Did anyone else catch the excellent NEW YORK TIMES article on graphic novels in the magazine section this past Sunday? If not, you can find it on-line here (once you've registered for a free membership, of course). And make sure to check out the Multimedia portion, featuring Art Spiegelman and four other authors talking about their work as examples of it are displayed before you. Ain't technology wonderful?
So, another Free Comic Book Day has come and gone, and it looks like the most successful one yet for the comics companies and readers, at least. My friend D.C. at my local comic shop More Fun Comics tells me that he didn't see a spike in sales that day, and most of the traffic came from regular customers. Ironically enough, one of those customers was waiting for him when he came to open up, and when D.C. asked if he was there to clear out some of the $150 worth of comics in folder, the guy said, "No, man, I'm here for the free comics!" Seems the guy was also under the impression that it was one free comic per customer, so he brought his wife and his kids so that he could get more than one. And I thought I was cheap... From what I gather, however, what D.C. told me about their lack of a sales spike on Free Comic Book Day tends to be the case with other small comic shops across the country, and that it's only the big name chains that get the increased sales. But if you're a comic shop owner and have some evidence to dispute this impression, please do e-mail me here at the column and tell me what your experience has been.
I say it was a success for the readers because there have never been so many various free comics offered as there were this year and just because your own shop may not have ordered them all doesn't make that any less true. (Yes, folks, do bear in mind that, while these books are free for me and thee, the shop owners themselves still have to pay for them, which is why you didn't see all there was to be had. Don't feel bad, though neither did I!) A look at the official site reveals over than thirty different titles from companies such as About Comics, Adhouse Books, Alternative Comics, Arcana Studio, Astonish Comics, Avatar Press, Baboon Books, Del Rey, Dork Storm, Forcewerks, Highwater Books, Jetpack Press, Keenspot Entertainment (who put out three titles alone), NBM Publishing, and Renaissance Press. And that's just some of the "Silver" sponsors. Obviously, given the startling amount of smaller press comics available this time out, the companies have realized that this event is one of the best chance they have to get their wares out there to a larger audience (provided the local shops are willing to order the free comics, naturally). The Big Two take it more as a matter of course, in my opinion, judging from their offerings DC gave us TEEN TITANS GO! #1, which I didn't enjoy much when I had to pay for it, and Marvel gave us MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #1 in an obvious move to promote the latest movie (which hardly needs the promotion, really). But these smaller presses went out of their way to show off their stuff, and it's them (or at least the ones I have copies from) that I want to concentrate on. Here, then, are my mini-reviews of a smattering of this year's Free Comic Book Day offerings:
WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE SCROOGE (Gemstone Publishing): It's easy to forget that many of us didn't start out reading comics featuring Batman and Spider-Man but instead started out with Gold Key offerings such as SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON and UNCLE SCROOGE. True, they were usually reprints of titles first published in the 60's, but Gemstone's offering, featuring a flip cover story with Mickey Mouse, reminds us why these held our attention to begin with. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: Carl Banks was a genius. This is a kid's comic, but written on a level that adults can easily enjoy it, and that's a trait of all of Banks' work. That becomes clear when you compare the Uncle Scrooge story "The Second Richest Duck," written and drawn by Banks, with the Mickey Mouse story "The Riddle of the Red Hat," drawn by Banks but written by someone else. The Mickey story doesn't quite have the same sense of fun, and it's surprisingly violent Minnie even gets a gun held to her head! Good thing Wertham never saw that! But the Scrooge story is pure popcorn, enough to make you want to go out pick up some more...which, of course, is the whole point. GRADE: B+
THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY WEEN, BOY GENIUS: SECRET CRISIS ORIGIN FILES (Oni Press): I
STAR WARS: CLONE WARS ADVENTURES (Dark Horse Comics/Lucas Books): Finally, Dark Horse caught a clue and decided to spare no expense on the printing of their FCBD offering I'd actively avoided picking it up before because the book they released for the first FCBD was printed on paper little better than newsprint. Not so this time. The story of two Jedi Knights repelling a droid army attack five months after the Battle of Geonosis isn't bad, either, albeit a bit predictable. The artwork by the Fillbach Brothers makes it worth the price of admission...um, I mean, worth the price of the paper it's printed on. Worth a peek! GRADE: B
IMAGE COMICS SUMMER SPECIAL (Image): A disappointment, this one. Rather than giving over an entire issue to one of their flagship titles, Image has decided to shoehorn four stories featuring Spawn, Witchblade, Invincible, and Savage Dragon into this one. The SPAWN "story" is an exposition-heavy text piece explaining Spawn's origins and activities thus far, and it's as much of a trudge as you might expect it to be. The WITCHBLADE tale, which also features Lara Croft, by contrast is over far too quickly to have any impact. The SAVAGE DRAGON story is likely to have far more impact with those who follow the series already than it is to pull in new readers. Only the INVINCIBLE story has the necessary appeal and narrative tightness to make a new reader want to check out the regular series I know I'll be picking it up next time I go in. Not a complete waste of time, then. GRADE: C+
TOP SHELF TALES (Top Shelf Publications): Our friends over at Top Shelf don't produce your standard comics fare but that's hardly a surprise coming from a company that can publish such diverse titles as Craig Thompson's BLANKETS, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's FROM HELL, Scott Morse's THE BAREFOOT SERPENT, and David Yurkovich's LESS THAN HEROES. What is surprising, then, is that these good folks chose not to print samples from works such as those and instead went with a set of vignettes, most done by James Kolchalka but also featuring work by Morse, Jeffrey Brown, and Aaron Renier. Nothing against these writer/artists, but their work here is likely to strike readers unfamiliar with them as a bit amateurish. The offerings here aren't as representative of what Top Shelf is capable of as I'd have liked to see perhaps they'll bring out more of the good stuff next time around. GRADE: B-
SLAVE LABOR STORIES (Slave Labor Graphics): The bad news: there's no Jhonen Vasquez in this book, and his name has become synonymous with SLG in my head. The good news: there's tons more here, and most of it is great stuff, despite the presence of Bill and Ted (yes, that Bill and Ted) on the cover. Speaking of which, Evan Dorkin writes these most excellent dudes pretty well, so even their piece isn't bad. But the best pieces here are Christopher's GHOULY BOYS story "The Legend of the Bat," Black Olive's OUTLOOK: GRIM story "Free Commies from Hell," and Jamie Smart's howlingly funny BEAR story "Free Comic Book Hell. With A Pig." Oh, did I mention there are lots of references to FCBD itself in this book, too? GRADE: B+
ARCHIE (Archie Comic Publications): And speaking of references to the
Perhaps you were lucky enough to pick up some books produced by other companies, or perhaps you disagree with my opinions on these. Hell, I'd be surprised if you didn't. If you have any thoughts on the Free Comic Book Day offerings, the event itself, or the impact it had this time out on comic book sales, send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards!
Next week, I'll treat you (or subject you, rather) to my opinions on SPIDER-MAN 2 and why I feel it's a far more uneven movie than all those glowing reviews out there might make you think. There'll be spoilers galore, so go see it this week or be left out! You may also notice something different about this week's column I've finally decided to list the books in alphabetical order, either by title, company name, or rubric (BATMAN or X-MEN titles, for instance), rather than the pell-mell way I've done it in the past. Books for kids will still be listed first, of course, which is why your favorite canine detective heads off this week's list. Sure, it means they'll be a long list of DC titles followed by a long list of Marvel titles, but can I help it if DC has more titles that start with an A or a B than Marvel? Think of it as a bold new look for COMICSCAPE! (Yes, yes, I know, but why can't I get away with peddling the same tired old crap as "new look" when everyone else in this business does?) Here, then, are this week's listings:
For the kids, DC presents the latest adventure of SCOOBY DOO in issue #86. None of that belching or hanky-panky like in the movie, either and best of all, no Freddie Prince, Jr.!
Wonder Woman and Superboy make guest appearances in ACTION COMICS #817 as both try to help the Man of Steel. What, by boosting his sales?
As for the Bat-titles this week...A hacker's murder leads Oracle to look into a corner of the cyber world even she doesn't feel comfortable in the AOL chat rooms in BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #181; the BATMAN: THE ORDER OF BEASTS one-shot features a script and painted art by Eddie Campbell, and for only $5.95; and in
NIGHTWING #95, Dick's still getting over the events from two issues ago. Oh, aren't we all? Yawn.
Dan Jolley introduces us to a jailed cop with a talent for profiling super-villains who's about to get a second chance in BLOODHOUND #1. Damn, lots of cons and ex-cons in the DCU recently, huh?
This is not your father/older brother/maiden aunt's CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, so be warned. Issue #2 (Of 6) is out today.
There seems to be a theme running through the Dark Horse releases this week... Hmm... There's the BERSERK VOL 4 trade paperback for $13.95; there's BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL #91; there's EL ZOMBO #3 (Of 3); there's FIERCE #1 (Of 4); and there's FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND #4 (Of 6). Yeah, I thought so it's parchesi. Gotta be.
If you liked the concept cover concept in last week's DC COMICS PRESENTS: BATMAN #1, then you're sure to love DC COMICS PRESENTS: MYSTERY IN SPACE #1, featuring stories by Grant Morrison and Elliot S. Maggin based on the same cover image. If Morrison's writing one, then they won't be calling the main character "Adam Strange" for nuthin'...
There are many tales in the naked city but this ain't one of them. Instead, it's DISTRICT X #3, which continues the tradition of the buddy cop movie, mutant-style. Hmm...Eddie Murphy as Bishop, anyone?
The Penguin, the Mad Hatter and Harvey Bullock all guest-star in this week's GOTHAM CENTRAL #21, but don't worry, it'll still be good.
Ollie and Dinah rethink their relationship in this week's GREEN ARROW #40 probably because they're both read the GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW VOL 2 trade paperback ($12.95) and remember the rollicking good times they had back when they were fighting social ills together instead of demons. Nothing like knocking the crap out of racists and fat cat capitalists on a daily basis to keep two lovers happy, I always say.
Childhood friends are visited by an alien and given special powers and told they are the Guardians of Earth, to be called upon when their world needs them. 14 years later, they're finally called into action in GUARDIANS #1. Say, isn't that kind of what the military's trying to do right now with formerly discharged vets? Hmm...
Former uses of the dial Jerry Feldon and Robby Reed try to get it back from the latest owner, a serial killer, in H-E-R-O #18. I know post-comics careers can be difficult, but really...
You've been waiting for 30 days to see how Ralph Dibney and some of his closest friends would avenge his wife's death, and now IDENTITY CRISIS #2 (Of 7)...well, might reveal it. It's on sale now for $3.95.
Iron Man and Hulk are still fighting in INCREDIBLE HULK #74. This is the conclusion of a four-parter, though, so they'll be stopping soon, I think.
See, back in the days of the "old-look" COMICSCAPE, I'd feel duty-bound to follow that blurb up immediately with something about Iron Man, but now I have to follow it with IRON FIST #5, about which I've got nothing to say. Except that it exists, and it's printed on paper. Seriously, is anyone reading this series?
Oh, boy, yet another tie-in to "Avengers: Disassembled" in IRON MAN #86, which also features Tony disgraced before the United Nations and Iron Man going on a rampage against those running Stark Enterprises. I assume the two are connected?
The DCU is turning into one big graveyard this year, isn't it? Yet another character dies in JLA #101. Actually, the concept of the six-part "Pain of the Gods" storyline is that each hero has had a moment when they couldn't save a life, so it's not nearly as twee as it sounds at first. Now, if you want "twee," there's always the JLA: YEAR ONE trade paperback for $19.95.
Gail Simone takes over scripting chores with LEGION #35, as the book goes bi (weekly, that is get your minds out of the gutter) and as a group of supervillains posing as 21st-century heroes goes after the President of the United Planets. Goodness, she doesn't do things in half-measures, does she?
Namor's all pressed up against Sue again in MARVEL KNIGHTS: 4 #7 (honestly, there's got to be other hot blonde chicks out there for him to seduce), while MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN #4 features the Vulture, the Black Cat, Electro, and the Owl. Nah, that doesn't sound interesting at all.
Thought Brian Michael Bendis was too busy rebooting POWERS and disassembling Avengers to give a toss about Jessica Jones? Well, think again! PULSE #4 hits the stands today and yes, Spidey is in it! But when will Jessica get to be in one of the movies?
THE PUNISHER #9 also hits the stands today. Chaos ensues. Film at 11.
A multipart story arc begins in SHE-HULK #5 concerning The Big House, the Marvel Universe's prison for super-powered criminals, and a new female villain named Southpaw. What, does she have the ability to make right-handed people go left or something? Bet Michael Moore wants a piece of that action...
And just in case you can't wait for SPIDER-MAN 3 to see how Harry Osbourne's vendetta against Peter turns out, the SPIDER-MAN: SON OF THE GOBLIN trade paperback ($15.99) will give you a taste of what it might look like...if they don't do the Lizard next, instead. The volume collects AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #136-137 and #312, and SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #189 and #200. That sounds almost worth the cash, then!
Cooper, the so-called agent on super-powered beings, is kidnapped by a multimillionaire to help his daughter, who has powers she can't control, in TOUCH #4. There are some days when the Boys Club Hotline just won't help.
ASGARD: 90210...um, I mean THOR: SON OF ASGARD comes to a conclusion with issue #6, as the godlings come home only to find one of the dangers they've encountered on their mission has followed them back. See, most teens just get followed home by stray dogs which they then keep, but not Asgardian teens, no, sir.
If their run on BATMAN isn't doing it for you (and if it isn't, what the hell's wrong with you, anyway?), Vertigo offers up Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 BULLETS #51 (set in New Orleans! Yay!). There's also Howard Chaykin and David Tischman's BITE CLUB #4 (Of 6) with a painted cover by Frank Quitely (but, sadly, internal art by someone completely different); and BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME #1, co-plotted by Neil Gaiman and British TV writer Si Spencer, which also features a painted cover by Quitely (and, sadly, internal art by someone else). Oh, yeah, FABLES #27 features a lot of death and carnage after the events of last issue, but sadly, neither a painted cover nor internal art by Quitely. Just so you know.
The WONDER WOMAN: DOWN TO EARTH trade paperback collects issue #s195-200, just in case you didn't buy them the first time, for $14.95. Well, of course you didn't you knew they'd be releasing this collection, didn't
And finally, the mutants take on a master assassin and get ready for next issue's extravaganza (whatever it's going to be) in ULTIMATE X-MEN #49. With Brian K. Vaughan writing it, it's most likely even worth buying, too!
And just so you know, none of these comics are free. Even to me. Damn it all.
Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.