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Free Comic Book Day Reviews

28 April 2010 6 Comments

Free Comic Book Day was started in 2002, a joint effort between comics retailers and Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of comic books and graphic novels in North America. The stated goal is to increase public awareness of the comic book industry and comic book retailers by giving away free books, specially printed by participating publishers. A secondary goal, of course, is to piggy-back on the coverage of whatever super-hero inspired film is coming out that summer for some free publicity. This year, the event takes place on Saturday, May 1st, and a list of the participating retailers can be found on the official event site.

In a way, Free Comic Book Day is sort of like the comics industry’s job interview. Publishers put on their best suits and try to convince the public why they’re a better recipient for their entertainment dollars than any of the other guys. Some publishers try to appeal to a wide demographic of new and lapsed readers. Some use the opportunity to plug the same old stuff that the “have to get to the shop by six on Wednesday” buys to that very same crowd via shameless narrowcasting. And some just toss any old thing out there just to say that they participated.

Given these approaches to publishing the books, it’s helpful to take a similarly nuanced attitude towards the offerings available. Since every shop’s methods of distribution differ, we have chosen to adopt a three-tiered system for rating the books. Get It is for those books that represent the best of the best for both the event and the comic industry as a whole. It’s Free is for those books that are neither nothing to get excited about nor of poor enough quality to ignore. Leave It is for those comics that, well…the term we used should be description enough, but we’ll try to explain why we think you should avoid it.

Archie’s Summer Splash!: Archie comics get a lot of flack for being corny and old-fashioned. It’s not exactly an unfair criticism, although in recent years the publisher has started branching out with updated art styles, inter-racial dating, a forthcoming gay character and pop culture references from this decade. What we’ve got here is an unapologetic, and somewhat uninspired, children’s comic about wacky teenagers having family-friendly adventures. -Archie Comics
It’s Free

Artifacts #0: I’m not overly familiar with the continuity of the Witchblade comics universe. The best I’ve been able to figure is that it’s a world in which mystic artifacts that sound like a checklist of items for a scavenger hunt in a Dan Brown novel somehow compel people to fight in various stages of undress. There’s a checklist of these artifcats in here that functions as a monochromatic “Who’s Who” for people already familiar with the franchise, and there is a framing sequence of a green-haired woman in fetish gear that will probably entertain those who are interested in that sort of thing. But like most of the other super-hero books released this year, this is designed more as a bonus for the existing customer base, and not something for new readers. –Top Cow
It’s Free

Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Box 13: Of this trio of short stories, Atomic Robo is the best by far. It’s got wit, action and excellent art. Of the other two, I prefer the art and tone of Neozoic, which at least has several pages of action and giant dinosaurs. The package as a whole is good for a sampler, which is a fairly rare feat. –Red 5 Comics
It’s Free

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2010: The line of Simpsons comics are fairly reliable books for children. They’re just on the verge of being just edgy enough that kids can think they’re getting away with something by reading them, but innocuous and watered-down enough that parents are okay with their kids reading them. Which makes them, on the whole, better than most of what is out there for kids, but still fairly corny and dull for anyone else. –Bongo Comics
It’s Free

DC Kids: A sampler of super-hero comics featuring DC Comics characters for children. Some are better than others. Tiny Titans has an original art style, but relies heavily on knowledge of regular DC Comics continuity to get many of the jokes. The Shazam and Batman stories, though, are more accessible to a wide audience, though the Shazam story is more of a prologue to a story not yet published than a full comic in its own. –DC Comics
It’s Free

Del Rey Showcase: A variety of licensed titles are featured here, with the headliner featuring a preview of the upcoming comics adaptation of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel. That’s going to be the big draw here, for however much of a draw a joke that’s probably been going on a little too long is, which is why it’s a shame the only zombie action here takes up about two pages, the rest being devoted to Jane Austen’s arch dialogue with zombie references tossed in. –Del Rey
It’s Free

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom/Magnus: Robot Fighter: There’s a certain appeal to the simplicity of these two retro-characters being updated, although in a ham-fisted way. The Doctor Solar story is heavy on the self-referential dialogue, but Magnus features a straight-forward beat-down on robots that is far more enjoyable. –Dark Horse Comics
It’s Free

Fame/Puppy Sister: The draw here is probably going to be the preview of Bluewater’s new biographical comic about pop sensation Lady Gaga, and not the all-ages story by S.E. Hinton about a boy and his dog. The Hinton comic is unremarkable, while the Lady Gaga comic is somewhat funny, with a man-child lead obsessed with the singer used as a narrative device, though whether or not that’s intended to be funny is probably up to argument. If you’ve encountered any of BlueWater’s comics before, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the production values on this offering are up to their usual standard. –Bluewater Comics
Leave It

Fearless Dawn/Asylum Press Sampler: History has shown that anthology titles like this tend to be the most disappointing efforts to be found on Free Comic Book Day. There are a couple of pieces here with decent art, but most of it is ugly and muddy, and the stories, those that are complete enough to even form an opinion on, are formulaic. The entire package feels like a throw-back to the ugly art-driven comics of the 90s. -Asylum Press
Leave It

Fractured Fables: Several stories sampled from Image’s anthology of irreverent takes on fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Some are good, some are…not. As a novelty item or introduction to the artists featured it actually mostly succeeds, as there’s a strong variety of art and humor styles. –Image Comics
It’s Free

Fraggle Rock/Mouse Guard: A flip-book pairing comics based on the Muppet-starring televison program with David Petersen’s lushly illustrated fantasy series. Both books are good, though Fraggle Rock is a bit heavy-handed with the moral lessons. The pairing of the two feels incongruous, as neither is very similar to the other in artistic style or tone. –Archaia
Get It

G.I. Joe #155 1/2: This is a good example of the “narrowcasting” problem that some publishers have; this comic is a continuation of a storyline from a comic that was cancelled in 1994, with the same writer at the helm. As such, it requires a fairly thorough understanding of not only the ’80s toy property, but of the spin-off Marvel comic as well. While there are plenty of existing comic book fans and buyers who possess that kind of knowledge, there are 52 weeks of comics put out every year that pander to them. It would be nice to see more of an effort from a premier publisher like IDW to reach beyond the usual fan-base. -IDW
It’s Free

Green Hornet: Five excerpts from five different Green Hornet comics. That would be five comics about a character best known for appearing in a cross-over episode of the Adam West Batman television series. If any of the comics were particularly good, that would be one thing, but there’s nothing particularly exciting or intersting about any of them. –Dynamite
It’s Free

Incorruptible/Irredeemable: Both titles here are linked, taking place in the same super-hero storyline where a hero has gone bad and killed all of the other super-heroes. The introduction to this story takes place in Irredeemable, and is somewhat hampered by a lack of back-story to these characters. This makes the flip side of the story in Incorruptible a little easier to follow, though. Both stories have good art, but I have to give the edge to Incorruptible. The “hero goes bad” story, especially in the realm of super-hero comics, has become something of a cliché. How many anti-heroes does the world need? By contrast, the story of a villain trying to redeem himself and do good is fairly novel, which makes Incorruptible somewhat more compelling. –Boom! Studios
It’s Free

Iron Man/Nova: A fun little stand-alone comic for kids, featuring two super-heroes teaming up with a shape-shifting ape to defeat a super-villain and his ape henchmen. The dialogue suffers a bit from the “talk down” syndrome that too many kids comics have, but the art is nice and there’s a lot of action. There’s a back-up gag-strip featuring art in the style of the super-deformed “Super Hero Squad” figurines that is also a pleasant surprise. -Marvel Comics
Get It

Iron Man/Thor: As a general rule, I’m not the target audience for a comic like this. I’m not interested in Iron Man unless he’s played by Robert Downey Jr., or Thor unless he’s a frog or space-horse (yes, those are both things that happened; Marvel comics were much weirder in the ’80s). And sadly, that remains true here. There’s a bit of a plot here about Randians using technology stolen from Tony Stark to “go Galt” on the Moon, but most of the book is devoted to Iron Man and Thor standing around talking to people before we get a couple of pages of them hitting robots. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity, and what could have been an exciting read instead exemplifies some of the dullest cliches of contemporary super-hero stories. -Marvel Comics
It’s Free

Library of American Comics: Comic strip fans will appreciate this, as it consists of several pages from a number of existing and forthcoming volumes in IDW’s high-quality reprints of classic comic strips. There’s likely to be some interest in the book from the general public as well, as many of the strips featured either no longer exist or are unrecognizable from their earliest incarnations. However, while Annie, Bloom County and Dick Tracy are featured on the cover, they are only present inside the book in ads. Anyone won over by one of the strips reprinted here is probably in for some sticker shock when they go to buy the actual book, as IDW’s average price is around the $40 mark. That’s quite a change from the $16 Dilbert collections people outside of the existing comics fanbase are used to. -IDW
It’s Free

Love and Capes #13: A sitcom-style comedy series about a woman married to a super-hero. Despite the way the premise sounds, it’s actually funny, with surprisingly relatable characters. The super-heroics are presented as a quirk of the relationship, which is a nice inversion of the standard formula for super-hero romance stories. –Maerkle Press
Get It

The Oni Press Free For All #1: An anthology title of black-and-white, all-ages comics available in graphic novel format from Oni Press. Overall the material is of high quality, but it should be of particular attention as it is all new material. These aren’t licensed comics or characters who were first published when your grand-parents were children. While that may be a road-block for as many kids as it’s a selling point for, the material is all excellent. –Oni Press
Get It

The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics: While there are some comic-style pages in this, this is not a comic book. It’s a series of essays about the joys of collecting comics as an investment, punctuated by ads for collecting supplies. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what a Free Comic Book Day book is supposed to be. –Gemstone Publishing
Leave It

Owly and Friends: A good book for younger kids, these three stories, two of them wordless, tell simple and sweet stories. In fact, they’re probably a little too sweet for most readers, but just about right for the toddler set. The art ranges wildly in quality, but even the scribble-like drawings of James Kolchaka’s “Little Boo” fits the tone of the material. –Top Shelf Productions
Get It

Radical FCBD 2010: Another anthology title, with snippets of stories that are probably just a little too short to give readers a fair assesment as to whether or not they’re interested in anything Radical has to offer. The quality of the stories, both in terms of art and writing, ranges wildly, and the overall tone is more on the mature side, with dark, muddy colors predominating in violent stories. -Radical Comics
It’s Free

Shrek/Penguins of Madagascar: The art on this flip-book featuring characters from Dreamworks animated films isn’t bad, but the stories are neither funny nor inventive. Much like the source material, in that regard. Kids will probably enjoy them, if they enjoy the films they are based on, but there is much better material out there this year for them. –Ape Entertainment
It’s Free

The Sixth Gun #1: Launching a new series by giving away the first issue on Free Comic Book Day has been a fairly succesful technique in the past for publishers, but it helps if the material is actually good and compelling to start with. This horror-western series by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt is both, fortunately. Hurtt’s artwork is stylized and appropriate to the genre, while Bunn’s story teases out just enough information to keep you engaged without resorting to excessive exposition. –Oni Press
Get It

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Sonic the Hedgehog comics have, amazingly, lasted for more than 200 issues because of their appeal to children and, well, furries. That doesn’t mean that they’re particularly readable, though, and as this brief recap, punctuated by the occasional fight scene demonstrates, the series has enough of a complicated and convoluted history to make even an X-Man fan say “this is a little too hard to follow.” The art is appealingly cartoony, though, and it’s the sort of barely possessing a coherent narrative fight comic that little kids seem to enjoy. -Archie Comics
It’s Free

Storm Lion: The lead feature here is an impenetrable science-fiction story that reads, in all honesty, like bad Robotech fan-fiction. The rest of it is ads, some of which appear to be for comics that are, presumably, going to be released by this publisher. It’s hard to tell, the art and text is that hard to deciper. –Storm Lion Publishing
Leave It

The Stuff of Legend/Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: A flip-book with two wildly different books. Cassandara Clare’s Title is Too Long is a teen-centric magic/vampire series and is about what you would expect. The Stuff of Legend is a beautiful fantasy series about toys that come to life and try to save the boy who owns them from the Bogeyman. It was one of the best books offered in last year’s assortment of Free Comic Book Day books, and it’s nice to see it again. Even if a snippet of the middle of the story is less useful an introduction than the first issue was. –Th3rd World Studios
It’s Free

The Tick: A reprinting of the first issue of The Tick comic from 1986, though the character is probably better known now for an animated series and live-action sitcom based on the character. Creator Ben Edlund gives the book a mix between surreal word-play and slapstick violence, though the over-reliance on super-hero parody is probably going to come as a surprise to those familiar with the character primarily through television. –New England Comics Press
It’s Free

Toy Story: My personal suspicion is that Toy Story as a property appeals more to people who were kids fifteen years ago, when the first film came out, than to kids today. (To be honest, even in 1995 the film’s themes seemed to be aimed more at aging parents than hyper-active children. Or maybe it’s just that they hired Randy Newman to do the songs.) All that aside, though, the plot of this comic largely rehashes the first film, with Woody trying to explain to Buzz that he’s only a toy. The twist here is that the events take place sometime after the first film, so Buzz is also around to try to talk sense into Buzz, leading to some half-clever Buzz on Buzz arguing. –Boom! Kids
It’s Free

War of the Superman #0: While there’s a little bit of super-hero action to keep the reader entertained, this book really sums up a lot of the problems with super-hero comics these days. It’s the first part of a cross-over that continues on from another cross-over, and the story is so deeply rooted in the last two years’ worth of Superman stories, that unless you’ve been following all the involved titles for that time, there’s nothing here to give you a reason to care about this story. Even as a primer for the current state of the Superman comics it fails to deliver much useful information, opting instead for pin-ups that give only a rough outline of events. –DC Comics
It’s Free

Weathercraft and Other Unusual Tales: One of my most frequent complaints about how comic book publishers choose to participate in Free Comic Book Day is their tendency to spotlight material that is largely inaccessible to people unfamiliar with the comics industry. Jim Woodring’s surreal comics are exceedingly well drawn and reward deep and careful reading, despite the fact that they’re mostly wordless. At any other time, I’d probably be applauding Fantagraphics for giving such intellectually challenging material away for free to potential readers. But not for Free Comic Book Day. It’s entirely likely that Woodring is just too plain old weird for a general audience expecting free Spider-Man and Batman comics for their kids. –Fantagraphics Books
It’s Free

Worlds of Aspen 2010: It’s genuinely difficult to tell what in here is meant to be part of a story, what’s a pin-up, and what’s an ad. It’s all just a strange amalgam of pictures of women in revealing outfits, standing around posing. –Aspen
Leave It

Yow!: A collection of fantastic John Stanley stories for kids. They’re funny, innocent and have beautiful artwork. If there is a drawback, it’s that the stylized, monochrome cover and unretouched interiors seem designed to appeal more to adult collectors of prestige hard-cover collections, and not kids. –Drawn and Quarterly
Get It

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6 Comments »

  • Free Comic Book Day Reviews – The Bureau Chiefs : Comics and Gaming said:

    [...] See the rest here: Free Comic Book Day Reviews – The Bureau Chiefs [...]

  • Oh, right, Free Comic Book Day. said:

    [...] As for the actual comics themselves: Pal Dorian has once again presented his comprehensive review of this year’s offerings, which you can read at the Bureau Chiefs site. [...]

  • Matthew Murray said:

    Are the comics available this year some of the least interesting ever for FCBD? It certainly seems that way to me.

  • Free Comic Book Day 2010 in Review » Comics Worth Reading said:

    [...] I started by ruling out titles, which fell into two main groupings. (And my thanks to Dorian’s reviews of all the titles, which were very helpful in making these [...]

  • This Old Comic Book » Free Comic Book Day 2010 in Review said:

    [...] I started by ruling out titles, which fell into two main groupings. (And my thanks to Dorian’s reviews of all the titles, which were very helpful in making these [...]

  • Kaila said:

    In reply to Matt Murray: I really think Radical’s FCBD edition this year was great. So if your looking for something new to read, I would totally choose Radical.

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