2 May 2014

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2014

This Saturday, May 3rd, sees the 13th 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!

THE NEW 52: FUTURES END FCBD SPECIAL EDITION #0
Writer: Various
Art: Various
DC $0.00

Matt C: It’s been about a year or so since I turned my back on DC, or more specifically their New 52, but FCBD gives me the chance to see what’s going on at the moment, providing of course that the publisher elects to put out something other than a reprint. Fortunately in 2014 they’ve used the opportunity to launch a new ongoing series, and I have to say – which may prove to some that I’m not DC them to fail – I became quite engrossed in this post-apocalyptic opening salvo. The major problem is that we’ve seen all this before – think The Terminator or even Days Of Future Past – but then you could level that criticism at a whole bunch of comics and they’d weather it all quite easily, proving it’s often down to how the tale is told that’s the key to success. When you get guys like Jeff Lemire and Brian Azzarello involved it becomes harder to be so dismissive. It’s an almost-tempting proposition until you realise it’s a weekly series that’ll run for the next 11 months. I could conceivably get on board with this if it was limited to six or eight issues, but 40 plus is a stretch, especially considering the erratic quality of some of DC’s previous weekly series. Folks more keyed into DC’s current continuity are likely to find this more persuasive, but if it this issue tells me anything to me, it’s that there are still some great ideas and talent on display over there. I’ve not found anything to convince me to return just yet, but an issue like this gives me hope. 7/10

Stewart R: Well, this is better from DC, a FCBD issue that has potential and brings Batman of the Future (or Batman Beyond, depending on where you hail from) Terry McGinnis into the present day. Yes, it is somewhat generic ‘What If?’ material in one respect, employing DC’s usual tactic of featuring every darn familiar face in its roster to highlight just how bad things get under the influence of the Brother Eye A.I., but as that grinds on we get to the winning combination of old man Bruce and young Terry fighting side by side one last time and giving solid reason for the upcoming weekly series. I still have a soft spot for all things Batman Beyond and though I’m not keen on the time travel aspect and have no intention of buying a weekly series from DC until I get the general vibe of reviews after a month or so, this is a decent move by the publisher which may well grab the attention of others out there and convince them that the Futures End event may be worth the initial purchase. 7/10

MOUSE GUARD, LABYRINTH AND OTHER STORIES: A FREE COMIC BOOK DAY HARDCOVER ANTHOLOGY
Writers: Various
Art: Various
BOOM! Studios/Archaia $0.00

Matt C: This is the one. As they did two years ago, Archaia (now part of BOOM!) have shown up all the other publishers with their luxuriously presented hardback offering. The Mouse Guard and Rust stories are the main draw for me (and after this many years, I shouldn't have to tell you how good Mouse Guard is!) but even though the other tales may not have the same level of appeal, the most important thing it does is solidify a certain perception of the brand in the public consciousness as a purveyor of quality, prestige comics. In that respect it's an unqualified success which will hopefully lead to increased sales in their output because, when a publisher puts out a freebie like this that puts the big hitters on the scene to shame, you kind of want them to profit for it. 9/10

TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB
Writers: Eric Orchard & Rob Harrell
Art: Eric Orchard & Rob Harrell
Top Shelf Productions $0.00

Stewart R: Top Shelf return to FCBD in order to offer a little insight into their collection of full-length graphic novels. I have to say the excerpts of Orchard’s Maddy Kettle and Harrell’s Monster On The Hill used here are a perfect fit for the 26-page format, giving us a good idea of what both books are about and showing that they come from two different places. Maddy Kettle is something of a fantasy adventure with the titular protagonist and her spell-affected family on the run from the spooky Thimblewitch and her Spider Goblins, while Monster On The Hill is more of a fantasy comedy involving all of the towns in the land holding particular pride over the scary behemoths that terrorise each of them, treating them as a terrifying mascot to be cheered whilst running from the rampage. The art from both strips is suited to their particular premise; Orchard’s illustration carries a muted, haunted tone while Harrell follows a more vibrant, cartoon style and overall it’s a very strong effort from the publisher indeed. 8/10

SCAM #0: CROSSWORDS FCBD 2014
Writer: Jason Ciaramella
Art: Joe Mulvey & Chris SOomayor
ComixTribe $0.00

Matt C: I kind of felt like I was having something of a ‘90s flashback reading this issue, and that goes for both the writing and the art. There’s a whiff of early Garth Ennis throughout the tale, and at some points his influence looms larger than at others, but the incisive intelligence that singles him out as one of the greats simply isn’t present here. It’s not bad, and there are moments of mild amusement, but it falls very much into the ‘seen it all before’ category. 5/10

ADVENTURES OF JELLABY
Writer: Kean Soo
Art: Kean Soo
Capstone $0.00

Stewart R: Kean Soo gets three different Jellaby strips packed within the pages here, each one showing us a bit about the friendship that the big, purple monster shares with young Portia. The opening introduction is nicely presented, relying primarily on Soo’s visual storytelling to demonstrate how this unlikely duo came to meet. The pink and purple palette adds a charmingly spooky vibe to it all which is then wonderfully disarmed once Jellaby’s innocent demeanour is established. From a rather poignant and composed beginning things then take a turn for the fun with two strips that involve Portia’s human friend Jason who comes off as the bold, yet dopier comedy relief. One’s a simple example of that with Jason’s pride making a bad situation marginally worse as he tries to hide his mistake, while the other shows how his imagination doesn’t necessarily fit with Portia’s plans for their group fun. This is aimed at a young audience for certain and I’m sure kids of 10 and under will have fun with this, while an older audience might find something magical in that fine, quiet opening. 7/10

MAGIC WIND
Writer: Gianfranco Manfredi
Art: Pasquale Frisenda & Laura Piazza
Epicenter Comics $0.00

Matt C: I'm a big supporter of translating Euro comics for the English-speaking market so I welcome this taster for the Italian comic series, Magico Vento. It's an excerpt from Volume 4 of the supernatural Western, so we don't discover why there’s a guy who looks like Edgar Allan Poe travelling with the protagonist, but what's really problematic for this is that something seems to have been lost in translation. Literally. The English employed in the dialogue and narration feels flat and perfunctory and, regardless of the quality of the art, it results in a rather forgettable read. The original text may very well have the colour and nuance that could have made the difference between dull and dazzling, but unless I learn Italian (unlikely) I probably will never know. 5/10

VALIANT FCBD 2014: ARMOR HUNTERS SPECIAL
Writers: Robert Venditti & Matt Kindt
Art: Doug Braithwaite, Diego Bernard, Stephen Segovia, Clayton Crain, Alisson Rodrigues, Laura Martin & Brian Reber
Valiant Entertainment $0.00

Stewart R: I was following Robert Venditti’s X-O Manowar through the first ten or so issues, enjoying the sci-fi, time-dilation affected, fish-out-of-water premise for a while, but quickly switched off when it became apparent that Valiant were keen to jump into crossover event territory with all of their properties to push the team book, Unity. I jumped at that point and haven’t really looked back. Armor Hunters appears to be the next step for Valiant with a dedicated 4-part series under that name and associated tie-ins. To be fair, from the various snippets of Armor Hunters and X-O Manowar that we get here, along with a Venditti interview and character roll call from Crain, I can’t say that their efforts look anything other than polished. The problem might well be that there’s just not enough in these sneak peeks to really give us an idea of the overriding plot with ‘Armor Wars’ is supposed to be, other than once again someone wants the Manowar weapon. That might not be enough to lure new readers in, especially with quite the list of connected titles to pick up. The Rai #1 preview on the other hand, illustrated by the usual guaranteed visual marvel that is Clayton Crain, looks promising indeed with Matt Kindt building a future Japan, now towering to skies with land and resources at an incredible premium, run by the mysterious Father and apparently murder-free for the best part of a thousand years. That last part of course changes in this early preview and though we don’t get to meet Rai here, there’s certainly enough quality on view to have me pick up the full debut when it hits shelves later this month. So in summary, a mixed bag here for FCBD! 6/10

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: FREE COMIC DAY 2014
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Starlin & Dan Slott
Art: Nick Bradshaw, Jim Starlin, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: It’s the right move for Marvel to position the Guardians front and centre for FCBD with the movie due very soon, especially since the characters aren’t really a known quantity outside of geekdom. This will probably play well for newbies, as well of fans of the current series, but for the rest of us? It’s the Bendis problem all over again. Characters talking in exactly the same colloquial manner, regardless of who they may be and how wrong it may be to ‘hear’ them speak as though they’re all from the same high school clique. It remains an irritant, to the point where it actually distracts from the pictures, which is a bit of a poor state of affairs, particularly with Nick Bradshaw on art duties. The Thanos: The Infinity Revelation teaser is okay, but something felt a bit ‘off’ about the staging, making it possibly not the best advert for the forthcoming original graphic novel. The teaser for ‘Spider-Verse’… again, not especially convincing, and if this is the direction Slott is taking the franchise, then it’s not exactly enticing for a lapsed fan like myself. This may work for a lot of people but I’m chalking it up as a ball dropped. 4/10

THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER
Writer: Jimmy Gownley
Art: Jimmy Gownley
Scholastic $0.00

Stewart R: Another FCBD comic that actually offers a little insight into a bigger graphic novel, The Dumbest Idea Ever follows the exploits of young Jimmy as he struggles to come up with the concept for his own comic book, trying to impress and understand girls, and seeing that his initial reasons for making a comic book in the first place might be a little misplaced. This is a graphic memoir from Gownley which looks at how he became a comic book creator and from this evidence it’s going to be something of a light, humour-filled piece of nostalgia that takes in early teenage problems and dramas with a tongue-in-cheek viewpoint. The art style reminds me of a cross between Dennis Collins’ work on The Perishers and more modern cartoon styling like that of Chris Eliopoulos, and Gownley’s got a fine grasp of expression work to cover the range of emotions his young, two-dimensional self goes through. Has me interested in reading the bigger novel for sure. 7/10

FINDING GOSSAMYR: WAY OF THE BLADESLINGER FCBD 2014
Writers: David A. Rodriguez & Paul Allor
Art: Sarah Ellerton & Thomas Boatwright
Th3rd World Studios $0.00

Matt C: After too long an absence, it's great to have Finding Gossamyr back. For newbies, there's not a massive indication of what the story's about as it only features one character existing readers will be familiar with, but the important thing is that it gives a sense if the tone of the tale, the depth given to the characterisation, and of course several sumptuous pages of Elllrton’s simply gorgeous art. The teaser for Past The Last Mountains seems to show that Th3rd World Studios (also home to Stuff Of Legend, lest we forget) appear to be cornering the market for high quality, all ages fantasy fiction. 8/10

WORLDS OF ASPEN 2014
Writers: Vince Hernandez & Peter Steigerwald
Art: Mirka Andolfo, Alberto Pizzetti & Peter Steigerwald
Aspen $0.00

Stewart R: Doesn’t seem like there are many 50/50 split issues in this year’s FCBD haul, but Aspen stick with that formula to give us previews for new comic series Damsels In Excess and The ZooHunters. Damsels introduces us to the five princesses ruling the five realms of a world that has seen all of the men murdered by a mysterious woman. Each princess is greatly different to the next, in slightly clichéd fashion - one is tired of the duties of her reign, one revels in being better than her subjects, one punishes her subjects for her own shortcomings, while another enjoys the isolation that her realm allows her - but it seems that the key will be how they all interact when the stability that they have all managed to create together starts shaking from whatever threat comes its way. The art is a little more cartoony than I normally expect from Aspen, but that’s no bad thing, and the only aspect hurting a decent preview is a good solid grasp of the impending threat. The ZooHunters, from Aspen vice president Peter Steigerwald, however, is possibly the most exciting thing I’ve read this Free Comic Book Day. The art is sumptuous and in the space of just eleven pages we get a well-placed hunt, an introduction into the very alien landscape that forms the backdrop for the series, a confident, skilled protagonist, and decent, plucky dialogue with a greater mystery that makes picking up the first issue a must. Well played, Aspen. 8/10

HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE TWO-IN-ONE
Writer: Ed Piskor
Art: Ed Piskor
Fantagraphics $0.00

Matt C: This is how you do it. What I love about Free Comic Book Day is that it can even direct me, a fanboy who knows a fair bit about what’s coming out here and there, to something that I was completely oblivious to but also something that feels like it was written specifically to cater to my tastes. I used to be a bit of a Hip Hop head back in the day (see! I even remember some of the lingo!) so a comic styled after Bronze Age Marvel books that gives a witty, insightful overview of the birth of one of the most potent musical genres ever to rise from the USA is pretty much exactly what I’ve always been looking for without even realising it. It contains extracts from the already published Volume 1 and the soon to be published Volume 2, and I was so enthused by reading this that I’ve already placed my order for the first book. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what FCBD is all about! 9/10

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