FCBD: What about the books? Part One

          In my last posting I wrote about Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) as an opportunity for comic shop owners to promote their business as well as grab the attention of new and younger readers.  By the same token, FCBD is an opportunity for comics publishers to draw attention to their products and create interest, hoping to obtain new readers as well.

          In this and several other postings, I’m going to look at the FCBD titles and see how well they accomplish that goal, as well as review the story and art.  Since I’m feeling a bit authoritarian this weekend, I’m going to establish a ratings system for FCBD titles and get judgmental all over them.  Here’s an explanation of my system:

COVER APPEAL:  0 – 3 points.  If the FCBD titles were displayed in a glass case and the reader could only chose a few,  which ones would they be?   In the case of unfamiliar material, that choice would largely be made on the appeal of the art or cover design/content.

STORY:  0 – 3 points. How good of  a job does the writer do?  Is the story entertaining?  Is the story engaging? 

ART: 0 – 3 points.  How good of a job does the artist do?  Is the art entertaining?  Is the art engaging?  Does it enhance the script and add to the story-telling power of the comic?

YOUTH APPEAL:  0 – 3 points. Recognizing that the best opportunity to bring new readers and fans into the world of comics is to hook the younger readers - - then any FCBD title accomplishing that gets more points.

NEW READER APPEAL: 0 – 3 points.  Does the title take into consideration that a new reader would be unfamiliar with characters and continuity and address that by either explanation or simplification?

PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS:  0 – 3 points. Does the title help promote the publisher’s line-up and provide information to help guide new readers to learn more about it?

EXTRA BONUS POINTS = WOULD I PERSONALLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?          0 – 2 points.  All the other above ratings are determined by imagining that I am a new and curious comic reader trying to determine on Free Comic Book Day whether to  allocate some of my leisure funds/time to comics.  That forces me to think outside the box that I normally inhabit. This extra bonus points rating allows me to be myself - - a long term mature (?) comics reader somewhat jaded by the amount of material I’ve read over the last 45+ years. How well did I like it?  (Hey, since this is my rating system, I’m allowed to be thoroughly subjective here.)

PERFECT  = 20 POINTS.  So good you should pay for it!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED =   15 - 19 POINTS.  A perfect example of representing the industry proudly!

MEETS EXPECTATIONS =  12 – 14 POINTS.   Above average and worth your time. Comes close but misses the bulls-eye. 

SOMEWHAT LACKING =  7 – 11 POINTS.  There’s just not enough here to recommend this book.

POOR EXAMPLE = 0-6 POINTS.  This does not represent the industry well at all.  So bad you should pay someone to read it or take it off your hands. 

          Okay!  Let’s begin the judging . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


           An 8-page preview of the first FEARLESS DAWN mini-series leads off this sampler, which features six additional titles from Asylum Press.  I doubt that the cover would attract the very young reader. What I don’t doubt is that this cover may arouse middle school to teen age readers, particularly males since it features  Asylum_Press_Large

the main character in her costume which leaves a lot of skin exposed.  COVER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS. Long time readers may be attracted to the cover design and font used, which recalls old 1950’s EC Comics.  Writer-illustrator  Steve Mannion brings a ‘50’s art style and action-laced script high on entertainment value.  His work is very appealing and looks to have a Wally Wood / Harvey Kurtzman influence.  ART = 3 POINTS.   The story is fun and entertaining in the same way that Eric Powell’s GOON stories make you smile.  Eight pages isn’t much to work with as far as explaining anything so don’t expect much. STORY = 1.5 POINTS.  The back-up features suffer from the same lack of space to stretch out.   WARLASH ORIGINS only gets four pages, which is enough to reveal that the villainess is far more interesting than the main character.  The art is intriguing but cluttered. BLACK POWDER is a very “bloody” frontier adventure written and illustrated by Dwayne Harris with perhaps some computer generation assistance. It has that look.  Pirates attack a barge on the Ohio River, circa 1811.  FARMHOUSE is a preview of an upcoming graphic novel with psychological themes. At a mental hospital an adjacent barn is converted into the “Farmhouse” , an art studio for the patients.  EEEK! is a collection of  horror tales planned as a trade paperback for Halloween 2010.  The 6 page preview features the opening two pages of three separate stories, enough to get a feel that this will be a collection in the Creepy/Eerie mold but not enough to tell if the writing will be of the same quality.  WARLASH: ZOMBIE MUTANT GENESIS  (an upcoming graphic novel)  gives a second look at the Warlash character.  After 4 quick pages I find the zombies to be more interesting. UNDEAD EVIL in it’s 4- page overview promises voodoo terror.  The black and white art by Nenad Gucunja is very stylish and creepy and most effective on these pages without any word balloons or captions to tell the story - - but a little confusing to make sense of.   YOUTH APPEAL  = 0 POINTS. This just doesn’t seem suitable for younger audiences.  NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS. The FEARLESS DAWN series has the most appeal, followed by EEEK! and UNDEAD EVIL.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS.  The best thing this sampler does is give a very complete overview of Asylum Press offerings, and features plenty of web links to get more information.  BONUS POINTS = 1 POINT.  I can really only suggest 1 of 6 stories here.  Fans of THE GOON should check out FEARLESS DAWN.  

TOTAL POINTS = 11.5  . . . Wouldn’t you know it?   The very first book I try my rating system on and it lands funny, falling right in between a rating of MEETS EXPECTATIONS and SOMEWHAT LACKING.  Here’s hoping I fare better with the next selection.


(Writer = Jesse Blaze Snider + Art = Nathan Watson)

How refreshing to follow the last review with this one  - - describing  a book that gets everything right!  I have been very impressed so far with everything I’ve seen from BOOM Kids!  They put a lot of effort into these books and it shows.   Comics are the perfect medium for movie adaptations as they combine the written word with visuals.  The only thing missing is the audio.  Yet, the interpretation of these new classic characters is so “spot – on”  that I can hear the voice of Tom Hanks as Woody the Cowboy saying the lines in the word balloons as I read them.  This is exactly the way those characters speak.   The only fault with this book is that it’s a teaser - - yet I forgive them for that.  This FCBD edition reprints Part One of “The Return Of Buzz Lightyear” (now available in trade paperback).  I can just see some  excited children begging mom and dad to buy them the rest of this story.  Mission accomplished.   COVER APPEAL = 3.  These are two highly recognized characters running towards the reader with the familiar Toy Story logo behind them. Yes, that should get the attention of the desired audience.


The story begins with Andy receiving an unexpected present from his grandmother.  The conflict arises when the gift is revealed to be an updated copy of the Buzz Lightyear toy.  Andy’s mom offers to help him return the gift in exchange for something else.  But the new Buzz toy decides he’s not leaving and the original Buzz has to go back in his place.   The conversations and squabbles among the various toys in Andy’s collection are funny and will remind you of similar situations in the Toy Story movies.  Just as the movies were able to entertain adults as well this comic will amuse the parent reading to their children.   There are little inside jokes that will hold their interest.  My favorite line happens  during the fight between the two Buzz Lightyears when an eye-poke occurs and Woody shouts out “Hey, let’s keep it clean!  There are pre-school toys in the room!”   STORY = 3.  ART = 3. The art is perfect for younger crowds.  Lots of action but backgrounds are simplified to keep it clear to younger readers just what is occurring. Yet, artist Watson puts more detail here than I am used to seeing in kids comics - - depth and dimensionality, shades and shadows, glare/light reflection on helmets, etc.  YOUTH APPEAL = 3.  This one nails it. NEW READER APPEAL = 3.   PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  There are plenty of ads for various BOOM Kids! books including list prices, editions available and even the Diamond order codes.  BONUS POINTS = 2.  I’ve already read this three times and the enjoyment factor remains high.












IRON MAN / NOVA  (Marvel):

Writer Paul Tobin.  Artist Craig Rousseau.

          There is no “Marvel Adventures” logo on the cover to help inform that this is directed at a younger audience than the standard Marvel superhero books.  But there is a line under the Marvel logo proclaiming “Great For All Ages”.  However, I don’t think an adult reader encountering Iron Man for the very first time here (what’s the chances of that, anyway?) would be impressed enough by this story to want to seek out more.  It’s simplistic and juvenile and hopefully it finds the intended audience I assume it’s directed at.  (Elementary to high school age). The cover depiction of Nova certainly looks much younger than the college student that he is.  And, he speaks and behaves more like a middle-schooler in the story.  While the story is good enough to read twice, it’s more of the ho-hum variety than something memorable.  (Although when I’m reading for review purposes I never read a title just once -  in case I miss some important details the first time around. I also want to be fair to each book I write about - - once and done just doesn’t give me as much to work with.)   In this story, the Red Ghost escapes from his stasis cell and attempts to free his super-apes from the confinement zoo for super-powered animals. Iron Man and Nova both get the emergency call to help (placed by whom?)  The real hero of the story is Igor the baboon who makes all the right decisions while Iron Man and Nova continue to be thwarted.  

         COVER APPEAL = 3.  A wise choice to feature Iron Man on the cover in the week preceding the opening of IRON MAN 2 in movie theaters. STORY = 1.5. Rather pedestrian.  It does introduce the characters to new readers but reveals just a little about them – and perhaps leaves the wrong impressions.  ART = 2.  Also better than what I normally see in books aimed at younger audiences with more detail than I expected. However, the amount of dialogue and sound effects in this story bring with it more panels and more cluttered panels. If this is trying to grab the attention of readers younger than 3rd grade, it may miss the mark and lose their attention because of that clutter.  There is a short and amusing back-up feature based on the Super Hero Squad cartoon show featuring Hulk that should hit the mark much better. YOUTH APPEAL = 1.5.  I hope it works out. NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5.  Just not sure somebody would come back for more of this. I remember being in third grade and able to follow the more complex stories and detailed content of standard Marvel books - - I think current young readers can follow it just as well.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  There are ads for various young reader Marvel titles including info on how to find a comic shop nearby.  BONUS POINTS = 0.  I just don’t think this is appropriate for very young readers and probably not satisfying enough for the next level of youth audience.

TOTAL POINTS = 12.5 . . . MEETS EXPECTATIONS.  Just enough. Wish it was more.



Writer Matt Fraction.  Artist John Romita Jr. 

          John Romita Jr.  has a distinctive blocky art style that I’ve come to appreciate and he gets the epic / heroic nature of these characters and draws them accordingly.  It’s nice to see how he handles Thor.  (Like to see more.)  Writer Fraction really understands the makeup of both of these characters and portrays them very well.  Even a new reader can sense that in Fraction’s writing, and  pick up on the importance of these two characters to the Marvel universe without having to read a lot of exposition or explanation.   I loved this story and was also pleasantly surprised at the outcome and the way that Iron Man / Thor generously came up with a satisfactory alternative solution for the protagonists. (When I thought they weren’t necessarily entitled to one.)   The opening pages where Thor seems helpless to prevent some major catastrophes are very powerful, conveying the sense of futility  through some majestic art and very few captions.    Iron Man and Thor investigate and find the source of the problems to be some man-manufactured activity occurring on the moon.  The conversational exchanges between Iron Man and Thor are delightful and priceless.  I won’t spoil them for you by repeating any here.

COVER APPEAL = 3.  STORY = 3.  ART = 2.5 Looks just a tad sloppy and hurried in places, but still way above average.  YOUTH APPEAL = 1.5 .  As great as this story is, I think it may not be interesting enough for younger folks.  NEW READER APPEAL = 3.  If I was seeing these characters for the first time here, I would definitely be looking for more.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 2.  Ads for Marvel titles here but no web links provided or even a comic-shop locator mention.  PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION = 2.  One of the better one-shot stories you may read this year.


THE SIXTH GUN #1 FCBD Edition  (Oni Press):

Written by Collen Bunn.  Illustrated & Lettered by Brian Hurtt.

          This has the potential to be a rip-roaring supernatural western equal to the best of Lansdale and Truman’s classic Jonah Hex mini-series.  If if stays true to the form shown here in Issue #1, then this is a series not to be missed.  I suggest you order Issue #2 right now  (scheduled for July 2010 release) and then get a copy of this FCBD Issue #1  - - because the story begins right here. This is not just a FCBD preview.  That’s right.  Oni Press has decided to make Issue 1 free.  (Although I’m speculating that this is going to get some buzz, and that will necessitate a second printing of Issue #1).


          Like many of the Oni Press more-recent titles, this is produced in full color and reminds me of both the multi-panel style of Will Eisner as well as employing some of his story-telling techniques in the art.  While I’m not claiming that artist Brian Hurtt is the equal of Eisner, I do feel that his work is very interesting and worthy of study.

          Writer Cullen Bunn introduces several characters in Issue #1 as well as different plot threads and begins the set-up of this sure to be epic tale.  In the aftermath of “the War” (Civil?) the Sixth Gun disappeared.  Now, the widow of the last person to possess the gun (General Oliander Bedford Hume) hires the Pinkerton Agency to locate some mystical objects that may provide a map/route to the location of her husband’s remains as well as the Sixth Gun.  The majority of the characters introduced so far have suspicious motives or are just plain creepy.  It’s hard to find someone to root for, with the exception of  Becky (Montcrief?) who loses her father and then has the misfortune of touching a mystical gun that has now bonded to her, making her a pawn of the evil Mrs. Hume.

COVER APPEAL = 2.  It’s a nice montage sure to attract fans of weird westerns. However, the spooky background images of a massive hanging tree are going to keep many youthful readers away ( . . . for which I’m grateful.  I wouldn’t think this book is aimed at them.)   STORY = 3.  Nicely done.  I am hooked and want to read more.  ART = 3.   See my comments above. YOUTH APPEAL = 1. This seems to be a mature audience title. Fans of Vertigo books, take note.  NEW READER APPEAL = 2. Yes, the curious will take note. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  Oni’s web address is all over the ads, as are links to the writer and artist. There’s even a text testimonial page from the editor-in-chief praising FCBD and noting some additional titles.  (Oni is one of the few smaller press publishers to put out more than one FCBD book.  More on that to come . . .)  PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION = 2. Get on board now.  I think this book will get some deserved attention.



published by Red Comics Ltd., Calgary –Alberta –CANADA

         Many times have I noted the appealing eye-catching covers to the  ATOMIC ROBO monthly books while perusing the new comics at Captain Blue Hen.  But I remain curious, never having picked it up.   Those covers left me with the impression that this title was about a person trapped inside a metal suit with supernatural adventures versus monsters ala HELLBOY, etc.  After reading the 10-page short story here I have a better idea but I’m still a little uncertain what the monthly book is all about.  I’ll just go along with what the ad for the trade paperbacks calls it  - - - “graphic novel pulp adventure greatness.”  


       I think he’s an actual robot, at least from the waist up. He’s wearing the same khaki pants and combat boots as his fellow task force members, so who knows?  No origin or explanation is provided.  It’s a straight adventure story with more than enough humor, perhaps a fun book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The task force hits the Amazon jungle in search of prehistoric Terror Birds and narrowly escapes them.  End of story.  I’m just not sure I’m going to follow up with this title.  It was fun.  The art was second-tier quality but still interesting.  Too many other choices out there, I’m afraid.

      NEOZOIC also features prehistoric themes. It occurs on a world inhabited by dinosaurs where humans and a green-skinned race compete for survival.    Both art and story are more interesting and more serious compared to ATOMIC ROBO.  The first trade paperback is available now.

      BOX 13 is a preview of a new graphic novel being released this month.  It’s a bit tedious and not very interesting until the final two pages when the surprise occurs.  A writer of spy fiction now exploring non-fiction concerning CIA animal experiments  gets a present at the conclusion of his press lecture, and his world turns upside down.  Per the ad copy, BOX 13  is produced by the same creators of  HIGH MOON, which was serialized on DC’s Zuda web site for writer/artist try-outs.   Strangely, the preview here provides no writer/artist credits whatsoever so I can’t share those names with you. The same ad also alludes to BOX 13 being an “iPhone sensation.”  Guess it may be serialized there.




  1. CORRECTION TO ATOMIC ROBO FCBD: I failed to note that all the credits are on the contents page (inside cover). Writer/Artist teams are ATOMIC ROBO Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener; NEOZOIC Paul Ens and Jay Korim; and BOX 13 David gallaher and Steve Ellis. Guess I was getting tired of writing by this point. Sorry for the omission.

  2. Thanks, Mike. I had hoped to have my own reviews of the FCBD books up by now, but the package I ordered from eBay got stuck somewhere in the Postal system because of my change of address.

  3. Jeff;
    Sorry to hear about the Postal mishap. If you want to read something I wrote about just let me know. I'll loan you my copies.


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