This year, publishers have distributed fifty-two titles for Free Comic Book Day this Saturday.

While it is not uncommon for many comics shops to order all of the titles, it is becoming common that most comics shops anticipate large crowds of customers.  While this is a good thing, it means that the stores must limit the number of free comics a customer can select.  (The comics are free to customers, but the comics shops do pay for the copies they give away.)

So, your earnestwhile reviewer at Comics Beat International has read each issue and will post detailed reviews Saturday morning.  But before all that, here are the ten best titles, if you need to do a quick grab as the hordes clamor behind you!

In no particular order…

The Strangers

(silver book, not available in all stores)

Publisher: ONI PRESS INC. (via Monkeybrain)
(W) Chris Roberson (A/CA) Scott Kowalchuck
“The last thing you want to see is my hands.” They’re called the Strangers. They’re deadly. Dangerous. And you’ll never see them unless they want you to. But now they’ve come up against something big – United States government big. A cover-up of international proportions, and at the center of it all is the Strangers’ deadliest foe, a man known only as Capricorn. A man who knows the Strangers. A man who sees them.
Set in the Swinging 60s, we are introduced to Verity Mills, Michael Kono, and Sandoval, three top-secret operatives with special powers who battle against the fiendish O.C.C.U.L.T.  In this issue, a Caribbean President, formerly friendly to the U. S., has suddenly closed the island off to all Americans and instituted martial law.  Our heroes are given covers and inserted into the country.
The style is minimal, as if the issue was published fifty years ago.  The coloring is a bit too modern with some gradients, but overall it reproduces the technology of the time it evokes.  The issue ends on a cliffhanger (as all good adventure comics do), and I’ll read the trade when it’s published.

Marble Season

(silver book, not available in all stores)

(W/A/CA) Gilbert Hernandez
Drawn & Quarterly continues its FCBD tradition of offering the best free comic in the industry by publishing an exclusive excerpt of its lead Spring 2013 book by legendary alternative cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets fame. Marble Season is a semi autobiographical epic about a group of kids growing up in the 1960s seen through the eyes of a young boy. Comics and popular culture of the day will dominate the proceedings and tell the untold story of one of the medium’s greatest and most respected artists. This FCBD has no nudity and no swearing and it will serve as a great preview for the upcoming book of the same name, which will be one of D+Q’s lead titles of 2013.
Twenty-five pages of story, plus five pages of afterword!  Gilbert Hernandez produces his first semiautobiographical work, about childhood in the 1950s.  It’s Peanuts with more detail (but still sparse in its simplicity), a few older kids, and more realistic situations.  Beto produces a rich range of expression in all characters with a scarcity of line.  One could argue that the iconic minimalism draws a reader deeper into the story, although many will remember similar situations from their own childhoods.

Sesame Street & Strawberry Shortcake

STK525207 (1)
(W) Georgia Ball, Jason M. Burns (A/CA) Amy Mebberson
On side one, Elmo, Cookie Monster, The Count and Super Grover teach you about the magic of reading comics! It’s GUARANTEED to chase the clouds away! On side two, join Strawberry Shortcake and friends on 3 berry sweet adventures!
Includes “The Blue Flu”, “The Hunt for Blackberry’s Treasure”, and “Blueberry’s Book Tour”.
It’s a bushel of fun!
Um… no Count or Cookie Monster, but you’ve got Super Grover teaching Super Elmo what it means to be a hero.  For you fans of Boom’s Muppet comics, the art is by Amy Mebberson. The writing, by Jason M. Burns, is clever in spots, just like the show!
Flip it over, and you’ve got three Strawberry Shortcake stories, the first by, yes, Amy Mebberson and friends!  I’m not the audience for this comic, but the stories are fun and the characters are distinct and cute.
Included is a double-sided mini-poster.

Dark Horse Star Wars Captain Midnight Avatar

Publisher: DARK HORSE
(W) Joshua Williamson & Various (A/CA) Ryan Hill & Various
All-ages adventure! Star Wars joins fan-favorite villains Darth Vader and Boba Fett! Then explore the upcoming Dark Horse series Captain Midnight, where the search for the missing superhero is on! And the smash hit Avatar: The Last Airbender follows Mai as she deals with her broken heart . . .
Boba Fett appears in “The Assassination of Darth Vader”, which takes place a few months before Episode IV.  I had not read any of Brian Wood’s Star Wars stories, but this was an enjoyable 8-pager.
Then there is “Clues”, an 8-page Captain Midnight story.  Part of it is flashback, and it seems that CM is a fugitive from justice.   A bit unclear why, so it didn’t make me want to read more stories.  (He will appear in DH’s relaunch of their World’s Greatest Heroes line.)
On the flip side is “Rebound”, an Avatar: The Last Airbender story featuring Mai, Zuko, and her family.  I have no idea about the greater universe, but it tells a short, bittersweet story.

Molly Danger / Princeless

(silver book, not available in all stores)

(W) Jamal Igle, Jeremy Whitley (A) Jamal Igle & Various
Two complete stories!  She’s Strong, She’s smart, and she’s incredibly brave. She’s the protector of Coopersville, the Princess of Finesse, the petite powerhouse known only as Molly Danger!  But what secrets threaten everything she holds dear.   And on her way to rescue her sisters, Adrienne finds another mysterious princess locked away in a tower, but she’s guarded by one of the knights sent to hunt Adrienne. Who is this princess and will Adrienne and Bedelia survive trying to rescue her?
Aw yeah… had I not been reading these comics at random, this would be at the top of the pile!  Jamal Igle presents the first (?) issue of Molly Danger, as she battles a giant robot!  We are introduced to all of the basics, and the art is so much fun!
In “Girls Who Fight Boys”, Adrienne Ashe must deal with a sexist knight before rescuing a damsal in distress (who then puts our heroes in distress with her secret)!  Lots of fun, and I diefinitely want to see what happens next!

Top Shelf Kids Club


(W/A) Andy Runton & Various (CA) Rob Harrell
Here at Top Shelf, we’re celebrating FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2013 with friends old and new — the latest lineup of the Top Shelf Kids Club! This FREE comic book contains not one, not two, but SIX different adventures for readers of all ages.
Inside are brand-new stories featuring OWLY by Andy Runton, JOHNNY BOO by James Kochalka, KORGI by Christian Slade, PIRATE PENGUIN VS NINJA CHICKEN by Ray Friesen, and UPSIDE DOWN by Jess Smart Smiley, plus the debut of MONSTER ON THE HILL by Rob Harrell, who also contributes this year’s cover! Come on in and join the party!
Yes, six stories!  But this isn’t the biggest issue of the lot!  Two silent stories (Owly, Korgi) make this a great issue for pre-kindergarteners who can’t read words, but who can decode a story.  The rest are grade school fare, slightly silly.  The most intriguing is “Monster on the Hill”, with great art and characterization!  It’s a graphic novel, available in August.

Kaboom! Summer Blast!

(W/A/CA) Various
An explosion of All-Ages awesomeness from KaBOOM! this Free Comic Book Day! Sure to be one of the most popular offerings this Free Comic Book Day, the KaBOOM! Summer Blast is 48 pages chock-full of the most popular all-ages comics on the stands today! Featuring excerpts from Adventure Time, Peanuts, Regular Show, Bravest Warriors, Garfield, Ice Age and some brand-new surprises, these series will keep readers young and old coming back to your comic shop again and again!
This makes the list if only for the “It’s Choose Your Own Adventure Time” multipath story!  Yes, it gets really crazy (Adventure Tim appears, there’s a two-page spread with seven different colored paths (which collapse into three))!  Get this for your friends who love the show.  It is truly mathematical!
But wait!  Regular Show has a funny story, Ice Age teases a treasure hunt, Garfield deals with a rare, valuable copy of “Ultra-Powerful Guy”.
Then Charlie Brown demonstrates how to draw Linus Van Pelt, using a clever baseball analogy!
And… (I don’t know if this has been announced yet) the return of Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid!  In comics shops next June!

The Steam Engines of Oz

(silver book, not available in all stores)


(W) Erik W. Hendrix, Sean O’Reilly (A/CA) Yannis Roumboulias
SteamPunk Originals Presents: The Steam Engines of Oz FCBD.  Get a special sneak peek at the upcoming re-imagining of Oz through a SteamPunk lens.  Find out what happens 100 years AFTER the witch is dead.  In an Oz ruled by a once revered hero, salvation comes from the unlikely wrench of Victoria Wright, who dares to question status quo and sparks a rebellion.  This FCBD Edition will give you an exciting extended preview of the upcoming graphic novel AND a look at what else Arcana’s SteamPunk Originals line has in store for readers!
Another graphic novel preview, featuring flying monkeys, new characters, a witch of the north, and a new despot (who was an old hero).  Steampunk meets Oz, via Arcana!

The Walking Dead Special

(W) Robert Kirkman (A/CA) Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
This special Walking Dead issue contains a new Tyrese short story, who made his television debut in The Walking Dead Season 3! It also reprints short stories featuring Michonne, The Governor and Morgan. This special issue is a must-have for Walking Dead fans–none of these stories will be reprinted in the trade paperbacks!
Grab this for your friends who watch the television show, but don’t know abou the comic.  Or grab it to stash away, placing it on eBay six months from now.  It won’t appear in the paperbacks, but will probably find its way into one of the hardcover editions.
I’ve only read the first volume, so I’m not familiar with the characters listed above.  The stories were accessible enough, focusing on specific characters, telling a little bit of the origin of some.

Absolution The Beginning

(silver book, not available in all stores)

Christos Gage (Avengers Academy, X-Men: Legacy, Authority: Prime) created a visceral world where law enforcement turns to super cops to subdue the new breed of street evil.  But when one cop crosses the line and begins hunting and killing criminals in secret, he becomes worse than those he brought to ultimate justice.  Absolution takes fans on an insane roller-coaster ride that ends in a public hero’s downfall and the uprising of a violent judge, jury, and executioner.  Absolution: The Beginning reprints the first two issues (#0-1) of this classic series and provides a sneak peek preview at this summer’s highly anticipated sequel, Absolution: Rubicon!  Perfect for fans of the Punisher and Authority – Absolution will show you what happens when a superhero is pushed beyond the boundaries of sanity and decides to push back.
The collection is available now, and this issue also includes a chapter from the next work, once the antihero is revealed to be a serial killer.  The concept is intriguing: hero turns serial killer as violent offenders are paroled, but not reformed.


  1. Thanks for the STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE shout out! I wrote two of the stories in that book, including one with my daughter, Meredith, who was nine at the time and the reason I took the job. Enjoy!

  2. It has something to do with the publisher and its financial commitment to the FCBD promotion. I’m sure someone else will be able to give you a more informed answer but this should suffice until then.

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