irregardless of why, Smith and Garman succeed in delivering a top-notch reading experience in this series.

     Third, I was thrilled to read a new comic book that presents The Joker in the old-time Batman '66 campy stylings that acclaimed actor Cesar Romero created for the television identity of this well-known Batman mega-foe.  Again, in previous reviews I've criticized Joker portrayals in some modern-day comic books as too jaded and over-the-top in terms of torture, gore and bloodiness. If that's your reading preferences, fine.  But its nice to have the occasional old-school Joker to enjoy in a new comic book, and he's front-and-center in issue #2 of this mini-series.  The creative team does such a spot-on reconstruction of "The Joker '66" that it also serves as a wonderful homage to the late Cesar Romero himself and the particular acting gifts that he brought to his personal interpretation of this iconic Batman Family villain. Fourth and finally, I enjoyed the tension between our fearless foursome, as The Green Hornet and Kato stay within their well-known undercover villain personas without clueing Batman and Robin into their true crimefighting identities. It adds for some interesting plot possibilities as this series proceeds through the remaining four scheduled issues of this mini-series.

     So a positive tip-of-the-review-hat is well-deserved for the creative team, as well as both comic book publishers DC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, for all working together to produce this high quality new comic book mini-series, that's both very entertaining in its own right as well as a wonderful tribute to the storytelling stylings of the 1960's pop culture versions of both Batman and The Green Hornet.

Black Science #3
Publisher: Image Comics
Rick Remender: Writer
Matteo Scalera: Art

     Image Comics is up to issue #5 of a new science fiction adventure series entitled "Black Science." This title is one of "Pete's Picks" at That's Entertainment and since I'm a science fiction writer, I decided to give it a review with a look at issue #3 (all five issues published to-date are available on the That's Entertainment new issues shelves). The series is written by Rick Remender with art by Matteo Scalera.

     A brief inside-the-front-cover narrative explains that scientist Grant McKay has created "the pillar" for his corporate employer, a device that allows travel between infinite alternate realities. By issue #3, Grant and a wide-ranging exploration team that includes his corporate boss, fellow staffers and Grant's family are in deep trouble in an alternate reality in which Grant is gravely wounded. The issue #3 story segment unfolds in three disconnected acts. Act One portrays in a brief flashback a pre-exploration conversation between Grant and a female fellow scientist with whom he's having an affair.  Act Two quickly throws the reader into the alternate reality crisis at-hand: in a world of high-tech armored Native American tribes fighting World War I-era German troops, Grant's team hazards their way through a battlefield in order to kidnap a high-tech Indian Shaman in a desperate effort to save Grant's life.  And in Act Three, we again flashback to the beginning of the reality-spanning adventure, with an extended scene in which the pillar device initially malfunctions, accidentally sending Grant and all of his wide-ranging support characters off into the "interdimensionsphere" for the adventure that unfolds in each monthly issue.

     As a science fiction reader and writer, I'm very critical and often leery of new attempts to infuse a science fiction theme into a fresh comic book title, mainly because so many such efforts result in tiresome rehashes of older, worn-out sci-fi themes and plots.  So I was extremely happy to discover that Black Science bucks that negative trend with a brand-new and interesting take on the alternate reality science fiction genre.  The comic hits a home run in three respects.  First, writer Rick Remender infuses his script with a strong balance of action adventure, characterization and science fiction elements.  The characterization of Grant and his fellow alternate reality explorers both anchor the plot and give it fiction-telling credibility.  The characters feel credibly realistic, with very real-world issues such as Grant's personal affair, his kids clearly figuring-out what's going on in that regard, the scheming among the corporate science team, etc.

     Secondly, the specifics of the alternate reality are both fresh and fun.  A hats-off is due to Remender for creating an interesting and absorbing alternate timelime in which high-tech enhanced Native American tribes are battling a World War I-style German army. Whether its explained in the previous two issues or future story installments, I'd love to know more about this reality: i.e., is the battle occurring in Europe at an alternate WW I battlefield or on the Great Plains of the U.S. against a German Army invasion? Third, the art style is appropriate and unique for this particular story. Artist Matteo Scalera's sketchy penciling style very effectively conveys the action scenes for this type of sci-fi adventuring; his rain-soaked Native American-German Army battlefield scenes are on par with any other comic book battlefront panels that I've ever read.

     So all-in-all, a very enthusiastic and positive thumbs-up review recommendation is well-deserved for this unique and entertaining science fiction adventuring comic book title.  I plan on backtracking to read issues #1 and #2, then continue on with future monthly issues and recommend that all fanboys and fangirls of sci-fi comic books do the same.  And an additional tip-of-the-review-hat is well-deserved to Pete at That's Entertainment for including this title in his "Pete's Picks" recommended reading list!

Daredevil #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Waid: Writer
Chris Samnee: Art
Javier Rodriguez: Colors

      It's a big year for Daredevil comics, as Marvel has relocated our hero from his familiar home base of New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood for the streets of San Francisco. In addition, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Daredevil/Matt Murdock's comic book debut.  So let's do double-review duty with first a review of the issue #1 re-boot of DD relocating to San Francisco, followed by the review below of the 50th anniversary Daredevil tribute issue.  This new run of Daredevil is produced by the co-creating team of writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee, with colors by Javier Rodriquez.

     The creative team wastes no time tossing the reader head-first into a San Francisco action-adventure, as San Francisco Deputy Mayor Charlotte Hastert turns to Matt/Daredevil to find and rescue her kidnapped young daughter, resulting in three Daredevil actions. First, Matt uses his keen enhanced senses to find and rescue the girl. Secondly, in a very fast and extended action scene, he's pursued in their escape by two high-tech flying kidnappers. And third, Matt discovers that the girl is booby-trapped with a bomb. Without being a detail spoiler, Matt saves the day and the girl in a very creative and Daredevilish manner.  The issue concludes with further questions as to the kidnapping mastermind's identity and a tantalizing clue leading to the possibility of Matt's ill buddy Foggy Nelson entering the plot picture in issue #2.

     I gave a positive review earlier this year to the final issue of Daredevil's New York-based run, and at the time mentioned my happiness that the Waid-Samnee-Rodriquez creative team was committing to continued production of the Daredevil title in its new San Francisco setting.  That support is well-rewarded here with a very well-crafted and enjoyable kick-off issue of the new Daredevil title run.  In addition to the Waid-Samnee-Rodriquez trio bringing their well-known and successful style of story development and visual presentation to this new Daredevil run, two additional features make this new title a stand-out from the very get-go. First is the successful transplanting of the Daredevil setting to San Francisco.  As a neat twist, we're treated throughout the action-adventure getaway scene to Matt/Daredevil still not knowing his way around the new city, and having to rely on computer guidance from new law firm partner/girlfriend Kirsten McDuffie for moment-to-moment acrobatic directions. It makes a for a lot of reading fun and adds an interesting alternative to Matt's previous superconfidence when hopping around the New York City skyline.

     The second additional stand-out feature is the new twist of Matt partnering-up with his latest love interest/law firm partner Kirsten.  Its a new and interesting alternative to the familiar Matt/Foggy Nelson pairing, and should offer some interesting new storyline directions as this series proceeds. Kirsten's well-placed sense of humor also brings a lot of fun to the new Daredevil storyverse.  Foggy Nelson's struggle with cancer was a dramatic and effective plotthread in the previous series, and his hinted-at return to the scene in this new title run promises some interesting effects upon the new Matt/Kirsten partnership.  Finally, I just have to comment that its just plain neat to have Matt's superhero identity out in the open in Daredevil comics these days.  More than once in issue #1, folks in the story openly acknowledge Matt as Daredevil, adding a rare storytelling alternative to the usual secret identity element of superhero storytelling.  Combined with the San Francisco setting, it also serves as an effective metaphor for gay individuals being open regarding their personal identity as a parallel experience to Matt's outing of his superhero persona.

      So fear not, Daredevil fans, our hero and his new sidekick/main squeeze Kirsten are faring well in their new home city and if the quality of issue #1 is any indication, they should do well for quite awhile in having West Coast-based action-adventures produced by this A-list creative team trio!

Daredevil #36
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Various Writers & Artists

     As mentioned above, our second Daredevil comic book title review this week is Daredevil #36, which is the special, over-sized 50th anniversary Daredevil commemorative issue.  The issue features three brand-new Daredevil stories, each reflecting a story style and Daredevil characterization from different eras in the DD publishing history. The issue also kicks-off with a nice Daredevil tribute letter from new Daredevil editor Ellie Pyle, and features a neat anniversary cover gallery.

     The lead story is entitled "The King In Red" and is produced by the well-known current DD team of Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez.  It's a future "what if?"-style tale, in which Matt Murdock is celebrating his 50th birthday with his someday young son, when a costumed baddie (who I won't spoil reveal) inflicts a blindness epidemic on most of the local San Francisco population. Both Matt's old buddy Foggy Nelson and his young son are key players in resolving the crisis. The second tale is written by Brian Michael Bendis and is actually a standard-format five-page short story, with side illustrations by Alex Maleev, with the plot structured as a letter from Daredevil's wife to their future child.

     The third story is entitled "The Last Will And Testament Of Mike Murdock" and is written and penciled by Karl and Kurt Kesel, with inks by Tom Palmer. Its a story that pays tribute to an earlier version of DD from Gene Colan's creative days, when Matt Murdock attempted to protect his costumed identity by creating a false twin brother named Mike Murdock.

     I'm giving this issue a mixed review, with a thumbs-up as a decent-enough standard Daredevil comic book but a thumbs-down as an anniversary tribute issue.  On the plus side, three full-length varied stories for only $4.99 is a great buy, and the lead tale by Waid and Rodriquez is as top-notch as it gets.  Its a fun futuristic tale just chock-full of Daredevil future storyverse elements that are very entertaining.  The relationship between Matt and his seemingly-neurotic young son is also heartfelt and ultimately very touching as it plays-out in the story plot.

     On the negative side, the second and third tales are barely average in story quality and don't deserve a place in a special 50th anniversary tribute issue.  There are enough great storytelling-telling possibilities for a half-century-old A-list Marvel superhero which could have been included instead of these two stories.  The short-story style Bendis tale is boring and represents the common feature of Bendis over-reaching for emotional effect, resulting in a sappy, treacly storytelling.  Even worse is the third tale; while I understand that the intent was to include a story reflecting a wacky, campy era in DD's publishing lineage, again the tale is boring and unfortunately pretty nonsensical even for an off-the-wall-satiric story.

     Its definitely worth reading this comic book for the excellent lead story and the editor's nice tribute column.  But it doesn't come near the mark of providing a memorable 50th anniversary special issue that Daredevil deserves after 50 years of publication.

Contest Winner Announcement!!!

     Our current contest challenged you to suggest a Boston sports trade that would bolster the winning chances of one of our professional Boston sports teams.  And our contest winner is (drumroll, please...) Keith Martin, who suggests that the Patriots should roll the dice and acquire Payton Manning to replace Quarterback Tom Brady. Wow, a bold move by Keith that would surely burn-up the phone lines to the Boston sports radio talk shows! Congratulations to Keith who wins our first prize $10.00 gift certificate to That's Entertainment!

New Contest Challenge Announcement!!!

     The Bongo Congo panel of contest judges have decreed that we stick to sports for our latest contest. As all good Red Sox fans know, David "Big Papi" Ortiz just this past week moved into 36th place on the all-time list of major league home run hitters when he hit his 453rd career home run.  Your challenge is to e-mail us at Gordon_A@msn.com no later than Wednesday, August 6 and correctly tell us which famed former Red Sox player Big Papi just passed in moving into slot number 36 on that list.  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 Patriots pre-season training (Go Pats!) and comic book-reading weeks and see you again on Friday, August 8 Here In Bongo Congo!

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