Like some lucky readers out there, I got a Kindle Fire for the holidays. It was a complete surprise, especially considering that I didn't ask for one, and didn't even really want one. Despite all the good news I'd heard about the Comixology app, my tactile orientation made it hard for me to get along with the idea of digital comics, but being so poor I only bought maybe a dozen comics last year has changed my opinion. Discounted digital comics are making things easier, and even though same-day prices are still too high, there are literally hundreds of free issues on the Kindle Fire to peruse
. And peruse I have! Since Christmas, I've downloaded and read literally dozens of free comics. For you! The following is a list of the fifteen best free issues
I've found, based on device readability, likelihood of drawing in new readers, and how badly they make you want more.
HALCYON, Image Comics
Stories of self-contained superhero universes nearing crises are hit or miss with me, but Halcyon is definitely a hit. Scripted by talented television writers Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters, muscularly rendered by Ryan Bodenheim of Red Mass for Mars, Halcyon takes place in a world where superheroes may soon be irrelevant. As crime statistics drop at impossible rates and terrorists execute their own leaders, Oculus, the world's greatest supervillain, suddenly turns himself in to authorities. And the resident superhero team Halcyon have no idea what it all means.
ELMER, Komikero Publishing
Gerry Alanguilan may be the best-kept secret in comics. Known for his work as a top-notch inker for the likes of Whilce Portacio and Leinil Yu, his work as writer-artist/cartoonist is appreciated by a very small but well-informed subset of readers who came to his work through Wasted. With Elmer, it's likely that that subset will grow, and it's about damn time. Funny, intelligent, heart-wrenching, probing looks at family, modern frustration, and racism all told through a chicken protagonist trying to make his way in a man's world.
BUTCHER BAKER, THE RIGHTEOUS MAKER, Image Comics
Casey's best work has always been his creator-owned projects, where his freakish mind is allowed to run wild. With astounding art by Mike Huddleston, Butcher Baker takes post-Frank Miller comics to its logical conclusion, with all the sex, violence, and commentary you could hope for. Except not from a crazy person. Or maybe the right kind of crazy person. Another brilliant entry in Casey's impressive library.
FEEDING GROUND, Archaia
One of those rare comicbooks that reminds you there's so much left to do with the medium. A moody blend of social commentary and horror, Feeding Ground takes place not far from The Devil's Highway -- the U.S./Mexican border -- in an impoverished Mexican village nearly taken over by Blackwell Security. As the residents scramble to survive, or save up enough for a coyote, Blackwell protects local farm fields from trespassers. But something is lurking in those fields. Tense, intelligent fiction from Swifty Lang and Chris Mangun, with fantastic art by Michael Lapinski.
MOUSE GUARD, FALL 1152, Archaia
This book appeals to everybody. Nieces and nephews, wives and girlfriends, moms and dads, and even superhero-hardened comicbook nerds. Dark Ages adventurism told with mice protagonists, Mouse Guard is an anthropomorphic tour-de-force that puts Disney to shame. New readers hip to David Petersen's work on TMNT would do well to follow that river back to the source and pick up this book. Or download it and never actually have physical contact.
WASTELAND, Oni Press
Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic story that has just about perfected the genre. Taking place in a world where an event called The Big Wet destroyed most everything, Wasteland follows a scavenger named Michael and his struggles to survive, to make it to Newbegin, and decipher the strange electronic device that may lead to salvation. Even after one issue, the breadth of the story and richness of Antony Johnston's world-building are apparent. Christopher Mitten is a perfect match as an illustrator, with a great feel for visual dynamics, excellent use of negative space, and tense, jagged lines. Apocalyptic fiction that demands to be read.
SIXTH GUN, Oni Press
Wow. I really missed out on this one. Just totally whiffed it. And like a dejected Little League player shuffling back to the dugout, I hate myself for it. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have molded a true 21st-century comicbook, an enthralling mix of Western, horror, and spy genres complete with black-hatted anti-heroes, deadly inheritances, dark lineages, and the real excitement of never knowing what's going to happen next. Though I'll probably be going into debt to get caught up, I have the feeling it's worth it.
CHEW, Image Comics
There's a reason Chew is the hottest creator-owned comicbook in the world right now -- it's really good. No, like, really, freakishly weird and crazy and quirky and original and good. John Layman and Rob Guillory take an amazing idea -- a detective who solves cases by eating the victims -- and run wild with it from the very beginning. If for whatever reason you haven't been picking up Chew, do yourself a massive favor, check out the free first issue, and chow down. It's fingerlicking good. With tasty visuals. And a meaty story. Consume!
THE KILLER: MODUS VIVENDI, Archaia
American noir may be dark and dangerous, but the European variety will always be sexier. This translation of the French edition by artist Luc Jacamon and writer Matz was an under-the-radar success in 2008, nominated for an Eisner and winner of Newsarama's "Best Comic You Didn't Read This Year." Maybe 2012 will be a good year for the discovery of this slickly meticulous story of an unnamed assassin and the bloody world he inhabits.
MALINKY ROBOT, Image Comics
Technically this isn't a complete issue - instead, it's the first 30 pages of Sonny Liew's Malinky Robot: Collected Stories and Other Bits. Simultaneously recalling Blade Runner, Tintin, and Astro Boy, Liew's charming elliptical approach brings a sense of childlike wonder to the world of cyberpunk, something that's long been missing. As an artist, he is without flaw, and his hodgepodge style and sense of design make for real eye candy. There's a reason this book is on so many creator's lips. Download the free thirty and find out why.
MIDNIGHT SUN, SLG Publishing
Great books often slip under the radar, sometimes for several years. Especially if they're traveling on an airship. Midnight Sun from 2005 tells the true story of The Italia, the first airship expedition of the North Pole. In keeping with the subject matter, cartoonist Ben Towle uses a quiet, measured approach, allowing for copious white spaces and ample silence. A fascinating look at largely-forgotten events, Midnight Sun draws you in and keeps you there.
ATOMIC ROBO, Red 5
Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener tapped into something with the creation of Atomic Robo, an "automatic intelligence" who fought in the peripheral "Weird War" during WWII, and that pure, bombastic joy of the absurdly adventurous spirit that's guided comicbooks since their inception. In other words, it's just downright awesome. Action science, mysterious artifacts, mysterious settings, heaps of battered Nazis, and a hero who makes you wonder why you ever thought Spider-Man was clever.
GUERILLAS, Oni Press
Available the very first week of the Comixology app's existence, Brahm Revel's Guerillas may be one of the most frightening war comics you will ever read, with an exceptional twist. A bold, stark portrayal of The Vietnam War through the eyes of unlikely volunteer John Francis Clayton, whose fear practically assails you through the ink. A powerful mix of war and sci-fi that offers 52 free pages. Probably because they know you'll be wanting more.
Y: THE LAST MAN, DC Vertigo
Finally, an appearance by one the The Big Two. Though the series was long-ago finished and optioned for film rights, Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra's story of Yorick, the last man to survive the mysterious plague that wiped out every other Y chromosome on the planet. Taking advantage of cliche and expectation while always subverting them, there was never an issue without a brain-tingling twist or inversion. A perfect entry/re-entry point for mature readers discovering, or re-discovering the art form.
INVINCIBLE, Image Comics
Yes, yes, everybody knows about Invincible, everybody reads Invincible, and everybody can recite in detail what happens through the course of eighty-plus issues. Except for those who've never read it. Invincible may be the perfect book to hand (or upload?) to a 14-year-old kid who's never even thought of comics. Tight, succinct, action-packed and compelling, there's good reason Comixology chose to include it in their "Recommended Freebies" section. My list is still better.