We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 
 We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 

A Guide To Free Comic Book Day 2017: The Don't-Misses And The Near-Misses

By Glen Weldon | NPR
Friday, May 5, 2017

This year, Free Comic Book Day turns sixteen years old.

The good news: It can drive itself to swim practice now!

The bad news: When you ask it to drive its younger siblings Record Store Day and Independent Bookstore Day to Gymboree it'll give you THAT LOOK IT GETS and spend the rest of the day sulking.

Here's the gist: Walk into a comic shop this Saturday, May 6, and you'll get some free comic books.

You can find your closest shop by typing your ZIP code into the Comics Shop Locator on the www.freecomicbookday.com page.

And here's the caveats:

  • Some comics shops don't take part in Free Comic Book Day — before heading out, check with the Comics Shop Locator to make sure your local shop is.
  • Publishers print special Free Comic Book Day editions of the books that will be handed out on Saturday.
  • There are 52 different FCBD books this year.
  • Not every shop will offer all 52 titles. Some stores lay them out and let you pick the ones you want; other stores hand you a sampler pack.
  • If you do get your choice of books, the minireviews below might help you find the ones you're likely to like.
  • If you don't get a choice, hey: free comics.
  • While you're there, buy something.
  • Seriously: Buy something.
  • Buy SOMEthing. The comics shops still have to pay for the "free" FCBD books they stock, and they're counting on the increased foot traffic to lift sales, so be a human being. And buy something.
  • How will you know WHAT you should buy? Ask someone on staff at the comics shop. It's that simple. Tell them what kind of movies you like, what kind of books, what TV shows you binge on. They're trained to make recommendations in line with your tastes.

Most publishers offer books that provide brief excerpts from several of their titles — let's call these samplers.

Others present a self-contained story, or different stories about the same characters — let's call these singles.

Singles offer a more satisfying reading experience, of course, but samplers are a good way to acquaint yourself with a cross-section of different writers, artists, characters and storylines.

The books are rated by age-appropriateness, but of course there's always wiggle room with that.

As a general rule:

ALL-AGES: Akin to a G-rating. Little Bobby or Susie will read it with delight.

TEEN: Akin to PG. Little Bobby or Susie might need help with some words or concepts.

MATURE: Hard R. "Daddy? Mummy? What's 'disembowel' mean? And why are those two people's hips kissing?"


ALL-AGES: SAMPLERS


Title: BOOM! Studios Summer Blast

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Another year, another BOOM! FCBD book, another Mouse Guard short story from David Petersen. That's not a complaint. This one's about an adventurous mouse who stumbles into danger, and it's gorgeous. Also features an excerpt from Brave Chef Brianna, about a cook who tests her mettle by opening a restaurant in a city of monsters. And there's a bit from Coady and the Creepies, about a traveling punk band that gets into some supernatural scrapes.

Anything Else? Brave Chef Brianna is a lot of fun — and includes a recipe! For Brazilian Cheese Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches! Coady's dealing with some dark themes that, in this brief excerpt at least, don't yet break the surface.

Verdict? A nice, diverse sampler. Pick it up.


Title: Buffy: The High School Years/Plants vs. Zombies

Genre: Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? It's pretty much all right there in the title. Stand-alone stories from Dark Horse's Buffy The Vampire Slayer graphic novels, as well as their series of graphic novels that pit the armies of the undead against sentient, weaponized plant life. Based on the cellphone app. Much like Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

Anything Else? Honestly? Nope.

Verdict? I mean ... sure? I guess? If you're a fan of Buffy, or zombies, or chlorophyll?


Title: Colorful Monsters

Genre: Fantasy/Humor/Overweening Cuteness

Anything I Need to Know Going In? This. This right here. This is the stuff. Four lengthy excerpts from Drawn & Quarterly's cute monster books: The venerable Moomin, by Finland's Tove Jansson, offers a wonderfully elliptical tale of a not-particularly-smart hippo and one of his shadier friends. The excerpt from If Found ... Please Return to Elise Gravel features what are presented as pages from the Canadian cartoonist's notebook; it's a bright, colorful and quirky paean to drawing, imagination, and creativity. French cartoonist Anouk Ricard's Anna & Froga looks like a lot of other powerfully cute, funny-animal-friends comics, but it carries a slyly acerbic tinge that keeps things grounded and funny. Finally, an excerpt from Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro has one of that manga's more unsavory characters attempting to peform a good deed. Doesn't go well.

Anything Else? This is the thickest of this year's FCBD books, and thus the best "value" for your ... um ... not-money? And none of it is filler — just quality cartooning, from international writer/artists, that provides an excellent primer to their work.

Verdict? If you get no other FCBD book, get this one. If the store runs out of copies, rip one out of some little kid's hands, if you have to. (Don't do that.) (I'm just saying though: Them little tykes got lousy upper body strength.) (Kidding ha ha ha.) (... Also their little hands'll probably be slick with like snot or ice cream or what have you, so.)


Title: Help the CBLDF Defend Comics

Genre: Educational

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Every year, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund — an NGO dedicated to protecting comics from bans and other First Amendment infringements — puts together an FCBD book with stories that explore the intersection of comics and free speech. This year's crop of seven stories is diverse and engaging, and comes at the notion of free speech in oblique and clever ways.

Anything Else? One story invites readers to write their own dialogue in blank word-balloons. So not so much a story about free speech, and more a story that's ... speech-free. No one is forcing you to read this post.

Verdict? Yep.


Title: Hilda's Back!/Garbage Night

Genre: Fantasy/Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? British cartoonist Luke Pearon's Hilda series, about a headstrong little girl's adventures through a Nordic mythscape, takes a very odd, and very welcome, turn. Features a wordless passage that's suspenseful and funny. Also included: Jen Lee's Garbage Night, a surprisingly melancholy tale of a dog, raccoon and a deer left behind to scavenge food after a human apocalypse.

Anything Else? If you like Hilda — and if you've got two eyes and a heart, you will — there are plenty of graphic novels available. But Garbage Night won't be available until June. I'm eager to see more: Lee's creating a nice tension by setting her funny-animal-comix against the bleakly beautiful backdrop of an empty, semi-ruined suburbia.

Verdict? Definitely.


Title: Kid Savage/Pix

Genre: Science Fiction/Superheroes

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Kid Savage follows the adventures of a mysterious feral boy fending for himself in a hostile world, who's rescued by human space explorers. Pix is a much sunnier tale of a young teen superhero.

Anything Else? Joe Kelly (of I Kill Giants, among several other books) writes Kid Savage, which is why you should trust that the strained lyricism of its opening pages will ground itself eventually. Ilya's art is visceral — literally, there's a lot of monster-gutting, for an all-ages book — and kinetic. Pix feels markedly different, more straightforward, for younger readers.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: Miraculous/Kid Sherlock/Toyetica

Genre: Superhero/Mystery/Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Miraculous is based on a French CGI-animated series about two teenage superheroes. Kid Sherlock is ... exactly what the name suggests. And Toyetica is a surprisingly dense — and, it must be said, densely worded — comic about fairies, civil rights and ... toy manufacturing.

Anything Else? These brief excerpts don't provide a particularly clear sense of each title, though Kid Sherlock is crammed with fun background details that fill out its world. The Toyetica excerpt has a lot of world-building to do, and its thus crammed ... with exposition.

Verdict? Not one of this year's standouts.


Title: The Overstreet Guide to Collecting

Genre: Educational

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Overstreet produces price guides to collecting comics, comics art, posters, and more. This year, as every year, they're offering an FCBD book that provides a whistle-stop tour of the basics of comics collection (how to collect, what's available, what the various comics Ages and grades mean). Not for nothing, the book also hawks Overstreet's various guides.

Anything Else? Friendly advice, offered — literally — freely.

Verdict? Perfect for those just getting their feet wet. Less so for those already treading the turbid waters of nerdery.


ALL-AGES: SINGLES


Title: Animal Jam

Genre: Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Based on "the world's largest online playground where kids can learn about nature," this tale introduces us to the Zootopia-like world of Jamaa, where talking animals live and play together.

Anything Else? This one's a bit of a puzzle. The simple characterizations and achingly sweet sunniness of the book feel aimed at very young kids, but the panels are weighed down by dense word balloons filled with concepts that might leave those very young kids mystified ("The portal! It's becoming a vortex!"). Plus, it's loaded with filler — nearly half the book's nothing but ads hyping various other titles. Can't begrudge them that, of course, but it leaves the book feeling thin.

Verdict? If your kids (or, for that matter, you) are familiar with the online world the book's based on, maybe. Otherwise, skippable.


Title: Bad Machinery

Genre: Mystery

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Run, don't walk. This is just great. Excerpts the opening pages of the latest graphic novel (available this month) in British cartoonist John Allison's series about a group of friends who investigate mysteries in an around an English grammar school. Allison's design work is friendly and approachable, and his dialogue exudes a unique energy that feels authentically teen without seeming archly quippy.

Anything Else? Allison's particularly good at capturing the shifting dynamics of school friendships — the ephemeral emotions that flare up and cool, the rivalries that turn into friendships, and vice versa.

Verdict? Absolutely, yes.


Title: Barbie

Genre: Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? At last, the gritty Barbie reboot for which millions have clamored! Everyone's favorite big-eyed, wasp-waisted, gender-role-absolutist chunk of extruded plastic crawls through a ravaged, post-apocalyptic hellscape, sustained only by her thirst for revenge and the irradiated flesh of rabid scavenging nah just kidding it's about fashion.

Anything Else? In an excerpt from Barbie: Fashion Superstar, Barbie struggles to create a garment that reflects her unique vision. In Barbie: Star Light Adventures, she's a planetary princess aided by her friends Sal-Lee, "a hoverboard racing legend" and Sheena and Kareena "who are gravity geniuses." Like that's a thing.

Verdict? Star Light Adventures is pretty disposable, but there's a nice message about trusting yourself in Fashion Superstar. So maybe. Depends on your kid.


Title: BONGO Comics Free-For-All!

Genre: Humor/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Yeah, it's a bunch of different stories, but they're all squarely in the Springfield of The Simpsons.

Anything Else? Standout stories include one in which Homer and Bart try to pull an all-nighter, and a Rod-and-Todd-Flanders spotlight.

Verdict? As ever, yes.


Title: DC Superhero Girls

Genre: Superhero/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? DC's "fashion-doll" toyline — which features Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Bumblebee and others, who attend Super Hero High — gets a comic. You are perhaps by now picking up a recurring leitmotif in many of these FCBD books. Like those others, this is determinedly earnest, if a bit blandly corporate. You know how you can read something and know in your gut that at some point, the guys in marketing signed off on it?

Anything Else? This issue — an excerpt from (sing along, you know the words) one of the DC Superhero Girls graphic novels — is Wonder Woman focused, timely enough. Zeus, her estranged father, asks her to spend summer vacation with him on Mount Olympus.

Verdict? If you're looking to have the DC heroes get their hooks into your kid, this'll probably work.


Title: Doctor Who

Genre: Science Fiction/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? A satisfying tale that cleverly integrates all four New-Who Doctors. Gets a little needlessly convoluted, but that's Who for you.

Anything Else? Opens with a very basic primer on the Whoniverse, which is helpful if you're trying to indoctrinate a Normal.

Verdict? At one point The Doctor introduces himself as "your sort-of-grumpy space uncle." So, duh, yes.


Title: Fresh Off the Boat

Genre: Superhero/Humor/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Characters on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat wrote a comic in the Season 3 episode "Pie vs. Cake," and here it is. Synergy doesn't get more ... cross-platformy. Plot: the Huang family gains super powers, and proceeds to fight crime — the crime of bad restaurant tippers.

Anything Else? Fun book, great pedigree. Written by Gene Luen Yang, with art by the versatile Jorge Corona, who's working in a Gabriel Ba/Rob Guillory vein here, if that means anything to you.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: The Loud House

Genre: Humor/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The Nickelodeon animated series about a family of 11 squabbling kids gets a tie-in comic.

Anything Else? Solid, family-friendly gags; does a lot with a big cast.

Verdict? Sure.


Title: Monster High

Genre: Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Mattel's monster-themed "fashion-doll franchise" — starring the "clawesome" "ghoulfriends" Draculaura, Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf and yeah you get the general idea — gets a comic in which the characters — imagine if the Bratz dolls worked at Hot Topic — prepare for the science fair.

Anything Else? Um. Frankie Stein is a high-fashion, mini-skirted, chunky-shoed, stitched-together corpse who owns a adorable stitched-together corpse puppy named Watzit? Does that ... does that factor into your decision at all?

Verdict? If you or your kid is into 1) Universal Monsters, 2) accessorizing, and 3) the art and science of toy-brand-optimization, then go for it. Otherwise eminently skippable.


Title: SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies

Genre: Humor/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? ... Seriously? Look, you know SpongeBob, right? That. Pretty much, that.

Anything Else? On page one, SpongeBob is asked what "No-Charge Funnybook Day" is, and he answers, "Why, it's the day all the graphic literature shops provide gratis samples of their wares in a pathetic effort to bolster an industry which has spent the last two decades in a death spiral brought on by the lethal interaction between the lack of variety and a monopolistic distribution system!" SpongeBob got hard, yo. Turns out it gets awful shaaaaady on the bottom of the ocean.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: The Tick

Genre: Superhero/Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Everyone's favorite bombastic blue blockhead throws himself a birthday party, and attends a presidential debate.

Anything Else? Tick comics are a dependably good FCBD staple, though you wont won't find much in the jokes about the election campaign that seems bracingly fresh.

Verdict? Maybe.


Title: Time Shifters

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Excerpt from Chris Grine's graphic novel about a kid who stumbles across a time-travel device that sends him careering into an adventure involving a robo-Lincoln, a vampiric Napoleon, and much more.

Anything Else? Breezy, funny, with an invitingly open design that crams a lot of material onto the page without feeling cramped or weighed down with text. A quick read that'll leave you wanting more.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: Underdog

Genre: Superhero/Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? New and vintage comic-book yarns about Jay Ward's classic doggy do-gooder, Underdog. It's all here, everything you're looking for (if you're old enough to remember the Nixon administration): Shoeshine Boy, Polly Purebred, rhyming couplets, phone booths (you may need to explain that last one to your kids).

Anything Else? Delivers on its promise.

Verdict? Yes.


ALL-AGES DON'T-MISSES:

  • BOOM! 2017 Summer Blast
  • Colorful Monsters
  • Bad Machinery
  • BONGO Comics Free-for-All
  • Hilda's Back/Garbage Night
  • SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies
  • Time Shifters


TEEN: SAMPLERS


Title: 2000 AD

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Year in and year out, Britain's long-running science-fiction comics anthology series contributes some of FCBD's grittier fare.

Anything Else? If you're not familiar with Judge Dredd or other 2000 AD titles, don't skip the brief intros to each found inside the front cover. They're a big help.

Verdict? Even with doing that homework, some of these vignettes prove less comprehensible than others. So maybe.


Title: Avatar/Briggs Land

Genre: Science Fiction/Neo-Western

Anything I Need to Know Going In? James Cameron's 2009 sci-fi epic gets a comics adaptation with an excerpt that, if nothing else, serves as a much-needed refresher course for those of us who can't remember a minute of the damn thing. Brian Wood's Briggs Land is about a family of secessionists, and despite the fact that it's a self-contained story, you find that puzzling out what, precisely, is at stake proves an uphill battle.

Anything Else? Despite the impassiveness of the Briggs Land story, there's always something dependably tough and grounded in Woods' terse dialogue, supported by the way artist Werther Dell'Edera's panel-perspective emphasizes the vast and open sky above the character's heads. It's oppressive, that emptiness, and it tells you that something bad is bearing down them.

Verdict? Yep.


Title: Captain Canuck/Die Kitty Die

Genre: Superhero/Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The Great White North's own super-soldier gets a Year One backstory, and a teenage witch (NO NOT THAT ONE) gets up to some mighty meta hijinks at a beach party.

Anything Else? The Canuck excerpt, co-written by Canadian actor Jay Baruchel, is a dense, hard-to-tell-the-players-without-a-scorecard bit of business set in the Pashtun region, soon after the Captain came into his powers. The Kitty story is filled with in-jokes and stand-ins for classic comics characters, but it holds up on its own.

Verdict? Sure.


Title: Dragon Ball Super/Boruto

Genre: Fantasy /Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Goku is a saiyan, see, who really wants to fight Lord Beerus, God of Destruction, but to do so he'll of course need to transform into the Super Sayan God, duh, but he's only achieved Super Sayan 3 and you know what ask your kids. In another excerpt, Naruto's son Boruto seeks to learn the rasengan, a new jutsu and you know what ask your kids.

Anything Else? The Boruto story includes a fun extended swordfight full of Shhk! Klak! Thoom! Tmp! Spin! Swishtak! Zlash! and Klang! And the Dragon Ball Super story is written by Akira Toriyama, who created the international phenomenon back in 1984.

Verdict? If this is your thing? Sure.


Title: Guardians of the Galaxy/The Defenders

Genre: Superhero/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The multi-stream cross-platform synergy is strong with this one. Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder have been tasked with producing a book that looks (and sounds and smells and feels and tastes) like the blockbuster film franchise, and they've delivered. It's fun, it's fast and its characterizations are spot-on. Do you like the film's interpretation of the Guardians? Because this is the film's interpretations of the Guardians. The preview of the Brian Michael Bendis/David Marquez comic about The Defenders — the Netflix super-team (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil & Iron Fist) coming soon to a streaming device near you — looks and feels like those shows, too.

Anything Else? Duggan and Kuder have a difficult needle to thread: They need to capture the feel of the Guardians films without producing something that reads like a rote, signed-off-by-the-gang-in-marketing graphic-novelization. Bendis wrote a stellar Daredevil run, and he essentially created Jessica Jones. He knows these characters intimately. So this Defenders preview, which busts out some of the hoariest "The rules have changed!" cliches in the action/superhero genre — which is, to be clear, saying something — is so disappointing.

Verdict? Guardians is fun, if unsurprising, which is ... kind of the point. Marvel fangirls-and-boys won't be able to read the Defenders preview without playing a game of "Count The Things You've Seen Done Before," but Free Comic Book Day isn't for them. So ... maybe.


Title: Hostage/Poppies of Iraq

Genre: Nonfiction (Memoir)

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Last month Drawn and Quarterly published Guy Delisle's Hostage, which -- trust me — is very, very, very good. The excerpt from the forthcoming Poppies of Iraq, written by Brigitte Findakly and illustrated by the great Lewis Trondheim, recounts Findakly's experiences growing up in Iraq during the '60s, a time of political turbulence and several bloody coups.

Anything Else? Both excerpts depict grim events — a grueling experience as a hostage and brutal political violence, respectively — in an open, cartoony style: Delisle's hostage sweats bullets from his temples when worried; in Poppies, hanged soldiers get Xs where they eyes should be. It's not a distancing device, but a choice that forces us to see the violence of their worlds — which is, of course, our world — in a chilling new context.

Verdict? Definitely.


Title: Keyser Soze/The Rift

Genre: Crime/Crass Commercial Tie-In/Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Yeah, it's that Keyser Soze. (As if "Keyser Soze" were a common name like Jess, or Dave, of Jen.) (I'd so read a comic about Jen Soze, Queen of Crime, BTW.) The mysterious underworld figure from the Bryan Singer film The Usual Suspects comes to comic book life, to the relief of all those who've spent the last 22 years clamoring. Turns out it's not bad — he shows up to a drug deal; things go south. In The Rift, a boy and his mother go for a drive; things go south.

Anything Else? Some nice characterization and action in The Rift; the Keyser Soze story is atmospheric, even if the notion of following the exploits of an infallible, always-12-steps-of-his-opponents villain seems ... less than compelling.

Verdict? Maybe.


Title: Secret Empire/Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Maybe you've heard about the controversy over Marvel's latest event? In which it's revealed that Captain America, Scion of All That Is Good And You Know American I Mean Come On It's Right There In The Dude's Name, is secretly the head of HYDRA, Marvel's resident fascist-army-Big-Bad? This preview is all set-up, but it's your chance to see what's getting so many noses out of joint for yourself. The Spider-Man preview is a return to Spidey in quippy, classic, full-bore Friendly-Neighborhood mode.

Anything Else? Secret Empire artist Andrea Sorrentino serves up some striking page layouts, and Paulo Siqueira's Spidey art is big and bold.

Verdict? Depends on your personal tolerance for turning heroes into Nazis for fun and profit.


Title: X-O Manowar/Blood Shot: Salvation

Genre: Superhero/Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? This is how you do FCBD. Three tiny(!) but packed vignettes that give a clear sense of the titles in question, introducing a central tension without resolving it.

Anything Else? In X-O Manowar, a time-displaced warrior fights for right. In Secret Weapons, we glimpse a world of enhanced humans — and the agency that seeks to control them. In Bloodshot: Salvation, another time-displaced warrior goes searching for secrets from his past.

Granted, there's not much that's particularly novel in those premises. But what matters — in genre comics, as in anything else — is the execution, and these three mini-stories have each got a distinct style, reminding you that genre doesn't have to be generic.

Verdict? Definitely.


TEEN: SINGLES


Title: Attack on Titan

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The hugely successful manga series (and concomitant anime series) from Hajime Isayama — about a city of many walls, constantly attacked by grotesque giants — is an international phenomenon. This new story by Jody Houser and Emi Lenox, set in Isayama's world, looks at day-to-day life inside the city, far from the front lines.

Anything Else? A quieter, sweeter, and sadder tale than the original series, which leans more in an action/suspense/horror direction, generally serves up.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: The Ballad of Franklin Bonisteel

Genre: Crime

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Fun, atmospheric, Elmore-Leonard-esque tale set in and around an LA motor court/lounge in the 70s. Nice character beats, and the black-and-white art captures the story's mood so well you can almost feel the deep-pile shag carpeting.

Anything Else? Technically, this one's a sampler, as it includes a (very) brief excerpt from Murder Ballads, though it's not mentioned in the cover, and is so short it doesn't give you much to go on. There's a website listed on the back where you can hear that book's soundtrack, if that's a thing that interests you.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: Betty & Veronica

Genre: Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? There's a spate of new-look, YA-inflected Archie titles and this book reprints the first issue of one of the best: a Betty and Veronica title written and drawn by Adam Hughes. Also features a introduction to the WB's Riverdale, because fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and intellectual properties gotta cross-promote.

Anything Else? Don't be misled by the cover, which features the two young women at familiar loggerheads. True, the story's about a fight between the two of them, but it's not over Archie. So that's good, at least, right? And yes, Hughes is known for cheesecake pin-up art, and the cover sidles up to that, but on the interior he dials back the pulchritude and dials up the dialogue. Like, a lot. Too much, arguably. Fortunately, the dialogue in question is inventive and funny — much of it supplied by our narrator Jughead's faithful pet pooch Hot Dog. Also: this series has been so beset by delays that if you pick up this freebie, you'll be nearly caught up.

Verdict? Yup.


Title: Catalyst Prime

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Introduction to a new superhero universe with a familiar premise: we're dropped in the middle of a superhero melee, then flash back to meet five astronauts sent on a desperate mission to save Earth. You perhaps see where this is going.

Anything Else? Nicely distinct characterizations, and an intriguing villain.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Genre: Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? A manga tale that takes place before the events of the 2006 videogame of the same name.

Anything Else? Also includes an excerpt from the adaptation of the 1998 Zelda game Ocarina of Time, starring Toon Link, who is much cuter. And whose combos are better than Yoshi's, but worse than Kirby's.

Verdict? If you ever played a Zelda game and wished it wasn't so distractingly colorful and not so dang noisy and you didn't have to push so many — well, any — dumb buttons ... then yes.


Title: The Looking Glass Wars: Crossfire

Genre: Fantasy/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Another comics spinoff of Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, this one focusing on a spy named Ovid Grey hired by the Red Queen to something something something.

Anything Else? You don't need to know much about the dense mythology of Beddor's "Wondertropolis" to make sense of this — it's a straight-ahead spy/heist caper with entertaining touches of dark magic. Magic eyeballs, missing crystal shards — the whole dark fantasy schmear, really. As always, Sami Makkonen's deliberatley murky/sketchy art will appeal to some (hi!) and not to others.

Verdict? Worth checking out, because if you like this, there's lots more.


Title: Grimm Fairy Tales

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The "swords-and-sandals" genre? Pfft. Forget it. Yesterday's papers. So five minutes ago. Here's four brief excerpts from a publisher who's proudly staked a claim on the highly specialized, and wildly impractical, "swords-and-low-cut-bustiers" genre.

Anything Else? "The universe is made up of four realms of power: Wonderland, Oz, Neverland, and Myst." ... See now for that last one I was really pulling for Zork. Oh well. Can't have everything I guess.

Verdict? For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.


Title: Lady Mechanika

Genre: Steampunk Cheesecake

Anything I Need to Know Going In? A 19th-century sexy cyborg private investigator who wields hilariously overwrought weaponry — and cleavage — to fight demons and oh by the way FYI that's a real sentence I just wrote I'm not just playing nerd bingo with you. But if I were: automatons, gears, alchemy, dirigibles. Which this also includes.

Anything Else? "Steampunk Cheesecake" is not a terrible name for this genre, but it needs something zippier, alliterative. Clockworks and Corsets? Dirigibles and Decolletage? No wait I got it Blunderbusses and Boobies okay cut print.

Verdict? For those who like this sort of thing etc.


Title: Malika: Warrior Queen

Genre: Adventure

Anything I Need to Know Going In? The first chapter of the forthcoming graphic novel from YouNeek Studios about the brilliant, and formidably kickass, queen of a mythical African nation.

Anything Else? Interesting layouts, exciting battle scenes, and a matter-of-factly feminist vibe make this one of this year's most intriguing FCBD offerings.

Verdict? Yes.


Title: Rick and Morty

Genre: Humor/Science Fiction/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? A comics adaptation of Cartoon Network's gleefully reprobate animated riff on Back to the Future, featuring a drunk and wildly irresponsible mad scientist and his preternaturally fearful teen companion. Perfectly captures the show's look, feel and — especially, crucially — humor.

Anything Else? "Juice is just an idiot stopping point between fruit and alcohol."

Verdict? Oh, definitely.


Title: Riverdale

Genre: Teen Melodrama

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Features two vignettes that serve as prequels to the events of the CW series. We see how both Archie and Veronica spent their summers.

Anything Else? Roberto-Aguirre-Sacasa, Riverdale's showrunner, has written many comics over the years, and gets a "stories by" credit here. (The two tales in question were actually written by Brian E. Paterson and James Dewille, respectively.) The result is solidly soapy, but feels like the dutiful corporate-mandated adaptation it is.

Verdict? Unless you're a watcher of the CW series — or have a feeling you might easily become one — this one's skippable.


Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken

Genre: Science Fiction/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Four samples from different new or ongoing Star Trek titles, led by a nifty little intro to the forthcoming Mirror Broken series, set in that mythos' alternate reality, the Mirror Universe. It's like the main universe, but more violent. And with a penchant for goatees. And for cinching the waist with kicky gold sashes that add a tres sportif visual pop, for trekking after 6:00. Another thing the Mirror Universe is all about, if J.K. Woodward's art in this vignette is anything to go by: dumbbell curls. Lots and lots of dumbbell curls.

Because this Picard? Is a sleeveless and seriously jacked Picard.

Anything Else? Much shorter samples from: Boldly Go, the series set after the events of last year's Star Trek: Beyond, the second Star Trek/Green Lantern mashup miniseries, and Waypoint, which riffs on the series' long history in many different ways.

Verdict? I'm sorry ... did you miss the word "sleeveless" and "jacked" and "Picard" above? Because yes. Very, very yes.


Title: Spill Night

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? A prequel story to Scott Westerfield's recently published graphic novel Spill Zone, about a mysterious event that destroys a small city in upstate New York. Like that book, this comic's art is provided by Alex Puvilland. And also like that book, it's pretty great.

Anything Else? Westerfield's story is moody, creepy, and wryly funny, but Puvilland's art really shines here, especially when depicting the bizarre and unsettling ways the city is wholly changed by "The Spill."

Verdict? A big yes. And I dare you not to pick up Spill Zone after reading this.


Title: Steam Wars: Strike Leader

Genre: Steampunk/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Look, I've said it before and I'll say it again, here's all you need to know: "Steampunk Star Wars."

There. Done. Because you either just made an involuntary glee-noise, or you found yourself rolling your eyes. It's instinctual. It's your body, telling you whether or not to pick this one up.

Anything Else? Also: British lady sky-pilots.

Verdict? Listen to your body.


Title: Street Fighter V Wrestling Special

Genre: Crass Commercial Tie-In/Fighty Fight-Fight

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Based on last year's iteration of the venerable fighting game, this issue pits Dan Hibiki — sorry, that should read DAN HIBIKI!! — against most of the game's female wrestling roster, including YOKO HARMAGEDDON! and A MAPLE STORM! (Canadian, attacks opponents with poutine) (seriously) and RAINBOW MIKAAAA! Also includes a brief story about a Haggar vs. Zangrief bout.

Anything Else? The dialogue of that first story is just ... sincerely fun. "You filthy pus-bag! Eat poo and die, Belger!" "My eyes! They burn! The poutine buurns!" "It's game day, canuckle-head!" "RAGING DAN!"

Verdict? Lookit, honest to god, no one's more surprised than me, but ... yes. Sorry, that should read ... YYYYYESSSSS!


Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Genre: Science Fiction/Crass Commercial Tie-In

Anything I Need to Know Going In? After the Turtles spend a few pages helpfully reminding you of their long laundry list of foes — which reads like the comics equivalent of a sitcom clip show — their underground lair is attacked by a mysterious presence. Which, you have to admit, is cool, but rude.

Anything Else? Nope that's ... that's pretty much it.

Verdict? Not essential, but if you're curious about the current heroes-in-the-half-shell lay of the land, pick it up.


Title: Tex: Patagonia

Genre: (Spaghetti) Western

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Tex is a Western comic strip created in 1948, and it's been published continuously ever since. So why haven't you heard of it? Because it's produced in Italy.

Anything Else? This issue excerpts the forthcoming graphic novel, Tex: Patagonia. The storytelling, and the Hal Foster-esque art, might feel a little old-fashioned, and there's no getting away from its whole "noble-square-jawed-white-man-among-the-Natives" premise, but it's solidly constructed and gorgeously rendered.

Verdict? Usually, FCBD selections include one or two issues of reprints of classic strips. Not this year, though. This isn't that, but it's close, so yeah, probably.


Title: Wonder Woman

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman in the early 2000s is one of my favorites. She's a character of contradictions — a Warrior for Peace — who's tough to get right, and he did. He's recently returned to the character, with art from Nicola Scott. This, DC's FCBD selection, reprints the first issue of their current run.

Anything Else? Yes, it's another origin story, but there are some nice set-pieces, as Rucka and Scott cut back and forth between Diana's life on Themyscira and Steve Trevor's in America. It's as good a way as any to prep for the movie.

Verdict? Sure.


TEEN DON'T-MISSES

  • Hostage/Poppies of Iraq
  • XO Manowar/Bloodshot: Salvation
  • Attack on Titan
  • The Ballad of Franklin Bonisteel
  • Betty & Veronica
  • Malika: Warrior Queen
  • Rick and Morty
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken
  • Spill Night
  • Street Fighter V Wrestling Special (no seriously)


MATURE


Title: I Hate Image

Genre: Humor

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Skottie Young's I Hate Fairyland follows the adventures of young, pig-tailed moppet Gert as she attempts to escape the magical realm she's been trapped in for decades — by slaughtering its inhabitants. Adorably. The violence is cartoonish, but real — and Young is master of comic timing, character acting, and making the act of disemboweling seem ... unsettlingly cute. In this issue, Gert makes her way to Image Land, where she cuts a bloody swath through the various characters from Image Comics titles like ... well, that would spoil it.

Anything Else? Free Comic Book Day isn't meant for comics nerds. It's pitched at non-readers, to give them their first taste of the medium. Consequently, dyed-in-the-wool comics readers have historically had to content themselves with things like Fantagraphics' FCBD reprints of long-lost classic series to find something new and satisfying for themselves. Not this year. I Hate Image is aimed squarely at the comics cognoscenti. It's packed with in-jokes and asides that will zip past readers who don't know Image's books — but, crucially, it won't alienate those noobs. Young's writing — and, especially, his art — are so danged appealing that even readers who don't know a Wic from a Div will happily go along for the ride.

Verdict? Yes, in a big way.


Title: The Incal

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Back in the 1980s, after Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky and French artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud tried and failed to produce a film of Frank Herbert's Dune (have you seen the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune yet? Go do that now), they collaborated on a series of science fiction graphic novels. This FCBD selection reprints the first 26 pages of the first book in that series.

Anything Else? Not for kids. Not for kids. Not for kids. Brilliant, bold, stunningly gorgeous, funny, and hugely imaginative. But not for kids.

Verdict? Not for kids. But very much for pretty much everyone else.


Title: World's Greatest Cartoonists

Genre: Various

Anything I Need to Know Going In? Ok, no, this is how you do FCBD. Publisher Fantagraphics asked 16 of their cartoonists who have new or recent books coming out to produce original work, just for this issue, that is somehow related to those books. There's an index in the back where those cartoonists get a chance to talk about their books. It's so smart, and useful, and it represents a fascinating assortment of styles and subjects.

Anything Else? Cathy Malkasian. Richard Sala. Noah Van Scriver. Anya Davidson. Dash Shaw. Jason. Ed Piskor. Ed Luce. And 8 more of ... well. It's right there in the title.

Verdict? Yes.


MATURE DON'T-MISSES

... All three of 'em.

  • I Hate Image
  • The Incal
  • World's Greatest Cartoonists


Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

View this story on npr.org

Sign up for ReCap

and never miss the top stories

Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Check out a sample ReCap newsletter.