Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007, Part 1

Just in time to be a week and a half late, here are my thoughts on the free comics I received from Ralph's Comic Corner on "Cinco De Mayo" -- or, translated from the Español, "Free Comic Book Day."

Graded on a max of 5 stars (*****), here are my impressions of all the comics I received.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Dan Slott has already proven he can write a tremendously entertaining Spider-Man, with his Spider-Man/Human Torch series, but he drops the ball here. It's not awful; there are enough clever, funny bits to make it worthwhile, but Slott was definitely off his game, overall. And what the hell is the deal with "Jackpot"? Mary Jane is now a superhero? Is that shit for real? Oh, my aching head. That is stupid beyond belief. I couldn't tell if this was a one-shot story especially for Free Comic Book Day (as suggested by Spidey's timely exchange with onlookers: "Yo!" "Hey, web-head!" "YOU SUCK!" Spidey: "Yeah, yeah. Happy Cinco De Mayo to you too!"), or a preview of an upcoming regular run by Slott on one of the Spider titles. I'd love to see Slott take over one of the Spider books -- but only if he can raise the quality a bit from this effort. **1/2 stars.

Andy Runton's Owly: Helping Hands
I know there are many comics connoisseurs who treasure Owly in the highest regard. I am not one of them. I will acknowledge that the comic is often charmingly drawn, and cleverly laid out. But: the thick linework of the art often looks blocky and clumsy, the supposedly young-reader-friendly pictogram word balloons are frequently more difficult to decipher than they should be, and, all too often, the main character's overpowering despair and depression makes me want to kill myself. "Hey, kids! Life is a big fat wad of loneliness, failure, and mental illness! Enjoy!" Still -- that owl can be darn cute. And the audacity to make clinical depression accessible to five-year-olds impresses me. *** stars.

Ape Entertainment's Comic Spectacular!
Six mediocre stories, some better, some worse. None of which interest me in Ape Entertainment as a publisher. ** stars overall.

The Astounding Wolf-Man
Having wrung every drop possible out of the zombie fad, and then some, Robert Kirkman turns to werewolves. The results are not promising. ** stars.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency: The Train Was Bang On Time
I'm not a huge Eddie Campbell fan. I respect his work, and I appreciate some of it, but much of it leaves me cold. This story happened to fall on the positive side for me. It's a mystery set in the Old West, featuring a Pinkerton-like detective agency investigating a train bombing. There's a lot going on here, requiring a rereading to sort it out in my mind (and there are still characters whose identities remain unexplained), but that's only to be expected when taking a sample from a larger work. The story and the art worked for me, and I'd be inclined to buy the eventual graphic novel. **** stars.

Bongo Comics Free-For All! 2007
About as good as any previous Free Comic Book Day offering from Bongo Comics, which are the only comics from this company I've ever read. Solidly average, despite my wanting, but failing, to like the opening story, written by one of my favorites, Evan Dorkin, a bit more. Was that sentence convoluted enough for you? *** stars.

Boom! Studios: Hunter's Moon/Salvador
This is a flip-book, with a Hunter's Moon preview on one side, and Salvador on the other. Hunter's Moon is the real missed opportunity here: the characters are interesting, and the dialogue is tight and engaging, as you might expect from the screenwriter of Ray. It felt like it was going somewhere. But it stopped before it got there. It just cut off, abruptly, right in the middle of things, before really giving us an idea of where these characters were headed and why we should care. Pity. Salvador, on the other hand, never comes anywhere near catching my interest. It's just nine inexplicable, wordless pages of a silver guy with two big feathers in his hands falling. What the? Inside the front cover, there's an introduction by one of the comic's writers allegedly explaining what Salvador is about, but it makes me want to follow this series even less than the comic did. Here, see if this makes sense to you:

A savior or DNA discards; he is the salvation for genetic engineering gone array.
Does that make sense to anyone? First of all, obviously, that last bit should be "gone awry," not "gone array." But it took me a long time to leap to the conclusion that the first clause should probably read, "A savior of DNA discards;" not that it makes all that much more sense, although it is a step in the right direction. Seriously, Boom! Studios, if you want people to start taking you seriously as a publishing company, you need to hire a proofreader. I don't say this to be mean; it is a simple fact. Hell, I'll do it for you, if you like. Check this blog: nearly pristine in its grammatical rectitude. (If you do find any errors, there is an easy explanation: I was drunk.) Hunter's Moon might have gotten ** or **1/2 stars on its own, even considering its abrupt non-ending, but Salvador drags this down to an overall *1/2 stars.

Choose Your Weapon
A square-bound anthology of Korean manga samples. I enjoyed the first two previews -- the bizarre, humorous fantasy of Archlord, and especially the stark, hard-boiled (but playful, in a Frank Miller sort of way) Gyakushu!, with its tremendously appealing and decidedly atypical (for manga) art style. The other three previews -- the futuristic mech of Phantom, the overly-rendered, senseless Utopia's Avenger, and the tentacle-heavy Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy -- were a chore. Gyakushu! is one of the only samples of manga that has interested me much at all. By itself, it gets ***1/2 stars. For the whole book overall, ** stars.

Comics 101: How-To & History Lessons From The Pros!
I have no interest in reading a comic art guidebook. Doesn't mean it's good or bad, just means I didn't wanna get into it. No review.

Comics Festival: 2007 Edition
This is a highly entertaining showcase for various Canadian comics creators. Darwyn Cooke and Bryan Lee O'Malley each contribute 4-page stories, plus cover art, to the openings of their respective halves of this flip-book. Most of the remainder is filled with one, two, or even half-page snippets from a variety of talents, almost all of which made me want more. (Hope Larson's self-indulgent 8-page tribute to her simple poetry is the primary exception.) The two Scott Pilgrim pieces from O'Malley (the 4-pager I mentioned above, plus another half-page strip) guaranteed this comic would get high marks from me; the overall quality of everything else makes this a ****1/2 star treat.

Devil's Due Publishing: Family Guy/Hack/Slash
The Family Guy story had a few funny bits, but if you enjoy the cartoon (as I do), you can see how important the voice acting is to this style of humor. Hack/Slash is an uninspired horror comic about a woman who hunts down supernatural serial killers because her mother was a supernatural serial killer. A cover blurb promises this is "slated to be a major motion picture from Rogue Pictures!" Judging from the state of horror movies these days, I'm not surprised. Rogue Pictures are the people who brought us Hot Fuzz, so I'll cut them some slack, but if they actually make a movie out of this, they are high. Which means I should probably pitch something to them. ** stars.

Digital Webbing Jam 2007
Five snippets are presented here. Bloodrayne is terrible -- is she supposed to be a hero? Every person she supposedly is trying to save gets killed! Way to go, dumbass! I was ready to dump on Fist of Justice for blatantly recycling pieces of the Superman and Spider-Man mythoi (no, I am not making up that word), but then the twist ending revealed it was all the ravings of a madman who thinks he's a superhero. I thought that was clever, for a second, but then I wondered where the series (if it is indeed a continuing series) could go from there, and then I realized I didn't care. I wanted to like E-Man, if only because of its previous association with First Comics (I'm a First Comics fanboy of the highest caliber), but I never read E-Man back when First Comics published it, and this three-page preview gives me no reason to want to start reading it now. Zombie Highway involves zombies, as you might guess, which already makes it completely uninteresting. And when a dude who actually maintained a zombie blog tells you zombie comics are lame, that means something. (The Walking Dead remains the exception.) Punks is an eyesore. * star.

I love the recent issues of Gumby, created by Bob Burden and Rick Geary. They're pure wonder. But this particular comic is written by Shannon Wheeler (of Too Much Coffee Man fame, as well as, more significantly to me, the comic strip "Tooth and Justice," which ran in UC Berkeley's student newspaper, the Daily Cal, while I was a student there in the late '80s/early '90s -- I still own Children With Glue, the "Tooth and Justice" TPB collection), rather than Bob Burden, and only a portion of the art is by Geary. Which makes it not quite as wondrous as it could have been. Still, it's solidly entertaining, and Geary's art, what little of it there is, is unreservedly gorgeous, as always. ***1/2 stars.

How To Draw
Another guide to comic art, in which I have no interest. No review.

Impact University: Volume 3
As with Comics 101 and How To Draw above, I have no interest in reading a guidebook for comic art. I admire much of the talent here, whether they're writing the introduction, providing instructions, or merely name-checked (Gail Simone, Colleen Doran, and Peter David, respectively), but there's no way I'm reading this. No review.

Jack the Lantern
Wretched. Completely unfathomable (the recap page inside the front cover made my eyes cross) horror comic that involves a guy turning into a pumpkin-headed demon and traveling through his own corrupted soul... or something? I don't know. The art was ugly, and comprised of about 85-90% black ink (it looked like a movie when the projector bulb is too dim), and the writing was abominable, featuring character names a 12-year-old would make up for his D&D characters (Argotakar, Jadugar, Izralwisp). I had to stop reading it. I tried, I really tried to read every Free Comic Book Day comic. But this was one of those very few that I couldn't force myself through. Zero stars.

Justice League of America
Brad Meltzer is going to destroy your love of the DC Universe if it takes him the rest of his life. If you like the promise of future action, rather than actual action right now; if you like superheroes speaking like robotic icons rather than people; if you like talk, and a lot of it, none of which adds up to a coherent story; if you like your favorite characters, the strongest, bravest people in the world, puling and crying and trembling in fear -- then this is the comic for you! If not: good for you. 1/2 star.

Last Blood
The zombie comic fad is over. Give it up. That said, I had to admire the balls of the people behind this one, who steal copiously from The Walking Dead, then add vampires into the mix. Sure, why the hell not! I thought that was just audacious enough of a twist, despite the sketchy, blurry art, to bump this up to **1/2 stars.

This is already getting way too long. Look for the other half of the reviews tomorrow. Boy, it's feast or famine around these parts, isn't it?

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