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Sean William Scott

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Free Comic Book Day Reviews 

I've become something of an old hand at quickly appraising the Free Comic Book Day books, having spent time each year taking the books and divvying them up into age-based groups to put into packets to give to customers. This year, as usual, we put the books into three categories: all ages, teens and up, and mature readers. The all ages books are fairly self-explanatory, but we put more of an emphasis on complete stories and color stories. We wanted each book kids got to be a full read, and black and white is often a barrier, we've found, for kids and comics. For teens and up we chose material that was still for a general audience, but wasn't quite intended for children. This was where some of the traditional super-hero material ended up, as well as most of the anthology titles. For the mature reader's packets, we picked the material that had either specifically adult content, or which for one reason or another wouldn't fit into any of the other categories. This is the most frustrating part of the process because material that is clearly intended for a general audience, such as Adventures of Paul, contains some non-exploitive and in-context nudity. We've had parents complain about sexual content in reprints of Ditko's Spider-Man, so anything even remotely suggestive on that score had to be bumped up to the adult pack.

As usual, I'm breaking my reviews into three categories. Get it for comics I think you should be certain to pick up, It's free for comics that aren't bad, per se, but aren't spectacular either, and Not even for free for material I found to be truly lacking in quality.

Adventures of Paul: Michel Rabagliati's stories of growing up in Canada in the sixties and seventies are both charming and realistic stories of boyhood, but they also have a deceptively simple and appealing line-work, reminiscent of many of the popular cartoonists of the period. His work would not seem out of place in a copy of the New Yorker from the period. Get it

Alternative Comics Presents: Another quirky anthology from the independent publisher. Derek Sakai and Jen Sorenson's work were the only things that really grabbed me in this installment, and in general I didn't feel like the quality of the art or stories were as strong as they've been in the past. Plus, the James Kolchacka cover freaks me out. It's free

Amelia Rules #0: I've seen work in this series that is entertaining and funny, but this issue seemed to lack a lot of the verve and appeal that this comic usually has. It's good, but it's maybe not the best material to get people interested in the property. It's intended as an introduction for new readers, but I didn't feel like I got a sense of who most of the characters are. The WJHC back-up would probably have been more entertaining if it had been a straight-forward introduction to the characters, rather than a marketing gimmick for libraries. It's free

Arcana Studios Presents #2: If you like dull and generic art used to illustrate stories that Chaos Comics would have thought too silly to publish, this is the comic for you. Not even for free

Batman Strikes: I hate to have to do this to a DC book, but despite my general like of the look of Batman at least, this was a terrible comic. Bad art, bad character designs for the villains and supporting cast, and a story that somehow manages to work a cheesy gimmick designed for the toy line into the narrative. Give this to a kid if you want to punish them. Not even for free

Betty and Veronica: I'm glad Archie decided to do a girl-centric comic, as I know from experience we get lots of parents looking for comics for girls, and Free Comic Book Day is one of those events that tends to draw them out. It's a little too girly, I think, with it's emphasis on fashion and modeling, and I think a more adventurous story might be better received. From a fanboy/gayboy point of view, it's nice to see Katy Keene back, though part of my mind is rebelling at the thought of the character being a contemporary of Archie and the gang. The art, however, is sub-par, very stiff and very dull. It's free

Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards: You could just as easily describe this book as two-fisted tales of paleontology. It's got a fantastic cover, but the art inside and out don't match. Plenty of humor, but precious little science to be found, and someone is taking their cues from Walt Kelly for P.T. Barnum's speech balloons. Still, I would be interested in seeing more of the story, so it's a success on that score. Get it

Bongo Comics Gimme Gimme Giveaway!: I'm always a bit frustrated by the comics incarnations of the Simpsons and Futurama characters. They've clearly been softened for a more general audience than the television shows, and I think that costs them their satiric edge. The stories here are funny, and there is a nice variety of tales, even if the Doctor Strange satire is going to go over the heads of most of the intended audience. It's free

Buzzboy/Roboy Red/Major Damage Triple-Frosted Fun Comics: This book wants so hard to be an appealing all ages super-hero title, and there's a nice element of manic fun to the first story, but neither Major Damage nor Roboy Red did anything to interest me in those properties at all. Too much exposistion in Roboy Red, not enough in Major Damage seems to be the problem. It's free

Comic Festival: This is a fantastic collection of short stories, mostly one or two pagers, from primarily Canadian cartoonists. There's a wide variety of art styles and material here, and precious little I didn't enjoy. In fact, the only things I didn't enjoy were a couple of strips from one cartoonist that struck me as having a very "sour grapes" feel to them, but that may just be me being too aware of things the artist in question has said in interviews and on-line about other creators and the comics industry as a whole. Otherwise, this was a truly excellent sampling of materials from independent cartoonists. Get it

Flare #13: I have no idea who any of the characters featured in this comic are, what their powers are, or why I should care, and the writers clearly didn't feel that any of that information was important. The art is work-man like, but the cheesecake factor is completely lost on me. Not even for free

Flight Primer: I thought the two stories here were wonderfully illustrated and very charming. There's a sense of fun and innocence to both works that was quite appealing. Get it

Funny Book: There's some nice work from several Fantagraphics cartoonists in here, mostly reprints from other work, but the pleasure of those strips is diminished by the ill-conceived and frankly bothersome presence of work by both Sophie Crumb and Johnny Ryan, two cartoonists whose work repulses me. If you have more of a stomach for their scribblings than I do, than this book falls into the It's free category. If not, Not even for free

Devil's Due Free Comic Book Day: If I have to look in the indicia to find out the name of your book, you've done something wrong. I have no idea if the work in this comic is new or reprinted from elsewhere. The only thing that even remotely resembles an introduction to the characters or concepts is the Darkstalkers story on the back of this flip-book. Neither the GI Joe nor the Defex story take the time to explain what's going on, and neither gives us any reason to care about the characters or want to read more about them. Not even for free

Impact University: This is reproductions of pages from some of Impact's line of how to draw books. The subject is a bit of a sore point at work, as most of the time when someone comes in claiming to want art reference and instruction materials what they mean is they want something that's easy to trace. This looks to be more along the lines of actual art instruction, with an emphasis on anatomy, scale and perspective. As far as I can tell, this is a good sample of material for those looking for such a thing. It's free

Johnny Raygun Freebie: This was going along at a nice pace, with some engaging drawings and a subtle satire of super-hero comics while staying within the lighter side of a super-hero story itself, until a brutal and violent act completely destroyed the tone. I gather from context that the act in some way ties into events in the regular Johnny Raygun comics, but it seemed out of tone for this story. It's free

Keenspot Spotlight 2005: This has your usual mix of good art, funny stories, bad art and stories that think they're being funny. There was nothing that really grabbed my attention in this outing, save for the grimly funny Chopping Block, which doesn't really count because I was familiar with it already. But for sheer size, you can't beat this book (with my damaged wrists, it literally pains me to pick this book up). You're almost certain to find something you enjoy in here. It's free

Marvel Adventures: Whereas DC did just about everything wrong with the art and story on their book, Marvel, miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, actually managed to do everything right. The art is lively and appealing, the story has some genuine moments of wit, as well as providing a nice breakdown of the characters. My only complaint is that it's yet another of Marvel's attempts to contemporize older stories. I'd much prefer if they would just tell new ones, rather than try to rewrite their older material over and over and over again. It's free

Mortal Coils Presents: I'm going to have to split the review on this one again. The two lead stories have dull, generic art and stories that are almost impossible to follow. "Pit Stop" at least makes an attempt to fill the reader in on who the characters are and what they're doing, but no such attempt is made in the lead story. So, for the first two stories I'm giving this a Not even for free rating. The Finder and Hero Happy Hour stories that round off the book, however, are genuinely funny and well-drawn, so those get the It's free rating, and they probably would have been rated higher if I hadn't had to read those two disagreeable stories to get to them.

Oni Fistfest: The "Hysteria" story by Mike Hawthorne cleverly used a macguffin to introduce all the characters who populate his high-energy, high mayhem universe. "Sharknife" was essentially just a fight scene. The art does nothing for me, and I don't think the story is as clever or as funny as it wants me to think it is. It's free

Owly: Splashin' Around: This is a wonderfully illustrated and surprisingly touching and affecting all-ages story. All the praise Andy Runton has garnered for his Owly stories is well deserved, and this story deserves to have a wider audience. If any book this year has strong break-out potential it's this one. This is the book for you not to miss this year. Get it

Runners: Remastered #1: Sean Wang's sci-fi series has some occasionally clever dialogue and original and visually arresting designs for aliens. The tone is a bit scatter-shot, and I'm not sure if this is meant to be a straight-up action book with humorous elements, or a humor book with action sequences. As an introduction to the characters it could have used a little more time introducing the characters. I'm still not sure if the ship's crew are pirates, smugglers or what, nor do I know why the human-seeming character has some sort of electrical arm. It's free

Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai #1: Frankly, this was a bit much. I haven't been terribly impressed with any of Beckett's comics output, and the art here did little to leave an impression on me. No, it was the over-use of plot elements from the Robin Hood stories that killed this book for me. It just came off as silly and contrived. It's free

Star Wars: Any dramatic tension the story may have had is lost because we all know the eventual fate of these characters. So what we're left with is a well-drawn, but ultimately pointless comic containing nothing but fight scenes and false peril. It's free

Superior Showcase: Joel Priddy's' Onion Jack is the highlight of this story. With stick figures, he tells a blisteringly hilarious history of super-hero comics. The other two stories have their appeal as well, especially J Chris Campbell's manic story of juice-based super-heroes. Get it

Uncle Scrooge: It's hard to go wrong with a reprint of a Carl Barks duck story, and this reprint of "Only a Poor Old Man" is entertaining, and a good introduction to those who may not have ever encountered Uncle Scrooge before, but it's far from my favorite Scrooge story. I would have preferred a more adventurous tale of Scrooge and the gang, not yet another story of Scrooge trying to outwit the Beagle Boys, even if this story was the one that set the tone. It's free

Wizard: Top 100 Trade Paperbacks of All Time: This is a reprint of articles from issues of Wizard magazine. The lead story is all right, just a listing of 100 trades that Wizard's editorial department considered worthy of consideration. There's a bit too much emphasis on super-hero stories (unsurprisingly), and much of the non-super-hero material mentioned feels like it was done more out of necessity than any actual desire to promote that kind comic. The problem I have with this pamphlet is the second section, the "Comics Funniest Moments" story, which just made me embarrassed to be a comic book fan with its juvenile, scatological humor. I'm not sure who Wizard thinks would benefit from being exposed to this, as my suspicion is, were I to show this to a non-comics reader, the second section would make a more lasting impression on them than the first. Not even for free

Also, be sure to check out Johanna's FCBD reviews as well. She gives a much more detailed review of many of these books.


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