Welcome to the Fifth Annual Still on the Shelf: Free Comic Book Day Rundown! The Still on the Shelf regular column has been on hiatus, well, forever, but I still enjoy this annual look at the Free Comic Book Day offerings.

As always, I had to employ the assistance of my local comic shop to make sure as many of these were reviewed as possible. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Comic Universe for all their help. If you are in the Orange County, California area, be sure to pop by and check them out. They are located at 18902 Brookhurst Street in Fountain Valley, and can be reached at (714) 964-9569.

With luck, you will get a chance to read it before you head out to your local shops to pick up your stuff. Many of you have the misfortune of frequenting shops that cap the number of books that you can take – a reasonable restriction in some cases, as you really need to make sure there is enough for all.

Either way, use this column as a resource, along with the listings on the official Free Comic Book Day Website to see what is out there, and discover what will be worth picking up. If you have a limit – you might as well do everything you can to make sure you pick up issues you will enjoy!

Those of you who have read my reviews know that I am not prone to giving full 5/5 reviews – to me, that is nearly impossible for a comic book these days (a full rating is the best a comic issue can be, and can you really say you have read an absolutely perfect issue?), but on Free Comic Book Day, I use a slightly different standard.

All of the issues are rated (on a scale from 0 to 5, courtesy of the SOTS Halibut) on Overall Quality, Story Completeness, and Originality. This is Free Comic Book Day, and not Free 32 Page Ad Day, and while it is expected that the publishers will use this opportunity to promote their wares, it is still a day when you are supposed to be able to get an actual comic book. Quality – as in, is the title enjoyable; Completeness, as in – is there a complete story, or are you forced to buy an issue to get the rest of the story; and Originality, as in – is this something new? The last category is a bit flexible – from some of the Independent Houses, a reprint is ok, as long as it meets the other requirements, since it is likely many readers haven’t had a chance to sample that title yet though. Once you get up to the large publishers, however – it is expected that they come up with something new. What is the point of a reprint DC or Marvel issue, if it is something we have all already read before anyway?

Every year I do make one request – all of you who did manage to score some free issues this year, read them, enjoy them, and then give them away! The collector in all of us wants to seal them away in bags and boards, but we all know these issues will be worth little. Unless it is one of those rare issues that actually stands on its own, and won’t be reprinted anywhere else, and adds to your existing collection of a title, there is no reason not to give it away to a non comic reader. Share the love of your hobby – and help promote it. The more comic readers there are, the more sales good titles will get, and the less likely you will have to write an angry letter (or blog post) because your favorite book was cancelled. Remember – as fun as this is – it is more for the potential new reader than the avid comic fan – help promote that angle, and the event will be that much more of a success.

And here is the 2008 Free Comic Book Day Rundown!

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2008

Written by Ian Boothby, James Bates, and Chuck Dixon, Art by John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy, Chris Ungar, James Lloyd, Art Villanueva, and Nina Matsumoto

Seriously, what a great start. This was the first Free Comic Book Day issue I read this year, and it set the bar really high for subsequent entries. It was a digest-sized issue (approximately, it was somewhere between an ashcan and a digest, and contained three stories. The first was dripping with comic book references and humor. There were subtle references to Civil War, Spider-Man, Secret Invasion, the Fantastic Four, and heck, even the issue of gun control – if you are an avid comic reader you probably caught them all, but catching the references weren’t required to understand the story whatsoever. The second story was a classic Simpson’s tale, and the third was something of a spoof on the manga-style, retelling the Simpsons as if it were a manga. All were absolutely entertaining, well written, and very engaging.

And I still can’t stop laughing at the bag of “nuts” covering a naked Bart’s unmentionables. Just a tiny bit of juvenile humor as icing to an all around great comic. Well done.

Rating:

Bongo Comics (link to unofficial fan site)

Salem: Queen of Thorns

Written by Chris Morgan & Kevin Wash, Art by Wilfredo Torres and Andrew Dalhouse

Salem: Queen of Thorns is a 6 issue mini series from Boom! Studios – the #0 issue (of 5) came out this past January. I didn’t catch anything that explicitly stated it, but judging by the cover, this seemed to be a reprint of that.

The story itself was average. Nothing really unique in the say of stories here – the Salem Witch Trials have been overdone, and so has the “Man With No Name” western model. Combining the two really didn’t do much to spice up either. The Man With No Name story model is a good one, but after just one issue of Salem, I was ready to call it quits. The setting of the Salem Witch Trials just isn’t one where a roaming mysterious loner is a productive protagonist for very long.

The art was pretty poor. The basics were there, but the scenes seemed flat, and the panel layouts were unimaginative. Many of the panels even had key action moments obscured by bodies – almost deliberately, as if the scene itself was beyond the artist’s skill, and they were hoping the reader’s imagination would fill in the blanks.

Overall it was ok – the story was decent, but I don’t feel any particular need to read the rest of the series as it comes out.

Rating:

Boom! Studios

Graphic Classics: Special Edition

By Various

Ever since the failed Marvel/Dabel union was first consummated, comic adaptations of classic literature and modern novels have had more an more exposure. Of course, it is always better to read the actual story, but even if you have done that, comic adaptations have a way of allowing you to see an old story in a slightly different light. Graphic Classics focuses solely on that niche of comic making, and have produced several volumes of comic adaptations, notably of short stories from writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, and more. As you might have guessed, this edition is a sampling of stories from various writers.

Overall, it wasn’t bad. The art quality ranged from outstanding to fair – even the art that didn’t really work well for me at least demonstrated some solid layout, and overall the issue was an enjoyable read. Looking into the publisher, the volumes are pretty affordable – this issue was definitely a success to me as it does make you curious enough to check out their line-up. Overall you have to say this was a wholly positive outing for the publisher.

Rating:

Graphic Classic

Love and Capes #7

By Thomas F. Zahler

Much like last year’s Free Comic Book Day installment of Love and Capes (#4), this is an in-continuity issue of the ongoing series. Also once again, the issue itself will be available for sale later this month, with a variant cover.

It ends up being an extremely important issue of the series, in which The Crusdader struggles with proposing to his girlfriend Abby. It is a pretty touching issue, and extremely well done. Clearly it is a critical moment in the overall series, so much of one that I am honestly surprised they are giving it away for free.

High marks all around – this one was definitely good enough to pay for. Thankfully for those of you who support the small press, you will have a chance to do just that later this month.

Rating:

Maerkle Press


Gumby: Coloring Comic Book Special #1

Written by Mike Hersh and Mel Smith, Art by Hersh, Smith, Shepard Hendrix, Lance Borde, Ken Hooper, and You!

This year, Wildcard Inc. decided to present this as a coloring book – a novel concept, especially for an all-ages book. Though, there really isn’t a lot different from a normal black and white book, save some slightly bolder lines and a lack of extreme detail, but it is a good selling point.

In this issue, Gumby decides to jump into the computer and go surfing, but he catches a worm. To get rid of it, he must cut a small piece of himself off, and that small piece must enter his body and find the worm to eliminate it.

Up till that point, it wasn’t too bad a read, even for a kids book. But then it just gets weird. Gumby kind of loses his sense of character, and we start seeing something more akin to Spongebob or Ren and Stimpy than Gumby. One particularly vulgar moment killed the issue for me – when a mini Pokey finds mini-Gumby inside his body – and when asked how he got there, Pokey replies that Gumby “left the back door open.” Come on – this is supposed to be a kids book! Beyond that, the story just unravels to a totally weird and nonsensical ending that I am not even sure a kid would understand.

Could have been a lot better.

Rating:

Wildcard

Gekiga!

By Seiichi Hayashi and Yoshihiro Tatsumi

This – well, this was a mess. Perhaps you will get more out of it if you are a real devotee of Japanese comics, but outside that market, there wasn’t much appeal here.

This issue had two excerpts of Japanese comic translations Drawn and Quarterly will be putting out this summer. The first – well, it is the worst example of pretentious art – a story hailed as a poetic masterpiece that was literally nothing. The second followed a Japanese soldier in the wake of the Hiroshima bombing. I can see why that story might have some appeal in Japan, but it seemed to be missing a lot of context. And of course, it is only a fragment.

Really not much here – a fairly poor outing for Drawn and Quarterly.

Rating:

Drawn & Quarterly

Nascar Heroes: The Headless Stuntman

Written by Jeremy Diamond, Art by Peter Habjanm Rich Duhaney, and Susan Menxies

Wow – I didn’t even know there was a Nascar comic. I almost wish I still didn’t after reading this.

To be fair – it isn’t that horrible – about what you can expect from a sports concept making the leap to comics. It is kind of a mix between Scooby Doo and Speed Racer, and quite similar to the old NFL Superpro series in it’s plot holes and ridiculousness (but without the tragic awesomeness)

I can’t see this concept having much success outside of Nascar event givaways, to be honest.

Rating:

Starbridge Media Group

How To Draw: Free Comic Book Day 2008 Booklet

By Various

Off the bat, this one was a bit better than last year’s effort – at least when it comes to substance. The lessons are still short and light on substance, but there was a bit more technique this time around, which worked in its favor.

It is still really geared to the aspiring creator – and on that front, they still would have done better if they would have focused on one or two lessons, instead of trying to pack snippets of so many in such a short issue. Still – improvement is improvement. You have to credit them for that.

Rating:

Wizard

The Moth: Greatest Hits

By Gary Martin and Steve Rude

Last year, Rude Dude Productions revisited their old series Nexus with their Free Comic Book Day effort – with disasterous results. It was intended to be a retrospective of Nexus’s Dark Horse past in anticipation of the new series, and on that point it succeeded. But it just didn’t hold a candle to today’s printing standards (quality in the 90s was pretty poor, if you recall), and ended up being nearly impossible to read.

Sadly, they are doing much the same this year with The Moth. The Moth’s publishing history isn’t nearly as long, so the overall story was a little easier to follow, but it was still pretty bad. Two poop jokes on the first four pages, followed right up with a scene that even I found seriously demeaning.

Another year to skip over this one, if you ask me.

Rating:

Rude Dude Productions

EC Comics Sampler

By Various

Wow – a non Disney effort from Gemstone this year? Not what I expected at all. Of course, they still have their Disney effort – consider this one a little extra.

Eh, but not so much in the end. This issue collects four stories that are intended to introduce the EC Archives series – collected works of old EC Comics titles. This might not appeal to some modern readers, but anyone who considers themselves a student of comic history will certainly enjoy it. I especially liked Spawn of Venus – personally, I miss old, cheesy, hard-edged and scientifically inaccurate science fiction – there was an element of fun there that you don’t see in storytelling much anymore.

A decent issue overall.

Rating:

Gemstone

Sonic the Hedgehog #1

Written by Mike Gallagher, Art by Dave Manak, Bill White, and Lyrad Namlede

Last year, Archie Comics put out a perfect Free Comic Book Day issue with their wholly original Sonic comic. After that performance, this issue seems like a bit of a letdown. Instead of new material, they have gone back and reprinted the original Sonic the Hedgehog #1.

Sometimes this works – reprints can be good if they really offer good incentive to read something you might have missed and is worth reading. Unfortunately, this isn’t really it. Sonic is hardly a “must read start to finish” comic – there really is little value in going back and reading the first issue – Sonic is hardly a comic icon, and the first issue of a comic based on a game is pretty rarely of cultural significance. Plus the look of the comic and characters has changed so much and the story quality has improved so much over the years that this issue bears only passing resemblance to the comic that is available today.

A kid might enjoy reading it – but with the character look being so different from the characters they know from the current games, it might be a turnoff to them.

Oh well – I guess some years you have it, some you don’t!

Rating:

Archie Comics

Owly and Friends!

By Andy Runton, Christian Slade, James Kochalka, and Corey Barba

Well, a new Owly is always good, but sadly, Top Self’s effort this year slipped slightly.

The issue is still full of all new, original material, which is great. And the Owly story is outstanding – as always. But instead of an Owly comic, it is instead divided into four properties, including Korgi, Johnny Boo, and Yam. The Korgi story is good, as last year’s was – but then the quality starts to slip. Johnny Boo was decent – if overly simplistic (I know it is for kids, but Owly is too, and it has a certain intelligence about it). Yam though – what in the world is that? Not horrible – just weird.

I don’t blame Top Shelf for promoting their other properties though. I guess we just got spoiled by so many years of cover-to-cover Owly awesomeness.

Rating:

Top Shelf Productions

Comics Go Hollywood

By Various

This is a pretty dense read – well worth the money for sure! (I know, it is free) Not so much a comic, as rather a look at comics in general in Hollywood. It is an interesting read that includes some storyboards, scripts, and interviews. If comic movies are your thing, you will get a lot out of this.

It really doesn’t seem to be selling anything, outside of some name exposure, which is good. Going into the summer blockbuster season, it is a great time to look at this facet of the comic book industry. Worth reading.

Rating:

Top Shelf Productions

Comic Book Diner

By Various

This one is the usual collection of Sky-Dog shorts, including the standard Roboy Red and Buzzboy shorts. A lot shorter than usual – there are more features in this issue, seemingly trying to showcase more of their line. They are mostly decent (well, save the Dreamland Chronicles, which was a muddy mess), but it might have been a little too overloaded.

Still – this is one that the kids will enjoy, as always. That is what they are aiming for here, so you have to mark it a success. Banana-Tail and Roboy Red were the highlights here.

Rating:

Sky-Dog Comics

I.G.N.A.T.Z.: International Graphic Novels at Their Zenith

By Various

Confusing. Really, reading through the description of what the Ignatz line is, I gathered that they are saddle-stitched comics, akin to mini-graphic novels. Not bad – still a little hazy about the release schedule though. Oh well. In any case, this issue contains previews of the next seven Ignatz issues. Not the best tactic of course – it just contains snippets of a bunch of stories, and doesn’t give much in the way of a coherent, single story. The quality was good – particularly the art – but it is stretching things to call this a “comic book.”

It is clear from this preview that there is some good stuff in the IGNATZ line – this issue is a good selection if you tend towards more literary comic efforts.

Rating:

Fantagraphics

World of Aspen #3

By Various

This is the third year Aspen has produced a Free Comic Book Day issue – and once again it follows that all-too familiar format of including a few short snippets of a few titles in their line – Fathom, Soulfire, Shrugged, and Executive Assistant: Iris.

I imagine you already have an idea what this is – Aspen is nothing if not consistent. So you know if this is your kind of thing or not. Like usual, they have taken the easy-way out, and simply included previews of upcoming books – and since Aspen titles are usually so light on story (lots of brooding), you really don’t get a lot of meat out of the issue.

Rating:

Aspen Comics

Drafted – FCBD 2008 Edition

Written by Mark Powers, Art by Chris Lie, Mike O’Sullivan, John Lowe, Joseph Baker, and Wes Dzioba

I am always wary of Devil’s Due original titles – they are great for licensed franchises, but they have a bad habit of just dropping good titles right in the middle of the story. Cancellations happen, but when you invest money in a story, you at least want some kind of ending!

This issue was actually fairly well done – it is a mash of issues #0-5 of Drafted, and strangely enough, it actually came out as a fairly coherent story. Kind of speaks volumes about how padded comic books are these days that 6 issues of material can be condensed into a single issue without much loss.

In any case – it was an ok read. Hopefully for those of you who decide to check out Drafted based on this issue, Devil’s Due doesn’t randomly decide to drop this title somewhere down the line.

Rating:

Devil’s Due

Maximum Ride Volume 1

By James Patterson and NaRae Lee

This one here is a read headscratcher. Some of you might be familiar with James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series – (if not, you might be familiar with his Alex Cross series, which has resulted in 2 films – Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider) well, it would seem that a Manga version of that property is set to be released by Yen Press in July.

Strangely enough – the adaptation is pretty good. Of course – the story is butchered, but in all the right places. If you didn’t already read the book, you could swear that this actually was a manga property. More than just the art – the story itself and the dialogue make a pretty good manga. This will probably surprise a lot of fans of that genre.

I am fairly sure this will be reprinted when the series comes out in July, but overall it is an effective preview. New material, solid story elements, and it leaves you wanting to check out the rest of the series. A decent effort.

Rating:

Yen Press

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk & Spider-Man

Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin, Art by Alvin Lee, Terry Pallot, and Wil Quintana

Boy, I can remember a few years back when Marvel completely snubbed Free Comic Book Day. Both this year and last, however – they have done exactly what the #1 comic publisher is supposed to do with their FCBD submissions. It is nice to see.

This is one of two Marvel books available for Free Comic Book Day (officially – some shops might still be handing out the Iron Man/Hulk movie promo book and the Soliel Sampler, if they still have any), and the one that is decidedly aimed at kids. The trio from the Marvel Adventures books has a showdown with The Mandarin – who is attempting to steal magical Incan Artifacts. A simple story, but exactly the kind of thing you get from a Marvel Age book. And like many Marvel Adventures stories, this one parallels old, classic story elements – this story features Grottu, King of the Insects – a giant ant character created by Kirby and Lee way back in 1960.

Overall – perfectly done. It’s a decent, original story that promotes three Marvel Adventures titles, all while telling a complete story. High marks all around.

Rating:

Marvel Comics

Impact University Volume 4

By Various

Like most years, Impact puts forth a fairly solid sampling of their work. Like the How to Draw book from Wizard, this really only includes a tiny sliver of each potential lesson – they could put more in an issue. But like in every year – Impact just seems to do it better. Sure they stick a few names on there that they deem to be “big” just to attract attention – but the real good stuff comes from lesser known but highly skilled creators (typically artists) who really know their stuff. Impact is just a better product, and that is reflected every year thus far in the Free Comic Book Day Effort.

The History of Digital Coloring is an interesting article of note in this issue – if you read nothing else, check that out.

Rating:

Impact

Atomic Robo

Written by Brian Clevinger, Paul Ens, and J. Korim, Art by Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, J. Korim, and Jessie Lam

One of the good things about Free Comic Book Day is that often we get a good look at one of the newer small press companies. This year Red 5 Comics treats us to a pair of stories, headlined by an all new 16 page Atomic Robo series, back-up up by a NeoZoic short.

Really not too bad. NeoZoic was kind of your typical “kick-butt chick warrior” book – so not to original but decently executed. Atomic Robo was a little more fun, and a lot more entertaining. Will have to check out another of Red 5 titles sometime in the future based off this issue.

Rating:

Red 5 Comics

Del Ray & Dabel Brothers 2008 Preview

By Various

Well, it looks like Dabel Brothers is still kicking, and back to doing what they always did prior to Marvel (but with a slightly different stable of authors). This issue previews 4 of their current projects – Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards, and Frankenstein and In Odd We Trust from Dean Koontz.

Overall, they aren’t terrible. Dabel has always been good at the comic adaptation, but getting 4 tiny slivers of novel adaptations really isn’t a good use of the space. This is less a comic book than an ad, unfortunately. Good to check out if you are considering picking up a Dabel title, but really impossible to enjoy on its own merits.

Rating:

Dabel Brothers

Shonen Jump Special

By Misashi Kishmoto, Tite Kubo, and Takehiko Inoue

Argh, backwards reading! Yes, yes, I know, that is the way these are supposed to be read, and it often hurts the integrity of the panel layout to flup things around for the translation. But that doesn’t make it more difficult on me!

Thankfully, I actually have some passing familiarity with two of the stories in this comic, which will make this review a little easier. Those who have read my work for a long time know that I am not the biggest fan of manga, but you really can’t talk about comics in general without trying everything out here and there. This issue includes stories from Bleach, Naruto (both of which I have read), and Slam Dunk (new to me).

Unfortunately, even my familiarity with those two stories didn’t help all that much, Sure – I understood a little more of what was going on, but they were such small fragments of the stories (and mangas tend to be really decompressed) that there was almost no value in reading them. Much like the Dabel book, this really is just an ad – and doesn’t stand alone at all as a comic. It is one thing to print preview material that could possibly stand alone as a short story – but to just pick random pages, or the first set number of pages – that just isn’t very valuable at all. Could have been better.

Rating:

Shonen Jump

Viper Comics Presents: Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits

Written by Dwight L. McPherson, Art by Worth Gowell

Pretty darned good. Of course, Kid Houdini is a graphic novel set for release later this year – but this is a good preview of that. Of course, the story isn’t totally complete (obviously), but it makes up the bulk of the issue, and what I read was very entertaining. Of course, it seems more geared for kids – but really, anything without excessive sex and nudity seems “geared for kids” these days, so I will just look at this as wholesome.

There were a few more pages excerpting The Sleepy Truth at the end – these pages weren’t bad, but it was extremely short, and it really didn’t click like Kid Houdini did for me. Tough act to follow, I suspect.

Rating:

Viper Comics

Arcana Studio Presents 2008

By Various

Arcana’s presence at Free Comic Book Day has always been a strong one. For the last 4 years they have really been a presence – absolutely getting what the event is supposed to be about. They have consistently delivered a few original short stories in each issue, promoting their main titles, while still providing something with enough substance to qualify as a free comic book.

Unfortunately, this year saw a little bit of a slip. With the exception of the 100 Girls story, all of the shorts seemed to continue directly into another issue. Of course, this is still all-new material, which is good, but a couple of the stories seemed to lack the context to really make them stand out on their own.

As usual, however – the work is good quality, but I didn’t find myself enjoying this issue as much as I have in previous years. Oh well – 4 out of 5 ain’t bad at all!

Rating:

Arcana Studios

Amelia Rules! Comics and Stories

By Jimmy Gownley

Amelia Rules! is another one of those titles that almost always make for a great Free Comic Book Day installment. The series itself is flat out awesome, and any opportunity to expose new readers to great work is a good one. They have certainly taken advantage of this event to its fullest extent in previous years.

Like with the Arcana issue, this one had me a little worried. They broke it up a bit, included a little preview of an Amelia Rules! musical, and had some story short at the end, one of which was to be continued in a collected volume. But the book was still outstanding. The opening story was touching and real – and dealt with the very difficult situation of a child having to confront her father going off to war, without all the political garbage a story like this would invoke in this day and age. And though this was a fragment – the selected pages were very complete, and they even provide a URL to download the rest of the comic for free through the WOWIO service.

Bottom line – Amelia Rules! delivered once again. A fantastic issue.

Rating:

Renaissance Press

Comic Book Challenge Showcase #1

Written by DJ Coffman and Jorge Vega, Art by Dominic Vivona, Nei Ruffino, and DJ Coffman.

This year, Platinum Studios decided to showcase their two Comic Book Challenge winners by giving us a taste of DJ Coffman’s Hero By Night, and on the flip-side, a few preview pages of the Gunplay graphic novel from Jorge Vega.

The Gunplay story – well, I have read the full graphic novel. It is outstanding, but the preview pages are just that. Might be enough to give you a taste for the book, but it doesn’t really qualify as a complete enough story to give high marks too here. Thankfully, it is only a small portion of the issue.

The bulk is a retrospective of the Hero By Night series – very complete in its presentation, and it gives a great insight as to what the series is all about. It also gives some locations on the web that you can read even more Hero By Night, for free, some also on the WOWIO service I mentioned before. This is a great idea – it frees up a little space for promotion, still allowing the issue to live up to the theme of a “free comic.”

Particularly for Hero By Night, this is a great way to check out an outstanding title. I recommend you take advantage of all the free materials it directs you to, and after that, go ahead and start buying the series. After reading this issue, you will agree that it is well worth it.

Rating:

Platinum Studios

Maintenance #1

Written by Jim Massey, Art by Robbi Rodriguez

This issue was just plain awesome. Maintenance follows a couple of average Joe maintenance workers who happen to be employed by a Super-Villain organization. In this issue they accidentally get sent back in time to find a group of caveman who the mad scientist they are working for has been arming to form a super-caveman army. (They look like Captain Caveman too, which resulted in added humor) Of course, the cavemen have little interest in the weapons and jetpacks – they want modern convienences! The issue itself is a tremendous read – I highly enjoyed it.

It also contained a short preview of Marc Guggenheim’s Ressurection – a couple of pages there, really only a preview of that series.

The Maintenance story is a reprint of the first issue of the series. This is really ok in Oni’s case, as it is likely you haven’t read it, and it is a great look at a series with a couple of trades available to check out. But you don’t need to get the other volumes to follow this story – a good content selection.

Rating:

Oni Press

Ape Entertainment’s Cartoonapalooza

By Various

This year, Ape Entertainment included several snippets of various titles under their imprint. It is a mixed bag overall – a couple of the selections were really incomplete, and didn’t stand very well on their own. The Go-Go Gorilla story was probably the best in the bunch – a witty little story that was solid from start to finish.

This issue would have been a little better if they only focused on two, maybe three stories – but on the whole it was decent.

Rating:

APE Entertainment

The Stranded/Dan Dare Flip Book

By Various

For starters, this is a much, much better effort from Virgin this year. Not that last year didn’t preview some quality stuff, it was just too dense and too difficult to decipher in the short snippets they offered.

This issue was the standard Flip-book style story, and while there was an element of too-be-continued, it was a strong showing that demonstrated that Virgin is really serious about the Sci-Fi genre, and their relationship with the Sci-Fi channel.

Plus, it was just darned cool to see Dan Dare again. A good issue.

Rating:

Virgin Comics

Tiny Titans #1

By Art Baltazar and Franco

DC really aught to do better.

Not that Tiny Titans isn’t a decent franchise. It is a comic for kids – and on that note, it is a great success. It is definitely cute, easy to follow, and very suited to the younger reader. Many young kids might not have read this issue – which is its saving grace – Free Comic Book Day often draws crowds of families who might be seeing this book for the first time. The #2 comic publisher should be putting out an original work for Free Comic Book Day, but the audience for this title and the potential to draw new young readers into the medium does help offset that failing a bit.
Rating:

DC Comics

Project Superpowers: The Death-Defying Devil Man

Written by Jim Kruger, Art by Andy Smith and Debora Carita

This issue was a travesty. Project Superpowers has gotten so much buzz, and instead of capitalizing on that and giving potential new readers who wouldn’t give this series a look if it wasn’t free some serious meat, they instead offer a story snippet that is too dark, too confusing, and too muddled to really get a sense of. On top of that – this book is over half ads. When rating Free Comic Book Day issues, I often talk about the difference between “Free Comic Book Day” and the idea of a “Free 32 Page Ad Day,” but I never imagined that a publisher would take it this far. They try to hide some of the ads by cramming a few preview pages into a single page – making them too small to really read, or understand.

This is a real shame. Dynamite has been a publisher on the rise in recent months – and to put something out like this is almost an insult. Yes – it is free, and it is supposed to be an opportunity for publishers to showcase their titles. But it isn’t supposed to be an excuse to cram a bunch of ad pages similar to what you might find in Previews and pass it off as an actual comic book.
Rating:

Dynamite Entertainment

All-Star Superman #1

Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Frank Quietly and Jamie Grant

OK, honestly, who hasn’t read All-Star Superman #1? It was the #2 selling book in November of 2005, selling over 170,000 copies.

That’s good right? The series is fantastic, without question, and this issue in particular sold extremely well. What’s the problem?

The point is this issue sold extremely well. It was widely purchased, and though the series deserves praise and new readers, who really needs to see this issue again? It’s cheap. DC is the #2 comic publisher, and instead of following Marvel’s example, it just reprinted two old issues with a Free Comic Book label, and shipped them out.

Yes, along with Tiny Titans #1, this is a complete comic, and fits the definition of a Free Comic Book. But unlike Tiny Titans, the potential for new readers picking this up is quite low. And those who do – even fewer are going to come back and buy more issues. The new market DC would appeal to with this book are very casual comic readers, and aren’t going to have the patience to sit and wait and hunt for the next issue – All Star Superman’s shipping schedule is so erratic and delayed that only the most loyal comic fans will catch its release. They are the only ones that follow the shipping schedules close enough to notice its release. So the potential new casual readers do get a complete new read, but very few of them will come back for more. Meanwhile the loyal readers who already buy DC are given something they have already seen before.

DC can and should do better. Especially with a Batman movie out this summer. Why not do a killer Batman one-shot pitting him against the Joker, just for this very event? It has crossover movie appeal, and would give the loyal fans and potential new readers alike something of substance. Instead, they phoned it in. Again. Not the way to challenge Marvel for dominance of the market – not by a longshot.

Rating:

DC Comics

Transformers: Animated

By Marty Isenberg and Zachary Rau

Not a terrible effort from IDW – it is kind of strange that they didn’t use something they are publishing currently for this event (they may be putting out an Animated adaptation series, but I haven’t seen any real word of it), but it is something the kids will enjoy. Long time Transformers fans might find it a bit distasteful – but the Transformers have been reimagined so many times in the past, I have no doubt this incarnation will stick somehow.

So on all marks, it works as a Free Comic Book Day effort. However, since there isn’t any real crossover appeal to any of IDW’s current projects, I am not so sure it will actually boost their sales any. A strange selection to say the least.
Rating:

IDW

Archie’s Pal Jughead

Written by Craig Boldman, Art by Stan Goldberg, Bob Smith, Rich Koslowski, and Barry Grossman

All in all, a solid issue of Jughead. Oh, I should say more than that?

Most Archie Comics are hit and miss, and over the years they have produced the whole spectrum of Free Comic Book Day issues – from amazing to abysmal. This one ranks pretty high up there – it is a solid read, and delves into pop culture a bit, which is usually a success for the book. Of course, many comic readers will find it a bit dated – which is ok, because Archie Comics don’t appeal to most mainstream comic readers anyway. Some enjoy it for its timeless quality and frankly the line’s incredible history – but the average superhero reader gives it a pass. But the “common folk” – those casual readers who rarely (if ever) step foot in a comic shop – this issue is more for them than the average X-Men fan anyway.

A good issue – well done and entertaining.

Rating:

Archie Comics

Hellboy/B.P.R.D

Written by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Joshua Dysart, Art by Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart, Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta, and Nick Filardi

First off – kudos on the cool Hellboy/BPRD Futurama line-up. That was cool.

Well, as the title suggests, this issue features both a Hellboy and a B.P.R.D. short, as well as a short called Bishop Olek’s Devil. All three stories are good – the first two exactly what you would expect from the respective properties, and all are very thoughtful.

A good effort from Dark Horse- something for the existing fans of Mignola’s properties – and a great way for potential new readers to get a look at the franchise. All-in-all a solid outing.
Rating:

Dark Horse

Broken Trinity Prelude

Written by Ron Marz, Art by Stepan Sejic

Honestly, this one kind of bored me – but to be honest, Top Cow often does. There are some good characters with storied histories there – but they have never really appealed to me all that much. Still – the quality here is obviously good, even if I am not the perfect audience for the story. It is well worth the read – some of you will certainly enjoy it a lot more than I did.

As the title suggest, this issue is a prelude to Top Cow’s Broken Trinity summer event. Lots of exposition – this will be a great resource for the uninitiated who were considering giving that series a chance.

Rating:

Top Cow

Imaginary

Art by Various

OK – a comic book is supposed to have more than art. Radical kind of missed the point there, and instead used this issue to preview the art for several of their upcoming properties. Complete pages are there – well, complete minus the dialogue. So it is really just a picture book.

Admittedly – the art is gorgeous. It is a bit heavy though – and way too dark. Maybe this was a trial run – but when you have breathtaking and beautiful art on a comic page, it is best to avoid a lot of dark colors. Bright colors pop more – as opposed to dark colors, which really make it difficult to see. Especially on the glossy stock – the black ink ends up causing a glare which makes it harder to see the detail. The art is gorgeous, but tough to see on the paper.

Still, as pretty as this book is – it totally fails the “Comic Book” standard.
Rating:

Radical Comics

X-Men – 2008 Free Comic Book Day Edition

Written by Mike Carey, Art by Greg Land

A fantastic effort. Like the Marvel Adventures issue, Marvel went out of their way to produce an original, single-issue comic that relates to what is going to be happening in the ongoing continuity.

Really little point in heaping more praise on this book – it is a well produced comic, and exactly the kind of thing you would expect from a regular X-Men issue (minus the six issue story). A perfect example of what this day is supposed to be about.
Rating:

Marvel Comics

Heroclix Iron Man Figure – FCBD 2008 Edition

Not exactly the best person to review a Heroclix figure, as I haven’t played the game (time being a huge factor there), but I did manage to check out the freebie this year. This figure is a new version of the one released as part of the Armor Wars set – I guess it is a rare one, so it will be a perk for players of the game who haven’t shelled out the cash for that one (with some changes that will maintain the rarity of the original figure.

It isn’t exactly a comic book, but it is a fun perk to players of the game.
Rating:

Marvel Heroclix

Well, there were only two issues I didn’t manage to get my hands on – the Gyro Gearloose issue – (It is Carl Barks and Don Rosa, so I think it is safe to say it is awesome), and the Manga digest. The latter hasn’t appealed to me in previous years, so I don’t think I am missing much there. Plus there is a set of three Star Wars CMG figures that should be out there today – be on the lookout for those if you are a collector. As with last year – if you happen to pick up any of these – please feel free to add your thoughts!

Thanks again for reading … see you next year!