6 May 2016

Mini Reviews: Free Comic Book Day 2016

This Saturday, May 7th, sees the 15th 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 in Poole where Andy H will have available not only the comics reviewed below, but many more besides!

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Waid
Art: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Justin Ponsor, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $0.00

Matt C: Another year, another lacklustre FCBD entry from Marvel, leading into their latest event series, one that clearly wants to cash in on the buzz for a certain major motion picture but does little in the way of translating that buzz to the printed page. I’m no fan of Bendis these days but even I can tell you he can do a hell of a lot better than this. This feels like it’s written by someone with only the loosest sense of who these characters are, and as such it becomes infuriating until it become forgettable (aside from Cheung’s fancy art). The back-up from Waid and Davis is much better but having avoided the Avengers corner of the Marvel Universe since Jonathan Hickman departed, all this seems relatively lightweight and inconsequential in comparison. Saying all that, it may appeal to someone looking to get into comics, but for those of us with a few longboxes in our attic, leave this for somebody else. 4/10

Stewart R: It seems that every other year at least, Marvel give Jim Cheung a go at the big one-shot for FCBD, and you have to admit that the man can bring grandeur and a feeling of the epic to whatever surfaces in the way of plot. Unfortunately this year the plot is written by Brian Michael Bendis which leaves this Civil War II entry point as a fairly by-the-numbers action piece that offers up a bunch of questions and by the looks of it is supposed to echo ideas and themes relating to the Cinematic Universe, though not directly. It leaves things on a fairly telegraphed cliffhanger which will obviously be expanded upon when the series proper starts in the not-too-distant future. So, art good, words bad (well, mediocre) then?! For the second part of this FCBD effort I'd probably say that the reverse applies as Mark Waid introduces us to Nadia, the latest woman to climb into the Wasp costume. Waid does a fine job of giving us a glimpse into how she came across Pym's lab as she goes about using her new powers to take down a defence system from the inside. There's quite the twist come the end, and as a one-shot this is a fine example of why Waid remains one of the strongest talents at the House of Ideas. On the art side, Alan Davis is one of those illustrators who really doesn't do it for me, but he certainly manages to keep the aforementioned twist effective through his particular simplistic style. Once again it seems that Marvel are offering up a mixed bag. 7/10

James R: Along with smaller publishers hoping to catch the attention of comics fans looking for something new, Free Comic Book Day is usually all about the Big Two providing extended trailer for their next big crossover event. DC have decided against previewing 'Rebirth', but Marvel have been true to form with a prelude to Civil War II. I read this with interest, as since Secret Wars my Marvel book pull has dwindled significantly. I now only read Karnak, Doctor Strange and Moon Knight. Does this freebie reignite my interest? Nope. It looks absolutely beautiful - Jim Cheung's pencils and Justin Ponsor's colours are a joy to behold (and you can imagine this title grabbing the attention of a new or lapsed fan tempted back to comics by the Marvel movies) - but Bendis' script doesn't hint at a compelling narrative to come. By the final page I was bored, and that's a damning indictment on a book designed to whet the appetite. The back-up story introducing the new Wasp to the pages of Avengers left my similarly underwhelmed. At least this FCBD has reassured me that my fanboy cash is better spent elsewhere rather than on Marvel's marquee event. 5/10

Writer: Chris Ryall & Christos Gage
Art: David Messina & Michele Pasta
IDW $0.00

Stewart R: Though this marks the return of the famed Space Knight, I've never experienced a ROM comic before. IDW have done pretty well with familiar properties across their releases and I had hopes that this might convince me to dive into the world of a character I've heard mention of a fair amount since I rediscovered my love for comics during my early twenties. Sadly, this is something of a mixed bag. Two cops get caught up in a 'first contact' situation with ROM himself which involves Dire Wraith transformations, disintegrations and the odd revelation along the way. Rather surprisingly, David Messina's (Bounce) art doesn't hold things together as I expected it to, with some creaky panel transitions and strange layout choices which makes things a tad confusing in odd places. The script from Ryall and Gage is also lacking an extraordinary element to set this apart from similar books that have had a protagonist hunting for parties who hide in the shadows or the guise of someone else. Not convinced I'll be picking up #1 based upon my indifference to this. 5/10

Matt C: I only remember reading a couple of ROM comics when Marvel were publishing them way back when, but as they were written by the great Bill Mantlo (one of the true geniuses of the Bronze Age) they were pretty okay, although I don’t ever recall the ROM toy ever reaching the shores of the UK (certainly no toy shops I ever frequented). Hasbro have long since removed the character from Marvel’s purview, and now the relaunch comes, free of any past continuity, with the aim of capturing a new, modern audience. But who will that audience be? Old school ROM fans probably liked the fact the character existed within the Marvel Universe, but who exactly is this competent but generic sci-fi adventure series aimed at? Damned if I know but maybe it will create interest amongst the FBCD crowd. Same sort of thing applies to the Action Man preview. It seems to be pitched to a young adult audience but it’s questionable whether that audience would have an affinity to a character that holds more nostalgic interest to an older generation. 5/10

Writers: Matthew Rosenber, Patrick Kindlon & Matt Pizzolo
Art: Josh Hood, Tyler Boss, Amancay Nahuelpan & Jean-Paul Csuka
Black Mask $0.00

Matt C: People often say that one of the primary motivations of the FCBD is to bring new readers to the medium, and while I completely agree with that, I’d also say it works well at bringing existing readers to new material. And so to Black Mask Studios, a publisher I’ve begun to take note of due to the buzz surrounding their releases but haven’t made the plunge into their output because, well, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff out there and time and money are often scarce resources. So when the opportunity presented itself to take a look in the form of this freebie, I made the time. And I’m sold. Both the short tasters are excellent, by turns brutal, exciting, funny and smart, all shot through with an indie sensibility that feels inclusive rather than elitist. This is my pick of the bunch for FCBD 2016. 9/10

Writers: Michael Avon Oeming, Brenden Fletcher, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka & Evan Dorkin
Art: Michael Avon Oeming, Taki Soma, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka
Kodansha Comics $0.00

Stewart R: It's fair to say that Attack On Titan has captured the attention of Manga readers and anime viewers around the globe. Such is the reach of the acclaimed series that Kodansha has turned to a myriad of Western comic creators to work on a 250-page anthology to be released later this year. This preview gives a small window into what those stories may contain and as it goes, even these glimpses make for a fine FCBD release. Michael Avon Oeming's chapter is a mission for the usual faces from AoT as a squad of troops are seemingly ambushed by a mob of the titular monstrosities. It looks great, reminding me somewhat of Samurai Jack in Oeming's hands. Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr go a little more meta with their chapter as they explore the phenomenon that AoT has become at American comic conventions while also looking into the issues of consent, personal space and sexual assault. Dorkin and Dyer's four-panel strips offer a comedic look at the recurring themes and ideas that the series is known for and then we get to the true gem of an already shiny preview. Twins Tomer and Asaf Hanuka only get four pages here, but they add a unique, sombre tale of loss that is beautifully rendered and their work alone may see me invest in the qnthology when October comes around. Add to all this a few interview snippets with many of the creators on what the series means to them and you've got a clear contender for book of FCBD 2016. 9/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
CBLDF $0.00

Matt C: The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are an eminently worthy, and often necessary, organisation, and so should always be supported, even if it’s just a case of brand awareness via their FCBD entry. A series of vignettes from a variety of different creators tackling the themes of freedom of speech (natch) and the importance of reading. There’s nothing here to really turn the head in surprise but it’s all very nicely done and  none of it slams the message home, instead gently but persuasively getting to the point. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Jeevan J. Kang & Ns Sathish-Kumar
Graphic India $0.00

James R: Our comics overlord Andy H slipped me this title to review as he knows that I've been partial to Grant Morrison before in the past. His All-Star Superman run was rightfully lauded as some of the finest mainstream comics work this century, and his tenure on Batman was never dull. I found his decision to focus some of his energies on retelling the Hindu Mahabharata in 18 Days to be a brave one, but also one that left me pretty cold. The idea has clearly resonated with Morrison, as in Avatarex he is once again teaming up with publishers Graphic India and artist Jeevan J. Kang to create a new superhero for India. The pages from Kang are certainly easy on the eye, and our brief introduction to Avatarex shows us a hero who must learn to be humble. It's a trope that's been done before, but let's face it, by this point most of them have! Certainly an arresting preview, and there's something in these pages which makes me want to give issue #1 a try - and that's certainly the joy of Free Comic Book Day. 7/10

Writers: PJ Haarsma & Alan Tudyk
Art: Sarah Stone
Automatic Publishing $0.00

Stewart R: If you're looking for a full-fat, bona fide #0 issue full of story and action then look no further than Spectrum. You may well spot a familiar name in the creator listing above and yes, that is Alan Tudyk of iRobot and Firefly/Serenity fame on shared writing duties. Heck, that's even an illustrated resemblance of Nathan Fillion on the cover (he's a 'producer' on the series)! I'll admit that I generally assume that Hollywood types taking to comic book creation is usually a recipe for mediocrity, but here it's clear to see the vast potential with this science fiction story. An opening page of exposition sets the scene of an Earth that's lost large following two extra-terrestrial events of differing motive - neither involving conquest, refreshingly - and at the point we're dropped into the midst of Captain Raaker's exploits it appears that a new threat is beginning to emerge. Halfway through we're transported to another part of the galaxy which throws up further mystery, but offers a connection to those events back on Earth. The aesthetic is mind-blowingly good for a debut AND free comic, and if Sarah Stone can maintain this visual consistency throughout the series proper then my goodness we might be in for something truly special. Spectrum #0 is one of the 'must haves' for FCBD and Spectrum #1 is a lock for my pull-list on the strength of what I've seen here. 9/10

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

Matt C: Yes, we’ve been here before (seven years ago, if you can believe it!) but what better way to announce the imminent return of a series that’s been MIA for some time - The Stuff Of Legend - than a reminder of why we fell in love with it in the first place. Volume 5 is on the horizon, and it will be welcomed with open arms in my household like an old friend, but if you somehow managed to let this series pass you by (and the sales figures indicate this will be a few of you) then this is a perfect opportunity to see what you’ve been missing. It may seem a bit daunting, the knowledge that there are four volumes to catch up on, but believe me, it’s worth it. It’s a magnificent, moving all-ages tale that would sit proudly on any bookshelf. 8/10

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