How did the finished works do? Did they present an enjoyable, self-contained experience? Were they welcoming to new readers? Did they adhere to the old adage that every comic is someone’s first?
My reading results were as follows:
Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar: the Last Airbender (Dark Horse) — Three stories for the price of one! Guaranteed satisfaction or quintuple your money back! Marketing is easy when all the numbers involved equal zero.
In the lead, Dark Horse’s current Star Wars series writer Brian Wood spins a clever cat-‘n’-mouse yarn in which Darth Vader faces the treacherous Moff who originally oversaw the Star Destroyer Devastator. I’m game for any SW tale in which the characters aren’t merely regurgitating lines and moves from the movies. As in the regular series, I appreciate Wood’s refusal to settle for just that, as Vader proves his physical mettle even though he has to share a couple of panels with a gratuitous Boba Fett cameo.
Story #2: Captain Midnight was a World-War-era radio hero, now revived for modern times because public-domain concepts are fun to mine. Surrounding an old-fashioned Midnight adventure is a modern-day framing sequence that seems obsequious until the premise goes topsy-turvy on the last page. The stage is nicely set for an ongoing series that might bear watching if it’s light on the retro flashbacks.
Story #3 is a done-in-one from the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender, in which a main character named Mai, down in the dumps from recent unhappy events, endures an acquaintance’s attempt to cheer her up, only to watch masked intentions turn a pleasant evening disastrous. I know little about the Avatar universe, but the emotional moments shone pretty strongly, even through the action scenes. This is the second time an Avatar story has caught my eye on Free Comic Book Day. If they’re not careful, I might have to check into their world a little further.
Mass Effect/R.I.P.D./The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Dark Horse) — Dark Horse just keeps the handouts coming every year. They’re cool like that. The R.I.P.D. short makes no sense whatsoever if you haven’t seen the recent trailer that tried to pass itself off as Men in Black 4. I’ve never played Mass Effect, but the quick tale of starship battles in the face of anti-handicap discrimination achieved its simple objective.
As for “Killjoys”: former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way returns to Dark Horse with a creepy sci-fi series based on the band’s final concept album about an alt-future where parents are replaced with robots run by costumed weirdos for some reason. Also, there’s a band. Maybe it makes more sense if you own the album for context, but this wasn’t as immediately enticing as Way’s previous super-team, The Umbrella Academy.
Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (Marvel) — Marvel has officially given up on producing original all-ages stories, instead assigning writer/letterer Joe Caramagna to adapt episodes of various Marvel animated series by collecting ‘n’ captioning screen-grabs, effectively eliminating comic artists, colorists, and new stories from the graphic-storytelling process. Caramagna is talented in his own right, but kids deserve better than this cheapskate production method.
Judge Dredd Classics (IDW) — Having recently acquired the Dredd license from whichever British publisher is clutching it this week, IDW introduces newcomers to the volatile environs of Mega-City One via a reprint of the classic Dredd story that introduced the sinister, disturbing force known as Judge Death. I’ve never read it, but Brian Bolland artwork is welcome in my home anytime, even though the back half of the book contains strips starring something called “Walter the Wobot”, which might’ve been high hilarity thirty years ago but slightly isn’t now.
Bongo Comics Free-for-All 2013 (Bongo) — The publisher of Simpsons Comics just celebrated their twentieth anniversary. Twenty years this li’l indie has kept going and going on the strength of the show’s multi-purpose cast of thousands. Impressive feat, all things considered. Their annual FCBD offering is always a greatest-hits collection, usually containing laughs above their monthly average. Comics fans may recognize names in the credits such as 1980s DC writer/editor Paul Kupperberg, animator Mike Kazaleh (The Adventures of Captain Jack), John Delaney (Adventures in the DC Universe), and Jack of Fables inker Andrew Pepoy (whom we met at C2E2 this year).
The Steam Engines of Oz (Arcana) — A steampunk reimagining in which an Emerald City mechanic named Victoria is recruited by the Witch of the North to revolt against the city’s shortsighted ruler, the Tin Man, and halt his insatiable annexation of the surrounding forests for misguided modern-progress purposes. If you like all things steampunk, and if it doesn’t bother you that the only recognizable Oz properties shown on-panel are winged monkeys, you might enjoy this Part One more than I did.
To be continued!