Customer Appreciation Day Free Comic Book Day was this past weekend. How did the companies do with their various free offerings?
All-Star Superman #1 - I've read this twice already; my wife bought the first issue and then borrowed the hardcover from the library. I wasn't in love with it like most people were, but I decided to give it another go with an eye toward how this works as an FCBD promo book. I still don't care for Grant Morrison's techno babble or any of the Luther scenes, but the overall story and some of the Big Ideas I like. Also, the one page recap of Superman's origin - four panels, eight words - is perfect. Frank Quitely's artwork is wonderful. He leaves a good bit of dead space, but that actually forces you to focus on the great characters. B
Amelia Rules! - This book is full of good and bad. Good: It's Amelia Rules, which is an awesome book. Bad: It's mostly a reprint of the most recent issue, #18, which just came out a couple months ago. Good: #18 was an awesome issue. Bad: It's only most of #18. Good: The entire issue is available for free at ameliarules.com/change. The rest was all good too, including a preview of the next issue, photos of a school that put on a play based on an earlier issue and Pajamaman as Indiana Jones. This is the best all-ages book out there and one of the best all around books. A
Friendly Neighborhood Editor's note: This book was not at her comic shop, where she went to score some goodies for her nine year old nephew. Your FNE hates the comic shop down the road.
Ape Entertainment's Cartoona Palooza - The stories in this anthology range from the way too serious (Ursula Wilde - a female croc hunter type) to all out cheesy (Go-Go Gorilla and the Jungle Crew). Out of the five short stories, only one, White Picket Fences, left any real impression. The story was average, but the art was fantastic. Tim Lattie provided the pencils and Brian Mead provided the color. I'm not familiar with either name, but I hope to see them on bigger projects very soon. Their work is something of a classic animation meets Sam Kieth with a little Mike Ploog thrown in. Just wonderful stuff. Too bad it's lost in an otherwise bland comic. C-
Arcana Presents #4 - I've picked up all four of these Arcana preview books and I'm reminded every time that Arcana's stuff just isn't up my alley. Kade is their signature character and every time I've read a story with him, my interest quickly wanes. It's too much globe trotting fantasy for my taste. Burn was an interesting concept, but I don't know that we even got the full idea or if the pencil & ink art was complete. I hope it wasn't. Gwai was a cute, odd forest creature book until they went the Kill Bambi's Mom route in the last panel. 100 Girls is another regular book they push in these anthologies that I've never connected with. There was nothing particularly wrong or bad about this issue, just not for me. C+
Atomic Robo/Neozoic - I've never heard of Red 5 Comics, but the ideas in these two stories grabbed my attention. The results... Atomic Robo borrows a bit too much from Hellboy. Actually, it borrows almost everything from Hellboy other than instead of a red demon, the lead character is a robot. However, the art is fantastic. Scott Wegener should be snatched up by Marvel or DC very soon because, honestly, his talents are going to waste on this title. Neozoic is an interesting idea that just doesn't pan out. The big idea is that the meteor that killed the dinosaurs hit the moon instead and man and dino evolved together. Not a bad idea, but the story is little more than a Savage Land fill-in story from X-Men Unlimited and, while there is clear potential in the artists, the art has a lot of anatomy and perspective issues that are distracting. Overall, the writing is a big disappointment, but Wegener is a definite find. C-
Bongo Comics Free-For-All - Three different stories from three of Bongo's Simpson Comics and they are all winners. The first story is from Simpsons Super Spectacular, which was a six issue mini-series of the Simpsons characters in all their various super-hero identities. It's a fun story that focuses on Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The second story was about Bart trying to be as smelly as possible to get back at Marge for taking his tv privileges away. It's a fun bit from the Bart Simpson series. The last short story is far and away the best; a look at Simpsons comics from around the world with several pages of a manga version of Simpsons Comics. The manga style version of the characters is fantastic and fun. The characters are an amalgam of their tv versions and some weird, real world people. The story itself, something about a baseball game, is just a setting to show the incredibly visuals. Fun story choices all around. A-
Broken Trinity Prelude - Top Cow's offering is a direct spin-off from last year's First Born mini-series. The issue does a very good job of giving a complete overview of Witchblade, Darkness and Angelus, but Sejic's art is too much like 1995 CGI (think the ReBoot cartoon). Also included are previews of Darkness and Witchblade regular ongoing series. A decent primer for the upcoming Broken Trinity story if that's something you're into. B-
Drafted - This is a neat little recap of the first six issues from Devil's Due. They've cut out select pages of issues #0-5 and tied them all together with a running monologue. Very nicely done as it provides everything you need to understand this very impressive and ambitious series about all of earth having to quickly prepare to join an intergalactic war to save the planet. While the art does a decent job of telling the story, it has some really weak moments, particularly when there's a lot going on in a single panel. If there's a bunch of background all the lines start to blend together and all depth to the art is lost. Thankfully, there are a lot of blank or simple backgrounds to keep that from happening. I'm going to have to put the first trade on the To Buy List, as this just hit all the right storytelling notes for me. A-
Hellboy - The main story here is The Mole, which is a fantastic Hellboy short story. Mignola's story is dark yet simple and fun. And while it would have been great to get Mignola on art too, Duncan Fregredo does some really solid work here. The two back up stories of the BPRD are hit, Out of Reach, and miss, Bishop Olek's Devil. This is a solid, fun package for current Hellboy fans or just the casual comic fan. B+
Kids Love Comics: Comic Book Diner - A bunch of short stories featuring Roboy, Patrick the Wolf Boy, Dreamland Chronicles, Banana Tail, Buzzboy and Tbyrd Fearlessness. I was already familiar with all but Tbyrd and, as usual, enjoyed Roboy, Wolf Boy, Banana and Buzzboy. Those are very good, all-ages characters with a lot of love put in by their creators. Dreamland Chronicles is okay, but falls into that fantasy genre that I can never get into. And then there's Tbyrd Fearlessness, which just came off as obnoxious and unfunny. It gave me that same Ugh Factor that kicks in when my 9-year-old cousin turns on the Disney Channel. B-
Maintenance - Oni's solicits for this series continually catch my eye, but I've been underwhelmed with Oni's recent products, so I've always passed it up. Now I know I need to grab the trades of this funny series. Two janitors at a wacky science lab who regularly find themselves in trouble is one of those "Why hasn't this been done before?" ideas that just works on every level. There was also a three page preview for Resurrection by Marc Guggenheim that I loved. The promo page reads "Aliens invade. They devastate the planet. You've heard it all before, right? Okay, smart guy... what happens after they leave?" which wraps up the preview to a T. Add to that my mancrush on Guggenheim after watching the first season of Eli Stone and I need to get this book now! A-
Editor's note: Your FNE LURVES Eli Stone.
Marvel Adventures - Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man and Ant-Man (hmm... what do all those characters have in common?) team-up to fight the Mandarin and protect a giant ant colony in Machu Picchu. I'm pretty sure the writer, Jeff Parker, was paid $50 a mention by the Machu Picchu Board of Tourism as there is just an abusive overuse of the name. There are a couple funny one-liners, but overall, this is a very, very average comic book. C
Moth Special Edition - I read the original Moth special when Dark Horse published it a few years ago, but didn't care for it. This issue recaps that special and the four-issue mini-series that came after it. Sadly, as much as I love The Dude's art on Nexus, I've had more than enough circus freaks stories for a lifetime and just couldn't get into this everyman hero and his carney folk. C-
Neotopia Vol 3 - That's right, Antarctic Press offered up an entire digest sized trade for FCBD. I'm guessing there was a big overstock on these books or maybe the giant staples through the spine have something to do with it, but whatever the reason, a 160-page digest is nothing to sneeze at. In all honesty, I've only gotten through the first chapter and while the story is a bit meandering, the draw to this book is clearly the art. Writer/Artist Rod Espinosa creates a lush world with some American Manga sensibilities. The line work is fantastic. The story is very "heroes journey" right now, but it looks like we're heading toward a very Planet of the Apes reveal. I look forward to the next four chapters. B+
Owly and Friends - Owly is another great all-ages book with wordless storytelling through fantastic art. The $10 digest-sized graphic novels are must-own. The friends in the title include Korgi, Johnny Boo and Yam. Korgi debuted last year in an attempt to be the new Owly, but for some reason it just doesn't work as well. Probably because I find the realistic art oddly creepy. Johnny Boo and Yam are two new attempts at all ages books from Top Shelf. Yam is yet another take on the wordless storytelling and is interesting and surreal. Boo is by James Kochalka and would appeal to his diehard fans, but I think it fails at being both as funny as it wants to be and all-ages. B
Project Superpowers: Death Defying 'Devil #2 - I've now read three issues of Project Superpower (#0, #1 and this issue) and all three have left me with the same thought, "Intriguing but kind of tedious to get through." The art is good, if a little stiff and I like the premise, but I just don't know. An uncertain B.
Salem: Queen of Thorns - Boom Studios contribution to FCBD was this slightly odd, kind of undefined book. The story is set in the days of the witch hunts in colonial Salem, Mass, but I'm not entirely sure what the point of the book is. It's not bad, but it all sort of went in one eye and out the other. The unclear art during action sequences didn't help matters either. C-
Sonic the Hedgehog #1 - I've always wondered how Sonic the freaking Hedgehog has been able to sustain a comic book (and various spin-offs and mini-series) for 15 years, so when my wife grabbed a copy of the first issue reprint for her nine year old nephew, I had to check it out. After reading this issue, it's clear that the book has stuck around because it's just plain fun. The stories and characters all had a great sense of humor that readers old and young can appreciate. There are plenty of winks and nudges to the reader about this being a comic and that they are video game characters. All in all, it's a surprisingly entertaining package. A-
Tiny Titans #1 - This was a cute, fun book by the creators of Patrick the Wolfboy. The stories run one to five pages with minimal dialogue and always end on a cute, funny joke. It's a very quick, light read. As a freebie, this is a great little book, but I couldn't imagine paying the regular $2.25 cover price for the two minute read. B+
Also not at your FNE's stupid comic shop.
Virgin Comics - Three previews of new Virgin books include Dan Dare by Ennis & Erskine, Ramayan 3392AD Reloaded and Stranded by Carey & Kotian. Dan Dare, a relaunch of a classic UK character, was fantastic. It's like a sober version Remender's Fear Agent. The art is wonderful and there are none of the typical Ennis writing ticks. I may have to check this series out. Ramayan goes into that fantasy genre I don't care about. Stranded is a SciFi tv series turned into a comic. Frankly, it didn't make much sense and I can't tell if that falls to the general premise or my dislike of Mike Carey's writing. A big ol' A for Dan Dare, but D's for the other two stories, so C.
Walt Disney's Gyro Gearloose - I always struggle with these annual collections of various Disney comics from Gemstone Publishing. The main thing is that previous books (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Mickey and Robin Hood) are reprints of 50 year old material and, frankly, haven't aged very well. Gearloose appears to be a more recent character, as most of the stories here are reprinted from 1990s comics. There is one story from 1960 and that one definitely has Golden Age story telling sensibilities. The later stories are okay, but the writing lays out every single thing the characters are going to do via dialogue, again and again. It's all too straight forward. While kids young and old can enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog #1, these stories are very much geared towards five to eight year olds. C-
Worlds of Aspen #3 - Aspen has had a very narrow focus as a publisher, with a dozen Fathom and Soulfire series, minis and spin-offs. Honestly, I can't really tell the difference between the art or the characters or the stories of Fathom and Soulfire. I've even read the first nine issues of the original Fathom and was unimpressed by it all. This issue gives us previews of Fathom Vol 3 #0 and Soulfire #8 and my opinion on those series remains the same. Also in this issue is a preview of Shrugged #8, which has an interesting hook, but this preview, #1 and #5's preview in the previous FCBD books fall apart in the execution. Executive Assistant: Iris is a preview of a trained killer as executive assistant that may do well for a short mini series. I'll see how I feel about that in the winter when it comes out. C
X-Men - Unlike most of this weekend's offerings, this issue of X-Men is a brand new 22-page story created just for the FCBD crowd. The story is by Mike Carey and Greg Land. I have some negative feelings about the previous work of both guys (including Carey's run on X-Men/X-Men Legacy), but let's see how this stands up as a free giveaway. Mike Carey's writing has always felt disjointed and without any sense of real conversational flow and unfortunately the same holds true here. I was nodding off to sleep every few pages. Well, maybe that's because the first 10 pages were about Pixie, a former New X-Men student and not about the X-Men this book is titled after. After the X-Men finally show up and save Pixie from the N'garai (a group of alternate dimension lizard demons, that are one of the X-Men's most random, infrequent and annoying enemies), they tell Pixie that she should return to school. And, yup, that's it. This wouldn't have made for a very good fill-in issue of New X-Men during its run, so I have no idea why Marvel thought this should be a story that needed to have a million copies in print. D-
Free Comic Book Day let me revisit old friends like Amelia Rules! and Owly, add new trades to hunt down like Drafted and Maintenance and new artists to watch for such as Lattie & Mead and Wegener. So, maybe it's not such a bad thing to have a little customer appreciation from the publishers (hey, I paid $6.56 plus shipping for my books - $0.34 for a full-color digest, awesome!).