As has become my habit, here are brief reviews of (most) of this year’s selection of Free Comic Book Day books. Scheduling issues mean a few titles didn’t make it to me in time for review, so you’re on your own if you need to find out if you should pick up Voltron Force or Hypernauts.
Since many stores limit the number of titles an individual may take, I’ve made the review scale as simple as possible; stuff you should get if you can, stuff you may as well pick up if it’s offered, and stuff that should be left behind.
Anna & Froga/Moomin Valley Turns Jungle (Drawn & Quarterly)
Utterly bizarre and demented children’s comics. The art in Anna and Froga may be too primitive for most people, but the “a kid could draw this” aspect is part of the charm.
Anti/The Ride (12-Gauge)
Well, this is just utterly charmless and dire.
Atomic Robo/NeoZoic/Bonnie Lass (Red 5 Comics)
Good, fun, well illustrated comics. You’d be a sucker to pass this up, because this sort of stuff is what comics should be about.
Avengers: Age of Ultron 0.1 (Marvel Comics)
So, rather than put out a one-off comic featuring the characters in the movie that just released, Brian Bendis wrote a story starring Spider-Woman, about Ultron, featuring a metric ton of heroes and villains, most of which are never identified by name, that sets up another storyline. Maybe, if we’re really lucky, a cross-over! As “best foot forwards” for the industry go, this is not it.
Bad Medicine (Oni Press)
Another Oni book that reads somewhat like a pitch for a movie or television show. In this case, disgraced doctor who talks to ghost/hallucination teams up with sexy female detective to solve weird science crimes. While competently done, it feels very familiar somehow.
Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (Fantagraphics Books)
Nicely illustrated classic comic strips, charming in their own way, but more than a little on the dry side and pretty undynamic.
Bongo Comics Free-For-All/Spongebob Squarepants Freestyle Funnies (Bongo Comics)
While it’s always nice to see new Sergio Aragones work, the rest of this is pretty dull. Neither the Simpsons nor Spongebob stories are particularly funny or interesting.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/The Guild (Dark Horse Comics)
A nerd pandering Buffy short and a Guild comic that only furthers my questions about whether the series is meant to be a mockery of these people or not. Okay if you like that sort of thing.
Burt Ward: Boy Wonder/Wrath of the Titans (Bluewater Comics)
Nice animation style art in both of these, and while Wrath has an appealing, storybook style, the Burt Ward half of this flip-book is as incomprehensible as last year’s Adam West offering.
The Censored Howard Cruse (Boom!)
I honestly cannot imagine how this is going to go over. It’s fantastic work, brilliant stuff, and I’ll save my rant about how any swearing or sexual images have to be censored but violent, gorey ones are apparently a-ok for another time. It’s not a great fit for Free Comic Book Day though, which is why I wonder how distribution of this will play out on the day. Still, well worth picking up.
DC Nation Super Sampler/Superman Family Adventures (DC Comics)
Too brief samples of DC’s comics adaptations of their (generally good) current animated shows, and a Bronze Age/New 52 amalgam Superman comic by the Tiny Titans creators. Fun stuff, but there’s not enough of any of it to really give a satisfying read.
Donald Duck Family (Fantagraphics Books)
Great little selection of short Carl Barks humor strips focusing on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Excellent reproduction similar to their hardcover reprint line.
Finding Gossamyr/The Stuff of Legends (Th3rd World Studios)
Beautifully illustrated all-ages fantasy comics with strong, intriguing premises.
The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angels (Yen Press)
A manga adaptation of a supernatural romance young adult novel series. It’s actually quite pretty and seems like an interesting series, but suffers from the sort of lack of exposition that suggests only those familiar with the original novels should attempt to read this.
The Intrisic (Arcana Studio)
Supernatural super-hero indie comics that tread annoyingly familiar ground, with lackluster art and a story that’s somewhat hard to follow. Somehow manages to even lack the charm of a Top Cow book.
Jurassic Strike Force 5 (Silver Dragon Books)
Sci-fi dinosaur superhero comics, with a toy line ready to go for a hoped for media blitz. Nicely illustrated, if you can avoid asking yourself why the female dinosaur has mammalian sex characteristics.
Lady Death: The Beginning (Boundless Comics)
Big, loud and dumb are the keywords here. It’s utterly uncomplicated and direct about being those three things, and it’s got a kind of manic tone. I sort of see why this has an appeal, but it’s still not particularly any good.
Mega Man (Archie Comics)
Sort of fun, but mostly acts as an introduction to the character. Who has been around twenty-five years. Something with more robot fighting action would have been appreciated.
Mouse Guard, Labyrinth and Other Stories (Archaia Entertainment)
Everything in here is perfect and wonderful. Putting all this goodness in a nice little hard-cover does a good job of telling everyone how special and worthwhile this material is, matching form with content. You need this.
My Favorite Martian (Hermes Press)
Sort of amusing, in that way old Dell/Western comics have. It certainly wins the award for “most random” title to be released as part of Free Comic Book Day.
The New 52 (DC Comics)
Previews for upcoming comics shuffled into a semi-narrative that previews the first big “event” comic of the DC relaunch: the startlingly original idea of a bunch of super-heroes fighting each other over what is sure to be a preventable misunderstanding or difference of opinion. Of minor interest to continuity fans, but otherwise pretty forgettable.
Overstreet’s Comic Book Marketplace (Gemstone)
Overstreet does a better job than they have in past years, putting a lot of material in here about the history of horror comics (a random but ultimately inoffensive topic), but there’s still a big push on the value of comics as collectables. Missing the point of a day where you give comics away to people to get them to read the damn things entirely.
The Rockhead and Zinc Alloy 2-For-None (Capstone)
Kid-friendly super-hero books. Not particularly compelling, but not badly done either.
The Smurfs and Disney Fairies (Papercutz)
Nice mix of all-ages material, all well drawn. The Tinkerbell stories are, perhaps, a bit simplistic, but the rest of the material is excellent.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics)
Sonic has his fans, mostly amongst kids and the darker corners of the internet. This is a solid adventure comic, but it doesn’t have much to recommend it apart from “well done.”
Spider-Man: Season One (Marvel Comics)
It’s yet another updating of Spider-Man’s origin. Wasn’t this the whole point of the “Ultimate” line before that went off the rails? If you need another Spider-Man origin, this is at least pleasingly drawn and not insultingly stupid.
Star Wars/Serenity (Dark Horse Comics)
Fabio Moon’s art in the Serenity story is nice. Otherwise, both stories here are pretty charmless and feel rote, like the properties are just being trotted out to push fan buttons.
Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf Productions)
Good mix of all ages material in a variety of styles. Most of it should be familiar if you’ve ever picked up one of Top Shelf’s samplers before.
Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 (IDW)
I liked Transformers as a kid, but this stuff is just utterly incomprehensible unless you’ve been steeping in it for years.
Witchblade: Unbalanced Pieces (Image/Top Cow)
Top Cow’s universe has been around long enough now that I find their existence vaguely comforting in the same way I used to find Chaos! Comics’ existence comforting: it’s so unpretentious in its blatant exploitation and so earnest in its wrestling by way of heavy metal album covers plots that the appeal is evident.
Doesn’t mean I think it’s any good, though.
Worlds of Aspen 2012 (Aspen Comics)
A sample of story intros and pin-ups that, well…is representative of the sort of material we expect to see out of a pin-up art company that’s still stuck in 90s storytelling styles.
Worlds Most Dangerous Animals (Silver Dragon Books)
This may be of interest to children with morbid interests in animal attacks on humans. They’ll eat it up, everyone else will probably be bored.
Yo Gabba Gabba! (Oni Press)
An entertaining mix of alt-comic and indie creators doing comics based on a tv show for preschoolers. I can’t quite tell if this is for kids, or for those adults who watch a show for preschoolers. Fun stuff, in any case.
Valiant 2012 (Valiant Entertainment)
A company that largely existed to feed off comics speculators is back, trying to pitch itself as the interconnected, story-driven super-hero universe that isn’t Marvel and DC, because historically those have done well…
Zombie Kid (Antarctic Press)