15 Great Comic Series You Can Read for Free
Comixology is a treasure trove of, well, comics.
Many people may have hoped all this extra time at home would provide them with the time to learn a new skill, knock out that long-shelved project, or take a class. In reality, it's been an anxious period full of childcare, sorting work from home obligations, and deciding if you can stand having pasta for dinner, again. It's maybe, instead, a good time to drop the stressful pretenses of "bettering oneself" and just read some comics while enjoying a quiet evening with a beer.
Many comic book shops are closed (though, loads are offering curbside pickup), but there are still gobs of options out there for reading comics digitally. While many publishers like Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse have their own apps and DRM-free readers like iComix are useful, ComiXology has a friendly interface and lets you buy comics from almost any major publisher and store it in the app, making it easy to use and a quick entry-point if you’re just getting into comics. Additionally, its Unlimited subscription program gets you access to, well, an almost unlimited number of titles in its database for a few dollars a month. Moreover, its free trial period has been extended from seven to 60 days.
To that end, here are some great comics you can find on ComiXology Unlimited that aren't just the source material for that show you just watched on Netflix or the latest superhero movie from Marvel or DC -- there's a lot out there still waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the best non-Marvel or DC comics available to read on ComiXology Unlimited right now.
Abbott (Boom! Studios)
Writer: Saladin Ahmed, Artist: Sami Kivela, Colors: Jason Wordie
Abbott is a journalist in 1970s Detroit. She's an outcast at a newspaper that protects the status quo while she tries to write the truth about race and police brutality in a divided city. This comic would have been fascinating if it stuck on that path, but it slowly becomes a world where monsters of Greek mythology are real and used to uphold the structures of white supremacy in the world. Entrenched white powers won't let go of their stranglehold on power. The art is gritty, beautifully grabbing the surprising slide into a realm of magic that takes both the detective and reader by surprise in how the villain uses it as a tool to cling desperately to his sense of power in the face of a changing world.
Abe Sapien (Dark Horse)
Writer: Mike Mignola, Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander, Colors: Dave Stewart
Pirate ships, zeppelins, ghosts, demons, cattle mutilations: What's not to like about The Drowning, Abe Sapien's first adventure without BPRD stalwart Hellboy? Mignola's Hellboy universe has a whole lot of characters, but one of the most fascinating is one who has more or less been relegated to B-Squad. The fish man Abe Sapien, found at the bottom of the ocean and only alluded to in the latest film, provides some of the freshest, most abstract adventures in the demon and witchcraft-heavy universe. You can get 23 issues of Abe Sapien on Unlimited right now (in addition to Hellboy, BPRD, Baltimore, Frankenstein Underground, and Lobster Johnson, all in the same universe).
Afterlife with Archie (Archie)
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Archie and his perpetually teenage friends might not strike you as the most exciting set of characters in modern comics. (Though, maybe Riverdale has changed your opinion.) However, Afterlife with Archie was a totally different kind of Archie comic when it hit shelves in 2013. The story of Riverdale being overtaken by an army of zombies led by Jugdead, err, Jughead and his pup Hot Dog only ran for a handful of issues, but they're twisted, dark, weirdly fun, and the art and colors are stunningly beautiful. It's a totally different side of Archie, using an apocalyptic landscape to surface the tensions and emotions that are typically more subdued in the classic series. (That is, again, especially true if you haven't watched Riverdale).
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Andrei Bressan, Colors: Adriano Lucas
It's almost like Williamson and Bressan threw every bit of fantasy folklore out there into a blender and poured the results onto the page. Yet, Birthright somehow comes together beautifully, even if it is at times so winding and warped as to defy a simple synopsis. Nonetheless! The story follows a family where the youngest brother, Mike, disappeared in the woods and was never found. Through a mysterious passage to another realm and subsequent discovery by a group rebelling against the God King Lore, Mike winds up in a war-torn fantasy world as the hero promised by legend -- only time passes at a different rate there, so when the worlds collide, he's an adult that can't disprove the belief of his mother and investigators that he was murdered by his father. Everything that seems to be understood about the situation is never what it seems, including the lines between heroes and villains.
Bitch Planet (Image)
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Artist: Valentine de Landro, Colors: Cris Peter
Unlimited will let you get through the first volume of Bitch Planet. It's violent and unspeakably gorgeous with its stylized pastel colors creating a stark contrast with the unflinching brutality of the world, a prison planet for women. It's not only entertaining in a dark sort of way, Bitch Planet is smart and unlike almost anything else you'll read. You'll find yourself becoming complicit in the inherent violence of the Megaton, a handball-like game prisoners are forced to play. You're watching every bit as closely as the story's audience, enjoying the violence for sport and entertainment.
Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Dean Ormston, Colors: Dave Stewart
We might not be talking about Marvel and DC, but we can still talk about superheroes, even if Black Hammer isn't in the mold of more recognizable capes. It's often tongue-in-cheek (see: the variety of potshots at Rob Liefeld in Issue #10, including the cover being credited to "Lemirefeld") as it follows a group of golden-age-esque superheroes who, in defeating the mega-villain Anti-God, were transported to the mysterious country village of Rockwood. They don't know why they're there or where "there" is. They aren't able to leave the city limits without instantly dying. We pick up the story after they've been trapped on a farm for 10 years, and it plays out more like a mystery than an underwear-on-the-outside adventure. You'll probably want more, a lot more, after you finish the 13 issues of Black Hammer and five issues of Black Hammer: Age of Doom available on Unlimited.
The Black Incal (Humanoids)
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Artist: Moebius, Colors: Yves Chaland
The Incal is more than a decade older than anything else on this list, but it's worth noting that Unlimited has a lot of classics available. That includes filmmaker and writer Jodorowsky's science-fiction wonderland, partly created to showcase the off-the-wall beauty of Moebius's work. The series spawned spin-offs, prequels, and sequels and is a classic comic that still holds up with an unexpected electric energy running throughout. If you get deeper into the series, it's worth appreciating the change to the art of Juan Gimenez through The Metabarons. Gimenez recently died due to complications with COVID-19.
Goldie Vance (Boom! Box)
Writer: Hope Larson, Illustrated by: Brittney Williams, Colors: Sarah Stern
There are plenty of all-ages options on ComiXology, and Goldie Vance is one worth reading even if you scoff at the tag because you're a big adult. (Abigail & the Snowman is another great one.) Goldie is very much a Nancy Drew character (and not just because there's a Nancy Drew-esque variant cover) -- she is a detective-in-training who works at a hotel with her dad. At least, she fancies herself a detective-in-training even though she's actually a valet. She finds unexpected adventure and uncovers international espionage that involves NASA, Germany, Russia, and Goldie's crush, Diane. It's charming and captures the awkwardness of childhood inside a detective story.
Lumberjanes (Boom! Box)
Writers: Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, Illustrated by: Brooke Allen, Colors: Maarta Laiho
At your local comic book shop, you might find Lumberjanes in the all-ages section. It is great for kids, but it's really just a pretty damn good time for everyone. The art is consistently beautiful, and the story is hilarious despite being aimed at a younger audience. A group of friends at summer camp slowly (and sometimes not-so-slowly) discover that the woods around the camp are magical in mysterious and nonsensical ways. Almost every issue is funny, heart-warming, and plain fun.
Mech Cadet Yu (Boom! Studios)
Writer: Greg Pak, Illustrated by: Takashi Miyazawa, Colors: Triona Farrell
Yu might start off a little familiar with an outcast kid accidentally stumbling into the opportunity of his dreams. The son of a custodian at a training facility for youth that will fly towering alien robots in an intergalactic war, he’s always dreamed of bonding with one of the robots himself despite the fact that the opportunity should never present itself to someone of his station. The story nonetheless becomes enormously engrossing as the underdog protagonist is thrust into a war between robots from outer space that bond with human kids to fight giant crab-like aliens called the Sharg. (Yeah, there are certainly some parallels with Pacific Rim.) The action is genuinely fun, and the climax is just as thrilling as any action movie.
Writer: Ben Haggarty, Artist: Adam Brockbank
This series of vignettes from the Stone Age is a bit hard to define. It's been referred to as "stone age horror," and that starts to get at it, but MeZolith is full of odd dreams, violent neighbors, the rigors of stone age life, and even coming-of-age pangs. Part of its interesting tone comes from it being crafted by two creators who didn't typically work in comics: Writer Ben Haggarty is a performance storyteller and artist Adam Brockbank is a storyboard and concept artist who has worked on Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Harry Potter films.
The Quarter Killer (ComiXology)
Writers: Vita Ayala and Danny Lore, Artist: Jamie Jones
This new ComiXology Original is a weird cyberpunk journey that has tendrils reaching in a lot of directions simultaneously. It can feel scattered, but the life of Quarter Killer (or QK), a hitman stationed in an old arcade that gets paid in quarters, draws you into this future-world in a hurry with a cocktail of brightly colored genre styling, combining cyberpunk with street art. It follows QK and a little girl named Aya functioning in a corrupt world, finding family, and trying to sabotage a dangerous senate vote in favor of corporate personhood. It's almost hard to give each panel the attention it deserves because the art is so frenetic that you have to keep flipping (er, swiping) the pages to see what comes next.
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn, Artist: Fiona Staples
Truthfully, I came to Saga pretty late. Something about everyone saying that you had to read Saga turned me off of it, even though the track record of the legendary creators -- Staples and Vaughn could fill a bus with their combined awards -- speaks for itself. But, you know what? Everyone was right. It really is a must-read. The story of two parents on opposite sides of an intergalactic war, planet-hopping to protect their baby while both sides try to kill them all is endearing, beautifully told, and (best of all) insanely weird. The writing is sharp, but the macabre creatures created by Staples are more than worth the journey.
Thoughts From Iceland (Lonnie Comics)
Writer and Artist: Lonnie Mann
If the travel influencers of Instagram make you groan, Thoughts From Iceland, as a look at travel that's sober and real, will cleanse your palate. This quirky slice-of-life travelogue recounts the artist's first three-day trip to Iceland told as though a friend is talking about their vacation over a beer. It's not full of action or even a traditional plot. Yet, it's beautifully told and relatable. There's confusion and longing for companionship, the beautiful happenstance of traveling alone, and an incredible amount of mundane details that define your moment-to-moment life as a traveler. You need to find a converter. You were recommended a donut to try, but only found one at a gas station. You can't check in on time. Deciding what to get at the hotel breakfast buffet. It's a perfect antidote to Instagram FOMO, and it'll make you long to be on the road again.
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