FCBD: What About The Books? Part Four

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM/MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER  (Dark Horse Comics)  Jim Shooter, scripts /  Dennis Calero, Doctor Solar art /  Bill Reinhold, Magnus, Robot Fighter art

          When I was a very young comics reader the Big Three for me were the super-hero titles from Marvel, DC and Gold Key.  Gold Key had some original heroes and my favorite was MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER,  followed closely by MIGHTY SAMPSON.  While I enjoyed the few Doctor Solar books I read, it wasn’t a title that I went looking for.

         In the 1980’s then editor in chief Jim Shooter left Marvel and shortly after started up Valiant Comics, buying up the rights to some Gold Key properties and reviving them.  I suddenly took an interest in DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM due to improved storylines and some very dynamic artwork from Barry Windsor Smith.  The re-boot of MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER was equally worthwhile.   The Gold Key heroes were back but they didn’t stay very long this time either.     

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          Now, over 25 years later DOCTOR SOLAR and MAGNUS are back again, published by Dark Horse Comics with Jim Shooter once again at the helm to steer these books as well as other upcoming Gold Key revivals. I really want to like these books, so I’m hoping the first issues will be more promising than this FCBD issue.  In a word, this is just average  fare.  The cover is my favorite thing about it.   (Which is different from the image at left - -  my cover has a lighter blue in the areas where you can see glowing green here- - - and it helps to enhance the surrounding details better.)

          I believe the DOCTOR SOLAR story may have been written just for this FCBD release, as it’s different from the advance pages featured in the latest PREVIEWS.  (And I’m assuming the MAGNUS tale was penned just for this edition as well.)   “Fallout” takes place two days after the research facility nuclear accident that transformed Doctor Phillip Solar and killed his colleague.  He’s watching the television news and wondering what to do with himself when he learns of a hostage situation and decides to intervene in the symbolic outfit he created for himself.  Yes, those glasses resemble the ones worn by Cyclops of the X-Men - - but I’m pretty sure that the first Gold Key SOLAR preceded THE UNCANNY X-MEN, so SOLAR gets the credit for originality.  It’s not a bad story. It just seems stale and formulaic.  I expected better from Shooter.  The storyline from the advance pages in PREVIEWS is even worse, with a very bad cliché-riddled super-villain and cheesy interaction/dialogue.   The art isn’t that spectacular either.  I’m still going to pick up Issue #1 for nostalgia’s sake and will give it a chance.  Maybe Shooter’s plans for these titles just need some time to fully develop.

         The art is better on the MAGNUS second feature and so is the story.  This seems truer to the source material and has the look and scripted feel of those early MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER stories.  It’s a pretty faithful revival from what I see here- - yet it fails to thrill me.  Maybe what I once appreciated back in the Gold Key days just won’t hold up here in the 21st century.  I especially can’t tolerate the wooden dialogue between the robots.  And MAGNUS is portrayed as a bit of  a meathead when it comes to getting along with females.  Again, I’ll pick up the first issue and give it a chance but I fear I’m going to be disappointed.

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. This is the best part of the book.  STORY = 1 POINT. Seems like a flashback to the worst of the 1980’s for story.  ART = 1.5 POINTS. Half-decent. Better than the story.  YOUTH APPEAL = 1 POINT. The cover will get the attention of some.  NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS.  Those who are familiar with these older characters will be curious.  PROMOTION CONSDERATIONS = 2.5 POINTS.  Good interior ads and back order information. EXTRA BONUS = 0 POINTS.  I’m just not prepared to suggest this to DOC SOLAR and MAGNUS fans - - I think they will be disappointed.

TOTAL GRADING = 10.5 POINTS  . . .   SOMEWHAT LACKING - - there’s just not enough here to recommend this book.

 THE ONI PRESS FREE-FOR-ALL (Oni Press, FCBD 2010) featuring short tales from SALT WATER TAFFY, POSSESSIONS, and THE CROGAN ADVENTURES 

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          One of the benefits of reviewing books that I enjoy most is discovering something new and worthwhile and then getting to share it on bcrefugees.blogspot.com  I obtain extra delight when the discovery involves new works that I would heartily recommend to younger readers.          

         Which brings us to this black & white FCBD title from Oni Press featuring three great-for-most-ages short stories featuring some of their characters aimed at the younger reader (seems suitable for 7-8 years old and up, especially appealing to middle school students).

         SALT WATER TAFFY: THE SEASIDE ADVENTURES OF JACK AND BENNY offers “The Tale of Captain Hollister And Old Salty”.  Maybe it’s just the seafaring nature of this yarn that reminds me of Popeye.  It also has the same friendly blend of humor.  Jack and Benny are two young brothers who seem to enjoy spending their summer days hanging around the wharf listening to a grizzled old sea captain tell them tall tales.  What makes this story even more pleasing is that Jack and Benny are very imaginative and like to insert themselves into the story in the place of the famous Captain Hollister.   Writer and Illustrator Matthew Loux has a warm, friendly style in both script and art. 

POSSESSIONS is a series centering around the curious activities of the residents of the Llewellyn-Vane Home For Captured Spirits and Ghostly Curiosities.  In “Midnight Snack” offered here, The Gurgazon (who looks like a wild little girl in a nightgown) breaks through the barrier that is intended to hold the “exhibits” from leaving their designated areas. She leads a band of equally strange exhibits through a tour of the weird rooms of the Home in search of snack food.  It’s very funny and creative, and reminds me of a juvenile-aimed version of the Adams Family. Writer and illustrator is Ray Fawkes.

THE CROGAN ADVENTURES by writer/illustrator Chris Schweizer follows various members of a single family (the Crogans) through the ages on a historical tour.  In “Running Late”  wannabe swashbuckler David Crogan encounters fair ladies,  swarthy fishermen, and his feared father in a setting reminding me of the pirate isles of the Caribbean.  It’s a very amusing story that features plenty of fish, drawn in a Mad-magazine humor style. 

COVER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS.  The art seems too small to grab the attention of the desired younger reader.  STORY = 3 POINTS.  I liked all three tales and was very much entertained. ART = 3 POINTS.  All three stories feature different art styles, but all are engaging and appealing. YOUTH APPEAL = 2.5  I would recommend all 3 of these as suitable younger reader titles. This would be 3 points if that cover just had a little more eye candy to get their attention. NEW READER APPEAL = 2.5  Same explanation.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS. All three featured stories have corresponding ads with plenty of back catalog and order details. All the other ads feature other suitable young reader books from ONI.  EXTRA BONUS = 2 POINTS. Yes, I would suggest this book to one and all.

TOTAL GRADING = 17.5 POINTS  . . .  HGHLY RECOMMENDED.  A great example of good books for younger readers.

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