In a way, Free Comic Book Day is like the industry’s very own pilot season. New and old readers get the chance to pick up books they’ve never seen before, try stories and writers they might not have heard of, and (hopefully) ultimately be surprised by what they find. It’s in this spirit that we jump into FCBD 2016 to pick our absolute favorite offerings.
Here’s a list of the comics you can’t miss this weekend:
Love and Rockets
I’ve been reading Love and Rockets for the past few months, in no small part due to the Latino cast of artists and punks. Since the 80s, the Hernandez Bros. have been dishing out stories about punk rockers, b-movie actors, mechanics, and hopeless romantics, while also tackling immigration and LGBTQ topics. My favorite stories aren’t the ones of grand adventures or counter-culture — and there are lots of those in Love and Rockets — but of the more mundane things, like dealing with loneliness.
The FCBD Love and Rockets special showcases two of the latter type, two stories that pick up years after the first introduction of the two distinct cast of characters — Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez both tell their sprawling epics separately and they barely ever crossover — which is a ballsy move when trying to hook new readers for a new ongoing series that launches this summer. But this special is proof that you can pretty much pick these stories up anywhere in the timeline and relate to these characters. That’s a testament to great writing.
Fans of Grant Morrison shouldn’t be surprised by the ambition of the work he’s doing for Graphic India — cosmic epics starring gods and demigods who are fighting rid the Eastern world of darkness. 18 Days is a modern retelling of ancient Indian myths, while Avatarex is the story of a new Indian superhero who can shrink to the size of an atom or stand bigger than an entire solar system. Morrison examines these “perfect” beings, the ones who rule over our universe and precede the dark age of man, and shows just how flawed they really are. The artwork from Jeevan J. Kang is presented on a grand scale, wide shots of the beautiful universe these characters populate, giving the work the sense of wonder often found in many of Morrison’s other great books.
The second Doctor Who FCBD special from Titan showcases all four ongoing series with a collection of cool new short stories. Twelve and Osgood get into a bit of a bind in London, while Eleven does what he does best — inspire others to be better. My favorites are the stories starring Nine and Ten, two little adventures that couldn’t more different from each other. One’s a pretty “mundane” (to Doctor Who standards, anyway) tale aboard the TARDIS and the other is great romp with a really cool sci-fi concept I haven’t seen before. This book is a really good chance to see which Doctor Who book is for you. It’ll make that long wait to this year’s Christmas special just a little easier.
One of the great pieces of nostalgia this year is Hermes Press’ The Phantom special, which collects four stories from the 70s about the Ghost Who Walks. A particular treat is that art by legendary artist Jim Aparo, who would go on from his work on Charlton’s The Phantom to highly acclaimed run on the Batman comics.
While the stories in this collection aren’t exactly “sophisticated,” they’re a great entry point for readers interested in learning more about this pulp icon. I, for one, grew up with the 90s movie starring Billy Zane as The Phantom — a flick I hold dear to my heart — so this book is more than welcome. The Phantom’s origin story, supporting characters, and themes are all quickly introduced in the four stories, so you’ll pretty much have everything you need to know after reading them. Just in time for Hermes’ new ongoing Phantom series, which launches in August.
Fans of Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion’s webseries, Con Man, about an actor trying to make it big in the genre world after his sci-fi TV show is canceled, will definitely want to pick up Spectrum. The comic is based on the fictional TV show of the sme name, the one that has left Wray Nerely (Tudyk) wandering the halls of sci-fi conventions for his next break. The webseries is a not-so-subtle play on the untimely cancellaton of cult series Firefly after just one season.
Spectrum is the story of an Earth scorched by wars against several alien species. Now the planet is under attack once again and only one ma can save the day. While the story is quite grim, the real revelation is Sarah Stone’s (Transformers) artwork, which is just so much fun to look at. The book is just panel after panel of manic reds and blues and shadows, with explosions of bright greens and oranges, coming together for some post-Jock anime-inspired sci-fi action. Even if you’re not a fan of Con Man, next month’s issue #1 is worth picking up just on the art alone.
I was not aware of Tom Gauld’s excellent cartoons before reading through this excerpt of Mooncop, but that’s exactly what FCBD is for. Known for his cartoon series, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, Mooncop is Gauld’s foray into a much longer narrative about a friendly policeman on the Moon who loves donuts and coffee. The little excerpt is really funny, and also a bit melancholy, as Gauld’s cartoon characters effortlessly express hope and loneliness with the simplest of dialogue. Gauld gives us minimalistic beauty within these pages. Mooncop arrives in earnest in September.
Attack on Titan Anthology
Even if you don’t read manga and don’t watch anime, you’ve probably heard of Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. The franchise has grown very popular in the West and it’s only going to grow more popular with the new Attack on Titan Anthology, which is due out in October. The collection includes all-new stories in the Attack on Titan universe by talented creators, such as Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Scott Snyder, Afua Richardson, Michael Avon Oeming, Gail Simone, Genevieve Valentine, and many more.
The stories included in the FCBD preview are a hell of a proof of concept, too. Team Batgirl’s tale begins in the oddest of places and then twists into something even more weird. My favorite was Tomer and Asaf Hanuka’s story, which begins with a devastating series of panels that exemplify the intense emotion of Attack on Titan. If you’ve been on the fence about jumping into this series, this anthology should finally convince you that you need to go back and read/watch all of these stories.
DC Super Hero Girls
What if Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Katana, Poison Ivy, and all the rest of the DC characters you love were freaking out about their high school finals and not the latest threat to the multiverse? I wouldn’t necessarily call the conflicts in DC Super Hero Girls simpler than the ones their adult counterparts face — perhaps they’re even more complicated. DC Super Hero Girls, based on the action figure series, gives us a relatable look at our favorite female DC characters at a time when things were complicated in a different way, but with all the nuance and charm of, say, DC’s latest Batgirl run or Gotham Academy. This issue in particular, an excerpt from the upcoming graphic novel Finals Crisis, sees a teenaged Supergirl dealing with bullying and the impending doom of finals week.
Dark Horse is putting out some really great comics right now, and their FCBD offering is a great mix of their original books and stuff based on beloved franchises. The issue’s Serenity story offers up a touching fairy tale starring the entire crew of the Firefly-class ship. In Mike Mignola’s new Hellboy short story, our red protagonist has a meeting with a haunted mirror. And those Aliens: Defiance pencils from Tristan Jones deliver on the action while also giving us some stunning character work amidst a xenomorph attack. It couldn’t hurt to grab this book for some casual reading.
This one’s a reprint of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ relaunch of the Archie series, an excellent modernization of classic Riverdale with just as much humor, romance, and eating as you’d expect. This new take on one of the oldest cast of character in comics has been a big hit, and you should absolutely be reading it. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, we recommend picking this one up on Saturday!