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Sean William Scott

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Free Comic Book Day Reviews 

As I've done in the past, I made myself sit down and read all the Free Comic Book Day comics and determine whether a) I think they're any good and b) if I think they'll attract new readers. I use a very simple and easy to understand ratings system. If I say Get it, I think it's a good comic and you should try to check it out. If I say Eh it usually means that while the comic isn't particularly outstanding, any faults it may have are easily overlooked because it's a free comic. And if I say Avoid I strongly suggest you look elsewhere for your entertainment, unless you plan on reading the comic only to see just how bad it really is. Be careful, too many Avoid comics in one sitting and you might just find yourself swearing off comics all together.

Amelia Rules: Funny Story: Jimmy Gownley's all-ages comic has been a highlight of FCBD every time it's appeared, and this time is no exception. It’s well-illustrated, with engaging art-work and a good deal of humor and genuine emotion mixed together.
Get it

Arcana Studio Presents #3: I’ve been very harsh on prior FCBD works from Arcana in the past, and there’s not much here to make me change my opinion. The art isn’t terrible, but the writing’s a bit over-wrought. I’ve heard mostly good things about 100 Girls, but Kade and Ezra just leave me cold. There’s a one-page ad in the back advertising forthcoming Arcana titles, and many of those, just from the small glimpse of art I see there, sound far more interesting to me that what’s in this book.

Bluff & Tales from a Forgotten Planet: Narwain presents a book split between Bluff, a slight but amusing story of a dog and his flea adopted by a family, and a Ben Dunn sci-fi comic that reads, frankly, like everything else I’ve ever tried to read by Ben Dunn. Bluff was cute. Bluff is worth looking at.
Get it for Bluff, /Eh for the rest of the book

Buzzboy: Sidekicks Rule: I’ve enjoyed the Buzzboy comics I’ve read for FCBD in the past. They were fun takes on the super-hero genre that didn’t take themselves too seriously either. This time there seems to be more of an effort made to, well, mock relatively recent super-hero comics. It’s not bad, but it’s the sort of self-referential humor, where the jokes are dependant on having read the comics being mocked, that too frequently passes for comedy in super-hero books, and it’s not something I see translating well to new comics readers.

Comic Genesis/God Mode: This is a sampler of web-comics hosted on the Comics Genesis web-site, along with an extended reprint of a video-game humor comic called “God Mode” on the flip-side. The quality is very uneven, with perhaps more sub-par comics than good work on display. “God Mode,” surprisingly, I enjoyed, despite the lack of interest I have for either video-game humor strips or office humor strips.

Donald Duck: A trio of short stories by modern Duck artists is the offering this year. The stories are unabashedly humor, unlike the adventure stories that characterized past FCBD promotions from Gemstone, and it is nice to see more contemporary work than the habitual Barks reprints.
Get it

Free Scott Pilgrim: I’m told that this “Scott Pilgrim” thing is big with “the kids.” It does nothing for me, sorry. I realize that makes me something of a heretic in the comics blogging world, but I was just bored with the story. The book also features a back-up, something called Fearless Griggs, which seems heavily influenced by Mignola’s Hellboy. And that’s about as politely as I can phrase that sentiment.

Funny Book: Jason’s cartoons are entertaining, though a bit nerd-centric. The rest of the book is either simply awful, or a throw-back to the kind of self-conscious efforts to be “daring” and “original” that I’d had rather hoped had died out of the comics industry about ten years ago.

Future Shock: Image’s offering is a book with several short, out of context excerpts from recent or forth-coming books. I’m largely at a loss as to what this approach is meant to accomplish. There’s not enough of any particular story to really give any compelling reason to seek out the book. There isn’t even any attempt made to establish the basic premise of most of the books featured. I suppose if there is a target audience for something like this, it’s existing comic book fans who want to know what the “hot” books at Image are.

G.I. Joe: Sigma 6: G.I. Joe is a strange property. It primarily seems to appeal to adult men, but attempts keep being made to “revive” the concept for a younger audience. And so you get a book like this, which is too “kiddie” for existing Joe fans, and too dependant on a decades old property’s back-story to interest kids. I suppose in the unlikely event that a child with an interest in G.I. Joe does get their hands on this they’ll like it well enough. They’d probably like the cartoon tie-in I’m sure exists for the “Sigma 6” line more.

Impact University: This is nothing more than short excerpts from Impact’s line of “how to draw” books. There’s some value to it as a sort of primer for where at least one publisher thinks the comics industry is heading: fantasy and manga. And it is nice to see some emphasis placed on correct anatomy and story structure in here as well. In any case, it’s nothing remarkable, but nothing objectionable, either.

Jack the Lantern: 1942: This is simply dreadful, a throw-back to the days when half the comics on the rack seemed to be inspired by the work of Tim Vigil and Joe Linsner.

Justice League Unlimited: A reprint of a not very exciting animated-style Justice League comic. For a super-hero comic aimed decidely at kids, there’s an awful lot of people standing around talking. When there is some action, it’s nice to see a variety of more popular and less well-known characters getting in on it.

Keenspot Spotlight 2006: This is another collection of web-comics from the Keenspot site. There’s a very loose theme of “road trips” here which gives the collection as a whole some unity, but the disparity in art styles and quality of the strips reprinted makes for a very uneven reading experience.

Liberty Girl #0: It’s a good-natured cheese-cake title that harkens back to an earlier comics publishing era. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s nothing remarkable either. And any fan of this particular sub-genre of super-hero comics (faux-retro pin-up girls) is probably already well aquainted with the works published by Heroic.

Mr. Jean: Drawn & Quarterly offers some short reprints of Mr. Jean stories, as well as bibliographic comics about the creators of Mr. Jean and an excerpt of the forthcoming Moomin collection. It may be that this is all European material being reprinted, but it’s a rare treat to find art-comix these days that aren’t slavishly self-important and pretentious. (Or trying to shock you with how “offensive” they allegedly are.) The art in all these stories is excellent, and the humor has that slightly “off” European feel but it comes through strongly nonetheless.
Get it

Owly: Breakin’ the Ice: The Owly stories have distinguished themselves by their simple charm and innocence, so it’s quite a surprise to find a story offering a great deal of excitement and danger to the characters. This is definitely one of the stand-out books, and one every who heads to a comic store for FCBD should be on the look-out for.
Get it

The Preposterous Voyages of Ironhide Tom: A foul-mouthed stick-figure pirate who keeps shipwrecking. It’s amazingly funny and clever and simply brilliant.
Get it

Soulsearchers and Company/Deadbeats: I understand that both of these comics have devoted, almost obsessional followings, but they strike me as simply rather pedestrian retreads of genres I’m not terribly interested in to begin with. Like several other books offered this year, the over-all tone and style of these comics is very reminiscent of the early nineties.

Star Wars/Conan: I’m not a Star Wars fan, so I really don’t have a good sense of perspective on this one. Was it good, was it bad? I don’t know, it was just yet another Star Wars comic to me. The Conan story wasn’t bad, though it’s particular purpose seemed to be only to communicate, in as brief a way as possible, “Conan is kind of a badass.” I do sort of wonder at the wisdom of pairing a children’s comic like Star Wars with the more adult skewing Conan comic.

Superman/Batman #1: I actually think it’s quite clever of DC to put this book out. It builds on momentum from last years Batman Begins while subtly promoting the forthcoming Superman Returns. And while it’s fashionable to bash Jeph Loeb’s work as a writer, I’ve always felt that this title somehow works as a bombastic, over-the-top, silly super-hero melodrama. To be perfectly honest, I think this is an even better kid-friendly super-hero book for DC to be putting out for FCBD than Justice League. It’s got lots of action and a slick art style.
Get it

Tokyopop Sneaks: This book contains excerpts from three books from Tokyopop’s line of original titles, Kat and Mouse, Sea Princess Azuri and Mail Order Ninja. Of the three, Kat and Mouse was the most entertaining. It follows the story structure of a high-school set shojo comic fairly closely, but it doesn’t all out ape the look and feel of a Japanese comic. It has a nice blend of American and Japanese styles. If more of Tokyopop’s original line was like this I’d be more favorably inclined to their efforts. Sea Princess Azuri has the potential to be an engaging all-ages fantasy title, while Mail Order Ninja seems to be trying too hard to copy the look and feel of a Japanese comic.

Transformers: Infiltration/Beast Wars: The Gathering: It’s books like these that make me regret my decision to review all the FCBD books. I loved Transformers when I was a kid, but I don’t delude myself into thinking that the cartoon or the comic had any artistic merit at all. This is a comic for men my age and older disguised as a children’s comic, and an exploitive one at that. It makes my head hurt just trying to figure out what the hell is supposed to be going on, and I grew up on this garbage.

Viper Comics Presents: Of the various sampler comics, this is the most successful. The art is of generally good quality, the stories tease but still succeed in setting up their premise, and there’s a nice variety of material on display.
Get it

Wizard Top 100 Trade Paperbacks Of All Time: This is, near as I can tell, pretty much the exact same book Wizard put out last year. It was dreadful then and it’s dreadful now. While you may be tempted to forgive Wizard their fixation on penis and poop jokes because of the perceived value of a guide to quality graphic novels, don’t. This is the sort of thing that causes people to look down on comic fans as maladjusted immature twerps. This is not simply a book to avoid, this is a book to despise.
Avoid at all costs

Worlds of Aspen: I’m not a follower of Michael Turner’s work at all, so while I try to be objective on a book like this, I find myself turned off by the artwork and utterly bored with the story. It’s not terrible, and I can almost, sort of, kind of, see the appeal in work of this kind, but it’s not for me.

X-Men/Runaways: I like the Runaways. I like the X-Men when they’re written well, which is rare. I like Brian K. Vaughn’s work as a writer. But the lead story here was simply terrible, and all the blame must be laid on the “art” of Skottie Young. It’s ugly and unappealing and it reeks of a clumsy attempt to ape an anime look. It’s the sort of blatant pandering to perceived trends that so often typifies Marvel’s comics. The only thing tolerable in the book is a Chris Eliopoulis and Marc Sumerak Franklin Richards story, and that is severely hampered by the heavy Bill Watterson influence on the art. Of particularely noteworthy contempt is the odd prominence of Giant Girl’s ass in the Marvel Adventures: The Avengers excerpt. Given that the Marvel Adventures line is aimed, theoretically, at parents who object to the “mature” content of the regular Marvel universe, the strange prominence of that particular feature of Giant Girl’s anatomy is…worrisome.

Be sure to also check out Johanna's review of the Gold Sponser books, the books most likely to be carried by all retailers participating in Free Comic Book Day.
(Due to the vagaries of Diamond's distribution, the comics from Archie and Bongo were not available to me by the time I wrote this. There was also, for some reason, a guide to the ninth edition set for Magic: The Gathering which was branded with the Free Comic Book Day logo, which didn't really make for entertaining reading.)


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