Which is a strange realization because this is the first year I’ve ever celebrated it by actually going to a shop and picking up some free comics.
Nonetheless, it was a fun experience. I went to a local shop that I’ve never visited before where one of the employees was hanging out in a Spider-Man costume while a variety of families and adult regulars milled through in the forty-five minutes I spent browsing the shop (it’s amazing how much time you can actually spend in a one-room store that’s probably smaller than my living room). They had a whole wall devoted to the free comics they had available (there were probably close to thirty titles on offer, and the store had a five freebies per person policy, which was great), and I got a decent variety.
There was the obligatory promotional issue from Marvel explaining the roster of Guardians of the Galaxy in anticipation of the big movie that’s coming out at the end of the summer (though I know virtually nothing about this franchise, I’m inclined to feel warmly towards it because the trailer proudly blares “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede as we’re treated to scenes of a bunch of interstellar misfits generally being chaotic awesome).
Also, I got the first issue of a series called Steam Wars which is a steam-punk homage to Star Wars (complete with the lovable rogue pilot Hansel Lowe–say the name quickly out loud–and his trained bear co-pilot, Smokey). It’s entertaining, though the Leia stand-in feels very poorly drawn, with none of the competence and resolve that her originator displays. Further perusal of the publisher’s website suggests this is a problem inherent in their editorial philosophy; multiple series feature female leads, but the emphasis seems to be universally on the characters’ appearance as a way of appealing to the male gaze (also, in an unrelated aside, the publisher has a one-shot featuring stories about Sarah Palin of all people).
In a less regressive vein, I picked up another first issue (all the free comic books seem to be either promotional or first issues of older series, which makes sense) of a series called Courtney Crumrin. The cover prominently features a tween-age girl standing in front of a shadowy backdrop, looking like she’s wavering between intrepid and unsure. I thought it was a good read, although the issue ends with a cliffhanger, which bums me out because I like having some resolution with my free comics–I acknowledge up front that I likely will not go out and buy back issues of any of these series. The tone and style of this one reminds me a lot of Bone by Jeff Smith, which is never a bad thing.
Perhaps the worst acquisition from my free books was Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0 (a prequel to a series that IDW Publishing seems to be launching in July of this year). The story’s lackluster, and the art, which seems to be going for a retro ’80s feel, just doesn’t do anything to excite the imagination. Also, this book uses a weird convention where the Transformers speak in Cybertronian, which is depicted as audio visualizations in speech bubbles with translations overlaid in rectangular boxes. Perhaps I’ve just read too much Marvel, but the simple convention of enclosing any dialogue that’s not supposed to be in English in brackets with a single editor’s note saying what the intended language is works just fine. There is such a thing as too much text crowding out a perfectly decent panel, and it’s something I really don’t miss from ’80s era comics. Also, I never really cared that much for G.I. Joe anyway, so this was purely a “That book has Transformers; I will get it” sort of decision (I should have learned from when I was a kid that just because the cover of a comic features a character you want to read about doesn’t mean the character will be included in the story in any meaningful way). If only there had been a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic book instead; I would have picked that up in a heartbeat.
The absolute best free comic that I picked up was Project Black Sky, a promotional story from Dark Horse’s superhero universe that features a snarky psychic who hates his own codename, a technologically inclined superhero from the 1940s, and a cyborg gorilla named Ape-X who communicates using American Sign Language. The letterer for the issue went to the trouble of making a font specifically for Ape-X that mimics the signs in ASL (with an English translation). Rachael said the icons are pretty good at conveying the signs, but the grammar’s all wrong. Nonetheless, the book features a panel where Ape-X signs angrily that the eponymous Project Black Sky does “dirty bad science.” If I ever commission a custom t-shirt, it’s going to have that phrase.
Naturally, because it’s kind of rude to show up to a store and just ask for free comics, I also bought a couple of other titles. I’ve heard many good things about Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work on Captain Marvel, which just relaunched with a new #1, so I decided to pick that up. I’m pretty familiar with Carol Danvers as a fixture of the Marvel Universe (her history has a lot of overlap with various folks in the X-books, so she’s shown up pretty regularly in the stuff that I’ve read through over the years), so I don’t need a whole lot of introduction to the character here, which is supposed to inaugurate her move towards being a space-based hero like the original Captain Marvel was. There are some threads left over from the DeConnick’s first volume of Captain Marvel that I’m not familiar with, but it doesn’t detract much from the story which has some good momentum in the opening pages, but then flashes back to explain how Carol ended up in space in the first place (my one complaint about the pacing is probably the splash page declaring “Six Weeks Ago” on an all black background; yeah, the reader can’t miss it and get confused about the plot’s timeline, but it’s an entire page dedicated to some text with no accompanying art; comics are an expensive medium, and the artwork is a major draw when four dollars only buys a fraction of the total story arc, so shorting readers out of a whole page of artwork kind of irks me). It’s a solid first issue, but I’m not sure it does enough to get me interested in picking up #2 (perhaps I’d consider buying the trade paperback of the whole story arc somewhere down the road, but going issue to issue doesn’t really appeal to me).
I also picked up the first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga, which I have heard nothing but good things about. It’s an ambitious work, and the six issue collection was priced at only ten dollars, which is absurdly cheap in comparison to the three-to-four dollar cover price of single issues of comics. I’ll definitely be looking to read more of this series in the future, and will probably expound more on it later.
The book I picked up which I’m most excited about is one that I mentioned a few weeks ago in a link roundup. With Carol Danvers taking over as Captain Marvel, Marvel has decided to launch a new Ms. Marvel in the form of Kamala Khan, a sixteen-year-old, Muslim Pakistani-American who lives in Jersey City. I might have gushed a little bit when I first heard the news because having a non-white, female Muslim as the headliner of a solo title is a huge deal. Anyway, the shop had a few copies of the second printing of Ms. Marvel #1, so I picked it up, and it is phenomenal. Adrian Alphona’s art is just gorgeous with a cast of characters who all look wonderfully unique and background details that really drew me into examining each panel closely. G. Willow Wilson, who’s penning the series, writes some of the most satisfying teenager dialogue I’ve ever read (so much better than the pointless chatter that Brian Michael Bendis was guilty of resorting to for his high school scenes in Ultimate Spider-Man) and includes all these great details about Kamala’s life that are endlessly fascinating to me (the sequence where Kamala hallucinates the Avengers’ big three appearing to her as a trio of Urdu-speaking messengers from heaven is both hilarious and intriguing in its depiction of an aspect of a faith tradition I know terribly little about). I seriously want to read more of this series.
Anyhow, that was a long, probably unnecessary, breakdown of what I picked up for this year’s Free Comic Book Day. I’m already looking forward to next year’s now.