Monday, May 14, 2012

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2012 - Some Reviews




At my house, the first Saturday in May has always been one of our favorite holidays -- FREE COMIC BOOK DAY. This year was markedly different for two reasons.
1. Instead of an epic Comic Shop Crawl through the Sacramento region, this year's Free Comic Book Day was limited to only one shop, Empire Comics Vault in Sacramento.
2. This was the first year that my son, now 14, decided he was too cool to join his dad on a Comic Shop adventure.
Needless to say, Free Comic Book Day lost a little of its shine for me this year because of his decision. And no matter how fantastic a job Ben and the fine folks at Empire Comics Vault did in putting on an amazing day at their shop, Free Comic Book Day 2012 will always be remembered around here as THE DAY DAD WENT IT ALONE.
Anyway, I picked up an arm load of free comics (which I subsequently distributed to my students on Monday), and I wrote some quick reviews on a few of them for Comics Bulletin.
You can read those reviews after the jump:

The Incredible Rockhead
(Stone Arch Books)
Capstone offered The Incredible Rockhead with a Zinc Alloy back-up story for FCBD. If you are a fan of the Captain Underpants stories (and really now, admit it, who isn't), then these two tales may be right up your alley. They are fun, irreverent, fast paced, brightly colored, and absolutely aimed at their 8-12 year old demographic. Both stories move along quickly, simply, and are great gateway comics for kids. The thing that concerned me about both titles, though, was the fact that the heroes of both tales were the classic nebbish who only become self-actualized when they become something other than who they really are. Chip Stone is a "typical geek" with "typical problems" that are pretty much comprised of him being bullied. It is only when he becomes Rockhead that he overcomes his problems. InZinc Alloy, Zack Allen is also bullied until he builds an "invincible robot." I know this nerd to hero story is a classic archetype, I just wish that there were better messages to give to kids who are being bullied than "someday you may become a superhero, THEN you will be appreciated."

Finding Gossamyr
(Th3rd World Studios)
Finding Gossamyr was Th3rd World Studios' contribution to FCBD 2012 and it may well be the most interesting one of the bunch that I read. The story revolves around a young boy who is, I guess, somewhere on the autism spectrum. His older sister seems to be his sole caregiver and she is in way over her head. As the book opens, she is signing away her conservatorship over to some sort of school. While this is going on, the young boy, Denny, is taking an entrance exam for admission The exam consists of exploring a math theorem which has never been proven. But Denny is kind of a savant. According to his sister, he "doesn't create or innovate. He just …never gets anything wrong." Denny begins to solve the unsolvable theorem, and, as he does, he seems to open a portal to another dimension or universe or something. This freaks him out because he senses that there is great danger in allowing the doors to open. This whole thing seems original, intriguing, and fraught with all sorts of narrative possibilities. I was amazed at how quickly I was drawn into a story that was filled with so many confusing aspects to it. I'm not exactly sure who the intended audience is for this title, but I think I may become part of that group, whoever they are supposed to be.  The backup story, The Stuff of Legend Volume 4 Preview by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith, and Charles Paul Wilson III also seems pretty intriguing. This is also a dark tale seemingly meant for kids, but is a little too creepy for that demographic. Wilson's art is fantastic and I may have to delve into this title as well.

Yo Gabba Gabba
(Oni Press)
Oni Press tossed out Yo Gabba Gabba this FCBD and it made my brain melt a little. As my son is now 14, he was too old to have watched the show, and because of this, I never watched it either. But I had a sense of what it is, although I have no idea why. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I opened up the first page and found out that this FCBD issue of Yo Gabba Gabba featured the work of one of my favorite comic book artists, Mike Allred. Mike Allred on Yo Gabba Gabba??? This may have been the best artist/concept match of the year.
This comic is nuts. I know it is supposed to be for the really young crowd, but, given enough lysergic acid diethylamide I think anyone can groove on it -- which I think is the concept behind the show, too. This thing is thick with psychedelic colors and pictures and creatures and places and … and... and... stuff. It's WOWZERS to the extreme. It's also filled with all that sharing is good and lying is bad and being kind to each other is important and recycling is the best. You know, that kind of hippie crap that gives parents the go ahead to plop their little Susie or Billy in front of the TV for a couple of hours and let it do the socialization for them. Anyway -- Yo Gabba Gabba, after reading you, I am in serious need of someone to talk me down.

My Favorite Martian
(Hermes Press)
This FCBD, Hermes Press gave away My Favorite Martian which is a reprint of the orginal Gold Key Comic printed in the mid-1960s. Hermes Press is releasing all of the My Favorite Martian comics in deluxe hardcover format, and this FCBD offering provides a little taste. I used to love this show when I was a kid. It was in heavy syndication rotation back then, and for some reason (probably my angst and my alienation -- boo hoo), this show really clicked in with my latchkey kid sensibilities. Seeing it in comic form though, sort of made me question what the fuck I was thinking back then. The show had you suspend disbelief to a pretty large degree -- here was a Martian living among us who (hijinx ahoy) didn't want you to find out he was a Martian. The comic, or at least what Hermes offered in their FCBD shot, had me just shaking my head. I think you have to be one of those people who are pretty fanatical about their fandom for My Favorite Martian to enjoy this. It's not quirky enough to be cool, it's not bad enough to be good, and its not smart enough to give you the wink that lets you know that we are all in on the joke (hipsters, that means you). Imagine trying to explain this whole concept to a fourteen year old boy as you go through the book together. When his face started crushing into itself from incredulousness, I knew it was time to move on. Still, if you are one of those people that has a shrine to Uncle Martin in your garage or something -- this is YOUR TIME, baby!

Anti/The Ride
(12-Gauge)
I don't know much about 12-Gauge Comics, but it seems like some pretty interesting things are going on over there if their FCBD giveaway this year is any indication. This year they gave us Anti flipped with The Ride, and both titles are just brutal and confusing enough to make me consider wanting more (which is the purpose of FCBD really, isn't it). Anti, which is written by Peter Calloway and features art by Daniel Hillyard, seems to be about demons and demon hunters, but mostly it is about action and gunshots and blood spurtin' and a guy who is really, really good at throwing knives. I got into the rhythm of the book pretty quickly, although I was a bit confused as to what exactly was going on. Hillyard's art shows its Riley Rossmo influences, which is always a good thing. I would be interested to find out more about this title and see where the story is going. On the flip-side of Anti, though, was The Ride -- and ooooooh Mama that was quite a ride. This black and white acceleration is all about brutality and misogyny and terror and murder. It was a slow build to a rather nasty end, and the end was not where I was expecting this story to go when it began. It's ugly. Let's just say that the sound effect THONK is repeated six times before we get a CRIK and then CRACKThe Ride is not for the faint of heart. It is, though, for someone who wants some interesting storytelling.

The Hypernaturals
(BOOM! Studios)
I'm at the point now where I have basically stopped reading superhero comics. It's not because I'm too cool for them or because I've outgrown them. It's because they just aren't all that interesting anymore. For some reason I grabbed BOOM! Studios' FCBD offering The Hypernaturals, though and I think I may have misjudged the genre. This book contains everything I should hate about superhero comics. It's even got one of those splash pages where all the heroes are introduced and they are all modeling these ridiculous poses in their impossible costumes.  And then there are the names: Magnetar, Musclewire, Halfshell, Kobalt Blue, Astromancer, Clone 46 and Ego and Id? Fuck. Those are some seriously puerile superhero names. Then there's the big unknown threat they have to face which seems impossible to overcome. It's all there. Everything I normally hate about superhero comics -- stupid, stupid, stupid shit over and over again. But what the fuck, Hypernaturals? I have every reason to hate you, and yet I didn't. I actually finished reading this FCBD issue and felt as satisfied as I did curious to keep reading. But I can't for the life of me figure out why. Maybe there is just enough of a sense that all these hackneyed cliches that writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have vomited into this series are going to all blow up in a spectacular way? Maybe there is enough of a long-tail in this short tale that you can see it twitching just underneath the surface? I don't know, but I'm willing to give The Hypernaturals a second chance. If it turns out to be just another stupid stupid stupid superhero punch at something until it dies book, I will be seriously disappointed. If it is something else, something right on the edge of unique and thought provoking, though, I will buy all the creators of the series a really big sandwich by way of telling them thanks for doing something interesting
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