Denny's can have its Grand Slams. The comic book industry has been giving away its wares for years -- on the first Saturday in May, excitedly dubbed Free Comic Book Day! Although I'm still five comics short of the whopping forty issues available* at participating comic shops today -- after visiting five different stores in Orange County, natch -- I aim to some of these issues over the next few weeks, starting with Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man right now! Free entertainment, indeed!
To keep these forty reviews short and sweet, I'll be reviewing these comics through five categories: (1.) Significance, or why the publisher chose to offer that particular issue for free, (2.) Story, (3.) Art, (4.) the Package, including supplemental material and overall presentation, and (5.) Does It Make Me Want More? After all, Free Comic Book Day is an evangelical marketing campaign that attempts to recruit new readers -- even longtime readers like me that surely haven't experienced every publisher in the industry, or every title they offer. Sure, I jump at the chance to get something for nothing, but is it good enough to make me pay for more? Let's find out . . .
Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man #1, Marvel Comics
Fred Van Lente (w), Gurihiru (a), Dave Sharpe (l)
SIGNIFICANCE: For the past few years, Free Comic Book Day has followed the release of a major Marvel motion picture, i.e. Spider-Man 3, Iron Man, and this year X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Coincidence? Well, offering a comic called Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man is a no brainer . . . like any retailer putting out the Christmas decorations as soon as summertime ends.
STORY: Resisting any allusion to the film franchise's version of Wolverine's origin, in this "Great for All Ages" issue, the government's Department H (for hero?) deploys Wolverine into a town seemingly overrun by nanobots. Determined to prove his worth to the top brass and coping with his amnesia, Logan tears his way though a robotic tractor and an evil seahorse to discover the cause of the town's consumption -- and what appears to be a mindless exhibition of Wolverine's powers turns into a pop psychological allegory for his struggle with identity. The final panel has a similar effect to the film's climatic fight scene, delightfully setting the stage for the character's role as we know it today.
ART: Marvel released Ed McGuinness's cover for this issue several months ago, much to many fans' excitement, but the interior art is provided by Gurihiru, who strikes me as McGuinness-lite with a manga flair. Since Wolverine doesn't fight any organic foes in this story, sparing an all-ages audience the blood bath that would from the mighty mutant's berzerker rage, Gurihiru seems correspondingly restrained, but his Wolverine is the runt we know and love, and page and panel layouts are creative and easy to follow. Considering our hero's battle with identity, this issue's art casts aside any darkness to remind us of Wolvie's adventurous side, too -- and Gurihiru challenges veteran readers to remember the same of comics, as well.
PACKAGE: This issue doesn't offer anything by way of supplemental material, except for an ad about another Wolverine-centric comic currently available, but most interestingly is its size. Most comics measure in at 6 5/8" by 10 3/8" (by my measurements), and this issue comes in at 6 1/4" by 9 1/2". Marvel's Avengers offering is the same diminutive size, which makes me wonder if this format is more economical overall. If so, I wouldn't be opposed to a little shrinkage industry-wide, if it meant saving us readers from increased prices. This 32-pager also boasts only four third party full-page ad pages, including the unobtrusive inside front and back covers, so it's practically unadulterated mutant mayhem in the pure Marvel manner -- proving Wolverine may not be the only one that's the best at what he does.
DO I WANT MORE? While I would've enjoyed a more engrossing battle sequence, Wolverine is an irresistible character, and when he's allowed to slash his way through robots and use a little detective skills to boot, it makes for a fun, albeit forgettable story. Indeed, if not for that final panel, this story would have little to no significance in the character's development at all. Unfortunately, anyone interested in jumping from this freebie into one of Wolverine's monthly comic book appearance might find himself overwhelmed by continuity. The "all-ages" nature of Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man may make it timeless, but it's also already a little dated.
More Free Comic Book Day goodness to come . . .! To be continued . . .!
*The FCBD issues I just couldn't find are APE Cartoonapalooza #2, Arcana Studio Presents, Attack of the Alterna-Zombies!, Dabel Brothers Showcase, The Stuff of Legend, and the anniversay edition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. Any help?