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My Free Comic Book Day 2019 Results: The Best and the Least Best

Carnage!

I’ve never been a Carnage fan, but Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, and Frank Martin do make him look stylish.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: on May 4th I once again had the pleasure of observing Free Comic Book Day, the least fake holiday of them all, that annual celebration when comic shops nationwide offer no-strings-attached goodies as a form of community outreach in honor of that time-honored medium where words and pictures dance in unison on the printed page, whether in the form of super-heroes, monsters, cartoon all-stars, licensed merchandise, or entertaining ordinary folk. Each year, America’s remaining comic book shops (and a handful in the UK that can afford the extra shipping charges) lure fans and curious onlookers inside their brick-and-mortar hideaways with a great big batch of free new comics from all the major publishers and a bevy of smaller competitors deserving shelf space and consideration.

As they’d done last year, my local shops offered a special deal that sounds crazy on the face of it: for a fair sum of money, we could pre-purchase a bundle of all 53 Free Comic Book Day comics (according to their Facebook post) that their stores planned to order. They set aside copies of all those comics, bagged ’em up, and let buyers pick them up late Saturday afternoon, once all the furor and hubbub had subsided. I went for it. I liked the idea of playing the role of patron, donating extra cash to help facilitate Free Comic Book Day for other folks in town, in a way that would help my shop offset the costs.

I spent the next three nights reading everything I was given and then tweeting my impressions after each comic, along with photo excerpts from every single comic. I took photos rather than scans because (a) our scanner sometimes ruins the hard work of comics colorists, (b) I wanted to capture the feel of comics on actual physical paper, and (c) snapping pics was faster than scanning. This reading/photography project took until 12:15 a.m Monday night to complete.

Careful observers will note the official FCBD site listed 51 titles in all. I’ve cataloged the following discrepancies:

  • Due apparently to oversight, the shop gave me two copies of Aftershock’s Animosity Tales.
  • Two titles listed on the FCBD site aren’t in my stack: DC’s oddly formatted Dear Justice League and Golden Apple Books’ Blastosaurus Annual. The shop probably skipped ordering one of these, but I’m not !00% sure which.
  • Three titles are in the stack they gave me but not on freecomicbookday.com: IDW’s Transformers/Ghostbusters (a 4-page ashcan they may not have counted as a comic, though the shopkeep did); The Overstreet Guide to Collecting 2019; and the 2019 edition of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Defend Comics.

…so that’s 53-1+2-3=51. Anyway:

This entry is a condensed version of that epic-length tweetstorm: my presentation of the ten best books of the bunch (I’m not in the mood to rank them), followed by my five least favorites of the entire stack. I never trust a comics reviewer or website that shares nothing but relentlessly glowing opinions — nor, conversely do I trust a critic who hates all comics and can’t be pleased — so this is my way of not becoming that which I disparage.

Starting with the ten happiest reads first and the mental categories they won:

Interceptor!

Art by Dylan Burnett.

Best Post-Apocalypse: Interceptor #1 (Vault Comics) – Humanity fled to the stars after the vampires overran the planet. The vampires adapted, figured out spaceflight, found us, and still hunger. The Cosmic Ghost Rider team of Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett reunite for more free-wheeling adventure, and of course they brought a motorcycle.

Deadly Class!

Art by Wes Craig and Jordan Boyd.

Best ’90s Soundtrack: Deadly Class: Killer Set (Image Comics) — Retrofitted into the series’ early years, our teen assassins-in-training go out for a night on the town, debate the meaning of making art and music in a seemingly meaningless yet hypercritical world, and pay no attention when big, hulking classmate Viktor takes on a special assignment. Creators Rick Remender and Wes Craig pack in more dialogue and lots more little panels than the average issue, but it remains as stylish and morally conflicted as always. Bonus points for a cameo from Fishbone and characters discussing the Dead Milkmen, name-checks straight out of my cassette collection.

Transformers Ghostbusters!

Art by Dan Schoening and Luis Antonio Delgado.

Funniest Moment: Tranformers/Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron #1 Ashcan (IDW Publishing) — It’s a mere four-page pamphlet, more of an advertising insert than an actual qualifying comic. The crossover’s opening scene has the Decepticons facing a very familiar ghost in a new form, and makes the genius move of letting Starscream be the Ray Stantz of Cybertron. It took me a few minutes to stop laughing after I read his parts in my head with the voice of the late Christopher Collins. I haven’t bought a Transformers comic in decades, and a Ghostbusters comic ever, but this upcoming miniseries is a tempting place to start.

Vampirella!

Art by Ergün Gündüz,

Biggest Crisis of Conscience: Vampirella #0 (Dynamite Entertainment) — Longtime MCC readers know I basically identify as a prude. I don’t seek scantily clad babes in my entertainment and I’ve dropped series if I was embarrassed to leave them sitting face-up on the end table at home (examples off the top of my head: Conan, Sleeper, Revival). For that reason I’ve never bought a single Vampirella comic. And yet, they’ve recruited Christopher Priest, a writer I consider buy-on-sight, to relaunch her title for her 50th anniversary. She’s drawn no differently, but with a first chapter in which Our Antiheroine has been outed to the world and has to cope with a wannabe protegé, Priest makes my intro to her world awfully intriguing. At the very least I’d be interested in buying future issues just to read just the dialogue and skip the pictures. Maybe if someone could persuade Dynamite to publish an altered edition in the vein of “Garfield Minus Garfield”?

Magus of the Library!

Art by Mitsu Izumi.

Grandest Double-Page Spread: Magus of the Library (Kodansha Comics) — Kodansha’s special also included previews of Witch Hat Atelier (blessed with fantasy art reminiscent of P. Craig Russell or Michael William Kaluta) and Cardcaptor Sakura (meh), but the standout is all about a poor villager boy considered not good enough to check out books from his local library, so his imaginary getaways are stifled by snobby class warfare until a very special librarian steps in. And what gloriously rendered imaginary getaways they are. Manga apparently leveled up a lot while I’ve been distracted away from them.

Lumberjanes!

Art by Polterink…which my phone inexplicably turned sepia-toned?

Pluckiest Reunion: Lumberjanes: Shape of Friendship (BOOM! Studios) — I supported the series through its first several issues because I loved the idea of 21st-century Junior Woodchucks but with adventurous teen girls instead of boys-will-be-boys same-old. Two stories by a variety of talents confirm the verve and the nerve are still there, as are the myths and the messes, the daffy dialogue and the derring-do. It was nice to hang out with them again for a while.

Hope!

Art by K. Lynn Smith.

Best Superhero Comic: Hope #1 (Source Point Press) — A superhero with a family, a moment of catastrophe, a big reveal, and things start falling apart. The killer first chapter by Dirk Manning and K. Lynn Smith is light on characterization but wastes no time cutting to suspense borne of sudden tragedy.

Kino's Journey!

Art by Iruka Shiomiya.

Most Wistful Philosophizing: Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World (Vertical Comics) — Road trips are a setting rarely tackled in comics. Naturally there’s a manga for that. A young traveler wanders a countryside atop a talking motorbike, and in daily succession meets three different railroad workers — each happy in their work, each performing tasks at odds with the others’, each perfectly unquestioning in their repetitive tasks. Much pondering ensues. All metaphor and no action makes a thoughtful and appreciated change of pace from the rest of the FCBD stack and from my weekly buying habits.

Grumble vs. the Goon!

Art by Mike Norton, Eric Powell, and Marissa Louise.

Best Crossover: Grumble vs. the Goon (Albatross Funnybooks) — Eric Powell’s surly bruiser the Goon (think Popeye but meaner) has been around for some time now, but I only discovered Rafer Roberts and Mike Norton’s Grumble (think: what if John Constantine trapped in a pug’s body) at this year’s C2E2. The two ornery protagonists meet-ugly and suffer a MacGuffin, a cranky hobo army, and each other. I wish all crossovers were done-in-one like this, retained the visual integrity and color schemes of both involved worlds as this one does, and whipped up at least one-tenth the no-holds-barred fun.

Spider-Mans!

Art by Cory Smith, Jay Leisten, and David Curiel.

Best Team-Up: Spider-Man/Venom #1 (Marvel) — Carnage was introduced after I walked away from regular Spider-comics collecting in the early ’90s and therefore means nothing to me. (Real talk: Carnage is the Gambit of Spidey-villains.) But tossing him aside, this issue’s second tale is a gem. Current Miles Morales writer Saladin Ahmed and guest collaborator Tom Taylor pit America’s new favorite animated Spidey against the original Peter Parker in one of the most unresolvable debates ever: which NYC borough has the best pizza joint, Brooklyn or Queens? As if that weren’t enough conflict, they also get to take turns punching the Shocker. That Into the Spider-Verse repartee magic is recaptured exactly right here.

* * * * *

As promised, the following were my least favorite comics. Some obviously weren’t aimed at me. Then again, neither were some of the great ones listed above. Your Mileage May Vary.

British comic strips!

One of two Free Comic Book day comics to credit no creators by name whatsoever.

Treasury of British Comics Presents Funny Pages (Rebellion Publishing) — Reprints of 1970s British kiddie comics, fairly well drawn but constructed of jokes with belabored setup and flat punchlines that don’t work for anyone over age 8. Perhaps it was assumed at the time that kids prefer reading utter twaddle. I do hope they’ve learned better in the decades since then. And someone believes there’s a demand in America to see any of this, which is curious.

Robotech!

Art by Hendry Prasetya and Marco Lesko.

Robotech: Event Horizon #0 (Titan Comics) — I read a smattering of Robotech comics back in the ’80s when a great little company called Comico proudly kept three monthly Robotech titles afloat for years. Those were different times and I’d be surprised if more than a thousand active comics readers remember those back issues to any thorough degree. Now there’s a revival that brings back the humanoid characters’ names and faces, ditches the manga flourishes of the originals, and strings together reams of memory snippets in random order, either as intentionally fragmented foreshadowing or as Easter eggs to tantalize those thousand old-school fans. The mishmash of clauses fails to flow into a proper story, invites no real contemplation, and contains roughly 5% robo-tech. Transformers/Ghostbusters was a paltry four pages and still gave us more robots.

Street Fighter!

Art by Omar Dogan.

Street Fighter: Sakura vs. Karin (Udon Entertainment Corp.) — Two rival teen ladies snarl each other and compete in a video game duel. One is our heroine, who is sufficiently hero-ey. The other is a stereotypical snob embittered by years of psychologically cruel parenting. They fight and fight and fight. Our heroine teams up with the rival she respects to tell off the real villain, the snob’s oppressive dad. After seconds of bluster he reveals PSYCH! I WAS JUST TESTING YOU THIS WHOLE TIME and gives her the keys to the kingdom and never apologizes for the years of oppression that twisted her psyche into the malformed Cordelia Chase she is today. And in conclusion, it’s sad that video game comics are often no better than video game movies.

Riverdale!

Art by Thomas Pitilli and Andre Szymanowicz.

Riverdale Season 3 (Archie Comics) — The show lost me at “Archie and Miss Grundy TOTALLY DO IT” and continues to bewilder me with its persistent existence. This comic only made matters worse. The fact that other Archie titles were overhauled to capitalize on its seeming ratings success galls me to no end.

Casper's Ghostland!

Art by Eric Shanower and Jeremy Kahn.

Casper’s Spookville (American Mythology Productions) — Harvey Comics are a relic of a bygone era that could be updated for modern audiences if it simply had to be done. But there’s a story here in which Casper, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Hot Stuff the Little Devil have a magic accident that leads to wacky body-swapping. The end result has Wendy wearing Hot Stuff’s diaper and being magically given a diaper bikini top to go with it. I found it extremely hard to continue reading beyond that page because there are too many questions and not nearly enough good Harvey Comics in world history to convince me this was worth it.

* * * * *

…and that’s not quite one-third of the reading pile that was. If you’re interested in seeing all the original live-tweeting, you can jump to the first tweet in the thread and just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Internet detectives can scrutinize them closely and notice which four earned any interaction, which comics were just-okay, and which comics inspire them to add their own thoughts to the fray. See you next year!

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