The first Saturday in May is the sequential-art world’s summer-kickoff holiday: Free Comic Book Day. Participating stores offer dozens of free teasers comics to readers new and old at no charge (although retailers still pay a cost for each copy, so be sure to buy something when you’re there to show support for your local shop!). The goal of the annual event is to share excitement for the medium, entice readers with upcoming series and pull in new audiences to enjoy an art form that receives criminally less support than the millions-grossing films based on its characters and storylines. If you’ve got a participating shop within reasonable distance, there’s no excuse for missing this daylong comic celebration.
Stores often a limit on how many books one visitor can take, and the titles range in content, quality and maturity level. From film-friendly Marvel teasers to all-ages cartoon fun, video-game tie-ins to YA originals, here are the comics we consider the best bang for your empty wallet this Saturday. (But seriously—buy something else while you’re there. Your shop will appreciate it.)
Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake Special
Writer: Grace Craft
Artist: Christine Larsen
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
BOOM! Studios used to release bigger compilations of their all-ages offerings, but this year they’ve decided to focus on their smash-hit Adventure Time comics. The main series helped change the way comic fans looked at tie-in comics—it’s amazing to think about how derided they once were—and wrapped up last month after 75 issues, but spin-offs like Adventure Time Comics and various Fionna and Cake minis are still going strong. Grace Craft and Christine Larsen craft an adorable, self-contained story about the gender-swapped Adventure Time heroes that should appeal to fans of Ooo, old or new.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
One of two major Marvel comics on this list, the Amazing Spider-Man one-shot kicks off the next major era of the wallcrawler following writer Dan Slott’s nearly decade-long run. The announcement of Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley as the creative team split audiences; while Spencer is still beloved for his offbeat Superior Foes of Spider-Man series, his Captain America titles and the Secret Empire crossover met with much more mixed reception. No matter which Spencer shows up for this book, Ottley is the star attraction, unleashing himself fully on the Marvel Universe after years and years drawing Robert Kirkman’s creator-owned Invincible. Also included: a tease at future Infinity-related cosmic madness.
Writers: Jason Aaron, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artists: Sara Pichelli, Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This teaser trailer for Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’ new Avengers series is a little bittersweet, since the first issue already came out earlier this week—and because upcoming Fantastic Four artist Sara Pichelli, who draws this short, seems like a better fit for Aaron’s approach than McGuinness. Regardless, nab this one for a first look at Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu’s sure-to-be-talked-about Captain America series launching later this summer.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Marcos Martin
Publisher: Image Comics
Image went hard this FCBD, opting to release the first chapter of Barrier as a 53-page free first issue with cardstock covers. Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s story about immigration with a major sci-fi spin (seriously, go in knowing as little as possible) was originally serialized online, and Image will release the rest of the story weekly throughout May, with no current plans to ever release a collected format (although something tells us that will eventually be a financial no-brainer).
Comic Friends Forever
Writers/Artists: Vera Brosgol, Hope Larson, Ben Hatke, Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham
Publisher: First Second
There’s a reason publisher First Second is practically synonymous with excellent all-ages and Young Adult comics, and the Comic Friends Forever sampler ably shows off a few examples. An excerpt from Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a standout, but expect the young readers in your life to have a full wish-list of books once they’ve finished this short collection.
DC Superhero Girls
Writer: Shea Fontana
Artist: Yancy Labat
Publisher: DC Comics
DC Comics went easy on FCBD this year, choosing to focus instead on the excellent $0.25 DC Nation comic released earlier this week. Their FCBD offering is a sample chapter from a recent DC Superhero Girls title, and anyone attending FCBD with a younger fan will absolutely want to nab this peek at one of the publisher’s most successful recent ventures. The DC Superhero Girls franchise is an amazing ambassador for young superhero fans and fans-to-be, and this Saturday is the perfect opportunity to find out why it’s so beloved for its take on DC’s female heroes.
Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network
Writer: Max Gladstone
Artist: David López
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Shirow Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell is unquestionably one of the most influential manga and anime ever, both in Japan and here in the United States. Like Attack on Titan before it, Kodansha Comics will soon release an original anthology dedicated to GitS’ massive impact on Western creators, and this one-shot is our first look at the September-releasing project. Involved creators include Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and more, and if Max Gladstone and David López’ story is any indication, this anthology should do the original story proud.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Special
Writers: Kyle Higgins, Ryan Parrott
Artists: Diego Galindo
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
BOOM Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers ongoing series are currently embroiled in the long-awaited “Shattered Grid” crossover, and this original one-shot reads like a catch-up for readers who may have missed the event’s long lead-in. If you’re nostalgic for the property but haven’t yet committed to following the (excellent) comics, this should get you up to speed so you can follow along with “Shattered Grid” as it unfolds.
Writers: Andrew Robinson, Joelle Sellner, Jeff Lemire
Artists: Kate Niemczyk, Wilfredo Torres
Publisher: Dark Horse
Dark Horse loves to combine two unrelated shorts for their FCBD offerings—they’ve also got a Legend of Korra/Nintendo ARMS book out this Saturday—but we can’t complain. The Zarya-focused Overwatch comic already appeared online for free, and likely won’t impress if you don’t play the game, but fans who haven’t yet sampled the excellent comic shorts Blizzard produces should enjoy this extra dose of lore. The real draw here is the Black Hammer short from Jeff Lemire and Wilfredo Torres, which offers our first glimpse at the future-set Quantum Age mini-series arriving this summer.
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Andy Clarke
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Relay, inspired by an idea from now-Marvel-exclusive writer Donny Cates, is a complex, philosophical take on themes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fans of Zac Thompson’s horror work with frequent co-writer Lonnie Nadler will recognize his penchant for (and great use of) nine-panel grids, but it’s a delight to see him breaking into new genres. Artist Andy Clarke has kept busy at AfterShock since the publisher’s founding, but Relay feels like the first title to make great use of his precise skills and scope. Nab this introduction and be sure to return for the series in July.
Artist: Nina Matsumoto
Publisher: Scholastic GRAPHIX
Scholastic’s GRAPHIX imprint goes largely unnoticed by the internet comics press, but its reach in the young-reader realm is unparalleled, and books like Sparks! demonstrate just how fun and funny comics for beginning readers can be. Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto’s tale of mismatched cats who pilot a robotic dog suit is full of surprise laugh-out-loud moments, whether you’re eight or 48 (or so I suspect—I’m personally smack-dab in the middle of those ages). If you have a kid with you this FCBD, consider this one to be at the top of your list. If you don’t? Pick it up anyway. Comics can’t all be about grim superhero slugfests.
Street Angel’s Dog
Writers: Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca
Artist: Jim Rugg
Publisher: Image Comics
Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s Street Angel is one of the most unique comics on stands, with one-shots ranging from superhero fantasy to teen vigilante gangs to everything in between, and this FCBD sees the creators turning their gaze to Street Angel’s pup, who’s having his “fourth best day ever” with the titular teenage ninja girl. As an original short with its own perspective, Street Angel’s Dog provides readers with a perfect taste for what to expect from this unpredictable book—and we give them bonus points for stating upfront that the dog lives.