Friday, May 1, 2015

Free Comic Book Day 2015: Matt's Picks of this Year's Free Comics

Comics are great. Free stuff is great. So any day where you can get free comics has to be super great right? Right! Yes, this Saturday, May 2nd, is Free Comic Book Day, the day where most retailers give out select books to their loving customers. My shop, Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ, does it to the nines, and if you click the link, you'll see the list of all that stuff, including a costume contest, artist's alley, face painting, and goody bags. Plus, you know, the free comics you expect. I would also be remiss to not mention that if you are more southerly in Jersey, and have enjoyed the writing of Matt Signal contributor Dan Grote, he'll be at Level Up Entertainment selling and signing copies of his new novel, Magic Pier, as part of their festivities. I will be travelling to a wedding that day, and so am going to be investigating new and different shops along the way on the busiest comic book shop day of the year, so I can only imagine what an adventure that will be.

Now for my annual plea. FCBD takes a lot of time, effort, and money from retailers (Yes, the books are free to you, and they're cheap to retailers, but they're still spending a lot of money when you think of the volume of books they're buying and all the various marketing and publicity, staffing, and the like). So be nice to your retailer on this day. Maybe buy something else. Or just be patient and courteous. And try something new! If you love Avengers, sure pick up All New, All Different Avengers, but also maybe try the Dark Circle book from Archie. And if you're into Kodansha Comics Sampler of manga titles, maybe you want to try something from one of the big American publishers. The price is right to try something new and different.

Now, it's time to pick some of my favorites of the year. Check out what I think you should be reading this Free Comic Book Day. I'll give you a rundown of the contents and then the recommended age group for the book along the way.

All Ages: Avatar/Plants Vs. Zombies/Bandette

Dark Horse Comics has usually done antholgies for their two free comics, each containing stories from their popular franchises. With the loss of Star Wars from their stable, this has opened up spots for some different properties. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a FCBD staple for Dark Horse, and this year's story is a fun tale of Toph and Ty Lee, two characters who didn't share a lot of screen time, teaming up at the circus and getting a better idea of Ty Lee's family, something mentioned only briefly on the show. I've never played the game or read the comic Plants Vs. Zombies, but this story gives you everything you need to know and if funny. Bandette is Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's series about the world's greatest thief, a costumed teen who in this story is planning to break into an exclusive movie showing where a legendary emerald once owned by the documentary's subject on display for a caper that has an unexpected result. It introduces you to Bandette and her supporting cast, and is one of the most smile inducing stories in any of this year's books; this has moved the two volumes of Bandette I recently purchased to the top of my read pile. This is an all ages comic

Fight Club 2/ The Goon/ The Strain

The headline of the other book from Dark Horse this year is what I think is a preview of the first few pages of Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart's graphic novel sequel to Palahniuk's famous novel, Fight Club. If you're only familiar with David Fincher's admittedly phenomenal adaptation of the book, this is a good place to start, as it is clearly a sequel to the book, not the film, as it adapts the ending of the novel. Cameron Stewart does an impressive job making the characters recognizable if you know the film but not making them photorealisitic versions of their movie counterparts; these are similar characters but not the same, and so they won't be Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. The Strain story is a horror short involving a vampire hunting a lost book; solid storytelling and art, but as I have little frame of reference for the characters, I can only comment on it technically. The story from Eric Powell's monster/gangster/comedy mash-up, The Goon, is a perfect introduction to the particularly bizarre world of the Goon and his pal, Frankie. It's both laugh out loud funny and filled with vampires and peril. If you've ever enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, John Dies at the End, or similar horror-comedies, you'd love The Goon, and this is a great place to check it out. This is a book geared towards adults.

Comics Festival 2015!

The comic produced by the people behind the Toronto Comics Festival, this is an anthology of short strips by Canadian and international creators. It's got some shorts from some big name cartoonists and creators, and they're all interesting and not what most of the mainstream think of when comics jump to mind. There's comedy, like Mariko Tamaki & Gillian Goerz's "The Boss" about what it's like to work for a unicorn and Kate Beaton's "Lady's Favor." There's "IRL: CON/GAME: You can't cheat an honest man," from Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang, a classic con story, but set around and inside an MMORPG. "Once Upon a Pony," from Svetlana Chmkova is a story about art and friendship. And "Superhero Girl: The Death of Kevin," by Faith Erin Hicks, takes her character Superhero Girl, and plays with a classic comic book trope in a real world setting. These stories and other are in here, and at the back of the comic you can find recommendations for each creator if you liked a particular story. I'd recommend this book to any age, but I'd say you might want to go with a ten and up crowd.

Gronk/ Hero Cats

Action Lab is a company that has spent the past few years publishing some of the best all ages comics on the market. While this year's FCBD issue doesn't feature the flagship of that line, Princeless, it features two other charming all ages titles. The story from Katie Cook's Gronk: A Monster's Story has Gronk telling the story of her time out in the woods living with the other monsters, so it's sort of an origin story for the adorable green monster. The Hero Cats piece are excerpts from two different issues of the series that give new readers a good sense of the different cats who populate the book and the world around them. This is an all ages book.

Help the CBLDF Defend Comics!

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the first amendment charity that helps defend free speech, is a favorite non-profit of mine, and this year's anthology from them features some strong pieces all with the theme of freedom of expression. "The Green Turtle Fights for Free Speech," from Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, spins out of their excellent graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, and features golden age hero Green Turtle in a story about a kid and a mob who wants to take and burn comics; it's nowhere near as didactic as that description makes it sound and is both fun and puts forth it's message well. Archie Comics provides "Read Between the Lines," by Dan Parent, a story of Kevin Keller, Riverdale's most recent favored son, an out gay teen, and his attempt, with the help of the CBLDF, to keep a graphic novel that features his story from being banned from the library. I consider this an all ages book, and frankly, anyone who is going to support an organization like the CBLDF would probably think along the same lines.

The Phantom

This one made the list for an unexpected reason for me. This is a collection of vintage Phantom stories from Hermes Press, and while I like the Phantom well enough as a character, it wasn't on my radar. But one of the stories is a fourteen page story drawn by Jim Aparo. If you don't know who Aparo is, he is one of the greatest Batman artists of all time, in my top three easily, and to see him drawing one of Batman's great forebears is a treat. This is appropriate for readers 10 and up.


Instead of going the one story route as they have in previous years, DC Comics went with the short story path this year, featuring three teasers for their big May soft relaunch. The three books that have shorts here are probably DC's three highest profiles comics: Batman, Superman, and Justice League. And despite these changes being spoiled in various places on the internet, I'm not going to do that. I will say that the Batman story introduces the man under the new Bat Armor, who may or may not be a familiar face, as well as taking an aspect of Batman Beyond and making it DCU continuity. The Superman story drops you into a world where a major change has happened to Superman. And the Justice League story pays off a long dangling plot thread from earlier in the new DC Comics continuity. The stories are new reader friendly, and feature many of DC's A-List creators, including Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., and the Batman team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and rising stars like Gene Luen Yang (who wrote three of this year's recommendations, between Superman here, Avatar for Dark Horse, and Green Turtle for the CBLDF). This book is a teen and up.

Secret Wars #0

While DC previews the future, Marvel goes the other way and recaps the recent past. Narrated by Reed Richards and Sue Storm's super genius daughter Valeria, readers get a rundown of all the events that have led up to Marvels' new Secret Wars, which debuts this coming Wednesday.It's big, splashy fun, with every hero in the Marvel Universe somewhere in there, and we get to see writer Jonathan Hickman write the kids of the Future Foundation again, many of whom he created in his run on Fantastic Four. It's a great way to get new readers up to speed for the new event. The second story in this issue is a "Attack on Avengers" an eight page crossover featuring the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy fighting the giant Titans from the hit anime Attack on Titan. It works if you're familiar with one or both franchises. This book is teen and up.

Bodie Troll and Friends

Ok, I'm going to be up front here: I haven't read this issue. Due to the workings of Diamond (the distributor for all comic shops), if your FCBD shipments are short anything, you won't receive them in time for the actual day, so usually you just get credited for those books and don't receive them. And we were missing a few BOXES this year, meaning not only were we short some quantities of some books, we were completely shorted three titles, including this one. Red 5 has historically been home to the annual Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day Story, but now that Robo is digital first, this issue instead headlines Bodie Troll, the troll who is too cute to be scary. I love this comic, and with a new mini-series starting on Wednesday, this is a great way to meet Bodie. And if any of you Matt Signal faithful happen to come across a copy of this at your local shop on FCBD, and would be able to grab one for a fan, contact me at I would happily pay to ship a copy, or trade you something. Save me from the ravages of e-Bay, my friends! This is an all ages title.

Atomic Robo

But wait, I just said there would be no Atomic Robo comic on FCBD, didn't I? Well. I said there would be no print one. Atomic Robo is a FCBD staple, with a new issue each year, many featuring the delightfully deranged Dr. Dinosaur. Well, I'm part of the Tesladyne Patreon, helping support more Robo, and I have it on good authority if you head over to Atomic tomorrow, you might be pleasantly surprised in some new content. And if the preview is any indication, this is going to be amazing!

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