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This Saturday, August 14 is Free Comic Book Day, which is exactly what it sounds like: a day for your local comic book store to give away free issues to anyone who waltzes in.

Most of the free books will be promos for a longer series, a little taste to get you hooked; and like most advertisements, they will be undeserving of your attention. But a handful are truly fantastic, and worth allowing yourself to get hooked on a free sample.

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The real stars of this year’s Free Comic Book Day are the all-ages books, most of which are a treat for kids and adults alike. Among the decidedly more adult-oriented titles, a handful of vampire and zombie issues stand out, along with some great sci-fi and some delightfully silly, campy pulp. And then there’s one of my favorites: a modest little manga that depicts social anxiety over a donut purchase as a fraught battle that’s as dire as any world-ending cataclysm.

In total, there are dozens of books that you should grab this weekend — and thanks to our friends at Phoenix Comics for helping to whittle the choices down to the very best.

MAGICAL STUDENTS

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I love a story about magical kids going on an adventure at school, and there are three (well, maybe three and a half?) free books this weekend that will satisfy that hunger. My favorite is School for Extraterrestrial Girls, a story about a group of young women at a secret private school for aliens. The Unfinished Corner is also a treat, featuring a group of Jewish kids on a school field trip that takes a detour into Hebrew mythology. And then there’s a double-feature in a book set in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender; one story is a cute Korra-era tale about establishing peace, and the other is an Aang-era story about Iroh’s tea shop. Lovely stuff.

Decidedly un-magical is Kyle’s Little Sister, a story about two young middle-school siblings whose differences are a point of tension; adults may find it a bit wearying but kids of that age will identify with one or both siblings.

MORE ALL-AGES

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A new R.L. Stine story entitled Just Beyond delivers exactly what fans would want: A creepy setting, a suspicious adult, and two plucky kids investigating monsters and hauntings in an old house. There’s a lovely four-story sampler in the Oni Press Summer Celebration, which provides the first few pages of four different books; while there’s not quite enough any of them to fully enjoy, they will at least provide a taste of Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters, Mooncakes, The Tea Dragon Tapestry, and The Sprite Gardener. (All of these books are excellent!)

One more gem: Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?, a sneak peek at a full-length profile of Rosa Parks coming in October 2021.

BIG EPIC ADVENTURE

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There’s lots of adult-appropriate adventure to enjoy in this year’s selections, starting with two excellent sci-fi series. Bountiful Garden is probably my favorite from the batch. It starts with an Alien-style premise: A sleeper ship awakens halfway through a long journey through deep space to find themselves orbiting a mysterious planet. Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a blast of an adventure, a goofy pirate-flavored thrill in space.

Readers who prefer fantasy will like Gloomhaven: A Hole in the Wall, which feels like a particularly successful tabletop RPG session brought to life. Solo Leveling is also great fun, set in a world that is similar to our own but with an underpaid laborer class that delves into real-life MMORPG-style dungeons. We Live: The Last Days does not, as far as I can tell, have anything to do with the movie They Live; it’s an exciting post-apocalyptic story of kids traversing the wastes left behind by society’s collapse. Also maybe worth a look is White Ash, which has an interesting premise — a fantasy world blended with a modern-day mining town — but this free issue feels like a random selection of pages from the middle of an already-in-progress story.

I’m not usually one for blood and gore, but Enter the House of Slaughter (Jesus, what a title) presents a tidy little monster conspiracy. And Lady Mechanika is a very cool character, sort of a sexy steampunk Edward Scissorhands who fights supernatural monsters.

One more adventure to consider: World of Zorro, a sampler of two Zorro stories from across several genres. One gives us Zorro versus zombies; the other is a newly-translated reprint of a vintage mid-20th-century issue.

I DON’T KNOW HOW TO CLASSIFY THESE

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Aside from the all-ages book about Rosa Parks, the only other nonfic book to catch my eye is On Tyranny, an investigation of how authoritarians rise to power and how they can be resisted. Seems like an interesting premise; but the credulous recounting of the Milgram experiment myth makes me skeptical of this one.

I’ve been recommending Stray Dogs to everyone, but although it looks like an adorable Don Bluth cartoon, it’s dark and horrifying. If you’re ok with cute puppies and murder, you’ll want to check out this unsettling prequel; just don’t let your kids come across it.

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I’m also intrigued by Black + Calexit, two fascinating series from Black Mask. One is a story set in a world in which only Black people have superpowers; the other is set in a speculative near-future in which California leaves the United States. Both have terrible, forgettable titles; both are otherwise very engaging books.

And I was delighted by Rent-A-Really-Shy-Girlfriend, a hilarious manga about a young woman who is beset by social awkwardness at a donut shop. Of all of the free books on offer this year, this one's may be the most relatable with its deeply realistic depiction of how awkward it is to find a seat in a cafe.

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Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.