I read somewhere that publishers made available 60 different comics for this year’s Free Comic Book Day. I picked up 20 — but one book I accidentally picked up twice and one book was from last year and one book wasn’t part of the official offerings but I guess the shop had too many copies in inventory and wanted to dump them.
I spent most of Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday morning reading my bounty. By the end of the experience I had an epiphany: Comic books, in general, suck.
OK, not all comic books suck. I’m not such a masochist that I would be reading the things for 40-some years if they all sucked. There are some truly great comic books out there. You just won’t find them among the offerings of Free Comic Book Day.
The best FCBD comics I’ve read have been average at best. In fact, in the 10 years this has been going on, I can’t remember a single FCBD comic that stands out in my memory. And that’s a shame, because one assumes the point of this project is to get people to want to come back and actually spend money on comics. But I’ve never read a FCBD comic that made me say, “I’ve got to start collecting this comic.”
The main problem is that too many publishers use the event to promote their upcoming mega-series that no one other than the faithful is going to buy, or they offer nothing more than a series of five-page promos for the publisher’s line of comics.
Here’s the problem with the latter method. If someone held Free Movie Day and you went to the theater and were treated to 60 minutes of trailers you’d feel pretty ripped off. And you’d be right. If you’re going to give someone a free comic book, give them a whole story. One that’s so good they’ll want to come back for more. I haven’t run across any such comic yet.
Marvel’s offerings this year were attempts to promote this summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. The main book has Tony Stark describing who each character is to Venom (yes, the Spider-Man villain, who is now a hero) and ends with Venom joining the group. Thrilling. The second book features Rocket Raccoon of the Guardians. He’s a walking, talking alien that looks like a raccoon (I think. I believe his origin story has been changed but I don’t care enough to check.) No, I’m not that impressed either. There’s a Spider-Man backup feature in the latter. Both books are, like everything I read from FCBD, average.
But at least Marvel’s books are somewhat self-contained and suitable for all ages. I don’t know what DC was thinking. Their main book is 20 pages of dead cyborg superheroes chasing down other superheroes. It’s graphically violent and creepy. It ends, of course, with Future Batman going back in time to fix things — but to see how he fixes things you’ll have to buy into the upcoming mega-event, coming soon.
Among the other super-related comics I picked up something called “Epic,” about a teenager who gets superpowers but loses them when he’s around women. Seriously. He also has a villain who’s part T-rex, part monkey. No, I won’t be buying any issues of “Epic.” I also snagged a “Buck Rogers” comic because the art was pretty but it was reproduced at such a small size that my old eyes couldn’t read it.
I picked up the Archie digest like I do every year for my sister. It reads like every Archie digest I’ve ever read. There was a Bongo comic featuring Simpson’s stories that was, what’s that word again, average (although the Mr. Burns story was better than any Simpsons cartoon has been in years). My favorite bit from that book was the homage to those old collector stamps that Marvel Comics had in them in the ’70s. The one in this comic was, appropriately, Stampey.
One of my favorite FCBD comics every year is “Atomic Robo.” It’s a fun, lighthearted book and it usually gives you a full meal. I wasn’t too impressed with this year’s Robo story and most of the comic was taken up by some talking furball of indeterminate species. If you’re going to put Atomic Robo on the cover, then most of the comic should be Robo.
The one standout among the lot was “2000 AD,” a mainstay of British comics. It’s an anthology comic similar to “Heavy Metal” and probably best known (at least among Yanks) as the home of “Judge Dredd.” It comes in an oversized (for comics) magazine format and a whopping 48 pages, double your typical comic.
Like I said, it’s an anthology and like all anthologies it’s hit and miss. None of the stories were outstanding but as a whole package it was decent. Again, it didn’t make me want to go out and buy the next issue.
To sum up, I find Free Comic Book Day is more about the adventure of going to the shops and people watching than the joy of reading the actual comics. I’ll probably do what I do every year and take my stash in to work where they will quickly be bent, folded and mutilated, never to be seen again. Whether or not that sells any more comics is anyone guess.