With more than 50 titles being offered up for the grand total of “FREE” on the unsurprisingly titled “Free Comic Book Day,” you might find yourself at a loss over what to pick up. Sure, if you’re not one of those “early birds,” or frequent a smaller shop, this quandary will resolve itself: there won’t be any to choose between.

Of course, the cynic in me would briefly point out that perhaps FCBD is less about providing readers with quality introductory fare, and more about publishers having a prime venue to push their latest wave of content. After all, I doubt many readers (new and old alike) are up for DC’s upcoming weekly series, Future’s End, either due to the financial stresses of a weekly, or the knowledge of New 52 canon I can only presume one will have to absorb. Or both. But, that’s not stopping DC from making it their main FCBD title.  They’ll also be offering up a special edition of Teen Titans Go #1, based on their latest Cartoon Network offering.

As much as I like Sholly Fisch, I would have liked a little variety in the cast of Teen Titans Go.  Not, you know, the EXACT same characters from before.

As much as I like Sholly Fisch, I would have liked a little variety in the cast of Teen Titans Go. Not, you know, the EXACT same characters from before.

Meanwhile, Marvel is using the opportunity to shill their upcoming film, with a Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as a Rocket Raccoon title. Never mind the fact that Guardians fans themselves haven’t been crazy about Bendis’ run, as well as the undeniable truth that Spidey and the X-Men are decidedly more recognizable by the new/casual reader.

So while the “big two” attempt to hook you on a pricey series or remind you of their upcoming film, it’s unsurprising that I anticipate the books from smaller publishers with a greater enthusiasm. I’ve still got my fingers crossed for Oni’s Courtney Crumrin and the 2000AD Special finding their way into my grubby hands, but I can safely say that any of you carrying a torch for Comix Tribe’s EPIC #0 best be a thirteen-year-old boy, or an individual sporting an unrelenting tolerance for jokes about rectal emissions. So, like I said, a thirteen-year-old boy.

Swirlietime

Get ready for a whole lot of this.

Alas, a predilection for poop is the least of this book’s worries, which I can safely say begins with Tyler James’ (author of The Red Ten plot. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (actually, unless I’m in close proximity, that might be difficult…but go along with the conceit): Eric Ardor is a teenager that has spent most of his high school education receiving swirlies from students that look like they performed a “rolling stop” at puberty, dressed in the sacred garb that is the Letterman jacket. Say what you want about this school’s bullying problem, I’d wager their football team’s undefeated.

And what’s the best way to let off steam after a day filled with pinkeye-producing peril? Well, Eric likes to forget his troubles at Meta-Tech Inc., where his friend Benjamin “Beans” Barnes is in the middle of an unpaid internship. And what sort of science is Meta-Tech engaged in? Polymers? Multi-core processors? A soda that’s 100% Aspartame? Nope. It’s genetics. Surprise.

Of course, no cutting-edge genetics research facility is complete without being helmed by a “morally gray” doctor that, driven by the death of a family member, has embraced the precepts of Transhumanism. Fairly certain that “must allow familial tragedies to inevitably shape research in a destructive fashion” is listed under his job requirements. I don’t even need to tell you that there’s a lab accident, and instead of perishing, Eric ends up with superpowers. The unstated rules of “comic book science” clearly state that evildoers die in explosions, while superheroes are born from them. And that’s Spider-Man for you. Wait, I mean, EPIC.

The tragedy here is that James’ story is not so much riddled with unadulterated badness, but minor missteps, that make EPIC more of a “paint-by-numbers” affair. See, Eric isn’t all by his lonesome when the explosion goes off…he’s actually chasing after Beans’ genetically-enhanced rat Sprinkles. Watching Sprinkles put his whole weight into pushing pieces across the chessboard, only to be promptly checkmated by Beans, was genuinely amusing. What does it say that watching animals suffer was the only thing in EPIC #0 that actually made me laugh? Well, that’s between my therapist and myself.

Personally? I woulda made the whole comic about this. Next week Sprinkles faces off against Bobby Fischer.

It stands to reason that James could have furthered Sprinkles’ anthropomorphic traits, or alternatively, bestowed rodent abilities upon Eric (the ability to gnaw through virtually anything, survive five story falls, withstand large doses of radiation, as well as develop a strong immunity to poisons…and that’s just from a cursory “Googling”). Instead, James KILLS Sprinkles, and gives Eric the “cliché cocktail” of superpowers: flight, superhuman strength, and the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes. While there’s a chance that he might not end up with x-ray vision or freeze breath, I wouldn’t hold my…dammit.

Now, I can’t fault creators James and Matt Zolman (pencils) for wanting to tell a teenage superhero tale. The comic book industry has favored “the grizzled and the grown-up” so much in recent years that DC Comics, with the recent cancellation of Teen Titans, has ended all of the titles in their “Young Justice” category. But EPIC’s “twist” on this narrative trope is that Eric “loses” these abilities around girls. So when Eric finds himself gazing at a Victoria’s Whisper billboard mid-flight, he plummets to Earth. When he’s pumping gazillions of reps, the bar comes crashing down after Beans shows him an image of a woman “eating” a Popsicle. Even looking past the fact that “the fairer sex as Kryptonite” has already been explored in comics like The Darkness, EPIC perpetuates the trope that Eric (as well as the readers) need an overcompensatory power fantasy to cope with their real or perceived inability to interact with women.

They really missed an chance to have her ask why he couldn’t “get it up.” Opportunity lost, I suppose.

The thought has occurred to me that perhaps EPIC #0 isn’t meant for me. After all, while not popular per se in high school, I certainly didn’t experience anything akin to James’ hyperbolic caricature of the experience. Eric’s your average Caucasian heterosexual male, who seems strangely bereft of the familial and societal pressures most of us had growing up…and that’s resoundingly boring. But that does beg the question: just who is EPIC’s target audience?

Off-handedly, you might say that it belongs in the less discerning hands of a youth. And while it’s true that EPIC is free of gratuitous violence and nudity, I certainly wouldn’t recommend a book where the jock Mitch Anderson addresses Eric as a “tampon-lick” and a “pube burger.” It’s gross; nobody talks like that, but this name-calling’s cardinal sin is that it’s resoundingly unfunny. However, if discussions of catheters and exclamations of “there’s dookie!” leave you in stitches, then EPIC is for you…you nondescript middle-schooler, you.

pubeburger

I…just…uhh…just read the panels. They speak for themselves.

Over in the art department, it’s just as much of a mixed bag. EPIC’s cover art is action-packed, detailed, and colorful, with great character expressions (especially the grimace on Eric’s face while he fends off T-Kong). Eric’s remark of “seriously ladies…not…helping,” cleverly simultaneously addresses the female bystander’s gawking and (presumed) Instagramming, as well as his general newfound plight with women. But EPIC has opted for the “bait and switch,” as Fico Ossio (pencils) and Arsia Rozegar’s (colors) fantastic cover, is followed by a very different aesthetic in Matt Zolman’s interior pencils.

I understand that Comix Tribe is, relatively speaking, a fledgling publisher, with limited resources. But they should at least understand to keep the art as consistent as possible in the first issue. By all means, go ahead and bring in different cover artists, or swap out artists mid-issue later on…but not in the first issue. Appropriately enough, it looks like Ossio will be handling cover and interior duties with EPIC #1, as Zolman’s obligations outside of Comix Tribe will relegate him to variant covers and the ilk for the foreseeable future. Overall, the future of EPIC’s art is promising.

coverepic

EPIC’s cover, obviously

However, the art of EPIC #0 hits a couple of stumbling blocks. As I hinted at above, the pencils switch from Zolman to Ossio for the final six pages of the issue. Normally I’d point out that this is verboten if the swap isn’t for narrative reasons (it isn’t) or if the two art styles are aesthetically dissimilar (they are) but I like Ossio’s energetic art enough (check out when Epic crashes into the rich gentleman’s car to see Ossio’s chops) that I’ve forgiven this transgression.

Yet Zolman’s pencils pose some minor problems for me. For example, I like his depiction of Epic’s rogues’ gallery; it’s varied and fun (even if it does seem to borrow the Avenger’s resident Asgardian as well as the Hulk) and Zolman draws action-packed and busier panels proficiently. But the some of the close-up shots (especially those of Eric) often leaves characters with a “derpy” expression, and in several instances, throws off the mood of a scene. In addition, many of Eric’s facial expressions when speaking seem recycled and have an odd open-mouth gaze to them. If anything, I prefer Ossio’s execution of Zolman’s designs.

This is Ossio’s work…as you can tell, there’s quite a difference.

In the end, it’s tough for me to criticize EPIC, even if my review might indicate otherwise. I love creator-owned comics, and their willingness to prove that fresh ideas and unique visuals can stand “toe-to-toe” with the “old guard.” But that doesn’t mean that indie comics or smaller publishing studios get to be handled with “kid gloves” either. And who knows? Maybe James and Zolman have cooked up some creative ideas that won’t have our titular protagonist being progressively thwarted by bikini-clad women or magazine centerfolds in upcoming issues. But speculation about the future of EPIC does not ignore the fact that this introductory issue is solidly average.

Overall Score
72 %

EPIC #0 is a run-of-the-mill teenage superhero origin story with stilted dialogue and art that runs from "faintly above average" to good.

Writing 65%
Pencils 70%
Colors 80%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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