Free Comic Book Day 2018: A Guide To The Best Bets And The Best Avoided
Walk into a comics shop this Saturday, May 5th, and you'll get some free comic books.
Free Comic Book Day has been an annual event for 17 years now. I've been writing up this guide to the FCBD books for the past 10 of those, so believe me when I say:
This year's a good 'un. The best yet. Don't skip it.
There are more all-ages books in this year's mix, more stories starring girls, women and people of color and a healthier, more robust selection of genres to choose from than ever before.
It's also gratifying to see fewer publishers putting out FCBD offerings that amount to little more than samplers, offering readers only tiny snippets of stories from several different comics they publish. Happily, most of the books you'll be able to pick on Saturday — even those that are simply excerpts from new or forthcoming graphic novels — make for solid, substantial, satisfying reads.
Here, as every year, the relevant details:
The books are rated by age-appropriateness, but of course there's always wiggle room with that.
As a general rule:
ALL-AGES: Akin to a G-rating. Little Aiden or Brittany will read it with delight.
TEEN: Akin to PG. Little Aiden or Brittany might need help with some words or concepts.
TEEN+: PG-13. Only three books fall into this category this year. Two are Marvel books, in which superheroes punch folk ... for justice! The third is the Bob's Burgers tie-in, which features a story from her "Tina's Erotic Friend Fiction" notebook, but of course the most erotic thing about it is the word "erotic." Aiden and Brittany can handle it.
MATURE: R. "Daddy? Mummy? What's 'disembowel' mean? Why is tomato juice coming out of that man's nose? And ears? And eyes? And neck? And why are those two people's hips kissing?"
The Gist:Fionna and Cake — the gender-swapped, fictional fan-fiction versions of Adventure Time's main characters, embark upon on a quest: To deliver a bowl of punch to Prince Gumball's party.
Additional Info:Along the way, they meet various obstacles, and their contrasting but complementary personalities cause them to react in very different ways. Nice, economical characterization from writer Kiernan Sjursen-Lien and cute/creepy art from Christine Larsen.
The Gist:A perennially solid FCBD choice: Looks and feels like several episodes of (latter-day, it must be said) Simpsons.
Additional Info:Standout story is the lead one: Lisa takes over Krusty's show and transforms it into an educational snore. (Yes, it's just a riff on the season one episode "Krusty Gets Busted," but it's got primo Sideshow Mel content — he studied English Lit at Cornell!)
Title:Comics Friends Forever
The Gist:Sampler offering very brief but intriguing (but again, brief) glimpses of five of publisher First Second's graphic novels. Three of the five tackle the shifting allegiances of childhood friendships — girlhood friendships, specifically — and the loneliness those sudden shifts can engender.
Additional Info: Me, I was most partial to the friendly and inviting cartooning style of Be Prepared, Vera Brosgol's girls-at-camp story, but there's a lot to recommend here.
Verdict?Can't blame the publisher for squeezing in as many stories as they can, but it does make this offering feel a bit crowded. Still: As a round of narrative appetizers, it works.
Title:DC SuperHero Girls
The Gist:DC Comics' line of superhero dolls has inspired a series of graphic novels; this is the opening chapter of one of those. At Super Hero High, Batgirl and her friends investigate a crime at S.T.A.R Labs — while also dealing with the fact that her father, Commissioner Gordon, is dating.
Additional Info:A nice mix of de-aged DC characters, with characterizations that jibe nicely with their established, non-tween personas. Also includes character dossiers — breakdowns of their powers, abilities, etc., the kind of stuff I ate up, as a kid — in which we discover, for example, that the sword-wielding Katana is "fearless and uber-funky."
Verdict?A safe, smart way to intro your kid — or you, for that matter — to the DC Universe, so sure, if you swing that way.
The Gist:Disney's doll line gets a comic tie-in — sensing a theme here? — and this one focuses on The Little Mermaid's Ariel and friends. A series of comic strips that must be read by holding the book horizontally, which makes for a nice change.
Additional Info:Lots of bad puns, some solid jokes, and characters you recognize. Also, the sheer amount of content here is impressive. I mean, if a free book can be said to give good R.O.I., this one certainly does.
Verdict?If you're looking for value — or you or your kid's caught in the white-gloved, three-fingered grip of Big Mouse, sure.
Title:Help the CBLDF Defend Comics
The Gist:The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an organization that helps protect the First Amendment rights of the comics industry and its readers. Usually, their FCBD offering is tightly themed around the issue of free speech. This year, it's a broader mix --six stories, only two of which are standalone tales on the power of free speech. The other four are simply the first chapters of various graphic novels.
Additional Info:Suffers a bit from the sampler problem, but Cherise Mericle Harper's two-page "I Can Say" story is a gem.
Verdict?Features a varied assortment of styles and approaches, but not quite enough of any to get your teeth into. Maybe.
The Gist:Arcana Studio's animated films about the adventures of an 8-year-old H.P. Lovecraft and Spot, his trusty pet Cthulhu, have been adapted into a series of graphic novels. This FCBD offering provides a whistle-stop tour through the first two books in the series, and whets the appetite for a third.
Additional Info:Essentially an illustrated synopsis of the first two Howard Lovecraft movies/books, but it does give you a sense of the flavor of that series. Also includes very brief excerpts from two other books — one about a steampunk Oz, and another that takes characters from an existing super-group and de-ages them to grade school.
Verdict?We don't get enough from the non-Lovecraftbooks to leave any impression, and the format of the Lovecraftstuff makes it feel rushed. Intriguing and stylish, but rushed. So .. maybe?
Genre:TV Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:Adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series about a would-be world conqueror and his trusty dog/servant/robot. In this issue, Zim gets distracted from his sinister mission by an adorable cartoon on television.
Additional Info:I ... love this. Great jokes, strong characterization, layout that deftly reinforces the dialogue's stellar comic timing.
Verdict? "This is an upsetting amount of blooping." Yes, in a big way. Run, don't walk.
Title:The Legend of Korra
The Gist:This animated-series-inspired comic focuses on young Meelo, who's given a mission to find some missing pets. Also includes an excerpt from a graphic novel that's based on a video game in which people with springy arms square off against one another, I guess?
Additional Info:The Korra tale is straightforward. One character in the springy-arm story has a catchphrase: "Boi-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoing!" So that's fun.
Verdict?Not the first book I'd pick up, unless I were a Korrastan.
Genre: Science Fiction
The Gist:10-year-old Max is a genius who travels the galaxy thanks to an intra-dimensional closet door he's built in his bedroom. But he's attracted the attention of some cosmic beings who may or may not be benevolent. (Bet on the latter.)
Additional Info:Think Calvin and Hobbes' Spaceman Spiff ... but darker. No, even darker. Darker still. This is chewy, thoughtful and gorgeous-looking stuff that may be categorized as All-Ages, but that delivers a more satisfyingly nuanced read than the other FCBD books in this category.
Verdict?Not for very young kids, but pretty much for everyone else. A favorite. Yes.
The Gist:Based on a French animated teen-superhero series, this FCBD entry ditches the crime-fighting in favor of teenage concerns: Writing an essay, and hanging with friends.
Additional Info: In my copy of this issue, the second story "The Notebook" has a publishing error — the last page of the story appears first. Even if that weren't the case, though, this is pretty unremarkable fare that manages to be at once very sweet and completely bland.
Title:The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Gist:Features the characters from Tim Burton's animated classic. Jack Skellington's ghost-dog Zero gets sucked into Christmas Town in the opening chapter of what is now an ongoing series.
Additional Info:The book's laid out in manga style, so you read it right to left. A shame that the stylized and highly kinetic art gets in its own way, making some of the action tough to follow.
Verdict?Nightmarefans will eat it up, but everyone else can stand down.
Title:The Only Living Boy
The Gist:Young Erik has been transported to a world of mermaids and monsters. In this FCBD offering, the villains of the piece interrogate an underling they believe may have aided Erik and his compatriots.
Additional Info:It's a handy device that offers us a nice overview of the popular graphic novel series so far. But it means we learn more about the bad guys than the book's protagonist. The character design's the real star here, as the plucky-human-vs.-dark-lord-and-his-minions plot can't help but feel familiar.
Verdict? If your tastes run to high fantasy, yes.
Title:The Overstreet Guide to Collecting
The Gist:Handy introduction to the world of collecting from the folks behind the leading price guides.
Additional Info:The booster-y "Isn't collecting popular culture stuff NEAT" intro story is fine, but the chapter that lays out — in uber-nerdy detail — the strict criteria behind the process of comic-book grading, from 10 ("Gem Mint") to 0.1 ("Incomplete") is the reason to pick this up.
Verdict?If you are, or have any interest in becoming, a collector: Yes. Otherwise: Nah.
Title:Pokemon Sun & Moon
The Gist:What, seriously?
Additional Info:Children trap wild creatures and force them into grisly bloodsport. It's adorable! I mean, sure, when it happens in real life it's a sign of li'l Timmy's nascent sociopathy, but sure, whatever, let's build an international industry around it, nothing matters, death to all.
Verdict?It's up to Pika-you.
The Gist:The opening words to this graphic novel excerpt about two cats who go on adventures disguised as a dog are "I am a litter box and this is my story."
So you know: Had me at hello, basically.
Additional Info:One of the funniest, and most quotable, books in this year's selection. I mean: "Have a cookie! A PAIN COOKIE!"
Verdict?Absolutely. In a heartbeat. Love everything about this.
Title:SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies 2018
The Gist: In the main story, the evil Plankton gathers a team of super-villains to aid him in his nefarious plot to steal the formula for Krabby Patties.
Additional Info:In a nice touch, the inking in the main story is dark and thick and shadowy, lending the tale a distinctly old-school EC-comics vibe.
Verdict? Solid, clever writing, and a fun stylistic approach. Yes.
Title:Star Wars Adventures
The Gist:Han Solo and Chewie tangle with two bounty hunters.
Additional Info:If I were to tell you the two bounty hunters in question were Zuckuss and 4-LOM, would your pulse quicken? If so, definitely pick it up. If not, you could probably skip this.
The Gist:Everyone's favorite big blue brute gets his Conan on (Barbarian, not O'Brien), in an adventure featuring a cursed gem, a monstrous army, a dark tower, a deadly dragon and ... cows. In another story, The Tick is tapped to be Best Man at a fellow crimefighter's wedding.
Additional Info: The Tick is an FCBD staple, and his book is always a stout and stalwart safe bet. The Conan parody features prose that's a fitting and funny shade of deepest purple.
Title:The Wormworld Saga
The Gist:In 1932, young Theo, against his father's advice, invites his friend Laura to join him in a magical world filled with adventure and danger. Mostly that second thing.
Additional Info:Writer/artist Daniel Lieske's digital art is so richly colored and luminous it attains an airbrushed quality, whether he's depicting a dark, woodsy attic or a vast, surreal landscape.
Verdict?Interesting, and provides an intriguing taste of what to expect in the full graphic novel series. Sure.
The Gist:Britain's long-running weekly science-fiction comics anthology isn't for kids — but this FCBD offering, anchored by Cadet Dredd (a teenaged version of the comic's most high-profile character, Judge Dredd) is kid-friendly. It's still intense, mind you, and packed with dense jokes, puzzles, games and marginalia.
Additional Info: A dense, chewy read of self-contained stories. And don't sleep on "Humancraft," in which characters who seem suspiciously similar to those found in a certain block-themed building videogame play a videogame that places them in the human world.
*SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies 2018
*2000 A.D. Regened
The Gist:Jorge's the biggest kid in his middle school. He's not looking for romance, but there is this one girl that makes him freeze up whenever she talks to him.
Additional Info:This is a preview excerpt from Svetlana Chmakova's forthcoming graphic novel, due in the fall. Also includes a (too) brief glimpse of W.I.T.C.H., a series about young girls who are the magical Chosen Ones who must protect the Veil from ... something. Evil? Darkness? Let's go with Evil Darkness. Seems a safe bet.
Verdict?Crushis earnest seriously charming, and Chmakova's art is expressive and funny — watch how Jorge's normally blank expression becomes a mask of fear whenever his crush says anything to, or even near, him. So: Yes.
Title:Die Kitty Die
Genre: Humor Comma Dark
The Gist:Creators Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz, who've produced a lot of Archie comics over the years, lend this excerpt from a graphic novel about a buxom young witch a distinctly Archie-esque vibe. Clear, vibrant art, corny gags, plenty of inside jokes about the comics industry ... and death. A LOT of death. Shouldn't be surprising, given the title — and the plot (Kitty's publisher kills her to boost her book sales), but still: Yowza.
Additional Info:If I say "Archie for adults" your brain automatically goes to "Dark and Soapy," in light of CW's Riverdale, but this isn't that. It's sharper, saltier and, given Kitty's Jessica-Rabbit pulchritudinousness, not to mention a one-panel cameo fromno kiddingCharles Effing Manson, it's not aimed at, or appropriate for, very young kids.
Verdict?It's an interesting mix — sunny art, dark plot. Maybe, if you or your kid is bent that way.
Genre: TV Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:Brief tastes of three different series starring the BBC's resident time-and-space-hopping Hero-With-A-Thousand-(Well-Thirteen-And-Counting-Anyway)-Faces. Fourstories, if you count the last page, which offers an even more fleeting glimpse of Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor.
Additional Info:These tie-in comics do manage to capture the personalities of the various incarnations of the Gadabout from Gallifrey.
Verdict?Depends: If you're a fan, this issue's worth a look. If you're not a fan, this issue won't make you one.
Title:Ghost in the Shell
Genre: Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:In a cyberpunk future, Motoko is a special-ops agent whose brain is housed in a cybernetic body. On a mission in Shanghai, she runs into an old ally and sets out to rescue a colleague.
Additional Info:What a satisfyingly pulpy little gem of a comic. A complete, all-new tale, set in the GitS world created by Shirow Masamune. Hits all the familiar beats — hard-boiled dialogue ("We sting because that's what we are"), big action set-pieces, and fully grounded, gritty science fiction elements — but does so with style and real ingenuity. This is how you do FCBD.
Verdict?Oh my yes.
Genre: Science Fiction/Superhero
The Gist:Canadian hero Captain Canuck (seriously) and friends defend Toronto from an invasion by the alien race of (in his words) "giant flying squid monsters" who are responsible for his powers.
Additional Info:Writers Jay Baruchel and Van Jensen squeeze an awful lot of superhero action, deft characterization and welcome humor into this slim, 17-page intro to a new crosssover event from Canadian publisher Chapterhouse. Leonard Kirk's art vividly captures both superhuman spectacle (Cap tosses a certain Toronto landmark through the air like a dart) and ground-level humanity, with practiced ease. But manage your expectations: The back half of the issue is nothing but a series of 15 full-page ads.
Verdict?What's a Canadian appetizer? Like, a tiny ramekin of poutine? This is that: Delicious, but not entirely satisfying. So: Yes-ish.
Title:James Bond 007
The Gist:This FCBD offering presents the opening pages of Warren Ellis and Jason Master's 6-issue Bond storyarc VARGR (available in both hardcover and trade, as are several other Bond tales). In this issue, Bond is sent to Berlin on a mission — without,to his considerable consternation,his trusty Walther P99.
Additional Info:These few pages distill the essence of Ian Fleming's Bond — who's a nastier piece of work than his cinematic incarnation — while taking him out of his element. It's jarringly fun to see him reduced to eating in the MI6 cafeteria and grumbling about having to go through airport security. In a wordless, brutal opening scene, Bond chases a target through the darkened streets of Helsinki; Masters' art places us squarely inside that target's head — we feel his paranoia and desperation. Really just great stuff.
The Gist:In two related stories — one the opening chapter of her first graphic novel, the other a new tale — a statuesque steampunk super-powered cyborg hunts for clues to her origins in Victorian London.
Additional Info:I mean, it delivers on its promise, and while I might not locate myself within the target demo of the Boobies n' Blunderbusses genre, I can't deny that writer/artist Joe Benitez's pure draftsmanship is impressive. If you're in the market for tightly corseted, prodigiously breasted, overcomplicatedly weaponed, goggle-sporting women springing into action (steaming into action? vulcanizing into action?), you'll find it here. The first tale's momentum gets sapped by its characters' excessive talkiness, but hey, there's a lot to explain.
Verdict?For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing that they like.
Title:Malika: Creed and Fury
Genre: Science Fiction/Superhero
The Gist:The brave and true (and, not for nothing, divinely empowered) Warrior-Queen Malika, of the 500-year old African (Azzazian, technically) Empire, has emerged from suspended animation to defend her people from a terrorist group. She's joined by Malika-fangirl Zahra as she seeks to foil a deadly plot.
Additional Info:The action is crisp, Sunkanmi Akinboye's art effective, and if Malika tends to talk like an inspirational poster ("True nobility does not stem from perfection, but rather one's awareness of their imperfections and their willingness to confront them instead of being defined by them") writer Roy Okupe makes sure to keep characters like Zahra around to defuse things ("Gosh, you're good.") before they go too Chicken Soup for the Soul. A satisfyingly complete story, albeit a talky one teeming with word-balloons, so that Teen designation fits.
Verdict?Lots to recommend here, over and above the fact that the book features African characters — but the fact that it features African characters is notable, and welcome. Sure.
The Gist:It's 1984. Cuban-American teen Diego is a good, nerdy kid who finds himself inadvertently mobbed up, thanks to his mother's dalliance with a now-dead mafia don. He works at a organ store in a Fort Myers mall --- a front for money-laundering — and is smitten with the school's most popular girl.
Additional Info:The appeal here is how the story — the first chapter of a series — mashes up Elmore Leonard and John Hughes. These opening pages don't make the most of that I-Love-the-'80s setting, some character designs come off a bit too similar, and the ceaseless dialogue doesn't yet give the art enough room to breathe, but there's real potential here.
Genre: Science Fiction
The Gist:Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is the (altered?) mind behind an extended, densely interwoven network of gloriously weird, swing-for-the-fences science fiction comics collectively known as the Jodoverse. The Metabaronseries focuses on an alien race of cyber-warriors who battle the sinister Technopriests over control of the transdimensional fuel known as the white oil Epyphite and wow okay I see I've lost some of you already.
Additional Info:This is big, bold and unapologetically baroque space opera that's not for those who would turn up their noses at a chewy sentence like "Since childhood, the Meta-Guardiannesses have devoted their lives to the defense of Algona and its Epiphyte."
Valentin Secher's planet-scapes are gorgeously mind-bending to look at; you can happily gawp at them whenever the dialogue goes a bit portentous. One caution for parents — the titular Metabaron spends a few pages naked — there's no frontal nudity, but we see enough of his Metabutt to get a pretty good sense of his fitness regimen (lots of Metasquats). Also there's some warrior women who hang around in leather space-bikinis. As you do.
Verdict?Again, this is probably too dense for the science-fiction dabbler. But if you're the kind of person who knows that the space opera ain't over until the buff cyber-warrior squats, sure.
Title:Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers
Genre: TV Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:The evil Lord Drakkan has seized the Samuraizers and seeks access to even more Morphers, so Zordon of Eltar seeks an audience with the Emissaries to petition the Morphin Masters to intervene and preserve the Morphin Grid.
Which of course is pretty much the plot of Long Day's Journey Into Night, with, you know, a extra splash of morphin.
Additional Info:A kind of overview issue, tracing the history of the Rangers and setting the stakes for an ongoing storyline that sees them facing their greatest threat ever.
Verdict?Nah. I mean, if you or your kids are into the Power Rangers, you know all this stuff already. And if you or your kids aren't, this desultory overview won't entice you.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers? More like Mighty Methadon' Power Rangers, am I right GOODNIGHT DULUTH YOU BEEN GREAT.
Title:My Hero Academia
Genre: Science Fiction Manga
The Gist:At a school for heroes, a training lesson in combat between two rival students grows intense. In a backup story, four fierce warriors-in-training face a vile, snake-headed monster.
Additional Info:Both stories are excerpts that drop you in manga res, as it were, so by the time you get your bearings, they're over. If you like what you see, there's 12 volumes of My Hero Academia graphic novels — and an anime series scheduled to start on Adult Swim's Toonami this month.
NOTE: It took me a while to realize that there's no comma in the title, so it really means "My Hero Academy" as in, "The school for heroes that I'm attending," and not, as I'd figured, "My Hero, Academia," as in, "Oh how I do so admire higher education as an intellectual pursuit and civil institution!"
Verdict?There's just not enough here to get more than a fleeting and very abstract sense of these series, so if you're curious, pick it up. Otherwise, this one's skippable.
Genre: Video Game Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:In the first of two stories, we get a bit of background on two characters from the Overwatch video game, Zarya and Sombra. In the second story, we meet The Quantum League, a Legion of Super-Heroes-pastiche set in the world of Dark Horse Comics' Black Hammer.
Additional Info:If you don't play Overwatch, you probably won't find the first story particularly compelling. Some nice buddy-cop characterization, but the rest is pretty standard fare. The second story by Jeff Lemire is a good deal more weird, funny and intriguing, and artists Wilfredo Torres and Dean Ormston mix up their stylistic approach to reflect different time periods — and perspectives.
Verdict?For the Quantum League intro, sure.
Genre: Science Fiction
The Gist:A space traveler arrives on a new world, promising to deliver its residents out of ignorance and superstition and into enlightenment and prosperity. But what is he really offering?
Additional Info:A thoughtful and well-executed introduction to a new series that flips a science-fiction cliche on its head: What if, as humanity extends itself through the cosmos, we become the villainous exploiter/conqueror of other planets? Writer Zac Thompson is playing with notions of degradation — the inevitable decay of the comforts of things like faith, narrative and infrastructure — in a manner that isn't quite unpacked in this opening chapter, but I'm prepared to stick around to learn more.
Verdict?Yes, if you're prepared for science fiction that leans into sociological ruminations and away from pew pew pew!
Genre: TV Tie-In/YA/Suspense
The Gist:Betty Cooper visits the Pop's Chock'Lit Shoppe to interview its owner, who shares some spooky tales of Riverdale's paranormal past.
Additional Info:The links to the hit CW series are tenuous, and this FCBD offering is better for it. A couple of images that might disturb young kids, but otherwise a series of distracting yarns that exposes Riverdale's spooky underbelly and ... picks the ... lint out of its ... underbelly-button okay look I may have lost the thread here.
Verdict?Doesn't seem the right time of year for it, but if you're up for some light chills, sure.
The Gist:In the Old West — and in Victorian Britain — several characters are drawn into a conflict between the forces of light and darkness.
Additional Info:Writers Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's succesful The Sixth Gun series staked a strong claim on supernatural Western comics — here, those two writers are joined by artist A.C. Zamudio to tell interlocking tales in a similar vein.
Verdict?It's too early to tell how, or if, this series will distinguish itself from The Sixth Gun, apart from featuring a Native American lead character, but this richly atmospheric opening chapter will likely make you want to see more. Yes.
The Gist:(Too-) brief slices of three different titles from Valiant Comics.
Additional Info:Again, as a narrative pupu platter, it (sort of) does its job. As a book that offers a satisfying reading experience, it falls far behind most other FCBD books this year.
The Gist:In 1930s New York, a thief attempts to rob an auction of Jonathan and Mina Harker's possessions — yep, the Dracula Harkers — only to fall, literally, into a world of vampiric intrigue.
Additional Info:Only the first chapter of the first volume in a four-volume graphic novels series, but writer/artist Stephan Franck is firing on all cylinders from the jump. Stylish black-and-white art, and a smart, charmingly roguish point-of-view-character draw you in. Don't be fooled by the cover, though — neither the buxom badass vampire hunter depicted on it nor indeed any nasty Nosferatus show up in this excerpt.
Title:Street Angel's Dog
The Gist:Don't let the (considerable and defiant and all-encompassing) cuteness deceive you. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Street Angel (aka Shiraz Thunderbird) is The Most Dangerous Girl Alive — a homeless teenage ninja who, in this stand-alone story, rescues a terrified dog from a gang of street toughs.
Additional Info:Bold colors, idiosyncratic layouts and all-around fresh approach to storytelling offer a whistle-stop tour through the singular mindset of the Street Angel series. This is a really smart and effective way to leverage the opportunity FCBD affords publishers. It provides prospective readers a comprehensive sense of what they can expect from the full series.
Verdict?An FCBD 2018 standout. Yes.
Genre: Humor/Science Fiction
The Gist: Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin's rude, anarchic (and anarchically violent) buzzcut badass gets the This Is Your Life treatment, in this sardonic retrospective.
Additional Info:Like its protagonist, this FCBD offering is defiantly unruly: Three new stories, rendered in three radically different styles, roughly slapped together — winningly so — and crammed with jokes both outre and in-. Parents: This is a cleaned-up version of the character, but phrases like "well-hung" do crop up — so be prepared to field some fun questions.
Verdict?Fair dinkum! (... That's a yes.)
Genre: TV Tie-In/Science Fiction
The Gist:In a comic hailed as "the beginning of the end of the Transformers universe," a massive space anomaly is systematically consuming the planetary colonies of Cybertron — including Earth. (Said anomaly looks, I think it's fair to say, disquietingly ... anatomical. Also it's given to pronouncements like "I HUNGERRR..." which seems a bit derivative, no?)
Additional Info:Props to publisher IDW for filling the non-story pages of this issue not with ads, but with relevant and useful content like an (exhaustive) history of the Transformers comic-book universe, a guide to where you can read more about that history and a checklist for following this crossover event across several titles.)
Verdict?If you love these characters/this world, pick it up. If you don't, there isn't a lot more here than meets the eye.
Title:Ultra Street Fighter II
Genre: Videogame Tie-in/Fantasy
The Gist:Following his sojourn among the "undead zombie" (sic) (redundant much?) minions of the Dark Lord Raptor, where he was bitten by a vile Darkstalker, Ken Masters has found himself periodically transforming into an evil persona known as (wait for it ...) VIOLENT KEN!
Additional Info:A pretty straightforward, self-contained redemption story finds Ken squaring off against various Street Fighter characters in an attempt to tame his eminently quotable ("My soul only knows peace when it is bringing pain, suffering and death!") inner demon who is called, I just want to reiterate, in case you missed it ... VIOLENT KEN!
Verdict?There are those among you who aren't asking for much — just a few panels of characters performing their signature moves while shouting things like "SHO-RYU-KEN!!" and "HADOKEN!" and, perhaps especially, "BIG BANG TYPHOON!" You get that here.
(Unfortunately, no character in the book shouts "VIOLENT KEN!" at any time, which is a shame as "VIOLENT KEN!" is, and I speak from personal experience here, a very fun thing to shout. I've been doing it a lot. Most recently in the toiletries aisle of the Safeway on 17th, which has great acoustics.)
So: VIOLENT KEN! Sorry; I mean, MAYBE! IF IT'S YOUR THING!
Title:Worlds of Aspen
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction
The Gist:In the excerpt from Dissension: War Eternal, an ancient people square off against some demonic entities. And in Nu Way, a young fighter in a (sing along, you know the words) dystopian future decides to trade some of his organs — and struggles to hold onto his sense of self in the aftermath.
Additional Info:I've chided Aspen Comics' FCBD entries in the past, as they've tended to skew towards painstakingly wrought tableaux of busty, anatomically uncanny women in warrior-kinis striking poses meant to stir the blood of 12-year-old straight boys. This year's entry has managed to pry itself out of 1996 and focus on storytelling. Of the two excerpts, Nu Way offers a clearer tonal and narrative sense of what to expect from the full series.
Verdict?For the first time in the 10-year history of this guide: Yes.
*Ghost in the Shell
*James Bond 007
*Street Angel's Dog
The Gist:In July, The Amazing Spider-Man title is starting fresh from #1, and the first story in this FCBD issue sets the table on the new status quo: Peter is broke (still, again, some more), looking for an apartment and Spidey's villains are teaming up. The second story is essentially a dossier on what's been going on in the Guardians of the Galaxy title in the lead-up to an event called Infinity Countdown.
Additional Info:Any Spider-Man story is only as good — which is to say, as bad — as Spidey's quips; they're what keeps this perpetually overmatched character from coming off as a self-pitying sad sack. Writer Nick Spencer nails what's essential about Peter — his humor, his heroism, and his self-doubt. Artist Ryan Ottley, who made his bones in the bone-breaking superhero series Invincible, brings it all home. The Guardians story is just a series of quick hits, but there's serious energy to it.
Verdict? Straight-up superheroing, served with a smile. Yes.
The Gist:In the Avengers tale, an intro to the new status quo in the newly restarted Avengers ongoing series, Odin and Black Panther have a serious chat about some ... buried secrets. In the intro to the new Captain America series debuting in July (written by Ta-Nehisi Coates), Cap prepares to face a super-patriotic "sacred trust" representing Defense, Science, Commerce and God that call themselves the Power Elite.
Additional Info:Writer Jason Aaron finds an intriguing affinity between Odin and T'Challa, but the Cap entry is more a mission statement than a story — a proof-of-concept that proves too conceptual.
Genre: TV Tie-in/Humor
The Gist:Three tales starring the characters of the FOX animated TV series, in very different incarnations: Tina imagines herself and Jimmy Jr. as the Captain and First Mate of the Titanic; Louise and Bob stumble across a cursed burger recipe; and Gene gets to riff on Where The Wild Things Are.
Additional Info: Perfectly captures the spirit and tone of the show, but stands on its own. Only quibble: Not enough Linda.
Never enough Linda.
Verdict?(Linda voice): Aw-RIIIIGHT!
Genre:That would be telling. Just read it.
The Gist:Liddy, a Texas landowner whose property is being used by a cartel to smuggle people over the Mexican border, and Oscar, a young Honduran man making that journey, cross paths in an unexpected way.
Additional Info:Writer Brian K. Vaughan is a master of dialogue (half of it in Spanish, here) that reveals everything his characters are desperate to conceal. He also knows that silences — long, heavy, saturatedsilences — have a crucial role to play in building connections, or severing them. The book's layout is horizontal, which allows artist Marcos Martin to render these sun-scoured landscapes with Cinemascope-like grandeur — or fill our field of vision with a character's expressive features, for maximum impact.
Verdict?Stop reading this and start reading that. Yes.
The Gist:The opening pages of Jason Lutes' 3-volume magnum opus that explores the daily lives of the citizens of Berlin amid the rise of Nazism.
Additional Info:Meticulously researched but never dry, Berlinis a rich and palpable chronicle of small gestures — fleeting moments of human connection among characters whose lives are slowly, inexorably sinking into state-sponsored inhumanity. This brief glimpse offers a real sense of Lutes' gifts in that regard — just know that there's a lot more where that came from.
The Gist:Four stories — one stand-alone, and three excerpts — of comics out of Starburns Industries, the production company founded by Dan Harmon, Dino Stamatopoulos and others. In the first, Patton Oswalt wanders a seamy section of Hollywood, imagining what real-world superheroes might look like. In the second, a housefly trains for combat. In the third, a Hell-demon in the guise of a seven-year-old girl harvests souls for her own nefarious purposes. And in the fourth, written by Harmon and Eric M. Esquivel, a supehero interviews his arch-enemy.
Additional Info:A mixed bag — satisfyingly so. The Oswalt story is the strongest, by virtue of its tidy, self-contained nature — and its agreeably funky/filthy art style. The housefly story shows promise, even if one suspects it was written to depict a housefly drill instructor shouting "Come on, maggots!" and the rest of the story built around it. Hellacious has solid jokes and fun character design, and the Harmon/Esquivel supervillain story displays a breezy command of the genre, and an eagerness to unpack its cliches.
Title:Strangers in Paradise
The Gist: Terry Moore's acclaimed comics series ran from 1993 to 2007. It was about many things — friendship, love, love triangles, love rectangles, shadowy organizations, etc. To mark the 25th anniversary of its debut, a new series called Strangers in Paradise XXV premiered in January 2018. This FCBD issue reprints an extended excerpt of it.
Additional Info:You can see what the fuss was about. A wordless opening sequence involving a subway pickpocket, dialogue that's heavily expository without feeling so, impeccable character design that captures every fleeting emotion.
Verdict?You don't need to know these character's (extensive) (bonkers) histories to get a sense of what's at stake. Yes.
Title:World's Greatest Cartoonists
Genre:Various. To put it mildly. I mean you could call lump it all under "art-comix" if you were that kind of person.
The Gist:Fantagraphics knows what's up. Ten cartoonists with clear, specific and vividly expressive narrative voices offer never-before-published work — seven expressly for this issue, and three excerpts from forthcoming graphic novels. Neatly avoids the sampler problem because the chosen works are so fully conceptually realized they vibrate at very different frequencies.
Also? Smartly? Each cartoonist gets a blurb describing where the work comes from — figuratively and literally. Such a simple way to ground the reading experience, so even the most wildly abstract entry can be placed in context.
Additional Info: Sophie Goldstein. Anne Simon. Jim Woodring. Liv Stromquist. Simon Hanselmann. Carol Tyler. Dash Shaw (reuniting characters from his stunning 2008 graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button). Charles Glaubitz. Georgia Webber. Ellen Forney.
Verdict?Truth in advertising. Snatch this up, it'll go fast.
... All of 'em?
*Strangers in Paradise
*World's Greatest Cartoonists
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