Borrowing the tried-and-true tactic of drug dealers, Free Comic Book Day gives newcomers a free first taste in the hopes of hooking them on comics and, should they become truly addictedd to the medium—bam!—comic shops and publishers have another new customer for life.
Free Comic Book Day is May 5th this year, which is probably a little too early to start seeing which of your local comic shops are participating and finalizing your shopping list, but it's not too early to look at what books we can look forward to, and contemplate whether or not they’re very good choices for evangelizing the medium and growing the customer base.
First, let’s look at the offerings of the two big companies which, for all intents and purposes, constitute the comic book industry.
THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
IN THE 31ST CENTURY #1
DC's gold-level title for this year, is [the] all-new, all-ages Johnny DC series spinning out of the smash-hit animated series on Kids WB on the CW! In this debut issue, the Legion travels back in time for reinforcement to stop the Fatal Five from destroying Metropolis because this looks like a job for—Clark Kent?! Can six teenagers from the future help a mild-mannered teenager become the Man of Steel, or will the Fatal Five determine his destiny before it's even begun? The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 is a 32-page comic book written by J. Torres, with art by Chynna Clugston-Flores and a cover by Steve Uy.
Media tie-in books are popular giveaways on FCBD, but the choice for companies to release them always struck me as somewhat counter-intuitive (DC’s been giving away a comic book adaptation of a cartoon adaptation of one of their comic book every FCBD since the holiday was launched).
On the one hand, they tend to be titles newcomers are already familiar with, making them likely to pick them up, but on the other hand, they’re also books that don’t really need any sort of push. The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century (holy shit, is that title long enough?) is a comic book that already has a half-hour commercial for itself running on TV, does it need the FBCD push too?
Additionally, I can’t imagine it being a book that’s going to lead to life-long comics readers or, if it does, that it’s the best one to start them on. I’m about as nerdy a DC reader as you can get (Hell, I blog on their comics, for chrissakes!) and even I’m leery of the LOSH. The first year’s worth of Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s current series is the longest I’ve ever read any Legion series, and I wouldn’t have even attempted that if it weren’t a hard reboot. Legion continuity is a fucking desert full of mirrors, and any traveling into it are risking their own sanity.
That said, I do plan on reading this new series for a couple of issues, at least. All of DC’s cartoon tie-ins are incredibly hit-or-miss, but this one has the advantage of Chynna on art chores. Of course, Chynna writing and designing her own LOSH series would be even cooler than this, but I’ll take Chynna art wherever I can get it.
Confidential to DC: There’s no hyphen in the word "superheroes!" Cut that out!
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #0
DC's silver-level title is Best-selling author Brad Meltzer broke the JLA down in the top-selling, critically acclaimed Identity Crisis—and now he puts all the pieces back together again! The core heroes of the DC Universe, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, are back—but where do they stand with each other? Join us for this historic and unforgettable new beginning of the Justice League of America as we look at the past, present and future of the World's Greatest Super Heroes! Justice Leage of America #0 is written by Brad Meltzer, with art by Eric Wight, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, George Pérez, J.H. Williams III, Luke McDonnell, Paul Neary, Gene Ha, Rags Morales, Ethan Van Sciver, Kevin Maguire, Adam Kubert, Dan Jurgens & Kevin Nowlan, Jim Lee, Howard Porter & Dexter Vines, Andy Kubert & Jesse Delperdang, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning, and Ed Benes & Sandra Hope, and a cover by Michael Turner.
Now this is just a jaw-dropping surprise, although I guess it shouldn’t be, since last year DC gave away Superman/Batman #1, a title that was so chock-full of crazy cameos and Easter eggs that you need to read it with a copy of Who’s Who within reach. And it was also a title that was always late, making it one of comicdom’s more frustrating “monthly” series.
JLoA is one of DC’s bona fide hits, one of only three such hits that comes out on a monthly basis (along with JSoA and 52). According to Comics Buyer Guide’s latest estimates, the title’s #4 and #5 issues were the top-selling books in December, both topping out at over 130,000 books.
It’s one of the very few books that doesn’t have any problems attracting new readers, and doesn’t need any help racking in tens upon tens of thousands of readers each issue.
But as popular as it is with people who already read comic books, it’s hard to imagine that this special zero issue will convert non-comics readers into comics readers.
The one thing the book had going for it was a ton of great art (seriously, look at that list!). The story is pretty unintelligible, consisting almost entirely of flashbacks and flash-forwards.
The flashbacks occur along a heavily revised timeline of Justice League history. This is set on the post-Infinite Crisis timeline, which is similar to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths time line, although it covers events between the two Crises as well. See, you have to know special nerd vocabulary just to get through a synopsis of the issue.
The flash-forwards cover scenes we might see at some point in the future (the Trinity’s re-discovery of Earth-2, the death of Pa Kent, the battle with Luthor, Hal Jordan’s wedding) and events we almost certainly won’t see (Wonder Woman’s wedding, Superman and Wonder Woman commiserating after Batman’s death). Meltzer has some neat ideas in the story, but if you don’t already know who Hal and Barry and Arthur and J’onn are, then it’s unlikely they’ll strike you as neat.
Of greater concern is the fact that if someone picks this up and falls in love with it, where do they go from there? Track down every Meltzer comic book, and all you’ll get are a particularly strong Green Arrow trade and Identity Crisis, both of which are extremely steeped in continuity (or Meltzer’s version of it; IC actually makes a number of mistakes regarding secret identities), and the latter of which pivots around a brutal rape and puts most of the “Satellite Era” JLoA in a very unflattering light.
And I did mention the brutal rape, right?
In that respect, if DC had to put one of their best-sellers out there, JSoA #1 woulda been a much better choice. It’s a more accessible read (jam-packed full of legacy characters as it is), and anyone who reads it and wants to follow Johns’ work on the JSA will have a whole backlog of trade paperbacks to peruse featuring the team, not to mention Johns’ Flash, Green Lantern, Teen Titans, Infinite Crisis and so on.
Better still might have been a very accessible, jumping-on-point of a book featuring a popular character that isn’t already a blockbuster hit, like 52 and the two Justice titles. Maybe Superman #654 or All-Star Superman #1 (or any issue of that superior series, really).
Come to think of it, DC doesn’t really offer a lot of good jumping-on-point books that are also done-in-one’s sure to hook a lot of readers, do they? I guess they could always create something original that fits that criteria. That’s the route Marvel’s going with one of their FCBD offerings, namely…
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: SWING SHIFT
Written By Dan Slott
Art by Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning
Cover by Phil Jimenez
Fan-favorite writer Dan (Avengers: The Initiative; She-Hulk) Slott and Superstar Artist Phil ( New X-Men; Infinite Crisis) Jimenez bring you a brand new tale of danger and intrigue starring your favorite web-slinger...a tale that may just come back to haunt Spidey in the coming months.
Well, if I had to choose between one of these first four books, this is the one I’d be all over.
Dan Slott is pretty much the perfect Marvel writer—his scripts are smart, fun and funny, his understanding of the characters and history are unassailable, and he manages to tell stories that capture that old Marvel spirit while reading thoroughly modern and vital rather than dated. He’s a perfect Spider-Man writer (as his Spider-Man/Human Torch and Shulkie story about Spidey suing J. Jonah Jameson proved) and I can’t wait to see what he does with the wall-crawler (I’d like to see him take on a monthly Spider-Man book at some point, but hopefully not until Marvel loses interest in its current Spider-Man direction, what with the magic totem powers and the arm spikes and the different costumes every ten issues).
Phil Jimenez has long been one of my favorite artists, but I wouldn’t imagine him as a very good fit for Spidey stylistically, which actually makes me more eager to see his work on this book.
This seems like a good FCBD offering. Anything Spider-Man is a good idea in light of this summer’s movie, the fact that this is an original book means it’s likely to interest people who already read comics, and Slott is a writer with enough trades under his belt that if this is a hit with brand-new readers who want more of the same, it could potentially interest them in Slott’s ongoing She-Hulk and it’s trade collections, the Spider-Man/Human Torch digest and the upcoming Avengers spin-off.
MARVEL ADVENTURES THREE-IN-ONE
Written by FRED VAN LENTE and PAUL BENJAMIN
Penciled by JAMES CORDEIRO
Cover by DAVID NAKAYAMA
First, Tony Stark must find out who or what is behind a mysterious series of thefts at Stark International of Brazil, but is the answer more than his alter-ego, the INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, can handle?
And in our second feature, brilliant scientist Bruce Banner has a secret side to his personality—an alter ego that's capable of causing mass destruction—THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Can he keep the gamma-powered monster at bay while on the run from the authorities?
PLUS…we've got a story featuring Eisner Nominated FRANKLIN RICHARDS! Son of a Genius!
I have no idea what the hell this book is all about. I’m assuming the Iron Man and Hulk stories are new, since neither character has his own Marvel Advantures book. Fred Van Lente’s philosophy comics are phenomenal, but I’ve never read any of his super-work.
As for the Franklin Richards story, I would assume that would have to be the work of Marc Sumerak and Chris Eliopoulos, but the copy doesn’t say for sure.
I’ve heard good things about the Franklin books from other members of the “Best Shots” crew, but the whole thing makes me very uncomfortable. The Calvin and Hobbes homage was cute once, but doing it over and over well, that joke isn’t funny any more, and the longer it goes one, the less it seems like an homage and the more it feels like robbery.
And now, everything else!
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY / ZERO KILLER / PANTHEON CITY—FCBD EDITION
Three for the price of… none? Conceived and written by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way, The Umbrella Academy features interior art by Gabriel Bá (Casanova) and Dave Stewart (Hellboy), and covers by multiple-Eisner-Award-winning artist James Jean (Fables). The Umbrella Academydebuts with a 12-page story set before the start of the upcoming series. This issue also features sneak-peeks of two other upcoming Dark Horse titles: Zero Killer, by Rex Mundi creator Arvid Nelson and Matt Camp (Shadows), and Pantheon City, written by Ron Marz (Samurai: Heaven and Earth) and drawn by Clement Sauve (Stormwatch)!
Something about the words “Conceived and written by My Chemical Romance front man” fills me with anger and hatred, but one glance at that beautiful James Jean cover soothes me and dissipates all my negative feelings. This one might be interesting.
WALT DISNEY’S MICKEY MOUSE—FCBD EDITION
2006 Eisner Award Hall of Fame honoree Floyd Gottfredson brings you the Mickey Mouse you love: a two-fisted scrapper in a jaw-dropping epic! “The Robin Hood Adventure” takes our hero to Medieval times, where he must prove himself a warrior—sword-fighting, jousting, and risking his life to rob the rich! And then there’s that little matter of marriage to one of Minnie’s ancestors… ods bodkins!
The Gemstone offerings tend to be some of the best FCBD books. While I generally prefer ducks to mice, this one certainly sounds fun, doesn’t it?
THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN
by Robert Kirkman & Jason Howard
When Gary Hampton is mauled and left for dead — his life takes a drastic turn. Gary is cursed—when the moon is full he transforms into a beast of the night—a werewolf! But this curse will not be used for evil— witness the birth or the world’s most unlikely new superhero—The Astounding Wolf-Man! Don’t miss Robert (Invincible, The Walking Dead) Kirkman’s new series from Image Comics! It all starts Right Here for FREE!
Aaa! If you must use a dash in every single sentence in the same paragraph, at least use them right! Ghah. Anyway, this looks awesome. Robert Kirkman certainly knows his away around the superhero genre, and is no slouch at horror either. This should be a series to keep an eye on well past FCBD.
THE UNSEEN PEANUTS—FCBD EDITION
By Charles M. Schulz
Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts is the most-reprinted comic strip of all time, with literally hundreds of collections published in the last 50 years. You would expect that by now every Peanuts strip has been collected more than once... and you’d be very wrong! In fact, hundreds of Peanuts strips were never reprinted. The Complete Peanuts has been rectifying this, and The Unseen Peanuts is a special collection of over 100 of these rarities. It’s a great introduction of the strip to new readers, and a fascinating trove of rarities that will surprise and delight even the most diligent Peanuts — a perfect sampler for both neophyte and old hand!
THE TRAIN WAS BANG ON TIME—FCBD EDITION
AN EPISODE FROM THE BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY
By Mr. Eddie Campbell
First Second Books celebrates Free Comic Book Day with a preview of the graphic novel The Train Was Bang On Time: An Episode from The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Mr. Eddie Campbell, to be published later this spring. It’s a tale of robbery, explosions, and terror in America's heartland at the turn of the twentieth century.
As someone who is alread a comics addict, I’m not a big fan of these sorts of preview books on FCBD, since I’ll likely buy and read these things in full eventually anyway, but they should be great recruiting tools. Particularly that Peanuts one. I don’t know how hooky an Eddie Campbell book will be to people who just walked into their first comics shop, but Schulz’s Peanuts is a tried and true sequential art lure, and Fanta as designed a beautiful set of books collecting his life’s work.
COMICS FESTIVAL! 2007—FCBD EDITION
It’s time again for Comics Festival!, the most exciting FCBD title of the year! Featuring new stories from Darwyn Cooke (The New Frontier), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Hope Larson (Salamander Dream), Chip Zdarsky, Michael Cho, and a host of great Canadian cartoonists (including a full-color section!), Comics Festival! 2007 is the FCBD book not to be missed!
Based on that line-up alone, I concur with that last sentence of copy. I kind of wish Oni had another kick-ass installment of Scott Pilgrim to give away like that did last year, but their offering is still a solid if old one.
WHITEOUT #1—FCBD EDITION
By Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber
Oni Press and the Eisner-winning team of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber are pleased to offer the first issue of one of the most critically acclaimed indy comics series of the last decade! U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko is the lawwoman charged with maintaining order in the snowy wasteland of Antarctica, but when someone commits murder on "The Ice," will Carrie be able to find the culprit?
Easily Greg Rucka’s best comics work. Considering how old this story is (Whiteout was one of Oni’s first offerings, if I recall correctly) I’m downright shocked to see this here, but it is a book that will appeal to mainstream, non-comics readers. If I were Oni Press, though, I might have tried to make something like their old color specials, in which characters from a variety of their titles would interact in a single story drawn in a jam-style by many of their creators.
BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL! 2007—FCBD EDITION
By Matt Groening
The comic company that brings you The Simpsons and Futurama in the fantastic four-color format joins the ranks of promotion-seeking publishers on Free Comic Book Day by joining with retailers to reel in new readers, with a comic cornucopia of tantalizing tidbits and a spectacular sampling of the best in humor comics!
I generally only read the Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials, but it’s nice to see Bongo offering this, if only to remind folks that there’s still one medium in which the Simpsons are still really funny.