Well, here it is, the full round-up of all 60 Free Comic Book Day comics as reviewed by Rich Johnston, Hannah Means-Shannon, and Ed Saul which appeared in installments on Bleeding Cool this week. We thought you might like them all in one place as you're making your selections on Saturday May 3rd. The reality is that any decent cross-section of these books is bound to give you a feel for where comics are headed right now, and why there's so much exciting growth going on in genres, styles, and the medium itself.
31 Comics Reviewed By Rich Johnston:
I've had the chance to read a good batch of this year's Free Comic Book Day 2014 titles. Here are thoughts about thirty-one of them. More to come…
Grimm's Fairy Tales #0 published by Zenescope.
Once upon a time there was a monster of a soldier. But then they went away. Now they are being revived. This book tried to give us a Game Of Thronesy fantasy beginning, but it limps along rather. However it does have an original story that sets up the power of the Blood Knights and the danger they might present today, as part of a wider story. I'm just not sure if it's a story many will want to read. Also, a little floppy, but bulked up by previews of Robyn Hood.
Hello Kitty And Friends published by Perfect Square and Viz.
So here's where Art Baltazar and Franco have been hiding out. A series of short stories from upcoming Hello Kitty books, as well as Where's Waldo style pages with Catbug and Bravest Warriors make this a real treat for the youngest comics readers, with very few words and lots of fun colourful stories. A real treat, with surprisingly good artwork.
Hip Hop Family Tree Two-In-One published by Fantagraphics
Some of this has already been published in the first Hip Hop Family Tree, some will appear in the upcoming volume 2. This fabrication of a non-existent early eighties comic clashes with the far-too-good paper quality, but pages where a felt tip note added by a non-existent reader bleeds through to the previous page is very convincing. This is a condensed history using this very specific comic book look, as well as Marvel Bullpen checklists, is the best of its kind. Hell, this may be the best of the comics of Free Comic Book Day.
Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace from Gemstone Publishing
As a preview for what is ostensibly a price guide, only two pages or wide spaced prices may not be that representative. But we get a bevy of articles on comics and comics collecting, focusing on the high end, it also tackles the heady topic of which is the first appearance of The Winter Soldier and a look at the history of Shi. Brief, classy and good for turning something free into something very expensive.
The Adventures Of Jellaby published by Capstone
This begins like a horror story for children. Spooky, full of tension, it is scary and nothing like the light and brightiness that the cover suggests – at least not initially. Then it all changes, previewing another two Jellaby stories, we get the cover feel, a fun silly adventure of a boy and his dragon and friends, playing. It's not far from Calvin and Hobbes. But I preferred the earlier tone, which doesn't seem to be recaptured.
Buck Rogers published by Hermes Press
Get ready to squint. Publishing Buck Rogers strips, that originally appeared full size on newspaper pages, shrunk to fit the dimensions of a comic book page isn't going to be easy. It's beautiful stuff in full colour, focusing on the work of Russell Keating as is the revived Howard Chaykin material at the back. It's a shame about the cover, doing the opposite as the pages, blowing the art up too large and then having it coloured in a way that fights against the material. It looks rather unappealing, especially considering the far better material inside. People will pass this over and they shouldn't.
Street Fighter #0 published by Udon Studios.
Unlike Buck Rogers, Udon has increased the size of its offering to better reflect the oversized actual Street Fighter graphic novels which these strips preview, really benefitting the lush coloured artwork throughout, never better than in the lead story "Hong Kong Hustle." Lots of bright, fast, colourful fighting, and occasionally a little reason for it as well.
Steam Wars #0 published by Antarctic Press.
Like Buck Rogers, not a great cover, much better insides, in this preview look at Antarctic's new series marries the characters of Star Wars with an Industrial Age technology, rifles and bayonets rather than light sabres and steam powers robots and ships. This should have been an official LucasFilm product but it makes do. So instead of a Wookie, we get a massive bear, we get electrified sabres and for Jedi, we have Quantum Dragoons. But for all that, the plot is original and this cheeky comic by Fred Perry is bound to jump start all manner of cosplay to come.
All You Need Is Kill/Terra Formers published by Viz Media.
So there's an All You Need Is Kill film coming. So why not adapt the original book as a comic ahead of that? Wise move… and a full colour anarchic feel to the comic gives it its own freshness, in this preview of the upcoming book. It feels like it was published in the Toxic anthology, it's punk and feels like an artefact of its own creation. Though having All You Need Is Kill read Western forwards and flip book Terra Formers read Western backwards does force the brain to do a quick flip as well. But yes, violence and martian nudity deserve its mature label. Definitely to keep away from the kiddies.
Futures End #0 published by DC Comics
I love a story set in the future. Despair, despondency, this is very much an Age Of Ultron wannabe, showing a terrible world with the heroes defeating, sending one man back in time to kill another to change the timeline. Also, Terminator. And well times for the release of X-Men: Days Of Future Past. It's a brand new story, looks pretty decent, seeing all the familiar figures in twisted or defeated forms. Like playing with your action figures and mashing them up with Zoids at the same time. Since we ran an early review, there has been some commentary that, of course, Batman manages to survive and save the day like he always does.
Nnnnn… not so fast.
Raising A Reader from the CBLDF
They've been handing this out at other shows before, and it's not exactly going to be giggles for the kids, but this is an illustrated essay about how to read, how to read comics, and how a parent can get involved with their child's education, including comic books, before seguing in to a freedom of speech message and a signing up form. It feels a little incongrous for a comic-sized form to have a test essay imploring people to use comics – rather than the Scott McCloud method of using comics, but I think this publication could be popping up a number of times in my household over the next few years.
Uber #0 published by Bleeding Cool's publisher Avatar Press.
Taking its lead from World War Z, this is a series of narratives, letters, transcripts of interviews, field reports from the Uber world, one in which superpowers were developed by the Nazi and the Allied forces towards the end of World War II, transforming and lengthening the campaign and changing human history completely. And we get the perspectives of the scientists and soldiers, the subjects and the victims. This is not a comic, but it provokes an obsessive interest in the subject in the reader that should transfer well into interest in the comic as a whole, as well as repurposing existing material into something fresh and new.
Atomic Robo from Red 5
A regular favourite on Free Comic Book Day. Partly due to having brand new, complete, exclusive stories that are funny, clever and sweet. As well as the titular Atomic Robo, there are also stories for Bodie Troll and Haunted. I'm still surprised that this comic doesn't get more attention given its long standing pedigree, nifty art and excellent turns of phrases, such as "Action Geology". That it's not as big as Hellboy is a crime. Here's a chance to discover why.
Archie Digest from Archie Comics.
Your free bargain! 100 pages of full colour Archie, paperback squarebound and digest size. And the stories are – Archie staple. Simple, groany-gag filled, they could come from any decade… and probably do. I probably prefer my Riverdale gang as the undead, but they've been getting quite the revival of late, this could be a rather attractive recruiting tool. Just not for me.
Bongo Free For All Comics published by Bongo
This comic has a back page Archie gag with the Futurama gang that I laughed at more than a hundred pages of the real thing, and the Sergio Aragones "Where's Ralph" full page cartoon of a prison riot is my favourite thing here, but there's lots to love. And even if the new stories are a bit hum drum, the notion that Rupert Murdoch is the Devil and calls Mr Burns boss is enough to keep me turning the page…
Les Misérables published by Udon
Adapting the Victor Hugo novel, it cuts out the essays and moral quandrays and goes straight for the heart of the plot, previewing the story of Fantine, with the melodrama that suits much manga art so well, hyper exaggerating emotions. It is more successful than the preview of Pride And Prejudice at the back which is far more angular and dead-eyed, the impression is more like mannequins than anything real – or maybe that's the point.
Sherwood Texas published by 12 Gauge
Very Sons Of Anarchy, the preview story focuses on biker gangs, an early death and the consequences in and around the community, all while retelling the story of Robin Hood and the powerplays of men. So there is Sherwood and Nottingham in Texas, there is a Little John and Robin, son of Richard Hood… playing the Peter Panzerfaust game but with a very different war. And The Boondock Saints back up tells a not unsimilar tale of men and guns, though it's a little odder. An unexpectedly good read all through.
Shifgeru Mizuki's Showa: A History Of Japan published by Drawn And Quarterly.
This is the first of the Free Comic Book Day titles that I've got angry when I got to the end., It just stops. It will continue in the graphic novel but I want to read it now and I can't and grrrrr. Cartoony when it needs to be, photo realistic when it needs to be, this is a World War II story from the point of view of a Japanese soldier in the navy. Getting beaten up, desperate for pineapple, while the war changes around him. And taking me all too easily on his journey…
Scratch 9 published by Hermes Press.
This is one of those comics that seems to, well, talk down to kids, Not credit them with any intelligence. Remember Inspector Gadget? Well, that. Mind numbingly tedious, slightly given a fillip by President Obama banning all cats. Government overreach, I know. But when Hello Kitty gives you a much more intellectually stimulating meal for your cat, then you know something is wrong.
Bleeding Cool Magazine, published by Avatar Press.
Okay, well, there's nothing objective I could say here. But with the new movie out, it's the only publication on Free Comic Book Day with Spider-Man on the cover. I list ten comics to turn a kid into a comic book fan overnight, as well as ten of the best comics of the century so far. I already know I'm going to get shit for including Cerebus Latter Days but be that as it may… and Brendon writes a sensational article asking why cinema can't have a Free Comic Book Day style event of its own. The magazine is designed for new and lapsed readers to give ideas of further reading, to inspire new directions and new thinking and to make people want to pick up another comic. I do hope it works… all brand new content. Hell, I'd read it.
Help The CBLDF Defend Comics
A mixture of stories old and new, illuminating the battle for free speech and comics can get rather exhilarating. There's some preachiness, sure, but its immediately defused by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier's true stories of censorship from the hilarious to the so strange they're just not funny. And dropped in the middle is Strange Truths, s spooky take about suppressed information which does a better job than the preaching. But there's a lot of good stuff to read here.
Sonic The Hedgehog from Archie Comics.
It's time for the origin of Sonic. Does he need a new origin? Yes he does, a time before speed and rings and running… but this and the Mega Man X story on the back share a common problem, that of just not being very clever. There's no wit or wisdom, which makes this a boring read in the way that other kids comics on this list are not. Sure, some kids will love them. But when they grow up, they will be sad that they did.
This is not, as some will believe, a crosswords book. It's an actual comic, a new prequel setting up the bigger graphic novel, a Las Vegas heist with superheroics, as well as another strip expanding the world. A little ephemeral perhaps but that comes with the territory. And a full sized graphic novel available digitally with a code in the back as well!
Teen Titans Go published by DC Comics
A reprint of last year's Teen Titans Go #'1, but now with added free, it's very based on the DC Nation Saturday morning spot which, as well as a more covered up Starfire, also brings us pizza monsters. Colourful, fun, but if you like this sort of thing… you probably have it. And paid for it too.
The Tick published by NEC Comics
This is more like it, especially when compared to Sonic. Fun, silly superheroics, witty, never stupid (unless it means to be) and giving us a full new adventure with The Tick dealing with an intergalactic hoarder – who also has a bunch of nineties comics that might be worth a fortune. For the young and the old, it will make you fall in love with The Tick all over again.
FUBAR: Ace Of Spades published by Fubar Press
Okay, this is just what you want. A new war story, set during the recent Iraq War, with US soldiers on the hunt for Iraqi figures of importance, as seen on a pack of cards. And unleashing a zombie epidemic in the process. All with an art style half way between Chris Burnham and Charlie Adlard. Oh yes and it's written by Chuck Dixon. Is that enough to draw you in?
Kaboom! Summer Blast published by Boom! Studios
Lots of new kids comics, shoved cheek by jowl into this title. A very different looking Gardield, a very exactly-as-you'd-want-them-looking Adventure Time, and much more, there's plenty of wit and wisdom in this comic to entertain the most jaded of children. We also get the comics debut of Stephen's Universe as their Cartoon Network line continues to expand.
Spongebob Squarepants published by United Plankton
Lots of stories with art styles that jump from one story to another. Nice and thick, loads to enjoy and some very silly nonsense that's just creepy enough to occasionally remind one of Ren And Stimpy – especially the comic strip about what goes into making a comic book. Rich, full and funky.
Intrinsic Singularity Zero published by Arcana
Yeah, this is pretty awful. Nice art on the surface but it belies a lack of content and those panels are massive. Though at least you don't get a lot of it, this is the floppiest of floppies. A kind of a BPRD wannabe, complete with their own wisecracking large red demon. Oh yes and somehow CERN is involved. Free isn't cheap enough I'm afraid.
Epic #0 published by Comix Tribe
This book tries to revive the wisecracking teenage superheroic trope, mixing battles with supervillains and battles with life. It felt a little same old same old, and the unpolished art wasn't exactly winning me over. And then it suddenly threw in a sexual twist that lifted it into, if not exactly three dimensions, then may two-and-a-half. Also, there's a code for even more free digital comics at the back, which is always good… one to watch, and the first issue proper is out the week after Free Comic Book Day. This may get a bevy of fans…
Uncle Scrooge And Donald Duck published by Fantagraphics
These are classic Don Rosa Duck stories – and in the first story A Matter Of Some Gravity is a true comics classic possibly one of the best stories for Free Comic Book Day, as Scrooge and Donald have their person gravity field turned sideways and have to deal with a world whose gravity remains normal, and the kind of story ideally suited to the comic book page and panels. It is absolutely astounding, well thought through and an utter joy to read, thge kind of story you might otherwise expect from a Will Eisner or an Alan Moore and I'd never read it before. This is the free comic you need to get most of all…
24 Comics Reviewed By Hannah Means-Shannon:
Rich Johnston, myself, and Ed Saul parceled up the Free Comic Book Day offerings amongst ourselves to read and review, and some were that ones that I was particularly anticipating. But I also took a dive more widely into what this year had to offer readers in order to glimpse what simply turning up at the shop might expose readers to and what choices they might make. Here are my reactions to 24 Free Comics that will be available on May 3rd in many shops near you.
Avatar: The Last Airbender/Itty Bitty Hellboy/Juice Squeezers, published by Dark Horse
Gene Luen Yang and Faith Erin Hicks make an excellent team on Airbender taking on themes of sexism and struggle for confidence and identity among young women with triumphs that make them far from "ordinary". Itty Bitty Hellboy by Franco and Baltazar takes us into the "ghostifying" of Rasputin and handle the short form storytelling with strength, really highlighting the art and humor value of each panel they create here. Juice Squeezers, coming to graphic novel this year, by David Lapham and Lee Loughridge is a surprisingly gritty teen story that handles bullying and all kinds of gross-outs with impressive characterization, and don't forget the giant bugs. A densely-packed read and wide-ranging offering from Dark Horse this year.
Far From Wonder, Volume One: Hatter M, published by Automatic Pictures
I hadn't read the Hatter M series of graphic novels before and this first issue reprint does make a useful introduction to the world of the story, and the bonus here is the artwork on this issue by Ben Templesmith. This Hatter tracking his lost Wonderland princess Alyss through Paris of 1859 is quite magical, brooding, sparky, and unpredictable and will capture the imagination. There are definite "squiddy" elements for fans of Templesmith and the touches of photo-realism create plenty of mood. Look out for cameos of Jules Verne and echoes of Kafka.
Rise of the Magi, published by Top Cow from Image
I was particularly looking forward to reading Rise of the Magi, having heard writer on the series Marc Silvestri describe all the book's strange premises and humor in his own words at Wondercon and being taken over by its wild flights of fancy as he did so. It sold me before I saw the book, and when I did, the art by Turkish illustrator Sumeyye Kesgin with colors by Jasen Smith seemed so uniquely balanced with Silvestri's outlook that a world where magic is a way of life (resulting in many a joke like Walnut-phones) and violence and danger are nevertheless presented with their own brand of realism confirmed my enthusiasm. This magic-carpet repair boy hero is going far this year, I predict. This issue #0 will be followed in the same month by issue #1 from Top Cow so get on board now for a powerhouse of talent in this new series.
Entropy, published by Epicenter Comics
Entropy captures that flavor of a totally diverse perspective on comics we get when a book is brought over from European sources and the artwork by Well-Bee is haunting, suggestive, and highly emotive. The writing still contains traces of a "translated" feel that has its own charm, but the worlds the comic sets up are worth checking out in the upcoming 4-part graphic novel series. Oh, and there are sword fights in this tale of resistance against an oppressive regime.
Worlds of Aspen 2014, published by Aspen Comics
The omnibus issue contains Damsels in Excess, The Zoohunters, and a fold-out poster featuring some of Aspen's upcoming works. Damsels in Excess is a strange, strange story that nevertheless is clever in its premise. It's like Desperate Housewives meets reality TV versions of the same meets fantasy medieval-ness. And it's a world without men where women are very competitive and catty as their high-ranking status only encourages. The Zoohunters is very highly recommended. With art by Peter Steigerwald, the world of the story is compelling in every line and detail as our sci-fi based creature hunter deals with the illegal trade of strange beasts, and Steigerwald creates a sense of wonder in each spread and panel. Watch out for it when it starts as a series this autumn.
FCBD Previews, published by Previews World
This is a Scott McCloud style introduction to the features and usefulness of Previews and though that's certainly a marketing tool, there's plenty of potential here for actually educating readers in a way that may help them get the comics they want and benefit from reading Previews. It introduces readers to the different sections of Previews, even walking them through filling out order forms to make sure their LCS carries the books they want to read, and with so many new comics from Image and others lately, as well as creator-owned imprints, those skills are becoming imperative to getting the most out of the current market. It also comes with a FCBD poster folded in and a guide to help get superhero movie-viewers into the related comics that already exist.
Giant-Sized Action, published by Red Giant
Tesla is a semi-historical action piece with plenty of chases and intrigue following the inventor under the pressure of sabotage, as well as a budding romance with his assistant. It's highly readable, though I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the constant rebuff of a female character proving the source of humor and her own mopey reactions. Still, there are elements that suggest she'll take on a stronger role down the road. Wayward Sons also treads a tricky path in handling Native American elements. I say that because the radar immediately goes up for stereotypes being used. However, so far the characters who possess super powers with a sci-fi twist have some subtlety in their portrayal, and the settings show research.
Shadow Children invites readers into an "elsewhere" reality where children who have been mistreated by adults in the "real" world seem to go under the dark protection of mysterious beings. It's a Twilight Zoney Neverland where central characters are introduced and many of the interpersonal tensions are established. This book has potential because of its unsentimental handling of youthful aggression and a blending of horror with fantasy. This might be a series to keep an eye on. Darchon is a very unusual book, toeing the line between magic/horror and a discussion of mental illness as a central character becomes convinced he's the voice of a comic-based sorcerer. The story keeps you guessing about just how dangerous these possible delusions might be to himself and the world around him.
Pandora's Blogs/Duel Identity
Pandora's Blogs has strong artwork and winning colors, and makes a valiant effort to be relevant to young teen life, brings in romance, weird tale elements, and of course, high-school drama. It's hard to tell from this short narrative whether this will be a "monster of the week" storyline, which may be recommended, and if for your sins you've ever seen Hemlock Grove, this is like a kinder, gentler version of that soap-operatic Netflix narrative, including an experimental medical center. Duel Identity has an edginess to it that may expand well during full narratives and also some very confident artwork. This superheroine created by a company who owns and directs her actions relishes going under cover as a human and may not be as goody-goody as she seems at first, an interesting ambiguity in characterization. It would be nice if most of the plot of the first story wasn't about toying with multiple romances and her power over men since the story is doing well to set up a female hero otherwise, but the elements of the story put in place may bring out more substantial storytelling later in.
The First Daughter/Magika
The First Daughter surprised me as a story because its wackiness and leaps of imagination-challenging logic seemed unlikely to win me over in such a short format, however, the artwork is sprightly and confident and the idea that the "first daughters" of American Presidents might form some kind of sleeping super alliance to save the world is, in the end, quite bold and fun. This looks to be a book that encourages female hero identification among young audiences and handles that attempt well. Magika has stellar artwork in painted style and seems to conjure the worlds of video games like Zelda and is certainly steeped in fantasy tradition. It has a simple plot, a host of foes to be avoided, and focuses on a slightly "new" character to the world of Magika to help reader identification set in.
Valiant Universe #1 Handbook, published by Valiant Entertainment
Bear with me a moment: YES, YES, YES. Valiant have made a hugely good decision to produce this book. In fact, is there any way they can keep offering it in shops for free after FCBD? Or perhaps free with a purchase of another Valiant comic?
Condensed into a single comic we have an explanatory tour of the entire Valiant universe character by character, and it even clues in the reader on events that relate to multiple characters. It's well-designed, easy to use, and something to keep out to refer to as you pick up new storylines and books. If you read no Valiant books, start here. If you read some Valiant books, you'll enjoy the humor and descriptions behind the history of your favorite characters, and then by checking out some of the other entries you'll be able to gage more easily which ones you'd like to try next. It's a very funny read for all takers, and gives away some information about characters like the Goat you might not have elsewhere, teasing at upcoming stories. Way to knock it out of the park, Valiant. This is exactly what FCBD should be doing to engage new readers and give current readers new leads on what to pick up.
Armor Hunters, published by Valiant Entertainment
Armor Hunters contains previews of upcoming storylines happening quite soon, like Rai, and packs in the content with interviews and a poster for readers. For those reading Valiant books right now, it's one to snatch up quickly and revel in the upcoming artwork as well as check out lists of how the crossover will play out between different series. It's a strong set up for the future of Valiant.
Top Shelf Kids Club, published by Top Shelf
Top Shelf presents two excerpts from graphic novels, including Maddy Kettle, an upcoming book, presented in lavish full-color format that's going to teach kids that comics can be beautiful and immersive. Monsters of the Hill is also included and ads to the storyline of the graphic novel. This is a comic kids will fall into, and also shows off the quality of Top Shelf all-ages narratives while giving a useful tool to adults (who will also enjoy reading it) in that the graphic novels themselves range from 15 to 20 dollars, and this is a great way to test out whether a young reader is going to really take a shine to the book before making that investment.
The Smurfs/Ariol/Dinosaurs, published by Papercutz
Peyo's original grandeur is brought to new audiences in these classic Smurfette tales featuring many of the question one does feel like asking about Smurf life given a little thought: how exactly does Smurfette cope with being the only female and receiving too much male attention? But her own coyness is critiqued, too, in this adventure, and there's always a lesson underlying Smurf interaction. Annoying Orange is also "getting what he deserves" in this book with a focus on the importance of positive attitudes, with artwork that's bound to appeal to all-ages readers. Ariol, always a win, is adorable as usual, but extra funny for comics fans due to its setting of an Angouleme-like comic festival and the struggles kids have with over-stimulating crowded environments. Papercutz infuses this issue with plenty of strong narrative and equally strong artwork that's a diverting read.
Power Rangers, published by Papercutz
This issue of Power Rangers makes the most of drawing in readers who may be fans of the show by introducing characters in both incarnations with tie-in elements and explanatory notes, but the artwork is actually highly realistic and caters well to teens in particular. There are plenty of robots, monsters, and interaction between team-members that creates a believable world for the comic, and with a dose of humor thrown in, it's an impressive book that speaks to new readers and die-hard fans alike.
Finding Gossamyr/Past The Last Mountain, published by Th3rd World Studios
The painted, fantasy-style artwork of Finding Gossamyr creates a sense of wonder that engages the senses immediately and hits on universal themes about a young man bored of a farming life (though there are dragons to entertain him) and hoping to take on a bolder, more warlike role. The first volume of this graphic novel series is already out in hardcover, and a second volume is coming next winter, so it offers the chance for readers to jump into the world of the story at an early juncture. And it is likely to find converts due to the high quality artwork alone. Past the Last Mountain is one of those books that combines genres in unexpected ways, from government agencies in black suits attempting to control "trolls" and the painfully adorable perspective of the creatures themselves breaking loose into a harsh world. There's a realism to the suffering in the narrative that promises some seriousness as well as playfulness to come and convinces me to look out for the rest of the story when it arrives.
Magic Wind, published by Epicenter Comics
Magic Wind is a proper traditional Western adventure, only it has elements of Lovecraft, and though the Native American shaman (see above concern about stereotypes) makes me squint a little, the fact that this book is definitively drawing on a Spaghetti Western influence and a homage to past narratives may explain some of the characterization. Gianfranco Manfredi and Pasquale Frisenda's excerpt from an upcoming graphic novel collection (volume 4) features Edgar Allen Poe as a character, by the way, and also giant monsters erupting from deep in the earth. There are chase scenes, blood-spattered bodies, and of course Native American legends accounting for these Lovecraftian beasties. It's a comic that has a strong sense of purpose and you have to admire that commitment to its own aesthetic and premises
Project Black Sky, published by Dark Horse
I was hoping that this book would be in my hands soon, but I managed to not realize until I actually saw the cover that Project Black Sky was coming together in this way for FCBD. I've written about Black Sky on the site a few times as an overarching element bringing together the more superheroic elements of the Dark Horse universe, and this issue features both Captain Midnight and Matthew Price, aka "Brain Boy" as they begin to unravel the conspiracy behind the project itself. It explains some of the elements that have been popping up in other books fairly well and contains reveals not to be missed by fans of any of the more hero-inclined books from Dark Horse right now, with implications for Black Out among others. There are checklists contained in the book that preview which books will be part of the upcoming crossover as well. What I didn't expect was the emphasis on humor from writer Fred Van Lente on this book, and it was refreshing, fast-paced team up tale as an "oldie" and the following generation in the form of Price face off across vast differences. Inside jokes to pop culture icons like Twilight Zone and various ape comics and films make for a fun read. In particular, the use of sign language in speech bubbles is also inventive and you'll find out what may happen when a protective agency becomes too mired in their own attempts to control unusual forces. For a FCBD book, this is a don't miss issue that's a major player in upcoming Dark Horse books. It should be clear by now that you should make it a point to get this book. Do.
Guardians of the Galaxy, published by Marvel
This book has some of the most impressive action sequence spreads I've ever seen in comics. I kind of hate to say that, because FCBD is about so much more than the Big Two, but though I'm a Guardians fan so was looking forward to reading it, I didn't foresee how winning a book it was going to be. My hypothetical break-down of how this book became so impressive runs as follows: Brian Bendis, Nick Bradshaw, Scott Hana, and Morry Hollowell knew that this book needed to introduce entirely new readers to the Guardians comics, probably brought in by hearing about the upcoming film. They realized they needed to introduce each character to the reader/identification character in the comic, so decided to go all out on the illustrative artwork as each character was presented. So they created these amazing intense snapshots of the Guardians in action, and then layered it by placing panels right over those action scenes, making the reader feel embedded in the action. That's why I'm saying the book is impressive artistically because it works due to its attention to detail. Hollowell's colors are also pretty glorious. There is a "plot" otherwise to the story, but I won't spoil it further. The book also contains a preview of Thanos: Infinite Revelation for the upcoming graphic novel by Jim Starlin and a preview of the Spider-Verse event, this scene set in Shakespeare's world of the Globe Theater. And the latter is hilarious. No doubt these books will be in high demand, but get one if you can.
Rocket Raccoon, published by Marvel
I was also anticipating this book with its lovely cover by Skottie Young, but it's another book that you can't quite predict until you have it in hand. It brings out the true wackiness underlying the Marvel universe in a way that some Marvel books seem wary of and does that to the nth degree. It poses the question of what Rocket gets up to under his "own devices" and the answer is morally ambiguous mayhem. We open with bejeweled and begowned regal creatures and bright, popping colors adorning space-battles and the depiction of central characters is like Wind in the Willows with a light dusting of acid hallucinations. There's cartoony violence and an impressive use of unchained panel layouts (many of the panels accented in deeply etched brightly colored frames) and all the characterization you'd want from Rocket based on prior knowledge of the character. There's bravado, plenty of sustained damage, and an extra feature of "Space Oddities" included that devolves into even wackier territory. Yep, Rocket deserves his own series and here it is at last.
2000AD, published by Rebellion
This FCBD edition of 2000AD is the best value of the day. At 48 full-color pages, it's a very generous presentation from Rebellion for readers, and reminds American readers of the texture and experience of the full-sized print magazine and what it has to offer. The creators on this issue are an all-star cast and the cover caption of "Got your attention punk" speaks well for the presence of the comic, making other FCBD offerings, no matter how appealing, look thin and flimsy by comparison. The cover is a homage to Spider-Man's famous junking of his suit in a trash can as Dredd walks away from his uniform in badge-stamped boxer shorts. Here we have included Judge Dredd, Slaine, Anderson: Psi-division, Absolom, Durham Red (by John Reppion and Leah Moore), and Rogue Trooper. It's a carnival-ride of excessive, beautiful artwork, humor and sci-fi elements that shows off the talent of all the contributors and the possibilities still on offer from anthologies. Hopefully, it'll turn the heads of new readers, or readers who have intended to keep up with 2000AD and might be brought back into the fold. It's an offering that one could easily spend a large chunk of FCBD reading and appreciating because there really isn't a lesser moment in the entire book. And that's challenging for American mainstream comics and should be.
Skyward/Midnight Tiger, published by Action Lab
Skyward is already a runaway success, the brain child of Jeremy Dale, and this story displays the same extreme commitment to detailed artwork that the series is known for but also fills in backstory and history in a way that ads to a reader's experience of the mythos of the story. It suggests a lot about the nature of conflict and the roots of violence to bring an extra dimension to the storytelling as well as setting up the tensions about to break in future stories. Midnight Tiger sets up an origin story for a new hero steeped in comic books as a teen who gets a little too close to "meta-human" action for his own good. Ray-Anthony Height shows off a firm grip on linework in the art for the story, and though the plot is fairly simple, it establishes the world of the comic for new readers without heavy exposition and engages with themes like gang-violence and the ways in which fantasy finds inspiration in reality.
Zombie Tramp/Ehmm Theory, published by Action Lab
This "mature readers" comic comes with plenty of parental advisories, so take note. Zombie Tramp has something of a Tarantino feel as this zombie is capable of proving very alluring to unwary drivers before preying on their weaknesses in a life "full of blood, carnage, and rage". But she's also on a quest to hone her magic and strength and maintain a far from typical zombie form of self-awareness. Dan Mendoza's art has a very distinctive feel, and his panel layouts are compact and interesting as much as his colors are well-chosen for his mid-western setting. Not for kids but an interesting development in occult-zombie narratives for adults coming to print this July. Ehmm Theory is also for adult readers and is an off-the-wall reality-bending narrative that I'm not sure I yet understand but was certainly entertained by. Particularly the heavy-swearing tiny cat with a jet pack eating tootsie pops. There are also dressed-up scary monkeys. Anything but boring and worth checking out. This comic also contains a preview of noir-styled Dry Spell, and Ken Krekeler's artwork is of note, watercolory and heavy inked in a story that looks to have Constantine-like occult elements.
Ipso Facto, published by Automatic Pictures
Ipso Facto is a somewhat harsh narrative in terms of its psychological and emotional overtones, but in that way, it takes itself seriously as a sci-fi narrative and the book is nothing if not realistic in its approach to relationships, familial and romantic, and the mental impact of crisis. The artwork is confident, the colors well-balanced, and the narrative closely follows its protagonist in a memorable way. For me, it's appeal lies in suggesting the ways in which we can be our own worst enemies and the fact that I'm thinking of such big themes means that the story is not just about science-fiction spectacle. It's a worthy read to get you thinking of what sci-fi can do as a genre and why its increasingly relevant in comics for creators and readers.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter
5 Comics Reviewed By Ed Saul (including the Mouse Guard anthology):
The Dumbest Idea Ever!, published by Scholastic
The story of a kid who tries to make his own comic book, Dumbest Idea Ever involves a good amount of emotive language and meditation on the creative process, while also being a fun story for kids. Jimmy Gownley's pencils are playfully reminiscent of Bill Watterson and Charles Schulz, while his storytelling creates a more open, accessible take on some of the principles laid out in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics series.
Transformers vs. G. I. Joe, published by IDW
With the grainy yellowed-paper colouring and the hand-drawn lettering, you'd think this were a lost classic IDW had dug out of a basement from the 80′s. As it is, seeing these two properties go head-to-head in classic fashion (as opposed to versions based on their recent movie adaptations). In effect, the whole story is not unlike pitting a herd of elephants against a troop of gorillas – you know they're both endangered species but the spectacle is thrilling to see.
V-Wars, published by IDW
Is there meant to be a hint of irony that the stoic hero of this book bears the last name "Swann"? Sadly, in spite of the dynamic art there's nothing hugely innovative about this vampire story, which serves as little more than a neat cocktail of "massed hordes"/"supernatural virus" post-apocalyptic tales – a hint of 300 Days of Night here, a dollop of Crossed there, two parts World War Z, one part Daybreakers. Even the ending seems reminiscent of one of the more haunting twists in Night of the Living Dead.
Courtney Crumrin, published by Oni Press
With the introduction of a creepy old house and an outsider kid on the first day of school in a new town, Courtney Crumrin is treading familiar ground – perhaps even seeking to court the readership of recently-completed Locke & Key, or Neil Gaiman's Coraline. The art is suitably dynamic, with some beautiful visual concepts, and the writing wisely begins to build its mythology rather than pacing things out. I'm not sure if Courtney really doesn't have a nose or if this is just the style of the artist, but at the end of the day it's a good kid's comic with two interesting female protagonists, so I'm happy.
As someone who read an awful lot of Redwall books as a child, I can't help but love Mouse Guard whenever I see it on the stands. As always, the story is absolutely solid and the art gorgeous, especially in the expressions and backgrounds.
The colour palette for Rust is well-chosen, and the story has a pleasantly inspirational feel. Some of the panelling is very emotive; Royden Lepp understands quite well the importance of negative space in communicating emotions and danger.
It's surprising that more hasn't been done with Jim Henson's Labyrinth before – like The Dark Crystal, the story has acres of potential plotlines and world exploration. Adam Smith's story has a taste of the whimsy and intelligence of the original film; hopefully whatever comes next won't be as creepy…
I'm a sucker for good cross-hatching, and Sean Rubin brings that in spades. I've not yet considered the idea of exploring the struggles of immigrants in America through cartoonish dinosaurs, but it's an intriguing concept…
Will O' the Wisp
A nice play on the old "Your Pet Has A More Thrilling Night Life Than You'd Imagine" story formula, set in a Gaiman-esque town of witches, gravediggers and cookies with crickets baked in. The art is charmingly moody and the characters expressive.
I've never seen Farscape, so I'm kind-of lost here. I gather that the story and visuals are as true to the series as could be, and hopefully fans should get some pleasure out of it.
You can find Ed Saul on aboxofbones.com, or via firstname.lastname@example.org.