Free Comic Book Day 2012 has come and gone, and judging by the crowds of excited people I saw at every store I went to (5 over about 4 hours that morning) it was a pretty big success. But how were the comics that were given away? Well, I managed to come home with a pretty big stack of them, so let’s take a closer look.
- Adventure Time/Peanuts – The classic Peanuts stories are great, the new stuff leaves me cold. Okay, that half of the flipbook out of the way, let’s talk Adventure Time. This is a great example of what Kaboom is doing with their AT series. The main story follows all the style guides (and fits within the gutters of issue one), but there are also a couple short stories by indie creators where they can go off and tell whatever stories they like. It’s a good, fun mix of a good, fun series, and an excellent representation of what you’d get in an issue of Adventure Time.
- Archaia Presents Mouse Guard and Other Stories – Man, did Archaia raise the bar with their FCBD issue, giving out a 41-page (unless I miscounted) HARDCOVER sampler. I can’t say every sample was good — Cursed Pirate Girl was somewhat illegible and I had to skip past it — but the Mouse Guard synopsis story (I really need to be reading that!) and Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos were excellent. Cow Boy is definitely going on my next order. Another fun surprise: a Labyrinth story! There’s no branding on the story itself but once I recognized Hoggle (okay, it’s not that hard), the other characters came flooding back to me. THIS is what FCBD should be about!
- Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Bonnie Lass – Even though Archaia put out this Free Comic Book Day’s strongest issue, the Atomic Robo team of Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener yet again put out an amazing offering this year. Usually reserving FCBD for a Robo/Dr. Dinosaur fight, this year they teamed up! Well, in a way. As always it was hilarious, and as always you should be reading it year-round. The other samples in here didn’t offer content nearly as strong. Neozoic hopped from scene to scene (and even from person to person in the same conversation) so much it felt like panels were missing. Transitions definitely were. Bonnie Lass was fine, but nothing remarkable.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron #0.1 – This is a good FCBD choice from Marvel. High-profile (or rather more importantly, highly talented) creators, recognizable characters appearing in a movie opening the same weekend, and the first part of what will obviously be a huge storyline. It’s well-written and well-drawn, but after going through it 3 times, I just can’t decide on it. Is it for the new reader or us established folks? It definitely feels like part 1 of 13. The return of Ultron is great, but it feels unusually built up. I just have no idea about this one. Strategically it’s a good call, but it mostly left me cold. Maybe that’s just a reflection on my relationship with mainstream superhero comics than anything else.
- The Censored Howard Cruise – Outside of the obvious creators Crumb, Pekar, and Sheldon I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the original Underground Comix creators, so this joint effort by Boom! (really!) and the CBLDF was a nice addition to the day. And it really is censored for the FCBD edition, though the upcoming releases will not be. I was trying to come up with a good way to describe Cruise’s work until Charles Brownstein put it much better than I could have in the backmatter: “Cruse’s technically accomplished line style has a wholesome quality that provides a stark contrast to his candid discussions of sexuality, drug use, and censorship.” A great offering for the student of both comics and comix. It’s also worth noting that Boom! has a new Roger Langridge collection coming out called “The Show Must Go On” that we’ll both need to keep our eyes peeled for.
- Dinosaurs vs Aliens – Since we’re discussing how comics work, DvA fails completely, offering only 8 pages of actual comic book and filling up the rest with sketches, concept art, and text pieces. It’s an interesting book, but not really enough sequential art to qualify as a comic. Skepticism ruins the rest of the goodwill I have for this title. Movie director comes up with painfully obvious mash-up (since those are all the rage), hires the best comic writer in the business to write a screenplay, then does a comic to provide street cred (see also: Cowboys vs Aliens). Oh well, at least the art will be beautiful.
- Image 20 – Image takes their shot this year with a sampler of their upcoming titles. Going with a book full of teasers is probably a good call (although I’m obviously biased towards a full comic) but nothing I read inspired me to pick any of them up.
- The New 52 – Despite my DC boycott I still picked this up, figuring it at least wasn’t putting any money in the Time-Warner coffers. Another teaser book, this kicks off the backstory behind Pandora, the mystery woman who appeared in each of DC’s 52 #1 issues. No disrespect intended to the creators involved, but a passing familiarity with Greek mythology and a play-through of God of War is probably all the Pandora stories we need.
- Spider-Man: Season One – This whole “accessible universe” thing is getting out of hand. A decade ago Marvel kicked off the Ultimate line with the intent of luring in new readers. Then DC launched their Earth One line of OGN’s for bookstores and rebooted their whole damn universe. Unwilling to be beaten at their own game, Marvel then launches THEIR line of bookstore OGN’s, doing the exact same thing every other relaunch has done since John Byrne did Spider-Man: Chapter One. If you love modernized Spider-Man reboots this will be right up your alley, but otherwise this is pretty inessential.
- Stuff of Legend/Finding Gossamyr – I’m always charmed by the soul and charming artwork of the Stuff of Legend books, though I don’t see it on the stands often enough to keep up with it. (Fortunately, there’s an ad in the back for a collection of the first two volumes, which I will definitely pick up). Finding Gossamyr was a little confusing…It looks like a young boy solves a math problem that leads to a portal to another dimension, but tI had a little trouble reading the transition between the two worlds. The artwork was a nice cartoony style, and the story was intriguing more than mysterious for it’s own sake. If you enjoy Narnia-type alternate world stories, this is a title to keep an eye out for.
- Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 – My love of comics started with the original Marvel Transformers series. I was given a three-pack innocently enough, but suddenly it’s 30 years and thousands of issues later. There will always be a soft, biased spot in my heart for those Robots in Disguise. Sure, their adventures were mainly used to reinforce toy lines, but by the end of the original 80-issue run we got to some truly original stories as we reached the final battle with Unicron written by Simon Furman and (mostly) drawn by Andrew Wildman.
Yes the Cybertronians were victorious, but in the aftermath were some of the grayest, bleakest stories I had ever read as the Transformers struggled to find purpose again. Furman got to tell stories that didn’t require introducing new toys and could focus on the characters. Wildman, who if I recall was a pretty divisive art choice at the time, was my favorite TF artist ever, able to draw alt modes and robot forms equally well and distinctly. What really set him apart were the distinctive (and dare I say, human) faces with spittle frequently flying and battle damage showing they may be robots, but they’ve clearly been to Hell.
Together they got away with telling some truly weird stories. Galvatron travels to kill his past-self before realizing he would cease to exist. Megatron and Ratchet fuse into a Two-Face robot. And then five issues after defeating the ultimate evil they were gone.
Their run based my entire opinion of what Transformers COULD be. Even though it’s been a while since I’ve gone back to see how they hold up, make no mistake: I know full well that most of the comic series was pretty bad, not to mention some truly awful cartoon episodes. But those issues…well they showed a lot of growth and potential for more.
Wildman and Furman have teamed up many times since that series end, even on Transformers, with Armada. Those darker issues seem to have inspired other approaches to the characters as well, but none of them have worked for me. The names and characterization are roughly the same, but the Armada or Energon Optimus Primes just aren’t the
same to me like the G1 Prime is, just like Alan Scott is not Hal Jordan is not Kyle Rayner.
Now here we are, 21 years after that series ended, and Furman and Wildman are back, picking up where they left off. Or rather, 21 years after they left off. They do so fairly seamlessly. Furman’s story could have been more linear rather than bouncing around, but we’re definitely going to get back to the original (and if I may be so bold, my) characters. And Wildman’s art returned to exactly where I remember, without all the overly-angular jagged faces obviously inspired by the movies. This is a very good comic, and I’m really excited to see where they take us.
(Now after having written all this, I feel like I’ve done Geoff Johns a disservice by my griping about him turning DC into what he loved most as a kid.)
- 2000 AD – The surprise find of FCBD 2012! I’ve never seen a 2000 AD FCBD issue before; I didn’t even know they participated. The first pleasant surprise was the large magazine size, so it stands out from all the other offerings. Then it gives several complete chunks of comics. Sure, some of the stories were a part one but it’s an accurate representation of what to expect from 2000 AD. Then the contents showcased a little bit of everything: classic sci-fi, some horror, a vintage Alan Moore story, and a superhero satire. I’ve never read an individual issue of 2000 AD before, but after this I think I might need to add it to my pull list.
- Valiant 2012 – Even though this was just a teaser book, it worked. I’m sufficiently piqued for the Valiant relaunch this summer. Unfortunately, it’s still a bad free comic. Marvel and DC put out things like this monthly; it’s a promotional item.*
* Yes, they’re all promotional items, but the point of Free Comic Book Day is, you know, a free comic book.
- Yo Gabba Gabba – I really don’t know what to say about this one, since I am neither a small child nor a guardian of small children. It definitely won’t appeal to anyone whose age is approaching double-digits, and there’s no hipster cred other than some nice work by Mike Allred and Evan Dorkin. But might it get small children into appreciating comics? Yes. Yes it might. And that’s one to grow on.
And that was my 2012 Free Comic Book Day. I think it was a raging success, even if not every book was. I hope you found some great comics out there and have maybe been inspired to track down a few new things. And only 11 months until next year’s!