30 Apr 2008

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2008

This Saturday, May 3rd, sees the 7th annual Free Comic Book Day. Those unfamiliar with the event should head to the official site – here we take a look at an advance selection of freebies that should be available at your local comic shop at the weekend. Of course, those of you in the same catchment area as us should head over to Paradox where Andy H will have available not only the comics reviewed below, but many more besides!

Writers: Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman & Johnny Craig
Art: Al Feldstein, Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craid & Wall Wood
Gemstone Publishing $0.00

Matt C: I recently took the plunge into the EC Archives series with a purchase of Shock SuspenStories Vol. 1 and while I would give it my highest recommendation I understand the price tag of the Archives is off-putting for those unsure if they will enjoy their contents. Which makes this freebie something that should most definitely be picked up! EC is an immensely important part of comics’ history, not simply because it was the main casualty in Dr Wertham’s witch hunt in the Fifties, but because of the creativity, the ingenuity and the extraordinary influential talents that worked on the various books in the line. Famous fans include the likes of George Lucas, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg and Max Allan Collins, and while the stories in this sampler aren’t necessarily the best available (why give your best work away for free?) it’s surprising just how well these 50 year-old stories hold up today. 9/10

Matt T: There are few comics that can move so smoothly from astronauts fighting an inhuman blob to a moral piece on the Korean war, but the EC Sampler somehow manages it. In fact there are a fair few messages hidden within the often hokey sci-fi/horror tales, and there’s nothing like a healthy dose of kitsch artwork to remind you how diverse comics can be. 9/10

X-MEN: FCBD 2008
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Greg Land & Jay Leisten
Marvel $0.00

Matt T: This is a little better than I’d usually expect from one of the big two on FCBD, concentrating on one of the lesser-known X-pupils and fleshing her out. Land’s art seems to enchant then piss me off on a panel-by-panel basis, but he knows how to draw an attractive splash page. Plus, in what I think might be a first for the X-Men (Rob N is probably getting ready to prove me wrong), it’s all set in Wales! A decent throwaway read. 7/10

Matt C: I don’t read many X-books these days so I have no idea who Pixie, the main character of this story, is. It’s a fairly generic X-Men tale, in a lot of ways reminding me of Chris Claremont’s work circa the mid-80s, but it zips along at a brisk enough pace. Land’s art, us usual, is sometimes brilliant and sometimes way too obviously photo-referenced and static. Still, not bad all told, and a hats off to Marvel for giving away new material away for free while DC still relies on reprints. 6/10

Writers: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Joshua Dysart
Art: Duncan Fegredo, Guy Davis & Paul Azaceta
Dark Horse Comics $0.00

Matt C: While I can appreciate the talent involved, I’ve never really been a fan of Hellboy. I’ve read a few stories – and they’ve been perfectly fine – but I’ve not felt the compulsion to investigate on a continuing basis. That said, I imagine this being one of the more popular freebies as all three stories have much to recommend them, even for non-fan like myself. 7/10

Matt T: I’m a real fan of the randomness of Hellboy collections, especially when the background members of the BPRD come to the fore. Johann isn’t a character I’m massively familiar with, but this comic made me want to look into his background more, and the other two backup stories are brisk and give some insight into Bruttenholm and Hellboy himself. 8/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Eureka Productions $0.00

Matt C: At 60-plus pages, this is probably the most generous freebie available this Free Comic Book Day. It’s also one of the more interesting: Eureka Productions are not a publisher I was previously aware of, nor their Graphic Classics series, but on this evidence they are a well worth further exploration. A selection of adaptations by familiar literary names such as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle are included in this sampler, all brought to life by a range of different writers and artists. The retail volumes – as well as the aforementioned authors – contain works by the likes of Bram Stoker, Mark Twain & H.P. Lovecraft. I wouldn’t go so far as saying there’s something for everyone, but I’d imagine there’s enough good material to cater to a variety of different tastes. 8/10

Matt T: This adaptation of a number of literary classics was something of a hard slog in places, with much of the language remaining in its original form. There are brief and easily read stories for every overly verbose one though, and the art was outstanding in places. A bit different from my usual comic fare, but that’s what FCBD is all about. 7/10

Writer: Jimmy Gownley
Art: Jimmy Gownley
Renaissance Press $0.00

Matt T: Without being a young teenage girl myself, I’m not really the intended audience for this book, but I can appreciate the stylistic art and clever, well paced dialogue. There are a few emotional moments to match the levity, and each of the characters has a distinctive personality, so I’d heartily recommend this to anyone who believes comics are aimed purely at males. 8/10

Matt C: Amelia Rules! seems to be one of the more highly regarded titles for younger readers and since I don’t fit into that demographic (what a surprise!) I may not be particularly qualified to judge. Then again, it’s a comic book, I’ve read thousands of them, I should have an inkling of what’s good and what’s bad, right? Well, straight away I know this isn’t exactly something I would go out of my way to read again, but it is something I would whole-heartedly recommend to parents with daughters around the 9-14 age bracket – strong female characters in relatable situations, told without the need for sugar-coating or tweeness. 6/10

Writers: Jeff Parker & Paul Tobin
Art: Alvin Lee & Terry Pallot
Marvel $0.00

Matt T: Part of me wishes the current Marvel U was something like that portrayed in Marvel Adventures, with heroes battling villains and none of this ‘shades of grey’ malarkey. The story is straightforward and entertaining, with a fair bit of wit to keep the overall tone light. The art is also extremely impressive for a book aimed at younger readers, although I don’t particularly like the anime-style Mandarin. 7/10

Matt C: For those of us more entrenched in the regular Marvel Universe the tales featured in the Marvel Adventures books may seem a little too lightweight. But then, we’re not really the intended market – shave 20, 25 years off my age and this would have been a perfect introduction to some of the House Of Ideas’ most iconic characters. The depth and complexities of their older cousins may be absent from these comics, but the sense of fun is retained and clearly evident, that same sense of fun that first captured our imaginations all those years ago. 6/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Top Shelf Productions $0.00

Matt C: If you’re like me, you see the words “All Ages” and you probably think “For Kids”. Most of the stories in Top Shelf’s FCBD offering are directed towards a younger audience and would probably have little appeal to more “mature” readers. The exception is the title tale, another adventure featuring Andi Runton’s Owly. Comic book perfection that transcends age-categorization and a sterling example of the medium's ability to tell stories with pictures alone, Owly continues to be an absolute joy. Even the most hard-hearted bastard won’t be able to resist its charms! 8/10

Matt T: I am now an official Owly fan. There’s nothing better than, after reading the latest Countdown-against-Civil-War-death-and-destruction storyline to pick up something simple and sweet that rarely sees the need for dialogue. As a five-minute distraction this book is great fun, and all ages should get a kick out of it whether they’re comic fans or not. 9/10

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