As I’ve done every year there has been a Free Comic Book Day, I take a look at each offering to give you an idea of what’s worth picking up and what’s worth leaving behind. So many books come out, it can be a bit overwhelming, and while some companies look at Free Comic Book Day as a way to put the industry’s best foot forward and try to bring in new readers, others…don’t. And since many retailers institute limits on how many free books a person can pick up, I think it’s important to make sure that you only pick up the best of the best.

2000 AD (Rebellion)
Mostly too-brief previews of a number of serials running in the magazine, the centerpiece here is a short Judge Dredd tale that emphasizes the satirical nature of the series. There’s also a reprint of a much older Tharg story about a Marvel Comics fan learning that violent British sci-fi comics are better than super-heroes. The only other character I’m familiar with that appears is Slaine, and the other stories seem intended to appeal to American audiences.
It’s free

Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics)
What could have been a fun story about Spider-Man and Spider-Woman having one of those oh-so-typical super-heroic misadventures where they fight and then team up to fight the real villain instead becomes an extended teaser for the next big Spider-Man storyline “Spider Island.” So the fun is diminished somewhat by the hard sell. Not to mention the “Fear Itself” preview, which feels particularly unnecessary, and has scenes of Nazis killing Nazis which feel out of place in a Spider-Man book.
It’s free

Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics)
There are some intriguing back-up stories here (Foster Broussaud more than Moon Girl I must say), but the stand-out here is the lead story, featuring Atomic Robo saving a science fair from a deranged dinosaur with guns. It’s the sort of inspired lunacy that makes comics worthwhile.
Get it

Avatar/Star Wars (Dark Horse Comics)
As someone who has never watched the Avatar cartoon, I found these two short stories fairly easy to follow, but I had really no idea what any of the back-story on these characters was, or why I should be interested in them. The art was attractive, though, and the jokes were all right for this kind of material. The Star Wars comic featured characters I don’t remember seeing in any of the films and deaths by axe. I feel like I should find that shocking, but random brutality and characters I don’t recognize seems to be normal for Star Wars these days.
It’s free

Baltimore/Criminal Macabre (Dark Horse Comics)
Two horror comics, one focusing on dread and terror, the other more on humor and banter. Both are quite good and provide intriguing introductions to the characters featured.
Get it

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2011 (Bongo)
A variety of short comics featuring Simpsons characters. If you have ever read a previous Bongo FCBD book, you know exactly what to expect.
It’s free

Captain America/Thor: The Mighty Fighting Avengers (Marvel Comics)
I have to admit, it takes a lot of nerve for Marvel to put out a book tying into the cancelled Langridge/Samnee Thor series.
That being said, this is a good, old-fashioned super-hero adventure comic, with some nice character bits and a little bit of action, and extremely good art by Chris Samnee. It should do a good job of getting kids interested in Thor, though Captain America gets somewhat less attention.
Get it

Civil War Adventures (History Graphics Press)
Not so much “history” here as a convenient era to set some horror and crime comics in. Generally good art, though, even if the Civil War connections appear to be mostly there as a sop to pass this off as educational.
It’s free

Dark Crystal/Mouse Guard (Archaia)
A teaser for the forthcoming series based on the Jim Henson film and a short story set in the Mouse Guard universe. The teaser should please fans of the film, as it promises important back-story for the film, but the short fable from the Mouse Guard series is more satisfying.
It’s free

The Darkness: Confession (Top Cow/Image)
A promo comic for the Mature-rated Darkness 2 video-game that appears to recap the events of the previous game. This is a remarkably ugly book, and its primary purpose seems to be to give the artists an excuse to draw people being killed in ugly ways.
Avoid

Darkwing Duck/Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (Boom! Studios)
The art on these is pretty good, and there are some funny jokes in the Darkwing Duck book, but I find myself perplexed at who these are meant to be aimed at. They don’t feel like kids books; they feel like books for adults about childrens’ cartoons. I’m at the upper age limit of people who watched these shows when they first aired, and I haven’t kept up with the characters, but a certain amount of knowledge is assumed.
It’s free

Elric: The Balance Lost (Boom! Studios)
Nice art by Frencesco Biagini that captures the look and feel of Elric nicely, and a suitably portentious set-up for this new series by Chris Roberson. Somewhat excessively gorey for a Free Comic Book Day book, maybe, but a promising introduction to this new series.
Get it

Geronimo Stilton and the Smurfs (Papercutz)
More Smurfs material is always a good thing, but I have to admit, with the attention that Papercutz has received for their Smurfs reprints, and with the movie coming out this year, it’s a little surprising that they’re serving as a back-up here to part of a Geronimo Stilton story. The Stilton story isn’t bad, it has nice art and is fairly engaging for a kid’s book. It just doesn’t quite feel like the A material here.
Get it

Green Lantern Special Edition (DC Comics)
As a teaser for the Green Lantern film, this isn’t bad, as it hits all the salient origin plot points, but that big “Book 2” on the first page is probably going to throw some people, and the cross-over checklist attached to the “Flashpoint” teaser is long enough that I’m sure it’s going to cause some people to reconsider their interest in the series.
It’s free

Ice/Loose Ends (12 Gauge Comics)
Two crime comics, one about a violence prone immigration enforcement unit, and one about a drug runner. Art on both is passable, but the ICE preview pretty much turned me off the series, and Loose Ends didn’t give me enough information to tell if I was interested or not.
It’s free

Inspector Gadget (Viper Comics)
The Gadget story is pretty true to the source material…right down to the heavy use of anti-Muslim caricatures that should have been too embarrassing to publish. There is a second feature, something called “Johnny Test” but the reproduction is so bad I didn’t even bother to read it.
Avoid

The Intrepid Escapegoat (Th3rd World Studios)
An absolutely fantastic all ages adventurecomic with magic (of the stage and Egyptian varieties), monsters, and flying trains. The art by Brian Smith fits the story well, and is remarkably expressive for it’s simple line work.
Get it

Jake the Dreaming (Radical)
Not a comic at all, but excerpts from an upcoming Young Adult novel and a few illustrations from same. Rather misses the point of Free COMIC BOOK day, despite the format.
N/A

John Stanley’s Summer Fun! (Drawn & Quarterly)
I’ve made no secret in the past that I intensely dislike the trade dress that D&Q is doing on their line of children’s comics reprints, and that I think the reproductions are subpar. This is the ugliest book I’ve seen from them yet. The comics appear to have been photocopied from the originals. It looks amateurish for something that is supposed to be a high end collection.
The only thing this has in its favor is that the John Stanley strips are really good.
Its free

Locke & Key (IDW)
Nice art, but for a book that I’ve heard mostly mixed reviews on, this doesn’t seem to be a very clear indication of what the book is about. It looks like an ambitious children’s fantasy comic, but then we have a text piece insisting that no, really, this is a mature reader’s book and this all-ages issue is the exception to the rule. Which makes me wonder why an issue from the middle of the storyline that isn’t indicative of the normal tone was chosen.
It’s free

Mis-Adventures of Adam West/Walter Koening’s Things To Come (Bluewater Comics)
If I was Adam West, I’d want a comic about me to portray me as a bitter, angry old man who can’t get work and starts to hallucinate. The less said about the other comic, the better.
Avoid

The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics (Gemstone Publishing)
A text heavy pamphlet with a couple of crudely drawn comics focusing on the importance of properly grading comics and how valuable they could be.
It’s a distressingly mercenary approach to introducing kids to comics that I can’t help but find offensive.
AVOID at all costs. Seriously, if someone hands a copy to you, throw it away

Path of the Planewalker 2 (Wizards of the Coast)
Very inconsistent art for a fantasy story about a wizard searching for an evil witch and remembering his childhood. It’s entirely possible that illustrations on game-cards don’t actually require this much back-story.
Avoid

Pep Comics (Archie Comics)
An Archie comic focusing on Betty and Veronica, or more specifically, Veronica being, well, Veronica. The jokes aren’t the freshest or most original, and everyone learns a lesson in the end. In other words, an Archie comic, and while it’s a pretty good Archie comic, it all comes down to whether or not you have the patience for Archie comics.
I do note that Archie has taken the opportunity to push their Kevin Keller comic here. I’m curious to see if there’s any blowback from that.
It’s free

Rated Free For Everyone (Oni Press)
Two upcoming kids comics from Oni are featured here, both well-drawn and with unusual premises, the sorts of things that Oni does well in its kids line. Sketch Monsters, about a little girl whose notebook drawings come to life, is the better of the two, largely do to its inventive monster designs. Power Lunch, about food-based super-powers, is relatively tame in comparison.
It’s free

Richie Rich/Kung Fu Panda 2 (Ape Entertainment)
The Kung Fu Panda stories here are alright, if slight, kids adventure comics with some gags, but the Richie Rich story strikes an odd chord. The art feels ill-suited to the characters, and the updates to Irona and Cadbury feel like an effort to make the characters more “extreme” in an unsuccessful way. The cover features Cadbury, Richie’s butler, wielding a gun. That just doesn’t seem a good fit for a kids comic.
It’s free

Silver Scorpion (Liquid Comics)
Slick art for an old-school superhero origin story with slightly heavy-handed political resonances and tragedies laid on a bit thick.
It’s free

Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics)
Setting aside the usual shudder that too much contact with the internet causes whenever Sonic the Hedgehog comics come to mind, we have a typical fight comic here, with a blue hedgehog fighting some sort of robot-wizard monster in the snow, while references to past and future continuity in the Sonic comics get dropped left and right.
I have no idea how this will make sense to someone who has never read a Sonic comic before.
It’s free

Spontaneous (Oni Press)
Oni’s contributions to FCBD are usually worth checking out, and while this doesn’t really seem like it’s “for me” it’s still worth checking out. It’s a mystery series, maybe, or a horror series. It’s a bit hard to tell. It’s certainly a teen investigators cracking wise series. Focused on spontaneous human combustion. So it’s a little too purposefully quirky for me to really embrace, but it’s well done quirk.
Get it

Super Dinosaur (Image)
A kids superhero comic about a dinosaur in a mecha suit. It should be pretty high-concept, but almost all of this issue is people sitting around talking about the things Super Dinosaur has done, making it more of an illustrated bit of exposition than an actual comic story.
It’s free.

The Tick (NEC Press)
A short, fun, self-referential Tick comic, followed by several Marvel Universe/Who’s Who style pages featuring members of the Tick’s supporting cast. The goal here is largely to advertise other Tick comics you can buy, but the Les McClane art is good, and, if you’re into this sort of humor, it’s pretty funny.
It’s free

Top 10 Deadliest Sharks/Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Predators (Silver Dragon Book)
The dinosaur portion of the book features beautiful illustrations and should excite any kid who loves dinosaurs. The focus on the shark book is more on the thrill of reading an illustrated shark attack, but as promos for a line of educational kids comics these offer a good taste of what to expect: a mix of sensationalism and facts.
It’s free

Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf Productions)
Top Shelf usually has a good mix of material for kids. A lot of this stuff is barely comprehensible, but that’s sort of it’s charm. It’s high energy, non-ironic, deliberately weird stuff.
Get it

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse (Fantagraphics Books)
Fantagraphics previewers their upcoming Mickey Mouse newspaper strip reprints with a short Floyd Gottfredson story about Mickey outsmarting crooks at a dog track. The art is crisply reproduced and the story is fun, and should be of interest to both kids and anyone curious about the Gottfredson books.
Get it

Witch and Wizard (Yen Press)
I’m not familiar with the James Patterson novels this is based on, but it appears to be an American response to Harry Potter with more explicitly fascist villains. As such, it hits the usual plot points that Young Adult fiction tends to. The manga style art by Svetlana Chmakova is better than I expect for this sort of thing.
It’s free

Worlds of Aspen 2011 (Aspen Comics)
I think this is, if anything, even less comprehensible than the FCBD contributions Aspen has put out in the past. The closest thing to something with a narrative here is six pages of a “Soulfire” comic, which probably makes sense if you know what Soulfire is, but otherwise appears to be about women with insect wings yelling at each other.
Avoid

Young Justice/Batman Super Sampler (DC Comics)
Two decent, but unremarkable, stories featuring the stars of DC’s current animated shows fighting bad guys. The Young Justice story has an interesting recap of the regular characters, while the Batman story is a more straight-forward team-up with the Flash. Good enough kids books.
It’s free

One Response to “Free Comic Book Day, 2011”
  1. Tim O'Neil says:

    “It’s entirely possible that illustrations on game-cards don’t actually require this much back-story.”

    The monstrous corpus of backmatter they assemble to sell those game-cards is truly staggering. I wonder just what percentage of the $4 it costs to buy a pack of those things goes towards paying all the people who think up backstories for the various goblin lords. It almost makes me think – almost? – that the people involved actually believe the Magic world is interesting in its own right and is not just a polite pretense for giving various people along the autism spectrum something to do on Friday nights.

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