Free Comic Book Day is back, bigger and better than ever. So big, in fact, that the following guide is necessary.
First, the details: On Saturday, the Comic Swap on South Fraser Street, will give away free comics. It’s not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story: The comics are free to anyone who shows up.
How can they do this? Well, the publishers spend a lot of money on the books, but they can write it off, at least partly, as promotion. Ditto the comic shops, who pay a nominal fee for each book. So, on the commercial end, they’re anything but free.
But to you and yours, the books are free.
And this year, there are 60 of them. They range from comprehensive stories to catalogs, from all-ages stories to adults only. With 60 books from 40 publishers, there’s bound to be a wild variety. So what do you zero in on first?
That depends on what you want, of course. And you can see a comprehensive list at freecomicbookday.com, or my website, comicsroundtable.com. But if you’re looking for a little general guidance, here are some handy categories:
Head straight for the “Archie Comics Digest.” The Riverdale gang is timeless fun for kids of all ages, by some of the best creators in the biz. And at a whopping 96 pages, Archie says, “We challenge you to find a Free Comic Book Day offering with more pages than this!”
And while you’re at it, pick up DC’s cartoon-related “Teen Titans Go,” find the Disney ducks in “Uncle Scrooge: A Matter of Some Gravity!” and check out the Simpsons crew in the “Bongo Comics Free-For-All!” Dark Horse offers an all-ages triple threat in a book titled, appropriately, “Avatar/Itty Bitty Hellboy/Juice Squeezers.” Plus you’ll find favorites like Hello Kitty, Jellaby, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Scratch 9 (the supercat), Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man, the Smurfs and Spongebob Squarepants in comics with those names right on the cover.
For mom and dad
The kids get free comics, but you get some homework. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the organization that tries to protect your right to read from censorship, has two books that should be required reading. “Defend Comics” is a light-hearted look at a serious topic, censorship. “Raising a Reader” is a guide to what skills your kids can learn from comics, how to use comics to start dialogs, what resources are available in graphic novels, and other cool parent-y stuff.
Capes and cowls
What’s comics without men and women in Spandex? Let’s hope we never find out.
Marvel Comics is looking forward to its next blockbuster movie with two books, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Rocket Raccoon.” The former book guest stars Captain Marvel and a mystery character (it’s Venom), who likely won’t be in the movie but may join the regular “GotG” title. The latter book stars the cranky outer-space rodent who loves guns and hates to be called “Rocky.”
DC Comics doesn’t have a big movie coming up, but it does have a big storyline called “Future’s End” that it teases with a book of the same name. “Future’s End” will be published weekly — no, that’s not a typo — beginning Wednesday, and will explore a threat to TV’s “Batman Beyond”: an army of cyborgs that look a lot like the Justice League! (Cue dramatic piano chord.)
DC isn’t the only publisher using FCBD to tease upcoming series. Image Comics offers “Rise of the Magi” No. 0, about a fellow named Asa who gets caught up on a magical war. “The Magi are awake and they are legion,” Image warns, “And only seven magicians, sorcerers, thieves and killers can stop them. But as Asa will soon find out, among thieves, there is no honor.” The first issue of the ongoing “Rise of the Magi” arrives in late May.
No. 4 publisher IDW is teasing two different series on FCBD. New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry brings his vampire novels to comics with “V-Wars.” And “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe” showcases a new ongoing series combining two of the biggest pop-culture titans of the ‘80s.
Meanwhile, Dark Horse has been sneaking up on having a line of superhero comics by introducing various heroes, one by one, who seem to have nothing in common. DH tips its hand a little, though, with “Project: Black Sky” on Free Comic Book Day:
“When a biological weapon is hijacked from a secret facility in Nevada, the president calls in two of his top guns: Captain Midnight and Brain Boy!” reads a press release. “Will the two disparate heroes, a time-displaced inventor from World War II and a snotty psychic Secret Service agent, be able to work together to the stop the threat released from Block 13?”
Well, I assume so, but I’ll be interested to read the details!
Upstart Valiant Comics is also launching a big summer story with “Valiant: Armor Hunters.” This is the first chapter in a story that will engulf several books over the summer, as aliens arrive on Earth to destroy the armor worn by X-O Manowar – and they’re not too picky about collateral damage. To help new readers, the publisher is also helpfully offering a “Valiant Universe Handbook.”
Looking for something a little different? How about “The Fall of Fantine”? That’s a chapter from the manga version of “Les Miserables”! Or maybe the black humor of “Zombie Tramp” is what you’re looking for (and, yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like). The upcoming Tom Cruise movie “All You Need Is Kill” came from manga, and Viz Media offers a taste of that story. How about a sample of Shigeru Mizuki’s “A History of Japan” for the histor-o-philes? And for fans of “Star Wars,” there’s a steampunk version from Antarctic Press, called — naturally — “Steam Wars.”
And, yes, there’s still more. But take a look for yourself — and then take a look around the shop. It doesn’t cost anything to look, and learning about the enormous world of comics is an adventure in itself.