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Free Comic Book Roundup (Part Two)

By Adam Frey

Last time, I covered some of the “big hit” books which your shop carried on FCBD. In this piece, I’ll take a look at some more of the “big publisher” books, particularly ones that tie into mass-media properties. Again, the question we’re looking at here is whether a new reader would want to keep up with these after the FCBD samplers.

Valiant 25th Anniversary Special

Writers: Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt

Artists: Butch Guice, Kano, Rafa Sandoval

The difficulty that a company like Valiant has is that, honestly, most of the good superhero concepts are at Marvel and DC. When the market is dominated by hundreds of well-known pop culture figures, how do you attract from the existing pool of comic readers, much less new prospects? To illustrate the point: out of all the characters on the cover, the only one I recognize is X-O Manowar. A new reader off the street wouldn’t even get that.

This particular issue spotlights Bloodshot, Ninjak, and X-O, although Valiant also does the courtesy of providing some text pages highlighting some of their other titles. The stories are decent introductions to the character which give you just enough without wasting sacrificing the larger plot. Bloodshot is a superhuman assassin who’s recently lost his enhancements; Ninjak has to engage an invincible genetic warrior; and some alien force is coming for X-O.

Would I Come Back? Probably not. Valiant had limited space to make its sales pitch, and my dollars are already inclined towards Marvel and DC. I’ll give them credit—Bloodshot read the most like a “movie trailer” that told me just enough about the character to get me interested. The Ninjak section really told me more about the villain—who was intriguing, but not the intended draw of the story. With X-O, I got nothing—just that aliens are coming for some guy in armor.

The Tick (New England Comics)

Writers: Jeff McClelland, Benito Cereno

Art: Duane Redhead, Les McClane

So The Tick is still a thing. Too bad FCBD wasn’t around in the late 90s, when the Tick—out of nowhere—got a cultic animated series which impressed us with its zany parody of the superhero trope. (Later, he got a live-action show which didn’t do nearly as well.) Here, we get three moderately humorous stories about the Tick and the ghost of his last sidekick; a “day in the life” story which the Tick spends mostly unconscious; and a third in which the Tick and his sidekick Arthur try to get into an art museum. They’re ok, but I’ve read funnier.

Would I Come Back? Probably not. I remember the Tick’s animated series setting the standard for wacky storytelling almost twenty years ago. The problem now is that the standard for “wacky” has moved. I’m not sure that the humor in this particular comic can keep pace with the off-the-wall insanity that kids are exposed to these days on shows like Teen Titans Go!, Regular Show, or Adventure Time. The Tick is slapstick, but not the “weird” which seems the norm these days.

Fight Club/The Goon (Dark Horse Comics)

Writers: Chuck Palahniuk, Eric Powell, David Lapham

Artists: Cameron Stewart, Eric Powell, Mike Huddleston

What’s Dark Horse to do in its first year without the Star Wars license? Push a new title about a popular Ed Norton film from 15 years ago, I suppose. It’ll be interesting to see if a Fight Club comic is sustainable. There’s a thought box narration throughout the story which one can easily read in Ed Norton’s voice, even if the art doesn’t allow its characters to really resemble Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, or Brad Pitt. The story, however, plausibly continues from where the film left off. We also get a sampling of The Goon, which I’m vaguely aware is some kind of early 20th-century roughhouser, and The Strain, which is about…some thing with a long tongue.

Would I Come Back? I couldn’t wrap my hear around The Strain, so no. Same with The Goon, but I’m aware that he’s been around for awhile and must appeal to somebody. Admittedly, The Goon has a certain old-timey charm which isn’t for me, but might be for somebody who’s looking for an alternative to the superhero genre. That leaves Fight Club, which I’ll admit piqued my interest. Confession: I’ve never seen the film before this year, and I still haven’t seen the whole thing in one sitting. It’s an interesting if somewhat dated movie, and its appeal lies heavily in the mid-film twist revelation. The film left interesting questions about “what comes next?” which the comic might answer—but that will be a challenge since the film’s shock revelation was spoiled over a decade ago.

Doctor Who (Titan Comics)

Writers: Nick Abadzis, George Mann, Al Ewing, Rob Williams

Artists: Eleonora Carlini, Mariano Laclaustra, Simon Fraser

Here’s yet another book where if you’re not up on the source material (like me), the comic is going to present difficulty. My knowledge of the Doctor is limited to the early 1980s, from which I vaguely remember some Tom Baker episodes. This book has three short stories about the Twelfth, Eleventh, and Tenth Doctors (in that order), so it’s outside the scope of what I can appreciate. However, I did enjoy that the second story’s meta-commentary on of the comics medium itself by having the Doctor foiling an alien invasion set during Free Comic Book Day 2015, at a thinly-veiled parody of a real-world comic shop, by an alien using comics as a means of conquest. I couldn’t get into the other two stories—not that there’s anything wrong with them, but you may as well be trying to get me to read something on 18th century sailing vessels. Everything has an audience, but no audience wants everything.

Would I Come Back? No, I’m not a Doctor Who fan. But the target audience should be Doctor Who fans, and that’s who (no pun) comic shops need to aim this book at. That’s always the challenge comics publishers have with media-adapted books: how to get mass-media consumers to supplement their film and television viewing with comics. Really, with Doctor Who’s cultic following, shops should be making books like this very prominent to their FCBD buyers. You like Doctor Who? Here’s more of it. Try a sample and come back for more.

Street Fighter (Udon)

Writer: Matt Moylan

Artists: Various

As with The Tick, my reaction here was along the lines of “Hey, Street Fighter is still a thing!” The main short story is told in a vignette style, quickly flashing from fight to fight: Ryu vs. Charlie; Charlie vs. Guile; Guile vs. some red-haired lady I’m not familiar with; and so on. The art duties rotate with the fights, which I suppose gives Udon the opportunity to showcase several artists in a meaningful way without ruining the integrity of the story. They all work harmoniously despite their slight differences. The rest of the issue contains some cute “Street Funny” comics, and some pin-up art which does nothing for me.

Would I Come Back? Probably not, but I’m neither a gamer nor a manga reader. If Street Fighter is seriously still popular decades after its arcade release, then this book seems to be a decent showcase of its characters do in comic book form. I am surprised that the back half of the issue was spent on pin-up pages, as there was still room for five more pages of story. I find myself wondering if this is how comics are marketed to manga-oriented kids these days.

2000 A.D. (Rebellion)

Writers: Various

Artists: Various

Contrasting Street Fighter, 2000 A.D. is about 20% larger than your typical comic. Last year’s 2000 A.D. was as well, so I gather that the regular magazine is published in this oversized format. From what I can gather, it’s a long-running British sci-fi comic most known for publishing the original Judge Dredd stories, along with stories of 1950s hero Dan Dare. Readers of this book therefore need to be aware that they’re reading stuff that’s a) British, and b) heavily into the sci-fi stylings of the 1950s to 1980s, where everything looks a dated even when it’s meant to be futuristic. The Judge Dredd story presented is among the more modern of the samplings. However, some of the other samplings in here—particularly those from 3000 A.D. and Dan Dare—are obvious older reprints and may turn off the modern reader.

Would I Come Back? No, but even I can recognize that 2000 A.D. has a certain historic and regional charm to it. If a reader enjoys British or mid-20th Century sci-fi, this book will certainly fill that niche. Then again, I don’t know how often you find American readers these days who are into 20th Century British sci-fi. That probably explains why you tend not to see 2000 A.D. on the shelves of American comic shops these days.

Kodansha Comics Featuring Attack on Titan

Writers: Various

Artists: Various

Finally, we have our first manga sampler, which Kodanasha cleverly packaged in a manga-sized 5 x7 mini-book (which, at over 110 pages, is probably the thickest FCBD release this year). Included are short excerpts from the original Attack on Titan, the prequel Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Noragami: Stray God (apparently about a young god looking for followers at a high school), Unland Saga (a viking story), Inuyashiki (a lonely old man with cancer gets superpowers), and Your Lie in April (something about a piano prodigy falling in love with a flutist). The Kodanasha special certainly offers a variety of settings, so there’s potential for broad appeal here even though it’s all the same Asian style.

Would I Come Back? Maybe. Manga tends to be a very different style of storytelling from western comics, from the right-to-left page layouts to the tendency to have a slower pace. Unfortunately, I think the nature of manga hurts this particular sampler. The excerpt from Attack on Titan jarringly begins in the middle of a scene and stops at a critical moment—specifically, a famous scene from the television show. It’s likely that a fan interested in trying new manga is already familiar with the Attack on Titan anime, so why waste the space on a scene fans already know? Those pages might have been better spent on the Before the Fall sampler, which was so short that it was hard to get excited for it.

Three of the other short samples just weren’t my cup of tea, but then, I’m not a regular manga reader. I did find Noragami confusing and unfocused, so that one turned me off the most. Small rant: the excerpt from Your Lie in April is about how the protagonist’s perceptions changed from black-and-white to color, but the entire sample is in black and white. It’s like trying to portray sound in a photograph—it can’t be done. Surprisingly, Inuyashiki gave a touching look at an old man facing death—something comics doesn’t usually touch upon—and actually left me curious as to what comes next. Besides Attack on Titan, this sampler might actually set me on reading Inuyashiki, of all things.

Coming up next: let’s look at some of the kids’ offerings!

About Harry C. (1113 Articles)
Founder of The Next Issue Podcast and Pop Culture Uncovered, Harry has been reading comics since he could reach a news stand. He is also a cosplayer with his current favorite role as being Bishop, of the X-men. He is a fan of Marvel, Image and DC and is really passionate about making sure that kids get the opportunity to read. This leads him to getting out to places with comics that others no longer need and putting them into the hands of kids who will treasure them. His favorite comic characters are Batman, Spider-man, and Tony Chiu.
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