Well, this year's Free Comic Book Day (May 5th) has come and gone – and over at Acme Comics in downtown Normal, IL., owner Jim had decided to emphasize the major companies and kid-friendly titles on the freebie shelves this year. Having visited Acme during each of the previous FCBDs and seen the predominance of kids and their parents crowded into the shop, though it also meant that some of the works I wanted to see (Eddie Campbell's The Train Was Bang on Time, Fantagraphics' Unseen Peanuts) weren't part of the selection. Wound up with fourteen books, though, so let's take a look at my haul:
- Amazing Spider-Man Marvel: With Raimi's big sprawling moneymaker already smashing moneymaking records, no surprise at all to see that one of Marvel's freebies is an "all-new Spidey adventure" by Dan Slott & Phil Jimenez. The real surprise resides in the fact that Slott's one-off original story isn't a complete wank-off (he even makes a decent self-referential joke alluding to the fact that this year's FCBD came on Cinco de Mayo): a simple tale of our hero distracted on the way to his Aunt May's birthday by a carjacking. A few attempts at continuity with the main storyline don't work as well as they could (e.g., the appearance of the red-headed superheroine Jackpot is particularly puzzling), but in general this reads like the kind of engaging throwaway you might've gotten in the old days between big multi-part super-villain stories. A good way to start, though the teaser for the upcoming AS-M #544 tacked onto the back of the book was too brief to really grab me.
- Bongo Comics Free-for-All! (Bongo): Every year when I pick up the new Bongo selection, I think, "I've gotta read more of these books from the Line That Matt Groening Built." Then I forget about my resolution until Halloween when the Treehouse of Horror annual appears. This year's entry has a fine and funny Evan Dorkin-scripted opener and a few lesser pieces featuring the Futurama gang and Ralph Wiggins (the Wiggins piece is the biggest disappointment since it never really captures that character’s surreal stoopidity). Still, it's an enjoyable little freebie: I should check more of these Bongo books out this year…
- Family Guy & Hack/Slash (Devil's Due): Definitely an odd pairing: this Teen Readers two-fer provides an unfunny strung-together set of FG vignettes and the opener to what appears to be a gory horror series centered on a heroine hunting down bloody serial killers. The latter does one of the standard FCBD ploys: give the reader half of what'll be the first real issue in an attempt to hook 'em into paying full price for a comic that they've already half read. I'm a little curious about this 'un (I'm a sucker for a good matronly killer lunchlady), but since they also tell me it's gonna be a "major motion picture from Rogue Pictures," maybe I should wait for the video?
- Gumby (Wildcard Ink): I’ve enjoyed the recent Bob Burden & Rick Geary takes on Art Clokey's classic kids show clayboy, so I was looking forward to particular item. But this particular B&W issue, written by Shannon Wheeler in place of Burden – and featuring Geary among a three other artists is too slapdash to work. Liked Wheeler's parody of R. Crumb's famous stoned one-pager, though.
- Justice League of America & Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century (DC): Two of DC's individual freebie titles take the occasion of FCBD to feature titles meant to bring us to speed on their respective series. The JLA entry – scripted by Identity Crisis' Brad Meltzer with an "All-Star Cast of Artists" is even more visually jumbled than Gumby (though I liked that Gene Ha gave his Diana Prince version of Wonder Woman believably strong arm), while Meltzer's unstuck-in-time script attempts to tie together so many loose ends from DCUniverse continuity that it'll probably make sense to few beyond the fannish coterie who already read this tale when it debuted in the new JLA title. Legion works a bit better since it's primary purpose is to introduce the characters as portrayed in the Kids WB cartoon series: J.Torres throws lots of anachronistic jokes into the mix ("When was the last time you defragged?" Phantom Girl asks cyborg computer guy Braniac 5 early in the story), but forgets to provide a story beyond, "Gee, will Superboy be invited into the Legion?" (Spoiler Alert: he is!)
- Little Archie (Archie Comics): "All-New Story by Bob Bolling" the front cover tells us, and though that'll mean bupkiss to most of the kids coming into the shoppe, it is a good come-on to us elder types who remember reading Bolling's original LArchie tales as kids after we'd run out of superhero books to pore through. This entry, featuring our hero on a summer camp adventure never answers the most pressing question that the series raises (Namely: why do the camp counselors call him "Little Archie"? Isn't he just "Archie"?) but it's amusing enough in its slight way. Inker Jim Amash isn't always helpful to scripter Bolling's pencils (more than once he flattens the figures), but it gets the job done. It's certainly a lot less off-putting than the covers we’re shown in a back cover ad for the upcoming Betty & Veronica Double Digest mini-series drawn "in a dynamic new art style," that looks more decidedly creepy than dynamic.
- The Lone Ranger & Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero (Dynamite): Another two-fer book, this time devoted to a pair of tie-in titles. Of the two, only the Lone Ranger half, which appears to be devoted to the long-established western hero in his early days, is a self-sustained story; the Galactica cuts off just as our cast is discovered by a horde of hump-backed Cylons. Mebbe I'd care if I watched the Sci-Fi Channel version of this series, since a lot of the talky panel seem primarily devoted to giving series fans a chance to see if they like how Steven Segovia renders their favorite actors, but I don't so I was much more effortlessly caught up in the Ranger's simple rescue of a pretty young school marm who we'll most likely never see again.
- Love And Capes #4 (Maerkle Press): This 'un is a cheat since Acme Comics didn't have it on its FCBD shelves – but I was sent a review copy of it, presumably since I'd done a posting on the first three issues. Thomas Zahler's freebie does a good job introducing us to its appealing cast – and maintains his amusing proto-sitcom style of scripting (in this episode, our super-square hero struggles with the fact that he's not as franchise hot as the Arachnerd). For small-press publishers like Zahler, an event like Free Comic Book Day clearly reps a bigger financial gamble than it does for the Big Guns: in this case, the finished product has me hoping it works out for him.
- Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & the Hulk (Marvel): Two short, quick kid-friendly stories featuring their respective heroes in instantly forgettable fights against industrial thieves and insectoid monsters – plus a five-page Franklin Richards shortie that reads like Marvel's attempt at aping Harvey Comics. What does it say that I was much more entertained by Chris Eliopoulos & Marc Sumerak's Franklin Richards quickie?
- Mickey Mouse (Gemstone): As with previous Gemstone FCBD releases, the company is attempting to snag young readers with classic stuff: this time a reprint of a Floyd Gottfredson Sunday strip continuity (gotta hold the book sideways!) that is pretty strange. In it, our spunky Mouse here (this was back when Mickey's pants meant he really was covering up a pair of cajones!) develops a shrinking formula in his house that puts him at the mercy of a vicious overgrown fly. To escape, he hides in a book of Robin Hood stories and winds up meeting the man and his merry band. I kept expecting this tale to turn out to be "only a dream," but Gottfredson refused to resort to this gambit – and good for him. Shows why it's too bad they don't make 'em like this anymore . . .
- Transformers: Official Movie Prequel (IDW): Plowing through this well-nigh unreadable cross-promotional spin-off did one have one surprising effect: it got me appreciating later Jack Kirby – who could make this brand of mystico-cosmic gobbledegook actually sound it made sense – much more than I previously had. Definitely (to make the obvious joke), less than meets the eye.
- Wahoo Morris (Too Hip Gotta Go): Apparently positioning itself to be the next Strangers in Paradise (a rip-off of a Love And Rockets rip-off – aren't we approaching Michael Keaton in Multiplicity here?), this B-&W opening chapter introduces us to a punkish rock band and their struggling loves – somehow book-ended with an Exorcist-reminiscent plot involving hornéd demons. No, I don't know what it means, but I did rather like writer/artist Craig Taillefer's admission that he "edited out all of the naughty bits" from the original version of the story. Presumably to circumvent any parental complaints if any young 'uns inadvertently bring this title home. Hey, guy, don't you know that even the suggestion that these characters have naughty bits is too much for some parents?
- Who Wants to Be A Superhero? (Dark Horse): Wherein the once mighty Stan Lee hacks out an eight-page intro with a beaten-up supertype flashbacking to the beginning of his origin ("Now I remember – how it started . . .") Gotta tell ya, this lame exercise depressed the hell outta me – even more than Lee's egregious Just Imagine mini-series or Stripperella. Excelsior, my ass . . .
Anybody got an extra Unseen Peanuts hangin' around the place?