6 May 2011

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2011

This Saturday, May 7th, sees the 10th 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 on the day. 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!

Writer: Joe Harris
Art: Brett Weldele
Oni Press $0.00

Stewart R: It was around this time last year that Oni Press offered up the first issue of Bunn and Hurtt's Sixth Gun and, thirteen issues later, there's no doubting that that series has become an unmitigated success. That obviously holds no weight with a different creative team but I'm still looking Oni Press' way this FCBD to see whether they manage to repeat the feat. My initial feeling on the matter is that Spontaneous could well deliver them a back-to-back victory. Joe Hill's detective tale, that may or may not be supernaturally tinged - it's too early to tell at this juncture - moves along at an engaging and measured pace as young Melvin continues to investigate strange instances where individuals appear to have died in circumstances of Spontaneous Human Combustion. The key to this initial chapter is the weary yet knowledgeable personality that Harris and Weldele manage to extract from Melvin as we witness his initial, horrific experience with the phenomena and then when his work is cast in new directions by a pushy, no-nonsense reporter who barges her way into his life. The art from Weldele is supremely effective, delivering an almost sepia watercolour style that really enhances the fiery nature of some of the scenes and also helps to set the slightly sombre tone. Miss this one at your peril. 9/10

Matt C: The clear winner from last year’s FCBD was Oni’s The Sixth Gun. A lot of folks picked it up, were impressed enough to pay for the following issues, and watched the series go from strength to strength. I’m not convinced Spontaneous will be quite the hit The Sixth Gun was/is, but it’s certainly an engrossing read, and it’s a book I’ll be looking to get a second helping of at the very least. Focusing on a young man’s search for the truth about Spontaneous Human Combustion following his father’s mysterious death, it may sound like a discarded plot for an episode of The X-Files – and indeed the protagonist’s dogged pursuit of answers may remind some of Fox Mulder – but the low key, personal approach to the story gives it far more dramatic weight than you might expect. The art helps set the mood and pull you in to the unfolding mystery – there’s hints of Ben Templesmith’s style in here, but I think that’s more down to the way it’s coloured (brilliantly, by the way) than anything else. It works though, and you should make sure nabbing yourself a copy of this is one of your priorities this Saturday. 8/10

Writer: Dan Slot
Art: Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas, Victor Alazaba & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: This is what Free Comic Book Day is all about for me: a publisher putting out a book that's designed to not only pull in new readers but also reward existing readers. Marvel's main contribution to the annual event does exactly that. It ropes in regular writer Dan Slott to bring the reader up to speed with Spidey's life, from his well-worn origin right up to the present date, and then hints at where things will go next. Slott's been receiving plenty of plaudits for his work on the title and although I personally haven't been convinced to add Amazing Spider-Man onto my pull-list I can't really knock what he's doing and he supplies the same kind of wit and energy to his script here as he does on the regular book. Ramos can be an acquired taste for some, but I like his style, it's full of infectious brio. All in all, this is definitely one to make a beeline for on Saturday. It may or may not prompt you do investigate the ongoing series (if you weren't doing so already) but for a freebie you can't really fault it. 8/10

Stewart R: There’s no doubt that Amazing Spider-Man as a title has been on the ascendancy in recent times thanks to the focused input of Dan Slott as he plots the future course through Peter Parker’s life. His writing has been emotional, action-packed and full of good humour and it’s clear that he has a great love and feel for the character. Following last year’s dud in the form of the Iron Man/Thor offering Marvel needed to up their game and they’ve done so here. What you get for... well, free isn’t it!... is a terrific look back at where Spider-Man came from, what he’s been through recently and the briefest glimpse of the dangers that await him up the road. There’s an entertaining bust-up with Spider-Woman drawn with expert precision by Spidey-favourite artist Humberto Ramos and the rest of his regular art team, and the high-kicking is sprinkled with the usual fun banter and wit. Things then get a touch more serious (but not by much) as our hero undertakes training to help him in the months ahead. If that weren’t enough, there’s a six-page Fear Itself preview included which likely won’t interest dedicated readers as they’ll already be on board but could tempt newer folks to have a look. 8/10

Writers: Russell Dauterman & Walter Koenig
Art: Reed Lackey, Kamui Ayami, J.C.Baez & Jon Lyons
Bluewater Comics $0.00

Matt C: Yes, this does actually exist, it does star Adam West in a story by Adam West that sees and old doddery Adam West, fed up with the crumbling morality of the modern world, finding a mystical talisman which changes him into a younger, athletic Adam West ready to have adventures as a force of absolute good (possibly of the espionage variety judging by his clobber). I have a hard time trying to figure out exactly who would pick up a series where Adam West is some sort of suave action hero (apart from Adam West himself) but the fact that there is such comic makes me rather happy due to the sheer ludicrousness of the premise (and as far as I can tell, we’re supposed to take it seriously). Bluewater, from the Previews solicitations I've seen, are well into the celebrity comic book market, so there must be an audience for this kind of thing out there, somewhere. God knows where that is though - perhaps someone can enlighten me? The flip of this book is a short teaser for Walter ‘Chekov’ Koenig's Thing’s To Come. It basically looks like it's riffing on H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and again, although it doesn't star Koening himself (at least not yet) the question still raises itself: who will actually buy this stuff?! Hardcore Chekov fans? Are there such people?! If you want a good laugh (and who doesn't?) see if you can get hold of a copy and join me in trying to figure out who would pay their hard-earned cash for this self-indulgent but utterly – and I assume unintentionally - hilarious nonsense! 4/10

Writers: Tracy and Jay T. Snyder, Sharad Devarajan and Ron Marz
Art: Mukesh Singh & Liquid Comics
Liquid Comics $0.00

Stewart R: On the face of it this is another superhero origin story that deals with physical disability - see BOOM!s Soldier Zero - and tragedy spilling straight from the blind ignorance of youth - Spider-Man anyone? - but digging a little deeper it's easy to see that there is a potential series in the making here. Bashir is the young, gifted, yet stubborn protagonist who's taught the harshest of lessons due to his belligerent and rebellious ways that further threaten to delay his rehabilitation following a disastrous accident of his partial making. From his lowest ebb he's then given the power and the opportunity to right many wrongs being dished out amongst the slums and suburbs of 'the city'. The names, architecture and motifs offered up in this comic hint at a Middle Eastern or South West Asian setting but by keeping the locales unnamed serves the story's message far better and allows Bashir's journey to proceed without a backdrop of additional geographical weight. The art from Singh is clean and highly detailed throughout and perfectly suited to action and emotive character panels. Certainly one of the most complete FCBD offerings out there this year and made a further success when you learn that the comic idea and concept was brainstormed by a group of Syrian and American children working together through the Open Hands Initiative. Well worth picking up. 8/10

Writer: Eoger Langridge
Art: Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: I enjoyed Roger Langridge's work on The Muppets for Boom! but I didn't get round to checking out his Thor: The Mighty Avenger title, although by all accounts it was something special. For this FCBD one-shot he brings Captain America into the mix (hey, don't these two both have movies out this year?) for a likeable, wonderfully illustrated tale of magical, time-travelling shenanigans. Basically this is one for the kids - it's a bit of knockabout fun that entertains for the duration but won't linger long in the memory, especially for those of us used to the more sophisticated storytelling employed in the regular ongoing titles. Kids will lap this up though, so I would say if you've got any children that have shown interest in the Thunder God and the Sentinel Of Liberty then get this and hand it straight to them. It's this kind of thing that provides a great entry point for the next generation of comics fans. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, Randy Mayor, Andy Hubert, Sandra Hope & Alex Sinclair
DC $0.00

Matt C: Marvel gives us something new for their main contribution to FCBD; DC gives as a reprint and a short teaser to their summer event. It's understandable why they're doing this, as the reprint is an important chapter of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Secret Origin tale - which the forthcoming movie draws from - while the teaser gives us a hint of what to expect from Flashpoint. On the one hand, this is all good quality stuff and is worth a look if you've not seen it already, but on the other hand, is a reprint the best DC can come up with? They've put out brand new material before, so why offer us something that's already been published (several times, if you count the various trades)? I guess it comes down to whether you view FCBD as a chance to attract new readers or as an opportunity to give something back to the ones already supporting the industry. Marvel, and many of the smaller publishers, have proven that you can do both simultaneously. DC have done it before also, so it begs the question, why can't they do so again? 6/10

Writers: Michael Moorcock and Chris Roberson
Art: Francesco Biagini
BOOM! Studios $0.00

Stewart R: It has to be said, I’m not the biggest follower of ‘swords & sorcery’ comics so I had a look at this out of sheer curiosity and because BOOM! have a habit of producing some interesting quality titles. This comic is split into two halves, the first being an introduction to one of the many multiverse existences of Elric - Elric of Melnibone, Proud Prince of Ruin in this instance - as he walks a deserted land looking for souls to sustain and power his black blade, thus enabling him to continue upon his quest to maintain the ‘balance’. It’s a little too thick on the duty and questing dialogue for my tastes but there are some interesting looks at the other parallel Elrics out there who you would assume will have an influence once the series kicks off proper. The second half of the book is given over to the 40-year history of the character and the many publications that he has appeared in during that time, as well as some concept art from Biagini which is certainly detailed. Not a must have this year but if you’re inclined towards this genre there’s definitely promise here for you. 6/10

Writers: Brian Smith, Mike Raicht
Art: Brian Smith, Charles Paul Wilson III, Mike DeVito & Jon Conkling
Th3rd World Studios $0.00

Matt C: Th3rd World Studios planted themselves well and truly on the map a couple of years ago when they used FCBD to introduce the world to The Stuff Of Legend. They take the opportunity again to give a quick refresher on the story so far, as well as providing some lush images to Volume 3 of the series, but the bulk of this freebie is given over to Stuff co-writer Brian Smith’s new project, Intrepid Escapegoat. It stars Thomas Fleet, the titular anthropomorphisised goat, who comes across as a mixture of Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Harry Houdini. It’s light stuff, a fact emphasised by Smith’s cartoonish art, but it’s also a great deal of fun and is a world away from the dark fairytale that is Stuff Of Legend. It’s unlikely to make as much of an impact as Smith’s existing series, but should be able to develop a younger (or at least, young at heart) fanbase. 7/10

Writers: Ben Edlund and Benito Cereno
Art: Les McClaine
New England Comic Press $0.00

Stewart R: Oh dear, what happened NECP? Free Comic Book Day should be an opportunity for us to pick up something that we wouldn’t normally get our teeth stuck into and then hopefully come away wanting more and wanting to spend our cash. It’s sad to see then that this rather thick and juicy The Tick ‘comic’ contains only seven pages of actual comic panels. They are entertaining enough when the Tick is doing his usual bumbling superhero shtick but only serve to point directly and blatantly back to the fact that we can buy Tick comics and books while trying to hide it under a veil of comedic, fourth-wall breaking. We know we can do that, that’s how it works, even people who don’t buy comics on a regular basis - or at all! - will know they can buy Tick comics if they want to! The idea here is surely to convince us that we want and need to? Once the actual ‘comic’ part is out of the way there’s a preview of The Tick Giant Circus Maximus Mini Index which offers character biographies but is probably of little use to people not sure how this comedy comic world works in the first place. The remainder is advert after glossy advert of The Tick related titles we can buy. I personally think The Tick is a terrific character, it’s just a shame that the publisher decided to essentially staple a bunch of adverts together and offer it up as a free comic. 2/10

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