Free Comic Book Day 2019 became a cause for a special celebration this year as it took place on Star Wars Day, May the 4th.
Depending on which comic books shops people visited, some readers were treated to cosplayers handing out the usual free samples, badges, toys and a whole lot more. And as usual, it’s time for another roundup of the best, the worst and the most bizarre titles which readers had their pick of in The Battle of the Books!
This year the traditional 2000AD vs Doctor Who battle is being shelved to make way for a clash of the sci-fi TV shows! Doctor Who has enjoyed increasing success over the past several years with their comics, becoming one of Free Comic Book Day’s best regular comic books through some risky storytelling.
But can Stranger Things from Dark Horse match up to it? In a shocking move, both comics have the same writer, Jody Houser, but which one will reign triumphant?
Unlike other years, which have featured multiple incarnations of the Doctor, this year’s adventure focuses solely on Thirteen, the latest. The Doctor, joined by her friends Ryan, Yaz and Graham, visit an alien carnival theme park and decide to enjoy themselves. However, after Graham loses at a Bevivian game of chance, he’s teleported away and joins their pool of prizes. Can the Doctor win him – and all the other kidnapped players – back?
If this was meant to be an introduction to some readers for the latest Doctor and to sell the new series – which it is – it’s gotten off to a shaky start. The quality of the artwork varies at times, although is mostly fantastic. The story, however, is incredibly weak with a plot that goes nowhere and suffers from a poor resolution, while the limited dialogue seems flat. There’s nowhere near enough character work to make them connect with readers – even those who are already fans of the show. The lack of multiple Doctors this time out doesn’t help matters either, and while it’s understandable it’s a risky move that doesn’t pay dividends.
Stranger Things (feat. Black Hammer)
It’s Saturday, and Steve Harrington is spending some quality time with his girlfriend Nancy. Nancy tells him that her brother, Mike, has been spending all of his time in the family basement since Eleven disappeared. Steve advises Nancy to get Mike to open up about his recent experiences, and that by talking about the problems of his friends he may also share his own feelings. As they all discuss what’s happened, Steve learns that there may be a way for Mike to reconnect with his friends: Dungeons and Dragons…
Meanwhile, in the world of Black Hammer, Madame Dragonfly guides the readers on a tour through her Cabin of Horrors teaching them about the history of the name behind the superhero of Spiral City. But when Jack Sabbath breaks the fourth wall, Dragonfly finds she has some explaining to do.
The Stranger Things story, while short, comes across like a deleted scene from the show… and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Even though it serves more as a recap of events, and offers very little in the way of anything new, it hits the right notes in establishing the characters properly. More than that, there are some small touches which evoke the comic books of the time (such as thought bubbles) – a neat trick, given the usual nostalgic ‘80s vibe of the show itself. As for the Black Hammer back-up feature, it’s absolute gold. Not only that, but the artwork and layout here is absolutely priceless, showing genuinely playful creativity, while the character movements seem to flow effortlessly between panels. Brief, but stunning work.
This may sound like a shocker, but of the two the clear winner has to be Stranger Things (featuring Black Hammer). This year’s Doctor Who falls flat even with a lighter tone, and is a serious drop in standards from the usual high quality on display. Stranger Things, by contrast, may not offer anything too new but it succeeds exactly where it should and comes across as a perfect accompaniment to the show. As for Black Hammer, it’s mad fun and made this issue even more of a must-have this Free Comic Book Day.