What could be better than comic books? Well if you said free comic books, then move to the head of the class! For the past decade and a half we have been treated to one day of the year where we get free comics and this Saturday marks the 15th year of this holiday (second only to Christmas in my book and right before International Talk Like a Pirate Day (drives my students crazy)).
If you’re lucky, you live near a comic shop like mine (Ultimate Comics in Durham, NC) that pulls out all the stops. There’s be cosplay, contests, writers, artists, games, music, food, and one of every free comic book available.
In order to get ready for the big event, let’s take a look at not only how this blessed day began, but more importantly what ol’ Web Head’s contribution has been to it over the years and what this has to do with ice cream and Super Ballerina Princess.
So on with the history!
Today FCBD is a huge event at many comic books stores. Stores go all out with displays, food, and games to draw in both families with potential new readers and longtime fans. My son and I go every year. There he is to the left as the Answer (as soon as we got there, the Black Cat and the female versions of Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man immediately swarmed him to look at his costume). My daughter also wanted to get into the act the next year with a costume of her own design (Super Ballerina Princess – she’s using her freeze powers, of course).
The whole event started way back when a guy by the name of Joe Field (owner of Flying Colors Comics) had an epiphany – why not give out free comics like Baskin & Robbins gives out free ice cream in order to draw people into the store?
The setting – comic companies just survived the ‘90s and were looking for something to bring in customers. There was a meeting of the powers that be to come up with an ad slogan to match the “Got Milk?”, but it fizzled out and nothing came from it. Shops started going more family friendly and pulling in other types of merchandise like cards and games, but nothing seemed to work. Then in June of 2001, Joe Fields wrote a column titled, “The Power of Free” (and here is page 2). The first conception of it was a bit different than what it has become. Originally Field suggests that it be Free Comic Book Night and that it be on a Tuesday in April consisting mostly of sampler comics. He also suggested that retailers put in some of their overstock to increase the free goodies to customers. He gave Diamond Distributors the article in advance and they provided him a response to include in the article.
The goal of the Free Comic Book day is three fold:
- bring in new readers,
- bring back older readers that have stopped for one reason or another, and
- to reward fans who were long-time loyal customers.
So why is it that the holiday actually took place in May instead of April? That is because of Spidey. That’s right. The webbed warrior had his first movie coming out that same weekend and the event was tied to it. Since then, Marvel has tied a movie to this weekend most of the years following.
You’ll notice as we go through the years, Marvel took a while to get used to the idea. They start off with reprints, then start with a few full stories of off titles, then move to full stories of continuity, until today where it seems to be advertising for the big event of the summer.
There is no such thing as a free lunch (or comic), so who is paying for them? Diamond Distributors pays some of it, the rest is paid for by the retailers. This is why some stores (like mine) have enough to give everyone one of each and other stores have a limit on how many a person can get.
Since the get go, Spider-Man has usually be featured in Marvel’s FCBD selection. If he is not the focus, he is a back up. Here’s a look at Spider-Man’s appearance on FCBD since 2002:
2002 – Reprints Ultimate Spider-Man #1, which originally was printed in 2000. This is Marvel’s retelling of the Marvel Universe in more modern times. Since these are written by Bendis, you only get about 1/6 of the origin story (the same origin story that it took Lee and Ditko only 1/3 of a comic to tell). This particular comic has been reprinted often for giveaways by Marvel. Of course Marvel is going to lead out their FCBD with Spider-Man, especially since the Spider-Man movie just came out that same weekend. At this point I think it is safe to say that Marvel is just going along with the idea not to be left out since they are offering no new material. The reprint trend will continue for a few years.
2004 – Marvel’s back to the web head –and back to the reprints. This year they reprint a reprint. Marvel Age #1. The idea behind this series is to take old Lee/Ditko stories and redo them with modern art and modern storytelling. It is an effort to bring in new readers and the series is billed as “ALL AGES!” as if the original series wasn’t. Oddly enough, the series doesn’t begin with the origin, but rather Amazing Spider-Man #2, the one with the first appearance of the Vulture.
The series had just come out in March, so I suppose people who shelled out their money for it then are feeling pretty irritated. So if you yearn for those early stories, but just can’t abide that Ditko art or Lee dialogue, this would be the series for you.
*Note* Diamond Distributors explored a few options for when to host this year’s FCBD: April 3rd (to coincide with the Hellboy movie), May 8th (first Saturday of the first full week of May), or July 3rd (to coincide with Spider-Man 2 movie). Guess which one they picked? That’s right – July 3rd. This is the only time it was not on the first Saturday in May.
2005 – Still not ready for new material, Marvel again goes with a reprint of a reprint. This time they are reprinting Marvel Age Team-Up #1 which retells with new dialogue and art the Chameleon story and Spider-Man’s attempt to join the Fantastic Four that originally appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #1. It does give a few new details, but for the most part it is a pretty blah retelling of a great story. In fact, to my knowledge, this is the fourth retelling of this comic.
2006 – This year Marvel leads off with a book featuring the X-Men and the Runaways. However, the third story in the comic reprints Marvel Adventures Avengers #1. This series is not a retellings or reprints, like the Marvel Age was, but a whole new universe designed to appeal to all ages. My son started picking these up as his introduction to comics and I have to say, at least the later issues of the Spider-Man title in this universe, they were fun reads that didn’t attempt to mirror the 616 universe. It was like the Ultimate Universe for kids.
This particular issue has an Avengers team consisting of Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Storm, and Wolverine with a little help from Spider-Man taking on an army of Ultron troops created by the military.
It also has an Ultimate Spider-Man recap page, but I’m not positive if it is just a page or if it has a story since this issue is not available on Marvel Unlimited (there are a few limits, evidently).
2007 – Finally we have an original story – “Swing Shift”. That’s right folks, because you demanded it! Not a retelling! Not a reprint! All New All Daring (wait, that’s a different title) – All New All Different (wait, that’s something else also) – All New All Free! This issue is written by Dan Slott and is a fun read. It establishes Spider-Man in the current continuity without making the reader really need to know anything about what has been going on for the last several issues. I would think that a new reader who picked this issue up would have no trouble going back to the comic book store and jumping right into the current issues.
This issue is available on Marvel Unlimited and the plot is a simple one: Peter Parker is picking up a cake for Aunt May’s birthday party. He almost gets run down by a crazy guy in a car (first appearance of Overdrive). Spider-Man dons the costume and goes after him and after a wild chase, saves the day, but the old Parker luck kicks in and Peter realizes that the webbing he used to secure the cake won’t dissolve for another hour (it’s never prevented him from getting his clothes out before, but hey – it’s a story). So he misses Aunt May’s birthday and the issue ends with her wishing he would be more responsible (cue rim shot). This issue also has the first appearance of Jackpot. It is a good issue for current fans wanting to know why everyone was so happy when Slott was first announced as writer for the title.
Since Spider-Man yells out to a heckler “Happy Cinco de Mayo” (the same day as FCBD that year), we can assume that Aunt May’s birthday is now firmly established in canon as May 5th.
This issue also had a six page preview of One More Day from Amazing Spider-Man #544.
2008– This is another new adventure, but it is from the Marvel Adventures line. It features Iron Man and the Hulk (both who have movies coming out that year) and Spider-Man. Ant Man is also featured, but he doesn’t have a movie coming out and he isn’t cool like Spidey, so really, who cares? The story is titled “The Seven Rings has the Mandaran.” It is a typical Marvel Adventures story – they are all decent reads, but since they don’t exist in continuity and they are aimed at kids, the appeal is usually small for the long time collector.
What is more interesting is the cover for the Simpsons comic book which has Bart Simpson eating a dripping ice cream cone while reading a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 with the over rolled back much to the dismay of Comic Book Guy. Actually, most of these previous years had a cover that had a Spider-Man reference, but this one was actually good enough to include in the listings.
2009 – Another original story, this time featuring the Avenger and the Dark Avengers (Osborn’s version) written by Bendis. The story is told from Spider-Man’s perspective and involves the frost giant Ymir. To establish how tough Ymir is, the first look we get is Thor being knocked from the sky. As the Avengers approach the threat, so do Osborn’s squad. The teams know they must work together, but when Scorpion/Venom loses focus and starts thrashing Spider-Man, the two teams go at it. Eventually everyone gets their act together and they work together to save the day. Both teams uneasily depart from each other, leaving the reader excited about another rematch.
All in all, not a bad FCBD for Spidey fans, even if they do have to share their hero with others.
2011 – Spider-Man – “The Way of the Spider” – This is an issue written by Dan Slott, but it lacks the pizzazz that his other one had, in my opinion. It starts off with Spider-Man insulting the readers by calling them “cheapskates” presumably because they picked up a free comic book. The sotry is primarily about a fight between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman upon which he gets his butt kicked pretty badly by her until he can dose himself in perfume. You see, she was being mind controlled by the Mandrill, a big gibbon who releases a mind controlling aroma. So when Spidey soaks himself in eau-de-toilet, it overpowers the scent in her nose. Shang Chi trains him and he makes several comments about how he has never had any fighting training, which is false. Spidey also keeps saying that he is an Avenger, with the word ‘Avenger’ always written in a stylize logo for humor effect. The Crawlspace review at the time rated it as “worth every penny.”
This issue is followed up with some reprints to recap the goings on in the book and to tease the upcoming Spider-Island storyline.
2012 – Spider-Man Season One – This is harder to find information on and I did not attend FCBD in 2012, so I do not have a copy of this. Season One is a graphic novel published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man, but I believe on free comic book day only a chapter of it was given out. Maybe some readers who picked up a copy of it in 2012 can fill in this gap.
There is also an Avengers reprint that has Spider-Man on the cover and in about four panels, but he does nothing for the actual plot of the book.
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy (Spider-Verse) – This issue has two stories that, while do not feature 616 Peter Parker, have quite a bit to do with the Spider-Family. The first is about the Guardians of the Galaxy, which introduces Venom as a new character. Unfortunately, the first Guardians of the Galaxy came out prior to FCBD, so fans were at a loss for why Venom was in the first issue.
The second story, though, is much more related to Peter Parker as it shows 1602 Peter Parquagh and Mary Jane on stage doing a few lines of Shakespeare (Macbeth, no less – my favorite) and then feebly fending off Morlun who kills Parquagh as the first victim of the upcoming Spider-Verse event.
There is also an all new Avengers preview where Miles Morales has quite a bit of page time. This is the big clue that Miles will be a part of the 616 (or whatever the designation is) after Secret Wars.
2016 – Dead No More – We’ll have to wait and see about this one! Don’t look for Spidey – this story will be a back up to the Captain America (he gets the top billing because he has a movie out, you know) issue.
So, any big plans for this FCBD or great memories from past ones? And while you’re at it give a shout out to your favorite FCBD local comic book store!
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