The Pull List: Free Comic Day 2009

Last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. In case you’re not familiar, on this day — the first Saturday in May — comic book stores give away comic books for free to anyone who comes into their stores. Not all comics are free, however, and you should always check with your local comic shop to see what they will be giving away.

That said, the most recent Free Comic Book Day was a big success and our own John Cale was out there checking out all the free comics to bring you his picks of the best . Your local comic shop probably still has copies of these books so head on over and check ’em out.

Blackest Night #0 – DC – Free
Score: 9.0

Everything said about how good Geoff Johns and his ability as a writer rings true in DC’s offering for this year’s free comic book day.  Along with penciller Ivan Reis, Johns takes the reader to a very solemn moment in the DC history. Batman is dead. Having sacrificed himself during “Final Crisis”, Batman’s unmarked grave site is visited  by two heroes that Johns has become renowned for the rebirth of, the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and the Flash, Barry Allen. Though short in length, the issue provides a deep insight into Hal’s frame of mind as he discusses with Barry the death of Batman, something close to home for both men since he was a friend to them and both men had also been dead at one point as well.

They look to other heroes lost and, despite the comic book cliché’ of people returning from the dead,  show just what the loss of heroes like Batman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter means to their world. Likely because they are Johns’ favorite characters to write for, the interaction between Hal and Barry is perfect. One tries to be supportive and uplifting as the other is trying to deal with the gravity of the situation.
As the title implies, the issue ties directly in to the upcoming crossover from DC this summer with the same name. The second half of the issue acts half as advertisement for upcoming DC books and trades written by Johns as well as a introduction of the different color Lanterns. For those not familiar with the mythology behind the Lanterns (such as the new readers targeted by the Free Comic Book Day promotion), the pages explain the emotion, history, powers and weaknesses of each of the eight ring colors as well as showing some of the members.  Kept the most secretive is the Black Hand and the Black Lantern Corp, with many of its members unknown but looking to be characters of DC’s past that will rise from the dead.

On a personal note, in this issue Johns was able to do something not many writers have been able to do. Bring a mostly Marvel reader in to a DC story that he feels invested in. In this single issue, Johns is able to pull on the reader’s heart strings as he brings out emotions from iconic characters that the reader doesn’t need to know the detailed histories of to feel like they are part of the experience. Johns’ ability to make the reader understand that Hal and Barry feel the same way they do when they know Batman is really dead is a powerful example of just how valuable a medium comic books really are. Seeing Batman killed on a movie screen is  passive but to turn through pages that resemble a subtle eulogy help the reader be involved in the actual experience. All that said, in the coming months, expect “Blackest Night” and its tie-ins to become a part of this pull list.

The Avengers – Marvel – Free
Score: 8.0

Not to be outshone by rival DC’s tie in to their summer blockbuster crossover, Marvel comes out swinging with “The Avengers” and the first confrontation between the New Avengers team and Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. As opposed to giving throwaway stories with no implications to the Marvel and DC Universes, both companies gave stories that both new and existing readers could share in the experience of that would actually matter down the line. With writer Brian Michael Bendis telling the story through the point of view of Spider-Man, the New Avengers team gathers to help the god of thunder, Thor, take on Ymir, a elemental frost giant. Bendis’ decision to tell the story through the perspective of Marvel’s common man, Spider-Man, also gave an added level of comfort to new readers as he often feels out of place among and observing many super heroes, despite being one himself.

Inevitably, Norman’s team of Avengers shows up with intentions of defeating the giant themselves and taking the registration skipping New Avengers in to custody in the process.  As always Jim Chueng does a fantastic job drawing these avengers characters he has become quite familiar with, including a classic look at Venom who momentarily reverts back to his old form from the current media friendly Spider-Man he poses as.

The great part of the issue is that it is a tease of bigger things to come. There is just enough of a taste for the reader to know that ultimately at some point, these two teams will be colliding, head to head, with gloves off. Bendis knows he has much more story to tell in the mean time but he has already started turning up the pressure between the two entities.  The only fault in the book lies between some of the interactions of the opposing teams. Despite the grave situation they are a part of, some of Norman’s Dark Avengers seem almost neutered to how they’d behave, specifically Daken and Venom.

Regardless, the issue is great to introduce the sheer volume of characters to new readers that and gives them insight in to the current state of the Marvel world in the coming months should they continue their readership. Likewise, the issue is great fan service to long reading fans of the Avengers franchise.

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