The Austin Chronicle

Free Comic Book Day: Picking Through The Shelves

By Richard Whittaker, May 3, 2013, 8:00am, Under the Covers

If you've read this week's issue, you'll know that May 4 marks the 11th annual Free Comic Book Day, the yearly celebration of graphic story telling when publishers and stores hand out special new stories, anthologies and issues, totally free and gratis. But with 52 different titles up for grabs this year, what should you put on your pull list?

Now most stores will limit the number of comics you can pick up. And anyway, don't just grab a free comic that you'll never read just because you can. When you do that, it means someone else won't be exposed to what could be their new favorite story. Make your picks wisely: So what's on offer, and what titles should you be hunting down?

The Big Two

Yeah, watch for the stampede as fans head for the latest freebies from DC Comics and Marvel. This year the House of Ideas leads its charge with Infinity, written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Jim Cheung. Checking out the cover, the sharp-eyed among you will recognize the grinning purple visage of Thanos, the big bad revealed at the end of a little indie flick called The Avengers. Speaking of Earth's mightiest heroes, Avengers Assemble/ Hulk Agents of Smash provide something a little more kid-friendly.

DC fires back with its own cinematic-inspired title: Superman: The Last Son of Krypton features the first chapter of the new graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, and features, unsurprisingly, Man of Steel menace General Zod. Younger readers may want to check in on DC Nation Sampler.

You should pick up: Considering that Marvel is setting up the next year or so of narrative, and giving cinemagoers a tie-in to their next two team-up adventures, Avengers 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, it has to be Infinity.

Indie Action

The 1990s were the high water mark for indie superheroes, but there are still survivors of the great winnowing of the last decade. Valiant makes a charge to be the biggest indie not powered by licensed properties with its new crossover Harbinger Wars and Valiant Masters Showcase. Top Cow offers all of issue one of its dragon-powered adventure Aphrodite IX, while Fathom publishers Aspen take another dive into the Worlds of Aspen.

Free Comic Book Day is also an opportunity for industry legends to show off their latest work. The godfather of modern comics returns with Stan Lee's Chakra the Invincible, while Ron Marz (Silver Surfer) and Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock) update the classic legend of Rama with Ramayan Reloaded Preview.

If you're looking for something with more journalistic meat, then Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace – the trade bible for the comic selling and buying industry – puts out their annual guide to the inner workings of the business. Meanwhile online comic and genre media news source Bleeding Cool took the jump into print last year, and now provides a Bleeding Cool Magazine redux.

At the other end of the indie spectrum, Kellerman/L'Amour Sampler (Random House) is exactly what it says it is: Adaptations of stories by Western authors Jonathan Kellerman and Louis L'Amour, due to be released in graphic novel form this Fall. The Red Ten crosses The Watchmen with And Then There Were None as a team of superheroes is picked off, one by one. For the indie-er-than-thou crowd, Gilberto Hernandez (Love and Rockets) depicts a slice of childhood in Marble Season, while hardy perennial The Tick returns for more spoon-powered madness.

You should pick up: A lot of creators are playing around with old myths and stories, but as a veteran of Fables spin-off Jack of Fables, we're honor bound to pick up the latest from local writer Matthew Sturges, Damsels (Dynamite). And he may have abandoned us for Portland, but we'll still be looking out for Strangers by former Austinite (and, along with Sturges, a key member of the Clockwork Storybook collective), Chris Roberson.

Also check out: British comic 2000 AD has kept anthology sci fi alive for decades, so head for 2000 AD Special and Judge Dredd Classics. Meanwhile the Mouse Guard/Rust split is worth it for Mouse Guard alone (imagine Game of Thrones with rodent protagonists, but less cute). You might also want to risk a read of Steam Engines of Oz, a steampunk flavored take on L. Frank Baum's classics.


There's a world of difference between a regular kids comic and an all-ages title. A good all-ages title should be a charming and guilt-free pleasure, and that's what It's An Ugly Doll Comic & Other Suff should provide (Sanrio fans will be tearing straight through to the Hello Kitty strip.) It's back to Riverdale with World of Archie Digest, while Bronies looking for a quick fix can enjoy some kung fu pegasus adventures in Action Time Buddies. On a more classical note, Fantagraphics digs into the archives for Prince Valiant, while Action Lab provides contemporary action heroines with their Molly Danger/Princeless twofer.

You should pick up: Go for broke with double pulp action. Atomic Robo and Friends (Red 5 Studios) is madcap fun, like a less grim Hellboy, while Hermes Press is reprinting two original 1930s Sunday story arcs from Buck Rogers in 25th Century.

Also check out: Finding Gossamyr/Stuff of Legend are two of the most exciting twists on fantasy tropes being published today, while Endangered Weapon B has a bear in a mech suit. Sold!

Start 'em Young

There's the normal flock of spin-offs and kids show bonuses (Spongebob Comics Freestyle Funnies, The Smurfs, Disney Fairies, NFL Rush Zone, Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man, Sesame Street and Strawberry Shortcake) but there's also enough original thinking and classic adaptations to drag your kids away from the TV for five minutes. Capstone Presents Mr Puzzle is aimed straight at young funny bones, while the Pippi Longstocking Color Special catches all the weirdness of Astrid Lindgren's classic creation. Rated Free for Everyone pairs Oni's historical hero Crogan with their latest adventurer: Mermin, a fish boy attending a regular land-people school.

You should pick up: The super-anthology Kaboom Summer Blast is an amazing taster of titles from Adventure Time through to Peanuts. Ditto with Top Shelf Kids Club, because if you're not reading Owly, then you have no soul.

Also check out: Imagine if Dr. Who was a superhero cat, and could always talk to his other incarnations. That's Scratch 9, and it's a blast.

Tie-In Fever

Fans of FemShep and Ryan Reynolds rejoice: Mass Effect/Killjoys/RIPD brings together the epic Bioware game and a tease of the new supernatural action flick. Manga fans will be making a beeline straight for Dragon Ball & Rurouni Kenshin Restoration, while there's plenty of gore as Dynamite launches their Grimmm ongoing with a one-shot for NBC's supernatural hit. Animation gets a look-in with new Simpsons adventures in Bongo Free-For-All and TMNT New Animated Adventures.

You should pick up: A lot of fans are pretty angry that Disney will be cancelling Dark Horse's contract to produce Star Wars comics, so the triple hitter of Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar could be your last chance to get on board before the franchise heads to Marvel. And, yes, that's the wonderful Avatar: The Last Airbender, Cartoon Network's extraordinary epic of childhood heroism: Another epic story to which Dark Horse has brought new life.

Mature Readers Only

There are only three titles this year you'll definitely need to keep out of kids' hands/ The FUBAR Special continues their revenant rewriting of history with zombies in Iraq. Meanwhile, considering Christos Gage has been quite happily butchering young heroes for Marvel in Avengers Academy, imagine how brutal Absolution: The Beginning must be that he had to take it to leading gore house Avatar. As for the third, unsurprisingly, that will be the Walking Dead 2013 contribution

You should pick up: Look, we all know you'll be picking up everyone's favorite undead epic, so let's just get moving.

For more info about Free Comic Book Day, visit

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