Best Comic Books Ever: Free Comic Book Day 2016 Edition
Best Comic Books Ever (This Week) is our weekly guide to the best new comics in stores, but today we're taking a special look at the best free comics on offer at this year's Free Comic Book Day on Saturday 7 May.
Free Comic Book Day is an annual event in which publishers offer readers a chance to pick up free comics and samplers at local comic book stores. To find a participating store near you visit FreeComicBookDay.com. Most stores will only let you pick up a limited number of free comics, so that there are enough to go around, so here are our recommendations of the cream of the crop.
Written by Chris Ryall and Christos Gage
Art by David Messina
ROM is returning to comics! After decades away from our lives, the cult hero is back but under the stewardship of IDW rather than Marvel Comics. That means that the new series is coming in with a blank slate of a sort because Marvel still have the rights to, well, everything that makes ROM, ROM.
This seems to be a huge passion project for IDW as their chief creative officer Chris Ryall is joining Christos Gage in shepherding The Space Knight in his newest incarnation. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of ROM or just someone who’s heard him talked of in excited tones across the internet, ROM: The Space Knight should be a perfect taster for the ongoing series due out later this year. [Kieran Shiach]
Writer: ONE and Kouhei Horikoshi
Artist: Yusuke Murata and Kouhei Horikoshi
Publisher: Viz Manga
At this point, I’ve talked One-Punch Man enough that if you haven’t checked it out by now, literally the only thing that can get you on board is if someone hands it to you for free. If that’s the case, well, you’re in luck, because that’s pretty much exactly what’s going to happen this weekend.
The thing is, though, putting these two titles together for Free Comic Book Day is one of the smartest things that Viz could’ve done. FCBD is, after all, designed to take advantage of the public’s interest in superheroes — it’s not a coincidence that the first Saturday in May always seems to coincide with the opening of a big superhero movie. Since these two titles are stories that are heavily influenced by western superheroes, they make the perfect bridge to lead people who are already hyped up for seeing big-action superhero fights to reading more manga that will give them exactly the kind of action that they want.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that OPM is quite possibly the best superhero comic coming out right now, with elements of parody and satire that very quickly turn into a thoughtful, well-realized look at superheroics, or that My Hero Academia is picking up similar buzz since its debut in America last year. If you haven’t read them already, grab this one — or just skip to picking up the full volumes. I can almost guarantee that you won’t regret it. [Chris Sims]
Writers/Artists: Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez
Dear young people: In case you haven't already had this information hammered into your brain, Love & Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez is one of the most-acclaimed comics of all time, and deservedly so. In the early 1980s, Los Bros Hernandez basically created a new kind of comic book, one neatly settled between the mainstream and the underground, suffused with raw energy but written and drawn with all the polish of the pros. Over the next three decades, Gilbert and Jaime each expanded and built upon their separate worlds with three volumes of stories about family, love, sex, death, community, punk rock, and wrestling. Love & Rockets returns for a fourth volume this Summer, and in preparation Fantagraphics is giving us all a sampler of classic stories as an introduction — or re-introduction — to the marvelous work of the Hernandez brothers. Huzzah! [John Parker]
Creative Team: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf
March has been a series of graphic novels retelling parts of Congressman John Lewis' life, co-written by the man himself and running from his childhood and upbringing through to the eponymous walk of the title. It's been a fantastic series, looking at American cultural and societal history which — as a Brit — I get no exposure whatsoever ever towards. It's an engrossing, disappointing period of time which you can feel resound every time you turn on the news or, heck, go on Twitter. The people squaring up to Lewis throughout the series are still out there, still doing and thinking and acting in the same ways they've always acted, and the story is a reminder of the sheer levels of decency required by African-Americans at the time simply to get noticed. It's way outside my frame of reference but stories like this are a hugely important — and, just as importantly, damn well told — part of American history. I'm so excited to pick this sampler up. [Steve Morris]
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Archie Comics
I was very, very late to the “New Archie” bandwagon — or as I snarkily refer to it, “that time when Archie
Comics decided to make their characters look and act like actual people” — but dove headlong into it last
week. And it’s just as incredible as you’ve heard. Waid is a master at distilling out the essences of iconic characters and rendering them flesh. And Staples shows just why she’s so beloved with her incredible redesigns of the people of Riverdale and even manages to make the joy of music come across in art, something that loads of other comics have failed at.
When we’re introduced to the student body of Riverdale High, alpha couple Archie & Betty have broken up and the student body is reeling. There’s a plot to get them back together by electing them Homecoming King & Queen. But not if Jughead — who has somehow become even cooler with his new look — has anything to say about it.
If, like me, you’re sucked in after this free first issue, there’s six more to pick up, as well as a first trade paperback or a “Collector’s Edition” containing all three issues drawn by Staples. Odds are, any shop you go into this Saturday will have any or all of these. And if you like what you read, go back and pick the rest up; you won’t regret it. [Tom Speelman]
Writer/Artist: Luke Pearson
Publisher: Nobrow Press
I know that when a lot of people here the term "all-ages" applied to a comic book, they immediately translate that into "for kids" instead of taking it literally. But when I say that cartoonist Luke Pearson's Hilda graphic novels are fantastic all-ages books, I mean just that: Whatever your age is, this is a comic book for you. Hilda is an adventurous little girl with big eyes, a big head and legs like spaghetti, and she lives in a world much like ours, but in which magic and the fantastic bump up right alongside the mundane. Were it prose and you and I literary critics, we might call it magical realism, but it's also just the way that children, and those with child-like imaginations, see the world around them.
Pearson's Hilda has starred in a series of books with titles like Hilda and The Troll, Hilda and The Bird Parade and Hilda and The Black Hound. This FCBD book offers a chunk of the upcoming Hilda and The Stone Forest, in which our girl and her mom find themselves journeying to the land of trolls. [Caleb Mozzocco]
Writer: Jeff McClelland
Artists: Duane Redhead, Ian Nichols
Publisher: New England Comics
If you ever doubted the indestructability of Ben Edlund's The Tick, consider this, nay-sayers: what started as a rough and slightly edgy parody published by a Boston comic book store has become a revered animated series, an action figure line, an awful video game, even more weird independent comics, and a cult classic live-action series that is currently slated for an Amazon reboot. In 2016, of all years! This is the superhero parody that survived Carl's Jr. giveaway toys! Nothing can stop him! Well, a "darker and more grounded" Amazon reboot might be the match-head that eventually kills him, but hopes remain high that the new series will carry on The Tick's tradition of silly-but-salient superhero satire and double entendre. If that doesn't work out, we've still got our memories, our view-finders, and this all-ages FCBD offering, featuring the multi-dimensional Council of Ticks! In short: if you don't love The Tick, you're a monster. Spooon! [JP]
Writer: Santa Harukaze
Artist: Santa Harukaze
Publisher: Viz Manga
My normal approach to Free Comic Book Day is just to grab everything and read it all, because, well, it’s free, and the prospect of finding your new favorite comic far outweighs the problem of spending a few minutes reading something you don’t like that you didn’t even have to pay for. The thing is, though, while some shops are willing to give you as many of the FCBD titles as you want to pick up, others put some limits on what you can get — which is understandable since they’re the ones paying for the comics— and that means that you have to prioritize.
With that being the case, there is nothing this year that got to the top of my list faster than the book that promises to not only test my Pokémon knowledge— which I assure you is considerable — but also to introduce me to Grumpy Pikachu. Seriously, go look at the preview that’s up on the Diamond site right now and look at that frowny-ass little lightning rat in need of cheering up, and try to tell me that you don’t want to read an entire manga about that guy. It’s adorable. [CS]
Thank Tharg we actually got this at all, because for a very long time it looked as though 2000AD were going to be excluded from FCBD this year. Yeah — one of the longest-running comics serials of all time, with a cover by Mike Allred, was almost kept out of FCBD altogether! Something's messy with their system, you guys. But regardless, the people running the Prog always seem to spend a little extra effort on this annual comic, bringing in people you'd never expect to see have an interest in 2000AD's style. Whilst stalwarts like John Wagner, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra are all onboard, what's really interesting is the presence of people like Hannah Berry and Joelle Jones — people who it's harder to fit into the overall picture of what the Prog tends to be. A little risk and flair goes a long way, and it's great to see a long-running comic try different things and go in new directions like this. All being well, this could even start a move into a new era for the Prog, perhaps? Weekly Joelle Jones stories would be ruddy hard to pass up! [SM]
Writers: Evan Dorkin, Israel Sanchez and others
Artists: Evan Dorkin, Ramona Fradon and others
Publisher: United Plankton Pictures
The monthly SpongeBob Comics is the regular, if unlikely, showcase for some of the greatest working cartoonists, and rarely an issue goes by where I don't find a contributor I'm somewhat shocked to see. In this year's FCBD giveaway, which features 32-pages of original content, that contributor is Ramona Fradon. The famed Silver Age artist, who co-created Metamorpho and maybe best-known for her work on Aquaman, will be drawing a new adventure featuring Mermaid Man, the Aquaman parody in the SponbeBob-iverse. She'll be joined by Evan Dorkin and regular contributors James Kochalka and Maris Wicks. I tell people this all the time, but whether you have any interest in SponbeBob or not — and I personally have next to none — SpongeBob Comics are well worth reading if you just like great cartooning. Here's your chance to see what I'm talking about, no money down. [CM]
Writers: Greg Smith and Michael Tanner
Artist: Zach Lehner
Publisher: Oni Press
As a publisher, Oni is probably best known for its original graphic novels but they’ve published quite a few good miniseries over the years. This FCBD, you get a chance to sample one of them with this 26-page sampler of last year’s Junior Braves of the Apocalypse. Originally published digitally in six parts and now collected in trade, Junior Braves is a real fun read. It’s a creepy, fun story about a group of not-Boy Scouts called the Junior Braves who come back to their hometown after a camping trip to find all Hell has broken loose. Smith & Tanner create a tale that falls right in the tradition of Gravity Falls and more straight-laced horror as well as the fun action of other Oni books like Orphan Blade. Lehner’s artwork, meanwhile, recalls the images of Night of the Living Dead and its thousand and one imitators.
Outside of the trade, this is the only physical version of Junior Braves out there. So if you wanna see what “Boy Scouts vs. zombies” might look like in comics form, check this out. [TS]