Monday, June 24, 2019


What Has Gone Before:

I’m reading and reviewing the Free Comic Book Day comic books sent to me by my pals at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. When I read and review FCBD comics, I look at three areas.

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want and be able to buy more of the same?

I score FCBD offerings on a scale of zero to ten. Each category is worth three points with the tenth point coming from my interest in seeing more of what’s ever in the book.

We begin with...

Stranger Things/Black Hammer [Dark Horse is another Free Comic Book Day issue that has me at a disadvantage. Though Barb and Eddie (my wife and son) watched at least the first season of Stranger Things and liked it a lot, I have not yet watched. As for Black Hammer, I bailed on the Hellboy Universe a few years back as it became more complicated and depressing. This comic would be my first exposure to either feature. The issue has a 12-page Stranger Things story by Jody Houser with artist Ibrahim Moustafa and a 12-page Black Hammer story by writers Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes with artist/letterer by David Rubin.

QUALITY: The Stranger Things story was so well-written that, even with my lack of knowledge of the series, I connected with its young characters and wanted to know more about them. Apparently, Houser is writing a prequel to the first season. I plan to read that and, as soon as possible, start watching the TV series. The Black Hammer story was just okay.

ACCESSIBILITY: The Stranger Things story was inviting to this new reader/viewer. The Black Hammer story didn’t change my disinterest in the Hellboy Universe. Mind you, I think there’s a lot of decent work being down in the Hellboy Universe and might give it another shot in the future via the omnibus editions.

SALESMANSHIP: First rate. I was directed to the existing Stranger Things volume and the prequel series. There was a checklist of the Black Hammer trades. There were house ads for The Umbrella Academy, the Hellboy omnibus editions and Polar, which looked interesting. I’ll see if it’s available through my local library.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.

Star Wars Adventures [IDW] features a 22-page story from a series called Tales from Vader’s Castle. It’s written by Cavan Scott and drawn by Derek Charm. Tales from Vader’s Castle is an anthology of alleged scary stories told by rebels who have invaded the castle of Darth Vader. These are suitable-for-all-ages stories with cartoon-style art. House of Mystery, it ain’t.

QUALITY: I wasn’t impressed. The format (rebels telling stories as they slink through the castle) is awkward. The story presented here was kind of meh.

ACCESSIBILITY: The Star Wars Universe is very complicated. I find myself frequently confused when reading Star Wars comics. The tale in this issue was fairly straightforward given the format. Readers more into Star Wars than me probably found it easier to follow than I did. Your mileage undoubtedly varies.

SALESMANSHIP: Good job. There’s a full-age house ad for Tales from Vader’s Castle and plenty of other ads for a variety of Star Wars comics. If a new reader likes this free comic book, those other ads constitute a virtual shopping list to other Star Wars comic books and graphic novels.

SCORE: Five out of ten points.


Robotech [Titan] features “Chapter 0" of a new series based on the re-imagined (for American television) anime series. I watched some of the American episodes and have read some of the earlier comic books based on the series. By no means am I proficient in the history of Robotech. This Free Comic Book Day offering has a 16-page story by  writer Simon Furman with art by Hendry Prasetya, color art by Marco Lesko and lettering by Jim Campbell; and a two-page story involving the singer Lynn Minmei by Furman, Campbell, and artist Sarah Stone.

QUALITY: The first story has a scattershot sequence of flashbacks that might have refreshed the memories of avid Robotech devotees but did nothing for me. Once I got past that sequence, I was much more interested in the well-written story. That lead story ended on an intriguing note. The second story was also quite intriguing as it opens with a tribute to a character who died and ends with that character appearing. I’m considering reading further.

ACCESSIBILITY: Not great. A “The Story So Far” summary doesn’t give new readers as much of a leg-up into the series as it should have. The flashback scenes in the story itself didn’t help much. I think I got more of a back story of Lynn Minmei in the two-page episode that followed the lead.

SALESMANSHIP: Solid. There’s an ad following the stories directing readers to Robotech trade paperbacks. The inside front cover plugs other Titan trades. The back cover ad is for a Robotech card game and a Robotech tabletop game.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.


Spawn #1 [Image] reprints Todd McFarlane’s first Spawn story from May, 1992. McFarlane is credited with story, pencils and inks with Tom Orzechowski on lettering and Steve Oliff on coloring. The cover is by Francesco Mattina.

QUALITY: Rereading this story for the first time in 27 years hasn’t improved my opinion of it. It’s not well-written, though I started liking the title more when McFarlane added more information on who Spawn had been and what was most important to him. This first story was lacking in the human drama. Even the art wasn’t as good as what McFarlane has been doing over at Marvel.

ACCESSIBILITY: Poor. Spawn is about to hit his 300th issue and this reprint doesn’t give the reader much of a leg-up. This free comic book could have used a lengthy “What Has Gone Before” summary for its inside front cover. There’s precious little connection between this story and whatever has been happening in the series in more recent times.

SALESMANSHIP: Marginal. There are several ads for Spawn collections in the issue and a back cover ad for Spawn #300. None of them are very enticing.

SCORE: Two out of ten points.

Look for more Free Comic Book Days in the weeks to come.

© 2019 Tony Isabella


  1. Tony,
    re: Black Hammer...
    This series (and its tie-ins) has absolutely nothing with the Hellboy Universe. Jeff Lemire (and his various artists) is creating his own universe.
    They just happen to both be published by Dark Horse. :)

    1. I was going to chime in with the same observation. I haven't read overly much of Black Hammer, Lemire's stated that it's the superhero comics he always wanted to write, before he actually got to write them, at the Big Two. I know there's a lot of DC lore in them, and obviously in the FCBD short.