Sunday, May 03, 2009

Weekly Haul: Special Free Comic Book Day Bonus Edition

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, prompting a second trip to the comic book store for a second batch of new comics this week. It was like a week with two Wednesdays!

I had visitors coming in from out of town, so I didn’t have too much time to spend at my local comic shop, The Laughing Ogre. I was quite happy to see how busy it was though. It was so busy that all of their dedicated parking spaces were filled, and I actually had to hunt around the lot they shared with other businesses to find parking, ultimately parking behind their little strip mall and having to walk around to the entrance.

It was rather crowded inside, about as crowded as I’ve ever seen it, with more women and kids there than usual—a lot more kids, actually.

Right by the front door were two large tables, each full of stacks upon stacks of comics, with store employees behind each. They explained that everyone could take two books from the first table, and maybe a third from the second table.

The first seemed to have most or all of the FCBD books; certainly all the kid-friendly stuff. I heard the employees making suggestions to a mom and a little kid in front of me, asking if the kid liked Owly, and I overheard a “Well, this one’s kind of mature…” in reference to some other comic.

The second table had a few more FCBD books, as well as a bunch of DC’s “After Watchmen…” branded books, and some other cheap comics, like the recent 25-cent Buck Rogers #0 book from Boom, or the 25-cent DC Universe 0 book that kicked off Final Crisis and announced the company’s intentions to resurrect Barry Allen.

Toward the back of the shop, two artists sat around tables full of paints, offering face-painting for the kids.

I always feel kind of guilty going to FCBD just to get free books, since I don’t exactly need sold on the idea of starting to read comics, so I shopped around a bit for a cheap trade to assuage my guilt.

Leaving the shop, I felt a little brighter and happier than I did when I went into it: Free Comic Book Day sure has a way of lifting one’s spirits regarding the medium, its potential and its future.

It would be great if every Wednesday—or maybe Saturday, since kids have to go to school—could be like Free Comic Book Day. But even if shops are only crowded with kids one day a year, that’s better than no day’s a year, isn’t it?

So, here’s what I hauled home from the shop yesterday…

Blackest Night #0 (DC Comics) The folks at the Ogre put a copy of this in my pull-box, since I subscribe to Green Lantern through them, which meant I was able to get a copy of this without it counting against my two free book total. Huzzah!

This isn’t really what I’d consider a good book for evangelizing the medium of comics or the DC superheroes as comic book stars to newcomers, but then, I saw at least two other DC books on the free book table—Tiny Titans and a DC Kids Mega Sampler—so I suppose the company felt they had their evangelical bases covered and could focus on promoting what is already likely to be their biggest hit of the year (if not the last couple years; I’m eager to see if Blackest Night might actually out-perform Final Crisis).

It seems to be designed for those with at least a rudimentary understanding of what’s going on in the DCU at the moment, and clarifying what “counts” as far as continuity going forward (the state of Aquaman, for example, here seemed a little different than I remembered it at the end of Sword of Atlantis, and the story confirms that the panel of Aquaman inFinal Crisis was a mistake, as was the last issue of Brad Meltzer’s run on JLoA).

Green Lantern Hal Jordan is in a Gotham City cemetery, standing above the blank headstone marking Batman’s grave, right next to that of Thomas and Martha Wayne (So that’s where Batman’s body ended up! ). Up runs Hal’s recently resurrected pal Barry “Flash II” Allen, and the two exposit through conversation about their own deaths, as well as those of their fellow Justice Leaguers Batman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman.

As they zoom off to do some superhero-ing, we see Black Hand lurking in the shadows. He digs out Batman’s skull with his desiccated, Black Lantern ring-wearing right hand, and recites the Black Lantern oath, something I have—no lie—been looking forward to hearing for a good long time now. As he does so, there are some cut-aways to a few more graves that promise at least a few more Black Lantern members—Ralph “Elongated Man” Dibny, Sue Dibny and Ronnie “Firestorm I” Raymond.

That’s followed by a brief letter from Geoff Johns, explaining how long he’s been planning this story (four years now), sort of promising that it won’t be inaccessible and delayed like most modern “event” comics and, most intriguingly to me as a DC reader and watcher, stating “Blackest Night will recharge the DC Universe as Green Lantern: Rebirth recharged the Green Lantern Corps.” (Dude, Geoff Johns is totally writing JLoA after this wraps up; hopefully relaunched with a new title, making it easier to ignore and forget the Meltzer/McDuffie volume).

That accounts for 13 pages; the rest of the book is devoted to splash pages drawn by Doug “The Hero of Final Crisis” Mahnke detailing the various Lantern corps, with some short paragraphs by Johns serving as primers on them.

DC’s blog The Source has these available to look at here, but this is the money one:
Terra I/II (brown glove), Aquaman (green glove), Firestorm I (red, puffy sleeve), Mirror Master I (green wristband over orange sleeve) and Martian Manhunter (the blue-black sleeve with red piping in the far right) are all definite Black Lanterns, and one of the two blue-sleeved hands must belong to Earth-2 Superman.

I don’t see any hands I can conclusively connect to them in that panel, but I’d be pretty surprised if Blue Beetle II, Pantha, The Question I and Vibe don’t also get rings. So far, none of my requests seem to have made the team, but it’s still early.

Finally, there’s a back-page checklist that includes 24 books. Assuming they’re all $2.99, that’s $71.76 worth of comics between July and October, which actually isn’t too too bad (Not if you’re already spending $10-$30 on DC comics a week anyway). I’m definitely down for the main series and the tie-ins that occur in the two Green Lantern books.

The three-issue Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps series is going to be written by the regular Green Lantern writers and feature art by artists including Rags Morales, Chris Sprouse and Dough Mahnke, all of whom I’m crazy about, but it will also feature pretty shitty Ed Benes covers, which may prove deal-breakers for me, depending on how good and/or insane the stories inside look.

It’s interesting to see a trio of series that seem to be following Marvel’s recent strategy for event tie-ins. Blackest Night: Superman, Blackest Night: Batman and Blackest Night: Teen Titans are three miniseries featuring characters with their own titles (or their own multiple titles), apparently providing them space to have tie-in adventures without interrupting whatever’s going on in their own titles, a la Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four and Secret Invasion: Thor. Superman will have his “New Krypton” thing going on, and there will be a new Batman (probably Dick Grayson), so they will have their own “events” to deal with in their own books.

Does this mean Teen Titans will have a new, independent direction by August, when this tie-in series starts? (Also possibly of interest, Johns wrote a story during his Teen Titans run which intimated that the trend of superheroes dying and resurrecting after Superman’s pseudo-death were somehow all related).

I’ll have to wait and see the creative teams on all of these before I decide if I’m interested, but I don’t have a lot of hope for these three.

Wow, I went on really long about this book, considering it’s just a twelve-page prologue and some splash pages, huh? Sorry. At the very least, this is a pretty good indication that Johns is doing something right with the series; he’s certainly got me babbling about it, and it’s still two months away.

Comics Festival! (Legion of Evil Press/ Toronto Comics Arts Festival) I didn’t read all of the FCBD offerings, or even get to inspect them too terribly thoroughly, but this seems to be the single best book in terms of medium evangelization. That is, if someone were completely new to comics, and wanted to get a pretty good idea of what comics are all about, why they’re so appealing, the rather wide breadth of different genres, types and styles, this one will definitely do the job. I wasn’t sure until I actually sat down and read it, but it also seems all-ages friendly. Some of these will fly over kids’ heads—I can’t imagine anyone under the age of 18 not completely fucking hating Dinosaur Comics, for example—but there’s nothing inappropriate for the little ones either.

So, what have we got here?

About 33 pages of comics by about 20 different creators, a who’s who of up-and-comers and already-here-ers, who, if you dig what you see in this book, can be followed off into plenty of other great comics.

The cover story is a short, ten-page Sardine in Outer Space adventure by Emmanuel Guibert, in which the gang must rescue a freshly made moon pie from the evil Doc Croc and Supermuscleman.

Kean Soo’s Jellaby has two stories spread over five pages, the first of which I didn’t really care for, as it was a basically just an average day in my kitchen, but the second one I liked quite a bit (Jellaby is a great, silent comedian).

The rest of the book is devoted to a bunch of one-page and half-page short strips, which I won’t mention on a strip-by-strip basis, considering how numerous they are. My favorites were Steven Charles Manale’s “Pegasus and the Monumonsters,” Kate Beaton’s short Blackbeard strip (Beaton! In Color!) and Dave Lapp’s extremely weird “Evil Bacon,” but most of them evoked either a chuckle or a nod of appreciation at the drawing chops involved.

Leave It To PET Vol. 1 (Viz) This was my annual well-I-might-as-well-buy-something-with-actual-money-while-I’m-here guilt purchase, and I’m really glad I made it: I thought this book was hilarious.

PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, and it’s the acronym-made name of the super robot made out of a recycle d plastic bottle. That bottle was recycled by nine-year-old boy Noboru, and to repay his good deed, PET is now Noboru’s devoted servant, appearing to save him whenever he’s in need and no matter what the problem is.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

The first time he appears to aid Noboru, who is being menaced by some older bullies, PET manages to delay the beating for a while by telling his secret origin, but ends up beating up some little girls instead of the bullies. The second time, Noboru gets beat up by the bullies while PET waits behind a tree for the special code words he gave Noboru to be recited just so.

And by that point, the pattern is formed. PET’s heart is usually in the right place, but he’s not all that helpful of a super robot, and usually causes more problems than he solves.

Manga-ka Kenji Sonishi’s sense of humor on this project reminded me a great deal of that in Mine Yoshizaki’s Sgt. Frog, although the stories are much shorter and simpler. (Basically, PET is to heroics as Sgt. Keroro is to planet conquering).

A great deal of the humor comes from Sonishi’s super-simplified character design. PET is simply a large plastic bottle, with tiny little arms and legs attached to it, and a large, bulbous head that’s shaped a bit like a club (as in the suit in a deck of cards). He has huge, round, blank black eyes, and a big V for a smile, which becomes a diamond-shape when he yells. He bears a recycling symbol on his forehead.

It’s such a great design that just looking at PET makes me smile, so obviously laughs can come pretty quickly. The 22 short stories flew by, and I was actually pretty bummed when I came to the end.

Owly and Friends! (Top Shelf) Oops, I guess this is the 2008 version, not the 2009 version, which seems to have some of the same characters by the same creators, which perhaps accounts for my shop/my confusion. I'm going to talk about it anyway, as I've already written about it mistakenly thinking it was the 2009 edition until commenter Tomorrow Boy set me straight. Top Shelf’s (2008!) offering consisted of stories featuring four of their all-ages, kid-friendly comics characters, ones that tend to be so well drawn and so cute and/or so funny that the oldest, most jaded readers should still find plenty to dig about them.

The lead story was a ten-pager featuring Andy Runton’s Owly, in which the title character helps so many people (well, animals) in the course of the day that he’s unable to complete his own task. I love Owly, which I realize isn’t exactly a bold statement—everyone loves Owly—but the pictogram “dialogue” here seemed a little more sophisticated than in many of the stories I’ve read before, which made the conversations a bit more charming. Like, I found it extremely rewarding to have to think about what the characters are saying for a second before I figure it out exactly.

Next up was a six-page Korgi story by Ann and Christian Slade entitled “Bath Time!” It’s a simple, silent story pretty far removed from the particular setting and set-up of the Korgi graphic novels, but was nonetheless well done, and Slade’s more detailed, line-filled cartooning provided a nice contrast to all the abstracted, cute work in the rest of the book.

Then there’s “A Very Scary Johhny Boo Story” by James Kochalka, which is actually a portion of Johnny Boo Volume 2: Twinkle Power, presented here in black and white.

Finally, there’s seven pages of short Yam strips by Corey Barba, which are also excerpts from his book, also called Yam.

I liked all four of these works in their native formats—well, I liked Yam and Owly, loved Johnny Boo and thought Korgi was fairly decent, but haven’t read the second volume of it yet—and thought this was a fine intro to them.

It’s also a nice gateway comic, since, if a reader is intrigued by any of these, they can follow it up with five Owly graphic novels, two volumes of Korgi, two-going-on-three Johnny Boos, and a book full of Yam strips.


Patrick C said...

I eventually realized the puffy sleeve was Firestorm, but when I first saw it my immediate reaction was a Red Bee Black Lantern!

tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

You appear to have gotten a different owly and friends comic than me. Which is really confusing considering it seems to have the same cover, yet features different Owly, Johnny Boo, Yam, and Korgi strips. I am confused.

Bethama said...

I am so not surprised that there is a manga about "PET" bottles. (Such is the name for plastic beverage bottles in Japan, since they're recycled separately from most plastics.) I am a bit sad that he isn't starring in his own high-profile anime right at this very second.

David page said...

Hmm I thought the brown glove belonged to maxwell lord....

Greg said...

I don't love Owly.

Caleb said...


Me too, me too.

Tomorrow Boy,

I'm glad you pointed that out. Yes, I apparently got the 2008 version (my cover was a different cover; I posted a jpeg of the cover I found on the FCBD site, rather than scanning the comic I got). That explains why my cover was different, and why Kochalka drew all the characters but Yam on that cover. I added a note into the post about that.


Yeah, as the story progresses, other types of recycling get their own super-robots. There's a plastic blobb-y thing and some tin can robots toward the end, and they all have their own little recycling symbols.

David Page,

Oh yeah, you're right, I bet that is supposed to be Maxwell Lord in his Evil Checkmate costume. I was thinking of Terra in her Team Titans costume, but I bet if Johns used her, she'd be in her original costume anyway...

Anonymous said...

Well, judging from the multitude of ancillary Blackest Night mini-series they've got planned for other DC super-families, the better question to figure out would be who is not coming back to life?

My money's on Uncle Ben Parker.

Leigh Walton said...

Sorry for any mix-up, Caleb! The "balloons" Owly & Friends comic is from FCBD 2008, the "apple tree" comic is the new 2009 one.