Sunday, May 13, 2007

Free Comic Book Day Reviews

Free Comic Book Day (or FCBD) is normally considered the most important day to comic shops and comic book fans across the country. The point of the day is to try and attract new readers into comic shops with special books that the publishers release specifically for FCBD that are given out for free. The theory goes, that hopefully the new fans will pick up the free books, get interested in them, and come back for more. It's the same way crack dealers operate.

The other purpose of FCBD is for the already embedded fan of comics (i.e. myself) to possibly try out a few books that normally I wouldn't spend a cent on. The goal here is to empty my wallet even more.

Anyway, I know that the day isn't the most successful it could be. Many times people just come in for the free books and don't return for another year. But I'd argue that the day is still a success. Greg Hatcher over at Comic Book Resources 'Comics Should Be Good' blog disagrees. He's got a point, I'll give him that, but I think that most of his trouble lies in the shop rather than the objective of the event. Maybe it's cliché, but comic shops aren't exactly the most welcoming place to a newbie. And unless you're prepared to argue why Sue Richards having a miscarriage was perfectly fine, but Sue Dibney getting raped went too far, then I suggest that you don't open your mouth at all the first time you enter a shop.

Need a better example? Think the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. He sums up comic book shop attitudes perfectly. This is who Greg Hatcher met at this local Seattle comic book shop, he met an unnamed generic slob who gets annoyed that these people giving him money are interrupting his 'Aquaman supporting cast vs. Keith Giffen creations' heroclix game. Of course that's going to turn people off from the shop, and probably comics in general. And it's a damn shame.

What Greg has to do is find a shop where the guys running it are not like that. They do exist, believe me. My local shop, Time Warp, is amazing. It's a very welcoming place, and the guys that work there are very helpful and knowledgeable. For them, FCBD should be a success. I remember when I entered the shop last Saturday there were more kids in there than I ever saw visiting his shop before. And since Time Warp offers a nice selection of kids books, I'd hope that these kids will be back.

Anyway, I picked up 5 books on FCBD, most of which were stuff that I was sampling for the first time. Were they successful in getting me hooked? Let's see:

Bongo Sampler 2007—Bongo Comics—by Evan Dorkin, Eric Rogers, et al.

Bongo is the publisher that puts out the Simpsons and Futurama comics, and so this is a mix-match sampler of those two titles. Prior to this I had never read a Simpsons or Futurama comic, but I considered the Simpsons' first 11 seasons to be one of the best runs on television, and Futurama to be it's (albeit short-lived) successor. I figured maybe their comic still lives up to what the show used to be (and the fact that Evan Dorkin was writing some stories in it was definitely a push in the right direction).

Well, I'm sorry to say that I was very disappointed with this book. Not only was it not funny, but also at times it seemed like the writers didn't even have a good grasp on the characters that everyone should know by heart. Ok, maybe I've been watching too much of my Simpsons Season 5 DVDs and I'm demanding something that can't exist in that form anymore, but if I were trying to get into either Simpsons/Futurama comics, or their TV equivalents, this certainly wouldn't do it. Not recommended.

The Amazing Spider-Man—Marvel Comics—by Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez

Here is a book that I was very worried about. Over the last few years Spider-Man has become a perversion of the character we all used to love. Writers don't understand him, and try to make him darker than Daredevil. None of this ever works. I had heard that this was going to be an in continuity story where Mary Jane joins with the Initiative (don't ask) and becomes a superhero known as Jackpot. Thankfully most of that was very wrong. The story isn't in continuity, has no mention of Civil War or the Initiative, or even past continuity. A new villain is made for the main plot of the book (with a few old ones popping up in The Bar With No Name), and we are introduced to old characters as if a new reader could instantly understand their characterization. If I have never read a Spider-Man story before, after reading this I would know perfectly well who J. Jonah Jameson is, Aunt May, Spider-Man, Robbie Robertson, and even the New York City police. The only character who may not be explained fully well for newbies is Mary Jane Watson, who yes, is the "new superhero" Jackpot (at least we think). And as ridiculous that is, it works in the story.

This book is the perfect story to get people interested in Spider-Man. I feel bad for anyone who now goes to pick up the next issue of ASM though…it isn't anything like this. This is how a good Spidey story is suppose to be, the preview in the back for "One More Day" is exactly how it isn't. Recommended.

Gumby—Wildcard Inc—by Shannon Wheller, Rick Geary, Bob Burden, Mark Bode, Steve Oliff, and Mike Hersh.

I know you're all possibly calling me insane right now, but hear me out. This book was awesome.

For those that don't know, there has been a revival of the Gumby book going on recently written by Bob Burden and Rick Geary. Burden as you know (or should) was the guy who created The Flaming Carrot and the Mystery Men (yes, the guys in that Ben Stiller movie). And if you've ever read Flaming Carrot, you'll know that Burden is one sick motherfucker.

He takes his wacky vision to Gumby, and with it has created one of the most surrealistic mind trips I've read since Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol. In this story Gumby and Pokey visit an art museum. There, they witness the Blockheads trying to steal the Mona Lisa, so to thwart them, Gumby jumps into a bunch of paintings, and interacts with the works of Rembrandt, Munch, Van Goeh, R. Crumb and etc etc etc. It's fucking brilliant.

I haven't given this Gumby book the time of day prior to reading this, despite everyone telling me how good it is. Now, I must say, I'm hooked. I'll be picking up the next trade. Insanely recommended.

Nexus—Rude Dude Productions—by Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

Prior to reading this I had already preordered the new Nexus mini-series out of previews. I really didn't know that much about Baron and Rude's creation, but I figured I'd give it a try do to everyone's suggestions. This issue is basically a recap of Nexus' long publishing history. It's kind of useless though. Yes, it is full of nice artwork, and good writing, but I didn't get a feel for the character at all. He kills mass murders…ok, I already knew that. That seems to be the only information that this brief history gives. It was more along the lines of 'what are Mike Baron's favorite pieces of writing' rather than what do readers need to know about Nexus. I'm sure Nexus is a great series, but this book wouldn't make anyone interested in it. Not Recommended.

Unseen Peanuts—Fantagraphics Books –by Charles Schulz.

This is a collection of all the Peanuts strips that never made it into collections prior to the recent "Complete Peanuts" books. For most of these, there is a reason for it. Some are just plainly unfunny; others completely work counter to the characters, and yet others just don't make sense. Somehow though this is all a benefit for the book. Looking at the strips that Schulz pretended never existed is a fascinating study into his mind. Not everything I've ever read from Peanuts has been hysterical, but it really shows what type of man Schulz was that he'd print a strip with a bad pun as it's joke, but not a fairly clever strip making a dark joke about war. It's interesting. Recommended.