Emanata: A Guide to Free Comic Book Day 2011

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This Saturday, May 7, is the tenth annual Free Comic Book Day–a day when comic book stores across the U.S. offer an assortment of freebies, most of them all-ages-friendly, to anyone who comes in. (There’s a page at the FCBD site to locate a participating store near you; a lot of those stores are also featuring signings, sales, and other festivities.) This year’s batch of titles includes ten “gold comics”–which every store that’s part of FCBD will have at least some copies of–as well as 27 more “silver comics,” which they may or may not carry. And since most stores will limit the number of free comics each customer can take home, here are the highlights of this year’s batch, almost all of which you might want to give to a young reader of your acquaintance.

Captain America and Thor: The stars of Marvel’s two big movies this year team up for a one-off story in which the Thor of today and the Captain America of 1942 meet in King Arthur’s time. What’s particularly special about it is that it’s effectively a sequel to writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee’s short-lived, cult-favorite series Thor the Mighty Avenger (which is now collected in two paperback volumes), and it’s got just as much stylishness and charm. Marvel’s also publishing an Amazing Spider-Man FCBD one-shot by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos that might be worth a look: it apparently leads into a big storyline that will be running in that series this summer.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: “Fables” and “Thor the Mighty Avenger”)

John Stanley’s Summer Fun: In the ’50s and ’60s, writer (and occasional artist) John Stanley was the force behind some of the most purely delightful kids’ comics ever, a lot of which have reappeared in print in the past few years. This sampler from Drawn & Quarterly (with cover art by Seth, who’s been designing their Stanley reprints) appears to include examples of Stanley’s work on Thirteen Going on Eighteen and the Little Lulu spinoff Tubby, among others.

2000 A.D.: This lively, smart-assed, frequently beautifully drawn, occasionally ultraviolent series has been running weekly in Britain since 1977, with four to six serials in each issue. A lot of its past and present series have lately been reprinted as graphic novels in the U.S., but the 2000 A.D. Free Comic Book Day special is effectively what you’d get in a typical issue of the British series, including a complete-in-six-pages Judge Dredd story (by John Wagner, Val Semeiks and Cliff Robinson), as well as Sláine, Kingdom, Shakara and Zombo stories, plus a long-out-of-print one-pager by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’Neill. (It’s also the only one of these picks that might not be all that kid-friendly; as Dredd might say, use your judgement, citizen!)

Top Shelf Kids Club: For the past few years, Top Shelf has been taking advantage of FCBD to put together an anthology of new stories from its more kid-friendly series. Both Andy Runton’s adorable Owly and James Kochalka’s agreeably silly Johnny Boo appear here, alongside newer projects like Chris Eliopoulos’ Okie Dokie Donuts and Jess Smart Smiley’s Upside Down. If you ever looked at the comics section in Nickelodeon magazine, this has a very similar tone.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Fantagraphics is about to launch a series of fancy hardcover collections reprinting Floyd Gottfredson’s tenure on the Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip, beginning with its earliest years, when it was a high-speed adventure serial that just happened to star a daring young mouse. (No, that’s not what people tend to think of when they hear the name “Mickey Mouse” these days, but that’s what the strip was for its first few decades.) The first volume will reprint strips from 1930 and 1931; the Free Comic Book Day giveaway, though, jumps ahead a few years to reprint an adventure called “Pluto the Racer,” from 1935.

(More on TIME.com: Fantagraphics Announces Mickey Mouse Reprints)

Green Lantern: I’m tempted to waggle a finger at DC Comics for making their Free Comic Book Day title a reprint of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ Green Lantern #30, which is not just not complete in itself but actually the second episode of a longer serial. (The FCBD giveaway also includes a brief preview of the first issue of this year’s big DC crossover event, Flashpoint–which comes out next Wednesday.) But the Green Lantern movie is DC’s biggest media event this year, and the story reprinted here is the character’s origin, so anyone who doesn’t know the comics but is curious about the movie might want to have a look. For younger readers, especially those like to watch Cartoon Network, DC is also publishing a giveaway with (new) Young Justice and Batman: The Brave and the Bold stories.