Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007, Part 2

Here's the second half of my reviews of the 2007 Free Comic Book Day titles. Only 11 days late! Enjoy.

Part 1.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century
Despite my overwhelming love of the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm animated worlds of Batman, Superman, and Justice League Unlimited, of which the Legion cartoon is the most direct follow-up on TV, I am not interested in that cartoon, nor its comic book inspirations, in the least. I've tried, really I have. But I just can't care. And this Free Comic Book Day book did nothing to change that. I think part of the problem was setting it as an origin story (Superboy's introduction to the Legion), when frankly, the Legion's continuity (even in this cartoon-based continuum) is so ridiculously convoluted and incestuous, they might as well have just jumped in in media res instead of wasting space attempting to explain the inexplicable. Just take it for granted that Superboy is part of the Legion, in the 31st century, and create something new from there. As it is, with the confusing stab at explicating Superboy's backstory, as well as the muddled use of talking head flashbacks, I thought this was a poor entry issue for anyone who might otherwise be interested in this series. *1/2 stars.

Liberty Comics
Four tales of Liberty Girl, who appears to be a cross between Golden Age Superman and Wonder Woman. The first reads like a technical manual, and makes Liberty Girl look like a dumbass. The second appropriates iconic images (Action Comics #1, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks) to tell a lackluster gangster tale. The third is the oddest, in which Liberty Girl seems to take an anti-environmentalist stance, declaring an animated cactus creature, who is trying to preserve its desert homeland from industrial encroachment, to be her sworn enemy. Harsh! And the final story is even more fascinating in its twisted idea of "liberty" and "freedom." It centers on California's Japanese Internment Camps of World War II. A Japanese demon is involved -- conjured not by the prisoners, but by an American soldier. But the real cringeworthiness occurs at the end of the tale. A Japanese child, unjustly imprisoned by our racist, paranoid government (remind anyone of Gitmo?) pleads with Liberty Girl to do her duty and free them. "Someday, I will, honey..." she says, turning her back on him and flying away, "...but not today." What the FUCK is that? I want to read this in a favorable light -- that it shows the writer's hope that those unjustly imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay will be freed, someday, when right-thinking people regain control of the country (here symbolized, of course, by Liberty Girl) -- but that may just be wishful thinking on my part. On the surface, this is some appalling shit. * star overall.

Little Archie: Legend of the Lost Lagoon
I've never cared much for Archie in general, and Little Archie in particular is almost completely devoid of interest to me. Especially when there's no Little Jughead. A cover blurb declares this comic to be an "All New Story By Bob Bolling." I don't know who Bob Bolling is, but, in the generally anonymous world of Archie Comics, as compared to the generally anonymous world of Disney Comics, Bob Bolling is no Don Rosa. Or Floyd Gottfredson (see entry for: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse), for that matter. I will say, I was a bit surprised by the orgiastic reception of Betty's older brother, Chic, by the Girls' Camp Counselors (sample dialogue: "Breathe deeply, like me!"; "He'll have to stay overnight!"). Naughty! Also, when looking at the map provided in this issue of the boys' and girls' campgrounds, did anyone else think someone at Archie Comics was attempting to be deliberately dirty?

Pop the Coochy

Are you freakin' kidding me? "Coochy Canal?" "Beaver Brook?" "Wam Bam Dam?" More like "Wam Bam Thank You Ma'am Dam!" Filth! Pure filth! Which, frankly, only helps to increase my opinion of this comic. All the way up to ** stars.

The Lone Ranger/Battlestar Galactica
The Ranger story is cute and mildly entertaining. The BSG story is better written than the one BSG comic I read before, which was beyond horrid, but the artwork here is just as bad. *1/2 stars.

Love and Capes
A cute, if slight, soap opera-ish parody of various DC/Marvel characters and their significant others. My only other major note is: I hated the word balloons. There is no reason to make a word balloon transparent. Ever. Very, very annoying. And the way the word balloons had gutters in between them, rather than seamless connections, also annoyed me. Yes, surprise, surprise, small things annoy me. *** stars.

Lynda Barry Free Comic Book Day Activity Book Special
Long title! I generally find Barry's art cluttered and ugly, and really, this isn't much of an exception. But I like what she's doing here -- it's a step-by-step, finely-detailed guidebook to novice writers, with many practical tips and generous encouragement. I don't know if it will actually help anyone to write or not, but I admire the thought put into it. *** stars.

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk
As opposed to the similar DC offering, this was a much better, much more accessible entry point to a younger-reader-friendly, alternative-to-mainstream continuity than Legion of Super-Heroes. The first story, an intro to the upcoming Marvel Adventures: Iron Man comic, was decent, straightforward entertainment, that made me want to read more; the second story, an intro to the upcoming Marvel Adventures: Hulk comic, despite featuring a character I like approximately a million times more than Iron Man, was sloppier and far less involving, leading me to believe the eventual regular series will be entirely skippable. And the back-up Franklin Richards story, as has always been the case for this feature, just made me wonder why Bill Watterson has yet to sue Marvel for oh-so-blatantly ripping off Calvin and Hobbes. Overall: **1/2 stars.

The highlight of Free Comic Book Day for me. A collection of greatest hits from the brilliant history of Nexus, featuring the gorgeous artwork of Steve Rude and the unparalleled, manic genius of writer Mike Baron's story and characters. Plus: a preview of the upcoming brand-new Nexus mini-series from Rude and Baron! Nexus is one of the best comics ever published, and its imminent return is the biggest thrill in the world of comics since Ostrander and Truman brought back Grimjack. ***** stars.

Pirates vs. Ninjas
Too late to capture any genuine interest in the pirates or ninjas fads, and too unfunny to work as a satire of the pirates or ninjas fads, this is a painful flop. * star.

Sonic the Hedgehog
Not quite as awful as I would've expected this book to be. However, also not that much better than I would've expected this book to be. *1/2 stars.

Transformers: Movie Prequel
Unreadable. Literally. This was so rotten, I couldn't get past page four. And, in all honesty, I believe my general disinterest in all things Transformers had no effect on my opinion of this garbage. Let's face it: no matter how terrible a comic is, it's not all that difficult to read one to the end. I read Sonic, after all. And yet, I couldn't accomplish it with this awful comic. The art is an ugly, blurry, crowded mess, and the writing is sub-Todd McFarlane. Zero stars.

The Umbrella Academy
Too many characters with too many powers all piled on at once made The Umbrella Academy difficult to get into, but once I did I enjoyed it. I loved the intro page from the inside front cover, which is written as if it were translated from English to Japanese and back again. "Spooky power! Talking to dead people and floating. But ghosts don't exist?! Dracula!" Or, "Strong! Can I share your lasergun! Can't make him laugh!" Gabriel Bá's art is very Hellboy-esque, as is the overall tone of the book -- a not-so-serious take on superheroing and the supernatural, featuring, among others, a character named "The Rumor," who warps reality to match whatever lies she makes up, which I thought was unique and interesting. The second preview in the comic, Pantheon City, featured nice art, but didn't reveal enough about itself to make me want to read more. Nor did the third preview, ZeroKiller. Overall: *** stars.

Viper Comics Presents: Volume Two
First up is a preview of Sasquatch, a graphic novel about, well, sasquatches, telling very different stories in very different styles. The first example is a series of four-panel comic strip funnies. The second is a sci-fi battle between sasquatch and alien. The third is a Garth Ennis-esque soldier tale. Next up is four pages of Karma Incorporated, which kind of introduce the main characters but don't tell us a damn thing about them or their world. Then there's Hero Worship, which feels like a ripoff of Aaron Williams' ps238. And finally, The Underworld Railroad, which reimagines the Underground Railroad of Harriet Tubman fame as a pipeline for lost souls, rather than slaves. Then, on the back cover, there's an ad for The Middle Man, a comic I love. Why the hell wasn't there a preview of that instead? All that other junk adds up to *1/2 stars.

Virgin Comics Special
Previews of four comics from a company I didn't even know existed. I skipped the first preview, Ramayan 3392 A.D., because of four little words: "Created by Deepak Chopra." You know what? FUCK Deepak Chopra. Fuck him sideways with a chainsaw. And look, the second sample is by Gotham Chopra, Deepak's son. Fuck him, too. I actually read his story, though. Trying to be fair. Shouldn't have bothered. It's not good. The last preview, Devi, joins Gotham's and (from what I gleaned by skimming) Deepak's stories as mystical horseshit with awful writing and inaccessible chracters. The only winner here appears to be the third preview, Walk In: three pages of a possibly demented British drifter. Three pages isn't enough space to really learn what the main character is about, or where his story is going, but it was enough to be charmed by him, and his method of narration, which is often directed, in deliberate fourth-wall-breaking fashion, toward the reader. One "maybe" out of four choices still makes this an awful comic. * star.

Wahoo Morris
A reprint of a comic first released in 1998, published by a company calling itself Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics. Despite too many characters and not enough explanation, I found myself enjoying this issue, with its pleasing art and its entertaining relationship moments. It gets a little too cutesy, what with one character having a spellbook, but I liked it well enough, though perhaps not so much that I would want to buy the TPB collection of the series solicited herein. **1/2 stars.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
This comic collects two series of Mickey Mouse Sunday funny comic strips from 1936, written and drawn by Floyd Gottfredson. I've only relatively recently come to discover the genius of Don Rosa, who is quite possibly the greatest artist in the history of Disney comics (at the very least, he gives Carl Barks a run for his money); thus it should be no great surprise that, to my great regret, I have never before encountered the amazing work of Floyd Gottfredson. With this one slim reprint comic, Disney has made me rue my former unfamiliarity with this master of the art of comics. These strips are unbelievably clever and hilarious and eye-pleasing and entertaining, packing more plot and character into about 12 panels a week than the average comic these days can produce in a full year. ***** stars.

Oni Press offers a reprint of the entire first issue of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's Antarctic murder mystery, Whiteout, first published in 1998. I have to call this a strong success, because, despite some rough patches (primarily in the clumsy introduction of multiple characters), I really wanted to continue the story when the issue ended. By a remarkable coincidence, Oni is republishing the entire story in TPB any day now, and I am leaning toward buying it. Well played, Oni. **** stars.

Worlds of Aspen
Apparently, Aspen is a comic book publishing company. Huh. Who knew? Anyone who likes Michael Turner probably knew, I guess, but I did not. I find his art, with the elongated torsos and the waif-faces and the sketchy, knocked-out-eight-pages-in-pencils-in-an-afternoon-and-couldn't-be-bothered-cleaning-it-up quality severely off-putting. And his writing (he is credited as co-writer, or creator, or both, of all four titles sampled in this issue) is god-awful. Not only do I not want to read anything else ever by Michael Turner, I can't imagine how anyone else in this world ever would, either. Since I actually read all of it, as opposed to some other comics I could mention (and have), I'll be generous and give this 1/2 star.

Addendum: I took a peek at Dorian's rundown of the Free Comic Book Day books... and it appears I'm missing several of them! Amelia Rules: Hangin' Out and Unseen Peanuts are the most painful omissions -- I love Amelia Rules, and I consider the whole of Schulz's Peanuts to be the greatest work in the history of English literature (and yes, I'm including Hamlet, and The Da Vinci Code The Bridges of Madison County Tuesdays With Morrie DAMMIT, I need to start reading better books!). Also missing: Arcana Studios Presents, Buzzboy/Roboy Red: The Buzz and the 'Bot, the webcomics collections Comics Genesis and Keenspot Spotlight 2007, and the reality series-based Who Wants To Be A Superhero. I might have enjoyed the webcomics collections, but none of the other missing titles fill me with a sense of regret. Still: what's up with that, Sterling? Where my Amelia and Peanuts, yo?!?

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