Now in its ninth year, Free Comic Book Day has come and gone. Here’s a guide to what was worth grabbing and what was worth leaving behind, with thanks to Speeding Bullet Comics for the advance copies.
IRON MAN / THOR #1 — Obviously, since this year’s FCBD ties to the theatrical release of IRON MAN 2, Marvel’s capitalizing on that by giving out not one, but two freebies featuring the ol’ tin can. In this one, the moon is being turned into a livable planet by greedy people who, in doing so, upset the orbit, which starts wreaking havoc on Earth’s weather. So Iron Man and Thor team up to tear the crap out of the lunar city. Sounds simple, but with Matt Fraction writing, its scenarios play out smarter than that.
IRON MAN: SUPERNOVA #1 — The other Marvel one, also strangely undersized, is intended for a more all-ages audience. Smart-ass superhero Nova is Iron Man’s partner this time around, helping tame some crazed monkeys and apes escaping from a high-security zoo prison. It’s silly, but at least purposely so. It also includes a short SUPER HERO SQUAD story starring The Hulk that’s far better than the strips that kicked off the new franchise. Your kids will like this one.
YOW! DRAWN & QUARTERLY PRESENTS A JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY GRAB-BAG — I’m glad Drawn & Quarterly chose to showcase John Stanley again this year, because he’s just awesome. Therefore, once again, I’m calling this freebie the one to grab this year. You get full stories from his 1960s runs on MELVIN MONSTER, NANCY, TUBBY and THIRTEEN GOING ON EIGHTEEN. Old-school kids’ comics do not get better than this.
LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS #1 — IDW’s anthology is a little disappointing. It contains a handful of classic newspaper comic strips like BLONDIE, RIP KIRBY, LI’L ABNER and X-9: SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN, but not quite enough of any of ’em to be substantial. The surprise here is ARCHIE, when he was a buck-toothed nerd; that was kind of a shock. Despite being featured on the cover, DICK TRACY is not represented.
FRAGGLE ROCK / MOUSE GUARD SPRING 1153 — Archaia Entertainment offers a flip book — and a square one, at that — for younger readers. On one side, there are two short stories featuring Jim Henson’s underground cuddly creatures; on the other is David Petersen’s rodent fantasy series. The former is goofy; the latter, serious, but both add up to an enjoyable book for tweens who don’t cotton to costumed superheroes.
DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM / MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER — I used to read both those characters back in the 1970s, in the late, great Gold Key Comics (or Whitman, depending on where and when you bought them). Dark Horse reimagines the characters in this double-feature preview of the two new series. While I’m not ready to give up on either, I’m not exactly bowled over by this first impression. Art is fine on both; it’s the writing that suffers. Case in point: It’s not cool to reference Jeff Foxworthy in a Doctor Solar story. Maybe that’s just me. As for Magnus, his plot’s just too thin: He — wait for it — fights robots. The end.
GREEN HORNET #1 — How many Green Hornet titles do you need? Dynamite Entertainment thinks the answer is “five,” and previews each in one issue: Kevin Smith’s GREEN HORNET, Matt Wagner’s THE GREEN HORNET: YEAR ONE, Brett Matthews’ THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES!, Jai Nitz’s KATO: ORIGINS and Smith’s KATO. From these brief snatches, all seem like fine, fun crime reading … as long as Smith’s name isn’t attached. Under him, the Hornet is a nonstop wisecracking machine and Kato is a girl. The girl part doesn’t bother me; his lame-ass jokes do.
WAR OF THE SUPERMEN #0 — On New Krypton — a planet full of people just as powerful as Superman — Gen. Zod has ordered his residents to attack a little planet called Earth. Superman swoops in to stop him, but he’s too late, in this prequel to DC’s four-issue miniseries, written by James Robinson and Sterling Gates. This ballsier-than-usual Superman tale is so well-written that it’ll hook many into the storyline; even I’m curious to see how the Man of Steel is going to save us this time.
G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #155 1/2 — I’m told this may be the most anticipated offering of FCBD, because IDW asked original G.I. JOE comics scribe Larry Hama to pick up where his acclaimed Marvel series left off. This bridge from those days to a new monthly series finds Cobra Commander plotting how to get martial law declared in the U.S. If you’re a G.I. JOE fan from long ago, I suppose this issue will thrill you to the bone; for me, it wasn’t the most lucid tale, because I’m not familiar with about half the characters.
THE PUPPY SISTER / FAME — Wow, where to begin? On one side, you have THE OUTSIDERS scribe S.E. Hinton making her comics debut with a story about a boy who doesn’t want a dog, getting a dog. Can he learn to love? Barf. On some pages, the art is bitmapped. Bitmapped. On the other side, there’s a quasi-bio of pop star Lady Gaga, told through a hipster’s discovery of her music, followed by a deification of Taylor Swift. Baffling. Bluewater puts out some of the worst comics around, free or paid.
DEL REY SHOWCASE — With Del Rey getting hot and heavy into graphic novels of late, the publisher offers previews of four of them, starting with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. Just a dose is all you need of that one. Then there’s a taste of THE TALISMAN: THE ROAD OF TRIALS, based on the Stephen King/Peter Straub book; Dean Koontz’s ODD IS ON OUR SIDE manga; and a LAST AIRBENDER prequel. These last two are laid out so oddly, you may get vertigo just turning to book this way and that as you read.
THE OVERSTREET GUIDE TO COLLECTING COMICS — This is a good idea for those who may walk into a comics store for the first time on Saturday and not know where to start. An offshoot of Robert Overstreet’s annual price guide, it provides a nice, concise intro to the hobby, complete with explanations and essays, illustrated with drawings and photos. If you’re already eye-deep into comics, however, don’t bother with it.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG: HIDE & SEEK & DESTROY! — Spawned from the lucrative video game franchise, the SONIC comic is an annual FCBD staple, and sorry to say, but it just grows more and more tiresome with each passing year. Sonic sure looks like Sonic, but there’s no real story to it — it’s just action scene after action scene. Even if I were a kid, I don’t think I’d like this.
WEATHERCRAFT AND OTHER UNUSUAL TALES — Fantagraphics publishes sooo many great books, I’m perplexed why they chose to spotlight Jim Woodring’s work. It’s not exactly the definition of accessible. In fact, I can’t begin to tell you what it’s about, but its hero is a man-pig. In one panel, I think I saw a creature crawl out of a dog’s anus; I don’t wanna go back and double-check, for fear I am correct. It look like drugs were involved (not on my part). There’s certainly an audience for his bizarro work; just don’t count me among it.
THE TICK #1 — Although I’m familiar with the character through TV, I’d never actually read a single Tick story before. This offering reprints the very first issue, written and drawn by creator Ben Edlund, and I’m sorry to say it’s not my thing. Maybe in 1986 when it debuted, it held something special, but today, it looks rather cheap and ineffectual. I’m thinking maybe its self-aware slapstick has just been done too many times since. I did get a kick out of its single-page MARK TRAIL parody, though.
LOVE AND CAPES #13 — Thomas F. Zahler writes and draws this continuing series about a superhero and his love life. Now, he’s married and on his honeymoon, which doesn’t last all that long. The art is cute, in that Art Deco-esque style à la Bruce Timm, but the story has never done anything for me. Hey, at least it’s a full issue, which is more generous than most publishers’ offerings.
FEARLESS DAWN / ASYLUM PRESS SAMPLER #1 — I love love love what Asylum Press is doing; it’s comics’ best-kept secret. Here, you get several tastes why, through samples of various series, including the comical heroics of FEARLESS DAWN, the action saga WARLASH and the zombie tale UNDEAD EVIL. Previews of the forthcoming horror anthology EEEK! and the pirate adventure BLACK POWDER actually whet your appetite.
ATOMIC ROBO / NEOZOIC / BOX 13 — Sooner or later, I’m going to have to bite and buy Red5’s ATOMIC ROBO trades, because each FBCD edition has been fun. He’s like HELLBOY, but good. (Yeah, I said it.) I’m not crazy about the prehistoric actioner NEOZOIC, but the art looks good. Better is BOX 13, a mystery adventure that shot to my “gotta buy” list after checking out its preview here.
ARCHIE’S SUMMER SPLASH! #1 — Token gay character and marriage storyline aside, Archie never changes, does he? In this completely inoffensive story, he and the gang prep for a beach concert, which makes rival Cheryl jealous, so she starts her own group, despite being completely untalented. Something about reading ARCHIE just feels right; it instantly takes me back to childhood. Then, when it’s over, I’m ready to return to adulthood.
THE SIXTH GUN #1 — What you have here, pardner, is the full debut issue of a new Oni Press series by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. It’s kind of a Civil War-era supernatural Western thing, which always gets my interest. Although this doesn’t quite catch fire — it ends once that really happens — it does leave me with wanting to read more, so yay for them. This has major potential.
THE ONI PRESS FREE FOR ALL #1 — In its other offering this year — a pleasant surprise, at that — Oni Press introduces you to a trio of all-ages titles, with the humorous SALT WATER TAFFY, the ghost comedy POSSESSIONS and the adventure series CROGAN ADVENTURES. I really liked the first two; wasn’t crazy about the last, even though Chris Schweizer’s drawing style is quite appealing. I think I’m gonna have to buy Ray Fawkes’ POSSESSIONS collection. … Okay, I just did.
FRACTURED FABLES — For this kid-friendly sampler, Image culls some of the contents from its forthcoming FRACTURED FABLES hardcover anthology, which lets indie comics creators turn nursery rhymes and fairy tales “on their ear!” I had high hopes for this one, and it paid off half the time. Doug Tennapel’s take on “Rumplestiltskin” is an absurd winner. By contrast, Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo’s “Rapunsel” (sic) is a tad grating. The rest fall somewhere in between.
STORM LION #0 — On one hand, you gotta give it to new kid on the block Storm Lion Comics for delivering a slick, thick issue. On the other, they set themselves up for failure with a self-congratulatory introduction about how they’re going to “shake things up in the world of comics” with “great writing and art,” and then follow it up with a generic space fantasy that makes little sense and is instantly forgettable. Show, don’t tell.
RADICAL — One might expect an equal experience from Radical Comics, which notes how “proud” they are of the four titles highlighted. But damned if they don’t come through with intriguing concepts and pictures that looks like someone took more time and care to craft than most anything else out there today. With DRIVER OF THE DEAD, TIME BOMB, THE RISING and AFTER DARK to tempt your tastes, this company’s gotten better since past its FCBD outings.
IRREDEEMABLE / INCORRUPTIBLE #1 — Boom! Studios presents the first issue of two Mark Waid titles, neither of which is your ordinary superhero story. The latter is a spin-off of the former, and each is intriguing and gritty, without venturing into Depression Land. The art from Peter Krause and Jean Diaz is up to the quality of Waid’s scripts, making this one of the few FCBD giveaways you can really dig into, reading-wise.
TOY STORY — It’s so weird to see the TOY STORY characters of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest in pen-and-ink instead of CGI. Ah, well. Young fans of the movies likely will dig this story of dueling Lightyear action figures. It’s not anywhere as sharp and witty as the films’ screenplays, but you didn’t really expect it to be, did you? This is from the big kids at Boom! Kids.
KIZOIC PRESENTS: SHREK / THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR — Two animated DreamWorks franchises come to comics in this flip-it-over twofer from Ape Entertainment. Both sides tell more than one story. The SHREK pages are as annoying as the sequels, and with inconsistent art to boot. Those sneaky PENGUINS are cool, clever and much better. At least I smiled. —Rod Lott