1 May 2015

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2015

This Saturday, May 2nd, sees the 14th 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!

SECRET WARS #0
Writer: Jonathan Hickman & Hajime Isayama
Art: Paul Renaud, Gerardo Sandoval, C.B. Cebulski & Dono Sanchez Almara
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: This seems designed to bring people up to speed on what’s been going on in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers over the past couple of years, albeit very briefly. Having the exposition delivered by Valeria Richards is a smart thing to do, although the lack of action may reduce its appeal to the casual reader, while the lack of anything ‘new’ may limit its ‘essential’ status for existing readers of Hickman’s magnum opus. Having said that, it’s far more essential than the superfluous Avengers/Attack On Titan tale that makes up the rest of the issue. Best to view it as an extended advert for Secret Wars, and judge it on those terms (and on those terms, I’m marking it up as merely ‘adequate’). 5/10

James R: If you've been reading Jonathan Hickman's amazing run on Avengers over the last couple of years, you'll find nothing new here - the Secret Wars FCBD issue is merely a recap designed to get any new readers up to speed ahead of the massive summer event from Marvel. It doesn't even run to the whole issue - the second half is an entirely pointless manga Avengers/Attack On Titan thingy which is great if you like manga, but as a man who is left cold by comics from the land of the Rising Sun, I can't say it inspired me to start picking up any new Marvel books - or alleviate my ambivalence towards Secret Wars. 5/10

DIVERGENCE FCBD SPECIAL EDITION #1
Writers: Scott Snyder, Gene Luen Yang & Geoff Johns
Art: Various
DC $0.00

Stewart R: I’m very near to the point of picking up no DC titles at all and have actually avoided looking at any of the Convergence preview work outside of Robin: Son Of Batman by Patrick Gleason. I’ve grown weary of DC attempting to rewrite their characters’ histories and have even walked away from series that promised much in the early stages of the New 52 but appeared to struggle with focus as things dragged on. This FCBD 'Special Edition’ has served as a reminder of why I grew uninterested, rolled my eyes at larger changes and also the spark of promise that led me to DC in the couple of years before the New 52. The Batman chapter from Snyder and Capullo tells us what has transpired following the events of #40 and the finale of Joker’s ‘Endgame’, sliding us into the apparent future for Gotham’s crimefighting. Hidden not-so-secretly within Snyder’s script is a large nod to the instantly unpopular choice of plot direction and a message to stick with things. It’s well written, I can’t deny that, but smacks of the reasons I left this Batman run alone a long while back. The Superman chapter has Clark on the run following his evident outing as the Man of Steel by no less than Lois Lane, which irks me in the break from the old continuity and shows the darker path DC’s current writers have Kal El walking these days. The true promise comes from the Wonder Woman-tinged final story (it’s actually a Justice League piece, but it feels like this edition was also aiming for a ‘Trinity’ feel) which has Johns almost capturing the heights he reached with his Green Lantern work. The accompanying art by Jason Fabok is the nicest of the lot and it’s just unfortunate that I’m still feeling jaded from the JLA reimagining and DC event overload to even consider picking up any of the associated books teased here when they surface. 6/10

Matt C: I’ve been ‘out’ of the DC Universe for a while, so this FCBD offering gives me a glimpse into what the publisher currently thinks is worth promoting to the world at large. Judging by what they’re planning on doing with their most high profile characters in the near the future (no spoilers!), I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be returning to the fold soon. One man’s bold creative manoeuvre is another man’s desperate gambit, I guess. Best of the three tales here is Geoff Johns’ Justice League eight-pager as it actually has some genuine drama on display, but even then it does feel like the writer’s treading over old ground. Considering DC has in the past put out a reprint material as their main FCBD contribution, this is far preferable, and while it’s likely to be one of the most popular selections of the day, personally I remain on the lookout for my way back into the DC Universe. 5/10

James R: Well, I have to say kudos to DC for making a little more effort this year. Rather than going for Marvel's recap idea, DC opt to give us tasters from three of their biggest books - Batman, Superman and Justice League. The Batman pages will cause the biggest stir as they reveal who is inside the Robo-Batsuit that DC have teased for a few months (and old cynic that I am, I just felt mildly underwhelmed by the identity of the 'new' Batman.) The Superman pages are nice enough, and it wasn't until I checked that I realised that they were written by Gene Luen Yang rather than Geoff Johns - so that's certainly a promising start. I was left totally unexcited by the Justice League pages though - in my recent piece on my first Avengers comic, I said that team books never quite do it for me and once again, I read these pages with a feeling of mild bemusement. As an introduction or a taster of where DC is at right no, it is effective, it's just unfortunate that where DC are at right now is somewhere lacking in excitement. 5/10

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES FCBD
Writers: Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman & Bobby Curnow
Art: Mateus Santolouco, Dan Duncan, Ross Campbell, Cory Smith & Ronda Pattison
IDW $0.00

Stewart R: There’s been a little bit of buzz surrounding IDW’s current TMNT run and the implications for one of the shelled brothers in recent months through #44 and #45 of the series - to the point where copies of #44 are selling for $50 on ebay! Crazy stuff! As is TMNT crazy by its very nature. This FCBD effort pretty much sums up how marvellously bonkers this comic book property is by shuttling us through a whirlwind lesson of how events have unfolded through a mix of 30 years history and the past four-odd years of IDW’s run. During that time a multitude of mutant animals, gangland thugs and ninja foot soldiers have battled it out across a cityscape, seemingly leaving us at a turning point for the four brothers and their allies. From what I can gather, this actually pinches scenes wholesale from #45 and then pads things out with the broader historical summary between. Regular series artist Mateus Santolouco’s work is top notch, the action pieces he delivers showing how fine the ongoing may look, while certain pages drop just a touch in quality to identify where brand new and ‘newish’ material may be meeting. In any case, this comes across as a fine taster for the main series and is a glorious blast of nostalgia for readers who may not have dipped into this world since the ‘90s cartoon series. 8/10

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE THREE-IN-ON: FEATURING COSPLAYERS
Writers: Ed Piskor & Dash Shaw
Art: Ed Piskor & Dash Shaw
Fanatagraphics Books $0.00

Matt C: Last year’s Hip Hop Family Tree sampler was a genuine highlight of Free Comic Book Day. I imagine a few copies of the first and second volumes of the book were shifted following the welcome appearance of that FCBD edition as Ed Piskor’s retelling of the birth of a musical genre that has had a seismic impact on popular culture - relayed in the style of a Bronze Age Marvel comic - is equal parts absorbing, enlightening and thrilling. I may be saying this as an old school fan of Hip Hop, but its well worth picking up even if you only have a passing interest in the music. The Cosplayers back up may seem like a strange bedfellow, but it also displays an enthusiastic love of the medium, and shows how diverse Fanatagraphics output it is. Job done, then. 9/10

MOTORCYCLE SAMURAI FCBD
Writer: Chris Sheridan
Art: Chris Sheridan
Top Shelf Productions $0.00

Stewart R: Top Shelf went with a split issue last year in Top Shelf Kids Club (which always struck me as something of a weird title considering the connotation of ‘top shelf material’!) This year, the issue itself is still split between two stories, but both come from the mind and hand of Chris Sheridan and his digital series, The Motorcycle Samurai. The first volume collecting the strip is out in the summer so this is fortunate timing to maximise the exposure. It’s actually pretty good fun as we first get the origin story of the travelling White Bolt told by means of a puppet theatre which culminates in the titular wanderer clashing with a villainous ventriloquist. The second sketch heads out to a desolate town in the wastelands where White Bolt is confronted by an armed gang after her travel companion. The strange thing I found about this entire comic was that it seemed very hard to establish if there are any clear heroes or villains. That’s partially down to some subtle writing from Sheridan which keeps things suitably grey in that department and also his artwork which is fairly simple, bright and cartoonish across the board - perhaps a little too much for some tastes - meaning that his character work does away with common tropes associated with such extreme visual subjects as good and evil. It’s an entertaining read as a result and is another Top Shelf FCBD effort worthy of a look. 7/10

AVENGERS FCBD 2015 #1
Writers: Mark Waid & Charles Soule
Art: Mahmud Asrar, Brandon Peterson, Frank Martin & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: What’s next for the Avengers post-Secret Wars when Jonathan Hickman leaves Earth’s Mightiest Heroes behind? This freebie appears to offer an early indication, and if it’s heading in the direction we’re seeing here, I may well be bailing. Which isn’t to say it’s no good as writer Mark Waid is a dab hand at constructing team dynamics, but with teenage characters taking up half the roster, things definitely seem to be skewing a lot younger, resulting in a more playful approach than Hickman’s recent ominous work on Avengers and New Avengers. Again, no bad thing, but perhaps not what I’m really looking for. The backup story – a primer for Uncanny Inhumans – seems to indicate that Marvel will continue to face an uphill struggle trying to boost the Inhumans’ popularity to the same level as the X-Men and Avengers. 6/10

TALES OF HONOR VOLUME TWO #0 FCBD
Writer: Matt Hawkins
Art: Linda Sejic
Image/Top Cow  $0.00

Stewart R: Despite the writing talent of Matt Hawkins at the helm, Tales Of Honor never showed up on my radar and the first volume simply passed me by. Something must have gone very right for the book however as this year’s Image submission for FCBD launches the second volume in a #0 issue style. We essentially get a chance to see just what sort of space captain Honor Harrington is, and learn a fair amount about the fictional universe in which she resides. I’m a sucker for a good star map and Hawkins et al offer up not one but two within the first couple of pages, along with a brief overview of humankind’s expansion to the stars and how empires, republics, kingdoms, religions and philosophies are beginning to run into each other in fractious circumstances. It helps to build up a detailed picture of the political situation incredibly quickly, tempts you with that collected Volume One in the very first panel and then drops us into a piracy stand-off where we get to see the mettle of Honor tested. Yes, we’ve seen this sort of one-shot situation before, but this is a great example of how it should be handled and Linda Sejic really does draw a good looking comic book. Solid if clichéd work which has me seriously considering picking up the ongoing. 8/10

DARK HORSE FCBD 2015: FIGHT CLUB/THE GOON/THE STRAIN
Writers: Various
Art: Various
Dark Horse Comics $0.00

Matt C: The main draw of this book for many will be the teaser for Chuck Palahniuk’s sequel to his novel, Fight Club (and, by extension, the movie of the same name). And it’s… okay. It’s well done but it does feel a little too familiar without indicating whether the writer has something groundbreaking lined up. It’s obviously too early to make snap judgements though, so I’m chalking it up as ‘promising but with reservations’. The Goon short is quite fun and offers a great taster for Eric Powell’s idiosyncratic storytelling style but The Strain six-pager doesn’t make an especially strong case for that series’ uniqueness amongst the wealth of vampire–driven material available. Overall though, definitely one to grab at your LCS. 7/10

James R: This is absolutely the pick of the bunch for me. I was really looking forward to the next chapter in the tales of Project Mayhem, but this sampler has ratcheted up my expectations even higher. In many ways, it's a recap of the events of the Fight Club novel, and it's clear from this that Palahniuk writes comics as well as he writes novels - he has a great understanding of visual narrative, and the art from Cameron Stewart looks to be a great hybrid of the novel and the movie. May 27th can't get here soon enough, and for no cost this has whetted my appetite perfectly. 8/10

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