Sunday, May 3, 2015

On The Shelf: Free Comic Book Day 2015 high-&-lowlights

Yes, that title is correct, pilgrims. We won't be covering every Free Comic Book Day title I've acquired over the weekend. The 2nd day is always great because it's open season and the restrictions stores place on the day itself are eliminated. However, if you follow Diamond's Previews monthly catalog, you could subscribe to as many FCBD books as needed. That's a tactic I will try to remember for next year. Anyway..........

The Best:

These days, Image Comics is known as the home of The Walking Dead, which spawned the AMC series of the same name. However, two of their first books are nearing their 25th anniversaries rather quietly. One of them is Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon. As DC & Marvel are fleecing fans with annual promotional stunts billed as "game changing events", Larsen has soldiered on, with Dragon over 250 issues deep and counting. Not only that, but the current star is a 2nd generation Dragon. Yes, you read that right. Malcolm Dragon is the son of the original Savage Dragon, following in dad's footsteps as an officer with the Chicago PD. Larsen continues to write and draw the series, happy to fly under the radar.

Rating: B.

Valiant Comics is marking 25 years this year, even though the company hasn't been operating the entirety of that time, having relaunched just 3 short years ago. Their anniversary special is an overview of some of their newly relaunched books. The artwork shown is nice and crisp, but the only downside to these books is that they're all $4 per issue, which must be the going rate for most companies these days. If I'm bored this summer, I may go hunting for back issues.....!

Rating: A.

Captain Canuck is a name that some of you might not be familiar with, but the original hero of the Great White North marks 40 years this year. Creator Richard Comely has brought him back and updated the story for modern times. This has possibilities.

Rating : B.

In the Middle:

Marvel, as you probably know, is relaunching Avengers yet again this fall, repopulating the team with current itinerations of Ms. Marvel, Captain America (Sam Wilson, previously the Falcon), Lady Thor, and Ultimate Universe Spider-Man Miles Morales. Yes, this is the end result of their new Secret Wars miniseries (see below), which smooshes together recent, culturally diverse ideas, such as the ones above, but giving Morales the attitude of the animated Ultimate Spider-Man, which I don't dig. At least he's not breaking the 4th wall. Yet. The backup feature in this FCBD preview is an excerpt from Uncanny Inhumans. It has, shall we say, possibilities. Then again, a lot of new books from Marvel start that way, and then somehow, it gets screwed up.

Grade: Incomplete.

Hermes Press has reprint rights to Silver & Bronze Age comic book itinerations of The Phantom, meaning books published by Gold Key & Charlton, to support their new Phantom series, which launched last fall. I'm tempted to invest, and figuring Hermes treats the "Ghost Who Walks" with more respect than Dynamite does....!

Rating: B-.

The Worst:

Marvel's Secret Wars comes a year after the original marked its 30th anniversary last year. The problem I have is that this "game changer" is a total rip-off of DC's original "game changer", Crisis on Infinite Earths, which marks its 30th anniversary this year. I'm not sold on this at all, and to me, it's pointless, and just another stunt to an audience that by now has become desensitized to it all.

Rating: C-.

Meanwhile, DC fared worse with Divergence, which previews three story arcs in their franchise titles starting next month. To wit:

*Superman's next major arc is entitled, "Truth". As in, the exposure of his secret identity. I don't recall people having too many cows when Marvel decided to publicly reveal Iron Man & Spider-Man's true ID's a few years ago, but Supes is treated like a sacred cow moreso than the others because he's been around much longer. I'm not feeling John Romita, Jr. on the artwork, either. It just looks wrong. Not only that, but as some of you are aware, the Man of Steel is swapping his signature costume for casual wear. A t-shirt with the logo and a pair of jeans. The jabroni they hired to write the book thinks that this was what Grant Morrison was planning when Morrison was writing Action Comics 4 years ago. Maybe, but not like this. And Morrison is a better writer.

Rating: D.

*The Justice League faces off with Darkseid. Meh, nothing special, right? Wrong. Writer Geoff Johns thought it'd be cool to give Darkseid a 3rd child. We've become familiar with his warring sons, Orion & Kalibak, for 45 years. Why give them a sibling now? If I had the answer, I'd also come up with a cure for such stupid ideas. Like locking some of these idiots in a library for a month and holding the key.

I digress. The new kid is Grail, Kalibak & Orion's 1/2-sister, born to an Amazon, which makes Grail a cousin of sorts to Wonder Woman. Johns' script also acknowledges what Brian Azzarrello did on the Wonder Woman monthly, altering her origin to make her a demi-goddess, rather than being created from clay, which is now dismissed as a false origin. Did they clear this with the William Marston estate? Grail, though, shares one trait with Orion. She hates her daddy. Hmmmm. I wonder if they also talked to the Jack Kirby estate......

Rating: C.

*Finally, and most incomprehensibly, 5 years after Bruce Wayne had been killed off pro tempore, he once again has been stripped of the mantle of Batman. This time, writer Scott Snyder has jumped the shark. In the latest issue, which hit stores 4 days ago, Snyder decided to make his audience believe he'd killed off not only Wayne, but the Joker, as well. Like, seriously? How stupid does he think his audience is?

And it gets better, or worse, depending on your perspective. Snyder's new arc brings in the Powers family. The name will sound familiar to fans of Batman Beyond. Geri Powers wants what amounts to a "corporate" Batman, and chooses Commissioner James Gordon for the job. Gordon gets a Marine buzzcut and some high-tech armor for his new role. When I first read about this, the first thing I thought of was that Snyder and his editors at DC were cashing in on the success of Gotham, which wraps its freshman season tomorrow night. After reading this preview, I realize that this is the lamest thing that could possibly happen. It won't even last a year before Wayne returns. There's a movie coming next year, you know.

And, I might as well add it here, Snyder gets the Weasel of the Week award for what amounts to the cheapest of stunt story ideas.

Rating: D-.

Meanwhile, elsewhere On The Shelf:

Dynamite recently released a series of 1-shots featuring Doc Savage, The Shadow, & The Avenger in squarebound (Prestige) format, designed to look like the pulps from back in the day. I scored the Shadow volume, and it looks great. Nice story, with a sweet noir-style cover by Robert Hack. If you're a true Shadow fan, you have to have this.

Rating: A+.

Over at Archie, it seems their horror books aren't the only ones experiencing delays. Betty & Veronica was downgraded to bi-monthly some time back, and the current "Farewell" arc, written by filmmaker Michael Uslan, set for 6 issues, has been worse than a snail's pace. Issue 275, a double-size special with reprints thrown in, has only hit newsstands this past week.

The plot: Riverdale's sweethearts are on a global exchange student assignment, and, shockingly, have swapped identities for some reason. In other words, Betty's dyed her hair black to pass for Veronica, while Ronnie has reached for the bleach bottle to turn blonde. Last I checked, there were no bad guys involved, other than Veronica's dad, and, to a lesser extent, Veronica herself, who had rigged things so she'd be the only one going, but a compromise was reached so Betty would tag along. I guess her job is to teach her so-called BFF some humility. They're supposed to be gone for a year minimum, but from what I understand, the foreign exchange students arriving in Riverdale to take their places won't be sticking around. Uslan's done better, and he's better known for his work with Swamp Thing and Batman.

Rating: D-.

Dark Horse is publishing Archie vs. Predator, which is just as well considering Archie Comics' problems of late. Unfortunately, DH should've hired someone to draw the book in a more realistic style, rather than import Fernando Ruiz & Rich Kozlowski from Archie. A Predator drawn Archie-style doesn't work. Neither does this story.

Rating: D.

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