Comics! Free for everybody! Yes, this coming Saturday, May 6th, is Free Comic Book Day 2017 and today I arm you with all you need to choose comics for you and your family. It's a huge crop of comics, previewed alphabetically by title, and there are some real gems on offer. I've added ratings in cases where publishers have provided them on the cover. They are as follows:
(A) All Ages, (E) Everyone, (T) Teen, (M) Mature.
A quick note from the management before we begin: Due to some rather large changes in personal circumstances, this column will be henceforth be moving to fortnightly instalments. I don't think anyone will actually care about not having me ramble at them every single week, but Mitch was pretty insistent about me letting you know.
Okay, happy FCBD, everyone, go get them funnybooks!
2000 AD (REBELLION) (T)
Not quite hitting the highs of last year's stellar freebie, 2000 AD still turns in a strong, handsomely presented comic for FCBD 2017.
Editor Matt Smith scripts a clever but abruptly-concluded Judge Dredd short, illustrated by none other than Phil Winslade, whose name should ring plenty of bells for older readers out there. But leave it to the legendary Pat Mills- 68 years old - to bring the sharpest satire collected here with his tale of ABC Warrior Blackblood attempting to hunt down an enemy he believes is named General Public but is actually everybody using social media in a never-ending murder spree. Illustrated well in scratchy pen and ink by Kei Zama, it's this kind of grim wit that typifies the classic 2000AD aesthetic and the comic is worth picking up for "Blackblood: General Public " alone. Clever stuff.
Alternate history and supernatural noir collide in the Guy Adams-scripted PI-magician mash-up "Hope For The Future" which is elevated incredibly by the art of vastly underrated Jimmy Broxton. The pages are dense but just superbly drawn and tease Hope's next case, that of a young boy kidnapped by a demon. Solid stuff. Again: *lovely* pages. There's a panel of a phone receiver dangling by its cord against a background of negative space that I stared at for several minutes, admiring just how organic the lines are. I'm weird like that.
Former Guardians of The Galaxy co-writer Dan Abnett disappoints slightly with a fairly unnecessary Judge Anderson tale, "Hag Team", which is illustrated by Dani who is a competent artist, but this is a long fall from the illustrative and narrative heights of classic Alan Grant/Arthur Ranson Anderson stories.
"Dreams of Deadworld" rounds us off, with Judge Death on the case of a murderer in Deadworld - a realm where everyone is already dead. Kek-W's script packs a great premise and ties up neatly in its short allotment of four pages painted in that classic Glenn Fabry-ish/Simon Bisley-ish way by Dave Kendall.
Really good stuff overall.
ANIMAL JAM (DYNAMITE) (A)
Based on an "online social game for kids," Dynamite, as is their wont, snapped up the license to something called Animal Jam and has brought the property to comics. A more fantastical Zootopia, Animal Jam FCBD sees a rabbit named Clover arrive in the magical jungle utopia of Jamaa where all manner of animals live together in peace. A select cabal of animals, known as Alphas, protect the land from the evil phantoms these shadowy cyclopean spidery things. Clover accidentally triggers a Phantom invasion and teams up with a heroic squad of Alphas to make things right.
There's a lot of exposition for a little comic about animal pals in Fernando Ruiz's script and I'm not sure if younger reader will get bogged down in it. However, Ruiz's cartoony art with its angular animals and pretty solid world building keeps things humming when the action begins. Apparently over 70 million kids play Animal Jam, a pretty staggering number, so there may be some appetite for this property. Fear not, no knowledge of the game is required and, almost incredibly, there's no advertising spruiking the game so you don't need to worry about your kids fighting over your phone and endlessly hopping around Jamaa for the rest of their childhood. Decent enough. I would be lying if I said I wouldn't have preferred more Grumpy Cat again this year instead though.
ATTACK ON TITAN (KODANSHA) (T)
Kodansha again dusts off its acclaimed Attack on Titan Anthology for FCBD 2017, giving readers who missed out last year a second bite of the apple. An assemblage of Western creators let loose on Hajime Isayama's multimedia sensation, last year we got an intriguing selection of pages from various Attack on Titan Anthology stories. This year we get one complete tale from the book and it is a really good one, "Truth" by writer Jody Houser and artist Emi Lennox.
It's always interesting to see Lennox break away from the diary comics that made her career and her simple, clear cartooning is perfect for what is, surprisingly for a comic about men and women who battle murderous giants, a gentle character piece. Houser's script is really good - it's so easy to overwrite simple stories of this kind but she nails the tale of Ava, a young girl mourning the loss of her brother, Liam, in a battle with the titular Titans. A pinch or two of Attwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Orwell's 1984 are sprinkled over Isayama's signature creation as the story quickly shifts gears, concerning itself with art, beauty and state-enforced censorship with nary a Titan to be found in its pages. It's clever and sensitive and should be picked up and read by all this FCBD. A generous giveaway from our international pals at Kodansha.
AVATAR/BRIGGS LAND (DARK HORSE) (T)
Bit of a weird pairing on the surface of it for Dark Horse, but given that James Cameron's Avatar is obviously a very high profile property and Brian Wood's Briggs Land is on its way to television soon, there is some logic here.
Confession time: I have never seen Avatar. I barely even know what it's about. However, Sherri L. Smith does a pretty good job introducing the world and the concept for newbies like me in "Brothers." The story is smartly-illustrated by Doug Wheatley whose art I don't recall resembling Jae Lee's ever before, but it certainly does here in places. Wheatley's work is highly-detailed and Smith gives him room to bring some fairly dizzying perspective to aerial sequences. It's eye-catching stuff. Dark Horse has a solid record when it comes to their licensed comics, and Avatar would appear to be in equally solid hands.
Creator Brian Wood gives us"The Village," a similarly well-recapped tale featuring his Briggs Land characters. Werther Dell'Edra steps in on the art chores and he's an artist I personally like a lot more than series regular Mack Chater. Briggs Land is a large patch of wilderness that the secessionist Briggs family, now headed by matriarch Grace, control. It's a gritty and compelling concept and Wood, ever the pro, squeezes in all new readers need to know here while also telling a tight little story about rogue amphetamine dealers, tying in well to the overarching story of Grace trying to clean Briggs Land up. It's a nice little taster and hopefully, Dell'Edra stays on the title; he brings a looser, grubbier, less photo referenced look to the project that I think it sorely needs. Thumbs up.
BAD MACHINERY (ONI) (A)
Argh. Dammit. This is annoying. I really do not need another series to follow but oh, well, here we are, utterly charmed by John Allison's webcomic come to print, Bad Machinery and I pretty much have to get them all now. There are three "schoolgirl sleuths" and there are three "schoolboy investigators" and all six of them go to Griswald's Grammar School in England. I know what you're thinking: do I really need to read yet another comic about teen detectives in school? The answer, unequivocally, is yes. Yes, you do. Oni gives us the opening salvo of volume seven(!) of Bad Machinery, in which the girls stumble onto a possible schoolboy ghost connected to one of their science teachers. Highlights include: a drama class that turns Mamet's Glengarry Glenross British, hilarious books picked up at a jumble sale and page after page of top shelf dialogue.
Allison (who also scripts the popular Giant Days) keeps the captions to a minimum, the exposition to absolute zero and lets his simple, attractive, Kate Beaton-ish cartooning take charge. The distinctly British tone adds to the enjoyment after reading American comic after American comic and, again, Allison's dialogue is terrific. There are a lot of characters and they are all pretty chatty, but Allison keeps the voices distinct and never overstuffs his panels with too many words. Bad Machinery is actually a surprisingly dense little comic with lots of panels on pages, lots of word balloons in panels, but it flows exceptionally well. This is a skilful cartoonist at work. Yet another FCBD book you should go out of your way to pick up.
Well, the folks at Papercutz and Hasbro clearly want you to know that Barbie's proportions may be physically impossible but her go-getter, can-do attitude is in reach of us all. That may sound like I'm poking fun and I am a little bit, but seriously, this is not your mum's (or grandma's) Barbie. In the first of two stories, Barbie: Fashion Superstar by writer Sarah Kuhn and artist Alitha Martinez, Barbie's almost ready for a fashion show, but a desire to impress a fashion designer she looks up to crushes her confidence. Along the way to learning that the best inspiration comes from within, Barbie says thing like "science is an important part of my process," reaffirming that this is merely Ken's arm candy no more. I joke, but it's actually not bad - its message is on point and Martinez works around the frequent motivational platitudes with clean, thickly lined art that will appeal to young readers I'm sure.
Not quite as well crafted is Barbie: Starlight Adventure which ties in to an animated film, according to the editorial, that is possibly the most psychedelic Barbie will ever get. It sees Barbie cast in the role of Princess Starlight and I have to say that if the film happened to pop up on Netflix, I'd be curious to at least watch the first five minutes for the weirdness alone. The comic suffers a little from slightly cruder artwork by Jules Rivera. It's still better than one would expect, however and Rivera and writer Tini Howard deliver good, flashy fun for the wee ones. It's actually pretty solid, y'know. I'm giving my copy to my friend's girls, pronto.
BETTY & VERONICA (ARCHIE COMICS) (T)
Rather nice of Archie Comics to give us the first full issue of their latest Betty & Veronica effort, written and illustrated by Mr Adam Hughes who still draws the best eyelashes in comic, hands down.
Fun stuff featuring the whole Archie gang and setting up a new conflict between our titular frenemies can be found within these glossy pages and Hughes even finds a clever, if cheeky, way to shave two entire pages off his workload. I probably could have done without so much of Hot Dog's narration (yes, this comic is narrated by a dog), but Hughes has the personalities down, lets the zingers fly and my goodness you'll forgive him shaving those two pages off when you look at his work. I feel a little bad there's nothing really exclusive for long time fans who picked this book up months ago, but with Riverdale soaking up our attention on Netflix with its hunky Archie and seamy underbelly, its a no-brainer for Archie Comics to re-release this one. I enjoyed it a lot more than anticipated. Grab it if you've not read it yet.
BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL 2017 (BONGO COMICS) (A)
Bongo Comics stuff their 2017 Free-For-All with five Simpsons stories, all of which will be enjoyed by fans.
"Leader of The Backpack Pack" by Max Davison and Rex Lindsey kicks things off well, with Bart having to trade in his school backpack for one with wheels after suffering a back injury. The school quickly divides into two camps - the cool kids with their backpacks and "The Wheelies," the social outcasts with their wheelie-packs. Hijinks ensue when Bart and his fellow Wheelie members decide to upset the standing social order.
Dean Rankine writes and draws "A Nose For Adventure," a clever little tale of Milhouse playing with a Radioactive Man toy. "Nights of The Dinner Table" follows, by Ian Brill and Rex Lindsey which has Homer and Bart alone and planning an all-nighter that goes awry when they suspect a burglar has targeted their house.
Veteran super hero writer Mike W. Barr scripts the brilliantly titled "The Todd and Rodyssey" for penciler John Delaney and inker Andrew Pepoy. Rod and Todd get lost in the city and have to find their way home through Springfield's underbelly which very quickly homages The Odyssey. It's terrific.
Last but not least is Tony Digerolamo and Jason Ho's one-page comic, "Angry Dad Flips His Lid." Drawn as though it's a comic made by Bart, "Angry Dad..." sees Homer go wig shopping with disastrous results. Good clever comics here, all of which make me want to watch a few classic Simpsons episodes...
BOOM STUDIOS SUMMER BLAST 2017 (BOOM/ARCHAIA)
I recall last year's Boom Studios being a pretty impressive sampler pack of titles for younger readers and this year's is similarly stacked. Three comics are featured in the 2017 edition and kicking things off is a typically bittersweet, self-contained slice of David Peterson's sumptuously-illustrated Mouse Guard, "The Tale of The Wild Wolf." My goodness it’s lovely. Two young mice make their way towards a dangerous patch of forest but thankfully an elder mouse names Acorns sets them straight with a fable from times past. Gorgeous stuff.
I've tried to read Sam Sykes' fantasy novels without much success, but his cheeky humour is given beautiful life by Selina Espiritu's lively cartooning. The creators showcase their Brave Chef Brianna series, about a young human chef opening a restaurant in Monster City. It's good fun, again wonderfully drawn in an almost clear line style by Espiritu who seems poised for a long career. Plus, there's a recipe for Brazilian Cheese Waffle Sandwiches included that makes me want to run out and buy a waffle iron right now.
Rounding things off is Cody and The Creepers, introducing readers to a young rock band, the titular Creepers, who seem to have a thing for haunted houses and a long-standing hatred of their support band. Liz Prince scripts and Amanda Kirk illustrates. It's, in my opinion, the least interesting of the three features, but still absolutely worth checking out. Thumbs up again, Boom/Archaia!
BUFFY: THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS/PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES (DARK HORSE) (A)
Kudos to you, Kel McDonald, as although these comics are being listed alphabetically, I actually read Buffy: The High School Years FCBD right near the end of the pile and this is one of the few comics that succinctly, clearly gave new readers all they need to know going into the story. McDonald's three captions on panel one of page one set everything up perfectly for the reader before moving into a fast moving story of TV's vampire hunter going comic book shopping and finding not only a little girl who likes Sailor Moon because she "fights evil by moonlight" but a comics-loving vampire extremely annoyed that his pull box has been cancelled after his untimely death. Yishan Li draws "No Need To Fear, The Slayer's Here," and is possibly the perfect artist for an All Ages take on Buffy, with a style that happily marries the big eyed cuteness of girl's shoujo manga with a more restrained US mainstream look and this is a much better comic than expected.
Plants Vs. Zombies plays back-up for Buffy, seeing the cast of zombie fighters accidentally triggering a time machine and sent back into the Wild West. It's basically an excuse for writer Paul Tobin to have a fun time making cowboy jokes, but it's a worthy inclusion chiefly due to Rachel Downing's cartooning. Come for Buffy, stay for the plants.
CAPTAIN CANUCK YEAR ONE/DIE KITTY DIE (CHAPTERHOUSE) (T)
Actor Jay Baruchel and Kalman Andrasofsky write and Marcus To draws Captain Canuck Year One. It's pretty generic stuff all round, trying to lend the Canadian superhero the sheen of Big Two comics and, to be fair, it's a passable facsimile of that sort of material. David Finch collectors may want to pay attention to this for the cover he provides.
Story wise, what we get is a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan able to "manifest impenetrable red armor" for when goes AWOL to fight for justice. I dunno. For a Year One title (and a first issue at that), it's pretty baggage heavy, there are a few pages totally choked with word balloons and it's a little weird to have such a serious tone attached to a hero with such a silly name. Having said that, superhero fans should consider giving it a shot. You have nothing to lose.
Archie veteran Dan parent rounds the comic out with Die Kitty Die, illustrated by Feranado Ruiz in a throwback to the bygone Archie era. Fictional creations crash Kitty's beachhouse party via an old grimoire left carelessly about and Kitty's vengeful ex-husband. It's a bit of a whirlwind, but wraps up neatly.
CATALYST PRIME: THE EVENT (LION FORGE)
Lion Forge kicks off its new Catalyst Prime superhero universe with its FCBD giveaway event comic. Catalyst Prime: The Event skews toward the Hard SF end of the superhero spectrum and that's to its benefit, it feels smarter and bolder than a certain other event comic reviewed below, and based on story rather than controversy. Who knows? Maybe you'll be bored by it, there is a lot of physics and maths talk, and for an "event" comic not a whole lot appears to happen, but taking place before, during an after an extinction-level event, structurally I think it's pretty interesting and visually it holds its own with any Big League comic you'll pick up on the day.
Obviously, the creators are to thank. Priest (Christopher, I'm assuming?) and Joseph Phillip Illidge script and Marco Turini and Will Rosado (hey, the guy who used to draw Green Arrow!) illustrate this slick little customer, which features a large, multicultural cast and the birth of a superhero universe.
Expectations greatly exceeded for this one - it even has a neat twist ending that promises great intrigue for what lies ahead for the spin off comics. Heroes of all sorts of racial backgrounds, massive corporations, and a fascinating conspiracy are at the heart of this and I'll be curious to hear how this unfolds. Good luck, Lion Forge, I'm rooting for you.
COLORFUL MONSTERS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY)
The first of two offering D&Q bring us this FCBD, Colorful Monsters is an utterly adorable collection of all ages comics. Tove Jansson's Moomin kicks things off with an excerpt from the forthcoming Moomin and The Brigands book, in which Moomin, plagued by a house full of visitors he wants to be rid of, invites Stinky to stay. Stinky, as one would imagines, stinks and successfully drives away Moomin's unwanted guests. The problem is, Stinky is very hungry and, turning down Moomin's offer of more palatable food, begins to eat Moomin's house into ruin. Poor Moomin now needs to find a new place to live and encounters many an odd creature on his quest. It's great stuff.
If Found Please Return To Elise Gravel is next up, featuring some utterly charming pages from Gravel's sketchbook. Pages of grumpy monsters, imaginary friends, hedgehogs and weird creatures follow, along with some wonderful pages encouraging kids to draw. Cute stuff.
Anouk Ricard's Anna & Froga is up next, showcasing the tales of this group of cute little animal friends. My favourites are "Stage Fright" in which earthworm Christopher falls in love and Ron the cat obliviously ruins everything for him and "The Landscape" a five panel comic in which Bubu the dog vainly attempts to paint a sunset. This is a pretty generous excerpt from the forthcoming collection, with other shorter stories and surreal little strips also included. Amusing stuff, smartly conceived and cutely cartooned.
Bringing it home is the legendary Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro, the yokai monster boy who is a cultural icon in his native Japan. Formatted right to left, in the traditional manga manner, an excerpt from Mizuki's "Great Tanuki War" is gifted to us with handy little character bios scattered throughout. If you've never read Mizuki's Kitaro before, no more excuses - his blending of highly-detailed, almost photorealistic backdrops with distinctive, sketchy, rubbery-faced cartoon characters is never less than a delight.
Put Colorful Monsters high on your list - it's a tremendous assemblage of talent.
DC SUPERHERO GIRLS (DC) (E)
Silver St. Cloud alert! Writer Shea Fontana and artist Yancey Labat are back for their second FCBD giveaway in a row and pack their story with all manner of cameos from across the DCU. Last year, I was ready to hate this - the idea of de-aging a bunch of characters and sticking them in a high school setting to, principally, move a bunch of toys is not really my idea of what comics are for. However, Fontana and Labat are clearly fans and their characterisation is solid, their stories fun and my friend's little girl loves all things DC Superhero Girls proving that the formula works. This year, my expectations are a little higher and the team wins me over instantly with the inclusion of Silver St. Cloud. Sigh. I'm so easy.
"Gimme A Summer Break" is a chapter from one of the property's graphic novels and is wisely Wonder Woman-centric given the proximity of the characters solo film. Zeus wants Diana in Olympus for her summer break but Diana's unsure about the trip. When Hermes, Zeus' messenger, tells Diana she can bring a friend, her decision becomes a lot easier. It's easy to read and doesn't talk down to readers of any age, which I suspect is more difficult than it sounds. Really good gateway comics. I can't wait to see my friend's little girl devour it.
Personally, I would want my kids to read comics that are drawn much better than this is, but there's no denying the strength of the core concept of Tokyopop's Descendants comic. Basically Brian K. Vaughan's The Runaways meets your favourite high school manga meets Disney, Descendants sees the children of Disney baddies Malificent, Evil Queen, Jafat and Cruella De Vil sent to a school in the land of the children of Disney goodies, Beast, Prince Phillip, Fairy Godmother and...uh...Dopey. Yeah, Dopey. It's a good idea, if a touch derivative. I'm surprised Disney didn't put some Marvel muscle behind it and make it their Gotham Academy instead of nickle and diming it over to Tokyopop. Who's in charge of selling these licenses? Am I the only one who sees real money in this property? Anyway, Jason Muell adapts his script from a Disney Channel movie and Natsuki Minami draws lots of figures but backgrounds only when she cannot possibly get away without one. I've not been particularly nice to this comic, and your kids may like it quite a lot but I just see real wasted potential, both creatively and financially, here.
DOCTOR WHO (TITAN)
So Titan Comics is currently publishing four Doctor Who comics, each one self-contained and starring Doctors nine through twelve, that's Eccleston through Capaldi, for those keeping track. I myself like my Doctor older than I am, so I am thrilled that Capaldi has nabbed the role as this is probably the last time I am younger than a Doctor Who actor. Anyway, "The Promise" is a pretty good little story, featuring all four of the Doctors Titan publish but it's surprisingly relaxed and un-cramped for a self-contained comic featuring four versions of a character. This, I suspect, comes down to writer Alex Paknadel who tells a little tale of The Doctor's enduring friendship with an alien named Plex. It has all the quirky wit of the TV show and artists Mariano Laclustra, Pier Brito and Nico Selma struggle hard, too hard if you ask me, to nail the likenesses of the various actors. Still, there is some really nice art on display despite the photo referencing. A good primer to showcase Titan's Doctor Who efforts.
DRAGONBALL SUPER/BORUTO (VIZ)
From the pages of Shonen Jump comes sequels to two of the great crossover manga hits, Dragonball and Naruto. Dragonball Super finds a bored Goku challenged by Beerus, God of Destruction and as Goku enthusiastically engages combat, he soon finds out that even his powerful Super Saiyan 3 stage has met its match. Expect fun, cartoonish violence typical of Dragonball here, as drawn by Toyotarou from a script by Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama. Toyotarou is a satisfactory stand-in for the art of Toriyama, but he lacks the detail the creator packed into those early Dragonball comics. Fans will eat this up, however and I, who knows very little about this series outside of the early manga, found it pretty easy to follow along.
The sequels keep on coming with Bouto: Naruto Next Generations. Not quite as easy to get up to speed here and creator Masashi Kishimoto is even more hands off than Toriyama, not even bothering to script. Ukyo Kodachi handles the writing and Mikio Ikemoto steps in to draw. He's no Kishimoto, our Kodachi, but he handles the action sequences nicely, as one would hope for such a comic. As unfamiliar as I am with the complexities of Dragonball, I'm even less so with Naruto and this little slice of Boruto (Naruto's son) is less helpful in getting readers up to speed, but fans of the expansive ninja saga should be pleased. It's a shame these sequels don't step things up on the art and surpass the drafting skills of their respective creators, but hopefully, the interest for both comics is high as they are fun projects, ripe with potential.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT (BOOM)
There’s a lot of talk about representation and diversity and generally widening the scope of the racial and sexual scope of both the characters and creators in comics and, as such, adapting a sitcom about a Taiwanese-American family into comics not only puts a book with an all-Asian cast into the hands of comics readers, but may well bring a segment of the TV viewership along with it. However, when I first saw this comic, I rolled my eyes. It felt a little too cynical to me, another example of a fairly licence-hungry company adapting source material with no real connection to the medium for short term profit or a quick media coverage pop. Here’s the thing, though. My wife is Chinese-Canadian. Technically, she’s Chinese-Taiwanese-Canadian, and when she saw this comic she was thrilled. Doesn’t hurt that the thing actually turns out to be pretty well made.
Gene Luen Yang, of Boxers and Saints, American Born Chinese and Superman, is the perfect writer for this material. He writes a cute little all ages story about the Huang family all gaining powers and becoming Superheroes, like some kind of Asian Impossibles. His script is light, self-aware and amusingly-scripted. Most importantly, it does not pander to the TV audience or plug the show in any way whatsoever. Yang first and foremost writes a *comic* not an advertisement, further lending credibility and authenticity to this project.
Jorge Corowa does a terrific job actually drawing the thing, wisely eschewing any attempts to make his characters resemble their TV counterparts and instead going full capital-C, capital-B Comic Book, with a style that has flashes of Kirby design amongst lines that look like Michael Avon-Oeming and Gabriel Ba having a jam session. This is lively work and I hope to see more of it.
Boom’s Fresh Off The Boat is a fun little comic. It will probably not be the best thing you read from your FCBD haul, however, if you are looking to support diversity in the industry, it may turn out to actually be the most important giveaway this year. Boom and Huang should be commended for taking a chance on this project and bringing the right creators on board (pardon the pun). Good stuff.
GRIMM FAIRY TALES (ZENESCOPE) (T)
Having very little to do with Grimm Brothers classic fairy Tales is Zenescope's Grimm Fairy Tales. It's a comic that proves that sometimes less really is more. Despite being continued in Grimm Fairy Tales #3: The Last Genie, the opening story, "Crypt of The Sphinx," is the most complete and action-packed story included and, if the folks at Zenescope had stopped here and called it a day, I'd be writing a little more favourably about the comic as a whole. A thief named Jasmine is sent by the evil vizier to steal a mystical artifact from a secret chamber. The chamber happens to be guarded by a sphinx and betrayal awaits Jasmine. It's fairly generic stuff by writer Joe Brusha and artists Ario Murti and Leonardo Paciarotti, but it's okay.
Things soon fall of the rails a bit however with "Judgement Rising," and "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing," both of which introduce other aspects of this...um...Grimm Universe that are too short to have real impact or coherency. All in all, I'm left with a real Crossgen comics vibe (remember them?), so if that type of bright, breezy fantasy comic does it for you, check this out.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY/THE DEFENDERS (MARVEL) (T)
Marvel wisely brings the unlikeliest of blockbuster cinematic heroes, The Guardians of The Galaxy, into their line up of FCBD titles just in time for the new movie. Featuring a sampling of the latest Guardians series by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder, expect typically vibrant and bouncy cosmic comics here. Of all the Marvel films, its surely Guardians that has had the most impact on the comics property and here, with baby Groot and a Walkman-wielding Star-Lord, fans of the film will have little trouble slotting right in and joining the ride. Kuder is a great addition to the book, with a Frank Quietly-esque line and a good sense of physical humour, his lively work is perfect for Duggan's fast-paced, quip-filled script. If you haven't seen the new movie yet, you should. It's pretty great.
A returning Diamondback seeks revenge on the members of an all-new team in The Defenders by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez. Obviously designed to tie in with the upcoming Netflix show of the same name, the latest incarnation of The Defenders includes Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones. If you enjoy Bendis in the year 2017, odds are you will again particularly as David Marquez brings his super-slick A-game. I have a feeling, however, that the catalyst for the team truly coming together will not please the more vocal members of the comics community. We shall see...
HILDA/GARBAGE NIGHT (NOBROW) (A)
What a titanic twosome of comics Nobrow gives us!
Luke Pearson’s wonderful Hilda gets a brisk but thorough recapping before we’re treated to a preview of her next book in which she has swapped places with a changeling troll baby. Yep, Hilda wakes up and she’s stuck underground, living with the trolls, while the changeling causes all manner of chaos for Hilda’s mum at home.
Pearson is a superb cartoonists with a real gift for movement and physical humour – there’s long panel where Hilda uses the heads of all sorts of trolls as stepping stones in her bid to escape that’s just terrific. I recently recommended Hilda to a friend of mine as a comics gateway drug for his daughter and it worked perfectly. Such is the charm of Pearson’s work, fun and adventure-stuffed and lovingly drawn.
Up next is a taste of Jen Lee’s Garbage Night, a sequel to her tremendous Vacancy comic of a couple of years back, about teen animals (a dog, a raccoon and a deer) in an abandoned, seemingly post-apocalyptic town. I loved Vacancy (which will be included in the forthcoming Garbage Night) and once again, Lee’s beautiful, colourful cartooning and adorably anthropomorphised creatures are on full display. If you’ve never seen her work before and the idea of hungry, delinquent animal friends in beanies, spectacles and doc marten boots appeals, then race in and grab this before the full book debuts in June.
All in all, this is pretty much a flawless All Ages sampler from London-based Nobrow, who continue to publish some of the most handsome comics around. Grab this for sure.
HOSTAGE/POPPIES OF IRAQ (DRAWN &QUARTERLY)
Canadian Publisher Drawn & Quarterly wisely packages together scenes from two upcoming biographical comics, Hostage by Guy Delisle and Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim, designed to appeal to readers looking for bit more than just escapism from their funny books.
Hostage is Delisle's first attempt at a biographical subject outside of himself as this latest work details the harrowing plight of Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe Andre, who was captured and imprisoned in Chechnya. Beautiful in its cartooning simplicity, the pages on offer prove a riveting read and demonstrate just how much you can do in comics with real artistic minimalism. Andre, alone in a room with no natural light is handcuffed to a radiator. When he accidentally tightens his handcuffs, the possibility of losing his hand becomes very real if no help comes. Delisle's art is spare and stripped back, heightening both Andre's isolation and narrative tension. Really thrilling stuff, a perfect primer for the project's debut.
Lewis Trondheim of Dungeon fame brings his bouncy cartooning to Poppies of Iraq, Brigette Findakly's upcoming memoir of her youth growing up in Iraq. Readers will find an intriguing juxtaposition between Trondheim's simple figures and the dense political history Findakly interweaves with personal memory. There's a weird lettering quirk going on where there's an extra space between the first letter of words that begin with W and the rest of the letters (for example "whom" looks like "w hom") and it proves pretty annoying, particularly as Trodheim's art is so easy to digest, keeping the narrative-heavy story flowing.
Good stuff overall. Again: Hostage, in particular, looks to be really terrific.
I HATE IMAGE (IMAGE) (M)
This is a very fun way to celebrate a quarter century of Image Comics. Skottie Young brings his I Hate Fairyland character, Gert, to the land of Image, where all manner of familiar faces reside. The mysterious group known as "The Partners" may have the means to end Gert's forty-year entrapment in Fairyland and Gert will have that freedom, no matter what manner of carnage she has to unleash on the denizens of Image along the way to the Partners' gleaming tower. I've not read I Hate Fairyland before and, to be honest, I pretty much expected to hate this, but it is too much fun, too well drawn and too mayhem-filled to dislike. Via Gert, Young brutally slays all your favourite Image characters, and often their creators as well, and while the payoff will come as no surprise to any reader, there is much fun to be had here. From the huge nipples of the Liefeld-era Prophet to the dialogue of the Paper Girls, Young pokes good fun at Image characters from all eras across some really well constructed sequences, each Easter-egg filled for old timey Image readers to get a chuckle out of. Brisk and chock full of cartoony, slapstick violence, I Hate Image may well be best enjoyed midway through your FCBD reading as something of a palate cleanser. Thumbs up for this unique, clever piece of promotion.
THE INCAL (HUMANOIDS) (M)
FREE MOEBIUS! Do I really need to say anything else? Okay, a little more.
Humanoids generously give away the first 26 pages of The Incal, which they claim is the best-selling SF graphic novel of all time. I had no idea about that fact as The Incal has cult status in the US, something the publisher is clearly keen to build on following the success of the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune and Dark Horse untangling the rights to much of Moebius' back catalogue.
The Incal is a mind-bending space opera, the comic that introduced The Metabaron and spawned what's become known as The Jodoverse - the universe in which all of Alejandro Jodorowsky's SF comics are set. It's a complicated melange of conspiracy and mysticism and laser beams and sex and cults, all of which were given gorgeous life by Moebius, an artist whose face would indisputably belong on a Mount Rushmore of comics along with those of Kirby and Tezuka. It's overwhelming to read, stuffed with concept after concept, character after character (including Kill Wolfhead - possibly the best name ever in comics). John DiFool is the character at the centre of this complex, visually lovely comic, drawn into a mystery surrounding a magical crystal known as The Incal and a cult who worship its opposite - The Dark Incal.
It all might sound a bit messy and it is, but it is a glorious, legendary mess, an ever-expanding cosmic headtrip that allowed Jodorowsky, the director of the cult films El Topo and The Holy Mountain as well as the legendary adaptation of Dune that failed to make it to camera, to really cut loose and in Moebius he had a collaborator who could handle even more than Jodo's prodigious imagination could conceive of.
Again: FREE MOEBIUS. That's really all the incentive you need.
KEYSER SOZE/ THE RIFT (RED 5 COMICS) (T)
Hands up if you were screaming out for a Keyser Soze comic? Do you even know who or what Keyser Soze is? Let's put this in context for a minute as we are surely scraping the bottom of the barrel of licenced comics: I saw The Usual Suspects in the cinema. That was 1995. Twenty-two years later comes this comic based on that film's mysterious boogeyman criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze. It's more than a little baffling. Well, just because it's baffling doesn’t mean it's a bad comic, you say. Correct. But it is certainly an average one, with a script from Paul Ens in which Soze drops an exposition bomb on the son of a criminal he seeks to gain a rather theatrical revenge on. Livia Pastore is on the art chores and does an admirable job enlivening proceedings even though she feels a bit miscast on this title. Tonally, it feels just off, overly large and cartoonish for what should be a gritty, complex book. Still, curiosity might get the better of those familiar with the film, and I can't say I blame you, just temper those expectations.
An introduction to The Rift is also included. The synopsis tells us that it is presented by Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner, a man who has not exactly endeared himself to the comics fanbase and who is nowhere to be found in the credits. Writers Don Handfield and Richard Rayner head up a creative team that boasts ten names, including that of artist Leno Carvalho who draws this story of a WWII pilot mysteriously crashing into present day.
KID SAVAGE (IMAGE) (A)
I ripped through Joe Kelly and Ilya's Kid Savage. Ran right through it, pausing only to soak up the best bits of Ilya's art, the echoes of Jeff Smith rippling through it. FCBD enticement issues often try and do too much - too much content squeezed in, leaving everything included to feel unsatisfactorily cut off at the knees, or just simply filled with too much exposition. This first issue of Kid Savage is confident enough in its overall craft and it doesn't need to wow you with universe-shaking consequences or advertisements promising more.
Veteran writer Joe Kelly is sure enough in his concept and wisely trusting enough in his collaborator to essentially hand Ilya the reins. Over the course of this first issue, we meet Kid Savage, presumably an alien from a world roughly equivalent to a kind of souped-up prehistoric Earth era who get sucked into what may well be our own future by a family of space explorers. That's it. Yet somehow it's much more compelling than many of the other promotional efforts you'll pick up this FCBD. Strong concept, big panels, clean layouts, minimal dialogue, zero exposition: this is how you stand out on Free Comic Book Day, particularly in an All Ages market now surprisingly crowded with quality books. I'm a bit biased - I've stated before (more than once) in this column that I could read caveman comics every week - and while that's true, Kid Savage with his bear claws strapped to his arms and his double-headed weasel friend and his monster lizard foe, man, how can you pass that up? I used to read Joe Kelly back when he wrote X-Men. That's right around the time I stopped reading X-Men. Clearly, I have some catching up to do. Kid Savage FCBD Edition is terrific.
Ps: There's also a few pages of Gregg Schigiel's Pix included and they are fine and they are fun, but it's a bit like watching some support act play after your headlining band. No offense, Gregg.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA (VIZ) (T)
Presented in authentic right to left manga format comes Viz's The Legend of Zelda fantasy manga, based on the Nintendo game and brought to us by writer/artist Akira Himekawa. Viz thankfully provide little synopses of both Himekawa stories here as I have no idea what The Legend of Zelda is actually about. Both stories feature the character Link, who may likely mean more to you than he does me. The first comes from "Twilight Princess" and sees Link unable to find the peace and quiet of village life as his new home is threatened by The King of Shadows. The second story, an excerpt from "The Ocarina of Time," sees young Link on a quest to find three "spiritual stones."
Himekawa's art is decent overall and there are some really great panels scattered throughout. It's a fairly generic shonen manga style and that's likely perfect to match the wide appeal of the property. The adventures crackle with Arthurian overtones and imagery and all manner of fantastical creatures and I hope it resonates with fans of the game that the manga is clearly designed for.
LOOKING GLASS WARS: CROSSFIRE (AUTOMATIC) (T)
Scant on set up, indicia, creator information or even publisher (I'm guessing this is Automatic thanks to an ad at the rear of the comic), The Looking Glass Wars is a bit of a puzzle. Frank Beddor, Curtis Clark and Sami Makkonen all have cover credits, but who does what is not made clear. Anyway, this is Lewis Carroll gone Ian Fleming, a kind of Wonderland goes Bond, with a super spy from Wonderopolis named Ovid Grey under orders from the Queen to stop the Illuminati. Spelled out like that, it sounds utterly ridiculous and it is - but it's not entirely without its charms. The art by whoever drew this will not be to everyone's taste, but I quite like its almost impressionistic scratchiness - it is certainly distinctive. The script is a bit of a muddle for the new reader, with shards of Heart Crystal, spies belonging to an agency (I think) called the Millinery, Black Imagination and all manner of concepts thrown out one after the other with little to help the new reader make sense of just what is going on. It's a comic begging for an introduction, a synopsis, something, but considering both creators and publisher are not even credited, a recap is definitely asking too much. It's intriguing, I'll give it that much.
MIRACULOUS/KID SHERLOCK/TOYETICA (ACTION LAB) (A)
Miraculous is some sort of multimedia property about...something. Once again, we are in a school setting and there's powers and...ahh, look I can't even pretend to know what's going on here. A super-villain invades a lacrosse game or something but this is exactly the kind of problem you find when you just shove some pages from some comic into your FCBD giveaway with no context and just chop the story off at the knees. Your kids will likely give Miraculous the once over as it's decently cartooned by Brian Hess, but if they find a reason to care about it on a level any deeper than a few minutes reading, let me know, I'm genuinely interested.
More school hijinks in Justin Phillips and Sean Gregory Miller's Kid Sherlock which, you guessed it, features Sherlock Holmes in elementary school. Fortunately, Watson is a dog, and a cute one to boot but the problem here is that these preview pages have Watson picked on and excluded for being different and end with (a really nicely drawn) long shot panel of him sitting alone as other kids play on around him. I'm probably being oversensitive, but I'm not really sure that teasing/bullying/exclusion/ The End is the best sequence to include here. Weird.
A few pages of Toyetica by Mandy LeGrow rounds us out, a comic about --stay with me here -- a world in which little miniature people were once kept as slaves and so toy dolls were made to play with in their place once people realised how wrong it was to keep toy people. Then the toy people, now free, made an agreement with companies producing toys to stop making plastic and china dolls as they were "based on (toy people's) image, on the history of (their) exploitation." Uhh, right. It's a goofy high concept, to say the least, exacerbated by LeGrow drawing each page in a different style that unfortunately creates quite the mishmash as a result. There's literally not enough here for me to judge properly but, unlacing my positivity boots for a brief second, this is pretty bad stuff despite the very admirable "friends come in all shapes and sizes" tagline. Can't win 'em all.
MONSTER HIGH #0 (TITAN) (A)
More kids in high school, only this time, the cast is made up of teen monster girls! Based on the Mattel line of dolls that weird me out a little bit for some reason, Monster High #0 introduces comics readers to the upcoming series from Titan Comics. Honestly, I half expected to be hurling this across the room in a fit of snobbish outrage but, here's the thing, it's actually not bad.
Chock full of monster puns kids will likely get a chuckle out of, Abby Denson's script sees Draculaura, Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf, Cleo De Nile and Lagoona Blue working on Mad Science projects for a school competition. It's the art of Arianna Florean and Egle Bartolini that elevate the comic, however, particularly when they break away from the probably Mattel-enforced character design. There's a three-panel sequence of Clawdeen going full werewolf that is actually really good. I'm not sure why the girls are monsters and the boys are "Mansters" (do we really need to open a can of gender identification worms in a comic like this?) but eye-poppingly colourful and featuring smart, hard working characters, Monster High is a surprisingly well crafted, even setting up future antagonists for the core cast by the end of this #0 issue. Oh, it's also not scary in the slightest, in case you have any quibbles about handing a monster book to your kids.
RICK AND MORTY (ONI) (T)
Oni are kind enough to give us a helping of the comic book adventures of everyone’s favourite animated degenerate scientist and his socially-awkward grandson, Rick and Morty. Two stories, a big slice of “The Wubba Dubba Dub Dub of Wall Street “ by Zac Gannon and CJ Cannon (great name, CJ) and a teaser of the forthcoming “Pocket Like You Stole It” by Tini Howard and Marc Ellerby are included and no real knowledge of the TV show is required to enjoy them (particularly the former). Both stories feature dead-on dialogue and mannerisms and the art is similarly spot on, not that the Rick and Morty aesthetic is the hardest thing in the world to pull off or anything...
Okay, so “...Wall Street” is really good fun, unfortunately for us freeloaders ending with a cliffhanger. Rick and Morty are manipulating an intergalactic stock exchange just so that Rick can prove that that having a job is a worthless, thankless endeavour to Jerry, Morty’s dad. In the process, our “heroes” raise the ire of one Detective Tock and the Time Police. Really good.
“Pocket...” is basically a teaser, but the concept seems similarly great. We open with Morty and a mermaid version of Morty living underground in a forest, in hiding from a shotgun-wielding hunter. If the weirdness of a mermaid version of Morty (Mer-Morty) alone isn’t enough to get you in the doors, I don’t know what else I can do for you here....
Clearly the Adult Swim cartoon is in good hands over at Oni. Thumbs up.
RIVERDALE ONE-SHOT(ARCHIE COMICS) (T)
Like the mighty ouroborous, the snake that devours its own tail, here comes Riverdale. Based on the CW/Netflix show, which in turn is based on the Archie Comics of yore and spun once more back into comics, it is free for your teen angst-loving mitts to grab onto this FCBD. Featuring two stories that act both as prequels to and also recap key events from the early episodes of the TV show, you get the origin of just why Archie is so hunky and buff now and everyone wants to make out with him (by Brian E. Paterson and Elliot Fernandez) and Veronica's pre-Riverdale life (by James Dewille and Thomas Pitilli). These are, honestly, adequately constructed comics, diverting enough for you to pass your time with as you wait for the next episode to arrive on Netflix, but nothing to act like Reggie Mantle over if you miss out on the day.
SECRET EMPIRE/SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (MARVEL) (T)
The spoilers have leaked for this, the free, super controversial instalment of the Nick Spencer-scripted event, Secret Empire in which a not-a-hoax Nazi Captain America and an army of Hydra baddies attempt to take over the world. I'll not include any spoilers here, fear not, but I do have to question the wisdom of that last page reveal. There's some smart people making these funnybooks - they have to be aware of what this image symbolises. Not gonna lie, I'm wrestling with this one even though my positivity boots are laced up tightly going in to this column. To this lapsed mainstream reader, Secret Empire is Secret Invasion with zero subtext and added fascist symbolism. Comics as click-bait. However you look at this, Marvel is going all in, for good or ill, and I do acknowledge their moxie. You also cannot deny the interest level is huge. I can't really say anymore without spoiling this so perhaps we should all roundtable this over beers some time. Let's move over to the art:
Andrea Sorrentino is a highly detailed artist who clearly likes Jae Lee a whole lot (a little bit too much as it turns out -- there is a total swipe here. I'd link to the source, but it includes spoilers) but his limited, muted colour palate causes some problems in identifying just which character is which, particularly as battle pages niftily compress into compositions of smaller and smaller panels as our heroes get trounced (first person to tell me who the shirtless dude is with the aviator sunnies and Tom Selleck moustache wins an All Star No Prize. Wonder Man? Sexy Stripper Hulk? Am I close?). If you dig this kind of grand, all-encompassing Marvel event, this one should be on your list.
Lightening things up considerably and welcomely is Chip Zdarksy and Paulo Siqueia's introduction to a new Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man title. Did you ever think you'd see the man who draws Sex Criminals writing Spider-Man? Nope, neither did I. He proves a fairly inspired choice, however as this fairly paint-by-numbers Spidey story (lunch with MJ, uh-oh there goes The Vulture, fight, plot twist) is enlivened greatly by Zdarsky's snappy dialogue. I smiled. Several times actually. Siqueia is a name I am not familiar with, but he is one slick customer - think Steve McNiven and you're 90% of the way there. Siqueia is great with expressive faces, his Spidey contorts just the way you like him to and his perspective is frequently quite clever. Good stuff.
SPILL NIGHT (FIRST SECOND) (T)
Publisher First Second gives bestselling YA author Scott Westerfeld the FCBD treatment, allowing readers to sample his Spill Zone comic. Spill Night is something of a prequel, Westerfeld tells readers in his intro, detailing the very night the mysterious spill destroyed an entire town. The Spill would seem to be some sort of supernatural or interdimensional incursion into our world, and the only being that seems to hold any answers to this mystery is Vespertine, a doll animated by something from The Spill's realm and currently in possession of a young girl. It's a little rushed as a set up, but French artist Alex Puvilland (whose name is annoyingly relegated to the very bottom of the cover - not cool) brings an urgent, kinetic and off-kilter line to the story, a little Dean Ormston, a little Jim Mahfood.
It's good work, unexpectedly angular and odd to be working with such such a mainstream heavyweight writer. Puvilland's colouring is as interesting as his linework - lots of purples in the dark, lots of autumn hues in the light, supernatural beings fluorescently lit. A little too creepy for little ones (a dog dies rather cruelly in the first couple of pages), pick this up for the edgy YA reader in your life. Spill Night is pretty solid.
SPONGEBOB FREESTYLE FUNNIES 2017 (UNITED PLANKTON PICTURES)
One does expect a Spongebob Squarepants comic book to come with such sharp and clever satire of the comics industry, but that's exactly what readers will find inside "The Great Funnybook Giveaway," a new and lengthy story from the folks at United Plankton Pictures. Jay Lender writes and lays the story out, finished by Jacob Chabot and - seriously- this is a standout release for the day as a whole. It's great fun, featuring Spongebob and friends' perilous trek to the comic shop for "No-Charge Funnybook Day," is *really* well drawn and has great gags scattered throughout. The running commentary on comics, comics fans, comics shops, and a "monopolistic distribution system" throughout is really great, at times pointed but ultimately kind. This is terrific.
Steven Stern and Nate Neal present "Flotsam & Jetsam: Ocean Facts," mixing some science in with adorable cartooning, and the terrific James Kolchaka stops by to contribute a typically loopy Spongebob short, "Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."
A quick mention of R. Sikoryak's terrific cover, which not only homages 1934's Famous Funnies #1 cover by Jon Mayes, but also has all the Spongebob character names listed at the bottom, proving that United Plankton wants to leave no reader left behind. Who would have thought that Spongebob Squarepants of all things would nail the FCBD formula so perfectly: new, attractively-drawn self-contained material requiring no overwrought exposition or recapping for new readers, all characters listed on the cover, and great creators brought in to tell stories. Seriously, big time comic book companies could learn a thing or two from Freestyle Funnies 2017. This is excellent.
STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION: MIRROR BROKEN (IDW)
The Next Generation crew go Broken Mirror in IDW's latest Star Trek series. The Mirror Universe is a parallel universe in which we see various evil versions of Star Trek characters. It's a good idea for a fresh Star Trek comics series and the script by David and Scott Tipton is a good one, introducing a handful of characters, but not too many, and wisely framing the story through the eyes of a fairly minor character, Lt. Barclay. It does feel like a fresh coat of paint for the Star Trek comics and the plot seems to be leaning towards Barclay murdering his way to career advancement. I approve. The painted art by J.K. Woodward is not my own personal cup of tea -- there's some decent work here but overall everything looks far too much like stock character images painted over -- but there are a lot of readers who like this hyper-realistic style. Trek fans should enjoy this a lot. Who doesn't want to see Bad Picard?
A few pages of Star Trek:Boldly Go is up next, IDW's adventures of the latest Star Trek crew from the "Kelvin timeline" (that's the JJ Abrams crew to you and me). Not a lot of content to judge, but writers Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott seem to have the voices down. Artist Tony Shasteen spends so much time trying to nail likenesses that none of his characters actually look like they are making eye contact with whoever it is they are speaking to. It is at this point I realise I would be a nightmare editor for freelancers - I find this pretty unacceptable. Pick this up and see for yourself. Where is everybody actually looking? Years ago, a guy with wonky eyes tried to pick a fight with me for some unknown reason. I actually thought he was trying to fight my friend as he was looking at him rather than me. That's exactly what's going on here on these pages.
A sample of Star Trek/Green Lantern follows by Mike Johnson and Angel Hernandez. For my money, it's the best looking of these Star Trek comics. It's a three-page preview, so let's move on to Star Trek: Waypoint, a preview of the upcoming anthology series by a rotating cast of creators and Star Trek crews. The series kicks off with Donny Cates and Mack Chater. Three pages are included. Not much more I can add to that.
STEAM WARS: STRIKE LEADER (ANTARTIC PRESS) (T)
It wears its influences way too heavily on its sleeve and one suspects writer/artist Joe Wight uses his heavily-clouded skies to cut down on his background work, but there's something more to this Star Wars/steam punk/ World War II mash-up than mere pastiche.It's possibly Warren's art that sets Steam Wars: Strike Leader apart from other comics on offer for FCBD - his distinctive digital painting and the manga-esque expressions on characters faces certainly stands out. With a strong pair of female fighter pilot characters, Lady Redhawk and Lt. Westbrooke about to undertake a "high-risk assignment" that change the course of this fantasy world war between the Free Realms and the Crimson Empire and some interesting perspective on its fighter plane battles, it's a shame that, editorially, nobody at Antarctic asked for more originality from the creator. Seriously, Lady Redhawk flies an X-Wing gone WWII bi-plane, the logo on the inside cover is a direct rip-off of Star Wars, and by the time we meet the droid, Seven-Delta-Seven, well...I'd be surprised if Disney wasn't consulting lawyers. I'd love to give this an earnest thumbs up and, look, the WWII looking X-Wing jet is undoubtedly cool, but whatever glimmers of uniqueness to be found here are buried under "homage." Your kids, however, they may very well see things differently, seeing only a comic with robots, exploding space planes and blimp wars. When you frame Steam Wars like that, it sounds like a pretty awesome little project and just maybe this is the way you'll see it.
STREET FIGHTER V (UDON) (T)
Whatcha gonna do, brother, when Capcom and Udon Comics’ Street Fighter V Wrestling Special runs wild on you??
There is a lot of potential for greatness here. Let’s see how the folks at Udon fared...
Ken Hibiki, of the aforementioned video game property turns pro grappler in “Ladies Man” by Ken Siu-Chong and Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz. Ken is filled with pride at the opportunity to redeem himself after many demoralising losses by stepping into the squared circle in front of a large live audience, but is taken aback when used as a pawn in the sleazy promoter's feud with his female wrestlers. It’s a promising set up with humour established early, but the gag wears a little thing as Ken, who refuses to fight, is attacked by lady grappler after lady grappler. The ubiquitously...um..generous proportions of the ladies is not something I normally would make a big deal out of, except that this is, essentially a story about gender equality. Some variance in the physical appearance of the ladies apart from ever-increasing bust lines might not have gone astray.
The second story, “Cold War Carnage” is set in the ‘80s and features Russian Street Fighter fave Zangief in the role of commie wrestling heel The Red Cyclone taking on an All-American hero. When stand-ins for Gorbachev and Reagan hit the ring, it’s clear that this will struggle to hit the heights of Hulk Hogan vs. Nikolai Volkoff or Dusty Rhodes vs. The Koloffs. Still, it does feature a final panel in which, back home in Russia, Zangief powerbombs a bear. Yes, you read that correctly. “Cold War Carnage” is brought to us again by Chong, this time with Hanzo Steinbeck illustrating. Vibrant colours are a hallmark of these comics, this I have learned after two straight FCBD editions, and the neon-lit images fairly pop off the page, highlighting Steinbeck and Cruz’s muscle-bound posing figures. All in all, this is an okay diversion for the wrestling fan in your life, but, man, am I crazy for wanting some meat on the bones of these Street Fighter stories? After you’ve ploughed through this, go and read Last Man by Vives, Balak and Sanlaville for Street Fighter wackiness done (mostly) right.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (IDW) (M)
Tom Waltz scripts from a story he concocted along with Bobby Curnow and Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. You’d think that with so many writers involved that someone might have suggested that the bewildering, exposition-filled recapping of prior events leading to this story in which character after character is clumsily hurled at the reader one after the other might not be such a good idea. Yeesh.
Anyway, I am most definitely not the world’s biggest Turtles fan (I do own those lovely old Michael Zulli drawn issues!), but I do have some affection for the property and, particularly, its original creators who almost single-handedly started a remarkable black and white indie comics boom over thirty years ago with these characters. Anyway, in this mature readers (!) issue, the Turtles take on a bounty hunter from Dimension X named Hakk-R (that’s totally an Eastman name, right?).
Why this is labelled as for Mature Readers, I’ve literally no idea as there is absolutely nothing mature about this comic whatsoever. Artist Corey Smith does appear to be having a blast drawing the cast, however, and his action sequences and Turtles posing dramatically with their arms drawn all Joe Quesada-like really steal the show. He’s the perfect artistic fit for the property, no doubt.
Ultimately, this one is for Turtles fans only, I would suggest, but hey, if you’re a newbie who wants to plunge headlong into the TMNT mythology without skipping a beat and hit the ground running, this is a good place to start. Also, parents do not fear: after reading this comic your lovely children will not spiral into murder and moral degeneracy such as we saw in anti-comic propaganda films of the ‘50s—it’s safe to ignore that M rating.
THE TICK (NEC) (A)
Ah, my annual reading of a Tick comic! The folks at NEC kindly give us two brand new Tick tales, both by writer Jeff McLelland and artist Duane Redhead. In "Happy Birthday Tick!" Tick decides to have a birthday party. Struggling to come up with a really memorable guest, he invites supervillain The Terror along. There's some pretty good gags here, including a scene where a mailman delivers The Terror's invitation.
"Civic Duty" follows and if we aren't all sick of Presidential Election stories by now, this one might just do it. Again, there's some good gags here - The Red Scare running for President for example -- and Reade's square-jawed, hyper-muscled characters and ridiculous costumes are on point but let's just hope that's it for election stories for a while. Despite that particular gripe, The Tick FCBD is absolutely worth a read.
TIME SHIFTERS (GRAPHIX) (A)
A young boy finds a mysterious techno doodad that locks onto his arm. The problem is a mummy, a Vampire Napoleon (yeah I don't really get that either) and a skeleton are looking for the device. Rescued by a team of dimension hopping scientists, the boy is soon teleported away to a parallel Earth, where mystery awaits.
I don't have a whole lot to say about Chris Grine's Time Shifters. It's quite nicely cartooned but the jokes fall pretty flat. Still, a decent pick up for younger readers who might resonate with the wackiness of the concept and Grine's pages flow well from panel to panel. I'm a little surprised Graphix didn't go with Ru Xu's Newsprints for FCBD as that's a book with some buzz behind it, but Time Shifters upcoming release date is what probably got it the nod. If you or your young'uns love it, the good news is the full book is available at the end of May.
WONDER WOMAN (DC) (T)
With the hotly anticipated Wonder Woman film right around the corner, it's perfect timing for DC to release this FCBD Wonder Woman special - a reprinting of the first chapter of Greg Rucka and Australian artist Nicola Scott's Year One saga.
It's a clear entry point for new readers and as such, longtime Wonder Woman fans will not find anything new within these pages, outside of an updated setting for Diana's origin and some up front queerness, but this is not meant as a slight. Rucka and Scott perfectly retell Diana's origin, with a young Wonder Woman's life intercut with that of Steve Trevor, the man who crashes onto Themyscira, an event that irrevocably changes both of their lives and both of their worlds forever.
There's little plot here, thankfully, and readers are treated to Rucka's firm grasp on Diana's character and her surrounding world. Scott is perhaps the perfect Wonder Woman artist for 2017. Drawing somewhat like a modern day George Perez, her style is classic enough to evoke nostalgia for what many consider to be the definitive vision portrait of Wonder Woman in Perez's work, but slickly contemporary enough to stand side by side with the flashiest of modern DC fare. She's a terrific asset to the mainstream. This is a take on Wonder Woman that feels reverent to the character but not slavishly so, respectful of origin and character but not afraid to change what needs altering. If you've read this before, leave it for those who have not - this is a Wonder Woman comic that should be read as widely as possible.
WORLD'S GREATEST CARTOONISTS (FANTAGRAPHICS) (M)
Get in line and get in line early. *This* is one you want. Not only does World's Greatest Cartoonists feature 16 of...um...The World's Greatest Cartoonists, but each individual story is unique to this very comic book -- never to be reprinted.
Inside you get brand new Anya Davidson (Band For Life), a *generous* offering of Emil Ferris pages (My Favorite Thing is Monsters), Dash Shaw (Cosplayers), Joshua Cotter (Nod Away), Jason (On The Camino), Graham Chaffee (To Have And To Hold), Matt Furie (Boy's Club), Richard Sala (The Bloody Cardinal), Ron Rege Jr (The Cartoon Utopia), Eric Haven (Vague Tales), Ed Luce (Wuvable Oaf), Noah Van Sciver (Fante Bukowski), Tommy Musturi (Simply Samuel), Ed Piskor (Mudfish), Simon Hanselmann (One More Year) and Cathy Malkasian (Eartha).
These massive, cram-it-all-in-there samplers can often turn into a bit of a messy mishmash with stories cut off at the knees, but by commissioning the artists to produce work expressly for FCBD, World's Greatest Cartoonists gives us self-contained snippets and sequences, each designed to promote the artists' various books and showcase Fantagraphics' comics curating skills and also give readers something a little more special than just reproducing five or so pages from some first issue and then sticking an ad after it.
It's highly ironic that Fantagraphics of all publishers has created maybe the most collectible of FCBD offerings this year, but World's Greatest Cartoonists is exactly that. It is a tremendous and generous offering and should be considered as essential as it gets this FCBD.
X-O MANOWAR/SECRET WEAPONS/BLOODSHOT (VALIANT) (T)
Of the three stories crammed into Valiant's FCBD offering, it's Jeff Lemire and Juan Jose Ryp's Bloodshot: Salvation prologue that will likely make the most sense to, and thus resonate with, new readers. Lemire clearly and carefully recaps Bloodshot's history while simultaneously pushing the character into the future, all while Ryp provides some stunningly detailed and action-filled art.
Cover feature, X-O Manowar by Matt Kindt and Cafu kicks the book off with a solidly crafted intro to the character's latest series. It lacks the kind of plot hook at its end to really grab readers, but fans will no doubt appreciate this short, violent intro, which moves the Conan/Iron Man mash-up character off world.
Likewise, Secret Weapons may not do much for the new reader except further demonstrate just how slickly drawn the Valiant titles are. Raul Allen's lovely work will keep you turning the pages even if, like me, you've no real idea what's happening in Eric Heisserer's story.
None of the above should be taken as a real knock on Valiant's FCBD comic or its creators. Three examples of the Valiant Universe are included and treated as a sampler, it is satisfactory. My only problem is that I do wish the company had put out something with less narrative baggage attached for newer readers. The Valiant faithful, however, should dig this considerably.
We made it everybody!
See you in two weeks. Love your comics!