It’s almost the most magical Saturday of the year! No, not Christmas Eve, it’s the first Saturday in May, which means it’s Free Comic Book Day!
For what will be the 15th year in a row, local comic book stores across the country — and across the world — will once more take part in the holiest of traditions: spreading the joy of comics. Dozens of publishers put together releases specifically for the day — at least 50 different comics will be released this year — that are then given away at comic book shops. The day is designed to help new readers discover the wonderful medium of comic books, but also has plenty to offer lapsed or veteran fans. In addition to major releases from publishers like Marvel and DC, there are always plenty of books featuring characters and stories you’ve never heard of.
With so many titles releasing on May 7, you may have a hard time deciding what books to try to hunt down, so I have put together what I think are the top 10 essential 2016 FCBD offerings. These are my personal opinions, and no slight is meant to the other books releasing — they are free, after all — and it covers a diverse sampling of books from superheroes to humor to sci-fi, and for readers young, old or somewhere in between.
How many per person varies from shop to shop, and most stores can’t order all of the titles (and they do order them, so please try to support your local businesses and buy something if you can), and the big titles will go fast, so be sure to get to your favorite pamphlet peddler early. And now, on to the comics …
10. ROM #0, from IDW Publishing
Everyone’s favorite Galadorian action figure, ROM the Space Knight, is back and rocketing into his own brand-new comic book series from IDW, co-written by IDW Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall and Christos Gage (Marvel’s Daredevil), with art by David Messina (Catwoman). The creative team also put together this 10-page prologue to the series for Free Comic Book Day, illustrating ROM’s arrival on Earth and the violent confrontation he immediately finds himself in. This story is the kind of action-packed Saturday-morning-cartoon-inspired goodness that you’ve been craving. The space-faring warrior clashes with Dire Wraiths and shows off his iconic armor’s incredible power, and what more do you want from a ROM comic? Also included is a prologue for another upcoming Hasbro-IDW collaboration, Action Man. John Barber (Transformers: Robots in Disguise) and Chris Evenhuis (Wynonna Earp) tell a tight passing-of-the-mantle story that moves at a suitably breakneck pace. A great little double feature for fans looking for some big, bold comic book fun.
9. Bongo Comics Free-For-All FCBD 2016, from Bongo Comics
Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics have always felt like the unsung heroes of Free Comic Book Day to me, and this year is no different. Unlike other publishers who put out samplers or teasers that try to entice you into buying upcoming comics, Bongo just puts out a good Simpsons comic.
This issue is chock-full of sensationally silly Simpsons antics, such as a Pie Man and Cupcake vs. Glutenus Maximus and Gluten Tag showdown, a videogame PSA from Milk & Cheese creator Evan Dorkin, a dentist visit that leads to a pitchfork-wielding mob, and more! Sharp writing, great cartooning, complete stories, and not only a single ad (on the back cover) make this one of the most simply satisfying books on the stands this Saturday.
8. DC Super Hero Girls #1, from DC Comics
This comic beat out DC’s other offering (a reprint of the New 52’s Suicide Squad #1) for one simple reason: Vice Principal Gorilla Grodd.
This kid-friendly super hero high school drama comic is part of a new cross-media initiative by DC featuring their Super Hero Girls in online animation, books, toys and graphic novels (the first of which this issue is a lead-in to) that aims to expose their library of female characters to young girls in a positive way. The story featured here has a lot to enjoy whether you’re a young girl, or just a fan of the DCU, as Wonder Woman and her girl gang take P.E. with Wildcat and fix fashion emergencies with Crazy Quilt in his Intro to Super Suits class, while Supergirl has major test anxiety. A top priority for anyone with a young daughter, and also an entertainingly goofy romp for superhero fans.
7. Valiant 4001 A.D. Special, from Valiant Entertainment
Valiant’s 2016 offering includes an original prologue to their big summer event, 4001 A.D. (which just released its first issue on Wednesday), as well as a healthy serving of previews for other recently-released and upcoming series, including Divinity II, A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong, Faith, and Bloodshot Reborn. The lead story by Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and Clayton Henry (Ivar, Timewalker) gives readers the background of katana-wielding cyber-warrior Rai — the lead of 4001 — and a break-neck tour of the giant satellite city he’s been exiled from known as New Japan. The all-to-brief tale effectively hooks readers into wanting more, as do the rest of the previews. Divinity II, Kindt’s other book with artist Trevor Hairsine (Eternal Warrior), is about a Soviet mission to the farthest reaches of the universe, and the godlike power some cosmonauts found there. The first series was phenomenal, and this preview will have you scrambling to give the new one a try. The rest of the three previews give you taste of the many varied corners of Valiant’s blossoming universe, with action-adventure, superhero, and gun-toting psychological thrillers waiting for you to try. Find out for yourself why Valiant is changing the game in shared-universe comic books.
6. Archie #1 FCBD 2016 Edition, from Archie Comics
Putting out a reprint of a recent book is a popular strategy for publishers on FCBD, and there is no reprint that you need to add to your collection more than this new edition of the rebooted Archie, from Eisner Award-winners Mark Waid (Daredevil) and Fiona Staples (Saga). The updated style of Archie has proven to be a smash-hit with fans new and old, providing a fresh and modern take on a classic property without losing any of the wholesome charm that has made the citizens of Riverdale such enduring icons. Navigate the perils of teenage-dom with Archie Andrews as he deals with music, Jughead’s shenanigans, the girl next door, and whatever the infamous “lipstick incident” is. This series has been met with renewed enthusiasm since it relaunched, and now is your second chance to get in on the story at the very beginning.
5. Dark Horse All Ages Sampler, from Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse is releasing two different samplers this year, but I had to give their all ages offering the edge on the strength of its lead story, the very first official Legend of Korra comic! Fans have been clamoring for more Korra ever since the animated series wrapped up its run, and this short by Michael Dante DiMartino and Heather Campbell is the first we’ve seen of a promised graphic novel series from the publisher, in the vein of their wildly popular Avatar the Last Airbender books. It’s worth the wait, however, because we get a touching look at the first meeting between a young Korra and her polar bear dog familiar, Naga. Backup stories from other popular kids franchises How to Train Your Dragon and Plants vs. Zombies make this one of 2016’s strongest all-ages offerings.
4. BOOM! Studios 2016 Summer Blast, from BOOM! Studios
Many publishers go the sampler route on FCBD, but none of the samplers are quite as jam-packed as BOOM!’s 2016 Summer Blast, which features a whopping six different short stories that will delight readers of any age. Featured are stories from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Mouse Guard, Adventure Time, Lumberjanes, Goldie Vance, and The Cloud. That’s right, in just one issue you get to see Ludo try to get rid of a cold, follow a young mouse linguist on a journey to learn the languages of all the animals, Finn and Jake trying to make it through a filthy dungeon un-touched, join the Lumberjanes on a plant identification hike, get introduced to mystery-solving hotel-heiress Goldie Vance, and locate a wishing stone in the wondrous world of The Cloud. Don’t miss out on this awesome anthology, featuring stunning artwork and unique storytelling from some of the brightest voices in the business, .
3. We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists, from Black Mask Studios
This FCBD offering is decidedly not for children, but if you’re looking for a comic with more mature sensibilities this Saturday, you cannot miss this book from upstart publisher Black Mask Studios. This book contains two stories: first, Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon and Josh Hood bridge the gap between the first volume of their hit series We Can Never Go Home, and the second volume, which will arrive later this year. Then, Matt Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan introduce readers to the brutal world of their new series Young Terrorists. Both stories are spilling over with a deliciously rebellious attitude, and feature appropriately gritty and moody artwork that presents grotesque violence in a way that would come across as gratuitous in less able hands. We Can Never Go Home provides an interesting glance into the lives of a couple whose lives are about to be changed forever, while Young Terrorists is a brutal character study of a young woman’s fight to survive—both her own father and the sadistic prison she’s ended up in. I haven’t gotten around to checking out anything from Black Mask yet, so this was my first exposure to the publisher, and I have to say I was extremely impressed. Join me in discovering this revolutionary new publisher this Free Comic Book Day.
2. Civil War II FCBD Edition, from Marvel Comics
The first weekend in May is not just a big “geekend” because of the free comic books, it’s also the opening weekend of some little film you may have heard of called Captain America: Civil War.
Well, Marvel Comics has heard of it, and they’re taking full advantage by releasing the opening salvo of Civil War II, the sequel to the 2006 mega-event that inspired the film. The issue is written by superstar scribe Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man) and drawn by Marvel’s artistic secret weapon, Jim Cheung (Infinity), and it really hits the ground running. The central conflict of the series — whether or not superheroes should act on predictions of the future — is introduced and put to the test against Thanos, and leaves enough grey area to let readers debate for themselves what side they’re on. Action-packed and beautifully drawn, this is the perfect follow-up to your trip to the movie theater this weekend.
And that’s not all in store for fans either, since the back half of the book — by veteran comic creators Mark Waid (All-New All-Different Avengers) and Alan Davis (Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders) — introduces the all-new, all-different Wasp! The story has a lot of fun putting the new character’s powers and personality on display, and ends with a clever twist that makes you immediately want to read it again.
1. Mooncop: A Tom Gauld Sampler, from Drawn & Quarterly
Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly enlisted the talents of You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack cartoonist Tom Gauld. The main portion of the publication is a preview of his upcoming graphic novel Mooncop, which is a somber but sincere story about — you guessed it — a cop on the moon. The officer is an endearingly eager character who dutifully helps out what few fellow citizens are left on the moonbase, and in this particular issue he helps find a lost dog. Quiet, reflective, wonderfully deadpan, and drawn with a beautifully careful and restrained style, this story is an absolute joy. The latter part of the issue collects several pages of Gauld’s comic strips from The Guardian that pokes fun at topics ranging from sci-fi/fantasy genre conventions to angry mobs, and brilliantly showcases the artist’s bookwormish charm. My personal favorite gags included “Jaws Reboot Possibilities” and “How to Submit you Spy Novel for Publication.” I was unaware of Mooncop before this, but now I can’t wait for the full graphic novel this fall, and I think if you give it a read you’ll be convinced too.
Pick up Mooncop this Free Comic Book Day. You literally have nothing to lose.