Saturday, May 6, 2017

The state of free comics, 2017

I've been taking advantage of the annual Free Comic Book Day each year since it began but not every year yields fine results. Many publishers use the event as an opportunity to push promotional material (usually a brief fragment of a story) rather than printing something which truly stands on its own. Ideally, every book on Free Comic Book Day should be an engaging story which stands on its own yet is representative of other works (more from that series or more by that author).

This year I snagged 10 books so let's approach this as a top 10 list, starting with the best:

New England Comics: The Tick

The Tick has become the most reliable of all the FCBD offerings. This time there are two stories by Jeff McClelland & Duane Redhead. In the first, the Tick realizes he's never celebrated a birthday; in the second, the Tick witnesses a political debate drawn from the headlines (to give you a clue, one candidate vows to build a prison and get super-villains to pay for it). It's clever, funny, and truly all-ages.

Humanoids: The Incal

I've been remiss about getting into European comics and certainly Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius' Incal is one of those titles everyone nods respectfully at. This free book features the first three chapters of The Incal and it features the kind of awe-inspiring futuristic cityscapes I expect from Moebius and weird sex perversions I expect from Jodorowsky, plus a cosmic whatsit and... y'know, I have this feeling that when I do read all of The Incal I'll groan, "So that's what The Fifth Element was ripping off!"

Drawn & Quarterly: Hostage & Poppies of Iraq

I'm already a fan of Guy Delisle so a free preview of his most recent book Hostage is most welcome and the second feature, an excerpt from Poppies of Iraq by Brigittte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim also impressed. Both are non-fiction works, the first about a man held hostage in Chechnya, the second an autobiography of a woman who grew up in Iraq during the 1960s. I will definitely seek the full versions out in the future.

Epicenter Comics: Tex: Patagonia
<|P>I'm not exactly a fan of the western genre but I had a suspicion that Tex would feature some decent artwork. Sure enough, it turns out that Pasquale Frisenda is a masterful artist reminiscent of Al Williamson and this (another European work) is the opening pages of a full graphic novel. I notice that there are a lot of Tex graphic novels and I'm a little afraid of falling down a sinkhole of more and more of them, but it's good to know that if I ever need something new to read, Tex is out there and it's very handsomely made.

Lion Forge: Catalyst Prime: The Event

After years of silence, Christopher Priest is suddenly everywhere! He's an architect of this new super hero shared universe which Lion Forge is selling, though I don't know if he's writing any of the actual titles. This one-shot (drawn by Marco Turini) explains where Lion Forge's superhumans' powers came from and it's a lot like other shared universe start-ups like the New Universe or Milestone where virtually everyone got their powers in the same place. The story itself is actually satisfying, as it gives barely a glimpse into each of the people who will be protagonists of Lion Forge's super hero line but the antagonist - who is not established as such until the closing pages - is brought to life very sharply and seems to fit the mold of other Priest masterminds. If Priest were writing any of the titles, I'd definitely buy them; as is, I'll consider it.

Dark Horse Comics: Avatar & Briggs Land

So I'm that guy, that guy who liked Avatar. Back when it came out I was very busy writing for Marvel and didn't have time to see what the movie fan websites were saying, but in recent years there are certainly a lot of thinkpieces stating it's either overrated or was never any good to begin with. Yet it's the highest grossing film of all time? Who else liked it? I only went three times, it didn't raise the roof on my cash.

But despite my love for the film I am uncertain about Avatar as a franchise. I'd be fine if James Cameron just quit while he's ahead - I fear a sequel would rehash the first film. How weird that now, of all times, we have an Avatar comic. Written by Sherri L. Smith and drawn by Canada's own Doug Wheatley, it's a story set between the scenes of the film, showing more detail of the part where Jake Sully tames the Turok. It's okay, but I imagine if you (like evidently 99% of the populace) disliked the movie you won't find anything to like here.

Marvel Comics: Guardians of the Galaxy & The Defenders

I quit working for Marvel before Gerry Duggan came on the scene but his name has popped up a lot due to his work on Deadpool. To promote him taking over Guardians of the Galaxy, timed to the release of the new movie, Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder contribute a brief story here about the Guardians breaking out of a prison and stealing a ship and acting a lot like their film counterparts. However, unlike Duggan's predecessor, he appears to have done his research as the story includes the Nova Corps and the Fraternity of Raptors, tying things back to when Andy Lanning & Dan Abnett revitalized the Guardians of the Galaxy brand. Outgoing Guardians writer Brian Michael Bendis also contributes a story promoting he and artist David Marquez's new Defenders book, featuring the same foursome who will be appearing as the Defenders on Marvel's Netflix show and utilizing a Netflix villain as their antagonist. I suppose the hope is that fans of the film & TV versions of these characters will pick up this freebee and want to try the print version. Good luck, would-be fans; take it from one who knows, so far as getting into comics today it s the best of times, it is the worst of times.

Youneek Studios: Malika: Warrior Queen

I grabbed this because of my fascination with Africa. It's from a new comic book company trying to develop properties which feature black protagonists. This one is about a female African warrior queen, by writer Roye Okupe and drawn by Chima Kalu. I'm not really the audience for this work but the full graphic novel version of Malika is probably going to be a good one for school library's (or my instutition's education library).

Fantagraphics: World's Greatest Cartoonists

You really get a bang for your $0 here as this is a massive 60 page tome with tons of creators who publish their works through Fantagraphics. I feel at times too much of Fantagraphics is avant-garde and impenetrable. Here, at least, there are a handful of contributions with hooks I could understand. Ed Piskor's autobiography Mudfish seems particularly interesting and I will keep it in mind.

Chapterhouse: Captain Canuck: Year One #1

Oh, Canada. You would think with a "Year One" in the title that this would be a great jumping-on point but nope; just reading the recap of the new Captain Canuck's origin on the first page is a dizzying task, then you spend a great deal of time being confused as he's not a super hero yet but is instead serving in Afghanistan... and his bosses are all corrupt, I guess? They're a private military force of some kind? And I spent so much time not know who anyone was (soldiers can be hard to tell apart) or which of them was supposed to be the hero. Like, the hero is narrating but I would become confused as to which person on the page was supposed to be him. This is not a bad comic, but it is not told (courtesy of writers Jay Baruchel & Kalman Andrasofszky with artist Marcus To) in a way which is welcoming to first-time readers. Whose bright idea was it to make the free, promotional Captain Canuck comic one where he never puts on the costume he's wearing on the cover?

COMICS! One day a year, they're free.

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