New Readers: Threat or Menace? (FCBD Results, Part 1 of 3)

Free Comic Book Day 2012 was hectic yet rewarding. My wife and I enjoyed our annual routine, purchasing items at three different stores and assembling a review pile to see if today’s publishers, old or upstart, like new readers. The second half of the day was Marvel’s The Avengers and subsequent family discussion group over dinner. And Sunday went as our Sundays go.

This means I’m only through one-third of the pile. The results so far:

Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Bonnie Lass (Red 5 Comics) — Atomic Robo is no stranger to FCBD, and here outdoes himself in a team-up with his arch-nemesis, the intelligent and stupid Dr. Dinosaur, in a tale of impossible biomechanical evolution, the Hadron Collider, and saving the day with spreadsheets. Full disclosure: any and all Atomic Robo comics are fun science adventure worth the admission fee.

Of the other two stories, I faintly recall Neozoic as another FCBD vet, but I don’t remember their previous installment(s). The sample resembles Terra Nova with a sword, some ESP, and unexplained backstory that kept the plot in the dark. I have no idea, for instance, why one character wallops another with a triceratops head. Bonnie Lass explains its pirate-based plot, but not its characters or an explanation for the inclusion of elevators and interrogation rooms in its settings. Extra points lost for misspelling “breach” as “breech” at a crucial moment, to considerable amusement on my part.

Bongo Comics Free-for-All 2012/Spongebob Squarepants Flipbook (Bongo Comics/United Plankton Pictures Comics) — Select reprints from Simpsons Comics are a FCBD staple, but this is their first time sharing their space with squatters. The just-okay lead story is Homer, Lenny, and Carl forming a bear patrol; its backup is a great non-Simpsons autobiographical Sergio Aragonés tale about his first earnings as an artist in third grade. On the other side of the flipbook, the inimitable Mr. SquarePants ably multitasks, reading an adventure of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (not the same without the voices of Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway) while annoying Squidward at the same time. Indie comics fans might also dig the single page of gags by the unique James Kochalka. In all, SpongeBob fans will be more content with this flipbook than Simpsons fans, but Aragonés fans are the true winners.

Top Shelf Kids Club (Top Shelf Publishing) — Six original black-‘n’-white done-in-one tales for kids by unusual talents. Best of show are Andy Runton’s whimsical Owly (whose volumes are a staple of the 741.5 kids’ section at my local library), James Kochalka (him again!), and Savage Dragon letter Chris Eliopolous, whose “Okie Dokie Donuts” finally gives kids the ultimate role model — a strong-willed woman who owns and defends a donut shop. Kids who like comics and don’t require super-heroes would do well to have a copy of this sampler in their li’l mitts, provided they don’t freak out at the lack of color. Invite them to add their own.

Star Wars/Serenity Flipbook (Dark Horse Comics) — Joss Whedon’s brother Zack writes one short story for each galaxy about spacefaring scalawags having deals go wrong on them — Han and Chewie in one, Mal and River in the other. Quick and simple enough for casual readers, and agreeable fluff for longtime fans of either, though the Serenity voices didn’t sound twangy enough to me.

Buffy/The Guild Flipbook (Dark Horse Comics) — The Buffy tale is set during Season 9 and will make no sense to any Buffy TV fans who’ve never picked up a Season 8 or 9 comic before now. (Why are they in space? Why is Spike commanding bugs? What’s a zompire? How the heck did that surprise guest-starring movie creature happen?) My dedication to Season 9 has been wavering of late, so I found this inessential. The Guild, on the other hand, was in top form as usual, failing hilariously at spending quality time together at the beach. I can totally relate to such anti-outdoors awkwardness. Again, though, if you’re not a preexisting fan, I’m not sure their reactions will mean much to you. (Tinkerballa is never even named in the story.)

As a reward to FCBD completists, picking up both Dark Horse FCBD offerings gave you a “complete” four-page story starring Caitlin Kiernan and Steve Lieber’s Alabaster. It’s complete in the sense that it has a beginning, middle, and end. After four pages of small talk with a bridge troll, I still know nothing about the main character except her name and skin tone.

Adventure Time/Peanuts Flipbook (KaBOOM!) — The Peanuts material was released months ago as a standalone one-dollar Peanuts #0 sampler, which I already tried and found to be dumbed-down recycling of Charles Schulz’ original strips by new hands, not unlike the latter-day cartoons. I’m not sure if the same is the case for the Adventure Time shorts. They read like the kind of cutesy, disturbing surrealism that usually finds a home at Fantagraphics. I’ve avoided the Cartoon Network series, but I confess I laughed at this more than once. It’s a rare comic that finds a context for concepts such as bacon-based microorganism housing and fart fairies.

Burt Ward, Boy Wonder/Wrath of the Titans Classic Flipbook (Bluewater Comics) — Side A stars the erstwhile TV Robin, living in peace with his wife and several dogs until he’s sucked into a zany black-and-white future world where Robin fashions are all the rage, newspapers still exist, and Ward’s dialogue keeps avoiding contractions like a formal book report. Side B is an excerpt from a comic-shaped illustrated kiddie prose novel starring Harry Hamlin’s Perseus and our old friend Bubo the chirpy robot owl. Eight-year-olds whose nostalgic parents forced them to watch the original Clash of the Titans will be most pleased to have a sequel to call their own. I don’t imagine that to be a large demographic.

To be continued.

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