Free Comic Book Day 2016: Even Archie Has Something New To Say

May 6, 2016
Originally published on May 6, 2016 6:48 pm

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry's yearly attempt to bring new readers into the fold, is 15 years old. It's a peevish teen that smells of Speed Stick and Clearasil and a practiced, performative surliness. It demands that you drop it off a block away from school.

For the past eight years, I've written a preview of the comics on offer on Free Comic Book Day for NPR. So I'm kind of like Free Comic Book Day's annoying third-grade little brother, always chasing after him and telling everyone how cool he is.

And he — it — is very cool: Once again, this Saturday, if you walk into your neighborhood comics shop, they'll give you some free comics.

You can find your closest shop by typing your ZIP code into the Comics Shop Locator on the www.freecomicbookday.com page.

The usual caveats apply:

  • Not every comics shop participates in Free Comic Book Day — use the Comics Shop Locator to make sure your local shop will be taking part.
  • Publishers print special Free Comic Book Day editions of the books that will be handed out on Saturday.
  • There are 50 different FCBD books this year.
  • Not every shop will offer all 50 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 minireviews below might help you find the ones you're likely to like.
  • If you don't get a choice, hey: 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 that simple. Tell them what kind of movies you like, what kind of books, what TV shows you binge on. They're trained to make recommendations in line with your tastes.

As someone who has now looked at eight crops of FCBD books over the years, I can say that year's selection is heartening and reflects the (incremental and molasses-slow) progress the comics industry's been making over the past few years. By which I mean: realizing that there's an audience besides horny straight fanboys.

This year, you'll find more all-ages titles than ever before, fewer superheroes, and more books featuring female protagonists, practically none of whom are busty warrior-wenches who choose to engage in strenuous melee combat while wearing corsets. (When I say "practically no," I mean there's one.) The trade-off: more books tied to licensed properties, which are always a mixed bag.

Publishers approach Free Comic Book Day in a variety of ways. Some FCBD comics offer a whistle-stop tour though a given publisher's many titles — let's call these samplers. Others present a self-contained story, or a selection of stories, about one specific character — let's call these singles.

Samplers are a canny marketing move, but in casting such a wide net they can offer a less-than-satisfying reading experience. Sometimes you want the steak, not the charcuterie board, you know?

Singles give you a truer sense of a given comic's storytelling bona fides — what can its creative team accomplish in 23 pages? — but there's more pressure on them to deliver.

The FCBD site groups the books on offer every year using a rating system that parents may find helpful, though there's an awful lot of wiggle room built in. Which makes sense: After all, you know your kids and what they're ready for better than any publisher could. So if, say, the distinction between a TEEN and a TEEN+ book seems a bit nebulous, here's a handy guide to clip and stick to the refrigerator:

As a general rule:

ALL-AGES: It's fine.

TEEN: Don't worry.

TEEN+: Worry a little.

MATURE: You let your kid read this? Monster!

Got all that? OK. Let's start with the ALL-AGES comics.

ALL-AGES

ALL AGES: Samplers

BOOM! 2016 Summer Blast

Genre: Various

Anything I Need To Know Going In? A mix of self-contained mini-stories (Labyrinth, Mouse Guard, Adventure Time) and excerpted selections (Lumberjanes, Goldie Vance, The Cloud).

Anything Else? The excerpt from The Cloud, an upcoming graphic novel, is intriguing if a bit opaque. Like, I-can't-tell-what's-going-on-or-what-it's-about-opaque. Looks great, though. The excerpt from Goldie Vance (a girl hotel detective) and the Mouse Guard story (a gorgeously wrought tale of a mouse who wants to learn the language of other beasts) are standouts.

Verdict? Yes.

Dark Lily & Friends

Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Four excerpts: Dark Lily is a gothy moon princess, Monster Elementary has li'l versions of Universal monsters navigating public school, Rocket Queen and the Wrench is the story of a teen tech-superhero and her male sidekick, and Mage, Inc. features a young woman interning at a magic business. In a canny move, the publisher includes a brief introduction to each excerpt that gives readers the basics.

Anything Else? Rocket Queen and the Wrench would be a great name for a D.C. hardcore band. Also, Monster Elementary is a riot.

Verdict? Yep.

Doctor Who

Genre: Tie-In/Science Fiction

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Four short stories featuring four different Doctors.

Anything Else? A shining exception to the rule that licensed tie-in comics tend to suck. These stories — particularly the first, starring the 12th Doctor — really capture the snap and spirit of the show.

Verdict? Allons-y. (That's a yes.)

Hilda/Akissi/Fantasy Sports

Genre: Adventure/Humor/... Sports Fantasy?

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Hilda is a girl in a Northern European town who has adventures with creatures of Nordic myth. Akissi, set in the Ivory Coast, follows a troublemaking young girl and her brother. Fantasy Sports is ... just exactly what the title says it is, believe it or not: not leagues and rosters and draft picks, but a melding of wizards and warriors with ... baseball.

Anything Else? Luke Pearson's Hilda and Marguerite Abouet's Akissi are both charming. Sam Bosma's Fantasy Sports is a tougher nut to crack, from this excerpt, but the art can't be beat.

Verdict? Sure.

Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom/The Unknowns

Genre: Adventure

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Howard Lovecraft follows a young H.P. Lovecraft, his pet Cthulhu ("Spot") and his Innsmouth-looking friends. The Unknowns are a rock band who are secretly alien cops.

Anything Else? Both stories feel like the proofs-of-concept for animated series that they are, and the publisher makes no bones about that. The Lovecraft tale's the more visually inventive (there's a character who speaks in emojis, basically) but the Unknowns story lays out their origin in eight energetic, albeit exposition-dense, pages.

Verdict? Yeah, why not?

Legend of Korra/How to Train Your Dragon/Plants vs. Zombies

Genre: Fantasy/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Comics based on two animated series and a cellphone game, just like Will Eisner always dreamed.

Anything Else? The Korra tale reveals how she first met Naga, the Train Your Dragon story features the cast telling campfire tales, but it's the Plants vs. Zombies vignette that's the real find here. Inventive and idiosyncratic in a way tie-in comics rarely are, it's told in a noir-detective style and features an ending that's actually funny.

Verdict? Yes.

Overstreet's Comic Book Marketplace

Genre: History/Reference

Anything I Need To Know Going In? The publishers of a much-thumbed annual comics price guide produce an information-dense offering every year, and this one seems especially packed: retrospectives on Star Trek, Civil War, The Spirit, Supergirl, Archie, as well as primers on collecting movie posters and other bits of pop culture ephemera.

Anything Else? Said retrospectives are quite brief, and are little more than whistle-stop tours through history, but there's something for everyone here.

Verdict? For the non-fiction-minded, yes.

Pokemon Pocket Comics

Genre: Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? "Your favorite Pokemon from the Unova region like you've never seen them before!" Uh ... I don't have a favorite? What's the Unova region? And I've never seen them before, period?

Anything Else? Look, this isn't for me. Basically it's a series of four-panel gag strips featuring different characters from that insanely popular game that slyly indoctrinates preschoolers into the world of cock-fighting. Includes a quiz with questions like "Which of the following Pokemon is heavier than a Hoothoot?" (... I scored 1 out of 11.)

Verdict? Yes, if you or your kids like Pokemon. If you or they don't, this reads like an urgent pictographic message from an alien race that really enjoys watching cute things whomp the snot out of each other.

Sanjay and Craig/Harvey Beaks

Genre: Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Comics based on Nickelodeon animated series. Sanjay and Craig: kid and his pet snake. Harvey Beaks: bird with several animal friends.

Anything Else? Both are cute, though Sanjay and Craig has a distinct visual style that sets it apart.

Verdict? Yep.

Science Comics

Genre: Educational

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Cartoonist Maris Wicks recounts how her lifelong love of the ocean led her to create a comic about coral reefs; a young woman on a cold, dead future Earth researches volcanoes in an effort to save humanity.

Anything Else? Clever writing and smart design make potentially dry topics engaging by spotlighting the passion of the scientific pursuit (the coral reef story) or placing information in a compelling dramatic framework (the volcanoes story).

Verdict? Yes.

Sonic Sampler

Genre: Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Selections from ongoing comics series about a Hedgehog who runs fast and the surprisingly and astonishingly dense narrative universe around him.

Anything Else? No, that about covers it.

Verdict? If you've ever played a Sonic game and thought, "I'd enjoy this experience more if it was a series of static images laid out in a grid," then yes.

ALL AGES: Singles

Awake

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Could young Regn, gifted with power to communicate with planets, truly be the one to save the world? (Ya think?)

Anything Else? As a question on which to hang a tale, "Could she truly be ... The One?" is, let's just admit to ourselves, getting a bit musty, but the art is appealing and the setup (which is this issue's job) is interesting.

Verdict? Yes.

Bob's Burgers

Genre: Humor/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? A series of vignettes and pinup art based on the excellent TV series.

Anything Else? Really nails the show's voice: "We can't go back, Tina! We're cave people now. We rely on rats for food, warmth, and yes, companionship."

Verdict? Definitely, yes.

Bongo Free-For-All

Genre: Humor/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Buncha stories about The Simpsons, told in The Simpsons style, set in the world of The Simpsons.

Anything Else? Dependably The Simpsons. The FCBD equivalent of an old, comfortable shoe. Or a three-fingered glove. Whichever.

Verdict? Yep.

Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises

Genre: Martial Arts/Action

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Bruce Lee's daughter commissioned this new all-ages series "to introduce my father and his amazing legacy of action and philosophy to a whole new generation."

Anything Else? Can't speak to the philosophy, but the action is well-represented. Add a central mystery, and some surprisingly solid humorous dialogue, and this is off to a great start.

Verdict? Yes.

Camp Midnight

Genre: Humor/Horror

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Excerpt from a graphic novel in which a smartass human girl is mistakenly sent to a summer camp for monsters.

Anything Else? Lots to chew on here. Expressive art, with distinctive use of color. A main character who finds herself in a putatively terrifying situation and just ... rolls with it. Grapples with some interesting themes about what it means to fit in, and what our "true self" is. Makes a nice companion to Monster Elementary, in the Dark Lily comic, above.

Verdict? Yep.

DC SuperHero Girls

Genre: Superhero/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Excerpt from DC's new line of all-ages graphic novels featuring clever redesigns of their female characters.

Anything Else? Stories starring female superheroes you can feel good about handing to a young girl? It's about damn time. (There's also a toy line, you will not be shocked to learn. Which may explain the vague, produced-by-a-marketing-department feel of the book. Even so: Its mere existence is long overdue, and welcome.)

Verdict? Yes.

Dream Jumper

Genre: Fantasy/Horror

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Ben's a kid who dreams about being chased by vampires sporting eyepatches, syringe-hurling doctors, and various other monsters.

Anything Else? That's really all you get from this excerpt, but the art is friendly and expressive. Some nice flashes of humor. Written by actor Greg Grunberg, based on dreams related to him by his son. Soon to be adapted into an animated film.

Verdict? Sure.

Grumpy Cat (and Pokey!)

Genre: Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? We license memes now. Memes are exploitable intellectual property; that's where we are as a society. The Internet sensation known as Grumpy Cat extends her 15 minutes with these tales of backyard adventures with her chipper friend Pokey.

Anything Else? Some solid jokes in here, though the shadow of Garfield looms over every frame.

Verdict? Better than expected. Yes.

Help the CBLDF ... DEFEND COMICS

Genre: Mixed

Anything I Need To Know Going In? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a nonprofit that helps creators, publishers, educators and librarians when they come under fire for comic book content. This issue offers a selection of vignettes that (literally) illustrate the need for comics to be able to tell stories as their creators wish.

Anything Else? Unsurprisingly, some sections work better than others. Lucy Kinsley's recollection of London's Speaker's Corner resists seeming heavy-handed owing to the brightness of her artwork. Other selections fare less well.

Verdict? The CBLDF does good work that's worth supporting. With your non-money.

Junior Braves of the Apocalypse

Genre: Horror

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Excerpt from a new series of graphic novels in which a troupe of boys returns from a camping trip to find the zombie apocalypse in full swing.

Anything Else? Zach Lehner's black and white art straddles the line between cartoony and creepy. Might be a bit intense for very young kids.

Verdict? Maybe. If you can still read the word "zombie" without rolling your eyes, yes.

Mooncop

Genre: Science Fiction/Humor

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Tom Gauld is a brilliantly funny, brilliantly nerdy U.K. cartoonist, and this issue features an excerpt from his upcoming graphic novel Mooncop, as well as a selection of gag comics from his collection, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack.

Anything Else? Gauld's deceptively simple style, which reduces human interaction to affectless stick figures, really works in Mooncop, a graphic novel about ... exactly what you think. In the future, a lunar-based police officer rescues dogs and automatons. And Gauld's deadpan, literary-themed gag strips really shine.

Verdict? Highly recommended.

Oddly Normal

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Middle-schooler Oddly Normal, the daughter of a witch and a human who ignore her, is unpopular in school for having green hair and pointed ears. And for being named "Oddly Normal."

Anything Else? This is how you do FCBD. We get the first chapter of Otis Frampton's graphic novel, which kicks things off with bang, and he offers glimpses of what's coming. You'll definitely want to see more.

Verdict? Yes.

The Phantom

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Reprints of old Charlton Comics tales of everyone's favorite Purple Perambulating Pygmy-Protector, the Phantom.

Anything Else? Jim Aparo's art is stunning, propulsive and good old-fashioned comic-bookery. Usual caveats apply, re: talking to your kids about how our notions of how to depict "jungle folk" have evolved since these stories were first printed.

Verdict? Yes.

The Pink Panther

Genre: Humor

Anything I Need To Know Going In? New and classic adventures of Hawley Pratt & Friz Freleng's cerise jungle cat.

Anything Else? A new story, in which Pink inherits the Hammer of Thor, is wordless. In the classic, reprinted tale, however, he's downright voluble. Also features an "Ant and the Aardvark" vignette, who it just occurred to me were voiced on the old TV series as Dean Martin and Jackie Mason sound-alikes, respectively. Because '70s kids wanted cartoon characters that sounded like they could play the Vegas Strip, I guess?

Verdict? Some nice, efficient visual storytelling in the new story; yes.

Spectrum

Genre: Science Fiction/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Follow me here: Actor Alan Tudyk wrote, directed and stars in a Web series called Con Man, in which he plays an actor who used to be on a cult science-fiction TV series called Spectrum. This book? Which he co-wrote? Is the beginning of a real-world comics series that adapts that fictional show. Got all that?

Anything Else? Given that both this book's Web series inspiration and Tudyk himself possess some serious comedy DNA, this is a surprisingly grim, straight-ahead overture to the space opera to come. The story: The Earth has gotten its butt serially handed to it by several alien races and attempts to fight back.

Verdict? The events depicted kind of chafe against the "All-Ages" classification, for me. More death and destruction than some parents might be comfortable with. It's all setup, so it doesn't so much offer a satisfying read as bait the trap. Which of course is a perfectly valid approach to FCBD. So: Maybe?

SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies

Genre: Humor/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? The continuing adventures of America's favorite idiotically chipper and resolutely absurdist bath supply.

Anything Else? A nice mix; the publishers allow different artists to adapt their distinct styles to the characters, so the five tales avoid looking stiff or mass-produced.

Verdict? Yes.

Strawberry Shortcake

Genre: Cuteness

Anything I Need To Know Going In? You mean besides the fact that Ms. Shortcake owns the Berry Bitty Café in Berry Bitty City? And that her friends Sweet Grapes and Sour Grapes persuade her to throw a party and to go get her hair done at Lemon Meringue's hair salon? And that high jinks dependably ensue? ... No, yeah, that pretty much covers it.

Anything Else? Young kids may like the bright colors and simple story; all others may wish to pour themselves a frosty mug of insulin before venturing in. (Also includes a series of dossiers on Berry Bitty City's residents, from its resident blogger, Apple Dumplin', to fashionista Raspberry Torte.) (BTW: According to said dossiers, Sour Grapes "likes to spice things up with her realistic and zesty attitude!" I feel like Sour Grapes would be great to get a mug of insulin with; I bet her life in Berry Bitty City is one long uninterrupted eye-roll. Girlfriend has stories to tell, you can sense it.)

Verdict? Lookit: Raspberry Torte has a Chihuahua named Chiffon, we learn. If learning this fact stirs something in you or your kid, pick this up.

The Stuff of Legend

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need To Know Going In? A young boy's toys — including a teddy bear, a jack-in-the-box, a piggy bank and a toy soldier — enter the darkness of his bedroom closet to rescue him from the Boogeyman.

Anything Else? The fifth volume of the series will soon be published. If you've picked up a Stuff of Legends FCBD book before, know that this year's edition once again excerpts the first chapter of the first volume of the series. There's an appealing and very intentional disconnect between the book's war-weary tone and its creepy-cute art, and a clever, well-executed central conceit (once they enter the closet, the toys become very real).

Verdict? Still a great introduction to a great series. Yes.

The Tick

Genre: Superhero/Humor

Anything I Need To Know Going In? He's big, dumb, blue and indestructible, and his battle cry is an eating utensil.

Anything Else? A breach in the multiverse has alternate-universe versions of Tick rubbing shoulders and antennae with one another, endangering all of existence. Lacks the joke-density of previous FCBD issues, but this is always a dependably solid pickup.

Verdict? Yes.

Worlds of Aspen 2016

Genre: Fantasy

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Aspen is a comics publisher that, historically at any rate, offered FCBD offerings filled with exquisitely rendered bikini-clad warrior women given to posing in ways that risked spinal torsion. Thus every year, it managed to introduce itself to new potential readers as a company still stuck in 1993. Here, it dials the cheesecake down a bit (a bit — there's still a completely random bikini shot, because fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly), and the result is heartening.

Anything Else? The company's various titles are converging in a massive crossover of worlds and characters. This makes as good a jumping-on point as any.

Verdict? For the first time in the eight years I've been reviewing Aspen's FCBD comics: Yes. (Though again, flip through it to see if you agree with the "All-Ages" designation it claims on the FCBD site.)

Best Bets, All-Ages: BOOM! 2016 Summer Blast; Dark Lily & Friends; Doctor Who; Hilda; Science Comics; Bob's Burgers, Bongo Comics Free-For-All; Bruce Lee — The Dragon Rises; Camp Midnight; DC Superhero Girls; Grumpy Cat (and Pokey!); Mooncop; Oddly Normal; The Stuff of Legend

TEEN

TEEN: Samplers

Attack on Titan Anthology

Genre: Adventure/Horror

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Attack on Titan is a hugely successful manga series by Hajime Isayama, which became a giant (heh) anime series. In October, a variety of Western artists will contribute to an anthology set in the AoT world. This book features tiny excerpts from that.

Anything Else? Attack on Titan is potent nightmare fuel: Humanity defends itself from deeply! creepy! giants by retreating into walled cities. We only get very brief glimpses of the various creators' takes here, but they evince notably distinct approaches.

Verdict? Again, this is the sampler conundrum: not much to chew on, but awfully pretty. Yes.

2000 AD

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need To Know Going In? The U.K,'s long-running science-fiction comics anthology series offers new and classic tales with a harder edge than much of what you'll find on FCBD tables this year. Includes QR codes for more free digital comics and a music file, so in terms of bang-for-your-(complete-lack-of)-buck, this is the best "value" of the day.

Anything Else? As always, 2000 AD offers a decidedly mordant, violent, and dark collection that really leans into the "science-fiction/horror as morality tale" storytelling scheme.

Verdict? Yes, if you or your kid prefers a little grit in your gumbo.

Comics Lab!!!

Genre: Mixed

Anything I Need To Know Going In? A decidedly mixed bag, from bright, peppy Power Rangers pastiche to what looks to be a tale of pets and wildlife fighting back against Lovecraftian horrors to a deeply meditative, True Detective-inflected vignette where Something Goes Wrong in the Desert.

Anything Else? As a taste of the widely varied goings-on at publisher Z2 Comics right now, it's great. As a reading experience, less so.

Verdict? The Welcome to Showside superhero parody is a standout. Worth picking up for that.

Mix Tape 2016 (Mercy Sparx/Badger/Squarriors/Public Relations)

Genre: Various

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Mercy Sparx is a girl demon who can take care of herself in a rough city. Badger is a superhero who gets in an MMA match with Vladimir Putin. Squarriors are squirrel warriors (you probably could have figured that out yourself) and Public Relations is about a flack who does crisis management for a firm faced with true, albeit fantastical, crises (like dragon attacks).

Anything Else? We're squarely in Teen territory now. Rougher stuff, in every sense — including some cringeworthy Japanese dialect ("Amelican win! Laise hand now!") that would shame Breakfast at Tiffany's Mickey Rooney. But the Public Relations story has some nice moments.

Verdict? Mmmmaybe.

One-Punch Man/My Hero Academia

Genre: Superhero manga

Anything I Need To Know Going In? One-Punch Man is a bored hero who can defeat any enemy with ... you know, one punch. My Hero Academia follows a young boy trying to master his powers in a school for the superpowered.

Anything Else? One-Punch Man is pretty fantastic, really. Even in this brief excerpt, the tightly controlled tone and pacing build to a very funny climax. My Hero Academia manages to distinguish itself from its very familiar setting with smart writing. And also with a kid who shoots a laser out of his bellybutton. So. I mean.

Verdict? Of course.

ROM/Transformers/Action Man

Genre: Science Fiction/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Three, count 'em, THREE series based on action figures. ROM the Spaceknight was a hilariously cheap electronic toy of the 1970s who starred in a short-lived, if fondly remembered, Marvel comic. Action Man was the U.K. version of GI Joe who starred in a U.K. comic in the '00s. Both are getting rebooted.

Anything Else? The Transformers component of this FCBD issue is little more than a two-page infographic that explains how the many Transformers comics relate to one another. Useful? Sure. But as a reading experience, less than compelling.

Verdict? Skippable, unless you're a ROM completist. Typing that sentence just made me want to lie down.

Serenity/Hellboy/Aliens

Genre: Science Fiction/Tie-In(s)

Anything I Need To Know Going In? The Serenity and Hellboy stories are self-contained vignettes, but the Aliens story seems to be an excerpt.

Anything Else? The scripts are the real deal — by Chris Roberson, Mike Mignola and Brian Wood, respectively. They're pros who know how to pack a lot into relatively small spaces; a very satisfying read. (The way the issue riffs on Serenity canon is particularly fun.)

Verdict? Definitely.

Valiant 2016

Genre: Science Fiction

Anything I Need To Know Going In? A selection of excerpts from various titles across Valiant's publishing line, including the much-buzzed about series Faith, starring a superhero who is both a woman (which is no big deal) and matter-of-factly plus-size (which still really kind of is).

Anything Else? Big ideas abound, and the selections from each title are legitimately tantalizing. Faith is charming, as promised; the 4001AD title features strong writing and art; Divinity boasts a fascinating premise; and I'll definitely be picking up a copy of Archer & Armstrong #1 based on the humor and verve present in this excerpt.

Verdict? Highly recommended.

Singles

Archie

Genre: Humor

Anything I Need To Know Going In? This is a freshly rebooted, less cartoony "New Riverdale" version of America's favorite tic-tac-toe-headed teen ginger. (Fear not, haters-of-change: Classic Archie hasn't gone anywhere and still lives in the supermarket checkout aisle, as always.) The broad slapstick is gone (as is the tic-tac-toe hairstyle), replaced by a more measured, but still breezy, tone. Script by Mark Waid, art by Fiona Staples, so Riverdale's in good hands.

Anything Else? There's also an excerpt of the excellent new Jughead title, written by the dependably goofy Chip Zdarsky and winning art by Squirrel Girl's Erica Henderson.

Verdict? Run, don't walk. Yes.

Assassin's Creed

Genre: Tie-In/Adventure

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Two stories that spin off the popular video game franchise. A female Assassin in 1791 Haiti, and a Templar (the Assassin's enemies, in game lore) in 1927 China.

Anything Else? The Templar story's a solid, well-executed (heh) adventure, but the Assassin tale seems a bit talky to serve as an effective introduction.

Verdict? For fans of the series, yes. For others, skippable.

Avatarex: Destroyer of Darkness

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Two related excerpts from writer Grant Morrison and artist Jeevan J. Kang's series Avatarex (about the 10th incarnation of a godlike Indian superbeing) and 18 Days (about a prehistoric conflict between clans of superwarriors).

Anything Else? It's Morrison, which means huge, trippy and blithely ambitious. The Avatarex excerpt is boldly realized and easy to follow; the 18 Days segment, set in the run-up to what Morrison, in a predictably Morrisonesque forward, calls a "techno-mythic super-war," is a bit inscrutable.

Verdict? Morrison is always worth a look, though not always a deep dive. Pick it up, and see where you land.

Lady Mechanika

Genre: See below.

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Goggles, gears, hilariously complicated firearms: This is steampunk. But wait: main character's boobs spilling over the top of her corset like she's one of those squeezable executive stress toys: This is cheesecake. It's steampunk cheesecake! (Another good D.C. hardcore band name.)

Anything Else? "Lady Mechanika, the infamous mechanical huntress!" says the villain of the piece, admiringly. She's had her arms replaced with robot parts, and her memory wiped, and ... yeah, you get it.

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

Love and Rockets

Genre: ... Slice-of-Life? Is that a genre? Can it be?

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Just in time for a fourth, new series of Love and Rockets books coming this summer — only the latest addition to a sweeping tale produced over the past 34 years — this FCBD comic provides an excellent sample of what makes the book so influential and unforgettable.

Anything Else? The brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez each write separate sagas: Gilbert's (originally set in a fictional Central American town and now relocated, like its main characters, to Los Angeles) revolve around a woman and her extended family. Jaime's epic follows the travails of Southern Californian ex-punk rockers attempting to hold on to their youth. The characterizations are mature and nuanced, the design spare and effective. A masterpiece of comics storytelling.

Verdict? The first book you should pick up. It'll go quickly.

March

Genre: History/Memoir

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Congressman John Lewis' early life, and his pivotal role in the civil rights movement, is chronicled in the excellent three-volume graphic novel series March. This issue features gripping excerpts from each book.

Anything Else? By turns harrowing and inspiring, Lewis' story is told with clear-eyed, unsentimental power. Artist Nate Powell captures both the chaos of the times and the resolute spirit of Lewis and his fellow activists.

Verdict? Absolutely.

Street Fighter V

Genre: Martial Arts/Tie-In

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Excerpts from the comics starring the various characters in the Capcom fighting game.

Anything Else? They show up, they fight one another, they say things like "Whatever business you've got with my friend, just take it elsewhere before you get caught up in a TURBULENT WIND!"

Verdict? If you can read the words "turbulent wind" without snickering, this is probably a book for you.

Suicide Squad

Genre: Super(anti-)hero

Anything I Need To Know Going In? DC supervillains recruited into a black-ops strike force. Implanted with miniature bombs that will kill them if they don't obey orders.

Anything Else? My oh my oh MY but this is unpleasant! Torture on Page 1, burned child corpses on Page 9, electrocution, dismemberment ... ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The best part? It's soon to be a major motion picture! Based on an '80s series I loved as a kid. This? ... Isn't that.

Verdict? Look, make your own decisions, but just know that in the grand scheme of what comics as a storytelling medium have the potential to achieve, this is pretty repellent. (Why does this get a Teen rating, and not a Teen+? That, friend, is a penetrating and insightful question.)

Best Bets, Teen: Archie, One-Punch Man, Serenity/Hellboy/Aliens, Valiant 2016, Love and Rockets, March

TEEN+

TEEN+ Samplers (note: there are no TEEN+ Singles).

Steve Rogers, Captain America/Amazing Spider-Man

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Steve Rogers is back in the Captain America suit (though the Sam Wilson [formerly the Falcon] Captain America is still around), and he's tackling HYDRA again, which has morphed into a network of terrorist cells. Meanwhile, Peter Parker has moved to San Francisco, where he's doubling down on the gadgets — and facing old foes who are, suddenly, mysteriously, MUCH less than dead than they used to be.

Anything Else? The Cap tale's focus on terrorism feels discomfitingly resonant, and the Spidey story is breezy fun, which is what you want from a Spidey story.

Verdict? Straight up superhero goodness. Yes.

Civil War II/All-New All-Different Avengers

Genre: Superhero

Anything I Need To Know Going In? Looks like the heroes of the Marvel Universe are gonna pick teams and go at one another again, and Thanos is somehow involved. In the Avengers tale, we meet the new Wasp.

Anything Else? Some good dialogue and classic superhero action.

Verdict? Yes.

Best Bets, Teen+: Both are good.

MATURE

MATURE: Samplers (NOTE: there are no MATURE singles) (As it were)

We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists

Genre: Action

Anything I Need To Know Going In? In We Can Never Go Home, superpowered teens cause decidedly gritty and violent collateral damage. In Young Terrorists, a young woman raised by her father to be a remorseless weapon engages in brutal death matches in a hellish prison.

Anything Else? Still more grim, hyperviolent badassery, but We Can Never Go Home, at least, has a keen ear for dialogue.

Verdict? Not for young kiddies obviously, but then, if you're the kind of parent who thinks a comic called "Young Terrorists" is for young kiddies, please wait right here while I make a quick phone call.

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