Free Comic Book Day 2016 Postmortem #3: The Free Comics

All things considered, I think a one month delay between actually getting the comics for Free Comic Book Day and doing a write up on what I thought of them isn’t so bad.  I mean, it’s been a very eventful month, so talking about comics was a little low on the priorities list, you know?

Anyway, I’ve taken the original twenty-two comics that I picked up and paired them down considerably.  A good portion of the comics that I read just didn’t resonate with me very strongly, either in a positive or negative way, so I won’t be covering them at all.  Unless you go back my first post about this year’s haul, you probably won’t notice what’s missing anyway.

In no particular order:

The Tick Free Comic Book Day 2016 – The thing I’ve learned about the Tick (besides the fact that he’s a fun send up of silly superhero cliches) is that his publisher, New England Comics, puts out a really nice free issue every year.  My biggest complaint with a lot of free comics is that they’re usually promotional issues with only previews of stories and a lot of other material that may or may not be interesting.  With the Tick books, you know that the whole thing is going to be complete stories, and they’ll be pretty entertaining.

We Can Never Go Home / Young Terrorists – The two stories paired in this volume have in common female protagonists and an underlying sense of youthful disaffection with life.  The first story follows a sixteen-year-old girl named Morgan who’s incredibly bored with her life until she has an encounter with a superpowered girl who’s being attacked by a SWAT team.  It’s barely more than an introduction to a story, but Morgan’s flip attitude towards the mundane (she repeatedly makes fun of her boyfriend for taking her to a cheap motel for sex) is charming, even if her nonreaction to her boyfriend’s death at the story’s end is a little off putting.  The second story is also mostly set up, but it introduces a protagonist named Sera, who has grown up in the mold of typical wunderkind-type characters.  In the present Sera is a prisoner in a camp where she fights other inmates for entertainment.  Alternating with the present-day story are flashbacks of Sera’s childhood and the odd relationship she has with her father.

Archie #1 – I’ve read the first issue of the Archie reboot before (it’s a fun slice of life story; the fact that Fiona Staples illustrates goes a long way towards making it so engaging; there’s something perversely silly about seeing Riverdale characters making the exact same faces that you see in Saga as punchlines to dirty jokes), but the Free Comic Book Day edition also includes a preview of the Jughead reboot, which is illustrated by Erica Henderson of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Getting one issue with art by two artists that I particularly like is a good deal for free, and the stories themselves are fun too.

Valiant 2016 – This is mostly a preview issue with only a few pages of introduction to all the comics it’s advertising for Valiant’s shared universe summer event 4001 AD.  I don’t know much about Valiant’s usual line up (I hear they’re a good alternative to the big two if you like shared universes but want comics that aren’t so conventional), and I’m not terribly into most of what’s on display here, but I did like the preview of the Faith miniseries.  I’ve seen stuff about Faith before, but getting to actually read a few pages of it helped me get a better sense of what it’s about.  The basic idea is that it’s a standard superhero-struggling-with-secret-identity story, but Faith’s normal job is as a blogger, and she happens to be plus-sized.  In terms of body diversity, that’s a pretty big deal.

Bob’s Burgers – I’ve seen a couple seasons of Bob’s Burgers, and generally I like it.  It’s not quite like classic Simpsons in its humor, but its close enough to be entertaining.  The free offering enjoys the luxury of being a humor book with a bunch of short stories that get to serve primarily as vehicles for jokes based on the characters’ established personalities.  It does this job very well, and each story centered on one of the Belcher family does them justice.  Tina’s story is particularly delightful.

DC SuperHero Girls – This one’s an all-ages book that ties into DC’s web series and toy line of the same name that follows versions of many of their flagship female characters attending a superhero high school.  The book itself isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s ground for some good discussion of how not to do POC characters in a story.  There’s a really good critique by Robert Jones, Jr. over at The Middle Spaces that’s worth checking out.

Civil War II – I was hoping I’d be able to say something intelligent about this crossover event and the recent Captain America movie by now, but I tend to skip Marvel’s summer comic events, and I’ve not made time to hit up the movie theater yet.  The prologue story found here is perfectly cromulent in its way, but it is kind of troubling that the inciting incident of the event has to do with the death of James Rhodes, War Machine.  Evan Narcisse at io9 wrote a good op-ed about the problems that come with making Rhodey’s death the catalyst for a summer event framed around the differences of two white heroes (something that I suspect is echoed at least in part in Captain America: Civil War since the trailers aren’t shy about the fact that what personally aggrieves Tony Stark in his feud with Steve Rogers is that Rhodey gets seriously injured while trying to apprehend Bucky).

Captain America: Steve Rogers – Besides the fact that the title on the book clearly says Steve Rogers: Captain America (seriously, if you’re subtitling your book, put the subtitle below the title, because otherwise it’s just really confusing), the big thing with this issue is that it precedes the whole Hydra Cap bombshell of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1.  I haven’t read that issue myself, so I don’t know if this is a standalone story or if it’s just a preview of stuff that’s included in that first issue (could go either way).  Absent the Hydra stuff, there’s nothing here that’s really odd; Steve’s new costume and shield are introduced (it’s totally a gimmick shield, with a laser cutter on the pointy end, and a breakaway section that confuses mooks when they try to grab the shield in combat), and we get to spend some time with Sam Wilson and his new sidekick Joaquin, who have a lovely meta-discussion about Sam’s place as Captain America now that Steve’s reclaiming the mantle.  There’s one page that’s a little weird where Steve threatens to torture a Hydra agent for information (can we please just let go of the idea of torture as an effective way to get intel?), but overall it’s a fun story that focuses just on Steve’s return to form.  Now if only they hadn’t done that Hydra thing…

Oddly Normal – On paper there’s nothing especially outstanding about Oddly Normal; it’s a story about a tween girl who resents being a misfit because her father is human and her mother is a witch from a magical realm called Fignation, and after a birthday wish goes awry she has to go on a quest to find her parents whom she made disappear.  The execution struck me as funny and sweet in ways that aren’t saccharine (Oddly’s a pretty cynical girl, and the detail about how being half witch makes her sensitive to rain are a cute twist on the Wizard of Oz trope it references).  If I were looking for an all-ages book for someone, I’d seriously consider this one based on the strength of its first issue.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All! – It’s a bunch of Simpsons stories.  Like The Tick and Bob’s Burgers, this issue enjoys being entirely self-contained with stories that are fun, feel true to the the characters, and don’t have to worry about carrying any further burden than being immediately entertaining.  I also found the story about Homer and Bart as a food-themed crimefighting duo to be a lot of fun.

The Legend of Korra – This issue includes three stories: the eponymous Korra story, and two back up features set in the How to Train Your Dragon and Plants Vs. Zombies universes.  The Plants story isn’t much to write home about, but the other two stories are good.  You don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the Korra series to enjoy this brief flashback story explaining how Korra meets her animal companion Naga (I’ve never seen an episode of the series, though I have seen all of The Last Airbender, so Katara’s cameo at the beginning was pretty fun).  The Dragon story is a sweet memorial tale where many of the major characters from How to Train Your Dragon 2 share their favorite memories of Stoick, who dies at the end of that movie.

Boom! Studios 2016 Summer Blast – This one’s a preview book with an assortment of beginnings to longer tales that are targeted towards all-ages the readers.  The big standouts here are the Lumberjanes feature and the intro for the Goldie Vance series.  I read the first volume of Lumberjanes a couple months ago and loved it, so getting to revisit those characters, even if only for a few pages, was nice.  Goldie Vance looks to be a series about a girl detective based out of a hotel in the tourist town of St. Pascal, Florida.  The ’60s period vibe and cast of characters of color are pretty delightful.

Attack on Titan Anthology – This preview book for a much larger anthology that’s releasing in October 2016 features a few stories set in the Attack on Titan universe.  I’ve heard this series is quite good, but I’ve not seen any of the anime or read any of the manga.  What I found notable about this book is that the three major stories being previewed have a variety of takes on the concept.  The first one caught my interest based on the artist’s interview that follows the preview, where he talks about how he imagines the concept of deranged naked giants being a metaphor for being a child living with an alcoholic adult.  The second, which is tackles convention culture and the ways sexual harassment gets normalized in those spaces (and illustrated by Babs Tarr of the Batgirl reboot of the last few years) feels like a fun premise, even with the ending splash page indicating the mundane stuff gets interrupted by the appearance of an for-real Titan.  The third story preview is too short to have much substance besides establishing the central characters, an elderly couple whose son was killed by a Titan eighteen years ago, but the art is remarkably good.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 – Like the other Dark Horse offering, Korra, this issue has three short stories in a variety of universes.  The cover story is set in the Firefly universe and is a straightforward “meet the characters” story in the form of River Tam telling Zoe and Wash’s infant daughter a fairy tale version of the major events of the television series and the Serenity movie.  It’s a sweet story, though it does recapitulate the gag from one Firefly episode where River is terrified at the sight of Shepherd Book with his hair unbound; I’ve seen it pointed out somewhere in the past that this joke’s highly problematic as it relies on a narrative that Black people who don’t conform to white social norms (like having natural hair) are scary.  The back up stories set in the Hellboy and Alien universes are perfectly fine for what they are, but they don’t really resonate with me.

And that’s it for Free Comic Book Day 2016.  I’m looking forward to next year, and in the meantime I’ve picked up a couple of possible series to look into.

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