A Comics Feast! All The Free Comic Book Day Comics Reviewed, Part I

There will be fifty free comic books released for free in 2,300 comic book stores across the land this Saturday for Free Comic Book Day.

But which ones will you actually want to read? In a series of pieces, Bleeding Cool's head writer Rich Johnston and Editor-In-Chief Hannah Means-Shannon will do their best to winnow them down for you – by reading every one.

Okay, so we begin with our first twenty-five.

STK666538_TNHip-Hop Family Tree Three-In-One, Fantagraphics

A series of original graphic novels has seen Ed Piskor tell the story of hip hop through the comic books imagery of the time, entwined through the seventies and eighties. This issue collects three different excerpts from three different eras, the colours, the line the paper expertly taking me to a new world but also through a familiar childhood experience,as well as adapting the Rob Liefeld/Spike Lee Levis ad into comic form and adding a new Cosplayers story by Dash Shaw in the back. If you haven't read the books, this will make you want to. So it's free but those hardcovers are expensive. I generally like detailed histories of people, whatever the subject, and hip-hop is as good a one as any, making this my favourite FCBD comic of 2015. A good one to start on. Recommended for those who read comics thirty years ago.

STK666593_TNMercury Heat, Avatar Press

Kieron Gillen and Omar Francia gets its first airing here on Free Comic Book Day, and it lands with an explosion. A future set world, where people's personalities are graded to find their suitable positions, you'd have thought such a procedure would have been great for the police. Maybe weeding out those who just want to shoot black people, or general psychopaths. Of course, in some cases, psychopath police are what you need, and this comic gives you a place for one such woman to find her lawgiving home. It is, naturally, very very violent, very funny and, as all good science fiction should be, is abot the present far more than it is the perceived future.A brand new story from the writer of Darth Vader for Marvel to kick off the series this summer. Recommended for those who think Judge Dreddd is a pussy.

STK666915_TNTales Of Honor, Top Cow/Image Comics

A preview ahead of June's new Tales Of Honor series, this is a much more mainstream sci-fi story, space opera even though its topic, slave trading taken from the high seas to outer space had the potential to be more shocking and challenging, An attempt to deal with the realities of that may have made for a more affecting story, this one kind of washes over you. But it is pleasant enough and the Family Sejic approach to colour is always a welcome way to lift things. Recommended for those who liked to play Elite.

STK666804_TNDivergence #1, DC Entertainment.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Each is turned inside out in one of three stories, and each deals with the consequences left by this last Wednesday's titles. So we see who replaces Batman, now that Bruce Wayne met his end (supposedly) at the hands of the Joker, we see a Superman who the world knows is Clark Kent, and the origins of Darkseid's daughter in the past of Wonder Woman, and the fate of the Justice League to come. Each one is exciting, each one asks questions, each one changes their respective comics and they should be as easy to pick up for the newbie as for the Wednesday Warriors. DC have done a fantastic job in putting together three tastes of superhero crack in one. Recommended for anyone who thinks they might like to read a DC comic book sometime.

STK666506_TNSecret Wars #0, Marvel Comics

This is very much a "previously seen on Buffy The Vampire Slayer" chapter, basically summing up what has happened in the Avengers and New Avengers for the past few years ahead of Secret Wars. Which does basically involve a lot of people standing around looking glum, before the  double page splash of the impending attack fleet. As much a fan as I have been of the Avengers titles, this is probably rather lacking. Clearly Marvel want to start the comic with Secret Wars #1 on Wednesday, this feels too much like treading water. Thank fully the backup, with the Avengers fight the Attack On Titan monsters from earlier in the year gives you a bit of the bombast lacking – but this time without meaning. If only they could have tied the two together somehow. Recommended for those who want everything Secret Wars or everything Attack On Titan.

STK666913_TNSavage Dragon: Legacy #1, Image Comics

It is one of the longest American comic books from the same creator and for that alone it demands respect. Especially since the book insists on completely revamping itself every couple of years. And here we have with some standing around exposition, but married with the big bombast. And as well as big explosions, bug plot points happen as well, now into the story of Savage Dragon's son Malcolm Dragon taking on his role. And also, giving you a successful ongoing comic starring a black guy his Asian wife and their… no wait, that's a spoiler too far. This may be the diversity comic you have missed, through all the entertaining and fresh fist fights that fill the comic from start to finish. Recommended for people who like superheroes and who don't give a damn about what is fashionable or not.

STK666879_TNTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, IDW Entertainment

The internet has been abuzz with the news of Donatello's apparent death. And last Wednesday's issue defined the new status of that character and the team going forward. This issue gives you their first adventure together, three turtles and,.. something else. Giving us a full, brief history of the team, their current derring dos, exploring their new status quo and facing down a big threat to come. It's the kind of comic that should satisfy all turtle readers from all periods of the book – maybe except those wedded to Michael Bay's version. It just feels a lot more… real. Recommended for heroes in a half shell.

STK666507_TNAll-New All-Different Avengers, Marvel Comics

There is a scene towards the end of the Avengers: Age Of Ultron movie, out this weekend in the USA, which so ties into the look and feel of this comic. So yes, we have Iron Man, the Vision and Falcon from the movie, as well as the superheroes who have been hitting the headlines, Ms Marvel, Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man, female Thor and… Nova? He's a bit of an oddity here, seemingly replicating the roles of Miles and Kamala, But all three work as a way into the book, also suggesting an Archie/Betty/Veronica style future for this title. It's an addictively strong way to start the book before diving into the rest of the post-Secert Wars Marvel Universe, with new Inhumans characters, and establishing Johnny Storm's role in that team under Medusa. Hmm. A teaser for Max Ride: First Flight and this is a light'n'brighty way in to the future of Marvel. Recommended for those who saw Avengers Age Of Ultron and want it to continue.

STK666910_TNThe Stuff Of Legend, Third World Studios

Born out of Free Comic Book Days past, The Stuff Of Legend is Toy Story meets Lord Of The Rings, a dichotomy of appearance and reality, with the cuddliest of bedroom toys having had the stuffing kicked out of them by a barren and cruel environment, and all they want to do is protect their "master". And it has taken years and they are still no closer. This is a heartbreaking comic, though this spares you  y showing you a worldless preview of what is to come. It is flipbooked with Thanatos Diver, previewing a more upbeak kids adventure graphic novel out later this year. You'll need it after seeing the fate that befalls our toys… Recommended for kids growing out of Disney – or ones that you would like to.

STK666589_TNGronk, A Monster's Story, Action Lab

Kate Cook is a legend of the comic book scene, her lines at shows dwarfing all others, with each of her projects just adding more to that line. Here is her webcomic Gronk, now in print. That is if Free Comic Book Day retailers choose to share it, what with a Toys R Us ad on the inside cover… but we get a charming cute and sweet story of monsters and one who just can't fit in with the rest. Anxiety, social ostracisation, unreliable narrators and no easy answers, you can see where this is going. A strange, weird, wonderful little gem of a comic that my kids are going to eat up. And a backup strip with Hero Cats, featuring Cats Vs. Robots? A slick, shareable snippet… Recommended for those who have their own monsters to fight

STK666128_TNAnd Then Emily Was Gone, Comix Tribe

A snippet-filled tun through Comix Tribe's current output with the fan favourite And Then Emily Was Gone in the lead, a story about nightmares to give you nightmares. The kind of comic that parents think isn't suitable for kids but that kids really love. And then Oxymoron is the kid of comic that parents think a kid will probably be okay with, but isn't because it's just too disturbingly violent. Recommended for those with lax standards of decency

STK665721_TNICE, from 12 Gauge

I'm going to confess something now. I have only ever seen ICE, a procedural action comic about the American immigration and customs enforcement team on Free Comic Book Day and I've never seen an actual issue of the series… anywhere. And while I always enjoy ICE, about once a year is good for me I think. CSI on the docks. Recommended for those who love to watch those real-life shows where people to jobs and wonder what would happen if the cameras weren't there.

Layout 1Bob's Burgers, Dynamite Entertainment

This comic, adapting the cartoon TV show, has been a bit hit for Dynamite, and this issue is a bit of a clip job, taking stories from seven issues and compiling them together in one. And while the cartoon does tend to stay close to reality, the comic goes off into magical pony land, Literally in one example. And for all hat it takes on the TV show, it also writes well the comic book medium, being more experimental than one might expect. Recommended for those who like the show – or think they might if they had the time.

STK665723_TNStreet Fighter, from Udon

Slightly smaller than all the others but still packing punch, Street Fighter takes away the black comic line, replaces it colour as body stacks up against body in an arcade battle, big muscles, balloony breasts (and that includes the men) and even a comedy bit at the back in Street Funnies. It's not trying to say much, but it looks very pretty and you won't believe the pages are small…. Recommended for those who read with their eyes.

STK666880_TNTransformers: Robots In Disguise #0, IDW Entertainment

For a few folk, this may be their first encounter with a female Transformer for a while as Strongarm takes centre stage in this comic. That publicity couldn't have come at a better time. The exposition is minimal, seemingly inspired by All-Star Superman as we have Autobots getting up to fun, goofy, cartoony stuff but  building enough to drop the book off the cliff with a cliffhanger, straight into July's new launch…. Recommended for those who love a romp with robots.

Super Mutant Magic Academy & Step Aside Pops, Drawn & Quarterly

STK666873Excerpts from two recent Drawn & Quarterly collections, Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki and Step Aside, Pops, by Kate Beaton, are included in this comic. But the fact that they are excerpts actually doesn't lessen the impact of the comic. This may well be my top pick for FCBD this year for sheer hilarity via the weird and wonderful. Tamaki's stories redefine a kind of magic realism, let's call it "mutant realism" that operates in a rough parody of something like Xavier's school for the gifted where kids are going about their lives and the traces or massive footprints of mutant power influence the humorous or poignant points being made about youth. Beaton, whose reputation no doubt precedes her, deserves all the accolades she has received for sheer off the wall and unpredictable historical and literary humor. Her offerings, from a Jane Austen framed Fox and Mulder story to, perhaps my favorite "Nemesis", will give you a Beaton addiction that you won't be able to kick. This is for people who think comics can be astonishing and want to see all the ways they can be.

Doctor Who Spectacular, Titan Comics

STK666290Three all new stories for FCBD is a rather impressive gesture. Way to go, Titan. When we consider how FCBD can reach out to new comics readers (and using a photo cover doesn't hurt). Titan have an ambassadorial role whether they realize it or not because they have the Doctor. Whovians of all stripes who may not have read a comic before might pick this up, so I am glad they made the specially designed story choice. Here three current lines of comic book doctors (10,11, 12) are represented in the hands of their creative teams on the same books. The stories themselves are a good spread of possible choices, from serious to comic, and the artwork varied and interesting to show off the medium. The 12th Doctor story focuses on Clara showing her own agency, the 11th Doctor story, set in a proxy for Forbidden Planet in London, is pretty ingeniously funny as a commentary on books and reading, and the 12th Doctor story, probably my favorite, hits on that taboo subject we've all been waiting to talk about in Doctor Who lore: clothing. No, seriously. We all know the fashion is part of the appeal and things are going squiffy with clothing in very amusing ways (high five to writer on that Nick Abadzis). This comic is for people who like the Doctor or are Doctor-curious and sometimes leave things in their pockets in the wash by accident.

Motorcycle Samurai, Top Shelf

STK666874Motorcycle Samurai, from the webcomic by Chris Sheridan plays an interesting role in FCBD if you think about it. It's a print comic based on a webcomic, which might lead people through print back to webcomics. Ingenious. FCBD can strengthen all aspects of the comics medium, not just print. Yes, I know that Top Shelf is bringing Motorcycle Samurai to print and that's part of the point, but it's still an interesting crossroads for comics. New to the comic myself, I found the artwork very compelling as well as fun, and the cowboy and samurai tropes in it clever, but the biggest strength of the story is in building up mystery behind behavior for the titular figure. Her comments and thoughts are unpredictable which make her "watchable". You'll notice the panels are very decompressed and landscape because of its web-origin but the transition has been artful and this makes a great indie-style contribution to FCBD. This comic is for people who like a particularly sinister or zany quip and attitude in the linework of a comic.

Terrible Lizard, Oni Press

STK666877Terrible Lizard, by Cullen Bunn and Drew Moss has some strong writing and gorgeous artwork but that didn't quite make it a "must have" for me. It is, however, a must have for FCBD. This book is right over the plate for the kind of comics that need to be on offer. It features a 14 year old female protagonist who is smart, engaged, and knows how to wear a hoodie rather than worrying about her makeup. All that means I'd give it to any young reader as a strong recommendation. It's also science-fictional and has plenty of vivid action, both good qualities for attracting readers of all ages. But mainly, of course, it has DINOSAURS, and most people, including me, will read a dinosaur story, particularly if it's a terribly dangerous dinosaur who's suddenly become a 14 year old's pet. Moss's artwork is very engaging and this is a comic with verve. This comic is for people who turn their head instinctually when they hear someone else say the world "dinosaur" to see what's up.

Ten Year Celebration Special, Boom! Studios

STK666532Now, here's the money. If you walk out of a shop on FCBD without this anthology there's probably something wrong with your head. Or there's an incredibly strict limit on how many comics you can take. In that case, take a child also and they can grab this one for you. Everything is in here. Labyrinth with gorgeous artwork, upcoming magic-based series Iscariot is previewed, Mouse Guard (MOUSE GUARD!) which actually tells a very emotional story about the afterlife fable-style, Adventure Time via Fionna and Cake who face a gaming tournament, Regular Show all about caffeine mania, Peanuts where Snoopy tries to write a novel, Garfield where Jon is so whipped by a cat, and pausing for dramatic effect…Lumberjanes featuring near-death by friendship bracelets, Munchkin with monster furniture, and lastly but not leastly, Help Us! Great Warrior which seems to be about the birth of a fiery two-headed dragon. It took a whole paragraph just to tell you what's in this comic. It's packed with very entertaining reads that adults will want and you can even read it with a kid to be nice and share. This comic is for anyone who likes comics, storytelling, and creative directions in the medium.

Comics Festival! 2015, TCAF

STK665727I'll credit friends with telling me to look out for this comic which puts forward Canadian indie comics in association with the upcoming Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF happening in only a week). But damn, this is a great comic. This is a comic that makes you say, "you're giving this to me for free?" It contains, funnily enough, work by Kate Beaton and Jillian Tamaki as well, but also a host of other great comics, including collaborations between Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, and a Superhero Girl story from Faith Erin Hicks. These are, for the most part, standalone stories that tie into existing graphic novels, giving you a definite taste of their flavor and tone. Costume Quest by Zac Gorman and Hicks' Superhero Girl story struck me the most as meaningful reads that will stay with me, Gorman with a few simple thoughts about costume and cosplay and Hicks with a fairly uproarious, great commentary on the whole superhero genre of deaths and reboots in a few simple panels. Like I said, damn. Who ever thought that FCBD would be a way to actually push the medium forward? I guess it depends on who's making the comics, and these folks are great. This comic is for those with a taste for whimsy and who like a good slow-burn joke.

Dark Circle Comics, Archie Comics

STK664578Aside from its cool cover, which combines the three Dark Circle protagonists in a single image in the lush lines and colors of Francesco Francavilla, this comic does have a lot to offer readers in a fairly new line of comics. The newness of Dark Circle makes it a good choice for FCBD and may well help establish new readership for comics that are out right now or about to come out. The Black Hood comic gives us our anti-heroe's origin story, reproducing part of Issue #1 of The Black Hood, and The Fox: Fox Hunt follows the same pattern, bring us part of #1 to view. If you have these comics already, this FCBD issue may not be for you, but for those who haven't read them yet, these are two very interesting series that make a mark on comics right now and might open your eyes to different types of genre storytelling. If they do, those tastes might stick with you and enrich your comic reading experience for life.

If FCBD is not just about new readers, but also educating us to expand our own reading (thereby supporting more creators and more diversity in the medium), then this kind of comic does just that. The Black Hood is gritty and emotionally compelling, definitely a "dark" story, whereas Fox Hunt draws on Silver Age elements to show how imaginative and fluid hero comics can be. Dean Haspiel, long a proponent for diversity in art styles and content for comics is putting his art where his mouth is in Fox Hunt, and I'm glad new readers might be picking this issue up to be exposed to it. Also in this volume is a "sneak peek" of The Shield, a series starring a female hero that's coming up soon, which I'm excited about. The peek however was more of a glimpse since it's promo art and not a story snippet. Sigh. This comic is for people who like conflict-driven stories and the journey of a protagonist toward self-realization.

Legendary Comics 2015 Preview

STK664848By contrast, the Legendary Comics offering for FCBD is quite different. It's more like a mini-magazine catalogue of current or upcoming titles, though some titles have some promo art. But actually I read it cover to cover with great interest and learned quite a bit by doing so. The issue is set up with a page of art and a full page of specs and information on each graphic novel or series, from a new fall series Black Bag (featuring a homemaker assassin like Lady Killer only modern set, and that one does have some promo art), to Pacific Rim (also has promo art), Epochalypse (a time-crunching apocalypse story), and current series like A Town Called Dragon (highly recommended) and Annhilator (one of my favorite series of 2014/2015 concluding in May). What I notice looking through the catalogue showcase is how many really talented people are on board with these projects, and that does generate my interest. I want to see Joshua Hale Fialkov on Pacific Rim and Simon Bisley drawing Tower Chronicles. Depending on your genre tastes, not every title would appeal, but currently and in the coming year, chances are if you read comics widely you should be reading some of these titles. I just wish comic shops stocked most, if not all of them. I don't know if it's a common experience, but some of these titles have been "out" for some time and I've never seen them in the flesh. You will like this comic if you want to know what's coming up for action and genre storytelling with big screen potential.

Fight Club, The Goon & The Strain, Dark Horse Comics

STK666533This is probably one of the most revelatory of the FCBD releases. Few other comics offered can claim to tell you something you've been wanting to know for 20 years. If you're a fan of Fight Club, you'll probably want this comic as a collector's item because it contains, in comic form, the first novel-true visual rendering of the end of the Fight Club story as well as forming a bridge into Dark Horse's new May series Fight Club 2, written by the novel's author Chuck Palahniuk and drawn by Cameron Stewart. It's a high-end, highly anticipated project and this comic kicks it all off. But the rest of the FCBD issue is no slouch, including an all-new story featuring The Goon that is perhaps my favorite Goon story so far. That's a big claim to make, but probably hinges on my own love for horror characters and this story takes the Goon into the Deep South where he encounters Vampires and Werewolves. It's a genre-fest beyond measure, beautifully rendered and fun. Thank you Eric Powell. Also included is a story from The Strain series, and I'm still keen on the artwork for this series by Mike Huddleston, to get us into the mood for the return of the show this summer. Things are going to get epic pretty fast in the new season from what I've seen and keeping up with the comics with art design originally created by Del Toro can only enhance that experience. This comic is for you if you like to be entirely caught up in what you're reading and emerge blinking into the "real" world afterward, thinking, "What just happened??"

The Valiant 25th Anniversary Special, Valiant Entertainment

STK666876This comic lives up to its name. It's not full of 25 years of content, but it cleverly intersects with that history in a way that engages readers whether new or established. Now that Valiant have moved into their 2.0 phase, they are ready to start consolidating and building on their own re-established history to create things we haven't seen or dreamt of before, like The Valiant, Divinity, and Imperium, but there are elements of Valiant history that are useful to enriching your appreciation of the new stories. If you're a big fan of the new Matt Kindt written series Ninjak, don't you want to know what came before? The standout feature of this comic are the "info pages" (my phrase) of "Valiant Bests" that contain a lot of highly condensed information for you. There is a page for "First Appearances" (where you can learn about Ninjak, for instance), "Deaths" (Wait, what? More on that in a moment), "Team-Ups", and "Fights" (genius). Consider that list for a moment. You're probably not surprised to see First Appearances, but Deaths and Fights are really lateral in their thinking.

It reminds me of the fact that in hero story traditions in countries like Greece and Ireland, there is a category of storytelling called "heroic deaths" that would act as a genre category, and that in turn reminds me where all our hero stories come from and why a company like Valiant is so important. They are telling "hero stories", definitely, using both old and new material to create something that does feel very new and relevant to us right now. Their heroes are unusual and don't fit a super-hero mold. Their diversity and the ways in which their powers, personality, and historical vantages are interesting are bringing fresh blood to hero stories in comics, and it is a transfusion that comics really needs. Also contained in this useful comic are previews of Bloodshot Reborn including an interview with the great Jeff Lemire, a preview of Ninjak, a cool poster by Kano for the 25th Anniversary of Valiant, and a preview of X-O Manowar: Dead Hand. Now, because there seems to always be more to explore in the Valiant Universe lately, that may be enough reason to pick this up if you are a reader of their comics. But I'm suspecting that if you're new or want to talk the series up to a friend, this is a good vehicle to do so also. This comic is for you if you want to see what 21st century hero stories look like and find series to follow for longterm fandom.

We'll be following this with a discussion of the final 25 comics of Free Comic Book day here tomorrow

See the rest of our Free Comic Book Day 2015 coverage right here.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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