By Allison Eckel
If you visited All Things Fun! or another Local Comic Shop on May 5, you likely grabbed three free comic books. That was a small percentage of the goodness available on that Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). I was fortunate enough to gain access to a complete stack of the free comics available. Although not all of them fit with my reading taste, a whopping 25 titles out of 76 are stories I would continue to read. That is one-third of the titles pushed by publishers at this year’s event. Remember, many free comics contained at least two stories – some as many as six – so these numbers are based on titles promoted with at least a few pages of story, not the ones treated to a single-page ad.
First, a disclaimer to explain what I look for in comics. If you read my posts, you may have an idea of what attracts me to a book. I like smart storytelling with well-crafted characters. I don’t like gratuitous violence. I like pretty pictures of pretty people, and the artists get a bonus if they use their space in creative ways. Since we are all attracted to different aspects of comics, your list would look different from mine. Following is a list of the highlights, sorted by publisher. These are all stand-out stories currently outside the mainstream of comics (read: not DC or Marvel). Follow the links for any of these that sound interesting and contact your Local Comic Shop (ahem, for All Things Fun! subs or one-time orders, stop in or call) to ask about availability.
Antarctic Press: Zombie Kid is not just a snarky spoof of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (although it started out that way and got into trouble for it; details here). It is similar in concept in that each story centers on an awkward middle-grade boy experiencing physical and social changes. For Zombie Kid's Bill Stokes, however, those changes are not due to puberty but to a zombie virus. Hilarity ensues. Actually, I root for Bill more than his successful mainstream predecessor because he is not a lazy underachiever. Rather than a wimp hoping to go unnoticed by the world, Bill has big dreams of video game championships and keeps a diary as a training tactic. I am not a fan of Wimpy, but I do like Zombie.
Archaia Entertainment: Consider everything they publish. For FCBD this year, they offered a beautiful hardcover anthology of six titles they are bringing to comic shops now or imminently. Every one is worth consideration: Mouse Guard, Labrynth: Hoggle and the Worm, Steps of the Dapper Men (a prelude to Time of the Dapper Men), Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. Visit the publisher's site and click "titles" for a full list, including age ratings, which I much appreciate.
Aspen: Homecoming and Idolized. I am not familiar with the worlds of Aspen Comics, but they look to be populated with pretty young people with super-powers or guns, or both. There's nothing wrong with that, but I expected the stories to be as vapid as the characters looked. As a suburban mom who reads comic books, I should know better than to make such snap judgments. Homecoming centers around a group of high school friends endowed with alien abilities when a long-lost girl appears in someone's pool (naked, natch). The title links several events together, including the return of this lost girl, the aliens who may have taken her, and the eponymous high school dance. The openning pages sucked me in and I didn't want them to let go.
Idolized is teased with fewer pages, but just enough to give us a glimpse of a world rife with possibility. What if the world were full of super-powered people? Stands to reason that realtiy tv would eventually feature a few. Supers on reality TV is now officially a trend, with Image Comic's America's Got Powers in full swing (I recommend this one too, by the way). The sample of Idolized introduces us to Leslie, a quiet girl who wants to be the first "superhero idol" out of a need for redemption. Cut to the flash back and remember to breathe...
Boom! Studios: The Hypernaturals. What if a world-renowned super-hero group similar to JLA or Avengers called itself the Hypernaturals and rotated its roster every few years to keep the members in their youthful prime? Then, what if the latest team disappeared on their first mission in a scary, mysterious way? The older heroes would have to dust off that spandex to find them. New concepts in super-hero comics are difficult to find, and The Hypernaturals manages to stay fresh and compelling.
Image Comics: Waiting for G-Man and It Girl and the Atomics. I already mentioned Image Comics' new limited series America's Got Powers, which you should all check out. From their FCBD issue, I also recommend Waiting for G-Man and It-Girl and the Atomics. I don't actually know a lot about G-Man, but it seems funny, all-ages goodness with a smart mind at the helm (will the title actually refer to the Beckett play? I can't wait to find out).
It Girl takes on the physical properties of anything she touches. Touch concrete, become solid and immovable. Touch a plastic shopping bag, and float with the wind off of a high building. I think that's a pretty cool concept. Plus, the supposedly reformed villain she meets is called the Skunk, complete with bushy tail. I like the way this starts; whether I stay with it will depend on the quality and depth of the stories that unfold.
Trend Alert: Dinosaurs!
Dinosaurs seem to be an ongoing trend in comics. Four titles feature them, which may be the biggest trend outside of “superheroes.” Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics) has a comical dino adversary; Dinosaurs v. Aliens (Liquid Comics) is dramatic and written by Grant Morrison; Jurassic Strike Force 5 (Zenescope) comes off like an after-school cartoon full of cool/macho soldiers that happen to be dinosaurs (well, it is from Zenescope); and Neozoic (Red 5 Comics) blends mysterious monster dinos with swords and female leads in a way that evokes Ring of Fire. I already enjoy the all-ages, super-cool Super Dinosaur (Kirkman’s SkyBound). Atomic Robo has a similar tone, though its brainy scientist is an actual robot instead of a kid. There may be room for both in my list, but I will definitely check out Neozoic – it seems the freshest of the bunch.
Although many of the above titles are considered "all ages," I have a selection of kid-specific comics to tell you all about next time. Until then, give a few of these new titles a try, and tell me what you think.
By Allison Eckel
I was all set to discuss the Brightest Day tie-in story Justice League: Generation Lost (issue #4 is on sale now) and the 20-year old storylines tied into it when DC Comics hit me with a barrage of “forward-looking” integrated media news. I put “forward looking” in quotation marks because the term was attributed to Jim Lee, DC’s co-publisher, in the company’s exciting press release …. Are you ready? Are you excited?
“DC Comics, publisher of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Fables, is partnering with comiXology and PlayStation®Network for two separate digital comics distribution deals launching today, Wednesday, June 23. In addition, a DC Comics App for the iPhone®, iPad® and iPod® Touch is available allowing consumers an easy way to access DC Comics’ content. The announcement was made jointly by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.”
Wow, didn’t that just rock your world? No, it didn’t rock mine either. DC is a little late to this party. Boom! Studios made this announcement June 15 and Marvel has offered an iPad App since April. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am salivating over the iPad pretty badly. Entertainment Weekly magazine’s “Must List” App almost got me to buy one all on its own, it’s that cool. If you are not familiar with the “Must List,” it is simply 10 entries in current pop culture that the magazine editors are really into that week. Well, the App takes those books, movies, CDs, TV shows, comics, whatever, and hyperlinks to more info, trailers, excerpts, theater listings, buying options, etc. The App provides an integrated user experience.
When digital comics provide an integrated user experience, then my world will be rocked. Imagine reading the Generation Lost storyline about Maxwell Lord’s return from the dead and subsequent manipulation of his former Justice League International team, then touching some symbol to access Justice League International #12 (April 1988) to read the story of the first time he died (and the first time he murdered) together with the first time he manipulated that team. In my current analog reality, just completing that sentence cost me two hours of research in my comics storage closet.
One implication of such integrated content might be an end of the casual comics collector. Those of us who love the stories and hold onto them so we can revisit them as needed might begin to rethink ink and paper when the details are a few back-lit touches away. This imagined reality would mean the end to the comics retailer because we would not need to buy even back issues. We would still read, still buy, still consume; we just would not keep and store physical books.
Another aspect to the digital trend is that digital comics are supposedly less expensive to consumers, who first need to buy a reader (is a $500 iPad worth saving two bucks an issue?). Also, fans who do not have a comics retailer nearby are able to return to their favorite characters via download. But so far, reading a digital version of the comics is all we’re getting from publishers. Still missing is the true promise of digital: the integrated user experience. That is the game-changer. That would rock my world.