Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 4: Love and Capes!

Love and Capes #10, Maerkle Press
by Thom Zahler

SIGNIFICANCE: Forget the publishers and retailers that made Free Comic Book Day possible, and let's acknowledge the makeshift holiday's unsung heroes: the girlfriends geeks dragged around to multiple comic book stores on a perfectly beautiful Saturday afternoon. While many of them rolled their eyes at the likes of regular superhero/fantasy fare like Blackest Night or The Stuff of Legend, Thom Zahler's Love and Capes might've caught their attention, and rightfully so. Love and Capes caters to both the diehard superhero fan and the woman in his life looking for a way into that rather exclusive world -- and most importantly, it's entertaining.

STORY: I've been a fan of Love and Capes for a long time, and creator Thom Zahler was kind enough to send me complimentary copies of the first few issues a few years ago, so I'm familiar with its lead characters the Crusader, his fiancee Abby, their friends Charlotte and Darkblade, and Crusader's super-ex Amazonia. In this issue, Abby longs to understand the struggles Crusader experiences as a superhero, so she solicits a friendly sorcerer to bestow her similar powers for a limited time, and while what ensues is a string of episodic inside jokes about the responsibilities of super-heroism, Zahler's story takes a mature, tragic twist to keep his characters' feet on the ground -- literally. Generally, Zahler paces his story in four panel bursts, with a punchline or significant develop every fourth panel, which serializes the overall adventure and maintains a playful, episodic tone. Finally, his respect of both superhero and relationship-oriented pop culture fuels a respectful tale that should entertain a definitively co-ed audience. It ain't called Love and Capes for nothin'!

ART: Love and Capes is an one-man show, so while I feel Zahler's strength is in his storytelling and dialogue, his illustrations are equally capable. Betraying shades of Bill Finger and Bruce Timm, his art is cartoony without being cartoonish, since so much of the story concentrates on legitimate adult concerns. His lettering and coloring skills are fluid and critical to the art and page design, creating an overall crisp, commercial package that is as appealing and universal to look at as it is to read. Speaking of which . . .

PACKAGE: Like Erik Larsen with Savage Dragon, Thom Zahler was willing to offer a new issue in the sequence of his series as a Free Comic Book Day offering, which is bold considering the seemingly independent status of Maerkle Press and the ease with which these episodic strips could be placed into a reprinted sampler anthology. Zahler's inside front cover is a perfect primer, with his bio, a story synopsis, and character descriptions -- but the best marketing ploy is in the back, when Thom invites readers to Crusader and Abby's wedding by personalized caricature via a $25 cost. Honestly, I'm considering the offer, because who wouldn't want to appear in a comic book, especially one so critical to the series' development? His pitch is the best: "You might not have been invited to Lois and Clark's wedding. You probably couldn't attend Peter and MJ's wedding (and, if you did, you don't remember it)." Hilarious!

DO I WANT MORE? Isn't it obvious? While Love and Capes isn't an action-oriented superhero title, it doesn't pull any punches in its wry sense of humor or thorough exploration of super-powers in the real world context of male/female relationships. The question isn't really if I want more -- it's, would the lady in your wife want any? If so, this is the book for her.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 3: Resurrection

Resurrection #0, Oni Press
Marc Guggenheim & Jim Massey (w), Justin Greenwood & Robbi Rodriguez (a), Dan Jackson & Dave McCaig (c), Douglas E. Sherwood (l)

SIGNIFICANCE: According to Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones' inside back cover essay, Resurrection #0 bridges the gap between series' first seven-issue volume and a new incarnation premiering next month. So, this issue is a resurrection in a very literal sense of the term, bringing back a title old readers might recognize yet establishing a fresh start for new readers like me. A wise use of Free Comic Book Day on Oni's part -- and including the reprinted Tek Jansen back-up story, capitalizing on the mainstream popularity of Stephen Colbert, isn't a bad idea, either.

STORY: In Resurrection #0, Dwight Miller is a self-professed alien abductee that survives a global, ten year long extraterrestrial invasion to document the entire experience from his unique perspective and seek out his estranged wife in a barren New York. In the Big Apple, Dwight meets Wendy, a self-taught computer tech that has maintained monthly communications with the only other person on-line, Carlo in Italy. Unfortunately, Carlo has been befriended by the mysterious Paul Cole, who somehow played a part in Dwight's perspective of events, and when Cole captures Dwight in New York, the mystery man discovers that Dwight's journal is missing. His truth being out there is undoubtedly the catalyst that launches the new Resurrection series, and surprisingly it elicits intrigue about an extraterrestrial invasion without actually showing any aliens.

Fortunately, the Tek Jansen back-up story makes up for that in spades, as the Alpha Squad 7 agent is sent undercover to convert a tyrannical alien faction to the ways of equal party treatment, with hilariously violent results.

ART: Artist Justin Greenwood at his best elicits shades of Eduardo Rizzo, and at his worst a rushed Rick Leonardi -- neither of which is a bad thing, but the comparisons never congealed into a truly memorable, unique visual experience. Robbi Rodriguez, however, captures the cocky caricature of Stephen Colbert in an exaggerated interstellar environment with ease, transcending the story's satirical roots to tell a real sci-fi adventure with its own merit.

PACKAGE: As I eluded, the Resurrection/Tek Jansen combination is an excellent way to attract old and new readers alike, with ample ads for other successful Oni projects like Maintenance and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and that behind-the-curtains editorial by Jones. Considering that these comics were free, Jones' appreciation for the editorial and marketing talent that make the production of comics possible beyond the writing and artistic process of the printed page is an interesting insight for anyone interested in the medium as an industry. His essay could be akin to Dwight's lost chronicle, documenting the way things really happen -- and it's up to us to look beyond the story we're given, to give the concept of comics a second look.

DO I WANT MORE? If Resurrection revives the apocalyptic intrigue it promises to deliver, I'm in! An alien invasion is fun escapism compared to the swine flu scare of real life.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 2: Fist of Justice!

With this entry, the second review of Free Comic Book Day 2009, A Comic A Day celebrates its 550th post! Considering that several of my posts contain more than one review, I can only imagine how many comics I've discussed during the course of this personal challenge gone awry, but thanks to my annual allotment of free comics, the fanaticism continues! That said . . .

Fist of Justice #1, Digital Webbing Press
Mike Imboden (w); Andre Coelho & Pow Rodrix (a); Edemilson Alexandre, Mick Clausen, Matt Webb, & Ryan Scott (c), Ed Dukeshire (l)

SIGNIFICANCE: Digital Webbing was wise to choose Fist of Justice as its Free Comic Book Day contribution, considering the inevitable success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the mainstream attention superheroes will receive as a result. Further, Digital Webbing is actually one part publishing house, one part on-line creative network, so newbies to comics could benefit from the knowledge that such a traditionally print-oriented medium has become a prevalent, multifaceted presence on the Internet, too. Personally, while I've read some Digital Webbing titles in the past, I'd never explored their website before today, and I'm impressed at the depth of their talent and resources.

STORY: Fist of Justice uses many of the superhero storytelling standards fanboys take for granted and coordinates them into an adventure that focuses on action and character development. Following his greatest failure at the hands of the evil Dr. Dibuk, Marc Mason, a.k.a. the Fist of Justice was captured for thirty years, until a magical comrade saved him and restored his youth. With another hero touting the Fist of Justice title, Marc was a man out of time, until another old friend, the retired hero Black Light, convinced him to confront his loose cannon successor and take his mantle back. A few fisticuffs later, Marc Mason gets the upper hand and becomes the Fist of Justice again! With the origin of Captain America and reclamation stories like Batman: KnightsEnd in mind, Fist of Justice retains a Golden Age charm while keeping a contemporary theme of absolute power corrupting absolutely at the forefront. Plenty of action keeps the potential for emo introspection at bay and makes for an adventurous, character-oriented inaugural issue.

ART: I'm actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue's interior art. Pow Rodrix gets inside front cover credit for his three-page origin sequence, but Andre Coelho illustrates the majority of this issue and maintains a balanced sense of mood and sequential choreography. His art is particularly aided by the colorists, who kept things dark and cool-toned until our hero's triumph in the end. Further, a real visual treat awaits readers at the end of this issue . . .

PACKAGE: . . . in the sneak preview art pages for future issues of Fist of Justice. Penciled by Pow Rodrix (Does he expect us to think that's his real name?), these pages pack quite a punch and offer a fun behind-the-scenes look at the development of a comic book. Another supplemental page depicting the Fist of Justice prototype action figure by Shocker Toys and some Digital Webbing gags rounds out an excellent introduction to the company, their artistic vision of the comics genre, and their marketing strategy as a business.

DO I WANT MORE? Yes! I know now that Fist of Justice is a few issues deep, but I plan on picking up #2 at my local shop the next time I visit, to see what kind of momentum the story and the company have attained since this first effort. Of course, both the character and the company have been around quite a while, but Free Comic Book Day offers a great chance for new readers to feel like they're joining something from the beginning. In this case, since the title character is a fish out of water in the 21st century, the feeling is thankfully mutual.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 1: The Origin of an X-Man!

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?