ALL-NEW ALL STAR RECOMMENDS #6:
STAY AWAY COMIC BOOK DAY BONANZA 2022
Hello and welcome to yet another annual edition of All Star Recommends Free Comic Book Day Bonanza. Of course again this year, the team will be running the event virtually as Stay Away Free Comic Book Day - meaning that you’ll need to make your careful selections online via the website.
This worked a treat last year, so don’t be discouraged, and there’s a LOT to get excited about in this line up for 2022.
For further instructions on ordering, please see here:
Below, you’ll find reviews of every single title All Star has available for you this year and, as mentioned above, this is a strong line-up of titles.
Ratings are as follows:
A - All Ages
N/R - Not rated
M - Mature
Thanks for reading and for supporting the store. I know the gang values you all as customers and do their best to ensure that this event is as amazing as they can possibly make it year in and year out.
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER / THE LEGEND OF KORRA (Dark Horse) (A)
Once again, I still have no idea about either of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The legend of Korra. You think I would after reading numerous FCBD efforts featuring both properties, but here we are. Another year, no new knowledge. Sorry. I do maintain, however, that the whole point of FCBD is to not just service existing readers of the medium, but to bring new ones in. I, old snooty reviewer person, have issues with just how many comics based on properties from other mediums not only exist, but are part of a day that celebrates what is, in my opinion, the single greatest storytelling medium we humans have ever come up with.
In short, “Does this stand on its own?” is a question foremost in my mind every year when preparing these things.
Dark Horse brings us a preview of the forthcoming all ages graphic novel, Aang’s Unfreezing Day, a story about Airbender Aang as a young boy and the lengths those who care for him go to in order to ensure his “ unfreezing day” (or birthday) is full of fun and surprises. Kelly Leigh Miller writes and Diana Sim with Christianne Gillenardo-Goudreau illustrates this lively little number. It’s accessible and attractively cartooned. Whether its narrative hooks dig in enough for you to be gasping to get the whole book in July, I can’t really say. However, this is a really good little slice of comics for kids - clean, open pages, an easily understandable plot with a relatable protagonist. That’s good enough for a thumbs up.
Fast forward here to The Legend of Korra, where all the Airbender characters are much older and writer/artist Meredith McClaren provides some pretty distinctive artwork in the story “Beach Wars.” A friendly but spirited chat about past pranks by “the grandmas,” (at least one of whom we meet as a little girl in the preceding story) leads to an assemblage of descendants taking sides and preparing for a prank war at the beach.
This needs much more room to breathe, but man, are McClaren’s super thicc lines something to see. This is some really attractively chonks artwork and should be sought out for that alone even if, like me, you cannot name all characters and have no real idea what’s going on.
AVENGERS / X-MEN / ETERNALS: JUDGMENT DAY (Marvel) (T)
An absolutely cracking prologue to the forthcoming Judgement Day event kicks off Marvel’s first FCBD offering of 2022. Kieron Gillen writes and Dustin Weaver draws this pretty compelling kick-off, “Of Deviation and Mutation.” I’ll not spoil much here other than to say, if Eternals are driven to exterminate “excess deviation” just how would they feel about the recent X-happenings on the island of Krakoa? Gillen cleverly creates a historical precedent for the slaughter of monkeys who showed mutation a million years back creating a logical reason as to why this modern powderkeg of mutant-Eternal relations will explode. Dustin Weaver turns in some really great, incredibly detailed pages. This is hands-down the best kick-off to a Marvel event I’ve seen in an FCBD ever. Civil War II FCBD, you are finally forgiven and may rest in peace.
A few pages from Bloodline: Daughter of Blade follows and what comes up must come down I suppose. Danny Lore is the writer here and is paired with artist Karen S. Darboe for four pages of comics previewing this latest legacy character.
Bringing us home is a strong X-Men short by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Matteo Lolli that sows seeds all over the place - for the upcoming Hellfire Gala X-event and the titular Judgment Day crossover. “Let’s Talk About Krakoa” brings new readers immediately up to speed with one of those text pages that Jonathan Hickman made such a staple of the X-titles. Duggan presents a great bit of foreshadowing as well as backstory here that should leave many a Marvel fan desperate to know what comes next.
With a cracking opener and a really strong closer, the flat middle section of Judgment Day is easily forgiven. Overall: terrific, compelling, attractively illustrated superhero comics.
BARBARIC #1 (Vault) (T)
Packed with dismemberment, cursing and smatterings of nudity, I’m a little surprised that Barbaric comes with the same rating as the Archie comic coming up. To be clear, I have no issues with a teenager picking this up at all – my 4 year old was obsessed with Man-Thing comics when he was eighteen months – I’m just pointing out that some parents MIGHT.
Anyhoo, there’s a full page at the rear of this that boasts of numerous 10/10 ratings for Michael Moreci and Nathan Gooden’s work and here is your reminder to be wary of “critical” reviews always – and this includes the ramblings of yours truly that attempt to pass as such.
The bones of something great are here – a horrible, Conan-esque barbarian cursed by witches to kill only bad people, a blood-drunk battle ax that talks to him, some pretty dynamic art highlighted by an absolutely ripping image of hell, a heavy metal vibe, some really interesting colour choices. But, I don’t know. It feels a bit like poor man’s Pat Mills to me. Slaine-lite. It’s absolutely stuffed with expository dialogue and narration, likely to get all that backstory out of the way before amping the carnage up even further as quickly as possible.
I do expect, however, that I’ll be in the minority here and many will wonder why and why I’m being such a stuffed shirt about something so fun. I do appreciate the enthusiasm with which the creators are approaching this, and Gooden is one to keep your eye on, for sure. Recommended for those who value frenetic, bloody action above all else. If this is you – you’ll likely have a blast with Barbaric.
THE BEST ARCHIE COMIC EVER! #0 (Archie Comics) (T)
Props to (presumably) Jamie Lee Rotante and the rest of Archie’s editorial team for thinking outside the box for their FCBD 2022 offering. The Best Archie Comic Ever! #0 is jam-packed with stories and creators. However, instead of presenting short, distinct slices from titles such as The Best Archie Comic Ever!, Archie’s Holiday Magic, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery and Archie: Love & Heartbreak, readers are given a cleverly stitched together single-issue that functions excellently as an introduction to not just the various comics spruiked, but also the characters themselves.
Presented by six writers and five artists, and narrated by Archie Andrews himself, The Best Archie Comic Ever! #0 skips around in time and place and but feels remarkably whole, the seams only showing in a few spots. The Best Archie Comic Ever! Promises to be a romp through various alternate universes. Archie’s Holiday Magic gives us the Archie crew as kids. Archie: Love & Heartbreak, as the title suggests, leans toward romance and Chilling Adventures in Sorcery ups the spooks in a more kid-friendly way than, say, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or Afterlife With Archie, titles you are probably more than familiar with already. And of course, all the oversized anthologies these snippets originate from are available now depending on your own particular story leanings.
This was a pleasant surprise. Too often FCBD books are just marketing tools with little thought given to content other than to pimp the product. The Best Archie Comic Ever! #0 is a terrific exception to this, generous in quality content, satisfyingly whole and leaving readers with no doubt as to where and what they can go to next.
BEST OF 2000AD (Rebellion) (T+)
Ahead of the new quarterly, Best of 2000AD, comes this wonderful bite-sized version of the upcoming format. A clever repackaging of classic 2000AD fare with brand new material exclusive to the volumes, each Best of 2000AD will feature a brand-new Judge Dredd story, a classic Judge Dredd story and a complete graphic novel-sized volume cherry-picked from the decades long history of the title.
For Free Comic Book Day, the folks at Rebellion give you a brand new short Dredd story, “Hard Talk” by Al Ewing and artist V.V. Glass, a slice of classic Nemesis The Warlock, “The Terror Tube” by Pat Mills and artist Kevin O’Neill, another classic short (that I’ve never heard of before), John Wagner and Mick McMahon’s “Superbean,” a brand new Future Shock twister, “Journey To The Edge of The Earth” written and drawn by Chris Burnham and two single-page comics, “Mr. Meat Bingo’s Zombie Umbrella” by an creator whose work I’ve grown to just adore over the last few years, Henry Flint, and, plucked from the archives, “D.R & Quinch’s Agony Page” by Jamie Delano and Alan Davis.
I spent much of the pandemic revisiting material from 2000AD and becoming quite reinvested in the product. There is so much quality on offer, not just in the form of the classics but also much of the newer work. This Best of 2000AD sampler skews heavily toward the satirical end of the material (I’m more partial these days to the less “funny”, straighter works) so if stories about Dredd taking on a right-wing TV pundit based on Nigel Farage, or Wagner and McMahon’s story about a superhero that’s literally a vegetable don’t quite click for you; don’t worry - there’s far more to 2000AD than goofy parody and ironic story climaxes. Having said that, if you *do* enjoy those things, man, is this the comic for you.
Best of 2000AD Free Comic Book Day is an absolute must get - free classic O’Neill, McMahon. Free new Burnham and Ewing. I mean, from a creator standpoint, this thing is loaded. I believe there’s six 200 page volumes of the main title to come. With all things Dredd and 2000AD on a massive creative upswing over the last decade, this is a project that could not come at a better time and this little freebie may just convince many of the unconverted to join the rest of us already residing in Mega City One and the endless worlds beyond its walls.
BLOODBORNE (Titan) (M)
What an oddity this is. I’m all for recaps in FCBD books and for further pointers as to where readers could and should look to further explore titles, but Titan’s 2022 Bloodborne freebie, an expansion of the highly popular video game franchise, literally contains only five pages of actual comics.
The ever-busy, always reliable Cullen Bunn joins artist Piotr Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson (an art team going back to the days of the highly underappreciated Sex title with writer Joe Casey) for this the fifth volume of Bloodborne comics from publishers Titan. That’s a solid creative team right there who, sadly, do not get to flex their chops much at all. I’m not sure who picks these FCBD comics up for the front/backmatter or for multiple full-page text recaps of previous volumes, but I hope somebody does, as this otherwise feels like a bit of a waste.
So, yes, this is a strange pamphlet, more catalogue than comic. Is this Bloodborne comic actually any good? Well, we have five very competently put together pages (and pages of process for them) and promises from all involved that this is quite good. Over to you, dear reader, I guess…
THE BONE ORCHARD MYTHOS: PRELUDE (Image) (M)
It’s incredible to think that Gideon Falls, the five-volume horror series by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino was a warm-up exercise. That’s a crazy sentence to type but judging by the creators’ newest effort, Bone Orchard, (titled The Bone Orchard Mythos: Prelude on the cover but just Bone Orchard #1 in the indicia - there’s no way I’m typing the former multiple times) a shared universe of horror stories that are promised for years to come, that’s exactly how it seems.
Immediately as unsettling as Gideon Falls’ most striking moments, Lemire and Sorrentino hit the ground absolutely sprinting here with a short little freak-out of a comic that is primarily designed to transport readers into their singularly nightmarish creative space. I always read Gideon Falls for mood and atmosphere more than plot and in that regard, the team has already topped themselves.
This is just supremely confident stuff - Sorrentino’s mind-bending, reality-altering layouts are at their best and Lemire’s dread-soaked script gets out of his artist’s way at all times. The pair has been working together for a decade now and you can almost see the creative shorthand at work, the trust between them on the page. Dave Stewart’s colours deserve special mention also - I can’t imagine anyone else doing half as good a job with Sorrentino’s pages. He keeps things muted and flat to set the dread and spikes the colour when the shocks come. It’s super work all round.
I’m not going to say anything else. No plot, no story recap, nothing. Go in as cold as you possibly can to this mind-bender and let’s all chew our nails until the series’ official debut, The Passageway, arrives mid-June.
It’s hard to make comics scary. The best horror comics rely on atmosphere and structural tricks to make up for lack of sound design, the one true advantage horror cinema has. With Bone Orchard #1 Lemire and Sorrentino have distilled the best of atmospheric comics horror, spiked it with the cerebral dread-fest of modern arthouse horror cinema and produced 20-odd pages of comics you’ll feel viscerally. That’s about as high a compliment as I can possibly pay this. More please. More please NOW. Subjectively, this is my favourite FCBD book of 2022.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (Boom) (T)
Pretty basic stuff for Boom’s Buffy FCBD offering this year, but that’s no insult. Readers will immediately be brought up to speed for the 25th Anniversary of Buffy The Vampire Slayer via a lengthy Sunnydale Yearbook feature that takes up roughly half of this comic. Featuring short character bios, a rundown on the updated vampire slayers and events in recent Buffy comics history, nobody can complain that Boom aren’t trying their hardest to make sure this is new reader friendly.
Rounding things out is a short comic, “Trust The Process” by writer Sarah Gailey and artist Carlos Olivares. Further fleshing out the current status quo, we find Buffy in a therapy session, telling her therapist about all her recent goings-on. Even with some action sandwiched in at the end, it’s far from the most dynamic thing you’ll read, but there’s an intriguing twist at the end for longtime Buffy fans.
This is decent enough for what it is, with Boom setting the table for a milestone year in the character’s history.
BUNNY MASK TALES (Aftershock) (T)
Every year there’s something in the FCBD line-up that I like enough to do more heavy lifting than I really should have to in order to present both a coherent review and an honest assessment of whether or not it should get a thumbs-up. This year, that comic is Bunny Mask Tales by horror veteran Paul Tobin and artists journeyman Andrea Mutti and Roberta Inganata.
Seriously, a short blurb at the start of this comic would solve so many issues of initial incomprehensibility. Sure, Bunny Mask is clearly a weird, somewhat obtuse comic, anchored by a supernatural entity meting out violent justice to evildoers and connected to an artist named Bee. Here’s the solicitation pitch from the original Bunny Mask series from last year .
“Sealed in a cave before the dawn of man, released by a crazed madman, Bunny Mask walks our world once more. But for what dark purpose does she use her supernatural powers? And what’s her connection to Bee Foster, a young girl murdered by her father fourteen years ago? In order to save his life - and his sanity - one man will have to discover the truth of what waits behind the mask.”
The creators and publisher just throw readers in here, both new and old, and whilst the old will likely just slip right in, I was immediately scratching my head and wondering how something so intriguing and well-made doesnt come with even the briefest of introductions.
There are two full, Tobin-scripted short stories here, “They Were Sickness” with art by Mutti and “The Hole Where I Watch My Neighbor” drawn by Inganata. New readers would be better served by having these stories flipped. Perhaps the initial reader dislocation is intentional, but if you are new and curious about this title, do try reading the main stories back to front. Rounding the issue out is a two-page glimpse of the upcoming second Bunny Mask volume, “The Hollow Inside,” which is not really enough to judge anything by other than as a statement that more of this comic is on the way.
Much better than this review likely makes it sound, Bunny Mask Tales should be picked up by those who enjoy their comics weird, horrific and askew. Despite my gripes, It’s solidly crafted stuff (Tobin’s Bunny Mask dialogue a constant highpoint) and it does linger in the mind, becoming one of this year’s real curiosities. Give this a shot.
UNDERPANTS / DOG MAN / CAT KID COMIC CLUB (Scholastic) (A)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Wrap your noggin around this fact: Dav Pilkey has sold over 26 million copies of Dog Man alone. An absolute sales powerhouse and virtual household name to anyone with kids, he’s a publishing phenomenon. Scholastic seeks to somehow further expand Pilkey’s reach this FCBD with a selection of work from three of his series’, Captain Underpants, Dog Man and Cat Kid Comic Club.
I’m not going to spend much time here, except to say that as a bridge between young reader prose and comics, Pilkey’s an obvious stand out. This is a savvy package from the publisher side of things also - with clear introductions to each series for new readers and clear presentation of what to get next from Pilkey’s insanely large body of work should your youngster develop a hankering for more. Pilkey’s cartooning is basic and stripped back - looking somewhat like the work a child with artistic leanings may produce. It’s possibly this immediate artistic relatability that helps fuel such a large audience over a quarter century of work, as well as the real energy and fun that pop off his pages.
Pilkey, I literally just learned, was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD all the way back in elementary school. George and Harold, the two main characters in Captain Underpants, also have ADHD and their misadventures provide a window into the lives of kids who have, as Pilkey calls it, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Delightfulness.” How wonderful is that?
Scholastic’s Pilkey sampler is a clear must for younger readers who have, somehow, remained unfamiliar to the work of this ubiquitous author. Although I’m truly not sure how that’s possible.
CLEMENTINE / EVERYDAY HERO: MACHINE BOY / SEA SERPENT’S HEIR
(Image/Skybound Comet) (T)
Into an utterly jam-packed YA comics market steps Robert Kirkman’s Skybound company with Skybound Comet, an imprint of books designed for younger readers.
There’s so much choice for kids who want to read comics, such a massive abundance of quality from publishers everywhere, you have to wonder how wise it is for anyone to just jump on in. Confidence has never really been one of Kirkman’s problems however, and with Skybound Comet he has every right to remain that way - the three titles presented here look absolutely phenomenal.
Clementine leads us off. Designed as a three-book series spinning off from Kirkman’s own The Walking Dead, you might just be wondering how many more grey-toned zombie comics you’re willing to read. The hiring of Tilly Walden for the project is, however, something of a masterstroke. Walden, at the age of just 25, has drawn more comics pages than many a seasoned pro and her sharply character-driven stories and ability to keep things grounded no matter how fantastical their setting is the perfect choice for a teen Walking Dead book. Walden appears to be having a blast here also, creating more action on her introductory pages than I can recall seeing in much of her work.
Clementine is a teen girl, hobbling her way through the zombie apocalypse on one flesh-and -blood foot and one dodgy prosthetic. She’s adept at smashing zombies with crutches and stabbing them with knives. She is welcomed into a strange little community that on the surface seems puritanical. She’s skeptical, but the offer of a new prosthetic foot proves hard to resist.
There’s far more to come across what’s projected to be a three book series, but Walden’s immediately at home in this world (assisted mightily by Cliff Rathburn on tones, who gave the original series its distinctive tonal work) and Clementine is immediately intriguing. It’s more than just a fresh coat of paint on a drying franchise; this is distinct and individual - exactly the kind of thing you’d hope for with an auteur of Walden’s stature at the helm
There’s a short little interview at preview’s end in which Walden outlines her work method. In short: she does not script, she just goes straight to the pages. Editors everywhere are having palpitations at the thought, I’m sure, but it might just be why her work is so consistently fresh.
Everyday Hero: Machine Boy is next up in this chunky comic, with creators Tri Vuong and Irma Kniivila turning something that could potentially be some eye-roll-inducing update of Astro Boy into a beautifully cartooned, vibrant, warm comic.
Machine Boy is a karate-fighting young robot obsessed with boy band-slash-superhero group, Orphan Universe. The chance to see the group live is now, can he score tickets? Pick this up to find out, be thoroughly charmed and experience some really lovely comics pages in the process.
Taking us home is Sea Serpent’s Heir by writer Mairghread Scott and artist Pablo Tunica. Again, visually, this is just a knock-out. The spindly, scratchy lines of Tunica taking Scott’s dreamy script and building a quaint cobblestone town, a roiling sea, expressive characters and a sense of epic fantasy with ease.
You can practically smell the brine as young Aella and her crab-creature Nix hit the sea in their fishing boat. Aella, in true young adult fantasy style, yearns for more than her cliffset home offers, to travel someplace where she can be free from the shadow of her famous mother. But the sea she sails through turns rougher than expected, in more ways than one.
In summary: Clementine (and Friends) is a standout comic amongst this year’s crop of books. If Skybound Comet has even more up its sleeve than these three launching titles, put some extra money aside, because Robert Kirkman and co. aren’t just dipping a toe into a surging market demographic - they’re coming to take it over the pool.
DARK CRISIS: SPECIAL EDITION (DC) (T)
The crises in the DCU have always been pretty dark. Barry Allen died in the original classic by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and it's not like things got any easier in Infinite Crisis (ironically only running for seven issues) or Final (not final) Crisis. Essentially shorthand for “We’re changing up some shit,” the Crisis moniker looms large over comics fandom and still, I’d argue, carries much weight. So then, how does Dark Crisis fare?
Veteran superhero artist Jim Cheung is on board for the lead story, “Who Are The Justice League?” which sets up a post-League world where most of the heroes are dead, but Wally West lives. Given the history of The Flash in these mega-event stories, this is a good twist by writer Josh Williamson. Cheung has clearly been looking at a lot of Andy Kubert art, or perhaps it’s unconscious but there are panels and faces throughout (and Cheung is inking himself here) that deadset look Kubert. That’s not a knock, I just find it interesting and given my overall dislike of this story from the writing side, let’s just ponder that and move on…
A “sneak preview”of Dark Crisis #1 follows, again written by Williamson with art by Daniel Sampere. I am, quite honestly, unable to champion this with much enthusiasm, so here is a synopsis I took from the internet: “Dark Crisis is a celebratory event that will spread across seven issues, and it chronicles an epic event set in motion after the “death” of the Justice League, and the heroes from Earth-0 who band together to continue protecting the planet from supervillain Pariah.”
If you’ve ever wanted a cheat sheet for DC continuity, Williamson, co-writing with Dennis Culver here and drawn this time by Rafa Sandoval and the great Chris Burnham do their admirable best to provide one. “The History of The DC Multiverse”is a story that needs way more than five pages but, man, do these creators try. The lesson new readers should take from this dense recap of DC mega events is that you need to put some respect on Swamp Thing’s name and that, as we see below with a similar effort in Sonic and The Incal Universe, these recaps must be murder to write.
Clearly I’m not jumping for joy about this. But if you are a currently invested DC reader, this will already be considered vital, necessary reading and more power to you. If you are a DC fan, however, I would advise you please read the review of Galaxy: The Prettiest Star below and perhaps don’t put all your multiversal eggs into this one basket.
DISNEY MASTERS: DONALD DUCK (Fantagraphics) (T)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Surely the best thing to happen to Disney comics in decades in the treatment that Fantagraphics gives the best of the work. From the gorgeous Floyd Gottfriedsen Mickey Mouse collections to the Carl Barks library of Duck Tales, finally the presentation matches the artistic skill on display. Much of this material might be a blind spot for many readers - it was for me for many a year - but you really should seek some of this stuff out if you’ve never read it before, there’s some gorgeous, brilliant comics work to be had.
For Free Comic Book Day 2022, Fantagraphics presents a great little selection of tales from its Disney Masters series. Collecting the finest in international Disney comics, the series collects work by individual artists into single volumes. For this freebie, we get Donald Duck tales by William Van Horn (first published in America in 1990) and writer Dick Kinney and artist Al Hubbard (also American, although this story was first published here in Australia in 1965. I would love to know how that worked…Aus comics historians please do drop me a line) along with a Super Goof story by Girogio Cavazzano and Sandro Zemolin (from a 1982 French Disney comic) and a great Big Bad Wolf story by Bas and Pasqua Heymans (first published in a Dutch Donald Duck comic in 2015).
This is a terrific little collection. Van Horn’s opener, “Snore Losers” (great title) probably steals the show. One person’s dream is another’s nightmare, as we are reminded here.
Donald dreams nightly of being given a million dollars by his Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge, meanwhile, simultaneously dreams of giving a million dollars to his nephew, Donald. You can imagine who wakes up happy and who….does not. There’s some great stuff here, with Scrooge complaining that he would go broke (in his dreams) in 800 years if this keeps up! Enter Dreamologist Slumberbunk Swoonsnooze who, with a name like that, is clearly the only one capable of sorting all this out.
The other stories included are of near comparable quality (Big Bad Wolf is my runner-up) and the shift in the styles of the artists while keeping characters consistent is fun to watch unfold. Disney Masters: Donald Duck is a treat from start to finish. For some reason, it comes marked with a Teen rating. Not sure what’s up with that, this is heartily recommended for all ages as far as I’m concerned.
DOCTOR WHO (Titan Comics) (A)
I am so busy these days I didn't even know that there was a new Doctor! I love the set-up of the newest series - The Doctor has discovered that they have lived even more lives in different regenerations than they were aware of - a number of these “ lives” have been wiped from The Doctor’s memory and this is story of one such life, played by Jo Martin in the latest TV series. Showrunner, Chris Cribnall, has refused to reveal where exactly Martin’s Doctor fits in the chronology - layering further intrigue onto what’s a pretty clever way to further extend Doctor Who, perhaps infinitely.
The “new” Doctor is “an operative for the dubious Division,” and (from this comic) spends her time apprehending fugitive aliens this “Division” wants caught. Jody Houser writes this little number. Not a whole lot happens - honestly, the most intriguing part is the set up of the new TV show. Roberta Ingranata is good with the character work, but if there is a way to not draw a background, she will take it and the art suffers from this. I might be a touch unfair - I had similar complaints about a Stranger Things FCBD comic from a few years back which Houser set in a house and everything was subsequently very….brown. This story is, similarly, largely set in a log cabin in the woods which doesn’t really give Ingranata and colourist Warnia K. Sahadewa much to work with visually, apart from their cast. They make the best of it.
For Whovian completists and the curious only, I would say.
ENEMIES (JY) (NR)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Svetlana Chmakova, author of Awkward, Brave and Crush returns this September with her latest work, Enemies, and you get the scoop on it this FCBD.
I like Chmakova’s work quite a bit - she’s got a great grasp on her early-teen cast and their ever-changing, always complicated relationships. Enemies charts one such relationship, this time between Felicity and her former long-time friend Joseph. Felicity is smart and artistic, but struggles (as many of us do) with actually completing projects she starts. When the chance to win a contest with a healthy cash prize takes her fancy, Felicity joins the school's entrepreneur club unaware that her old, estranged friend is also involved.
Powered by top-notch character work, Enemies seems sure to continue Chmakova’s streak of strong, YA- focussed material. Really good.
FUZZY BASEBALL (Papercutz) (A)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
John Steven Gurney’s Fuzzy Baseball is Papercutz’ FCBD effort this year, showcasing sequences from three separate adventures of the all-animal baseball team, The Fernwood Fuzzies. Gurney’s the creator of over 140 chapter books for kids, among them four Fuzzy Baseball books and Dinosaur Train (which you might know from the annoyingly catchy theme song of the TV adaptation).
Gurney’s work is charming, detailed and his animal caricatures are on point. The three excerpts are each cut off rather abruptly, but your younger readers probably will not care - my four year old just wants me to finish this review as quickly as possible so that he can look at all the animals again.
The first three Fuzzy baseball books (1. introduces Blossom Honey Possum - a superfan who ends up playing on the team, 2. features a game against the Sashimi City Ninjas, and then 3. another game against the Geartown Clankees - robots wearing animal suits) are collected into a single edition for new readers titled Triple Play. There’s almost a quaintness about these stories with their cheating robots and how important it is to keep your chin up. While it’s far from my favourite title this year, Fuzzy Baseball is easily the most wholesome. America’s favorite pastime doesn’t really get much love here in Australia but forget baseball; if you have kids who love animals half as much as my son does, ensure you add this to your FCBD list.
GALAXY: THE PRETTIEST STAR (DC) (T)
Hear me out right now, I have another crazy theory. Yes, it’s crazier than the time I wondered whether anthologies would make a huge comeback in the American comics market right before all the cool anthologies died (there’s still NOW. You should buy NOW). Here we go:
DC’s YA comics are shaping up the new Vertigo.
There it is, I wrote it and unless I sober up and edit this out it shall live on at the All Star blog in infamy forever for five people to read and scoff at.
I do present this FCBD comic, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star as evidence, however, and I think I have a case.
Galaxy: The Prettiest Star:
a) Is more artistically adventurous than any main DC title
b) Features promotional material that appears more daring, risky, unique and modern and cool than any main DC title. (I will forever remember the “One Must Be Absolutely Modern” ad for Shade The Changing Man painted by Sean Phillips)
c) Is separated from the continuity of the main DC Universe
d) Is way better than Dark Crisis
Seriously, pick this up.
Oh. The plot.
Okay, so once again DC’s marketing department does a wonderful job of including a compelling little pitch and here it is: “An alien princess disguised as a human boy faces her fears and finds her power.”
This is about as unsubtle a metaphor for coming out as you’re likely to ever find and if only all unsubtle metaphors were crafted this incredibly! This comic is just so objectively well made (from what we have here), I honestly don’t know how anyone could find too many faults with it.
Jess Taylor, who are you and do you have time to draw, like, a dozen comics a month? Taylor is Brecht Evens and Bill Sienkiewicz and Shag and Christian Ward and, outside of one page where things don’t flow so well panel-to-panel, the art here is outstanding.
Jadzia Axelrod, I googled you. You've been “a circus performer, a puppeteer, a graphic designer, a sculptor, a costume designer, a podcaster and quite a few other things,” but I have a feeling comics might just work out for you. They should if there’s any justice in the world.
Some of the ads for a couple of other YA books at the rear look a little pedestrian, but between this, Nubia and Whistle (a new skateboarding Gotham teen hero who fights crime with her dog!), I’m telling you all, the kids are gonna be alright.
Hands down the surprise of the year, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is an absolute must get.
GUARDIAN OF FUKUSHIMA (Tokyopop) (A)
Manga lovers may recall Ichi-F, a manga memoir by Kazuto Tatsuta who worked at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant after the awful events of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. I had a LOT of problems with Ichi-F, chief among them was how much of a company man Tastuta comes across as, a real Yes Man type, although the level of detail about the day-to-day routine of the workers is exhaustive.
If you were also left frustrated by Ichi-F, or just want to learn more about the Fukushima disaster, enter Guardian of Fukushima by French creators Fabien Grolleau and Ewen Blaine. Guardian of Fukushima really puts a human face on the subsequent events following the tsunami in the form of the true life tale of Naoto Matsumura. Matsumura, a farmer and lifelong Fukushima resident refused to leave his home after the disaster and instead dedicated his life to helping the innumerable pets and livestock left behind. The biography at the rear of the comic points out that not only is Matsumura doing this illegally, he’s doing so whilst soaking in over 16 times the normal level of radiation people absorb every single day. He’s still at it, by the way…
Tokyopop gives us the opening few pages of Guardian of Fukushima, depicting the life of Matsumura and his extended family from the day before the disaster to the day of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami itself. Fabien Grolleau’s art is cartoony and colourful, clearly manga-inspired. His characters are emotive, his storytelling clear. For those unfamiliar with the details of March 11, 2011, Guardian of Fukushima FCBD also presents a timeline of events and relevant statistical data, such as the wind speed of the tsunami topping 700kms per hour and the 19,747 lives tragically lost.
Even with this short snippet, we can see Guardian of Fukushima is going to be emotive stuff, the other side of the comics coin that is Ichi-F. Informative and entertaining, Guardian of Fukushima looks promising; how could the story of a man stranding himself inside a nuclear zone to save as many animals as he can not be? It also stands out as the only slice of non-fiction comics on offer this Free Comic Book Day which also makes it pretty unique.
HOLLOW (Boom! ) (A)
Been a while since Washington Irving’s classic, 19th century slice of children’s Gothic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, had an update, especially one as bright and bubbly as Hollow.
Coming to us from the co-writing team of Shannon Watters (Lumberjanes) and Branden Boyer-White, illustrator Berenice Nelle and colourist Kaitlin Musto, Hollow may be set in modern times but cleverly threads its way all the way back to Irving’s tale.
Not much has changed in Sleepy Hollow over the centuries, the town residents remain fascinated by the supernatural and superstitious, particularly the tale of The Headless Horseman. The high school football team is named after that ghostly figure and modern-day sightings are treated with gleeful fascination.
Halloween has, of course, come early in Sleepy Hollow and into the autumnal festivities comes young Isabel “Izzy” Crane; bookish and shy. Izzy’s keen to settle in, but readers of Irving’s classic may note that her surname does not make it easy for her, especially in the eyes of the popular Victoria Van Tassel, who is well aware of the history linking the Crane and Van Tassel names. It’s a pity, as Izzy’s quickly smitten and here lies the probable engine of Watters and Boyer-White’s story going forth, punctuated by visitations from the terrible Headless Horseman.
Hollow is fun and colourful stuff, a solid cast fleshed out early and some appealingly slick character art (aided mightily by Musto’s colors which cover up some skimping on backgrounds by Nelle). There’s an Archie and Scooby-Doo vibe about this whole caper, with its gang of vastly different characters and spooky mystery at the core. Good stuff.
THE INCAL UNIVERSE (Humanoids) (M)
Well, it was only a matter of time before Humanoids expanded the line of comics based on characters and events from the classic The Incal. In case you were unaware, none other than Taiki Waititi is stepping into the director’s chair to adapt this hugely influential comic to film. It’s something I never thought I’d ever see happen and it’s undoubtedly got many fans curious.
Before we get to the good here, I’d like to address the inexcusable downplaying of the role of Moebius to this comic, to the life of the writer Alejandro Jodorowsky in not just the announcement of the film (“Jodorowsky’s The Incal coming to film from Taikia Waititi!”is the kind of headlines that made the rounds) but also here in this very comic based on the visuals of one of the greatest artists comics ever had.
Interestingly, this expansion of Incal comics is largely spear-headed by creators working in the American mainstream. To see Mark Waid’s name on an Incal title is a supremely weird thing, but at least Waid, and Humanoids as a whole appears to be pivoting away from that really ill-advised H1 superhero effort from a couple of years back.
Waid, who has probably written more short comics recapping large events than I’ve had hot dinners, turns in a typically polished effort, condensing the original Incal epic into 10 pages for new readers. He’s assisted greatly here by Stephane Roux, whose Moebius by way of Kevin Nowlan artwork is a real treat.
The excellent art continues next in a preview of The Psychoverse by Yanick Paquette from a script by Mark Russell. We reacquaint ourselves with The Metabaron, a pivotal and enduring character in this universe of comics, and meet a group of Psycho-Nuns whose actions may prevent the events that unfolded in The Incal from happening. It’s again solid stuff - Paquette turns in a particular two-page spread that’s a highlight of the comic as a whole.
Rounding us out is a preview of Dying Star by writer Dan Watters and, a personal fave, artist Jon Davis-Hunt (whose work we are lucky enough to see in the pages of Valiant’s FCBD book reviewed below). A few scant pages of Dying Star are included here, about the space pirate Commander Kaimann, whose ship Flying Star is rechristened the titular Dying Star, and “a nun in a far-future convent” who worships decay and awaits “her own imminent destruction.” The set-up here is that Kaimann and the nun, named Aurora, become mystically connected across time and space. This looks awesome, a kind of deeply weird, metaphysical Space Captain Harlock with typically top shelf art by Davis-Hunt who I’m so pleased is keeping very busy. I enjoyed this a great deal, what there is of it and am disappointed this title will arrive in 2023.
Tremendous artwork throughout, intriguing stuff all round. Humanoids may be looking to cash in on The Incal but, man, is the publisher doing it in style.
JONNA AND THE UNPOSSIBLE MONSTERS (Oni) (A)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
One of the true joys of FCBD 2021 was discovering Jonna and The Unpossible Monsters by Chris and Laura Samnee in Oni’s multi-series sampler.
This year, Oni jettisons any extra material and devotes their entire offering to the work of The Samnees and colourist Matthew Wilson, giving newcomers even more pages to stare goggle-eyed at in the form of the first full issue for FREE. I’m not sure what choice Oni had – there’s not much else in any publisher’s arsenal that can compete with Jonna, certainly on an artistic level.
Chris Samnee is one of mainstream comics’ true gems - an outstanding artist of incredible range. Jonna represents, to my knowledge, one his first forays into creator-owned work and, co-written by his wife Laura, it’s a knockout. Dedicated to, and inspired by, their three daughters, Jonna and The Unpossible Monsters is a clear labour of love for the Samnees. Particularly so for Chris who just pours himself into these pages and gives readers a gorgeous, stunningly-detailed first issue with big heart and bigger moments: a double-page splash page that could be framed, incredibly choreographed action, perfect character design and body language as well as expansive world-building. I have no idea how well this thing sells, but honestly you’d be hard pressed to find a better drawn comic issue-to-issue and it deserves to sell by the metric tonne-load.
If it endures, Jonna may in fact prove to be the best all ages book since Jeff Smith’s Bone (a claim backed up on the back cover of this issue by former Comics Journal editor RJ Casey). The only possible hindrance to that boast is The Samnees’ as yet unproven long-term plotting record. Truthfully, the first complete volume does have its flat spots story-wise, but all of which are more than made up by the level of craftsmanship brought to every panel by its artist.
Rainbow’s and Jonna are sisters. Jonna’s the younger and the wilder of the two, incredibly strong and fast, treating the forest where they live like her own personal jungle gym. One morning, Rainbow’s searching for Jonna and is witness to her hyperactive sister punching a monster that has shown up in their world. A year later, Jonna’s still missing following this monster fight and Rainbow’s searching everywhere in a world now filled with these huge, “unpossible” creatures. It’s such a simple little first issue, introducing its lead characters and the world in which they live, but the Samnees execute it to perfection. Every page is exquisitely composed and drawn and the tease at its conclusion should have many adding the (excellently designed and formatted) collected editions to their shelves. This reminds me that I myself don’t have volume two yet. Gotta fix that.
Hopefully sure to bring in a legion of new fans, ensure you pick up Jonna and The Unpossible Monsters this FCBD if you’ve not read it yet. It’s an example of perhaps the perfect first issue and we’re spoiled to be getting this for free.
KAIJU NO. 8 /SAKAMOTO DAYS (Viz) (T)
Fun stuff in this Viz double-feature freebie highlighting two of the more recent titles from the manga publisher.
Kaiju No.8, written and drawn by Naoya Matsumoto, features a pair of Kaiju attack clean-up workers keen to stop cleaning and start fighting the monsters by joining the Japanese Defense Force. However, the tests are rigorous and you only get so many tries. At 32 years of age, Kafka’s about to make his final attempt. However, there’s one huge problem - he has the habit of turning into a monster himself.
Kaiju No.8 is bouncy stuff, with lively characters and exactly the kind of cartooning you’d expect from a manga title about a guy who constantly turns into a monster and his partner, desperate to keep the whole thing hidden. The dynamic between Kafka and Ichikawa is a fun one and while so much detail is sacrificed in Mastsumoto’s art (an increasing trend in shonen manga) the concept is a great one and the bigger moments are given the artistic attention they deserve.
Sakamoto Days is similarly off-the-wall even though it’s way more grounded in concept. Taro Sakamoto is a retired hitman who lives out his days running a convenience store and being a doting dad to his daughter Hana. The hijinks come in the form of his training as an assassin which kicks in at random moments. Here, we find Sakamoto and a youngster he employs (who appears to be psychic?) at the mall trying desperately to get the last very special backpack in stock for Hana to take to school. Other parents are also after this backpack, and Sakamoto is forced to go to ridiculous lengths to ensure he’s the one who brings it home. Writer-artist Yuta Suzuki’s art is even more bare bones than Matsumoto’s, but it’s still strong enough to convey the story well, especially the multiple visual gags that play out.
We really seem to be well into a period where mainstream manga generally (let me stress that - GENERALLY) becomes less about artistic craft than it is about the strength of concept, particularly for a potential shift to anime. It might also have something to do with how little the target audience in Japan generally lingers over panels and pages when reading. If true, that’s a shame, but despite not being the best-drawn manga on the shelf, both Kaiju No.8 and Sakamoto Days are good fun and easy to follow - two very different kinds of sitcom in a way. Both also have the potential for increasing stakes and an eventual shift toward the dramatic - Sakamoto Days’ synopsis even hints that the former hitman’s past is coming to catch up with him. Good stuff from Viz.
LEAGUE OF SUPERPETS (DC) (NR)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Just ahead of the forthcoming League of Superpets animated movie comes this timely preview of the tie-in graphic novel, The Great Mxy-Up. Superman’s dog, Krypto, Batman’s dog, Ace and a bunch of other hero pets I won’t bother listing are feeling somewhat anxious - they love their superhero “best friends,” but their concerns about just how deep and reciprocal these relationships are spike significantly when they find themselves shut out of a Justice League tema meeting and alienated from a sudden emergency. Heath Corson writes and Bobby Timony draws this one and I can see it clicking well for the youngsters amongst us - my son is going to rip through this, I’m sure.
Timony has a great grasp of his menagerie of characters and if you think drawing animals is easy, you’re dead wrong: the late, great Steve Dillon could draw anything except a convincing looking dog, for instance. Kyrpto, Ace and co pop off the pages perfectly and not just when they are in action - their facial expressions and body language are lively throughout.
A short preview of another DC kids graphic novel, Primer, is included. There’s not a lot to go by - Primer is “DC’s most colourful hero” and she’s apparently paint-powered. Jennifer Muro, Thomas Krajewski and Gretel Lusky are the team here and this is all fine with me - a strong, empowered new female superhero for kids is never a bad idea, especially when it appears to be executed as professionally as this. It’ll be interesting to see if Primer catches on.
Numerous attractive promotional material for various other DC Kids books is sprinkled throughout (the Green Arrow: Stranded ad is particularly striking) and I really like this as a package. A synopsis of Primer so that the included scene feels a little less “cold” would’ve been a good idea but this is overall a good little comic for the young ones in your life.
MARVEL VOICES (Marvel) (T)
Kicking off with a great little brand new Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur story, “Time Is On Your Side” by Nadia Shammus and Luciano Vecchio, Marvel Voices is jam-packed with creators and characters as diverse and interesting as the Marvel Universe itself.
Stitched together from numerous Marvel Voices anthologies, readers are treated to a history of Native American characters, multiple trips to various countries and the Marvel characters that live within them, a rousing recap of LGBTQ+ superheroes in the MU and, perhaps my personal favourite, a Miles Morales story where writer John Ridley cleverly reworks frequently used comics adjectives like “strange” and “different” by literally scrubbing them out on the page and placing far more positive and empowering words in their place as artist Oliver Coipel runs a montage of Miles in action both in and out of costume. It’s that kind of positivity that runs right through this comic - “difference” is spun into “uniqueness” throughout.
All the voices collected here (both characters and creators) are proud and the messaging is celebratory. This comic does not pander or preach or feel cynical in any way, it’s authentic, well crafted and all hangs together remarkably well as a single package for something designed to showcase multiple titles. There’s some cracking art too, in case that bears repeating.
Readers, particularly younger ones, do deserve to see reflections of themselves and their cultures on the pages of comics that they read - this is really important. Marvel has from the start been about showcasing difference through the lens of its superheroes. It’s terrific to see Marvel (and DC as well) really embracing what that means, and thoughtfully at that. Effervescent, forward-thinking and really interesting superheroics on offer here.
MAX MEOW: CAT ON THE STREET (RH Graphic) (A)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Given super-powers by an alien meatball (not a typo), reporter Max Meow also fights crime as The Cat Crusader alongside partner Mindy, a scientist and adventurer also known as Science Kitty.
Lots of fun to be had in John Gallagher’s Max Meow: Cat on the Street with Gallagher and a gang of assistants taking readers through multiple Max Meow adventures. Following a good little introductory strip that opens up Max Meow’s world to readers and provides a perfect recapping of events and characters, The Cat Crusader and Science Kitty take on cake-thieving The Penguin Perps and, in a preview of a forthcoming adventure, Taco Time Machine, face the giant monster known as Trash Panda.
Right at the rear of this is a short guide to making comics that’s a great way to introduce kids to the actual process and craft of this artform we all love so much and is recommended for this alone.
While not a standout title, lovers of fuzzy things with super-powers having offbeat adventures should get a kick out of Max Meow: Cat on the Street.
NEVERLANDERS (Razorbill/Penguin) (T)
Literally the other day, I was digging through some boxes of old stuff my dad brought over and amongst them were several copies of an old Australian comic from the ‘90s that shall remain nameless. They were awful. Just terrible. I appreciate anyone who actually puts in the work and gets things done, but it is honestly incredible how far comics produced by Australians have come. The speed of the catch-up is honestly pretty incredible.
That useless preamble brings me to Neverlanders by the all-Australian team of Tom Taylor and Jon Sommariva, whose work here is as sharp, speedy and compulsive as anything comparable for the audience and comes to us from one of the world’s biggest publishers of words, Penguin.
Really the only complaint I have here is a quibble - this is an excerpt from the larger work and, as such, the opening moment is a little rough. Aside from that, this is as slick as anything Taylor might pen for DC or Marvel. Sommariva echoes, in the best way, the effervescent cartooning of a vintage Humberto Ramos or Eiichiro Oda - big eyes, hands, feet, smiles. This is over-the-top mainstream comics pop-expressionism in the best possible way - enthusiastic and grandiose and without any trace of irony or self-seriousness. Sommariva is a terrific artist and, although I know he’s been very very busy, the fact that he’s not an even bigger name is kind of crazy.
Anyway, upon opening we are shotgunned into the world of a collective of unhomed teens who share every cent they make equally and make a home of wherever they all are together. They’ve welcomed a newbie, Paco, into the group after he saved some of the crew in an earlier scene, cropped from this particular comic.
As soon as he ingratiates himself into the gang, however, an ulterior motive surfaces - he has ties to the realm of Neverland, where “the Pan” has fallen and help is badly needed.
We’ve got a cursing, punk rock Tinkerbell, flying mobile homes, psychedelic. pink cloud-filled splash pages and a diverse cast of rough diamonds bursting off the page. This is an odd, cheeky re-working of Sir J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan but it (at least here) totally works. I’m often impressed by Taylor’s ability to just keep things revving without red-lining his stories. He works really hard to make things look this easy. He also understands that, in mainstream comics particularly, a large portion of the writer’s job is to fill up the creative tank of his artists and then get the hell out of their way.
In short: I imagine this will whet the appetite of many, many a reader for the forthcoming graphic novel.
NOTTINGHAM (Mad Cave) (M)
The elevator pitch of “What if The Sheriff of Nottingham was a good guy and Robin Hood and The Merry Men were bad guys?” is one that would have me desperately punching the button for the next possible floor, but here we are.
David Hazan and Andrea Mutti are the team behind this, delivering a solidly constructed one-shot in which our good Sheriff must solve the grisly, Hood-inspired murders of a wealthy family on Christmas Eve. As he digs deeper, personal ties to one of the killers are discovered and The Sheriff is left with only a couple of different choices, neither of them good.
Mutti’s work here is not as strong as in Bunny Mask Tales, reviewed above, but he’s quite at home in the England of 1192. I’m not a fan of his own colouring here (it’s a pretty sickly palette), but the pages are consistently clear and easy to read.
In a world with increasing inequality of wealth and at a time here where the minimum wage needs a desperate increase, I remain at odds with painting the Merry Men as a bunch of ruthless terrorists while The Sheriff gets to play detective, but this comic was originally scheduled for five issues and it has gone well beyond that, to at least nine I believe. So, I’m hopeful that Hazan and Mutti have been able to flesh this concept with some more shades of grey. There aren’t a lot of mature reader books on offer this year, so if you’re intrigued, do give this a look despite this less than resounding endorsement.
There’s a few pages of a comic called A Legacy of Violence included at the rear. Also featuring art by Mutti (busy guy), this one’s set in Atlanta in 1985 and finds a young doctor treating a new patient, a man who's been tortured by a skull-masked psychopath. Not much to see here in either page count or quality of content.
PRIMOS (AWA) (T)
Lesson time with grandpa Cam. Do you know what a grawlix is, young’un? It’s the time-honoured comics tradition of replacing curse words with a string of symbols such as: @#$%&.
The bad: armed with an incredibly hackneyed premise and set-up (young boy discovers his genetic links to magical powers and must harness said powers and join with other superheroes to overcome an existential threat who just so happens to be his uncle), Primos feels pretty clumsy. It’s loaded with exposition,clunky dialogue, direct references to Marvel and has the kind of cut-and-paste plot that would end up in the rejection list of any commissioning editor if its writer did not have some Hollywood clout. And, yes, there’s all that annoying grawlix.
I do wish this were better and maybe Primos, a four-issue series, does improve as it goes on. If you wish to see further diversity in your comics (and you should), pick this up and give it a shot. I understand Madrigal retreading the wheel rather than reinventing it, and again - I respect the intent, but a little more innovation would have gone a long way.
POKEMON: JOURNEYS (Viz) (A)
AVAILABLE AS PART OF THE ALL STAR KIDS PACK
Every Free Comic Book Day there’s a Pokemon comic and every year, I feel like I really don’t have the right to critique it in any way.
That’s why I am here though, so here we go - in 2022 we are given two slices of Pokemon; the first from a new ongoing manga titled, Journeys (tying into a Netflix show) and the second from Pokemon Adventures X-Y.
Journeys, by Machito Gomi and three other writers seems pretty much a sequence of events without too much context. It does, however, introduce readers to Ash and Pikachu’s new companion, Goh, includes a pretty cool spread of some underwater action and dumps our protagonists in a strange land where (presumably) new Pokemon await to collect.
Pokemon Adventures X-Y focuses on X, a former star Pokemon trainer turned recluse, and Y, his best friend who does all she can to drag X from his room. There’s a panel of Y swooping through the air in a colourful glider suit that looks bang out of a Tezuka manga - a great shot amongst some otherwise decent work by Satoshi Yamamoto. The intrigue here is why exactly X hung up his training boots and what exactly it will take to get him back out there training once more. According to a little synopsis included, there’s an attack on the way…
Ultimately, this is Pokemon. You will know if you want it or not.
RED SONJA (Dynamite) (T+)
Know also, O Reader, that in the bygone age of the nineteen hundred and seventies, the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonja hit comic racks everywhere and, Lo, did none other draw a chainmail bikini quite like the late, great Frank Thorne.
Free Frank Thorne is pretty much all I need to write here, really, but not only is this free Frank Thorne, it’s also written by Bruce Jones. Jones always could turn in a cracking short little shocker and the opening of two Sonja tales Dynamite gives us here is absolutely bonkers.
“Eyes of The Gorgon” first appeared in the pages of Marvel Feature #4 in 1976 and sees our female vagabond sword-swinger arrive in a creepy, seemingly deserted little town. Aching for a beer (swoon), Sonja hits the tavern only to find it empty, save for a man seemingly turned to stone. Turns out, the townsfolk are being regularly visited by a gorgon, who is turning every resident into a statue, one by one.
The flame-haired, statuesque Sonja is quickly thought to be a witch, triggering a chain of events and a potboiler of a plot with Jones turning his stove all the way up to eleven. This is Red Sonja by way of EC comics, right down to the ironic ending. I’ll say no more here other than, man, that Jones can write when he wants to and what a loss Thorne’s passing in 2021 was. Goddamn, this is good.
We then are transported into the modern era of Red Sonja comics via “Silent Running” by Cullen Bunn and Jonathan Lau. It’s apparently from Red Sonja #1973, which doesn’t sound quite right to me….Anyway, as the title suggests, this is a silent story - a great choice by editorial to juxtapose the panel and dialogue heavy comics of the early Bronze Age of comics with the far more open and flowing work of the modern era. I clearly adored Jones and Thorne’s tale, but man, Bunn and Lau’s work hums along extra fast in comparison as Sonja, ever alone, battles all manner of enemy across all manner of landscape, all without dialogue or caption. It’s sweeping and epic and also manages to squeak in a terrific closing character moment - a tough ask for a story of only seven pages.
I suspect Dynamite’s Red Sonja offering might get slept on so don’t miss out - it’s a great little package. A highlight, no less, of this year’s material. No, seriously.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (IDW) (A)
Up first in 2022’s Sonic offering from IDW is the short, “Deep Trouble” by writer Ian Flynn and artist Bracardi Curry. It’s textbook Sonic stuff, with Sonic and Tails visiting Knuckles on an island he’s exploring. Dr Eggman of course ruins the friends’ escapades, bursting onto the scene in a huge mining craft with which he’s been drilling for rare minerals. Colourful fiisticuffs ensue.
Rounding things out is “Prelude to Disaster” a thorough recapping of recent Sonic happenings leading to the forthcoming Sonic #50 which kicks off a brand new storyline. David Mariotte is the brave soul writing this, cramming in everything from metallic viruses, chaos emeralds and a kind of Infinity Gauntlet called The Tricore. Who knew there was so much happening in the world of Sonic? Not me, that's for sure. Stitched together from panels of multiple comics by different artists, this is still a fairly cohesive little strip. It’s pretty caption dense - unsurprising with the amount of information Mairotte is covering - but you’ll be left with no doubt as to what’s been happening and where things are going in the world of this little blue hedgehog.
SPIDER-MAN / VENOM (Marvel) (T)
Spidey and Venom return again for free this year with hints of big doings a-happening in 2022.
The Spider-Man short by writer Zeb Wells and artists, the legendary John Romita Jr along with inker Scott Hanna (there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while), kick us off with “Lost in the Mail,” in which Spidey battles a mailbox turned sentient monster. It’s wacky stuff, but with a payoff that longtime Marvel readers should get a kick out of as we head into Dark Web, presumably the Spidey event of the year.
It’s always a treat to see Romita Jr drawing Spider-Man, his family’s history with the character going back almost as long as Spider-Man comics have been printed and his work is as evergreen as always.
Over in Venom, Stefano Raffaele presents passable facsimile art to that of Bryan Hitch, the original artist on this latest volume of the title, and co-writers Ram V and Al Ewing further smash bits of status quo left lying around by the outgoing previous writer, Donny Cates. This ain’t new reader friendly at all, but packed with all manner of symbiotes, a symbiote hand of glory and a discussion on the differences between black and white magic, it’s intriguing. I’m not so sure how much further you really want to push this concept before it totally breaks - this version of Venom really feels like everyone trying to go all Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing re-defining “The Anatomy Lesson” - but hey, you can’t argue that things are static or stagnant in symbiote land.
An editorial at the rear of the comic fills in some blanks for those maybe scratching their heads and then there’s three pages from upcoming title All-Out Avengers by Derek Landy and Greg Land in which Captain America, She-Hulk and Thor punch several things including Ulik the troll. *shrugs*
STRANGER THINGS/RESIDENT ALIEN (Dark Horse) (T)
You’ve got to hand it to artist Pius Bak, who might not be the flashiest artist you’ve ever seen but really makes an effort to nail those likenesses. I sometimes wonder what it must be like to draw a licensed comic and somehow walk the line between making the characters on the page look like the actors on the screen and still somehow make the work your own.
Annnyyyway, this is a Stranger Things comic. In it, Jonathan and Will and Eleven have gone to the drive-in to catch some old monster flicks, but Eleven is still suffering from the events of the TV show. This is perfectly fine if unremarkable stuff by Michael Moreci (back again!) and the aforementioned Bak. Much better than I recall last year’s tie-in comic being.
But hold up. Just as the Stranger Things characters are taking in a double feature, so are we readers here and there’s a Steve Parkhouse alert! The opening panel of Resident Alien short story, “The Ghost” may well be one of my favorites across all this year’s comics - it’s just so great. I’ve not read a comic drawn by him in a number of years - he appears to have shorn some of the more excessively cartoony edges from his style, but it’s still very much recognisably him.
Anyway, Resident Alien is now a TV show, which I had no idea happened and makes me very happy for the simple fact that long underrated writer Peter Hogan (who worked on everything from 2000AD to The Dreaming to Alan Moore’s Tom Strong) and the aforementioned Steve Parkhouse would have got a sizeable cheque for their efforts. Yay.
Stranded alien, Harry Vanderspeigle waits to be rescued from our planet while working as a doctor in the “supposedly sleepy” town of Patience, alongside his trusty nurse, Asta. As we all know, there’s no such thing as a sleepy town in any form of entertainment, and Harry and Asta wind up in all manner of charming strife, including murder mysteries and, as we see here, supposedly haunted houses.
Many will come for Stranger Things but I hope everyone stays for Resident Alien - it’s by far the superior comic of the pair, one of the best across the board this FCBD, in fact. It’s a savvy move by Dark Horse to pair the two properties and devote the back cover entirely to Resident Alien, what it is and how to read it. I myself did not know that there’s an omnibus edition out, collecting the first three volumes and, damn it, now I am going to have to get it….
STREET FIGHTER: MASTERS #1 (Udon) (T)
Ahhh, my annual taste of Udon’s Street Fighter comics. The 2022 FCBD offering, featuring the character of Blanka in a stand-alone story, is easily the best single issue of the franchise that I’ve read over the years. No knowledge of the cast, or ongoing plotlines, or feuds is required this year as writer Matt Moylan (how does one human write so many Street Fighter comics?) serves up a totally silent one shot that squeezes in some nice character moments and a heaping of action for artist Genzoman.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (IDW) (T)
Quite the curio IDW and the Turtles team give us this year in the form of a prelude to the forthcoming Turtles epic, The Armageddon Game.
Returning long-time scribe Tom Waltz and current scribe/artist Sophie Campbell throw readers in the deep end with their opening short - a remix of the first ever Turtles comic by Eastman and Laird that pays near panel to panel homage to the original story but with new narration by a mysterious character and turtles wearing flak jackets and white masks. It’s deliberately attempting to throw longtime readers a curveball and they should dig this offering - particularly its intriguing climactic reveal. The art is not Campbell’s best, but that’s a purposeful choice given the homaging at work. I actually think the overall feel would be improved by stripping away the colour and adding tones similar to the original story, but perhaps I’m just weird like that.
Where things get pretty fun with TMNT FCBD 2022 is with the inclusion of Eastman and Laird’s original Turtles story at the rear. It’s not only great to revisit, but opens up a few reading opportunities - you can flip back and forth between Waltz/Campbell and Eastman/Laird and compare page by page or panel by panel, for instance. This is a fun and unique little Turtles presentation, showcasing the new and the old and cleverly acknowledging the debt that the franchise owes to its two originators. Fans should get a real kick out of this.
TRESE: LAST SEEN AFTER MIDNIGHT (Ablaze) (M)
Always nice to get comics from places you’ve never seen them from before. Such is the case with Trese, a comic from the Philippines brought to English by publishers, Ablaze, and to Netflix in the form of an anime series.
Alexandra Trese runs a bar called The Diabolical, patronised by all manner of supernatural creatures. Knee-deep in the mythological beasts of her homeland, Trese also acts as something of a detective, solving crimes too spooky for the police to handle. Such is the case in this preview comic, in which a murder involving elemental creatures unfolds.
Overall this is a slightly clumsy, not expertly created comic. The art is average and it reads like a forgotten black and white self-published effort from the ‘80s. It oozes potential, however, and you can easily see why an outfit like Netflix, keen to expand its international reach, might be keen to exploit it for views. But I have to say, I’m actually more curious to see the anime than to read any more of this comic. I’m not sure that’s the effect Ablaze and the creators are after, but so it goes.
Trese: Last Seen After Midnight is an undeniable curiosity given its origins and its move into both our comics market and another medium. Treated as exactly that, it is worth your time despite being at the lower end of reading experiences you’ll likely have this FCBD.
VALIANT 2022 (Valiant) (T)
I maintain that five features is just way too much for one single FCBD comic, particularly when what’s included is not tailored to fit. Yet Valiant continues with their stuff-it-to-the-brim mentality for Free Comic Book Day yet again so let’s unpack it all, eh?
First up, we get a preview of the new Bloodshot creative team of writer Deniz Camp and artist Jon Davis-Hunt with the short, “Instead.” I dig Davis-Hunt’s work a lot and am still not sure why he’s not on some marquee superhero book. Not that his efforts here are unappreciated - far from it, we’ve got pages jam-packed with detail and multiple panels of up to thirteen (!).
Davis-Hunt is the anti-widescreen comics artist, the kind of illustrator who eschews big, wide three-panel pages in favour of crisp, tightly-edited close-ups and mid-shots. This is not to say he can’t handle the big moments - far from it. Bloodshot’s fighting some cyborg super-soldier here, a kind of nightmare Captain America, and Davis-Hunt’s shot choices on these busy pages are great. The whole thing feels epic but intimate in a weird way. Deniz Camp’s script is strong, presenting Bloodshot with a kind of mirror-image of himself, a clunky, lower-grade man of the military industrial complex. I liked this quite a bit.
Armorclads by writers JJ O’ Connor and Brain Buccellato and artists Manuel Garcia and Raul Fernandez is up next. There’s not a lot to go by here, but this is seemingly about troubled teens being forced to suit up in extravagant armour to mine a substance called “The Pure” on an alien world, however there’s something out in the jungles waiting…I don’t know. More space would have helped here, I think, and there’s just been SO MUCH armour in Valiant comics…
And, yep, Valiant’s main armoured hero, X-O Manowar is featured on the page turn in the form of a two-page ad trumpeting the arrival of the great Becky Cloonan and her co-writer Michael Conrad. Pete Woods draws the striking image of the titular character but I was under the impression that Liam Sharpe was drawing the book. There’s no artist mentioned here, so I guess we will see this November when the new series launches.
Archer & Armstrong by writer Steve Foxe and artist Marcio Fiorito is next. Comics’ wackiest buddy act returns with Armstrong stripped of his immortality and the duo tracking down some kind of Lovecraftian cult in a furniture store not unlike Ikea. This is perfectly fine.
Another interview with writer Cullen Bunn is next (see Bloodborne above for more of that) for his forthcoming Book of Shadows, which is some kind of Shadowman-forms-a-team thing. Pretty pointless, honestly, and further reinforces my own annoying (sorry) position that less is so often more in FCBD books unless you get the balance just right (see Clementine above or even Marvel Voices which crams just so much in but somehow does it fairly organically).
Exhibit B here of this prosecutor’s case is the mere four pages of a new Ninjak title we are provided with for a series debuting in, wait for it….February 2023. Jeff Parker and Mike Norton are the solid creators working on that, assuming you have a memory good enough to remember this next year. (There’s also another guy in armour here, for those playing a drinking game at home). Sigh.
This really should have just been more Bloodshot (which is accceee), something from one other book and then some promos for this “Year of Valiant.” But, as with every FCBD, Valiant gonna Valiant and throw everything at the wall in the hopes that something, anything, sticks, at the expense of all these titles wearing their logo being hurtled at the wall for attention on a day when yours is going to get seriously pushed for space because you already have SO MUCH AMAZING CHOICE. They need a new PR person, I swear…I’m open, team, I want to love your books, I go back to the Shooter/Lapham/Layton/Windsor-Smith/Hall days (I own Unity #0!), I work in Comms and I’m tired of being mean to your FCBD books every year.
Anyway, Bloodshot - yay!
WANDANCE / BLACKGUARD (Kodansha) (Older Teen - 16+)
Two new slices of manga from Kodansha and a new rating I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before on an FCBD title - Older Teen 16+. I wouldn’t sweat that rating much if you’re a parent, this is absolutely harmless stuff.
Wandance focuses on a shiftless teenage boy named Kaboku, who is desperate to not stand out and simply “be normal.” He’s experienced some sort of bad experience with dance in the past and has gone very much into his shell. That is until he sees a newcomer to his school, a striking blonde girl, take a leaflet for the school’s dance club. Written and drawn by a creator named Coffee, Wandance would seem to very much slip comfortably into manga such as Blue Period (about an artist) and the *amazing* Boys Right The Riot (about a fashion designer) - comics featuring young, outsider protagonists going against the expectations of traditional Japanese culture.
The Dance Club leaflet featured in Wandance mentions that there are “now over 6,000,000 street dancers around the country.” I spent a lot of time in Namba, Osaka, and was always struck by the local dancers. None ever had a bowl or a hat out for coins - they weren’t buskers, they were expressing themselves and their art in public spaces for the pure enjoyment of it. It’s this world that Wandance wants to explore, where the creation and expression of the artist means more than anyone’s expectations or pressures - it’s for the act of creation and the need to express oneself. Wandance is off to a promising start and while it may seem a little niche, the aforementioned size of the contemporary dance subculture in Japan should make us all rethink that.
Blackguard by Ryo Hanada is up next - a post-apocalyptic comic about a virus that transforms humans into monsters called shojo. What remains of humanity resides in “ aerial cities” protected by squadrons of guards. There is however, one guard who patrols alone - known as the Blackguard, he’s saved whole units of guards by himself. This is his story.
Hanada’s work is fairly simple but dynamic - there’s some dramatic panels of Blackguard zip-lining across the skyline of ruined buildings - and although readers aren’t given too much to chew on here, this is off to an intriguing start for manga fans.
A solid presentation from Kodansha this year (I really like the new logo!) that casts a net over a potentially wide audience. From the grounded teen drama of Wandance to the expansive, monster-filled Blackguard, I’d wager there’s something here for most readers.
And there you have it. One of the most detailed reviews of this years FCBD selection.
As also a massive thank you to Cameron for putting this all together.
Each year he warms up and trains like a heavy weight boxer going into his prime fight and each year it's a TKO!
Join us in thanking Cameron for his massive efforts and we hope you find these reviews as helpful as we have in guiding you to the picks you'll want to make on the day!
The All Star Team
And there you have it. One of the most detailed reviews of this years FCBD selection.