Free Comic Book Day Round-Up And Reviews [Feature]

Last weekend was a pretty amazing one for geeks. Friday was May the Fourth Be With You, The Avengers was released and smashed box office records, and Saturday brought Free Comic Book Day. The annual event takes place on the first Saturday of May, and it’s been going strong for ten years. Impressive, huh? Especially considering that free actually means free. It’s a day for comic book shops to dress to impress and attract new customers, a day when comic book creators are even bigger rock stars, and a day to introduce your non-comic book reading friends to the fun that is comics.

I visited three spots for the geek holiday this year, and as I expected, each location handled the day a little differently. I go to more than one store mostly because I’m curious to see what they all do to celebrate, and I don’t mind getting a variety of the available free comics. Speaking of that, I picked up seven free comics (including Archaia’s free hardcover) in my travels, and I devoured the stack as soon as I could.

Read about my experience along with a run-down of the stand-outs among the comics I picked up after the break.

In the past, I’ve made as many as five different stops on Free Comic Book Day. I’ve found some great sales and shops that way, and I’ve tried to visit locations around the city so I can make recommendations to friends looking for comic book stores in their area. We’re lucky to have dozens of shops in Los Angeles, and even though I decided to only go with three stores this year I could have picked from at least seven shops within a ten mile radius. Yeah, we’re spoiled.

I stopped at my usual shop, House of Secrets, first. When I drove down the street I immediately spotted a crowd of superheroes out front. I was crazy excited to see the likes of Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow since I was still on a high from see The Avengers the night before. They also had representatives of the DC universe on hand. The inside was packed with free comics set up on top of boxes of back issues and on the counter. Kid friendly comics were on spinner racks out front. Each person could grab three of the free comics (which seems to be the average).

I feel like the cosplayers on the street definitely grabbed the attention of passersby who had no idea about Free Comic Book Day and had probably never noticed the comic book store on the corner. I love when stores are able to pull in entirely new readers. Comic book fans get a day of free comics, but other people get introduced to a whole new world.

My second stop was Emerald Knights Comics and Games. Though comics comes before games the name of the store, it seems to be more focused on the latter. Most of the merchandising space is geared towards gaming with just a small section set aside for comics. They sadly didn’t have any cosplayers or sales, just a couple of tables set up with a note saying you could take two free comics. I was grateful for the free comics (and purchased a Darth Vader ice cube tray), but given what I’ve seen them do with creator signings, I don’t feel like they put a lot of effort into Free Comic Book Day.

Last but not least I checked out the brick and mortar set up of Blastoff Comic’s online store (full disclosure: I contribute to their website). They partnered with a local skate shop in an area with heavy foot traffic to set up racks and boxes for Free Comic Book Day. In addition to offering three free comics per person, they had a few cosplayers and offered 40% off a large assortment of graphic novels and trades. They also did something I’ve never seen at a Free Comic Book Day event: they offered free food and drinks with the help of a local restaurant.

I like their approach because I know it drew in curious people. Sure, those of us looking for free comics sought them out, but many people were just walking by on the way to a restaurant or Starbucks. As I walked away from their “store,” more than a couple of people spotted my bag emblazoned with Free Comic Book Day and asked where to go to find them. An added bonus was being close to a movie theater. They had the opportunity to pass out free comics to folks in line to see The Avengers. Very smart move.

I was happy with my expedition. I would have liked to make it to more stores in my area, but I ran out of energy. Collector’s Paradise had a long list of creator signings and great sales; Comic Smash had deals including a sidewalk sale with back issues for $0.25 each. I love grabbing comic books at that price to use for crafting later. I feel like the perfect Free Comic Book Day scenario is a store with some creator signings, a few cosplayers, some deals, and enough visibility to bring in the mundanes. I’ll definitely be checking out more places to find the perfect combination next year.

Now about those free comics I chose. In past years I remember getting complete issues that were either one-shots or #0. This year – by just not paying close enough attention – I ended up with comic books that are either flip books with two stories or books that are samplers with a few pages of several different comics. Each style has advantages. With issues telling one story I can easily determine whether it’s a title I want to continue reading. I’m not quite as sure after reading three-five pages of a sampler, but I can get a feel for the story and art and I get to peruse a wider variety of comics.

A handful of titles this year grabbed my attention for personal tastes and quality. Let’s get the obvious winner out of the way. Archaia Entertainment offered a free hardcover. It’s the first time it’s been done in the history of Free Comic Book Day, and it’s pretty impressive (the act and the finished book). The mini anthology features samples of their wonderful titles including: Mouse Guard (see sample page above and click to enlarge), Labyrinth, Cow Boy, Return of the Dapper Men, and Cursed Pirate Girl. All of the stories featured in the book are originals. The art in each tale is gorgeous, and it’s a great introduction to the sort of non-superhero comics available on the market.

Dark Horse’s comics are next on my list. They put out two free issues featuring four of my favorite franchises: Serenity, Star Wars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and The Guild. Serenity and the Millennium Falcon in one book! How could I resist? Zack Whedon penned both of those stories, and they both feature captains protecting their ships. I adored the parallels between Han Solo and Mal Reynolds, and it made me wish those characters would enter some alternate universe where they meet. The Buffy/Guild book was just fun. I’m glad I grabbed both of them! Bonus: Dark Horse has made these issues available for free download.

I have a few honorable mentions, too. DC’s Superman Family Adventures was completely charming, and I’m head over heels for the story and illustrations by Art Baltazar & Franco. I’ll definitely be picking this comic up when it goes on sale May 30th. I liked Red 5 Comic’s Bonnie Lass; the sampler was only six pages but I like the style of humor. I also enjoyed Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron issue #0.1. I’ve been inhaling Silver Age era Avengers, and I’m looking forward to reading about a modern version of the superhero team. Plus I’m still excited about the film.

Now that I’ve read through my free comics and decided what I’ll be ordering from Previews, it’s time to pass them on to someone else. Except for the Archaia hardcover. It’s too lovely to share.

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