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The good, the bad, and the humdrum of Free Comic Book Day 2014

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Sherwood Texas/Boondock Saints Double Feature

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It's the first weekend of May, a new Spider-Man film is in theaters and comic shops all across the country are offering free comics to all comers (while supplies last). It must be "Free Comic Book Day", now going on twelve years strong (and beginning when Sony's first "Spider-Man" film hit theaters). The same as last year, the supplier for this column's offerings was Galaxy Comics, located at 6825 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. As always, the freebies were piled high, and now it is time to see what was worth the trip and what was barely worth tripping over.

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Freebie of the day: Sherwood Texas/Boondock Saints Double Feature

As reported back in March, this is the offering by "12 Gauge Comics" which features the debut of a brand new series by writer Shane Berryhill and artist Daniel Hillyard, with colors by Charlie Kirchoff. The premise is a retelling of the "Robin Hood" mythology, only with the cast set in modern day Sherwood, Texas (which in real life is a ghost town, home to only 73 residents). Naturally, archers are replaced by gun men and instead of a land of ruffians, nobles, and knights, the landscape is recreated with biker gangs, tough men and a modern day Western vibe. Robin "Rob" Hood is back from the Navy to learn that his father, Richard "Richie the Lion" Hood has died and that his half brother Will is still running with the same biker gang, "the Jesters". Their enemies are the "Nobles" gang, led by "Prince", while Rob's squeeze Maria is the daughter of the sheriff of Sherwood. Unfortunately, Rob finds himself at the wrong side of both the "Jesters" and the "Nobles" by the end of the story. Hillyard's art is great, capturing the rugged flair of the series without bogging things down in too much "photo realism". Although one could argue that recreating the cast of "Robin Hood" as modern day biker gang members is a bit of a gimmick, but it still is an interesting one which the story plays straight. Part of the allure is seeing how well known members of the legends will be reborn, such as "Little John" or "Padre Tuck". The first issue hits stores in July for only a dollar, and the fifteen pages contained within are enough to spark interest for the series outright.

The second half of the feature is a "Boondocks Saints" story, co-written by the writer/director of both films, Troy Duffy. He is joined by co-writer J.B. Love and artist Toby Cypress in another action packed and amusing tale of vigilantism with Conner and Murphy MacManus, as well as their father Noah. The trio brave sea sickness and a hail of bullets to intercept a drug boat and slaughter everyone on board in a tale that takes place between the events of the first film in 1999. The tale is simple, brutal, and to the point with the series' trademark of dark humor. All in all, a satisfying one-two combination of the stories of tough guys, brutal villains, and lots of ammo.

The humdrum:

Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man X Flipbook #1: An action packed offering by Archie Comics, featuring their longest running video game license with one of their newer licenses from Capcom. Both are selling quite well for the company and are coming off a well received, gamer pleasing crossover. All stories within are written by Ian Flynn, who seems to be Archie's go-to guy for their video game adventure comics. "Sonic the Hedgehog" has been a part of the Archie family for over 20 years and has somehow managed to maintain a consistent continuity despite beginning as a comedy loosely based on the beloved ABC cartoon of the 90's and has outlived numerous Sega tie-in's and dated references to become a flowing narrative since. The theme of the flipbook is origins, and Lemar Wells, Gary Martin and Matt Herms provide art for a story about the origin of Sally, one of the "Freedom Fighters" who help Sonic and Tails defend their world from Dr. Eggman (formerly Dr. Ivo Robotnik). They are joined by inker Rick Byrant for the origin story of Rotor, the hi-tech walrus. On the flip side, Patrick Spaziante and colorist Matt Herms begin the story of Mega Man X, who exists in a future even further away than the traditional Mega Man where humans and robots can seemingly live in harmony, at least until the dreaded Sigma capitalizes on a crisis. The art for all three stories are eye popping, colorful, and kid friendly. The stories get into some thick exposition, but that's to be expected of origin issues. Overall, fun for gamers of all ages.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The first of two free offerings by Marvel Comics, each of which capitalize on the next Marvel Studios film coming down the pipe in August. This tome offers three short stories, two of which involve space and one is a prelude to "Spider-Verse", the upcoming "Amazing Spider-Man" event. The main "Guardians" story is by Brian M. Bendis and artist Nick Bradshaw, and features Tony Stark introducing the team to Flash Thompson, who is soon deployed to the space squad under his "Agent Venom" guise. The tale merely goes over some exposition about the characters amid a generic action sequence with Bendis' trademark choppy and terse dialogue which would work better in any other medium besides comic books (i.e. "Well, that went well," and lines such as this). Second is a Thanos strip by writer/artist/creator Jim Starlin which sees the mad Titan haunt the dreams of Drax as well as trespass into the realm of his beloved Death. The third is the "Spider-Verse" prelude by Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli which sees "the Spider" of the Neil Gaiman created "1602" continuity (in which the Marvel Universe debuted during the Elizabethan era) killed by Morlun, who seems to be hunting Spider-Man's counterparts from across reality. It is a gimmick that already smells like the 2001 Jet Li film, "The One". Considering that Marvel Comics often expect fans to pay for comics which are also samplers for future comics, this free offering does its' job well enough.

All Rocket Racoon: The second offering by Marvel Comics offers something more in line for kids, of the sort who will only come in for Free Comic Book Day (often dragged by their parents) and never again unless it's for manga. To this end, Joe Caramagna, artist Adam Archer and colorist John Rauch offer the beginning of a new era of space furry adventures. In this issue, Rocket and his crew (Wal-Rus and Groot) break into the vessel of the toad Lord Dyvyne and his cohort Blackjack O'Hare to rescue the kidnapped Princess Lynx. Unknown to Rocket is that she is a warrior princess who needs little actual rescuing. It all ends in one crown-stealing spectacle that is sure to delight readers of all ages. Less effective is an "Ultimate Spider-Man" story (based around the dreadful Disney XD cartoon) by Caramagna and artist Ty Templeton. It, frankly, is a shame to see such great art wasted on such a silly story. Regardless, the Rocket strip is more than worth it, and makes one wonder for a possible Rocket Raccoon/Sonic the Hedgehog crossover between companies.

Valiant Universe Handbook 2014 #1: Emulating the style of the well known "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe", Valiant Entertainment offers their fans something of a similar sort. It covers most of their main heroes and teams, at least those that headlined their own books for the past few years. It's a good way for new readers to catch up without having to surf the 'net. No more, or less, than what the cover suggests. The quality of Valiant's resurgence has caught many off guard in a good way, and this year looks to continue that streak.

The bad:

The New 52: Futures End #0: For the third time within the five "Free Comic Book Day" articles this column has now taken part of, DC Comics is owner of the day's dud. Despite the promise of the popular "Batman Beyond" version of the character on the cover, this offering is bleak, violent, and ugly. It kicks off another of DC Comics' weekly series for the year, involving a darker retread of the plot from "The OMAC Project" from 2006. In a dark future (the only kind DC Comics has) of 2049, the entire world has been ravaged by the sentient artificial intelligence Brother Eye, which has captured virtually every human and superhero on earth and turned them into horrifying cybernetic bugs. Even to jaded "fanboy" eyes, some of the art by Ethan Van Sciver is "nightmare fuel". As with all weekly series, it is written by a committee of writers; this one consists of Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen. Unsuspecting readers will get to see Flash, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern, Grifter, Amethyst, and even Bruce Wayne mutilated in a plot which sees Terry McGinnis going back in time to the current continuity to prevent the horrid future - in a plot which was old hat even in the late 1980's. Heck, one sequence is almost a panel for panel recreation of the "X-Men" animated series' episode "Days of Future Past" from 1993. Ever since mid-2011, DC Comics has seemed to become a refuge of a corporate wide mid-life crisis reliving all of the failed strategies of the 1990's with the editor-in-chief who literally ran Marvel Comics into bankruptcy at the helm of a ship even bleaker than the "Black Freighter" from "Watchmen". This is the opposite of fun, which may be the most honest sampler DC Comics could offer.

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