Thursday, May 2, 2019


By Cameron Ashley

Hello and welcome to another installment of your annual Free Comic Book Day review column. The aim here is to help you in choosing your selection from the massive list of comics on offer this Saturday, May 4th. They are all reviewed below and, as always, titles are listed alphabetically and with ratings where provided by the publishers. They are:

(A) All Ages, (T) Teen, (M) Mature, (NR) Not Rated by publisher.

Enjoy the day, there's honestly a massive amount of comics on offer and I hope that the following is of assistance. Onward!

First up are the books that are exclusive to the "KIDS SHOWBAG"

CASPER'S SPOOKVILLE (American Mythology Productions) (A)

Two brand new Casper the Friendly Ghost stories can be found in this year's giveaway from American Mythology Productions (AMP). If you're wondering why they look so good, it's because Eric Shanower, of all people, is now drawing Casper comics. Shanower, probably best known for An Accidental Death with writer Ed Brubaker (a personal favourite comic) and his solo epic, Age of Bronze, seems remarkably at home illustrating in such a deceptively simple way and typically cuts no corners. He always delivers professional, detailed and even lovingly-drawn pages, featuring Casper, Hot Stuff, Wendy and Spooky. The two new stories, "Blow Off Some Scream" by Pat Shand and "The Big Switcharoo" by Mike Wolfer are short and fun, making the most of Shanower's talents.

Not content just to drop two new stories on their readers, AMP once again includes some great vintage material, giving us "The Man From Mars," a Casper short from 1953. Sadly uncredited, this story also features some really nice cartooning from its unnamed artist, meaning Shanower really is continuing what appears to be an enduring tradition of ensuring Casper comics are good looking comics. This is a really nice surprise from some truly unexpected creators and I think you should pick it up.


The first of two DC FBCD efforts showcasing upcoming lines of young reader books, Zoom and Ink, is the wonderfully drawn Dear Justice League, by Brazilian artist Gustavo Duarte and writer Michael Northrop. With this new publishing initiative, DC is bringing authors from outside of comics, bringing some new life to the medium. Especially when it comes to comics for youngsters and young adults.

Dear Justice League features standalone chapters of League members responding to fan mail from kids. Included here for FCBD are two complete chapters from the upcoming graphic novel, featuring Superman and Hawkgirl, respectively. Northrop concocts a particularly charming scenario for Superman, who is asked by a fan if he's ever made a mistake. In reading the message on his phone, Superman inadvertently flies into a building and sets off a chain of simple, but barely containable, accidents as a result. It's terrific. The Hawkgirl chapter is something of a cool-down after such a great little story. She ponders her dietary habits after she's asked whether or not she eats small mammals, like an actual hawk does. It's perfectly fine and cute, once again elevated by Duarte, who hopefully manages to build a highly successful career for himself following this effort.

DC does not have much luck with imprints, for one reason or another, but hopefully Dear Justice League gets Zoom off to a strong start as there really can never be too many well-crafted kids’ comics on the market. This is really fun, enthusiastically-made stuff.


Truff is the ghost of a pig that was killed by a hunter. Unwilling to move on to the afterlife until she has made the hunter pay, Truff has to be careful: the longer she haunts her earthly home, waiting, the higher the chance of spiritual calamity. It's heavy, heady stuff for an All Ages comic, but Eisner-nominee Joey Weiser's latest effort still manages to be good fun. In refusing to talk down to its intended audience, the comic also packs quite the lesson: deal with your issues; let go of your grudges, and move on with your life. Who couldn't use these reminders from time to time?

I liked the surprisingly philosophical adventures of Ghost Hog quite a bit. Armed with serious themes but starring a literal ghost hog and her forest spirit friends, it's a comic that counterbalances the weight of its themes with a distinctive, colourful cast of characters, who are drawn in juicy, thick lines reminiscent of the great James Kolchaka. Two little stories are given away here, the first concerning a ghost deer who also refuses to move on being the strongest, in anticipation of the graphic novel's May release. An unexpectedly deep little comic, Ghost Hog is heartily recommended.

GILLBERT (Papercutz) (A)

If you, like me, are miserable over the fact that there is no Spongebob FCBD book for 2019, well at least there's Art Baltazar's Gillbert. It's Everything Day in Atlanticus, a day in which anything and everything can be done and young Gillbert awakens to the unfortunate fact that he must babysit his younger (but way larger) sister, Matilda. Matilda decides she needs to partake in the Everything Day festivities, breaking loose, with her older brother in hot pursuit.

Gillbert is a little light on the gags, but Baltazar's colourful pages and always lively cartooning make Gillbert a must, especially for younger readers, who will surely be entertained by Baltazar's easy to read pages, featuring a cast of fish, sea monsters, whales, octopuses, crabs and more. A nice little prelude to an All Ages underwater adventure.

GO FISH! (Arcana) (A)

Unless I am blind from reading too many FCBD comics in a row, I can't find any credits whatsoever for Arcana Comic's Go Fish! outside of creator/writer/Arcana CEO Sean Patrick O'Reilly. Hopefully O'Reilly literally did everything this comic needed to be completed otherwise Go Fish! commits the cardinal sin of FCBD, that being not crediting your team on potentially what could be one of the largest readerships they might have had.

O'Reilly has apparently sold a Go Fish! screenplay to Lionsgate and this comic functions as a prequel to that project. Our protagonist is Alex, a sprightly parrotfish, looking to start anew in the underwater metropolis of New Coralton. Along the way he encounters mean sharks and a burrfish named Ed. This is all merely just okay but Finding Nemo this ain’t. Our unknown art team does a decent job, these are bright eye-catching pages for younger readers. The moments where Alex freaks out with excitement and Ed puffs up like a tough guy are amusing, but it's all a bit ho-hum overall. This, however, is often the nature of prequels as they are largely unnecessary constructions, but O'Reilly does what he can to spearhead his upcoming movie property. Younger readers may find this a colourful diversion, but don't tear your hair out if Go Fish! is gone before you can nab it, for far better All Ages comics are on offer.


Off the charts comics quality here in Lumberjanes: Shape of Friendship, which would come as no surprise to regular readers, as this is typical of the title. Writer Leah Sturges and artist Polterink have an original Lumberjanes graphic novel forthcoming, Shape of Friendship, and Boom wisely kick-off this giveaway with an excerpt. Sturges and Polterink are a terrific team, with Sturges providing the title's trademark bantering dialogue and Polterink producing incredibly striking greywash pages, with occasional flourishes of pink. This is one of the year's most visually distinctive FCBD books, with Polterink illustrating both character and landscape with equal skill. As the friends rescue a neighbouring boy’s camp from a hydra, and I imagine regular readers will dig this particularly elegant take on the property quite a bit.

Kelly Thompson and Savanna Gancheau have the unenviable task of following Sturges and Polterink, but their short, "Sphinxes, Riddles and Wishes, Oh My!" more than holds its own. Colourist Joe Brown brings a full, bright palate of colours to Gancheau's effervescent illustrating, making it the perfect visual accompaniment to Thompson's tall tale. Two very different visual takes on the characters, but both comics here are excellent, fun reads, though Lumberjanes: Shape of Friendship gets recommended big time.


With a series of restored reprint editions forthcoming, Drawn and Quarterly wisely showcases John Stanley's classic Little Lulu for FCBD 2019 and what a nice little comic it is. Presented on newsprint paper and showcasing the old spot colour printing dots, it's the year's most authentic comics throwback. Stanley worked on Little Lulu from 1945-1959, managing to create a wealth of stories. Most likely, Stanley both wrote and drew everything included in this wonderful sampler, which features several short Lulu misadventures as well as some single-page strips, showcasing Stanley's gift for visual gags. These are classic comics with lovely cartooning and clear, concise visual storytelling. The characterisation shines though in simple stories, such as Lulu taking a flower delivery job, searching for treasure with pal Tubby and battling a flock of hungry pigeons. Punchlines may not always land in Stanley's work, but the craftsmanship is airtight throughout. Highly recommended.

LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL (Random House Graphic) (A)

Jeffrey Brown (Jedi Academy) generously creates an all-new tale of his brother and sister Neanderthal characters, Lucy and Andy, for FCBD. Set 40,000 years ago, Lucy, Andy and the rest of their Adventure Club friends investigate a strange object that has fallen from the sky. Turns out, it's just a little meteorite, but Andy believes this space-rock must surely possess magical abilities.
It's perhaps a little telling that I found Brown's meteor science much more interesting than the hijinks of his little crew, but that's something the adults can enjoy while the kids get to know Lucy, Andy and their world. Brown's simple illustrating and easy to follow pages are perfect for young readers looking to understand the form. For that alone, Brown's work gets recommended, even if it's not a personal All Ages standout for me this year.


With creators like Hope Larson and Meredith Gran aboard, Dark Horse's Minecraft comics are in good hands. I know virtually nothing about Minecraft, but Larson and Gran's "Griefer" is a really good little stand-alone. For the uninitiated, a Griefer is a person who deliberately ruins other people's fun in an online game. Larson's story concerns a teenage girl who does just that, destroying other people's Minecraft efforts for a laugh. When her gaming actions begin to have real world consequences, our young Griefer needs to rethink the repercussions of her actions. Featuring a mix of real world and in-game action, as well as some deceptively elegant illustrations by Gran, resulting in a very simple, but effective little number.

Incredibles 2's "Date Night" by writer Cavan Scott, with art by Kawaii Creative Studio, closes Dark Horse's first FCBD off, coming exactly as advertised. With Bob and Helen away on date night, it's left to the kids to stop the rogue, genius inventor of really boring things: Dulldozer. It's perfectly fine, with some lively art by its studio team, which young fans of the Pixar property should enjoy it.


Admittedly, the only time I've ever read a Pokémon comic was for past Free Comic Book Day columns, but this is the best issue I've read yet. Featuring two stories, excerpts from the upcoming adaptation of Pokémon The Movie and the ongoing Pokémon Adventures, this is a pretty solid issue. Ryo Takamisaki writes and illustrates the film adaptation, itself a retelling of the original anime debut episode, which sees a boy named Ash attempting to train the stubborn Pikachu. It's pretty fun stuff, with Pikachu's aversion to both Ash, and his Pokéball, causing some fairly major issues when it comes to Ash achieving his dream of becoming a Pokémon master.

"Bulbasaur, Come Home!" a tale from Pokémon Adventures wraps this issue up. Writer Hidenori Kusaka and artist Mato tell the story of young trainer, Red, trying to hunt down a Bulbasaur and learning that his kindness and empathy is what will make him a great trainer. Pokémon fans should quite enjoy this and for any curious non-fans, this is as accessible and well-crafted as I've ever found the franchise.

A SHEETS STORY (Lion Forge) (A)

Lion Forge clearly has confidence in Brenna Thummber's graphic novel, Sheets. No synopsis is included, no recap, no character breakdowns, nothing. Readers open the comic and off they go into Thummber's sweetly melancholic little world. Thankfully, the publisher's confidence is more than justified, as Thummber's work is so assured. I didn't care at all about not knowing exactly how the teenaged Marjorie started hanging out with the sheet-wearing ghost of a young boy named Wendell or how and why her mother died. These things are just part of the Thummber's world and her characters are so well defined; her dialogue rings so true; her cartooning is so loose and expressive that how we actually arrived at this point is almost irrelevant. It's a near-miracle of stand-alone comics creation, deserving of applause for its unwillingness to offer any exposition at all.

In this brand new tale, Marjorie, her father, younger brother and Wendell pay a visit to Marjorie's grandmother in rural Ohio for Mother's Day. Inevitably, the very point of the visit causes Marjorie to reflect on not only her relationship with her Grandmother, but also with her departed mother. It all feels so very real, including Wendell, who hovers under his white sheet, offering as much moral support as he can to his friend. Sweet, funny and heartfelt, A Sheets Story should very much be included in your FCBD haul. I personally look forward to reading more of Thummber's terrific work about the girl who handles her town's laundry, along the ghost who keeps her company. You better make sure you get this one.


Kodansha presents a trio of magic-themed manga this year and you have to admire how thematically sound the overall package is, given how often random content gets smooshed together in FCBD comics. Kamome Shirahama's Witch Hat Atelier opens the comic, with Shirahama's striking Art-Adams-gone-manga pages impressing immediately. Coco is a young girl who's found some conjuring ink and starts drawing with it. The problem here is that conjuring ink is one of the great secrets of witches and with it, anyone can unwittingly cast spells. Tragedy strikes Coco as a result of her ignorance, but more tragedy follows as Kodansha cuts the story on that cliffhanger. It's a slightly chaotic excerpt from the title, but Shirahama's art and story is the hook to draw you into what's undoubtedly the start of Coco's journey to master the ink.

Fan-favourite creator CLAMP is behind Cardcaptor Sakura, coming to Collector's Editions in the store manga section soon. CLAMP's Cardcaptor Sakura pages are open, easy to follow and bubbling with energy. Sakura is a ten-year old girl who accidentally opens a magical book on her father's shelf, unwittingly unleashing the Clow Cards upon the world. Yep, another magical accident, the beginning of another young hero's journey. The Clow Cards are living things, each with a different name and magical ability. It's up to Sakura, with the assistance of the cutesy Kero, protector of the Book of Clow Cards, to track them all down. Exposition-heavy, sure, but this quick set up hopefully means Sakura's surely epic journey starts all the sooner.

The shortest sampler rounds us out and it's Mitsu Izumi's Magus of The Library. It's not about the magical arts, instead Magus of The Library concerns itself with what Kodansha describes as the "magic of reading." Young Sio is a poor boy who loves books but has no access to them because of his socio-economic standing. Desperate to escape his homeland, Sio decides to strike out for Aftsak, City of Books. There's not a lot to go by here, but Izumi's art is terrific. Sio falls into the pages of the adventure books he reads, only to be sadly yanked back to reality. Who amongst us can't relate to that? Who amongst us is going to root against a little boy who just wants to read? Overall, a very good package from Kodansha, showcasing three titles loaded with potential excitement for younger readers.


Magic Cheez Pizza is an independent, monster family-owned pizza restaurant. Magic Cheez Pizza also happens to make absolutely terrible pizza, has no concept of timely delivery or even polite customer service. When Lord Mudpant comes to town looking to fold every pizza restaurant into his Happy Leaf franchise, Wolfie, Jackson and Roy have a choice to make: the obvious one is to sell and fold, but with all family members needed to sign off on any sale and Wolfie determined to stay proudly indie, the other choice is made. Now Magic Cheez Pizza has a very powerful enemy.

Wolfie Monster and The Big Bad Pizza Battle is fun stuff, highlighted by some seriously great cartooning in parts by creator Joey Ellis. A bird's eye view establishing shot of the town and a double-page spread featuring Wolfie looking all over the place for Roy are particularly superb, with thick inky lines and a wonderful attention to detail. You don't expect such world-building care in a comic like this, but considering the subject matter is complete corporate takeover of the restaurant, it is certainly appreciated. Thumbs up to this one.

And now the best of the rest!


Aftershock Comics focuses on one of its longer-running titles for FCBD, with a stand-alone story from the world of creator/writer Marguerite Bennett's Animosity. Bennett does a good job of squeezing this story into her main continuity, keeping it new-reader friendly and baggage-free. In Animosity, animals gained human-level consciousness and verbal ability, which allowed them to very quickly band together to seek revenge upon us humans, as well as take our place atop the food chain. The animal apocalypse has just begun in this particular giveaway tale, which sees a girl named Meredith and her suddenly intelligent fighting fish, Neon, tasked with saving an entire shop full of aquatic life.

It's a clever set-up, fleshed out with some good gags, showing that Bennett really is thinking out all the possibilities of her world. If there are no humans to take care of them, how are all the fish trapped in pet stores and aquariums going to survive? Bennett has an answer, at least for this particular aquarium. The journey is a fun one, if a little hurried with its climactic action, which artist Elton Tomasi struggles with. If there's a weak link here, it is the artist who, ironically, seems to struggle drawing animals - particularly the dog and cat characters. However, Animosity Tales is quite an enjoyable stand-alone; an interesting and smartly constructed way to introduce readers to the main title.


This comic features a flash-forward from the current War of The Realms storyline (beware some minor spoilers in this issue if you're a diehard, issue-to-issue, Wednesday Warrior); a time-displaced Iron Man; odd meta-commentary on the relationship between DC and Marvel (smuggled into some narration about the Avengers dealings with the new Squadron Supreme); a renewed eco-terrorist Namor; Ghost Rider's car needing an exorcism and much, much more.
Writer, Jason Aaron, definitely isn't playing around in Avengers. If there's one criticism to make it's perhaps that *too* much is happening here, cutting around at blinding speed between various members of the latest incarnation of the team, but you do get at least one moment with your favourite team member. This probably works better with a full issue, but as a sample, everything feels a touch disconnected. On the plus side, artist Stefano Caselli is a terrific choice for the series, delivering slick art with dynamic action; relatively, realistically, proportioned figures and a suitably sexy Namor. Avengers fans, I daresay, will be pleased, but again: this is a sampling of a future issue so beware!

Savage Avengers seems like the kind of fan fiction one would find on a blog somewhere, featuring the pretty ludicrous teaming of Venom, Brother Voodoo, Punisher, Elektra, Wolverine and...Conan The Barbarian. Fanfic it may seem, but writer Gerry Duggan is clearly having fun with this and why not, when you get to play with such an off-the-wall grouping? Mike Deodato is another good artistic choice, bringing the grit and the realism, along with the tease of the obvious, forthcoming brawl between Conan and Wolverine, found in the advertisement at this comic's rear. I imagine many may have their interest piqued by this upcoming showdown. We don't get to see how or if all these characters wind up in the same place and time in the sampling, but Duggan and Deodato keep things action-packed and rapidly moving all the same and the whole thing comes off as way smarter than it sounds. I almost hate to mention this, but it popped into my head that if Marvel ever loses the Conan license again, Savage Avengers will, in all likelihood, never be reprinted and its happenings banished from continuity. The speculators and completionists amongst you should take note.

BLASTOSAURUS (Golden Apple Books) (A)

Famous, long-running, LA comics shop, Golden Apple Comics has moved into publishing, aiming to produce fun comics for younger readers. Blastosaurus certainly fits the mission statement - featuring a crime fighting, trench coat-wearing dinosaur, it boasts fart gags, goofy vampires robbing blood banks and (my fave) an evil potato. Most impressive is the fact that, according to the introductory text, New Zealand co-writer/artist, Richard Fairgray is legally blind, with vision in only one eye and very little depth perception. You wouldn't know it from Fairgray's artwork, which is perfect for All Ages books; expressive and cartoony, with an obvious emphasis on the characters. He and co-writer Paul Eiding spin several Blastosaurus tales, each narrated by an attendee at a surprise party for the dinosaur hero, which adds a nice sense of continuity to the comic.  I would imagine any younger readers, with a burgeoning interest in comics, would at least give this the once-over and you might want to as well, if only to see what Fairgray has remarkably managed to produce, despite some incredible obstacles.


Well, well! Look at this! For the first time since I've been covering FCBD, Valiant has taken the welcome step of abandoning their previous strategy of trying to cram far too much into their FCBD books. This year, instead of confusing new readers, Valiant focuses on two big upcoming titles, a Bloodshot relaunch by writer Tim Seeley and artist Tomas Giorello, and the far future-set The Fallen World by Dan Abnett and Juan Jose Ryp. Both are slick, modern comics with experienced creators at the helm and, again, Valiant is to be commended for its attempt at accessibility and new reader friendliness this time around, instead of throwing everything at the wall and hoping somebody notices one of the splotches.

Bloodshot looks great; Giorello is the perfect artist for the title, providing dynamic, action-filled pages, unapologetically filled with muscle, guns and violence. As villains, Seeley introduces The Last Sons of the Flesh, a kind of posthumanist terrorist group that ironically sees our murderous, nanotech-filled antihero as some sort of God. Conceptually, it's great and it rollicks along, but Seeley's dialogue is pretty rough around the edges, with some one-liners falling really flat. Still, if you've ever been curious about the title, now might well be the time, thanks to a brisk plot and some big-time fights.

The Fallen World I enjoyed quite a bit, largely thanks to Abnett's script. It kicks off with the  futuristic priest, Circadian, and his disciple, Gryphin, praying to their God, named Father, creator of the "Over-Star" which hangs overhead. When an immense object crashes to this future Earth, Circadian and Gryphon believe it is Father finally bringing Heaven down to them. Turns out, the massive falling object was New Japan, from Valiant's prior 4001 series, which makes Circadean and Gryphon come to learn some truths about their beliefs that result in nothing less than a complete shattering of faith. It's nice, after three years of ragging on Valiant for squandering their FCBD opportunity to give them what's largely a thumbs up this year and I encourage you to pick this up and see for yourself.

BOB'S BURGERS (Dynamite) (A)

There's literally no Bob or any burgers in this year's Bob's Burgers FCBD comic, but instead we get three stories focused on Bob and Linda's kids and that's totally fine. If you or your children have never seen the TV show this is based on before, never fear - it's been so long since I've seen it that I can barely remember any of it, but I still found this to be an accessible and fun comic overall. "Louise's Unsolved Mysteries and Curiosities Presents: The Ride Parts 1 & 2" opens the comic and it's far and away the strongest, most enjoyable outing included. Louise, Gene and Tina visit and amusement park called Wonder Wharf in search of a ride so intense that it will make them puke. What they find instead is a ride called The Round and Round and Round, which spins so fast that it actually manages to stop time. Really amusing stuff from writer Rachel Hastings and artist Steven Theis, particularly as the kids begin to ponder the possibilities the ride offers.

"Gene's Rhymey Rhymes That Could One Day Be Songs Presents: The Gene-As Touch" follows, the first of two "imaginary" tales that aren't quite as good as the opener, but still manage to hold interest. Artist Sara Richard is largely responsible for the success of this one, swapping out the look of the cartoon with a looser, more painterly style that perfectly suits the story of Gene. He makes a wish that everything he touches turns to cheese, only to have some fairly obvious repercussions pop up fairly quickly. Told entirely in rhyme by writer Anneliese Waddington, I found myself skipping over some narration, but Richard's work kept me looking at the panels all the way through.

"Tina's Erotic Friend Fiction Presents: Galac-Tina" finishes Bob's Burgers off. Although the title might not sound too All Ages, rest assured parents, you have nothing to worry about from Tina's science fantasy story that sees her healing relationships between warring humans and robots through dance. This Star Wars-riffing number by writer Justin Hook and artist Frank Forte is nothing special, but it's a decent way to round out an issue that opens more than strongly enough to earn Bob's Burgers a recommendation.


Joss Whedon's former TV properties, Buffy, Angel and Firefly have joined the license exodus from Dark Horse comics, beginning anew over at Boom Studios. This isn't as clean a "Welcome to The Whedonverse" as I would have liked, but what's clear is that Boom's put the popular and enduring properties into solid creative hands. The only real problem is that both the new Firefly and Buffy stories presented here lead directly into issue #5 of both series, meaning some extracurricular catch-up might need to be done by readers unsure of what's actually happening prior to this.

I would normally care that I had absolutely no idea how "Boss Moon: Birth of a Unificator" fits into Firefly, but Ethan Yang is just so, so good I can't even be mildly annoyed. We need more Yang artwork in our lives (he's not aboard the regular Firefly title I don't think), he's such a skilled artist whose expressive work here could easily slot into a European album format. Greg Pak's script is rollicking and has the snappy patter you'd expect from a Whedon title. We're on the lawless planet of Barstow with Major Moon, then we're being asked to pick up Firefly #5 to see how this plays out, but again: Ethan Yang and Greg Pak and this is good.

Uh-oh! Buffy and Angel are after the same occult artefact in Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora and Serg Arcuna's "Frenemies." Mora does a really good job walking the tightrope between making his characters resemble the actors who portrayed them and not being a slave to likeness, while Bellaire again keeps things fast, light and snappy. A helping of Buffy #1 by Bellaire and Mora is also included, taking us all the way back to when Buffy first met Xander and Willow. I imagine fans of the property will thoroughly enjoy this; Boom is clearly taking the responsibility of shouldering such a hugely popular universe very seriously indeed.

CAPTAIN CANUCK (Chapterhouse) (T)

(Apologies up front for not mentioning many creators on this title but there are eight writers and nine artists credited)

Canada's finest superhero, Captain Canuck, returns yet again for FCBD. Last year, Toronto was under attack by aliens in a genuinely decent introduction to a major storyline. This year, well... we open with one of my least favourite types of comic book story: the dossier recap! Yep, six whole and rather boring pages are dedicated to recapping past Captain Canuck events. A sadly necessary evil to try and answer the questions new readers might have, these things are still dull. The new readers do need some background, but six pages feels more like filler than content.

Anyway, following on from the recap dossier is a short story setting up the next Captain Canuck storyline. Then we get a host of creators jumping around the globe introducing us to various heroes - including a trip to Sydney! Alt comics fans take note: the very last page of Captain Canuck FCBD is written and drawn by Ho Che Anderson, so if you're a fan, you might want to pick this up.

This pretty much feels like a treat for regular readers rather than newcomers, but there are some interesting artists jamming on the final globe-hopping tale, making this worth a flip through even though it likely won’t leave you wanting for more.


It's a dystopian, double helping from Red 5 Comics, with previews of two July-debuting titles, The Dark Age and Afterburn. Writer Don Handfield and artist Leonard Rodrigues kick us off with The Dark Age, an odd, little post-apocalyptic tale about a "gray haze" that basically evaporates every known metal, dragging humanity back to a "violent feudal system". As dark as its title, Handfield and Rodrigues give us a New York populace that is literally eating itself, roving bands of killer pirates and a small family in charge of a town now known as New Cornwall. It's fast-paced and quite violent, but ultimately offers nothing truly new other, than some slight tweaks on your standard action-driven apocalypse. That might just be enough to get you in the door, however, and fair enough if so.
Rodrigues produces passable work, at his best when Handfield's script gives him some gory fights to draw. Still, there's some clever design stuff here: old road signs being used as shields, and protective sporting wear repurposed into armour. If post-apocalyptic mayhem is your thing, give this a look, you might find this dark survivalist story right up your alley.

Less successful is writer Scott Chitwood and artist Rod Thornton's Afterburn (soon to be a motion picture, apparently). Another apocalyptic number, the world of Afterburn has been devastated by a solar flare - Europe, Africa and Asia specifically. Ruined those places may be, but treasures still lie there waiting to be claimed, so into The Burn Zone go a gang of mercenaries to steal them. Faberge Eggs are the target of this FCBD story, and off to Russia our team goes to retrieve them. Why anybody would care about Faberge Eggs in a world where most of the planet has been utterly decimated is beyond me, but there are plenty of hijinks in this heist-gone-awry tale to probably make you forget about that. Afterburn is okay at best, swapping the visceral tone of The Dark Age for a lighter, caper-style feel but with its massive info dump opening, boringly designed merc characters, overly murky colours and fairly uninspired script, you'll likely feel no connection with this title once you've flipped the comic closed.


It is exceedingly generous of Image Comics, Rick Remender, Wes Craig and co. to create and give away such a perfectly crafted, stand-alone Deadly Class story. Sure, it makes sense with the series now a TV show, but this is no lazy, cash-grab tie-in. Heck, there’s not even the dreaded multimedia photo cover present. No corners are cut here whatsoever; "Killer Set" is a done-in-one, slotted seamlessly into the first year of the title’s continuity, with no prior knowledge required for the new reader, outside of perhaps a quick read of a succinct, well-written recap paragraph.

Creatively, this is the full Deadly Class experience; Remender writes with the book’s trademark density and Craig illustrates, as always, with uncommon verve. Deadly Class is already a popular comic, but Craig in particular does not get the kudos he deserves for being one of the top artistic talents working an ongoing series, capable of handling a fifteen panel grid and a dynamic, stylish splash with equal aplomb, his visual storytelling is off the charts good. Hopefully Deadly Class: Killer Set gets his work into the hands of a slew of untested readers previously unsure about a grimy, gritty little book about a school for teenaged assassins, punk rock and young love.

I’ll not touch the plot here, save for mentioning that, as usual with Deadly Class, "Killer Set" balances the series’ character work with its high octane action perfectly. Consider this essential to your Free Comic Book Day, this is an utter treat for readers, both new and continuing.

DOCTOR WHO (Titan) (T)

This right here is another perfect example of the perfectly formatted and constructed FCBD comic. Titan Comics focus on the current thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor, as played on TV by Jodie Whittaker. A simple, clear page enthusiastically introduces readers to the current cast of Doctor Who, effortlessly getting you up to speed should you need it. From there, writer Jody Houser and main artist Giorgia Sposito (supported by Roberta Ingranata and Valeria Favoccia) craft a really solid, done-in-one issue that sees the Doctor and friends visiting an off-world amusement park. The catch is, for one particular game, the alien carnies have not only rigged the result, but also seen to it that losing players become part of the prize pool. It's really amusing stuff, with Sposito producing some particularly slick work that can only be faulted for the occasional stiltedness caused by trying to capture Whittaker's exact likeness. That's nitpicking, however, as this is really good. Not just as the perfect Doctor Who primer, but also a good comic on its own terms.


My expectations were low, but Ahoy Comics, the newest publisher on the block, doles out a really good little package for its first ever FCBD. In the lead story, readers are introduced to counterpart heroes existing on vastly different Earths. Masked vigilante Dragonfly lives in Fortune City on Earth-Omega; a dark, grim, corrupt and violent place. Dragonflyman lives in Fortune City on Earth-Alpha, a fun, sort of 60s, silver age comic city, where the risk of serious injury as a crime fighter seems minimal. Veteran writer (and Ahoy Editor in Chief) Tom Peyer, along with the great Russ Braun illustrating, cuts between both worlds, spinning two stories from two distinct eras of comics that are tangentially the same but vastly different due to how certain events play out on both worlds.

Dragonfly and Dragonflyman (along with their sidekick, Stinger) star in the Ahoy title, The Wrong Earth, by Peyer and artist Jamal Ingle, where the payoff to these visits to Earth-Alpha and Earth-Omega we see here is that somehow both these heroes swap worlds; the grim and gritty hero transported to the '60s comics wonderland of Earth-Alpha, the bouncy ever-smiling crimefighter taken to the '80s Dark Knight Returns nightmare of Earth-Omega. It's a great high concept and one Peyer is clearly having immense fun with. We see none of that here, but we really don't need to - this is a terrific introduction to these characters giving readers one of those FBCD treats. It's a well-executed story promoting a title you've probably never heard of before.

A little bit less defined is the Captain Ginger story, by writer Stuart Moore and artist June Brigman. Featuring a spaceship full of walking, talking cats, Moore and Brigman flesh out some backstory between the ship's captain, the titular Captain Ginger and the hulking, brutish Sergeant Mittens back when the pair were mere kittens. The title's actual ongoing plot might be impossible to gauge from what's on offer here, but it's still a quality little comic by talented, veteran creators. Various ads for other Ahoy books and a short little strip by Hunt Emerson, "Poe vs. The Black Cat," round Ahoy's effort off. In short, I have to say I'm intrigued by all of this. Ahoy's emphasis seems to skew toward the light-hearted and the distinctly comic book, and I'm completely on board with that. None of this stuff feels like a movie pitch repurposed into a comic for a quick buck; it's all well-written as well as well-drawn, and just generally well-made, with trade collections are already available. Who can ask for more than that for free? Good luck to you, Ahoy! Do pick this one up - it's a good time.

FUNNY PAGES (Rebellion) (A)

Oo-er! Rebellion's Treasury of British Comics line hits this reviewer right in the nostalgia bone with Funny Pages, a collection of classic gag strips from comics such as Monster Fun, Jackpot, Scorcher and Krazy. Featuring such classics as Faceache, Birdman & Chicken, Gums, Sweeny Toddler and more, bad puns abound, but so does some surprisingly great cartooning. I grew up reading this stuff in England and I do not remember it looking as good as it does in Rebellion's giveaway. Sadly, no creators are listed, nor are publishing dates of strips included, but that's clearly the work of Ken Reid on visual standouts Frankie Stein, Martha's Monster Make-Up, SUB and Faceache, which would roughly mark those as late sixties to mid-seventies.

It's honestly worth picking Funny Pages up for Reid's strips alone, but if you need further recommendation, my 21-month old son rummaged through the box of FCBD books, pulled Funny Pages out and has already returned to it multiple times (incidentally, his ultimate fave is Gerber/Colan Howard The Duck. He's a good kid).  You really should grab Funny Pages, you never know which member of your family might fall for its groan-inducing puns, silly gags and frequently great artwork. This one gets the thumbs way up.

GRUMBLE vs. THE GOON (Albatross Funny Books) (NR)

Two Albatross Funny Books properties crossover into the year's funniest FCBD giveaway: Eric Powell's The Goon and Mike Norton & Rafer Roberts' Grumble. Most readers here are likely at least familiar with Powell's The Goon, a big, burly, ugly monster-smasher, but I doubt Grumble has anywhere near the same awareness. It's a clever move for all creators aboard both books to come together and jam this out on the both story and art. Powell and Norton work particularly well on pages featuring all characters. Visually, there's not a dud panel here.

There's no set-up here at all for new readers, something that usually bothers me, but Grumble vs. The Goon is like being tossed into some sort of funnybook Looney Tunes; just go with it, watch it unfold and reap the rewards of comic book goodness. There's a couple of laugh out loud lines here and the art remains top notch throughout. Through some chicanery involving an inter-dimensional portal, Eddie (a con man turned into a pug) and Tala (a half-demon) end up in the world of The Goon and his pal Franky. Shady card games, drinking, some misunderstanding thanks to Franky assuming the position of town dog catcher and some reptilian biker bad guys who have followed Eddie and Tala into The Goon's world all get jammed into the plot. The result is a comic that's perfectly silly, never anything less than fun and excellently drawn all the way through. Put Grumble vs. The Goon on your list, you won't regret it.

H1 IGNITION (Humanoids) (T)

Everyone else has done it so I guess now it's Humanoids turn to try and launch a superhero universe. The publisher, famed for its line of many classic European genre titles, has scouted well for the H1 project, bringing on board creators such as Mark Waid, John Cassaday, Yanick Paquette and Carla Speed McNeil as developers and architects. But what's presented in H1 Ignition is a bit of a mixed bag, giving readers samples of some titles that may as well be regular Humanoids books and Ignition, the line's debuting superhero title. According to their opening manifesto, H1 strives to "bring reality back to comics", which is one of the sillier statements made in a cape comic that I've read. I'm not sure how much reality was ever in a superhero comic and I'm pretty sure Humanoids already has a line of actual "real-world" comics, but let's keep this war cry in mind as we examine the pages from Ignition on offer.

Ignition centres around a group of teenagers whose superpowers are "ignited" during, of all things, a school shooting. We are introduced to a number of the Ignited, along with an Alex Jones conspiracy theorist broadcaster and a super powered paramedic, yet somehow the whole thing feels about as original and "realistic" as any other superhero title on the shelves. The "of-the-moment" feel in Waid's melodramatic, painfully dialogued script feels so heavy handed, it's a distraction. With artists like Cassaday, McNeil and Paquette apparently on staff, it's also more than a little disappointing to see Phil Briones' fairly generic work launching the line.

Ultimately, I'm not sure what the point of all this is - Ignition feels like Black Mask lite at best. Multiple times during the supplemental material provided is the word "ordinary", used in terms of the characters and their lives, as if this is some sort of revelation to the medium. There is nothing more "ordinary" here than can already be found in Peter Parker, Kamala Khan or, hell, even Clark Kent. Superhero characters have grappled with "ordinary problems" since Stan Lee sat down at a typewriter. Ignited presents an updating of those problems, sure, but given how distasteful I find the central premise in the first place I'm not so sure that's a strength. 

 Rounding out H1 Ignition is a host of supplementary material, including character profiles, creator commentary and quick peeks at future projects such as: Meyer, a "Breaking Bad-style biography" of Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky; a Texas Noir titled The Big Country, about a sheriff pitted against a serial killer and Nicnevin and The Bloody Queen, a horror/urban fantasy pitting a ritual murderer against a very young, female magician. All three have interesting premises, some well-crafted pages on display and varying levels of creative input from such heavyweights as Shawn Martinbrough (Meyer), Darick Robertson (The Big Country) and Jock (Nicnevin). The presentation of H1 Ignition is top notch, typical of the publisher. It features a cardstock cover, along with thicker, glossier paper than can be found in their competitors' books. I personally may not like most of what's presented on these pages, but if you're after something new in the world of flashily drawn superheroes and think I'm just being oversensitive, you'll possibly be disagreeing furiously with me after picking this up.

HOPE (Source Point Press) (T)

Let's get the bad out of the way first: the world of Dirk Manning and K. Lynn Smith's Hope is pretty tired. Debate rages over whether or not superheroes should be registered and these beings aren't called superheroes, they are called Ultras. A Marvel premise and an old Malibu line of books combined. It's very hard to come up with a fresh spin on superheroes, but when you're re-treading an immensely popular Marvel storyline and can't even be bothered to check out if anyone's used "Ultras" before, it doesn't really feel like you're trying.

Writer Manning comes from more of a horror background and admits in a text piece that he didn't grow up reading superheroes, which may explain some of the unoriginality in world-building. He's also apparently been working on Hope for a decade, with artist Smith coming on board armed with enough tweaks to get a full co-creator credit. Just as well too, as Smith brings a lot of energy to this project, with clear and distinct character design, easy-to-read layouts and some overall quite decent artwork. Also, once Manning gets going, this debut issue smuggles some original plotting into its re-tread hero world.  If you're a teen, or know a teen, looking to get in on the ground floor of a new hero book, you might want to give Hope a look.


Vault Comics give away the first chapter of Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett's Interceptor this FCBD, a comic that somehow fairly moves along despite being about 90% exposition. It seems clear from this opening that Cates, the writer of the moment, is getting all his table-setting out of the way to let Burnett off the leash for the remainder of this series (now collected in trade paperback). In Interceptor, humanity has fled an Earth that's now a polluted wasteland, populated by vampires. Now living on a planet called Palus, humanity has discovered that not only have vampires thrived on a ruined Earth but are technologically catching up and have located their new home. To stop the vampires' inevitable arrival on Palus, a lone human soldier has been sent back to Earth to exterminate our rivals once and for all. When she arrives, however, she finds not only vampires, but also humans who have been left behind for dead.

Again, this issue is almost entirely set-up, and not a very neat set-up at that, but Cates' ability to keep the comic moving despite this slathering of exposition is admirable. Burnett's art is largely to thank here. It is dynamic, energetic and overflowing with expressive characters, with some cool tonal work, even in early scenes that feature characters filling us all in on what's going on. Smart choice by Vault in showcasing Interceptor as, despite its flaws, it checks all the boxes I think make the perfect FCBD showcase: self-contained, digestible, clear, well-drawn and packing enough intrigue to potentially draw readers in. Give this a shot for sure.


Based on Keiichi Sigsawa's series of light novels comes this sampler of Kino's World by Iruka Shiomiya, from Vertical Comics. Set in a dreamy world that is supposedly kind of fairy tale-like, Kino's World follows the titular Kino and her talking motorbike. She rides ever onward, unsure of what she's searching for, just knowing she can't stop for long until she finds it. This quiet little adventure finds Kino travelling through a rural space and instead of off-roading, she and her bike decide it would be easier to ride down an old railway track instead. Along the way, Kino meets three different railroad workers, all of whom have plied their trade for fifty years, all of whom are unaware of the others' existence and all of whom are working jobs that are effectively at odds with those of their fellows.

At first you, like me, may be disappointed that "Three Men Along the Tracks" appears to have no real resolution to the railway workers’ tale. However, for fifty years they have been working and they likely will for fifty more. Added to that is the fact that Kino's Journey is all about forward motion and that's really as much of a conclusion as you will need.

I enjoyed Kino's Journey far more than expected from it's fairly bland cover; it's a quiet, poetic little palate cleanser with some striking, black and white art by Shiomiya. Surely, any comic that emphasises existential questions such as "why do humans feel the need to travel?" as well as discussing the nature of labour for hire deserves some sort of extra shout-out this FCBD, amidst this sea of super-heroes and licensed properties. I encourage you to give Kino's Journey a try, it's another little FCBD surprise.

LADY MECHANIKA (Benitez Productions) (T)

Former Marvel Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter, had a mantra: every comic is someone's first comic. This is terrific advice and one that Joe Benitez has clearly taken to heart as this is the third year in a row I've seen the origin story for his Lady Mechanika. It's a smart move, really, including the character's opening chapter year in year out with a smattering of newer back ups included. However, stretching Shooter's logic a bit, every Lady Mechanika review is someone's first Lady Mechanika review. As such, here's mine from last year:

Joe Benitez’s self-published Lady Mechanika features a Victorian-era P.I. who’s “the sole survivor of a mad scientist’s experiments which left her with mechanical limbs.” Pretty much resembling a steampunk Witchblade in aesthetic, it will undoubtedly appeal to those who love that “Early Image” look of Jim Lee and, particularly, Marc Silvestri. Fair to say that it’s really not my favourite art style in comics and that angular panel stacked on top of angular panel page design has dated rather poorly. However it is a solid concept, with a strong female lead who is at no point turned into cheesecake, which is a big plus. I also appreciate the care going into to backgrounds and architecture. The steampunk-inclined amongst you should give it a look, as Benitez does a great deal of work of visual word-building, meaning he’s giving us much more than just comics sizzle, and props to him for that. 


Hands down the single worst comic on offer for FCBD this year, Scout Comics presents a trilogy of  terribly made tales, the two most offending of which are each written by the company's publisher and president, respectively. Some sort of apocalyptic event has occurred in writer James Pruett and artist Scott Van Domelan's Midnight Sky that has made the sky permanently dark. There are monsters around disguised as humans and a woman has some sort of fancy UV flashlight that exposes who exactly these monsters are, while her daughter has monster-killing blood. Who knows what the hell is happening? Pruett's scripting is weak, with emphasis being placed on the wrong words, which makes for a distracted, uneven read. On the brighter side, Van Domelan's art is okay, making the most of what he's given.

As average as Midnight Sky is, it is Eisner-winning in comparison with Long Live Pro Wrestling, that features a script from writer James Haick III that would be considered borderline unpublishable if written by anyone else without a senior position in a comics company. Accompanied by art from Branko Jovanovic that seriously looks like it's been traced straight from Sean Phillips’ comics, Haick III's painful script features dialogue that is tired at best, hackneyed at worst. Long Live Pro Wrestling is the tale of straight shooting ex-wrestler Evan Dandy, trapped in the business and struggling with how wretched the product has become. Going off-script, Dandy's shoot promo becomes a social media hit, changing him from being the scummy promoter's worst enemy into an Internet sensation overnight. This is all executed far more horribly than the premise makes it sound. Awful, awful comics.

Enzo Garza's Gutt Ghost concerns a hungry ghost who has a man he ate three years ago explode out of his guts. That's it. Visually, I like Enzo's work the most; it's a bit like Eric Haven working in fineliner, with the pinks and blues he employs making a nice change from the darkness of the previous two stories. Despite these positives, a bit more story would have gone a long way here.

Ultimately I cannot, in any way, shape or form, recommend this comic for any reason. Not unless you want to try and prove this review wrong, or are looking for guide showing what to avoid when creating your own comics.


Viz dumps the new reader right smack bang into volume 14 of the very popular, ongoing My Hero Academia, the manga about a school for training super-powered kids in a world where 80% of the population has powers, known as quirks. Largely a massive brawl between two students with a long-standing grudge against each other, new readers may find this a touch bewildering. Where this does have some merit, though, is in its display of modern, Shonen Jump-approved, manga action. Any artist aspiring to this style should pay close attention to creator Kohei Horikoshi's work, which I actually complained about last year as being rather slipshod. What a difference a year makes. Sure, the omnipresent shonen manga, speed lines and blurring body parts are here, plus a lot of the background is too frequently skimped on. With each chapter being serialised weekly, however, it's easy to forgive, yet Horikoshi excels at dynamic character work, along with some off-kilter shot choices that raise My Hero Academia well above your comparable shonen manga. A sugar rush of a comic.

The Promised Neverland cools us all down a bit, swapping fast, crazed action for dollops of intrigue. Set in a huge orphanage, where all the children are seemingly loved and well-cared for, a dystopian underbelly is revealed. All the kids have ID numbers tattooed on their necks, they must take daily, sinister-sounding tests and what exactly is going on beyond the orphanage gates? Creator Posuka Demizu certainly delivers what could be a suspenseful and compelling ongoing YA story. Give this a look for sure.


Yay! The decade’s best comic gets its own FCBD showcase as the still-too-far-away 2020 release of its concluding volume finally begins to creep into view. Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing Is Monsters blew the doors off when volume one hit in 2017. Easily the most acclaimed comic of the year, it won a multitude of not just gushing, astonished superlatives from critics, immediately slotting it into the canon but also a slew of awards ranging from Ignatz to Eisner to Stoker. Adding to the book’s mystique is the fact that Monsters is Ferris’ debut comic. Something so brilliantly singular and emotionally rich would appear to be the work of a creator with multiple works under their belt.

Opening with the autobiographical short “The Bite That Changed My Life”, which first appeared in The Chicago Tribune, readers will learn firsthand of Ferris’ inspirational journey to create …Monsters, literally having to teach herself to not just draw again, but also walk again after freakishly being afflicted with West Nile Virus. On full display in “…Bite” is Ferris’ jaw-dropping biro art but it’s not until we move into a brand-new and exclusive chapter of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters that new readers will experience her work at its most potent.

Set in 1968, monster-loving kid Karen Reyes is drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder of her beautiful, holocaust survivor neighbor, Anka Silverberg. Told entirely in the form of Karen’s own illustrated journals (in which she depicts herself as a little werewolf girl), this new chapter showcases the title’s form and aesthetic but does lack the emotional wallop of volume one.  This is no insult, however, merely the result of Ferris’ choice to have this remain stand-alone by focusing on Karen’s relationship with her wild older brother, Deeze, and tell of the pair’s encounter with a cult street preacher/pimp. Typically, some of Ferris’ pages are virtually breathtaking in their detailed biro rendering and this excellent little sidebar of a story also highlights the strength of the creator’s writing capability. It’s terrific.

Finishing us up is a treat for younger readers, another Ferris piece previously only available elsewhere, which is a charming guide on just how fun monsters can be, especially with Ferris on hand to give you artistic tips to help create them. Our Favorite Thing Is My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is incredible, essential and beautiful, coming with the highest possible recommendation.


There's the making of a good superhero artist in Matthew Weldon once he tightens up his style a little. Weldon produces some striking material here in Antarctic Press' Punchline, even if his figures are a little rigid, not to mention he's generally quite inconsistent across the totality of the pages. That's the good news. The bad news for anyone considering picking up Punchline is that at its core, Bill Williams' script is lazy, poorly paced and defies all logic.
We've got a supernatural superhero, mortally wounded by her enemies, who takes a breather in a cemetery before she dies.  She takes a seat next to a young teenage girl who doesn't want to be at home on Christmas Eve. The hero tells the girl that the "supernatural powers" in charge demand that she finds a successor, an inheritor to her powers but that she keeps on keeps on refusing them. The girl volunteers to take on the responsibility and hey, presto, we not only have a new hero but in the process the old hero's life is saved. If this isn't the laziest, daftest set up to a superhero title I've ever read, it has to come pretty close. I'm also unsure what the title "Punchline" has to do with anything, but as I mentioned, at least it will be interesting to see how much Weldon can develop and where he heads from here.

RIVERDALE SEASON 3 (Archie Comics) (T)

CW Network's teenage Twin Peaks take on Archie, Riverdale, has hit its third season and so has its tie-in comic. I've not seen Riverdale since season one, but this is fairly new reader friendly, cutting around the main characters as they prepare for photo day in "The Big Picture."

The necessary expository work is fairly well handled by writer Micol Ostow, who has a good grasp on the cast and their various levels of sass and smart-mouth. I imagine many a reader will find Thomas Pitilli's art off-putting and overly scratchy, but I don't mind it at all. At his best, Pitelli drops in some funky tones and some great sideways glances. I respect how little he appears to care about staying on-model with the actor's likenesses, as too many movie and TV tie-in comics are visually stilted thanks to artists faithfully reproducing an actor's photo on the page. Pitelli has no time for this, these are old character,s pretty well recognizable anyway, even if rendered far more realistically than at any other time in their history. Pitelli's like a more dynamic version of a courtroom sketch artist; the semblance of the real person is there rather than the exact curve of a nose or thickness of eyebrow. It’s workmanlike art, sure, and perhaps an odd choice for a book about dynamically handsome youths, but the storytelling is crystal clear all the way through.

Also included are excerpts from The Riverdale Yearbook and Ostow's own prequel novel to the series, Riverdale: The Day Before, which I did not read. However, it pretty much goes without saying that Riverdale fans should give this a look.

ROBOTECH (Titan Comics) (T)

This one might be rated T for teen, but it probably should be rated for Robotech Nerds Only. I found the main portion of Titan's Robotech 2019 giveaway pretty bewildering and I suspect that if you're as equally unfamiliar with the property, then you may as well.  Veteran writer Simon Furman clearly has an epic in the planning (this is actually Chapter #0 of what's to be the Event Horizon saga), but with a multitude of characters and plotlines shotgunned across the pages, also featuring some uneven art from Hendry Prasetya, it's not the most enjoyable reading experience. Again, however, it feels the kind of thing I'm sure is Easter Egg-filled for regular readers and fans. If that's you, I'm honestly sorry I can't give you more here.

There's a two-page back-up feature also included, part one of "Curtain Call" by writer Brendan Fletcher and artist Sarah Stone, that sees the impossible return of dead superstar singer Lynn Minmei to the stage. Two pages aren't a lot to go by but they sure are pretty pages. Stone seems to be channelling Daft Punk-era Leiji Matsumoto to the point it might be hard for your brain to not start spinning "One More Time" as you read this. This is a nice little tease and, despite being all of two pages, is very readable, so thumbs up for that.

SPAWN #1 (Image) (T)

“It’s the twenty-year rule,” Phil at Evil Empire Comics told me as we discussed the almost puzzling reemergence and rising back issue prices of mid ‘90s cape comics, specifically those that came from the formative days of Image. Phil postulates that every twenty years, comics from roughly two decades prior regain critical merit and artistic cachet. I’m still not sold on this theory, but something is clearly in the water at comic shops with a number of high profile modern indie comics creators (Michel Fiffe, Ed Piskor and Jim Rigg leading the way) championing the work of, amongst many others, Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane. What is cool becomes uncool becomes cool once again. Still, what better time for McFarlane to strike, rereleasing the first ever issue of Spawn from May of 1992 for FCBD, right as the title prepares to turn 300 issues old and another feature film is prepped? The iron might not be scorching hot, but it is warming up super-fast and McFarlane is nothing if not an opportunist.

McFarlane is also, it has to be remembered, a creator capable of some dynamic and uniquely stylized comics, armed with as many experimental layouts as gratuitous splash pages, even if his words are lackluster. I have probably not read Spawn #1 since that long ago debut date and I have to admit I had a lot of fun with it in 2019. I kind of wish I didn’t sell my run long ago. Nostalgia perhaps? Is the twenty-year rule an actual thing? Maybe, but although no way near as well crafted, Spawn #1 packs far more sheer entertainment value than any issue of, say, Crisis On Infinite Earths. Different decades, sure, but both Spawn and Crisis are important books, both are emblematic of two certain styles of now “classic” hero comics, so I’ll stand by the comparison on a scale of strictly popcorn-entertainment.

SPIDER-MAN (Marvel) (T)

Marvel dishes out a double-dose of Spider-Man titles, teasing the start of an epic, all-new Venom event and then finishing up with a good little character piece that's a reminder that, as convoluted as Marvel can sometimes get, the characters remain at the core.

Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are the creators behind the upcoming Venom event, Absolute Carnage. Cletus Kasady, the original Carnage, has been brought back from the dead and merged him with Knull, God of the symbiotes. Kasady plans to "unleash Knull on our world" by stealing all remaining symbiote pieces from anyone who has ever worn one, creating some kind of all-powerful Voltron symbiote as a result. It's a pretty goofy set up, but Cates and Stegman tell it with a clear wink and a nod. Stegman has clearly levelled up since I've last seen his work, producing the kind of material that's sure to make him a superstar for Marvel, if he's not already.

Co-writers Saladin Ahmed and the local Melbournian, Tom Taylor, are behind "Rivalry!" It's the kind of story that, in terms of super-hero titles, maybe only works in Spider-Man comics. Taking a different spin on the classic “super-heroes meet and fight before working out their misunderstandings and teaming up” trope, "Rivalry!" sees Miles Morales and Peter Parker arguing about pizza before getting having to stop The Shocker. Seriously, the bulk of this short little story is all about pizza. Specifically, New York pizza. What could be more Spider-Man than that? Cory Smith and Jay Leisten are perfectly fine on pencils and inks, showcasing a vibrant, multicultural city with no shortage of pizza joints. Good stuff.


I was quite harsh on last year's FCBD effort from Starburns, which I thought was pretty much a hot mess of average comics with little potential. 2019's giveaway still showcases a number of titles, but this is a massive improvement overall. The samples for all titles are generous and there seems to be a much more coherent effort at producing fun comics, with generally good high concepts that would feel at home on Adult Swim. Nothing is blow-away great, but there's a fair bit to appreciate here.

Kicking us off is Nasquatch by co-writers Kelly Williams and CW Cooke with Williams drawing. I'm guessing the title riffs on Nascar, as the series stars a sasquatch with the ability to drive like it's what he was born to do, on the run from the government. Williams' drawing is reminiscent of someone like Jim Mahfood : lively, cartoony and completely appropriate, considering the subject matter.

Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia is up next by writers Ed Kuehnel and Matt Entin, with artist Dan Schkade turning in work occasionally so good I was actually wondering if Paul Smith was somehow involved. An amusing premise sees a local wrestler declare himself Champion of the Galaxy, which raises the ire of higher ups on Planet Wrestletopia. They live by the creed that there can be only one champion of the galaxy and that champion is the current ruler of the planet, Manifest Destiny. It sounds horribly lame, but it's pretty good fun and, once again, Schkade turns in some terrific work.

Hellicious is a fairly skippable but still decently-made story about an occult rock band, the devil and the Ouija board that brings them together. The Hellicious team of co-writer,s AC Medina and Mina Eldwell, along with artist Kit Wallis and Trevor Richardson, do a better job than Eben Burgoon and his artist Michael Calero on B-Squad. The low point of Starburns Presents, B-Squad sees a Rambo-esque character arriving at the ruins of a sacred temple after the team known as The B-Squad have destroyed as many of the inhabitants, the fuzzykins, as possible. The B-Squad is made up of an assortment of painfully unfunny mercenaries like Brodee: Master of The Bro-Arts. The gags are bad, the set-up really lame and I'm not sure who's going to find this amusing outside of the creators.

Rounding us out is Gryffen, by writer Ben Kahn and artist Bruno Hidalgo, whose Kevin O'Neill-inspired artwork gets this over the line. We've got court-martialled space captain Gryffen and undercover resistance fighter Telika vowing to team-up and take down The Reach, the all-powerful society occupying the galaxy. There's not a lot that's new about Gryffen, but Kahn and Hidalgo keep things moving, and this feels potentially chaotic enough to build some steam.


I love Stranger Things, but I did not care for this. Writer Jody Houser and artist Ibrahim Moustafa deliver an ultimately pointless, unattractively illustrated story set in the world of the Netflix show. I appreciate how difficult little, stand-alone stories can be, particularly when the creators are doubly hamstrung by having to sandwich something into existing TV continuity. But I'm surprised that a comic based on such a massively popular property lacks any narrative sizzle or visual flair whatsoever. It's also all so... brown. Triona Farrel's colours do Moustafa's scratchy, yet supremely stilted, drawings no extra favours. This has to be the brownest comic of all time, like Farrel's computer lost the function to add any other colour, except than a little bit of blue. I assume that with some room to move, the longer-form Dark Horse comics actually have a story to tell and some pop to their pages, but this right here, this is a bust on all fronts.

Jeff Lemire's Black Hammer backs up the main story for the second year in a row and it might be time to graduate the sprawling, popular property to the lead for FCBD 2020. As I mentioned last year, I'm a little tired of revisionist, Golden Age super-heroics. While I am aware that Black Hammer has much more scope than my reductive description, I still somehow find it hard to muster much enthusiasm for it. This is really a case of "it's not you, it's me" however, so I can recognise the title's quality and the pedigree of its regular creators, Lemire and Dean Ormston, both of whom are terrific talents. As if sensing my hesitation, Lemire brings in the tremendous David Rubin to draw this little FCBD short that features the characters Dragonfly, Jack Sabbath and a flashback to World War II, with werewolf Nazis. After the visual turn-off and narrative bore that was Stranger Things, Rubin's ever-dynamic work was a treat, even if the script by Lemire and Ray Fawkes will likely leave non-regulars to the title scratching their heads a bit. But again: David Rubin and Werewolf Nazis. Do you need anything else?


It's King of Kong meets Street Fighter for FCBD 2019 as writer Ken Sui-Chong cheekily brings the arcade back to the comics. Super Chibi Puzzle Gem Fighter II: Ultra Turbo Arcade Edition is the fight game the characters in the Street Fighter world play, the champion of which is Karin Kanzuki. When Karin's high score is bested by Sakura Kasugano, Karin lays down the challenge: a championship match.

Artist Omar Dogan keeps things typically and fittingly super-vibrant (the Street Fighter books have to be some of the most eye-poppingly candy-coloured on the market) and is at home with both the highly stylised artistry of the "real world" characters and the ultra stylised, cutesy artwork of the video game. Not too much more to report here, aside from a neat little shot of Karin using a sensory deprivation tank as part of her training and Sakura getting charged up on energy drink. This is all wink-wink, nudge-nudge stuff, but it's more clever and more amusing than you'd think, plus it actually contains probably the least amount of actual fighting in any Street Fighter comic ever. Not bad, not bad at all.


IDW, celebrating 20 years in 2019, showcases one of its prime licensed properties, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for FCBD, which is fitting, as the Turtles celebrate 35 years this year. As with any property with ongoing continuity 35 years old, it can be a little tricky getting new and lapsed readers up to speed but this FCBD effort certainly tries its best, with the current IDW canon being less long-lived acting as a buffer.

It opens by throwing readers new and old right into the deep end of the current City at War storyline with a segment from IDW's Turtles #95. It will make literally no sense to anyone not familiar with the current goings on in Turtles comics, but Tom Waltz's script and Dave Wachter's art are certainly propulsive. This portion of the comic seeks to impress the reader with motion, rather than clarity of plot. I personally find the idea of Turtles comics for mature readers pretty ridiculous in 2019, particularly as there is nothing here more violent or "mature" than in any other super hero comic, but the creators do a decent job of piling adversity on to our heroes. By the end, falling into the comic's chaos, I have to admit I was kind of hoping for more pages.

"Road to War" closes out the main part of the comic and writer Megan Brown deserves a special mention for her work on what is probably the single hardest story to write in comics: the epic continuity recap. Brown and her army of artists do their damndest to recap every major event relevant to current Turtles happenings and make it interesting. Unfortunately, this is a chore to get through. Page after page of “then this happened” is a complete bore, no matter how good the storytellers are, but the effort by Brown is seriously admirable, not to mention some of the pages here by her collaborators are terrifically illustrated. Brown was given a thankless task, rolled her sleeves up, then tried to make it as intriguing, coherent and well-written as possible. That's the mark of a pro in the making right there. Overall, there's enough quality in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles FCBD 2019 to probably make you wonder if you should be paying closer attention to those heroes in a half-shell. Turtle power!


More Tick silliness from the folks at NEC this year, with another little collection of all-new stories. "The Meatloaf Menagerie" by Ian Nichols opens proceedings, with The Tick and Arthur lured back to the home of a super fan on the promise of the world's greatest meatloaf. The fan turns out to be a super collector of Tick paraphernalia and he's not missing much...only Tick and Arthur themselves. Fine stuff from Nichols, delivering trademark Tick superhero goofiness. I also really like the inclusion of a "Rough Ideas" page, showcasing the many cover sketches this issue went through. I wish more FCBD comics would include creative developmental process material like this; it's immensely helpful for younger aspiring creators.

"In Borneo Reborn!" closes the issue off. Written by Jeff McLelland with art by Nichols once more, the story sees The Tick accidentally riding a pterodactyl out of a Jurassic Parkesque theme park and ending up in the jungles of Borneo. But they're not alone, for a pack of coyotes fighting a logging company and their literally axe-headed henchman, The Defoliator, lie in wait. Yep. That's a premise that should at least get you in the door here and truthfully, "In Borneo Reborn!" is the most I've ever liked these Tick tales.


Handsome stuff from artist Isaac Goodman on Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale, one of the debuting books from DC Ink, the publisher's new YA imprint. It also features New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Myracle, tackling her first graphic novel. Although the cover simulates a regular prose book,  this is very much a comic book and the pair are very, very good.

Myracle and Goodman give us a teenage Selina Kyle, living at home with her mother and her mother's abusive partner. She rather oddly goes to high school with Bruce Wayne, tries her best to remain cheerful under quite stressful circumstances and gives stolen goods to her friends. Trouble comes when she takes in a stray kitten but to say any more than that would constitute a spoiler, so I'll stop here.

Special mention must be made of not just Goodman's work, but also that of colourist Jeremy Lawson, who colours Under The Moon in a subtle, tasteful and very fitting blue and white. Honestly, it's a little strange to see a book aimed at teens not only being formatted the way it is, but being presented with such a restrained and sophisticated look. Meanwhile, over in pamphlet comics world, the overall garishness of the product would seem far more suited for a younger reader. Anyway, Under The Moon does what it sets out to do; it's well-written and knows the types of readers it wants to be talking to but where it truly achieves is visually, thanks to Goodman's frequently excellent work.

Also here is another short preview, this one of Raven from the Teen Titans, written by Kami Garcia and drawn by Gabriel Picolo. This is more what I expected going into Under The Moon, with Picolo's serviceable but unremarkable art, along with Garcia's also perfectly serviceable scripting. We don't get much of Raven, just a trip to a fortune-teller, but it's worth a look for the curious.

VAMPIRELLA (Dynamite) (T+)

The ever-enduring Vampirella celebrates her 50th anniversary and current publisher Dynamite celebrates with a pair of tales; one new, one old, with the hopes of presumably luring new readers in and winning lapsed readers back. Kicking things off is "Disciple" by veteran scribe Christopher Priest and flashy artist Ergun Gunduz. It's perhaps not the neatest introduction to current Vampirella happenings, but Priest is always solid and Gunduz provides the kind of striking, photo-realistic work akin to that of Salvador Larocca. Gunduz goes pretty retro with his vision of Vampirella, which I really appreciate. The classic suit remains intact, but back is the heavy blue eye shadow (a pretty cool throwback to the character's early days), some ‘70s inspired hair, and some fairly realistic body proportions; a cheesy "bad girl" comic this is thankfully not.

In Priest's tale, Vampirella has been outed as a vampire on social media and a slew of not only copycats but also disciples follow. Within these groups is the troubled young Katie, who may or may not have murdered her horrible foster parents at the opening of this tale. It's all bogged down a bit much in previous continuity, but "Disciple" does indicate that positive, intriguing things are happening in the title, which relaunches in July, with Priest at the helm.

Rounding things out is "Bugs," a Vampirella short from 1993 by Kurt Busiek and Arthur Adams. You read that right, free Art Adams for FCBD! It's a campy little number that sees Vampirella facing off against some misunderstood bug monsters, along some classic horror, small town folk who are all too eager to light their torches and draw their pitchforks. Fun stuff.

I admit some surprise at the level of my enjoyment of this. Dynamite has put together a great team with an interesting, seemingly long-term plan to shepherd Vampirella through her 50th year and beyond.

ZAGOR: THE ALIEN SAGA (Epicenter Comics) (T)

Smuggled in under a cover that looks like something Leinil Frances Yu might have dashed off is its virtual artistic antithesis: an early '60s comic written by the publisher of Dylan Dog. There might be a reason that Sergio Bonelli wrote Zagor under the pseudonym of Guido Nolitta. That reason probably is that it is, unfortunately, not great.

I honestly can't imagine that too many fans of classic comics (of which I am one) would be clamouring for this oddity: a goofy alien invasion comic starring its titular square-jawed hero and comedic sidekick, Chico, whose constant moustache-based exclamations are perhaps the title's most amusing aspect. Zagor and Chico are facing down a full-blown alien invasion and an evil scientist archenemy, all of which artist Gallieno Ferri realises to a satisfactory degree.
It's an unusual book to push for FCBD, the best day to advertise your publishing company. If you've got the Dylan Dog licence (which Epicenter does), why not publish a slice of that for FCBD? That’s a property with some awareness, not to mention actually awesome and genuinely classic.  In the end, Zagor only gets a mild thumbs up for curiosity factor alone.

That's it! Run, I say, run to the store for your free comics!

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