Required Reading: Free Comic Book Day 2017

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Required Reading: Free Comic Book Day 2017

The first Saturday in May marks Free Comic Book Day, a celebration of the direct-market comic world, in which participating stores offer oodles of sequential-art awesomeness to fans new and old at no charge. The intent of the annual event is to share goodwill and enthusiasm for the medium—publishers and retailers (who still pay a fee for each copy) aim to 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 little excuse for missing this day-long comic bash.

Many stores (reasonably) have a limit on how many books one visitor can take—usually two or three. And the books range in content, quality and maturity level. From film-friendly Marvel teasers to all-ages time-hopping action, TV tie-ins to YA originals, here are the comics we consider the best bang for your nonexistent buck this Saturday. (And don’t forget to pad out your free books with actual purchases to help support your local shop.)

All-New Guardians of the Galaxy/The Defenders

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Writers: Gerry Dugan, Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Aaron Kuder, David Marquez
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Marvel’s FCBD selections couldn’t be more disparate: their Gold-level offering is a Secret Empire teaser that attempts to bring more readers into the highly debated “Nazi-Cap” storyline that’s been roiling across the Marvel U. for nearly a year. But this double-header actually appeals to new and casual fans with exclusive shorts for the just-launched All-New Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Defenders series, both properties with live-action adaptations in theaters or on the way to Netflix. Gerry Dugan and Aaron Kuder’s All-New GotG takes its cues quite closely from the cinematic version of the outer-space misfits, right down to Kuder’s adorably detailed take on Rocket and Baby Groot. Per Defenders, Bendis’ dialogue tics are well known by now, but it was this distinct chatter that helped resuscitate three-fourths of the Netflix heroes in the first place, and Marquez’ slick lines are always welcome. It’s almost as if accessible, polished gateways featuring recognizable heroes are better for new fans than year-long fascist crossovers… Steve Foxe

BOOM! Studios 2017 Summer Blast

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Writers: David Petersen, Sam Sykes, Liz Prince, Kat Leyh
Artists: David Petersen, Selina Espirutu, Amanda Kirk, Kat Leyh
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

For our money (just kidding, Free Comic Book Day is free to consumers), BOOM! Studios is the highlight of NCBD almost every year. The publisher always leads with its best all-ages foot forward, offering samplers of original short tales set within the universes of their newest and best properties, and 2017 is no different. David Petersen’s intricately detailed rodent fantasy Mouse Guard, a FCBD staple, leads the pack, with shorts from newer series Coady and the Creepies and Brave Chef Brianna, as well as a Lumberjanes one-pager. BOOM! excels at attracting new readers outside of the “weekly warrior” paradigm, and they always come prepared for this yearly ambassadorial event (even if we miss the surely way-too-expensive free hardcovers BOOM! imprint Archaia used to give away). Steve Foxe

Catalyst Prime: The Event

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Writers: Christopher Priest & Joseph P. Illidge
Artists: Marco Turini, Jessica Kholinne
Publisher: Lion Forge

Lion Forge’s brand-new superhero universe kicked off this week with Noble #1, and the publisher’s FCBD story backtracks to its nascent sagas’ origin point. Reminiscent of Marvel’s “New Universe” line of books, it seems that Lion Forge’s supernaturally gifted heroes (and, perhaps, villains) found themselves at the epicenter of a mysterious “Event” that imbued ordinary people with extraordinary powers. The premise alone is rote, but with a mix of seasoned and budding talent including Deathstroke writer Christopher Priest, as well as an explicit commitment to diverse representation à la the much-missed Milestone universe, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Catalyst Prime books—especially with a free entry-point. Steve Foxe

Colorful Monsters

Writer/Artists: Elise Gravel, Shigeru Mizuki, Tove Jansson, Anouk Ricard
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Montreal indie publisher Drawn & Quarterly is sporting a particularly strong FCBD game this year, with two comics that demonstrate the breadth of its publishing strata. The first floppy offers a sample of Guy Delisle’s harrowing graphic novel, Hostage, a biography of a charity employee’s captivity and escape from captors in Chechnya. The entry also includes a preview of Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s upcoming Poppies of Iraq, an autobiography from Findlaky about her intense childhood in Mosul.

If depressing (though excellent) political nonfiction isn’t for you, D+Q’s second book addresses another of the publisher’s fortes: international kids’ cartoons about whimsical beasts, hence the title “Colorful Monsters.” The Enfant imprint offers reprints from legends like Finland’s Tove Jansson (Moomin) and Japan’s Shigeru Mizuki (Kitaro), but also includes more recent samples from Anouk Ricard (Anna and Froga) and a preview of Elise Gravel’s stinkin’ adorable upcoming monster-filled faux notebook, If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel. This is for comics readers who like to dream high, wide and bright. Sean Edgar

Fresh Off the Boat Presents: Legion of Dope-itude Featuring Lazy Boy

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Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Jorge Carona
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

In addition to their always-great sampler mentioned above, BOOM! Studios has a uniquely bonkers offering this year: a tie-in with celebrity chef and memoirist Eddie Huang’s loosely autobiographical TV comedy, Fresh Off the Boat. Spinning out of an episode airing this month in which Huang and his adorable younger brother, Emery, create the “Legion of Dope-itude” for a comic contest, this one-shot unites American Born Chinese creator and Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang with Feathers and We Are Robin artist Jorge Corona for a full-color, full-sized adventure starring the super-powered fantasy versions of the Huang family. Yang, no stranger to exploring identity and immigration through comedy and action, taps into Huang’s experience as an Asian-American kid growing up in a largely white area of Orlando, and Corona has a blast with the full-blown superhero-homage fantasy of the premise (as seen in Lazy Boy’s Kirby-inspired chair). Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, this one-shot is Yang and Corona at their most fun. Steve Foxe

I Hate Image

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Writer/Artist: Skottie Young
Publisher: Image Comics

Skottie Young’s bloody, manic I Hate Fairyland is a fan-favorite among Image’s diverse creator-owned offerings, with its demented take on Dorothy and other prototypical portal-fantasy heroines. This one-shot from Young and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu is a goofy, violent ode to the strength of Image’s current slate as axe-wielding Gertrude tears a hole in the fabric of Fairyland and cuts a bloody swath across the universes of other familiar Image properties from The Walking Dead to The Wicked + The Divine (including decapitated cameos from certain creators known for their DJ skills). Bless the good humor of Image’s various accomplished creators for letting this gonzo book happen—just be sure not to mistakenly give this bloodbath to a child. Steve Foxe

James Cameron’s Avatar/Briggs Land

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Writers: Sherri L. Smith, Brian Wood
Artists: Doug Wheatley, Werther Dell-Edera
Publisher: Dark Horse

Dark Horse offers two samplers this year: a Buffy/Plants Vs. Zombies split and this improbable pairing of James Cameron’s Avatar and the Brian Wood-created Briggs Land. The latter is headed for AMC and felt a bit like a TV pitch from the first issue, but the former is one of the most bizarre media properties of modern times. Cameron’s hyper-high-budget sci-fi epic netted an unprecedented amount of money (aided by its 3D ticket costs) but near-universal mockery of its Ferngully-reminiscent plot and Cameron’s lofty, long-delayed plans for an ever-increasing number of sequels. Whether fans want more Avatar or not, we’re getting it, starting with a Disney theme park zone and Dark Horse comics. Thankfully, artist Doug Wheatley with colorist Wes Dzioba actually make something of a case for Cameron’s creation to continue on the printed page. Unlike Star Wars or any number of other massive franchises, Avatar has had minimal licensing to keep it alive between films, but Wheatley’s skilled renditions of the flying beasts of Pandora suggest that there’s room in this slightly goofy fantasy world for adventures outside of Cameron’s direct control. Steve Foxe

Spill Night

Writer: Scott Westerfeld
Artist: Alex Puvilland
Publisher: First Second

This prequel to Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland’s graphic novel, Spill Zone, is an immaculate example of what a Free Comic Book Day entry should be: a complete story that seeds interest in a larger narrative tapestry; an issue with more sequential art than marketing copy; and an intoxicating tour through a psychedelic apocalypse featuring a telepathic Raggedy Ann doll and wolf/giraffe hybrids. Spill Night sells just how cool and unique this project is in a handful of pages, showing a young girl venture into a city destroyed by an invading reality. Puvilland illustrates that lofty concept by contrasting the mundane elements of upstate NY town Poughkeepsie against a neon-marquee fever dream of floating bodies and inexplicably bizarre sights. Think Stranger Things meets Alice in Wonderland directed by Gaspar Noe circa Enter the Void. Including a royal court of rebelling stuffed animals further begs the reader to wonder, What the hell is going on and how can I find out more? Another feather in publisher First Second’s cap of innovative, age-spanning gems, Spill Night deserves first grabs at your local comic shop this Saturday. Sean Edgar

Time Shifters

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Writer/Artist: Chris Grine
Publisher: Scholastic GRAPHIX

Scholastic GRAPHIX is a home to Jeff Smith’s Bone and a host of other bright, accessible, challenging, fun comics aimed at young readers—comics too often passed over by adults unwilling to look outside of the familiar monthly publishers. Chris Grine’s Time Shifters is one of the newest potential franchises for the publisher, and this teaser story sets up the hook ahead of the book’s publication on May 30th. Grine’s plucky protagonist Luke discovers a mysterious device in the woods and gets tossed into extradimensional adventures involving a robot Abe Lincoln, a dino steed and a trio of evil henchmen including a vampire Napoleon Bonaparte. Grine’s cartooning is expressive, clean and brightly colored, and Luke’s predicament is both high-stakes and enviable. Time Shifters and the other books in the GRAPHIX catalogue may not get much direct-market industry attention, but they’re the ambassador comics bringing in new generations of readers—exactly what Free Comic Book Day is all about. Steve Foxe

X-O Manowar

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Writers: Matt Kindt, Eric Heisserer, Jeff Lemire
Artists: CAFU, Raúl Allén, David LaFuente, Juan Rosé Ryp
Publisher: Valiant

Valiant’s audience seems steady but capped—no matter how many accessible entryways they offer into their sci-fi/action shared universe, they can’t seem to break into the readership their high-quality books deserve. It’s not for want of trying: X-O Manowar FCBD 2017 is a compelling snapshot of the current Valiant universe and a prologue of things to come. Matt Kindt and CAFU provide a prologue to Kindt’s epic, multi-artist Manowar saga; Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer and artist Raúl Allén preview their upcoming Secret Weapons series; Jeff Lemire continues to steward Bloodshot in this Salvation prologue with artist Juan José Ryp; and artist David LaFuente illustrates a full-universe spread. For the Valiant-curious and Valiant-stalwart alike, this FCBD special shows off what the polished publisher has planned for the year ahead. Steve Foxe

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