My trip to the local comics shop this year took in a considerably smaller haul than last, but that was because I stuck with just going to my local shop instead of driving around town to hit up bigger book stores that were also participating. After wading through over twenty titles last year to share my thoughts on the ones that I liked best, I figured a smaller pile would be better. I also picked up the sixth volume of Saga (it is so good!) along with Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s first issue of the new Black Bolt ongoing series (it’s only polite to buy something when you visit a shop for Free Comic Book Day).
Anyway, let’s get to the comics.
Bad Machinery: This FCBD issue is the first chapter in the latest arc of a series about a group of middle school aged children who solve mysteries. It’s very English in all the ways that you want a series about a grammar school to be. Of the six main characters, the three girls have delightfully distinct personalities (the boys don’t really stand out too much in comparison, but it’s possible their blandness is just a byproduct of not being the focus for this issue), and I would love to read more about their adventures. This one was a random pickup, and I’m really glad I got it, since I love discovering entertaining all-ages books (they’re so refreshing in comparison to the gloom that typically accompanies more adult-oriented stories).
Buffy: The High School Years: Sometimes it’s a nifty cover that draws you to pick up a book. I went with this one both because it’s a Buffy story (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun in the right context) and because I thought the cover, where Buffy is reading the comic that she’s featured on, charmed me. The story inside does take place inside a comic shop, and it’s cute enough, but this one’s largely forgettable. I didn’t even bother to read the backup Plants vs. Zombies story because I was so underwhelmed with the one that I picked up last year.
Catalyst Prime: The Event: I follow Joseph Illidge on Twitter because he used to write editorials discussing the comic book industry’s need for more diversity among its creators at the big publishers and highlighting instances of better representation among currently running books. The project he’s been working on for a while now is the launch of a new shared universe from Lionforge Books called the Catalyst Prime universe. The main selling point of Catalyst Prime is that it’s going to be a shared universe that takes representation and diversity seriously with a lineup of heroes that come from a large variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (they seem to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Comics of the early ’90s). The FCBD offering for Catalyst Prime’s launch is a prequel issue that recounts events in the lives of key people in the lead up to The Event, the moment that jump starts all the stories of the universe. It’s a solid story by itself, but there’s a lot that’s just teasing readers with glimpses of major characters from the universe. I’m not a floppy buyer, so I doubt I’ll read more for now, but there’s some promise here if Lionforge puts out some trades here once they wrap up the first arcs of their various titles.
Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Hostage: I like to pick up the Drawn & Quarterly issue because they put out stuff that’s less superheroes and more just about exploring interesting subjects through the comics medium. This year’s issue has excerpts from Hostage by Guy Delisle, a nonfiction account of Christophe Andre’s time as a hostage in Chechnya, and Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim, a memoir of Findakly’s life growing up in Iraq. The Hostage excerpt conveys the tension surrounding an instance where Andre, while attempting to break his restraints, accidentally tightened them to the point where they cut off circulation to his hand and had to spend the better part of a day trying to manage the pain while he waited for his captors to unbind him so he could eat. Poppies of Iraq employs a simple, six panel layout with childlike illustrations to convey the social upheaval and uncertainty that followed the coup in Iraq in 1958.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Like a few of the other books that I picked up this year, this one was taken mostly on a whim. It has the first chapter of Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptation of Twilight Princess, recounting Link’s history prior to the beginning of the game. It’s perfectly serviceable manga, and Himekawa’s illustrations are beautiful, but there’s not much here that’s super enticing if you aren’t already a mangaphile of Zelda fan.
Malika: Warrior Queen: This book caught my eye because it features an all-Black creative team from a small Black comic publisher, Youneek Studios. The story follows the eponymous Malika, an African queen who rules the empire of Azzaz as she leads her army to quell a rebellion in one of her empire’s outer provinces. The action is straightforward, and the art serves the story well, though something about it lacks the polish that you see in a book from a bigger publisher. My biggest complaint is that the story beats feel pretty rote, but I’m not going to be too hard on a series from a small publisher.
Riverdale: I’ve not watched any of the new Archie television show; I took the year off from almost all my regular television, so the thought of picking up something new to watch on a weekly basis did not sound appealing to me, even though I hear that Riverdale is a delightfully soapy take on the Archie universe. The FCBD issue that is set in that universe is meant as a prequel of sorts for Riverdale‘s first season, setting up the events that happened prior to the start of the show and giving some background on the key characters. It’s perfectly cromulent, though I’m a little weirded out by Archie’s casual hooking up with a high school teacher (this trope just sets my teeth on edge; perpetuating inappropriate sexualization of teenagers much?).
Secret Empire: Y’all, Steve Rogers is a Nazi now. I know that by the time Secret Empire is over he won’t be anymore, but the fact still remains: he’s a Nazi. The purpose of this issue is to give some background on the big fight that the Avengers lost to Hydra after Cap went public with his Nazism. It’s beautifully illustrated, and as a simple depiction of a hopeless fight, it works well enough. Still, it does end with Cap lifting Thor’s hammer (a thing that Marvel’s version of Mjollnir only lets you do if it likes you) to declare a Nazi victory over the globe. Given the history of Nazi iconography and their appropriation of Norse mythology, this is more than a little problematic. You have Cap, heading up a fictional organization that is a stand in for actual Nazis, lifting an icon of actual Nazi ideology. That’s a bad move; I’d highly recommend that you just skip Secret Empire completely, because apparently Marvel needs their wallet to hurt to understand that you don’t do this kind of stuff.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken: The premise of this upcoming miniseries is that it’s a story set in the Mirror Universe of Star Trek, but while following Picard’s crew rather than Kirk’s. It’s a lot of fun, with more than its fair share of backstabbing and creepiness (Data has Borg implants!). I’m not a massive Trekker, but if I came across a trade of this series once it’s done running, I’d look at it.
Wonder Woman: The Wonder Woman movie is coming out in a few weeks, so I guess DC figured they should do a promotional tie-in for Free Comic Book Day. The issue they decided to put out is a reprint of the #1 for Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman Rebirth series. Rucka’s a perfectly good writer, and he does a nice job in this issue of alternating back and forth between scenes from Diana and Steve Trevor’s lives leading up to the fateful plane crash where they first meet. It’s nice to see Rucka thinking about things like the fact that a society of only women probably wouldn’t be asexual (Diana is apparently a ladies’ woman among her peers). Scott’s art is gorgeous; there’s enough good stuff in this issue that I want to look up what else she’s done.
Black Bolt #1: I bought this issue (again, because Saladin Ahmed), and it is definitely money well spent. My biggest regret after reading it and seeing the cliffhanger that it ends on is that I know I won’t be reading the series on a month-to-month basis, but it’s definitely a strong contender for me to pick up the first trade when it all gets collected probably early next year.
Saga Volume 6: I really need to spend a whole post on this one, but my initial thoughts after the first read through are essentially this: Saga is good. You should be reading it, either in floppies or in trades.