Ken Tucker reviews ''X-Men/Runaways'' and other titles available on Free Comic Book Day
Credit: X-Men/Runaways:

Ken Tucker on the Free Comic Book Day offerings

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day 2006: Two million comics will be given away at more than 1,800 comic book stores across the country. Publishers both big and small partake in this ritual (now in its fifth year), designed to keep the medium alive in an age of Internet and videogame entertainment — to draw the young and old back to comic books, for the unprecedented variety of genres and the talent that creates them.

Here are some quick mini-reviews of some of the books being given away:

X-Men/Runaways (Marvel)
A cleverly written encounter between one of comicdom’s most popular crews, the X-Men, and one of the best new creations, the Runaways, a group of empowered teen mutants who band together because their parents were… villains. In the free issue, written by the terrific Brian K. Vaughan (grown-ups: go read his DC comic Ex Machina, oh, right now), the two teams circle each other warily, introducing themselves to each other (and therefore to new readers) and preparing to fight a common foe, in a storyline to be continued in a subsequent issue of Runaways. This comic book also contains a fine summary of the Ultimate Spider Man series written by the fellow who is probably the most prolific and excellent writer of dialogue in comics today, Brian Michael Bendis.

Free Scott Pilgrim (Oni)
Scott Pilgrim is a highly regarded new entry from the independent publisher Oni — it’s an intentionally wacky book, with the title character an ordinary, non-superhero teen, as the book says, ”sworn to defeat seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to date the girl of his dreams.” This free issue — hence its title — is typical: Written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley in a black-and-white, American-manga style (i.e., characters drawn with large round eyes and exaggerated facial expressions), it showcases Scott attacked by a group of 16-year-old girl ”ninjas” (although they look like ordinary girls to the rest of us). Part fantasy, part realistic visissitudes of a teen, Pilgrim is what we used to called a ”funny-book,” and pretty darn funny at that.

Superman/Batman (DC)
If you’re from another planet (as so many superheroes are), you may not know the origins of Superman and Batman. This issue gives you their backstories, but writer Jeph Loeb is so clever that he makes the hoary myths of exploding Krypton and Bruce Wayne’s killed parents seem reasonably fresh, and, in teaming up the heroes to battle the villain Metallo, provides a nice dialogue exchange: A wounded Superman (yes, bullets made of Kryptonite can do damage) makes a feeble joke and a grim Batman says, ”Do me a favor, Clark — lose the sense of humor,” to which Supes replies, ”Do us both a favor, Bruce: Buy a sense of humor.”

Archie’s 60th Anniversary Bash! (Archie Comics)
The perennial teenager has not fared well in recent years, ever since long-time signature artist Dan DeCarlo stopped drawing him well before the artist’s death in 2001. (That’s a legal and moral tussle for another column.) This freebie, written and drawn by Dan Parent in a now-standard wooden, unimaginative style, strains a thin plot to have Archie encounter most of the characters in the Archie-universe, such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and even the much-missed Katy Keene. Even as kiddie entertainment, this is far too simple-minded a comic.

There are also anthology books being given away by the classiest publishers, such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, featuring major artists and writers like Michael Kupperman, Jordan Crane, and the French team of Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian, whose Mr. Jean and Get a Life stories are marvelous, adult looks at middle-class life.

Check ’em all out. For a list of stores and the titles available in your area, go to Tell ’em EW sent ya.