Saturday, May 2, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009 Reviews

Welcome to a special weekend edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews! What warrants this special occasion? As you all probably know already, it is Free Comic Book Day, the single biggest and most important day for the comic book industry. On this special day, publishing companies and retailers join forces to provide new readers the chance to check out some new comic books, and us old readers get the chance to get some freebies.

Because this is such a special day, this post is actually a joint effort. I (Matt) was able to get a hold of three free comic books: Avengers, Resurrection and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, while Eric got a hold of Blackest Night and Atomic Robo. Hit the jump to see what we thought about them, but beware there will be spoilers!

Written by Brian Clevinger, Scott Chitwood, Christopher Leone and Laura Harkcom
Art by Scott Wegener, Randy Kintz, and Brain Churilla

Red 5's offering for Free Comic Book day is once again an Atomic Robo story with two previews of upcoming books.

The Atomic Robo story is a distillation of everything that makes Atomic Robo great in eight pages. Its got humor ("Behold the pulpy fruit of my vastly superior reptilian intellect!), science (Clevinger disproves all non-magic based time travel as folly) and action (a velociraptor with a bazooka). The story is called Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur and it is the perfect description of the story. Robo spends the eight pages fighting/arguing with Dr. Dinosaur to his great annoyance, which actually a large part of the humor. I also loved Dr. Dinosaur. Comics need more characters like Dr. Dinosaurs, in fact. He's insane, funny, both his personality and visual design, and he's got a great concept behind him, time travel dinosaur genius, or that's what he thinks he is. Wonderful character and I hope he shows up again at some point. The story also ends with what may be the best four panels I have seen in a long time. Just hilarious.

The two other stories are Drone and We Kill Monsters.

Drone is about next-gen military combat drones that know are humanoid and controlled by soldiers hundreds of miles away. Its a solid concept but I didn't see anything that convinced it would be worth reading. There is nothing wrong with most of what is introduced but there is nothing that stood out and said "Must Read" to me. The way the story was framed though was a huge turn off. Three teenage nerds managed to hack into the visual feed from the drones and one even managed to find a way to control them. I found incredibly stupid and really took me out of the story since they also added commentary to what the drones were doing. If they are actually part of the story in the book then I definitely have no interest in it.

The other story, We Kill Monsters, was better but did little more than introduce the two main characters but not even that much. There is nothing about the concept really, just that one of them has a monster arm, and the story is basically them trying to escape a monster. There was not that much there so its hard to form an opinion about it all. There was nothing bad about the writing or art though.

Verdict - Must Read.
The Atomic Robo story, which showcases all that is great about the book in eight short pages, is the only reason to pick up this book and more than makes up for the two other lackluster stories.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Jim Cheung

The first thing that I notice when I get this comic book is that it is smaller in size, not in the pages but in the actual dimensions of the page. It is only a couple of inches smaller, but I am guessing it makes a difference in the production price. Personally, I wouldn't mind getting comic books a little bit smaller if it means they get to stay at $2.99, but that may be just me.

The story revolves around the two teams of Avengers that Bendis is currently writing, the Dark Avengers and the New Avengers as they team up to fight the Frost Giant Ymir. The story is narrated by Spider-Man, which is a smart choice by Bendis, who uses him to introduce the Avengers team and inject some humor into the situation. Spider-Man is also easily the most recognized Marvel character, so I can see how this would be appealing to new readers.

Ymir is attacking New York City, and easily dispatches of Thor. The two Avengers team accude to the rescue, but the Frost Giant sends them to an in-between world. As can be expected, the two teams are at each other's throats and a fight breaks out once they are outside of the public eye. Norman Osborn acts as the voice of reason (which is crazy, as Spider-Man points out) and gets the two teams to work together for the common goal of defeating Ymir. With Ares leading the charge, the team finds the Twilight Sword, which has the power of stop Ymir. Once the threat is over, Osborn is ready to arrest the outlaw Avengers, but a recovered Thor drops in and allows the New Avengers to escape unscathed.

The story in itself is a nice done-in-one story, obviously reader-friendly and provides a good deal of action to reel in new readers. Old readers will notice some of the flaws that are often mentioned when talking about a Bendis comic: lots of caption boxes, somewhat repetitive dialogue, and continuity flaws. The most obvious one that I noticed was that Thor mentioned how The Twilight Sword can't stay in this dimension, so he must take it to Asgard, but Asgard is currently floating above the state of Oklahoma, in this same dimension. Certain characters get more spotlight than others, such as Spider-Man, Osborn, Luke Cage and Ares all getting plenty of spotlight, but others such as Iron Fist and Moonstone hardly have any lines.

Jim Cheung provides some astonishing and dynamic artwork, and his facial expressions are pretty spot-on, with the only exception that some characters squit their eyes too much. Cheung draws an awesome Spider-Man and Thor, and I would love to see him in either one of those titles. My favorite part, though, was the fact that Ares, "Hawkeye" and "Wolverine" of the Dark Avengers first appear riding gliders, like the ones Osborn used to ride in his Green Goblin days. I thought that was a really nice touch.

Verdict - Check it. If you have not been impressed by Bendis' work on the Avengers titles, I don't think this will change that. Don't go in expecting to see a whole lot of Thor kicking ass and taking names, and you may be able to enjoy this story. Other than that, it is a serviceable story with great artwork to go along with that I think will appeal to new readers. If you have been following the Avengers title, then you should pick this up as well, because it features the Dark Avengers vs. New Avengers fight that we were promised some time ago.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke

Blackest Night #0 was originally going to be a recap of all of the events leading to the event itself but it is now a prelude to the first issue, and it reads like it. Blackest Night #0 is not really reader friendly and you definitely need to be familiar with both Green Lantern and the DCU to fully understand and appreciate the story.

The story itself is short, only 12 pages, and is about Hal Jordan and Barry Allen talking at Bruce's grave while foreshadowing things to come. Geoff Johns maintains his usually quality of work and there are a lot of little things here and there that really add to the story. Of course, you have to be a DC reader to get them. The more you know and like about the DCU to more you like the story. A basis familiarity with the DCU can at least get you through the story but you will be missing a lot of the smaller stuff that really brings the story to life. Johns also continues his habit of constantly repeating things over and over and, in this case, its the sinner/saint dynamic he has set up with Hal and Barry's deaths.

There is a lot of the Hal and Barry dynamic present in the issue, and this being my first experience with Barry in the comics, I enjoyed it. Johns definitely sells me on bringing Barry back to life and that he does have a place within the modern DCU. The Hal relationship to Batman is also on display and Johns does some good things with it as well. The other important part of the story is a number of Black Lanterns are revealed, or at least heavily hinted at. J'onn J'onzz, Ralph and Sue Dinby, Ronnie Raymond and, Bruce Wayne. Or, whoever corpse Superman was holding at the end of Final Crisis #6 belonged to. The story ends with the Black Hand resurrecting Bruce which brings up an interesting question, does he give them rings after he resurrects everyone or do the rings resurrect the dead like the teaser from Sinestro Corps War suggested. This is something I wish Johns had addressed in this issue.

DC also included the Corps primer images from their Source blog which is the only attempt they make towards introducing things to new readers. There is also a short letter from Johns but it doesn't really add much but he says that Blackest Night will do to the DCU what Green Lantern Rebirth did to Green Lantern.

The Black Lantern oath also appears and it is,

The Blackest Night falls from the skies
The darkness grows as all light dies
We crave your hearts and your demise
By my Black Hand, the dead shall rise

Verdict - Check It. A solid story that offers more to long term readers than new ones but still has its own charms and definitely got me more interested in Blackest Night.

(plus a Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen Backup)
Written by Marc Guggenheim and Jim Massey
Art by Justin Greenwood and Robbi Rodriguez

Guggenheim is an author that I am familiar with, but who has written nothing that has impressed me over the years. I found his run on Wolverine and his short-lived Blade series rather disappointing, and I have heard some bad things about his run of Flash (and a quick Wiki revealed that he killed Bart Allen). Resurrection is Guggenheim's creator-owned series for Oni Press. Honestly, I picked this up mostly to see what the Tek Jansen comic was like, because I watch The Colbert Report almost religiously.

The story opens in 1998, with a character named Dwight in a state mental hospital, who gets a visit from a mysterious British government official named Paul Cole. We learn that Dwight believes he was abducted by aliens, and Paul believes him. The story jumps ten years into the future and the world is in ruins and New York deserted and evacuated. Dwight is in there trying to find his wife when he runs into a woman named Wendy, one of the few survivors left in the city.

Through their conversation we learn that the world was attacked by aliens ("bugs") and that Wendy is keeping a satellite uplink to stay communicated with someone in Europe. Once they establish contact with Europe, they learn that a man named Paul Cole has defeated and vanished the aliens, but Dwight does not believe him. Paul learns that Dwight is alive and somehow dispatches (to the suprise of the two survivors) an helicopter, which promptly kills Wendy and Dwight. Cole is trying to get a hold of a journal that Dwight had, but we learn that Dwight has sent it elsewhere, and someone else is seen getting a hold of it.

Guggenheim turned in an interesting set-up issue, and I have to say I am interested to see in what direction the series goes into. The premise in itself is not world-shattering new, I think we have all read or seen at least one story where the protagonist is thought of as crazy but is actually right about everything. Alien invasions are something that has been done quite a lot, but this story provides enough twists to keep the readers wanting for more. The art provided by Greenwood (who I have not heard of before, or at least I don't remember him), is a nice mix between Eduardo Risso and Stuart Immonen, and I hope to see more of him in the future

The Tek Jansen backup is about the space agent infiltrating an alien planet divided by racial segregation betweeen "horneds" and " plains". Tek Jansen must help the dominated "plains" raise to be equals, but once all is said and done, his success spells the destruction of the planet. The story is not a bad back-up, but the humor fell short on me, and that is supposed to be the strong suit of such a goofy character.

Verdict - Check It. Not a terribly exciting new concept, but provides an interesting hook for thie ongoing series. Fans of science fiction will probably like the main story, while the backup provides a more humorous and tongue-in-cheek look at space travel and alien races. Fans of the Colbert Nation will want to own this, because they must own everything that Colbert is involved with.

Written and Art by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman

I think the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles need no introduction. If you were alive at all during the late 80's and early 90's, you were probably bombarded with hundreds of merchandise and products related to them, of which the most popular were the animated series, the toy line and the live-action movies. I was a huge fan of all those as a kid, I even had the TNMT bed sheets! I did not learn until years later than it all originated in a comic book, and this is a reprint of that first issue, actually intended to be a one-shot deal, that spawned a huge merchandise kingdom.

If you are only familiar with the pizza-eating, catchphrase slinging, cheerful version of the turtles, you may be in for a rude awakening. In this origin issue, the turtles have their first trial-by-fire fight against a gang, and defeat them in a rather gruesome fight. Limbs fly, blood splatters, and the turtles go hiding back into the (now iconic) sewer lids. We learn the origin of the turtles and of Splinter, who is actually a mutated rat that formerly belonged to a deceased ninja master. The reason he is training the turtles in the martial arts is so that they can go against the person that killed his former master, none other than the Shredder himself. The turtles do eventually go up against him in another bloody fight, and thanks to their teamwork, they manage to defeat him.

The artwork and the writing are obviously a bit dated, but this issue works as a great capsule into the 80's comic scene. The whole thing is reminiscent of Frank Miller's (who is credited as an inspiration on the opening pages) style, with heavy shadows, a flair for the dramatic and a healthy love for Japanese culture. The black and white style does help with the tone, but one of the good things that the TV show did was introduce color coded clothes to the turtles, who are pretty much interchangeable in this comic. There's not a whole lot of character development for them, and it is hard to tell them apart without their signature weapons, but Raphael does get a little bit more of page time than any of the other turtles.

My favorite part was that the turtle's origins, with the radioactive waste causing the mutations, is actually a parody/homage of Daredevil's origins. They even mention that a blind man almost got hit by a truck, only to be saved by a young boy who got hit in the eyes with the radioactive waste. Additionally, the ninja clan is called The Foot, a clear parody of Marvel's comics ninja clan The Hand.

Verdict - Must Read. This issue reprints a veritable piece of comic book and pop culture history. You owe it to yourself to read this issue and find out how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their humble origin story. Yes, it is a bit dated, but I completely enjoyed reading this issue.

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Andrenn said...

You guys beat me to it, I got 5 comics to review, as well as 4 others that weren't free. Damn...well great reviews either way. I couldn't get my hands on Avengers...sold out by the time I got there. Really pissed about that, I hope it gets collected in one book because either Avengers book I'll pick up to read this. Mostly for the awesome Cheung art.

Matt Ampersand said...

Andrenn: We cheated, because not only we shared the workload between Eric and me, but I am a few time zones ahead of the U.S. When everyone was waking up over in the states, I was already back from my shop, had read the comics and was working on the reviews.

Eric Rupe said...

Andrenn - Marvel has released their last two FCDB specials as a $3.99 issue with some extra bonus stuff after a while. I'm positive they will do the same thing with the Avengers issue.

Matt Ampersand said...

Oh yeah, Eric is right. The Amazing Spider-Man one from last year later got re-released as Spider-Man Extra! I think.

They probably shouldn't wait too long to release this though, considering Ms. Marvel is already dead and Thor was banished from Asgard. If they wait too long the story is just going to cause more confusion.

Andrenn said...

Yeah, I know, I even made a joke to my friend about that on the way out. But still...damn. Oh well, I look forward to reading it eventually.

Bill said...

For some reason my shop didn't have TMNT. Oh well. I grew up loving the cartoons but never have read the comics, that's something I ought to get around to at some point.

I enjoyed The Stuff of Legend, btw. Kinda seems like a Toy Story ripoff when you hear the concept, but it's completely distinct, well-written, and I like the style of the art.

SK said...

I also picked up an Atomic Robo! Loved it. :)

Duckface said...

BN #0 is only 12 pages?? Jeez, DC.
I can't believe they'd resurrect Bruce in a prelude. Must not be that important (at least I hope not).
I'm confused about this Bruce situation... does he leave a dead body behind after every life he goes through because of the Omega Sanction? Whose/which body are they resurrecting? Didn't Lois et al send his body back in time (or whatever) during Final Crapsis #7? Ughh I hate you, Morrison.

Matt Ampersand said...

Duckface: I think the best explanation for this is "A Wizard did it". Honestly, I'm still hoping they don't resurrect Bruce Wayne/Batman/his corpse.

Eric Rupe said...

Duckface - As much as you want to, you can't blame the Bruce situation on Morrison. He told his story and Blackest Night is written by Johns and in it he states that the Batman corpse from FC was buried in Gotham next to his parents. Any screws or confusions about Bruce's status are now Johns's problems until Morrison deals with when he brings Bruce back.

Matt - I forget to mention this but when Black Hand was reciting his oath, he was digging out the skull that belonged to whoever's corpse that was in Bruce's grave. The oath allows him to resurrect people apparently.

ShadowWing Tronix said...

Sadly, a number of the FCBD comics didn't end up at the two comic stores I know to look. Atomic Robo was one of the ones I missed out on. Also missed out on the Stuff of Legend Preview, Impact University v5, the Scrooge McDuck story, and Love and Capes. Really wanted IU and L&C.

I did catch the TNMT first story online at their website, but there's nothing like actually having the comic in your hands, and there's current art in the ads that give you an idea about how far the comic has come.

Sad that DC still hasn't learned to make their stuff new reader-friendly. That's a mistake. Even Archie did a "Marvel Saga" type story to get readers up to speed with Sonic the Hedgehog prior to the upcoming ish 200 megabattle. They also dropped Cosmic Supergirl from the Kids Sampler in favor of Batman:TBATB, but I can kind of understand not promoting a comic about to (foolishly) finish up.

Duckface said...

Eric - OK then, I hate whoever is involved with continuity at DC (of course, I wouldn't be surprised to find out I'm hating thin air).

ShadowWing - Agreed. I've been confused by every single DC crossover/megaevent since I started reading comics, no doubt aided by the fact that I live in a country where it isn't possible for me to find every title or back issue related to an event.

Kwaku said...

The whole two bides thing started in FC. In Final Crisis Superman carried Batman's dead body in his arms but we also saw him alive in the past. I think it's pretty obvious that however it happened Bruce is alive in the past but has a dead body in the present.

Did anyone watch the Prestige?

Kirk Warren said...

I always assumed bruce went back in time because they put his dead body in the 'Superman rocket' and blasted it off into the Multiverse/Bleed surrounding the JLA mishmash watchtower at in Final Crisis #7. They definitely didn't keep it around to bury it.

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris said...

I've always been curious about Atomic Robo. I guess I'm going to check it out, now.

Eric Rupe said...

If anyone is interested, Red 5 put their 2009 issue online.

Kelson said...

I only picked up Blackest Night #0 (thought it was okay, but not spectacular, and it didn't get me interested in the main event) and Resurrection (haven't read it yet). I'm thinking of picking up the trade from the first Resurrection miniseries if I like it, though.

@Duckface: BN#0 is 12 pages of story, plus 8 pages of pin-ups introducing the various Lantern Corps. (Actually, 9 I think, since IIRC the Green Lanterns get a double-page spread.) So that's 21 pages of content. FWIW.

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