3 May 2013

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2013

This Saturday, May 4th, sees the 12th 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: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: Marvel are doing the right thing using FCBD to lead into their next event book, Infinity, particularly as it focuses on a character who's due to get an increased airing in Phase Two of the Marvel Movie Universe after a brief but important cameo in Avengers. Coming from the pen of Jonathan Hickman, things bode well for the event miniseries (he was after all responsible for the definite highlights of Avengers Vs. X-Men and his Avengers and New Avengers are currently on fire) but he can be a little abstruse, keeping things vague with the implied understanding that if you stick around all will be revealed. I've no problem with that, but the layman wandering in off the street to get a free Marvel comic may question what the heck is going on. Cheung's polished imagery helps compensate for the nebulous plot, and if you're already a convert you'll probably be prepared to sign up for the mini. And it's a damn sight better than DC's decision to hand us a several-years-old reprint. As a bonus, we get a Bronze Age story originally seen as a back-up in the '70s Logan's Run title involving Drax the Destroyer attempting to stop Thanos from treading on a flower. They don't make 'em like that anymore, do they? 7/10

Stewart R: The last time Jim Cheung was involved in Marvel’s FCBD effort was his decent turn on the Avengers book the publisher put out back in 2009 and to my mind that was the last time they delivered a comic worthy of the event. I’d been really excited by the prospect of Cheung returning and with Hickman involved that excitement was doubled considering the awesome job he’s been doing with his Avengers books of late. So how is this? Well it’s pretty good... in some respects. Hickman throws us a tale of a decimated civilisation faced with further torment at the hands of their former oppressors and the terrible lengths that they may have to go to be free from the dark shadow hanging over them. There’s no doubt that Thanos is a good character to push in light of Marvel’s live-action plans and Cheung is at his usual high standards when it comes to delivering A-grade visuals. It’s just a shame then that the new material only fills ten pages of this comic AND doesn’t really offer enough to get your teeth into in terms of story. The reprint of ‘The Final Flower’ didn’t appeal when Marvel put it in another one of their comics not too long ago and the Avengers: Endless Wartime preview actually has me actively wanting to avoid it when October comes around, it looks that bad. If they’d given us five to ten more pages of the actual Infinity stuff and Jim Cheung mastery I suspect I’d have given this a high mark, but as it is Marvel have dropped the ball again and their FCBD effort ends up with a 4/10 from me.

Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Image/Top Cow $0.00

Stewart R: While the similarly free Cyber Force has been doing the rounds for Top Cow for several months and issues now - it’s a book I enjoy but I know some have been abandoning it despite its ridiculous cover price of nothing - the publisher has elected to provide us with a slight spin-off in the form of Aphrodite IX and give us the first helping for FCBD. The first thing I will say is that this is by far the most gorgeous comic you’ll see released on May 4th and Stjepan Sejic’s art is just breathtaking. Not only is his character work sublime, but his depiction of a desolate war-torn future world is magical and really helps to weave the spell of belief over Matt Hawkins intriguing political script. The idea of the two warring factions is solid with the respective theologies of both briefly looked at, yet leaving me eager for more. Add in a neat twist that should lead to some hair-pulling tense moments ahead and I declare this one of the unmissable offerings of FCBD in 2013. 9/10

Matt C: A good way to get people onboard with your series from the start is to offer it for free, providing the opportunity to ensnare readers that may have otherwise walked on by. To be honest, I would have tried this anyway since writer Matt Hawkins has impressed me enough with Think Tank, but if it's saving me money, who am I to complain? I'm not familiar with previous iterations of this character, and its well-worn trope of two warring factions in a dystopian future is not something that immediately catches my attention, but it's all about delivery, and Hawkins is a smart guy (see Think Tank) and able to translate those smarts to his crisp, propulsive script. So there's a the first big positive, and that's before I've mentioned the art. I’m wondering already whether this book may get held back by delays as the art from Stjepan Sejic doesn't look like something that can be banged out on a monthly schedule - such is it's absorbing, beautifully painted detail, you get the impression it takes closer to a year to come up with imagery this fine! I know issue #2 isn't far off though and after sampling this I'm more than willing to plonk down my cash for that. 8/10

Writers: David A. Rodriguez, Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Sarah Ellerton & Charles Paul Wilson III
Th3rd World Studios $0.00

Matt C: The Finding Gossamyr half consists of a 'story so far' refresher as well as some original material focusing on the need for truth and humanity in storytelling, a perfect message to deliver on Free Comic Book Day. The Stuff Of Legend section is another recap with a preview of the forthcoming fifth volume of the series. Both titles are not only great 'all ages' series, they're just great series full stop, brilliant examples of the reach and power of the medium. Th3rd World Studios may not put out many books, but when you prize quality over quantity then you can't really go wrong. 8/10

Writers: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
Art: Adam Kubert & Dave Stewart
DC $0.00

Matt C: A reprint of the first chapter of a storyline that initially debuted in 2006, one that I haven’t read in its entirety since but my memory’s still good enough for me to recall that it was decent but not quite all it was hyped up to be beforehand. Hang on a minute – let’s rewind that sentence: a reprint of something that came out in 2006?! This is what DC use to not only to reward new fans but also entice new readers?!? That’s pretty poor in itself, but let’s consider some other factors shall we? For a start, this isn’t even the version of Superman kicking around post-New 52. Secondly, this is co-written by Richard Donner, architect of the original Superman movie, and there was a definite attempt to recapture the vibe of that flick in that tale, so it’s perfectly timed for… Man Of Steel, the film due next month that reboots the franchise from scratch! And what about Superman Unchained, the highly anticipated new series from Scott Snyder and Jim Lee? Nah, let’s make do with an interview stuffed in the back and instead let the reader focus on what Superman used to be like before the New 52 came along and made some rather unwelcome changes to the ongoing mythos! It’s almost like DC themselves don’t have enough faith in their current product anymore! Sheesh! They can’t even get it right when they’re giving something away for free. So the score at the end isn’t for the story this book features, it’s for one of the two major publishers totally getting it wrong. Again. 2/10

Writer: Chris Roberson
Art: Scott Kowalchuck
Oni Press $0.00

Stewart R: Oni Press have been getting a good reputation when it comes to Free Comic Book Day as they actively utilise it to launch new titles with confidence in their product. The Sixth Gun is still going strong having been a FCBD effort from 2010 and Spontaneous and Bad Medicine were both decent efforts as well in the subsequent years. Opting for a slightly lighter feel this year we are presented with The Strangers, a psychedelic barrel of spy fun that nods to the 1960s and TV shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in both structure and theme. It’s a great little read with the team introduction even coming across as a pre-opening credits ‘bit’ before the main bulk of the story lands and Roberson goes about establishing the team’s mandate and current mission. Admittedly it’s a touch character-lite at this early stage, Roberson allowing Kowalchuk’s expression work to define Verity, Michael and Sandoval’s demeanours and keeping the dialogue focussed more on plot progression, but that just helps to keep things ticking along at a good pace. It’s playful espionage fun with a darker undercurrent bubbling away in there and when it comes to paying for the second instalment I’ll certainly be shelling out the pennies for it. 8/10

Matt C: As far as I’m concerned, the best proper issue #1 to come out of any Free Comic Book Day has been the debut instalment of The Sixth Gun a few years back. That’s a series I still pick up to this day and although I doubt I would have let it pass by if I’d had to pay for the first issue I would imagine it may have given a few additional readers an earlier start than they might have otherwise had. Oni have tried to repeat this trick with Spontaneous and then Bad Medicine, and while I gave both of those a shot, they didn’t really stick. The Strangers is their latest new series getting the free ‘number one’ treatment but I have to say I’m not going to be feeling generous with my money to get any further chapters. The concept – a highly skilled team of operatives sent out on dangerous missions by their boss – is just a tad derivative, and applying a Sixties setting just amplifies the familiarity. It’s not a bad read, just not especially memorable, and while I don’t have any real complaints with the artistic style, if you are going with the Sixties, I think it’s better to go all the way with it rather than just some. It’s okay, but I’m not sure how many people will be willing to fork out $3.99 a pop for additional instalments. 6/10

Writer: David Petersen, Royden Lepp & Various
Art: David Petersen, Royden Lepp & Various
Archaia $0.00

Matt C: Last year, Archaia stole everyone else’s thunder on Free Comic Book Day by releasing a hardcover – yes, a hardcover! – as a freebie. It flew out of stores like hot cakes, but it wasn’t just the presentation that got people’s attention, it was the high quality of the content too. For whatever reason (cost?), the publisher isn’t repeating the trick this year, but that doesn’t stop their offering being one of the best available. It’s mainly split between Rust and Mouse Guard, but there are a few additional (and welcome) shorts from other Archaia titles to sweeten the deal. I keep meaning to check out Rust and the brief tale here goes some way to edging me closer to making that happen. The star of the show though is, unsurprisingly, Mouse Guard, and David Peterson provides yet another exquisitely drawn and written tale featuring medieval rodents. It's certainly strong enough that it should convince anyone previously sitting on the fence to investigate further, and long-time fans of course have another fine addition to their collection. Definitely one of the first things to grab from the shelves. 8/10

Writers: Ande Parks, Charles Santino, Beau L’Amour & Katherine Nolan
Art: Michael Gaydos & Thomas Yeates
Random House $0.00

Matt C: A bit of a strange one this. A publisher wanting to give exposure to two of their graphic novels, FCBD is a good way to achieve this. Both are based on novels, the first (Law Of The Desert) I've neither heard of the author or those involved in adapting it, the second (The Web) I'm vaguely familiar with the author, am aware of writer Ande Parks and have a lot of time for artist Michael Gaydos (of Daredevil fame). The first tale is a straight up Western, and it's impressively presented but there's no sense that it will be anything other than a generic cowboy tale. The fourteen pages of The Web are engaging, but it's difficult to tell exactly what the story is about and it ends abruptly with some characters preparing to sit down for a meal. Not exactly a thrilling cliffhanger. What might have helped is a brief synopsis for each book to add an extra hook, because while the pages presented are strong, there's not enough to give anyone unfamiliar with the original material enough reason to fork out the money for. Oh, and it might have also helped to provide a release date. Are these out now, are they due out, shouldn't those kind of details be included to save the reader having to fire up the internet to find out? A great idea, and possibly two great books, but a rather cack-handed way of marketing them to a potential audience. 5/10

Writer: Jeff McClelland
Art: Duane Redhead, Pietro & Paul Little
New England Comic Press $0.00

Stewart R: Back in 2011 I had a proper old moan about New England Press using The Tick’s slot in FCBD to throw a book full of adverts at us. Well it seems that they may have been listening (they probably didn’t actually) as this year’s comic starring the loveable dullard known as The Tick and his humble assistant Arthur is really good fun. The main strip sees an encounter with a mermaid, severe sunburn and an invasion by lobster people all befalling the heroes during a moment of downtime and I have to applaud McClelland for how he builds the joke and Redhead for his artistic contribution to the fun. Yes, it’s simple stuff, but it raises a smile and that’s what counts. I’d actually argue that the two smaller strips that we also get from McClelland and Pietro capture The Tick’s madcap perspective all the better and has me all nostalgic for the big, blue goon’s cartoon monologues once again. 7/10

Writers: Jamal Igle & Jeremy Whitley
Art: Jamal Igle, Emily C. Martin, Juan Castro, Romulo Fanjardo Jr & Soojin Paek
Action Lab Entertainment $0.00

Matt C: Action Lab have been making gradually bigger waves in the industry of late with a healthy amount of product and I'm fairly ashamed to say I haven't checked out much of their wares. As always, FCBD provides an opportunity to explore what different publishers have to offer, and here we have something aimed a little more at younger readers, although that certainly doesn't preclude them from being enjoyed by an older audience. Princeless perhaps holds a greater appeal to female readers with its kick ass princesses taking charge, but whomever picks it up will find a fun, irreverent take on fairytale staples. Molly Danger skews a bit older, and following on from a successful Kickstarter campaign it might very well prove to be Action Lab's biggest hit so far. It's not especially original but it's nicely done with lively art and a welcome dollop of humour. I wouldn't say either of these are particularly up my street (although Molly Danger is in the vicinity) but that doesn't stop me recommending taking a look to see if they’re up yours. 7/10

Writers: Brian Wood, Joshua Williamson & Gene Luen Yang
Art: Pere Pérez, Roger Robinson & Ryan Hill
Dark Horse $0.00

Matt C: Want a chance to see what all the fuss around Brian Wood’s Star Wars series is about? Here’s a short pre-A New Hope tale concerning an assassination attempt on Lord Vader, and pretty decent it is too. Captain Midnight I know nothing about, but as it features Golden Age pulp superheroics and Nazi baddies, perhaps I should investigate further. Avatar is one of those things where I can understand it appeals to many (lots of classical heroism tropes employed) but that appeal is lost on me. Overall worth adding to your haul. 7/10

Writers: Joey Weiser & Chris Schweizer
Art: Joey Weiser & Chris Schweizer
Oni Press $0.00

Stewart R: Free Comic Book Day often throws up strange combinations as publishers push two comic properties together and none get more stranger than this effort! Joey Weiser’s ‘Mermin’ is a cute tale about a young Merman boy who’s taken on a school trip to the zoo with his human best friend, looks at all of the weird land animals and then gets into a baffling clash with an old acquaintance. It’s throwaway fun and definitely aimed at a far younger demographic who should enjoy the silliness. Then things get a touch more serious as Chris Schweizer whisks us off to 1779 and the Revolutionary War in ‘The Crogan Adventures: The Black Brigade’, taking a look at skirmish warfare and racism while we’re there. Whilst the subjects involved suggest a darker, grittier comic read, Schweizer actually steers clear of conflict for the most part and instead puts his sturdy grasp of dialogue into the spotlight as the attitudes of the time, both socially and militarily, come to be tested in the face of better judgement. The cartoon art style helps to nudge this closer to ‘Mermin’ in a visual sense, but rarely will you find two strips so very different. 7/10

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