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Free Comic Book Day: The Days After...

Another Free Comic Book Day has come and gone. Those who sought him found their Stanlee Claus with Ultimate X-Men #1. All that's left for the rest of us is to clean up the extra paper and make sure that the tree gets put out on the curb by trash day. And oh, yes, we're hoping that if we're real good, Free Comic Book Day will come around again next year.

But what of this year? Was it everything that retailers could have hoped? According to our informal survey of one shop, yes. People who normally don't set foot in comic shops did this weekend, and more importantly, actually bought stuff.

Of course, we just picked up the free swag. And here's a brief rundown on what we could find:

writer: Angelo DeCesare
artists: Jeff Shultz and Al Milgrom

Former Marvel editor Al Milgrom inked this thing? Wow, he's more versatile than I could have ever thought. It's not the inking that surprises me; it's the smoothness with which he has switched over to the Archie "House Style."

And by using that phrase, most of you already have a picture in your mind. Not just of the art, but how the story goes as well. Yes, Archie comics tend to follow a template, one that keeps on working for them.

For Free Comic Book Day, however, the powers that be at Archie Comics approved a slightly post-modern deconstructionist approach. In "The Kid Who Wrecked Riverdale," we get an explanation as to just why these comics follow a pattern, and a defense of why it's necessary.

Young Josh loves him some Archie comics, to the point that the characters seem like real people to him. Though his older sister Ashley mocks him for it, it's nicely pointed out that many such critics have their own little obsessions. In Ashley's case, it's soap operas.

At any rate, Josh wishes himself into Riverdale so that he can straighten things out for all the characters; their own foibles keep getting them into the same troubles over and over.

Using the latest issue of Archie to back him up, Josh explains to Mr. Lodge how Reggie's scheming keeps making Archie look bad to him. When he finds Reggie, Josh persuades him to try not being a jerk. Betty and Veronica learn to share, as Archie can never really choose between them. And Jughead needs to stop being such a glutton.

Back in the "real" world, though, Josh has ruined everything. Even though the characters now get along well, it makes for pretty boring comics. And so these six characters in search of a conflict have to be set back on their self-destructive paths.

Maybe a little heady for the younger readers (or their parents) likely to have picked this book up, but luckily, it's still true to Archie. Brightly colored, simply but appealingly drawn, and eventually, Archie pulls one of his famous bone-headed stunts. Any Archie story that ends with steam coming out of Mr. Lodge's ears is a good one.

There's a reason the Archie line remains strong, and it's not just grocery store distribution.

Batman Adventures #1
writers: Ty Templeton and Dan Slott
artists: Rick Burchett, Templeton, and Terry Beatty

As suspected, this book is the same as was released last Wednesday to shops. The house ads have been shifted around to put more emphasis on getting kids to maybe buy some other DC books, but for the real meat, you may be sorry you paid $2.25 on Wednesday.

It is, of course, a pretty good book. DC would not squander the day on a gratis issue of Brother Power, The Geek. Instead, we get two good character-defining stories that also establish the status quo in this quasi-animated version of the DCU.

The first, "No Asylum," takes the reader on a tour of most of Batman's villains, as he must break into Arkham to prevent a terrorist attack on one of the inmates. It seems that with The Penguin as Mayor of Gotham City (?), Batman is no longer treated with the same unofficial police respect as we might have thought.

Of course, he's still Batman, so there's really not much of a problem. But new readers will get a good sense of who's who, old readers get a good story by the underrated Templeton, and young readers will find this book much more accessible than the regular line. (The Joker here is still dangerous, but in a kid friendly way, and not nearly as disturbing as the versions on recent covers by Jim Lee and Tim Sale.)

It does set up an overall story arc, but stands on its own as a story. Hopefully, readers will be hooked but satisfied in one. How come the regular books can't do that anymore?

In a short back-up, obscure villain The Cavalier tries to steal the spotlight from Batman, and his tale ties in to Bruce Wayne's motivations and inspirations. Templeton takes over the penciling on this one, and under Beatty's overall inking, the book has a really smooth look.

If you have children who like Batman, find a store that still has copies of this. Heck, pay the $2.25. You won't be sorry. It's better for them than a video game.

Donald Duck Adventures
story and art: Carl Barks

To herald the return of Disney to comics, Diamond (under the "Gemstone Publishing" imprint) reprints the most valuable of Donald Duck comics. Not only has the property been gone from comic shops for too long, it's clear that Disney has been sorely missed.

According to our man Steve at our shop Brian's Books (in Santa Clara, California), the book that "sold out" the fastest and with the most demand afterward was this one. Clearly, parents and real comics lovers remember this one fondly, and with good reason.

Barks transformed the funny animals of Disney's stable into characters capable of stories with a sense of adventure to them. (Conversely, after thirty years or so Disney finally got the hint and used his work for the show "Duck Tales.")

By the time of this tale, "Maharajah Donald," not everything was in place. Donald and his nephews live in Burbank (probably near the Disney studios), not yet Duckburg. There's not as much sense of the community. However, Barks was already a master storyteller.

His work stands as classic, and it's obvious why. Though a little on the silly side (it's talking ducks, after all), the story has clever twists and turns, drawn with an eye for detail. And though the story takes place in something like India, at a time when his readers might have been less than enlightened about it, Barks treats the foreign culture with respect.

From the descriptions of upcoming books in the house ads, I fear that Gemstone Publishing might just price themselves right back out of the market. Real Disney collectors already have a lot of their back catalogue of stories, and new readers may just pick the books up sporadically.

But personally, I really miss Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, and am glad to have it back for as long as it lasts.

writers: David Michelinie and Bob Layton
artists: Ron Lim and Layton

You have to give Future Comics credit for daring. In an era with a virtual monopoly on comic distribution (see Diamond, above), the veterans at Future are trying to do it all themselves. It's bold; not even CrossGen has had the guts to circumvent Diamond. But as a result, this is the first time I've even seen a copy of one of their books.

Everybody involved in the project has top-notch credentials, and the book proved enjoyable but not particularly memorable. Metallix bears superficial resemblance to Iron Man, a book which Layton made his mark on at Marvel a couple of decades ago.

Here, the armor, a liquid metal polymer that can shift from host to host, is in the possession of a corporate team. Each member has different strengths, and Michelinie shows off their advantages in a combat situation.

It's a good introduction to the characters and the concept, but even with the appearance of a clear arch-enemy, it's not really enough to hook. While well-done, Metallix just isn't that different.

Future gives a few quick glimpses at their other titles, too, and a couple look interesting. But as I look at the overall line, I can't shake this voice in my head whispering, "remember Valiant?" It's the Ghost of Comics Past, reminding me that I can't afford to buy comics I just don't really care about.

Of course, if I can't even find them at my local store, the point is moot.

Rocket Comics
writers: various
artists: various

With this book, Dark Horse Comics launches a whole new line of science-fiction oriented comics featuring (hopefully) original concepts. As an anthology book, this is pretty good. It remains to be seen if any of the features here will be strong enough to hold their own in a fiercely competitive market.

The cover feature, Syn, is a little difficult to follow, but worth the effort. Syn herself "lives" in a mechanoid society long after humans have gone. The ruling class of machinery has set up a Catch-22: they must strive to know humans, but if any intelligence actually starts emulating the vanished species, it is to be deactivated. Violently, and with extreme prejudice.

A hunter of such machines, Syn finds herself becoming what she is sworn to destroy. It's a tight story by Keith Giffen, Greg Titus and Julian Washburn, setting up a larger storyline without being an annoying cliffhanger.

The other stories accomplish the same thing, a credit to Dark Horse editorial.

Former MAX editor Stuart Moore and artist Jerome Opena contribute the character Lone, a gunfighter stuck in a post-apocalyptic world of mutants, madmen and machines. Opena has settled on an interesting character design, and has a gritty style that stands out when bookended by the other two manga-esque features.

Rounding out the book is Go Boy 7 by Tom Peyer, Jon Sommariva and Pierre-Andre Dery. It's the most lightweight of the stories, and though it acts like the middle of an ongoing series, Peyer gives you everything you need to know to enjoy it. Of the three tales in Rocket Comics, it's the most mainstream, with a vague resemblance to the recently-deceased Superboy by way of Tokyo. Though fun, Go Boy 7 seems most likely to get lost in the shuffle.

So there it is. If I missed something that you picked up and think was worth a look, let me know. (Already I regret missing Slave Labor Stories - hey, guys, are you reading this, and can I come by and get one?)

Whether or not the whole shebang has the impact the industry hopes, only time will tell.

Derek McCaw

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