Free Comic Books! I have read! For your education! Before you pick them up! Tomorrow! On Free Comic Book Day!

So, yeah, X-MEN / RUNAWAYS? It’s kind of Eh, which is both surprising and depressing. I’m a big fan of Brian K. Vaughan normally, but due to stagefright, deadline or editorial edict, he somehow managed to write a lead story for this book that’s devoid of any of his usual wit or even anything resembling an interesting plot: The Runaways meet the X-Men, they fight, and then they don’t. The end. It’s a waste of a lot of good characters and a potentially interesting situation, not to mention Skottie Young’s cartoony art. The other features in the book – a new Franklin Richards strip, a preview of the new Marvel Adventures: The Avengers book, and a recap of Ultimate Spider-Man to date – feel pretty much like the filler that they are. DC, meanwhile, fields two free books, both reprints: SUPERMAN / BATMAN #1 is, well, it’s Superman/Batman, which means that Jeph Loeb does the writing equivalent of speaking very loudly as if you are stupid while Ed McGuinness provides bouncy bright pop superhero art. It’s fun, and has origin-recap and easy-to-understand-plot action, but hardly essential (S/B didn’t hit its “What the fuck” stride until the second issue, when time-travelling Supermen tried to kill Batman with the Batmobile from the ‘60s TV show). JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #1 reads like a weak episode of the TV show, or alternately, a fill-in from a ‘70s issue of JLA; the plot is servicable, but lacks the humor or random guest-stars of the cartoon. S/B: Good, JLU: Okay, but one year I would love to DC put out something great as their free book. Imagine if they’d put together a bumper edition of Grant Morrison’s JLA Classified arc, for example… You’d still get the McGuinness art from S/B, but it’d be accompanied by crazy dumb action, all of the main DCU characters, and a lead into Seven Soldiers.

AMELIA RULES!: FUNNY STORY: I’ve never read any of this series before, but it’s well-done for what it is. Aimed at what used to be called tweenagers back when I was young, it manages to walk the fine line between avoiding patronizing its readers and avoiding depressing them. There are some fun running jokes and visual gags, but it’s not an overly comedic book – Imagine Gilmore Girls for kids, and you’re kind of there. Good.

ARCHIE’S 65TH ANNIVERSARY BASH: The Archie books are kind of reviewproof, and this one more than most, because there’s no real story. Archie gets upset about the prospect of moving, wanders around meeting the star of almost every other Archie title, cheers up upon discovering that he’s not moving after all, and then celebrates the 65th anniversary of his comic book. That last part is kind of weird; Archie starts staring at the reader and saying “What?! Our comics have been around for 65 years?!” in some uncomfortable fourth wall breaking move that almost freaked me out as much as some of the reader art at the back of the book. Eh, because, you know, what else can I say? It’s an Archie book.

BLUFF & TALES FROM A FORGOTTEN PLANET: Narwain preview two of their upcoming books in this glossy special that makes you… not exactly want to pick up those upcoming books. Bluff is the more successful of the two, a story of a stray dog and his flea friend trying to come to terms with a stereotypical American family as seen by Japanese creators Giovanni Masi and Yoshiko Watanabe. There isn’t an original joke in it, nor really any funny ones, but at least it’s not as bad as The Stellar Losers, the preview strip from Tales From A Forgotten Planet, which is just not good at all. You know that Sci-Fi show Tripping The Rift? The really appallingly unfunny one? Stellar Losers is much, much worse. Crap.

BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL!: Yes, it’s all reprint, but it’s worth picking up for the first panel alone. Possibly the only comic that recognizes that Free Comic Book Day is all about people who are already reading comics – because, really, who else would want to go into a comic book store on a Saturday when the sun is shining? – this collection of comic-centric Simpsons strips ploughs a narrow field very deeply. Or something. I’m kind of tempted to pick up a Simpsons book that costs money now, which may mean that they’ve succeeded with their nefarious ploy. Bastards! Evil evil bastards who do Good comics!

DARK HORSE’S STAR WARS AND CONAN FREEBIE BOOK: And, no, that’s not the real title, but I didn’t want to write STAR WARS/CONAN for some reason. Anyway, the Star Wars strip, taking place during the last movie, handily ends with a post-modern moment where the main character reviews his own story: “Routine - - About what we expected.” Except, in this non-Clone War world, “routine” is replaced by “bland”. Being medically immune to the charms of Conan, I feel entirely unequipped to pass judgement on what seems like a run-of-the-mill barbarianarama, although the Paul Lee/Dave Stewart art combo is very pretty indeed. The very definition of Eh, for me, but I’m really not the target audience for this kind of thing.

FUNNY BOOK #2: I like to pretend that the real title of this book is the full version of what it says at the top of the front cover: “The Fantagraphics Funny Book For Mature Readers,” because, really, that’s much better. Not that there’s much else about this book that could be much better, because any collection of humor stuff by people like Jason, Michael Kupperman and Mark Martin for no money whatsoever may be close to perfect in the world of comics for no money whatsoever. Very Good, and the stand-out for me is R. Kikuo Johnson’s one pager, which makes me want to rush out and buy everything else he’s ever done. Guess I should’ve paid attention to all that Night Fisher hype, then.

FREE SCOTT PILGRIM: You know those things that you love with far too much love for your own mental health? This is one of those things for me – It has almost everything that I love about Scott Pilgrim, and he fights multiple Lindsay Lohans. Well, kind of. Anyway, what else could you want? Excellent, and thankfully the back-up strip premiering Mignola-meets-Yo-Momma book, Fearless Griggs, doesn’t let the side down. Kate thought it was all kind of stupid, but that can only be a good sign.

FUTURE SHOCK: Image takes the easy way out, showing four page previews of upcoming issues of ongoing Image books. Considering two of those books are Spawn and Shadowhawk, it should probably be avoided unless you want to feel the desire to swear off comics for the rest of your life. Crap, because, dude. Four page previews? Not even complete stories? Lazy.

GI JOE: SIGMA 6 #1: I remember when GI Joe was about people in the army, but it seems that “Sigma 6” means “Really really like the Centurions cartoon when I was a kid”. In terms of writing and art, it’s very Saturday morning cartoon, even down to the unfunny joke endings with the bad guys humiliated. Eh, but somewhere there’re probably a million GI Joe fans waiting to tell me why I’m wrong.

MR. JEAN: Drawn and Quarterly’s offering is a strange mix of French sophistication and Moomins. The excerpts of Mr. Jean are reminiscent of what would happen if you mixed early-Alec Eddie Campbell and Rian Hughes (which is to say: gentle stories bemused by the way people act in relationships with stylish, slightly-retro art), but the real gem of the book is Jean creators’ Dupuy and Berberian’s autobio work about creating Mr. Jean, excerpted from the upcoming Maybe Later graphic novel… Excellent stuff, and well worth a look. The Moomin strip, on the other hand, is very strange and nostalgic for me; I grew up with the Moomins on TV, and even then they were somewhat unsettling.

OWLY: I’ve already moaned to Brian, Jeff and Nora about how much I dislike Owly, so I won’t repeat myself here. It’s nothing to do with Owly itself; it’s well-done and those who get it really like it, but… It’s so twee it makes my toes curl. I kind of liked the first book, but by midway through the second, I was wanting Owly to finally crack and stop helping every single other animal that comes his way. It’s a cruel world out there, Owly! Wake up and smell the coffee, ya dumb owl! Stop smiling all the time and eat that damn worm like you know you want to! DOOOOOOOO IIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTT! Ahem. Okay, probably. I don’t know.

THE PREPOSTEROUS VOYAGES OF IRONHIDE TOM: The bastard son of a drunken sailor and a hurricane, Ironhide Tom is a stickman pirate with a penchant for exclamations like “Cowpies!” and “Nightsoil!” when he gets in misadventures. Which, apparently, happens a lot. It’s very stupid and very, very funny – Probably my favorite of all of the FCBD books this year. Excellent, and the source of a whole host of new cursewords.

TOKYOPOP SNEAKS: A nice little freebie trade, this one has the first chapter of three new OEL books that they’re putting out… which is kind of its downfall. The first two previews have exactly the same set-up (Kid in new school, doesn’t fit in) and stop before getting to what would presumably differentiate them from each other, giving the book a feeling of “Oh, Tokyopop has a generic house plot for new series” (The third preview, however, is for Sea Princess Azuri which unsurprisingly is about a Sea Princess and doesn’t have any new school horror whatsoever). Being a dirty Westerner, Alex DeCampi’s Kat and Mouse is the story that worked best for me, but even that felt uncertain and a bit forced – Definitely different from her Smoke series from IDW, so she should be applauded for her versatility, but not as good as Smoke, either. In terms of value for (no) money, however, it’s the best package. Good for the format, Okay for the content.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE PREVIEWS THAN MEET THE EYE: Somehow, something has gone so wrong with the world that there are four different Transformer series being previewed here, and yet each one reads like it’s been written by Chris Claremont’s robotic twin. I used to love the Transformers when I was a kid, and yet reading these previews is like trying to learn a foreign language by flipping through a French version of Ulysses. Eh, and I mean that in the sense of “Eh?”

VIPER COMICS PRESENTS #1: Josh Howard’s Dead@17 gets a movie-trailer-style preview (lots of disconnected images with a character’s vague narration) that fails to tell me anything about what it’s all actually about… Something of a running theme with a lot of the FCBD preview books this year, but personified by all four strips in here. Of the shorter previews, Museum of Terror and Emily Edison offer something resembling bemusement, and something called A Bit Haywire felt more than a little forced. I’m sure that if I was about ten years younger and had never seen Buffy (or almost any mainstream pop culture for that matter), I’d like it more, but for now? Eh.

There’s also a Wizard freebie, which is best avoided unless you have a ghoulish curiosity about why they’d reprint last year’s freebie which was itself a non-updated reprint of their favorite trade paperbacks from a few years prior… There are actually a lot of other books available, if your retailer – who doesn’t get them for free, and therefore may have to make some terrible Sophie’s Choice type decisions about what makes the cut and what doesn’t – has somehow managed to pull in everything put out for this year’s event. A full list is here, but that list I’ve just run down is already a pile of comics heavy enough to knock out any burglars who creep into your house in the middle of the night, and isn’t that why we all want free comics? Exactly.