Thursday, May 2, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013 Reviews and Recommendations: Part 1!

Saturday May 4th is not just Star Wars Day, but also happens to be this year’s Free Comic Book Day, and thanks to our dear friends at Perth’s Quality Comics, we have a slew of the books in hand and have been covetously rubbing our eyeballs all over them. Yes, we’ve read them, and we’re going to tell you what you can expect and what we heartily recommend. And this year there’s some really great ones!

If you’re local, be sure to check out Quality’s event page. There’s always discounts and extra fun to be had, and I know there’s going to be a lot of customers showing up in costume. And if you want a preview of Marvel’s Infinity, Star Wars, Mass Effect, The Tick, Atomic Robo, Judge Dredd and 2000 AD, be sure to join me for part one... after the jump!

I’m going to be a little philosophical first before we start. 2013’s comics are an eclectic bunch, aimed at a variety of ages, and it’s interesting to me to see how each publisher has a different approach to the event. It raises the question, what is the true purpose of Free Comic Book Day? Is it a promotional opportunity for publishers to preview and tease seasoned readers with their upcoming books for the year; or is it a philanthropic attempt to lure brand new readers, perhaps even putting their very first comic book in their hands? You’ll see both strategies at play with the books at hand, but I am grateful that, no matter what your tastes (or age), there should be something accessible for everyone.

Okay, let’s start with some big guns (although I’m going to leave my absolute favourites until last).

Infinity is Marvel’s main offering this year and is a preview of their upcoming six-part Infinity series, centering around cosmic big bad, Thanos, who is pictured chilling on his space throne just like he was at the end of The Avengers movie. And it’s really that link/echo of the film that has me most interested in this one as we know Thanos will be an important villain in the movie universe as we move forward. So not a bad time to bone up on our, Thanos, and this book serves as an interesting little primer. It may prove a little bit confusing for a first time comics reader, but you’ll at least enjoy the Jim Cheung artwork.

The unexpected bonus here, however, is the inclusion of a classic reprint story from 1977 featuring Thanos being a space jerk and being challenged by a green-skinned Destroyer (I’m assuming this is Drax who will soon be showing up in the Guardians of the Galaxy film). I love the classic comics so I probably got more of a kick out of this one than the modern half. And I’m also curious as to why Marvel picked this story in particular - is there something that happens in it that they are foreshadowing? Read it and let me know.

Rounding it out is a brief modern day Captain America story where he’s hanging out at the Stark Tower. Not sure why this one is included, unless there’s a significance attached to the character that is revealed at the end. Is this a new costume? Yet more foreshadowing of something more significant? Do I need prior knowledge to understand this one? Maybe time will tell?

I’m surprised Marvel didn’t give us some Iron Man considering that the hype machine is still running rampant, but paving our way to unravelling Thanos and all the cosmic characters certainly isn’t a bad thing. 

Star Wars / Captain Midnight / Avatar the Last Airbender
Dark Horse Comics have released two free compilation books for 2013 that manage to cover a lot of ground. The first has a Star Wars story on one side, and an Avatar story on the other, with a Captain Midnight story sandwiched awkwardly in the middle. So don’t be confused if you see the two covers next to each other. They’re actually the same book.

I’ve been curious about the relaunch of the new series simply titled Star Wars, which focuses firmly on the iconic characters from the original trilogy. Included here is an eight page self-contained story penned by Brian Wood, about an assassination attempt on Darth Vader, set shortly before a new hope. I found some of the prose a little clunky but I respect that we were given a new standalone story that is easily accessible and features characters we love. It’s a good time for Star Wars to get back to its roots.

Captain Midnight, on the other hand, left me a little cold. I don’t know what to make of this retro, superheroic (maybe?) pilot character. It doesn’t really tell us who is or what he does. Apart from turn up out of nowhere and punch someone. Could have been a little tighter.

And I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never really watched the Avatar cartoon, so can’t speak for whether or not this story will appeal to hardcore fans, but I will say that, as a newbie, it was easy enough to follow and certainly teases a far larger and more complicated world. Regardless, this book is varied enough for you to latch on to something.

Mass Effect / RIPD / The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
This is the second Dark Horse compilation, also featuring a flip cover. It kicks off with a standalone Mass Effect story that tells the tale of how the crippled Joker beat the odds to become pilot of The Normandy. How he does it may baffle you a little, but it’s definitely worth reading if you’re a Mass Effect fan. (Which I am). (I would like to contribute a story about how Miranda learned to pilot her butt).

RIPD is a smart inclusion with the movie coming out. I’ve never read the comic and didn’t even know the premise until I watched the trailer, so I appreciated this introductory self-contained story which shows the two agents doing what they do best. It definitely has a Ghostbusters/Men in Black feel which is very much a good thing.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a tease of Gerard Way’s new series. As well as being in some band you may have heard of, he wrote the excellent and inventive Umbrella Academy, so I was very keen to see the fresh ideas he’s been hiding up his sleeve. And there are certainly a lot of crazy ideas here - probably too many for such a short section and I was a little bit confused but definitely intrigued. There’s all sorts of weirdness going on here including a regimented society that is presided over by... scarecrows? I want to know more and I think this is one to check out on release.

The Tick
Who doesn’t love bombastic blue superhero The Tick? This book is also unique in the fact that it’s a brand new full 21 page story served up for free PLUS some back up stories as well. There’s a very welcoming personal touch to this book as editor George Suarez provides a significant text intro as well as some later musings by writer Jeff McClelland on the purpose of Free Comics Book Day and his sincere desire to get comic books into new hands.

And to top it all off the story is genuinely funny, showcasing a bunch of silly characters and drawing to a ludicrous conclusion. Although the creative staff on The Tick keeps changing, it’s still very much worth your time. This is perhaps the most complete offering of all, feeling very much like a regular issue.

Atomic Robo / Bodie Troll
Atomic Robo is as solid as always, and I’m always impressed by how sharply executed the whole thing is. The artwork is clean and tight, as is the storytelling, and there’s a crisp, controlled wit to the dialogue. The story here is very simple (as it suited to a half-sized offering) as Atomic Robo battles a larger robotic opponent, but it’s no less enjoyable. Grab this one.

The back-up feature, Bodie Troll, is about a troll who wants to be scary but is too “cute”. He lives in a small village full of colourful human characters that reminds me of the setting of Jeff Smith’s Bone. This one is nicely executed but aimed at far younger readers than I. 

Judge Dredd
Okay now here is a winner. I’ve been thinking of trying some classic Judge Dredd for a while now but haven’t known where to start. And luckily for me this book is a compilation of some classic stories, including the origins of decomposed badass Judge Death, who I’ve been longing to read about. These are such solid, tightly compressed stories where a ton of stuff happens in a short amount of time, and the Judge Death story has ramification for the psychic Judge Anderson that I really was not expecting.

And then there’s a series of very funny back up stories featuring Walter the Wobot, who cannot pronounce his “R” and is tasked with important jobs like ironing Judge Dredd’s underwear. These stories are way more crazier and far more entertaining than I was ever expecting.

BUT it gets even better. All of tales in this book feature art by the legendary Brian Bolland! I have been mesmerized by his work since The Killing Joke in the eighties, and it’s marvellous to see these recoloured reprints here. I need to buy a big book of Judge Dredd classics, stat! And you need to pick this one up on Free Comic Book Day!

2000 AD
And this one is the best looking book of them all! It’s a glossy, oversized 48 page compilation of sci-fi stories set in the world of Judge Dredd and beyond. Some are complete tales (like the first one which features an appearance by Dredd himself) and some that are preview excerpts of upcoming books. The art is stunning, the writing is very sharp, and this one made me genuinely excited to pick up some future releases.

Perhaps my favourite is the last story which features a satirical take on five trademarked commercialised mechanical lions who rap about saying no to drugs. Until yellow lion goes off the rails and discovers punk. With lines like, “Who’s going to rap to the kids about the evils of doing bath salts off a hooker’s back” what’s not to love? If you’re an adult reader and you want to be challenged, then this book is your prize. Definitely pick it up if you can.

And that’s what I’ve read so far! Join us tomorrow for part two when Jacinta is going to cover the next batch of titles! Thanks again to our pals at Quality Comics for the hook up and I’ll see you there on Saturday!

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