Free Comic Book Day 2016

Last Saturday I went to Free Comic Book Day at my local comics shop, Vault of Midnight, and I really enjoyed it. I hadn’t been to a FCBD before so I was a bit nervous, but the store handled things really well – crowd control, vendors, and they even had some line entertainment to give everyone something to do and watch while waiting, in line, for awhile. The weather cooperated for a change, it was nice, sunny, warm but not hot. The store had tents outside along where the line formed, with various organizations such as Girls Rock, a local convention GrandCon, and the local 8-bit gaming society (who had tube TVs set up with old console games for kids to play). Most of the vendors were set-up for the kids in the crowd – but considering the wait, that was a good idea. In the line, however, it was mostly young adults and adults, patiently waiting and everyone being nice.

Once inside the store, crowd control was very good – I did not feel crowded or claustrophobic which was a good thing. I did still have to wait to get to the back of the store for my choice of three free books, but after I made my choices I still had time to shop – and I even bought some new graphic novels.  Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience, Vault of Midnight did a great job hosting, and it made me want to buy my graphic novels and comics at the store rather than other more convenient and/or cheaper venues much stronger (because yeah – I need to go back this Friday or Saturday and pick up one of the Doctor Who graphic novels (from Titan Comics) that I missed when I erroneously thought I already had it).

So what did I get for my “freebies”?

“DC Comics Previews – DC Universe Rebirth”

This is in a very real sense an advertising circular / catalog of DC Comics for the Summer, especially May and June. But the articles are exactly what I needed to know having been outside the loop for a bit, especially on the monthly titles from DC.  Here’s the thing – I was reading DC Comics in the late 80s/early 90s on a regular basis – even walking to my local comics shop every week to pick up that week’s releases that I wanted. Then I moved – to an area that didn’t have a convenient comics shop. For awhile I ordered via paper catalogs (remember those!) but eventually that got expensive and I lost interest and moved on to other things. I’d periodically buy graphic novels, and especially with the Nolan Batman Trilogy in theaters, and watching and absolutely loving Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano’s DCAU and follow-up Dc Animated films, I started buying graphic novels again – mostly on-line through retailers like Amazon, or occasionally in person at Barnes and Noble. Yep, I got dragged in again (not that that’s a bad thing).

Then DC did New 52 – which I tried out through several graphic novels (Batman, Batman the Dark Knight, Justice League, Nightwing) but I just did not like New 52 at all. My analysis of New 52 was – “Hey, DC – if we wanted to read Marvel, we’d read Marvel – DC fans read DC because we like DC!”. If that seems confusing, the DC I grew-up reading was very character-based. Justice League International, which later became Justice League America and Justice League Europe was a character-based book that was just fun to read. There were characters in the Justice League with virtually no powers at all (like Booster Gold and Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) who tended to sit in the Hall of Justice cafeteria commenting on what was going like a modern Greek Chorus. Other characters had single powers: Fire, Ice, Black Canary, etc. And when something major did go down – the League would work together as a group to beat the supervillain or bring aid after a natural or man-made disaster. Plus with all the character interaction – there was good-natured humor too. there was also a lot of diversity – ethnic, gender, aliens, etc. All the heroes in the DC Universe belonged to the Justice League – like a professional organization of heroes, both minor heroes and major ones, and the League worked together in what they did. And the League was a home to some minor heroes who couldn’t really have their own books.

New 52 in contrast gave us flat, carbon-copy “heroes” who didn’t like or trust each other. It gave us “heroes” who didn’t want to be heroes – all of them, even traditionally very happy characters like The Flash were re-written to be grim and in a sense boring. Plus New 52 really dumped the diversity. Oracle, Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, but before New 52 the leader of the Birds of Prey and Info-Central for all the DC Heroes, especially the Bat family – was killed off, and then Batgirl was re-introduced as “Batgirl”. Oracle has been one of my favorite characters – this is a woman who was, famously, paralyzed after being shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. But rather than disappearing, or becoming a villain herself, or even just becoming bitter and mean – Barbara Gordon showed real strength – she returned to collage and got her MLS – Master’s of Library Science, which is not small or easy feat in and of itself. She then got a job at the Gotham City Library (again, not easy, considering the prejudice against disabled people in America), and finally she became Oracle – running the Birds of Prey with just her voice, and providing Batman and other DC heroes with the information they needed to do their jobs. Oracle, in short was awesome, and an example of how having diversity in one’s line-up means, introducing interesting and real characters – not some sort of imagined “government forced PC” as the Conservatives accuse Diversity of being (especially over at Marvel, and ESPECIALLY at Marvel when they started as a walkout of ex-DC employees who didn’t like having female, African American, and diverse heroes in the DC books in the 1960s and 1970s). Oracle was a great character who happened to be in a wheelchair, female, smart, educated, computer-literate, and used her wits and intelligence to be a hero not her brawn. And Oracle was by far not the only one – throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s DC continuously introduced a large and diverse cast of modern characters who were still heroes. What did New 52 do? Got rid of Oracle and brought back Batgirl – another character who was simply a young, female version of a major character with not a whole lot special about her. In short, Batgirl became bland – whereas Oracle was strong, intelligent, and independent.

New 52 was a failure for DC. In less than 6 months – half of the books were cancelled due to poor sales, including books that had been long-running in the past. Reprints of older collections of 1990s-era DC Comics sold well (well enough that additional volumes came out). DC admitted their error with Convergence – a universe-spanning multi-issue maxi series to fix the issues. I admit, I haven’t read Convergence yet. Hopefully, the graphic novels will come out sooner or later and I can catch-up. But now, according to DC Previews, this Summer DC is doing “Rebirth” and they are bringing back the traditional DC – with more characters, diverse characters, excellent writing and art, the more traditional approach to story-telling (e.g. fun and character-based) and combining both the traditional heroes of DC (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Justice League, Aquaman, etc) and new characters (Teen Titans including Cyborg, Doctor Fate, etc.) And I’m honestly excited to at least try single-issue releases of Rebirth, even though I prefer graphic novels and graphic novel collections.

Also in my free comic book stack was:

Doctor Who – Four Doctors (Four Stories) Titan Comics FCBD 2016 special

First, this isn’t to be confused with Paul Cornell’s excellent Four Doctors series then graphic novel. It’s a separate series of four short stories: 12, 11, 10, and 9 presented in reverse-chronological order (that is 12 first, then 11, and so on). The short stories are meant to give a feel for the various Doctor Who series (which are collected into graphic novels periodically). The stories are short and stand-alone, but they do give a feel for what Titan has to offer. I also liked that the Doctor Who free book gave the readers stories, not simply advertising. There were also single pages with lists of all the graphic novels (as well on-going series) currently available or planned – this gives you a reading list, something very helpful when just starting or even for keeping up. (The DC Previews free book also had a catalog in the back, with release months, to help in planning and organizing purchases.) I enjoyed reading the Titan Comics book.

Finally, I picked up the FCBD issue of Suicide Squad, expecting something to tie-in to the upcoming movie. This book had a lot of advertising – some totally off-base (Why would someone reading Suicide Squad want to even know about Scooby Doo or Johnny Quest? And if the reader was that young as to be interested in kiddie books – Why would they be reading something as adult as Suicide Squad?) In between the ads, there was a story, mostly for Deadshot, with a few interludes with other characters that in the very last few pages proves to be a prequel to the new film coming out this Summer. So, overall, it was a good choice.

Again, I had an excellent time at Free Comic Book Day at Vault of Midnight. The weather was perfect. I enjoyed the three books I choose. And I picked-up several additional graphic novels which should keep me busy for a little while. I review completed graphic novels on GoodReads, so look for reviews there in the coming weeks.

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