Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

Rip Hunter: Time Master- A Look At the “Showcase” Issues

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Watching time pass by...

Time marches on. Can it truly have a master?

For a long time, the types of books I most often collected and read were black-and-white reprints of old comic books.  Marvel Comics’ Essential series introduced me to some of the most original and enduring characters and properties in American comic book history including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, the Avengers, the X-Men, and a host of others.  Later on, I learned that DC Comics had started its own series of two-tone reprint books to counter Marvel’s Essential line, and I ended up buying a few.  The Showcase Presents volumes were a lot cheaper in price than the Essentials volumes, but they had just as much content, and after reading years of Marvel material, I found DC’s offerings to be refreshingly different and full of fun ideas.  Since then, I have purchased and read through many different series and encountered many different characters through the Showcase Presents line, some I found very interesting and some not so much.  Recently, I bought a Showcase Presents volume focusing on Rip Hunter, a time traveling character who I had read about online and whose adventures sounded very interesting to me.  I have read through the first four issues in the volume, but I can tell just from reading these few that Rip Hunter: Time Master is definitely not the kind of comic book I thought it was going to be.  To me, that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

The four adventures of Rip Hunter I have read thus far were originally published as part of a series called Showcase (which in turn inspired the name of the Showcase Presents line).  This series was a “tryout” title in which DC comics presented new characters from different teams of writers and artists every month.  If readers responded well to a particular character, DC would give him or her a new series to call their very own.  Some characters were featured in Showcase for two or more issues; Rip Hunter made four appearances, first in Showcase #20-21 in the summer of 1959 and then in #25-26 in the spring of 1960.  That’s a pretty big trial run for any character, but did Rip deserve so many appearances?  Of course, Rip did later receive his own series in 1961, so I guess readers must have liked him.  I’ve only read his Showcase stories, though, and based on those appearances alone, I find it very hard to believe he could sustain a series for very long without a drastic makeover.

The basic premise of Rip Hunter: Time Master is that Rip has managed to build the world’s first ever working time machine, a giant bubble-shaped capsule “creatively” named the Time Sphere.  Every issue, Rip takes his best friend and right-hand man Jeff Smith, his girlfriend Bonny Baxter, and her supremely annoying brother Corky Baxter on a time trip through the Time Sphere to different places in the past and future.  Something usually happens to the Sphere which prevents our heroes from leaving the time period until they have solved whatever troubles are negatively affecting the local populace that day.  Once any and all lingering issues have been resolved, the gang hops back into the Sphere and returns to the present to await the time they do it all again next issue.  It’s the same type of plot that a typical Doctor Who story employs, only, I feel,  in this case the whole experience is much less interesting to see in action, and even worse, the characters do not have any of the Doctor’s eccentricities or any real interesting locales to venture to.

The main problem with these Showcase issues for me is that even though writer Jack Miller and the artists he worked alongside (in this case, Ruben Moreira for #20, Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella for #21, and the legendary Joe Kubert for #25-26) had some interesting ideas I would have liked to have seen a bit more fleshed out, the execution of those ideas is slightly flawed.  The characters look and sound incredibly generic with Rip Hunter being a big, strong, T-shirt and jeans-wearing boy scout whose main purpose in life is to provide historical information and almost instantly solve what would otherwise be insurmountable obstacles.  Jeff was pretty much the same as Rip only with even less personality (he’s not even in the third story at all, but I didn’t exactly miss him).   Bonny is a somewhat willing group member who helps out a little bit but otherwise stays on the sidelines delivering comments about what the others are doing, and Corky is an obnoxious little twerp who points out the most obvious details about each new location the gang visits.  Traveling with this bunch was fine in short bursts, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with them for long periods of time because their shtick gets old fast.  They made me long for other DC Comics heroes and teams who did the exact same stuff with more panache, particularly the Challengers of the Unknown who also have bland personalities but at least have mild bickering contests from time to time as well as the drawings of Jack “King” Kirby to liven things up.

The time travel theme is most prominent in the first story, “Prisoners of 100 Million B.C.,” as the gang travels to prehistoric times where they dodge some dinosaurs and stop some greedy crooks from leaving everybody stranded.  It’s not too original or clever and the characters’ personalities as I described above were a bit tiresome, but the dinosaurs are nicely rendered and it does tell a fairly competent, compact story of survival which shows the promise of what could have been an interesting gimmick had the creators stuck with it.  I highly recommend it for some simple fun.

In the second issue, “The Secret of the Lost Continent,” Rip and company warp to Greece to match wits against the ancient sorceress Circe, then travel to Atlantis to watch the entire population flee in spaceships as their home sinks into the sea.  The historical setting of Alexandria, Greece is prominently featured early on as our heroes help Alexander the Great to defeat an invading army, a sequence I had expected after reading the first issue.  Unfortunately, the rest of the plot deals more with magic and aliens than historical shenanigans.  These elements aren’t necessarily bad, but they do seem a bit jarring to me after having had a steady diet of semi-factual adventure for one-and-a-half issues.  Sorcery and spacecrafts are dime-a-dozen gimmicks which were pretty common in DC’s adventure comics of the time, to the point where if it wasn’t a highly elaborate mechanical trap set up by the issue’s villain, it was probably caused by magic or alien technology.  The idea of Atlantis being populated by aliens from another world is interesting to think about, but the designs of the city and its citizens aren’t too compelling.  Again, this comic works on a basic level for entertainment value, but the disparate elements sneaking in will cause the time travel idea to become almost an afterthought in the last two issues.

The third issue, “Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer,” is the only one of the Showcase stories which does not take place in a real location, at least not one you could find on a map.  Rip and his friends go to a kingdom called Ritannia to rescue someone who claims to be a friend of one of Rip’s scientist buddies, but they find out the man is really attempting to stage a double-cross between the king of Ritannia and the sorcerer Cholorus in order to take the royal throne and gain absolute power over the kingdom and its people.  I didn’t mind the story itself because I was interested in seeing how the villain in the story played all of the other characters against each other while he worked behind the scenes to get what he wanted.  The middle part where Rip’s group has to go through a huge valley full of unusual and deadly creatures was also fun because of the different monster designs and the ways that Rip exploited their features to escape the valley.  However, the medieval setting and character designs look very much like the nondescript medieval kingdoms and characters of other DC stories I’ve read, and I was disappointed to see that the story did not take place in a specific historical setting, a radical departure from what had come before.

The fourth and final Showcase story featuring Rip Hunter, “The Aliens from 2000 B.C.,” gets back to a historical setting, this time to Egypt where our gang discovers some extraterrestrials are being worshipped as gods by the locals.  This somehow escalates into a civil war where Rip teams up with an alien defector to protect the people from the malevolent otherworldly forces.  It was pretty cool to see the story’s take on ancient Egypt and Rip’s daring struggle with an Egyptian army using spears and mummy cases.  Unfortunately, that Egyptian setting is only evident in the first half of the story.  The second half with the alien civil war feels to me like it could have been in a completely different comic book, maybe DC’s Strange Adventures which specialized in alien invasion stories.  All of the different weapons firing off in the middle of the desert greatly strained my suspension of disbelief even more than it had been when I first learned the story would have “aliens in Egypt” as a theme.  The scene was wonderfully chaotic, but it just grated at my nerves to see yet another great deviation from what had been already established.

After looking back at the whole run of Showcase issues that Rip Hunter starred in, I do have to admit that I like the core concept of time travel and the different ideas they tried to make work.  The plots and settings were a bit hackneyed but worked well in a “forgettable Saturday morning cartoon” kind of way; they were not exactly Shakespearean, but they would definitely be worth the ten cent price they originally sold for.  The only part I couldn’t really stand were the characters who never really showed much personality.  They were like a group of Barbie and Ken dolls tasked with carrying out time travel missions.  Sure, they got the job done, but not with any particular pizazz.  And like I said before, I cannot stand Corky!  I’d take any other teenage sidekick in a heartbeat, whether it was Jimmy “Super Duper” Olson, Dick “Holy raging tempers, Batman!” Grayson, or even Snapper “I’ve got the same annoying personality, but I appear less often!” Carr from the Justice League of America comic which started around the same time.  Corky, pack up your things and go home in the Time Sphere… and never come back!

While Rip Hunter: Time Master disappointed me in a few ways, there’s enough good parts to it that I’d give the regular series a shot.  I’m glad I had a chance to look at these Showcase issues because it gave me a glimpse of what an ongoing series might be like.  There’s also a Showcase Presents: Showcase volume which came out recently which I’d like to get.  I think I could use it to create a new feature for this blog.  I could review each new character’s appearances in the Showcase comic and give my opinion on whether or not I’d want to see more of their adventures in an ongoing series.  Of course, as history has proven, a lot of characters did just that, but did they deserve their own titles?  I would like to answer that question myself.  What do you guys think?  Let me know in the comments.