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Comics Today's Date:

You Had Me At Free...

This weekend brings a great day in the life of comic book fans. No, not the opening of X2, but a marketing ploy so simple in its genius that it's a wonder this is only the second time it's happened. For on Saturday, May 3, after everybody gets deservedly worked up over the aforementioned X2, it's Free Comic Book Day.

After the success of last year's event (timed with Spider-Man), publishers have planned their efforts to bring even more attention to their lines. The big two, Marvel and DC, have differing approaches.

In keeping with its strategy last year, DC offers up a title from its television animation division, bringing back The Batman Adventures with a new number one. What makes it different this year is that this same issue also sees a regular store debut today. While it's likely that the two editions have different page counts, the content looks to be the same in both. Or DC will have suckered me into owning 1 and a half of the same.

Marvel, however, is using the day to bring new readers to a flagship title, with a twist in their hometown. Teaming with the New York Post for publicity, Marvel has inserted 500,000 copies of Ultimate X-Men #2 into the papers going out to subscribers. If you subscribe, you'll either get it in today or tomorrow's paper, depending on your borough.

Along with that insert is an ad telling you where to go to get Ultimate X-Men #1 on Free Comic Book Day. Remember, kids, only the first two are free.

CrossGen, too, will offer up one of its key books: Way of the Rat #1, which has also found its way into the pages of Cinescape magazine. A book that echoes the feel of a Jackie Chan movie (a good Jackie Chan movie), Way of the Rat seems a wise choice from Florida.

Some publishers are launching entire new lines: Dark Horse, for example, will spring into their new sci-fi Rocket imprint with Ignite, the story of a future robot learning too much about its culture's origins. Last year the Oregon publisher offered a Star Wars tie-in with more character development than the entire Episode II.

But the publisher taking the biggest risk is Second 2 Some Studios, with Christa Shermot's 100% Guaranteed How-To Manual For Getting Anyone To Read Comic Books!!!tm. It's easy to guarantee a free item. But writer Myatt Murphy and artist Scott Dalrymple really have taken an ambitious step.

Using characters and excerpts from their regular book Fade From Blue, the creative team make not so much an argument for their own company as comics in general. It's a noble effort, but one that has a built-in drawback: how are you going to get this into the hands of someone who doesn't read comics?

And if you do, can you force them to read it? If it's a loved one, they will. And they'll find some decent arguments for the graphic art.

The book tends to be on the wordy side, and as Scott Mccloud once pointed out, some readers simply don't know how to follow the order of word balloons. From that perspective, Murphy might have tried to cut them down a bit. But then it's not much in Christa Shermot's character to use one word where ten will do.

What the book does have is a good, if simplistic, breakdown of the various arguments people have against reading comics, which the team refutes. Beware, though; some guys are not going to be able to get past the appearance of a "chick book." Their loss.

The most valuable feature, though, is in the back. Murphy has put together a cross reference of television shows and movies matched with comic books that convey some of the same feel. While he doesn't really explain where to find these books, chances are the comic book store you got this book from would be a good place to start looking.

So I'd recommend that you pick up a copy to pass over to a carefully selected naysayer. For yourself, take a shot at something from a smaller press that you normally wouldn't. And if you have children or know children, pick up The Batman Adventures (Ultimate X-Men for older kids, maybe).

We've got to start the little nippers young, and teach them there's more to reading than Harry Potter. There's also a guy who dresses up like a bat.

Derek McCaw

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