Pop Culture Happy Hour

Your Guide To Free Comic Book Day 2019: Best Bets For Every Reader


Ron Ackins checks out back issues at Philadelphia's Fat Jack's Comicrypt on Free Comic Book Day 2012. Be like Ron.
Matt Rourke, AP

Ron Ackins checks out back issues at Philadelphia's Fat Jack's Comicrypt on Free Comic Book Day 2012. Be like Ron.

It's Free Comic Book Day once again, so here we are, so here you are, and here I am, for I think the 12th time? Here, still yet again, is the drill:

Walk in to a comics shop this Saturday, May 4th, and you'll get some free comics. Many shops across the country celebrate Free Comic Book Day with events — signings, raffles, costume and trivia contests, etc. — so take the kids, and/or the kid you once were.

Here, as every year, are the relevant details:

  • You can find your closest shop by typing your ZIP code into the Comics Shop Locator on the page.
  • Some comics shops don't take part in Free Comic Book Day — check with the Comics Shop Locator to make sure your local shop does. In most cases, the Comics Shop Locator entry will let you know what the store has planned for the day.
  • Publishers print special Free Comic Book Day editions of the books that will be handed out on Saturday.
  • There are 53 different FCBD books this year.
  • Not every shop will offer all 53 titles.
  • Some stores lay them out and let you pick the ones you want; other stores hand you a sampler pack.
  • If you do get your choice of books, the reviews below might help you find the ones you're likely to like.
  • If you don't get a choice, remember: Free comics.
  • While you're there, buy something.
  • No seriously: Buy something.
  • Buy SOMEthing. The comics shops still have to pay for the "free" FCBD books they stock, and they're counting on the increased foot traffic to lift sales, so be a human being. And buy something.
  • How will you know WHAT you should buy? Ask someone on staff at the comics shop. It's really that simple. As you head to the shop, be thinking about what kind of movies you like, what kind of books you read, what TV shows you binge on, so you can tell them. They'll very likely be able to make recommendations in line with your tastes.

Support comes from

The books are rated by age-appropriateness, but of course there's always wiggle room there. (Fair warning to parents concerned about such things: This year's FCBD aren't as uniformly and clearly marked as they have been in the past. In this post, I'll group the books alphabetically by age-category, so keep this page handy as you browse.)

As a general rule:

ALL-AGES: Akin to a G-rating. Go ahead and hand it to little Alphonse or Desdemona with blithe impunity. This year, it's the largest category, by a smidge: 24 of this year's crop of 53 books belong in this category.

TEEN: Akin to PG. Little Cholmondeley or Hortense might need help with some words or concepts. Most superhero and tie-in books tend to fall in this group; 23 of this year's FCBD titles are Teen books.

TEEN+: PG-13. There's just one Teen+ book this year. Look, I don't know your life, I don't know how you've been raising little Aloysius and Esmeralda, but they can probably handle it.

MATURE: R. There are 5 "rated M for Mature" titles this year (including one from a property most parents won't be expecting to carry an M-rating, see below). As for what it means: "Father? Mumsy? In this panel, are all those streaks of red across the walls – are they perchance delicious red currant jam, Mumsy? And is that pinkish-gray pulp all over the floor some kind of scrumptious gooseberry pudding? And why are those two people's hips kissing? Oh, do tell me, please, oh do."


Title: Blastosaurus

Genre: Humor/Superhero

The Gist: Mutant triceratops and his two kid friends defend the city from such threats as hillbilly vampires, a fart-themed villain called The Crop-Duster, and an evil pomme de terre.

Additional Info: Funny, silly and smart. Perfectly constructed, too – we get vignettes that show us who Blastosaurus is, fit into an overarching story that makes for a satisfying FCBD read.

Verdict? Yes, definitely.

Title: Bob's Burgers

Genre: Humor/Tie-In

The Gist: Based on the beloved FOX animated series, this comic presents three short stories focused on the kids; each tale riffs on the show's stock visual style in clever, inventive ways.

Additional Info: Not enough Linda. Never enough Linda.

Verdict? Aw-riiiiight!

Title: Casper's Spooksville

Genre: Humor

The Gist: Two new stories – and a 1953 tale, from the Friendly-Ghost vaults – about Casper, his smart friend Wendy the Witch and the mischievous Hot Stuff, who is, I remind you, a baby devil in a diaper. The art is open and (fittingly) friendly, the stories as pleasantly bland as Casper himself.

Additional Info: The two new stories are smart enough to focus on Casper's friends, who are a lot less basic than he is.

Verdict? There's only a few FCBD comics this year aimed at very young kids, so: Yes, if you are, or have, a very young kid.

Title: Cristiano Ronaldo's Striker Force

Genre: Action/Superhero

The Gist: A super-secret organization recruits international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to fight supervillains with a soccer-ball-sized talking sphere that can absorb super-powers. (They recruit Ronaldo, see, because only he can kick the ball at bad guys with necessary accuracy.) (Seriously.)

Additional Info: The story's standard fare, and the art adopts the clean and simple design that will remind comics readers of Bruce Timm. You can't say artist Jeevan J. Kang doesn't nail Ronaldo's look, though, down to the beauty mark and the earrings – but then, translating Ronaldo's unnervingly symmetrical features onto the comic book page probably wasn't much of a leap; dude looks more like Superman than Superman.

Verdict? It's only the first chapter, but there's some fun action, and hints of a big, diverse cast. Maybe?

Title: Dear Justice League

Genre: Superhero

The Gist: In two stories, excerpted from a graphic novel of the same name, members of the Justice League respond to texted queries from the public.

Additional Info: A clever idea, smartly executed. Artist Gustavo Duarte lends Superman and Hawkgirl a comical, rubber-faced expressiveness that extends to the world around them. Breezy, light and fun.

Verdict? Yes!

Title: Defend Comics

Genre: Various

The Gist: In years past, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund — a non-profit that protects the comics industry from efforts to ban, censor or penalize the making and selling of comics – has produced a FCBD issue filled with info about its important work. This year, they're instead serving up excerpts from various new and forthcoming comics from a variety of publishers.

Additional Info: I've complained about "sampler" FCBD books in the past: Even when they're interesting, they're never satisfying, and tend to feel like advertisements. But there's no denying this crop of excerpts includes some intriguing slices from stories that vary widely in tone. (I'm definitely picking up the creepy high-school tale Apocalypse Taco, based on this nightmarish excerpt, and Bill (Zippy the Pinhead) Griffith's autobiographical Nobody's Fool.)

Verdict? Yuuup.

Title: Disney Descendants: Dizzy's New Fortune

Genre: Fantasy/Tie-In

The Gist: Parents of young children: take five, you know this already. Everyone else: So it turns out there's a whole franchise of films, books, songs and comics called Disney Descendants, starring the offspring of various animated Disney characters. This? Is part of that.

Additional Info: This excerpt comes from a book in Disney's Manga line, and its visual style is as bright and open as you'd expect, if a bit short on action. It's about a girl named Dizzy, who is the descendant of Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother, who's about to undergo a major life change.

Verdict? If your kid is already plugged into this major marketing effort, sure. But this excerpt is a bit puzzling and talky, and is not likely to entice those unfamiliar with this world.

In related news: Oh God I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled; I have heard the Little Mermaids singing, each to each, but I couldn't make out the words, as the battery on my hearing aid was dead.

Title: Doctor Who

Genre: Science Fiction/Tie-In

The Gist: The 13th Doctor and her friends find themselves on a carnival planet where danger, as is its wont, lurks.

Additional Info: Kudos to Titan Comics for crafting a done-in-one Doctor Who story for FCBD. Refreshing to read an FCBD issue with a beginning, middle and end. Breezy, light and faithful to the hopeful, humanist tone of New Who.

Verdict? To reward them for taking a risk with a new, complete, FCBD-exclusive adventure, sure.

Title: Funny Pages

Genre: Humor

The Gist: The Treasury of British Comics presents reprints of 16(!) different classic British gag strips featuring vampire detectives, impish babies (there's a mean one named "Sweeny Toddler" and a super-swole one named "Prambo," which: respect) superhero spoofs, and more.

Additional Info: If you're a kid, there's a lot to love here. If you're not, it offers an intriguing, multi-faceted glimpse of the British mind at a very specific time, geared to a very specific audience. For all you armchair anthropologists out there. Plus, there's so many different strips to choose from. Arguably the best value for your no-money.

Verdict? Righty-ho, guvnah. (.... That's a yes.)

Title: Ghost Hog

Genre: Fantasy/Horror-ish

The Gist: A couple chapters from writer/artist Joey Weiser's graphic novel about a pig who becomes a ghost after being killed by a hunter — a fact she's not gonna let go of any time soon. She's just getting started in the whole afterlife business, but she's got a couple friends to help her.

Additional Info: Open, dynamic, colorful and decidedly kid-friendly art, but there's some knotty, thoughtful stuff here: themes like regret, obsession, guilt, shame and empathy. Maybe not for very young kids – some mildly spooky images.

Verdict? Definitely.

Title: Gillbert

Genre: Humor/Fantasy

The Gist: Writer/artist Art Baltazar presents the first chapter of his graphic novel about Gillbert, a young sea monster, and his friends.

Additional Info: Baltazar's stuff is always charming and funny, and this excerpt – in which Gillbert is tasked with looking after his sister before he can play with his friends — makes for an effective introduction to the world of this story. There's a lot of clever setup (including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo), and the cover art hints that the adventure we see Gillbert embarking upon here will take a turn for the weird. Also includes a very brief excerpt from the first English-language adventures of Monica, the super-strong teen whose brand is huge in Brazil.

Verdict? Great stuff. Yes.

Title: Go Fish!

Genre: Fantasy/Tie-in

The Gist: Original story about an eager young parrotfish determined to make his way to the big city to make his fortune – also a prequel to an upcoming animated film.

Additional Info: Neatly introduces us to this undersea world. The art seems caught in the valley somewhere between "corporate-cartoony" and "rudimentary," but the issue ends with a visual guide to the various reef fish of the Bahamas, so there's that.

Verdict? If you or your kid's a wannabe/frustrated marine biologist, sure.

Title: Lucy & Andy Neanderthal

Genre: Humor

The Gist: A new, FCBD-exclusive story from writer/artist Jeffrey Brown's series of graphic novels about young cave-people Lucy and Andy, two siblings who don't get along. Lots of strong characterization and jokes on every page, plus science lessons about, no kidding, meteors.

Additional Info: Brown's a winner.

Verdict? Yes.

Title: Lumberjanes

Genre: Humor/Fantasy

The Gist: Everyone's favorite girl gang of summer campers faces down more mystical creatures – and, as is its wont, triumphs.

Additional Info: An excerpt from a forthcoming graphic novel, plus a new story. Great characterization, emotive art, solid jokes, great use of the medium, and – in the new story – bold, charming colors.

Verdict? A best bet.

Title: Marge's Little Lulu

Genre: Humor

The Gist: Little Lulu is a feminist icon in pincurls: Smart, savvy, confident and calm in any crisis. These classic strips are fun, cleverly constructed and full of life. They hold up.

Additional Info: A satisfying mix of strips with snappy dialogue along with several purely visual tales, this issue highlights the power of bold, bright, old-school cartooning.

Verdict? Run, do not walk.

Title: Minecraft/The Incredibles

Genre: Various/Tie-In

The Gist: Excerpted story from a forthcoming anthology in which various writers and artists – in this case, Hope Larson and Meredith Gran – tell tales set in and around the world of the addictive open-world game. There's also a story from a forthcoming graphic novel based on the animated Pixar superhero family, The Incredibles.

Additional Info: The Minecraft story's a tidy and efficient morality tale, and the Incredibles story has some solid gags about a super-villain whose super power is dullness.

Verdict? Went into this with low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. Yes.

Title: The Overstreet Guide to Collecting

Genre: Educational/Boosterism

The Gist: The publisher of the definitive price guide to comics returns this year with another cheery "y'all come!" FCBD issue, aimed squarely at newbies, intended to indoctrinate Saturday's looky-loos into the Way of Comics.

Additional Info: Over and above the earnest boosterism there's some meat on this year's bones – a flattering mini-bio of the late Stan Lee, plus some practical advice for how to get a comics collection started.

Verdict? Sure. Not vital, but solid stuff.

Title: Pokemon

Genre: Tie-In/Fantasy/Bloodsport

The Gist: Oh, like you don't know. Come on.

Additional Info: Two excerpts – one from a book showing the beginning of Ash's relationship with Pikachu, and another showing how Red got his first Bulbasaur and also how also Cerise met Carbuncle, Bubo and Chilblain okay I made up that last thing. Remember to read this issue front to back, right to left: It's manga.

Verdict? If you or your kid is a big big fan of the cruel bloodsport known as cockfighting, but just always wished there were a way to make it both more logistically complicated and aggressively cute, yes.

Title: A Sheets Story

Genre: YA/Fantasy

The Gist: Teenager Marjorie and her family visit her grandmother; Marjorie takes along her best friend, a bedsheet that gets animated by the ghost of a 13-year-old boy named Wendell when no one's looking.

Additional Info: Brenna Thompson's story (which seems to have been written especially for FCBD, using characters and situations from her graphic novel Sheets) (which is a VERY smart way to do FCBD, by the way) has a tender, wistful tone. She's great at supplying her characters with dialogue that clearly delineates who they are as soon as they open their mouths.

Verdict? A winner. Yes.

Title: Star Wars Adventures

Genre: Tie-in/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror-ish

The Gist: Part of a new Star Wars anthology about a group of Rebels who infiltrate Darth Vader's castle and proceed to tell each other ghost stories. As you do.

Additional Info: A complete story (yay!) with a tight plot and some solid visual gags. Not sure this anthology's attempts to meld Star Wars' proprietary "breezy fantasy space opera" with horror elements like witches and ghosts (not Force ghosts – ghost ghosts) sits well with me, but your mileage may vary.

Verdict? Look, it's May 4th. Star Wars Day. You have to pick this up. I don't make the rules.

Title: The Tick

Genre: Superhero/Humor

The Gist: Everyone's favorite indestructible doofus is back, with all-new FCBD stories, one of which takes a few gentle pokes at fandom culture.

Additional Info: He's been a mainstay of FCBD for about a decade, and this issue makes an excellent argument for why. Fast, funny, crazy and crazy-dumb.

Verdict? Yes, chum.

Title: Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Genre: YA/Superhero-ish

The Gist: Teenage Selina Kyle has a rough home life, but a surprise discovery turns things around – briefly. Also features a very short excerpt from DC's similar, YA approach to the Teen Titan character Raven – just enough to give a feel for the characterization, but not much else.

Additional Info: Here's where the strategy of using excerpts from graphic novels as FCBD fodder gets dicey: The full Under the Moon book – which you'll likely find at the store this Saturday, and which I do recommend – is a solid tale of a young woman overcoming an abusive home life, finding herself in the process, and starting on the path to becoming an iconic DC anti-hero. This excerpt from the book's opening chapter, however, simply chronicles the abusiveness, and ends on a serious, no-kidding, complete bummer.

Verdict? Again: The book? Sure. This particular excerpt? Not unless you want to spend the drive home attempting to comfort a wailing little Ondine or Demetrius.

Title: Witch Hat Atelier/Cardcaptor Sakura/Magus of the Library

Genre: Manga Fantasy

The Gist: Three excerpts from Kodansha Comics' line of fantasy manga books, all of which have to do with the magic – and dangers — of knowledge. In Witch Hat Atelier, a non-magical girl reads a book she shouldn't. In Cardcaptor Sakura, a girl releases evil cards into the world after trying to read a book she shouldn't (notice a theme?). In Magus of the Library, a young prince enters a world of adventure by browsing the stacks of the palace library.

Additional Info: Not loving the "put down that book, little lady!" vibe of these excerpts, but they're each from the very beginning of their respective tales; gotta think there's something more animating these stories than that. Expressive art, especially in Magus of the Library.

Remember to read the issue back to front, right to left; it's manga.

Verdict? Maybe.

Title: Wolfie Monster and the Big Bad Pizza Battle

Genre: Humor/Fantasy

The Gist: Wolfie and his two older brothers run a truly disgusting pizza parlor. When a chain of pizza restaurants comes to town, the brothers face a tough decision.

Additional Info: Writer/artist Joey Ellis is doing big, crazy, ridiculously fun stuff, here. The characterizations and dialogue are funny and charming (Quoth uber-enthusiast Wolfie: "My mop is a wig!"), the art pops with bright colors and sizzles with big emotions.

Verdict? A FCBD find. Definitely.


    Title: Animosity Tales

    Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror-ish

    The Gist: One day, the animals of the world start thinking – and talking – like humans; many seek revenge on humanity. The world descends into chaos.

    Additional Info: This seems to be a spin-off of the main series, Animosity, which has been running long enough to be collected in four volumes. I don't know how they compare, but I can say this issue presents a decidedly breezy take on the end of the world, featuring a smart, empathetic main character who maintains a lightly comic demeanor through what's shaking up to be some dark times. Plus, her betta fish has a crush on her, though he seems like a bit of a tool.

    Verdict? Not the grim and gritty book you might expect, happily enough. Yes.

    Title: The Avengers

    Genre: Superhero

    The Gist: A throw-you-into-the-deep-end-and-trust-you-to-swim intro to the current lay of the land in Marvel's Avengers title. It's a little – no, it's a lot – all over the map — literally — and the timeline. Couldn't tell you what's going on, really, but writer Jason Aaron's been doing this a while — he knows his way around, and lends these disparate vignettes a sorely-needed tonal cohesion.

    Additional Info: Fun stuff: On a page with a battle involving the Squadron Supreme – a government-sanctioned super-team made up of Marvel-Universe analogs of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc., Iron Man voice-overs, "I've never considered myself an enemy of DC. There've been times you could say I was a big fan." We see what you did there. Also includes a grimmer, grittier intro to the new series Savage Avengers (why not just Savengers, I ask you?), featuring some of the Marvel Universe's more violent anti-heroes.

    Verdict? If you haven't been keeping up on Avengers titles and feel like diving back in, it'll help. Otherwise, no.

    Title: Bloodshot

    Genre: Sci-Fi/Action

    The Gist: A gun-toting, cybernetically altered super-soldier rebels against his programming and protects the innocent – but does so with a body count. Also features the introduction to a new series set in the far future of publisher Valiant's universe.

    Additional Info: Old-school, '90s-inflected action. You'll know whether this is for you from the splash page.

    Verdict? Maybe.

    Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Firefly

    Genre: Tie-In/Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi

    The Gist: A brief story introducing a spin-off series set in the Firefly universe, and two super-brief Buffy stories that seem to be prequels to the television series.

    Additional Info: There's not a lot here to recommend the issue to people who aren't fans of either series – but of course they aren't the target audience.

    Verdict? Maybe.

    Title: Captain Canuck

    Genre: Superhero, eh?

    The Gist: Canada's resident superhero super-soldier and his friends suit up to battle ... something. Couldn't tell you precisely. Looks nice, though.

    Additional Info: This issue begins with a top secret dossier that valiantly attempts to get readers unfamiliar with Canuck's backstory up to speed, but that backstory is thicker than poutine gravy. The second story introduces us to a bunch of people linked in some way by ... something. Man, I could have used a scorecard to tell the players.

    Verdict? Maybe? If you're prepared to supplement your reading with some serious Googling. Preferably at

    Title: The Dark Age

    Genre: Sci-Fi Comma Post-Apocalyptic

    The Gist: A mysterious haze descends on the world, instantly destroying all metal and electronics. Thirteen years later, humans have reverted to a feudal lifestyle, avoiding the cities crowded with cannibals. Also includes a brief intro to Afterburn, a series about thieves hired to smuggle precious valuables out of the remains of the Eastern Hemisphere, which was destroyed by a solar flare.

    Additional Info: Intriguing premises – The Dark Age features nice characterizations, and the Afterburn excerpt is animated by gallows humor. A warning to nervous parents – The Dark Age excerpt features lots of violent deaths – stabbings, impaling, the odd decapitation. Nothing little Eustace and Davindra wouldn't see on Game of Thrones, but just ... know that.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Dragonfly & Dragonflyman

    Genre: Superhero

    The Gist: An ingenious concept – on one Earth, Dragonfly is a grim and gritty superhero meting out violent justice. On another, Dragonflyman is a bright and campy do-gooder who cheerfully totes cartoonish villains off to jail. Also includes an excerpt from Captain Ginger, about a rag-tag band of cats in space.

    Additional Info: Dragonfly & Dragonflyman is just brilliantly executed; full of fun parallels and sharp observations about superhero narrative. It's also a setup for the upcoming* The Wrong Earth series, in which the two heroes wind up trapped on each other's worlds. Cannot wait.

    *EDITED TO ADD: Turns out The Wrong Earth is available now, as a trade paperback. You know what to do.

    Verdict? A big yes.

    Title: Grumble vs. The Goon

    Genre: Humor/Action/Sci-Fi

    The Gist: Eric Powell's The Goon is a cranky, hard-drinking, massively muscled galoot who keeps terrible company. In this issue, he meets up with a couple of swindlers – one of whom may or may not be a pug. A fun, full story, crammed with action.

    Additional Info: Fast-paced, funny, and full of vibrant characterizing dialogue, this is a sure bet. Also features a brief, done-in-one story about a creepy old-west figure who makes life difficult for frontier monsters.

    Verdict? A definite pick-up.

    Title: H1 Ignition

    Genre: Superhero (but don't let them hear you say that)/Various

    The Gist: This issue represents a fine introduction to a new imprint of comics and graphic novels that seek to tell stories of people who suddenly acquire fantastic abilities – but then seek to do something besides don tights and punch crime in the face. We get a mix of story and mission statements from the various creators; yes, it feels like an extended ad, but it's an interesting one.

    Additional Info: There are some veteran comics creators involved, here, and while "What if super powers in the real world?" isn't new, this particular approach – having characters use those powers to tackle current, real-world sociopolitical ills and change the status quo, instead of insistently reinforcing it – very much is. I'll be interested to see where this goes. Have to say: There's something bracing about having the creators of various books directly address the reader to make their case.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Hope

    Genre: Superhero

    The Gist: For years, Julie has worked as the superhero Hope, unbeknownst to her husband and daughter. But when a violent incident outs her, she's forced to adjust to a world hostile to superheroes.

    Additional Info: The art is bright and clean, if at times a bit static, and the dialogue features characters telling each other things they already know, but I like the growing sense of dread that manifests by the end of the issue.

    Verdict? Maybe.

    Title: Joe Benitez's Lady Mechanika

    Genre: Steampunk/Action/Cheesecake

    The Gist: The publisher's basically doing the same thing they did last year, so here's what I said then: "In two related stories — one the opening chapter of her first graphic novel, the other a new tale — a statuesque steampunk super-powered cyborg hunts for clues to her origins in Victorian London."

    Additional Info: I mean, it delivers on its promise, and while I might not locate myself within the target demo of the Boobies n' Blunderbusses genre, I can't deny that writer/artist Joe Benitez's pure draftsmanship is impressive. If you're in the market for tightly corseted, prodigiously breasted, overcomplicatedly weaponed, goggle-sporting women springing into action (steaming into action? vulcanizing into action?), you'll find it here. The first tale's momentum gets sapped by its characters' excessive talkiness, but hey, there's a lot to explain.

    Verdict? For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing that they like.

    Title: Kino's Journey

    Genre: Adventure/Manga

    The Gist: Chapter excerpts from a two-volume graphic novel series. Kino and her talking motorcycle are on a journey. Along the way they meet folk, and get surprisingly philosophical.

    Additional Info: Gorgeous art and a wistful, serious, desperately lonely tone – along with the assured way it busts out what could easily come off as heavy-handed symbolism – make this an FCBD you'll keep thinking about after you put it down. And, if you're me, it will inspire you to seek out the graphic novels. Remember to read the issue back to front, right to left: It's manga.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Malika: Fire and Frost

    Genre: Action/Fantasy/Superhero-ish

    The Gist: Malika, the badass Warrior Queen of an ancient African empire, is divinely empowered to protect her people. In this excerpt from a new graphic novel, she's determined to keep an ancient evil from collecting various powerful stones – no, not those stones. These are different. Totally their own IP.

    Additional Info: Last year's Malika FCBD issue worked better, and felt more cohesive – this one's so thick with exposition you may find it difficult to get your bearings.

    Verdict? Maybe.

    Title: Midnight Sky

    Genre: The sky turns dark forever, and the world falls to chaos. A woman tries to protect her family from the monsters that plague it – including those from within. Also includes a brief snippet from a series about a man who stands up to his wrestling-producer boss, and a very very very strange tale of a ghost, and some intestines, I think?

    The Gist: The prose in the issue's lead story gets awfully purple and precious right from the jump, but the world of the story's certainly worth a visit (though it might be a bit violent for some parents).

    Additional Info: The wrestling story feels rushed, but I really dug the Gutt Ghost story, though I couldn't tell you what the hell was going on in it. Also includes several overviews of the publisher's other books, which is smart. (One's called Snow White Zombie Apocalypse, which sounds like someone threw a Publishing Trends Magnetic Poetry Kit at the nearest fridge.)

    Verdict? It's not the first FCBD issue I'd reach for, me.

    Title: My Hero Academia/The Promised Neverland

    Genre: Manga Superhero/Fantasy

    The Gist: The My Hero Academia excerpt is an extended super-fight, and it is intense. And I'm not just talking about the sound effects, though they are impressive ("Swish! Thud! Swish! Grab! Glare! STUN GRENADE!"). The Promised Neverland is about an orphanage where students take mysterious tests and are warned never to venture beyond the ... gate in the forest!

    Additional Info: The Academia excerpt cuts off just when it takes an unexpectedly sweet turn, and the Neverland excerpt does a great job delineating its many characters, and graaaaadually lacing its sunny tone with something more sinister. Remember to read the issue back to front, right to left: it's manga.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Punchline

    Genre: Superhero

    The Gist: A gruff, shadow-magic-based hero in a world full of costumed heroes decides to bequeath her powers to a young woman on the spur of the moment.

    Additional Info: Mordant, noir-inflected narration of the mentor character contrasts nicely with the ebullient demeanor of the hero-in-training. Clever humor, with some interesting layouts.

    Verdict? Yep.

    Title: Riverdale

    Genre: Tie-In/YA/Whatever Riverdale Is

    The Gist: Excerpt from the Riverdale Season 3 comic that neatly introduces the characters through the lens of their yearbook superlatives, and sets up the mystery that will drive the series' story arc.

    Additional Info: Also includes excerpt from a Riverdale Student Handbook and prose-novel prequel.

    Verdict? If you're into the show, sure. If you're not, this won't get you there.

    Title: Robotech

    Genre: Tie-In/Science Fiction

    The Gist: Um...boy. Huh.

    Additional Info: See the thing this, they do try to tell you the gist. There's an introductory section that features what must be the greatest hits of the Robotech saga to date, and from what I can make out, it's soaring space opera – you know, "chrono-spatial forces" this, and "for centuries the Zentraedi and Invid have locked horns over proto-culture" that, and whatnot. But as a jumping-on point, this is pretty impenetrable.

    Verdict? If you are Robotechnically inclined, yes. Otherwise, eminently skippable.

    Title: Stranger Things

    Genre: Tie-In/Science Fiction

    The Gist: A complete, if slight, story that takes place between Seasons One and Two of the Netflix show captures that show's vibe well – at least, its character-based stuff. The monsters/conspiracy elements don't show up to play.

    Additional Info: The real reason to pick this is up is the excerpt from Black Hammer, a series about superheroes who've been put out to pasture. A fun, tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek introduction to a new story arc, with art by David Rubin that's spooky/charming.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Street Fighter: Sakura vs. Karin

    Genre: Tie-In/Fighting

    The Gist: Two classic characters from the venerable fighting game franchise face off in an arcade game – and in real life.

    Additional Info: Cute, straight-down-the-middle tale of enemies learning to overcome their differences through mutual respect, but there's some nice touches, and at one point someone shouts "Your glacial reflexes are useless against my barrage of unyielding attacks!" So, you know: On-brand.

    Verdict? More fun than it has any right to be. Maybe.

    Title: Spawn

    Genre: Tie-In/Horror/Superhero

    The Gist: A re-introduction to Todd McFarlane's once-ubiquitous, I-Love-The-'90s anti-hero – a government assassin who makes a deal with a devil to return to life imbued with infernal power and a cape that is, as we used to say back then, phat.

    Additional Info: Nobody laid out a comics page like McFarlane – and if you're feeling nostalgic there's even a two-page spread of Spawn being Spawn that's so hilariously 1995 it practically reeks of CK One and wears a flannel shirt around its waist– but to truly enjoy it you kind of have to be feeling nostalgic.

    Verdict? If you haven't picked up a comic in twenty-five years and want to tell yourself that precisely nothing has changed in the intervening time, yes.

    Title: Spider-Man

    Genre: Superhero

    The Gist: Two stories – In one, Eddie "Venom" Brock warns of a coming symbiote apocalypse – and picks up a familiar hitchhiker. In the other, two Spider-Men – Peter Parker and Miles Morales – battle a super-villain, and each other's culinary sensibilities.

    Additional Info: Rock-solid superhero storytelling. The Eddie Brock story is just a setup for what's coming up in the Spider-titles – and feels like it. But the Parker/Miles story is loaded with strong characterization and clever dialogue – which is what you want out of any Spidey story.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Zagor: The Alien Saga

    Genre: Western/Sci-Fi/Adventure

    The Gist: Excerpt from a new reprint of a series of Italian comics launched in 1961 by writer Sergio Bonelli and artist Gallieno Ferri. Zagor is a Western character who lives in Pennsylvania in the 19th century; he and his cowardly sidekick Chico attempt to protect the Native Americans in the region. Um. Except in this excerpt, when they face down flying saucers.

    Additional Info: A fascinating time-capsule comic that seems at once ahead of its time and hilariously mired in it.

    Verdict? Again, from a purely pop-culture anthropology point of view, worth checking out.

    TEEN +

    Title: Vampirella

    Genre: Cheesecake/Horror/Superhero-ish

    The Gist: It's the 50th anniversary of the debut of Vampirella, the vampire superhero who fights evil dressed in a criminally impractical red monokini. A new series written by Christopher Priest is launching shortly; this issue includes a puzzling excerpt from it, plus a 1993 Vampirella tale.

    Additional Info: The new excerpt is too abstruse – and brief – to allow you to get a bead on it, but the '93 tale is very '93.

    Verdict? I dunno. I count myself outside the demo this is aimed at, but I mean ... you guys do know they've put actual porn on the internet now, right? You can just do that! You don't have to pretend! You can drop the furtiveness! Log on! Get free!


    Title: Deadly Class

    Genre: Action

    The Gist: At an elite school for assassins, students deal with the life-or-death pressure by blowing off steam — in this excerpt from early in the run of this popular comics series, by heading to a rock show.

    Additional Info: Gritty, bare-knuckled writing, sharp dialogue and compelling layouts give this violent tale a kind of singular life. Volume 8 comes out in June; a Syfy series based on the series is now airing.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Interceptor

    Genre: Science Fiction

    The Gist: In the far future, technologically advanced vampires rule the Earth. But some humans remain – and a crashed spaceship. And its resident offers a chance to fight back.

    Additional Info: Stylish and cool, witty and slyly cynical, this series manages to do something many other sci-fi FCBD offerings don't – acclimate you to its world through character and action, not lengthy exposition dumps. Donny Gates' writing is smart and funny, and Dylan Burnett's art weirdly compelling.

    Verdict? Definitely.

    Title: My Favorite Thing is Monsters

    Genre: Fiction

    The Gist: Emil Ferris' 2017 Eisner-winning graphic novel about a young girl obsessed with movie monsters who becomes fascinated by a neighbor's murder gets a new chapter here, plus two reprints of two of Ferris' magazine pieces.

    Additional Info: Monsters is a fascinating and singular work that recalls childhood with the fresh immediacy of Lynda Barry and layers it with richly evocative portraits of characters negotiating the boundaries of class, race and gender. It's great to get a bit more of it, while we wait for Volume 2.

    Verdict? Yes.

    Title: Starburns Presents

    Genre: Various

    The Gist: Excerpts from five of the publisher's titles, including a Bigfoot/NASCAR mashup, a Rambo/Gremlins riff, a science-fiction meets pro wrestling tale, a Hell-set comedy and the tale of a mass prison-break ... in space.

    Additional Info: You can't always get enough of a flavor for these series, given the brevity of the excerpts, to decide whether they're worth picking up, but the visual styles of the five tales are so idiosyncratic and distinct from one another you know they'll look great, at least.

    Verdict? Maybe.

    Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

    Genre: Action

    The Gist: On this, the 35th anniversary of the Turtles' debut, their publisher serves up an excerpt from a forthcoming take on the venerable, world-famous adolescent radioactive warrior terrapins that's a bit grittier than expected. Also features a lengthy and hilariously convoluted attempt to survey the history of TMNT's comic book adventures.

    Additional Info: Sure, this is dark and a bit violent, but it beats me why this is labeled Mature — unless it's meant to reflect the fact that making sense of the Turtles' history requires some serious abstract thinking of which only a fully-grown, adult brain is capable.

    Verdict? Maybe. Are you cool ... but rude?

    Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit
    KNPR and NPR Thank-You Gifts including t-shirts hoodies and cap