Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Free Comic Book Day 2005

Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

EDITOR’S NOTE: To commemorate Free Comic Book Day 2005, some of SBC‘s reviewers volunteered to expound on the free books that most impressed us or most drew our attention. We decided Bullet ratings would not be appropriate for comic books that were put into customers‘ hands free of charge. Even if one of these comic books were the most dreadful display of “sequential art“ ever produced, how upset can the reader be? The comic book didn‘t cost anything! (Although I have often considered suing movie producers for taking away two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.) We hope our comments (which also come free of charge) aren’t a waste of your time, and you are encouraged to use SBC’s message board forum to tell us what comic book that you picked up on Saturday most impressed you.

Bob Agamemnon: Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards
Keith Dallas: Star Wars
Michael Deeley: Funny Book #1 and Betty & Veronica
Shaun Manning: Hysteria/Sharknife

Bob Agamemnon: Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards (Preview)

Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artists: Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, Shad Petosky

Publisher: General Tektronics Labs / Big Time Attic

At first glance, the preview of the graphic novel Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards seems to hail from the same comic-book homeland as Mike Mignola’s Amazing Screw-on Head, Eric Powell’s Billy The Kid’ s Old Timey Oddities, or even Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Its late-nineteenth-century setting and a cover sporting fighting dinosaurs and Victorian portraiture fills the reader’s head with “steam punk” images and whets the appetite for weird tales. Although this fantastical mindset is appropriate for the tale that follows, Bone Sharps is not wholly derived from the world of fiction. As improbable as the names Edwin Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh sound, they are actually belong to two real “bone sharps,” nineteenth-century American paleontologists whose often contentious studies helped to established today’s understanding of the age of dinosaurs. Writer Jim Ottaviani has made it his mission to bring the history of science alive through comics in such books as Two Fisted Science and Fall Out. Here he teams with cartoonist collective Big Time Attic to produce an energetic and fast-paced account of “the gilded age of paleontology.”

When recounted in the right tone, historical narratives can take on as much of a sense of fantasy and strangeness as the weirdest ideas of Mike Mignola and company. Bone Sharps opens with a locomotive chugging through the American night. Out the window of a passenger car, a bearded gentleman looks on in amazement as a naked man rides a horse-drawn coach along side the train. The rider is the comic’s first historical character (New York Herald owner and infamous nude coachman, James Gordon Bennett Jr.), and his bizarre entrance sets a perfect tone for the madcap book. The startled onlooker is one of the story’s main characters, the aforementioned Othniel Charles Marsh. As the scene moves inside the train, Professor Marsh meets fellow traveler Phineas T. Barnum. Barnum’s legendary salesmanship is reflected in the enormous playbill-like lettering which he announces to the professor his latest “curiosity”: “BEHOLD, THE CARDIFF GIANT! HE IS THE ONE AND ONLY REMINDER OF A RACE THAT HISTORY HAS LEFT IN ITS WAKE!!” The Cardiff Giant, who was presented to the nineteenth-century world as a biological oddity, was famously discovered to be hoax. Marsh immediately recognizes Barnum’s Giant as a fake, “even worse, . . . a lackluster copy of a fake.” Marsh vows to expose the fraud, and thus ends the first chapter.

In the second chapter, the trio of artists responsible for the comic’s look revel in the detail of Edwin Drinker Cope’s home, a cluttered eccentric’s collection of dinosaur bones, reptiles preserved in jars of formaldehyde, various examples of the taxidermist’s art, and the occasional living lizard. The passionate yet slightly crazed Professor Cope’s character is expressed through the artists’ deft line work of his face. Whether furtively hiding some documents in a locked drawer or suffering the humiliation of being forced to leave a first-class train car, the artists communicate through the subtlest changes in expression the complexity of the maverick scientist.

The creators of Bone Sharps take the occasion of Free Comic Book Day not only to preview their upcoming graphic novel, but also to give a welcome look behind the scenes at the collaborative process that produced the book. In a lengthy section at the end, the reader follows the work step by step, from conception to finished product. Features designed to let the audience in on the practical creation of comic books have become increasingly popular in recent years, from the publication of script books to comparisons of live models to finished drawings in trade paperbacks such as Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days. The more educated comic readers are, the more discerning they become, and that can only result in higher quality for the medium as a whole. Big Time Attic is to be commended for contributing to this knowledge.

Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards promises to be a highly entertaining and even (gasp!) educational comic book. By combining the feel of pulp action with real nuggets of historical fact, this story of feuding paleontologists should be among the best offerings of the year.

Keith Dallas: Star Wars

Scripter: Miles Lane
Artist: Nicola Scott

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Truth be told, this free Star Wars comic book isn’t very impressive. The plot is quite pedestrian (Obi-Wan and Anakin assault Count Dooku’s citadel) which is made worse by an unimaginative resolution (Obi-Wan and Anakin slice and dice their way through dozens of battle druids until the Clone Trooper cavalry arrives to save them). The dialogue is at various times clichéd, repetitive, and non-sensical [Insert your witticism about George Lucas here].

However, I’m very forgiving of the faults of this Star Wars “Comic Book Day 2005 Special” comic book, not only because I received it gratis, but because as an avid Star Wars fan, I need to absorb as much “primer” material as I can before I head into the theatres on May 18 to watch Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. As all Star Wars fans know from watching the Clone Wars animated cartoon, reading the Dark Horse comic books and playing video games on their favorite platform, an entire war occurs between Episode II and Episode III. A lot of the events presented in the comic books and on the cartoon is most likely peripheral or “non-essential” to what’s presented in the films, but they do help us “passionate” fans become even more involved with the phenomenon that is Star Wars.

And that’s why of all the free books my comic shop gave me (and only the “Gold Sponsor” books were given to me), it was this “Star Wars Special” that most gained my attention. It didn’t necessarily attract me to other Dark Horse Star Wars comic books (Dark Horse would have been wise to insert promos of its Republic, Obsession and Empire titles), but it did get me hoping that May 18 comes around REAL fast.

Michael Deeley: Funny Book #1

Creators: Rick Altergott, Max Anderson, Peter Bagge, Marc Bell, Ivan Brunetti, Daniel Clowes, Spohie Crumb, Gilbert & Jamie Hernandez, Michael Kupperman, Johnny Ryan, and Richard Sala

Publisher: Fantagraphics

This free comic book has material from books published by Fantagraphics. Highlights include:

“How to Draw Cartoons”, by Ivan Brunetti
“hagler and hearns”, “Did ya get got?”, and “Cream City”, by the Hernandez Bros.
“The Adventures of Bat Boy”, by Peter Bagge
Three 1-page strips by Michael Kupperman
“Dan Pussey Presents Komic Kollector’s Korner”, by Dan Clowes

Here’s the comic industry in a nutshell: Peter Bagge is best known for his alternative comics series Hate. He continues to publish it as an annual. His only mainstream comics work, as far as I know, are Apocalypse Nerd for Dark Horse, occasional strips for Star Wars Tales, and Marvel’s The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man. Since 2004, Peter Bagge’s “Adventures of Bat Boy” has been appearing in the tabloid paper The Weekly World News. Its weekly circulation is in excess of 1 million copies.

Talented, acclaimed indy comics artist finds steady job in nationally known paper. (Not respected, but known.) He barely registers on corporate comics radar. Lesson: Work hard at self-publishing, get a rep, skip Marvel, DC, et al., and go for work people will see.

Funny Book #1 made me want to read more work from Bagge, Kupperman, and Brunetti. I’ll also keep an eye out for Worn Tuff Elbow by Marc Bell. Funny Book is also a great kick in the head for teen readers who’ve never seen an indy comic before. This weird combination of individualistic art, cartooning, odd ideas, off-bet humor, and personal stories should open a few eyes. So I’d call this a success.

Betty & Veronica

Writer/Penciller: Dan Parent
Inker: Jim Amash

Why did I agree to review this? I thought last year’s free Archie comic was funny. I thought this year’s would be as good. I should have realized a comic starring Betty and Veronica, featuring the return of Katy Keene, would be strictly for girls. But except for Olivia, there are no female reviewers at SBC.

I thought about writing this in a bad gangsta dialect. But as a liberal white suburbanite, I’m afraid of black people. Best not to offend them. Besides, jokes about Archie being a “playa,” and Betty & Veronica being secret lesbian lovers are cliché in our cynical society.

At least I don’t have to describe the quality of the comic. All Archie comics have the same level of artistic quality. Every artist has mastered the basics of visual storytelling, and rarely evolves a unique style. The writing is usually the same. Archie Comics clearly puts uniformity of product ahead of innovation. They’re the McDonald’s of comics publishing: If you just want a “comic,” they’ll do.

I do congratulate Archie for doing more to reach out to and retain young girl readers. This past year saw Sabrina change to a manga art-style popular with young girls. Josie and the Pussycats will make a similar change. Betty & Veronica became a pre-teen girls’ magazine. And now they bring back Katy Keene, whose outfits were designed by readers. Ironically, only one woman, letterer Vickie Williams, was involved with this comic.

I’m not going into the long history of Katy Keene; her first appearance, her old series, etc. Because none of it matters. In the continuity of Archie Comics, Katy Keene is making her first appearance in this comic. She’s an intern at a fashion magazine and just transferred to Riverdale High School. Of course, by the story’s end, she’s on her way to becoming a fashion model.

The story revolves around fashion design, of course. All the girls in Riverdale are submitting dress designs for Sparkle magazine. One will be worn on the magazine’s cover by supermodel Heidi Klumstovich. Betty and Veronica decide to work together, each thinking, “she really needs my input.” Katy comes by to pick up their designs. She’s tripped by a drooling Archie and drops the sketches. One of them is found by Cheryl Blossom, rival to both the girls. She submits the design as her own. At the show, Betty & Veronica’s design beats out Cheryl’s stolen design. But the top winner is Veronica’s nerdy cousin Marcy. The girls are shocked by Marcy’s transformation from tomboy to Audrey Hepburn! Heidi doesn’t show, so Katy models the winning dress for the big finale.

So what does this comic teach us? Rivals can be friends to serve their own egos. Any name can be made to sound Jewish. Making dresses is fun. Katy Keene is the only person in the Archie universe with human eyes. You can have a love triangle with four people. A girl can be glamorous if she tries. And don’t pass up opportunities for fame.

Do I want to read more comics like this? Hell no! This is for girls! So would girls want to read more comics like this? How the hell would I know? All I know is this doesn’t suck, it’s very simple, and I’m sure a moderately bright 6-year-old would like it.


Shaun Manning: Hysteria/Sharknife

Hysteria: Story and art by Mike Hawthorne
Sharknife: Story and art by Corey Lewis Sutherland the Rey

Publisher: Oni Press

With a flip book of short, self-contained stories of wildly different style and tone, Oni once again provides one the best offerings for Free Comic Book Day. While the selection of Mike Hawthorne’s Hysteria and CLS the Rey’s Sharknife falls well short of the inaugural FCBD freebies of Hopeless Savages and Queen & Country in separate, full issue reprints, Oni succeeds in appealing to all-ages audiences with markedly divergent tastes.

The Hysteria short is a story about a gun, with a brief intro from the author. When an assault rifle falls from the sky, it invariably brings bad luck to all who encounter it. Reminiscent of other Oni projects such as Kissing Chaos in art and Three Days in Europe in tone, this should be another excellent series of miniseries to watch.

Sharknife is a bit of manga parody, featuring a superhero that emerges from a fortune cookie to battle evil in videogame-like fashion. It’s not anything that will leave a lasting impression, but it’s good for a smile and should appeal to fans of Shonen Jump or the various licensed comics at UDON.

If the goal of Free Comic Book Day is to attract new readers, Oni is on-message. Keeping in mind the tastes of younger readers as well as the more “mature” audience so passionate about comics, the publisher ought to have considerably greater success than companies offering only “kiddie” versions of titles or work graphic enough to bring the Family League of America to their doorsteps. Further, as neither sample is traditional superhero fare, Hysteria/Sharknife could go a long way to show the breadth of modern comic publishing. Bravo, Oni.

What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!