Ah, the first issue. Filled with so much promise, so much energy, so much hype… no wonder everyone gets excited about them. We hear about them in San Diego, on the web and, weeks, sometimes months later, we get our grubby hands on an issue, ready to start a relationship that will endure for months and years to come — if we’re lucky.
At least, that’s the dream, right? That’s what we are told, time and time again, that this first issue of whatever title, with this fantastic ground-breaking creative team, would be bring us stories featuring our favorite characters that are truly innovative, that are utterly contemporary, that will deliver the ultimate modern experience of whatever title.
And check out the 13 covers, by the way — you know you can’t stop with just one first issue!
I’m actually quite torn when it comes to first issues, as I think all modern comic book fans are. As someone who loves comics, I can’t help but want to give the first issue this incredible benefit of the doubt, you know? As jaded as I am, it’s not the new creators’ fault that the previous issues of whatever title failed to inspire my purchase. I can’t help but feel I need to give the first issue a chance, to see if I like what might happen, if the creators are doing something truly interesting and (hopefully, at least for me) unexpected with the characters and themes. I find myself drawn to the pairings of creator and artist as if they are some kind of new drink or appetizer — perhaps this will be that ultimate combination, with a creative dynamic that tells a story that will be truly, fundamentally, important.
But then, the “modern” part of me just looks at the “comic book fan” part of me and rolls his eyes. This is exactly what they want you to think he snarls. You are falling for it — have you learned nothing from Admiral Ackbar??
I understand what my jaded half is saying. I get it. And I admit, this recent string of first issues being produced by Marvel has really raised the levels of that internal argument by several decibels. When I look at my recent experiences with the premiere issues of All-New X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers, Indestructible Hulk and Thor: God of Thunder, I swing back and forth from feelings of self-congratulatory pride, “Look at me, I am trying all of the new Marvel books” and deep skepticism, “look at all the stupid covers — look, there are even covers that are not actually covers and people still pay for them! Why would I give a company who makes people pay for blank covers my money?”
(Yes, the blank covers are for sketches at cons but still.)
I will spare you the pricing rant, by the way. There is no way that Marvel can convince me that the books I read are worth $4 for a digital version. I am fundamentally opposed to that price point and I honestly don’t know if I will return to any of these books because of it. Oops, you almost got the rant.
So, what about these books?
Well, I know that my mention of Uncanny Avengers #1 is a little late, but hey, look who’s drawing it. (Zing! Pow! Boom!) I only bring it up because I was confused to see Cyclops in All-New X-Men moaning about all the mess he’s made when the last time I saw him he was wearing some serious red coke bottle glasses in a prison getting lectured by his brother. My days of whining about continuity are well behind me, but that struck me as particularly egregious. All-New X-Men was pretty humdrum until the end, which, being a first issue, is pretty much the name of the game, but did it draw me into the story? I don’t know. I didn’t even finish the last big event and I am already tired of the mutant in-fighting and the constant arguments about what their relations are with humans. Problem is, I like Hank McCoy, so part of me really wants to read it. But then again, the “modern” part of me knows that no matter what happens to Hank, it will turn out okay, so what’s the point? Is the journey the reward? I dunno. I’ve driven the 5 to San Francisco and back many, many times, and I can tell you, that journey? No reward.
Fantastic Four #1, like the X-Men first issue, was interesting, if only because I have been seriously out of the scene with the Richards clan. I have no idea what’s been going on, other than the kids seem to be talking a lot more and there are a ton more alien-looking beings hanging about. I suppose part of me was supposed to feel happy about seeing Bagley on a Marvel book again, but after so many years on Ultimate Spider-Man, I kind of get his art. I don’t really need to see it anymore. I thought it was interesting to see Reed dealing with that medical problem he’s got, but, again, the “modern” fan in me knows that 12 months from now everything will be fine and I will be out $50, and I am not sure if it’s worth it. But leave it to Marvel — the one thing Fantastic Four #1 did do was get me interested in FF #1 with art by Mike Allred, which means I will pick that up because I do like his art, quite a bit.
There are a few pages in Captain America #1 that, taken on their own, are pretty stunning. Sure, we’ve seen the “Cap riding on top of a plane” scene before, in the first issue of Civil War, but this time around, John Romita, Klaus Janson, and Dean White really come together to make the first half of the issue pretty stunning. I was at first a little dismayed that we were going for the abusive father thing, but when I see how Remender uses it to inspire Steve by witnessing his mom’s strength, facing up to the bullying, I have to admit, it gave me pause. It’s an intriguing way to look at Steve’s inner life, which I haven’t really seen all that often. Unfortunately, I found the rest of the issue both confounding (what’s with the subway?) and kind of uninspiring (I feel like I’ve been in alternate universes a lot over the past few years). Still, it was a bold opening scene, with hints of romance, the chance to see Cap act as a father figure again, and a really crazy design for Arnim Zola.
Of all the Marvel characters that I have grown up with, the one I have forsaken the most is The Hulk. As a kid, I was a huge The Incredible Hulk fan — it was one of the few comics I bought, and my brother and I broke a bed frame while playing HULK FIGHT after one of the episodes of the TV show (we would jump from one bed to another, and, with one leap, one of us was suddenly too old to be doing that). I was a huge fan, and have always considered myself a fan of the character. A fan who did not buy any of the comics, but still — a fan. (That’s not totally fair; I did buy the hardcover trade of World War Hulk. That was the last time I read that book.) So, I am still rather surprised to reveal that I quite enjoyed the preposterously-named Indestructible Hulk #1, and I think, for me, it was one of the most successful of these initial issues that I read, probably because Mark Waid, who worked his humor-filled magic on Daredevil, brought along that knowing wink with this book as well. While I am not sure that Lenil Yu is the perfect companion for this book (and I say this as a big fan of his—I see why he was picked, but Waid is best when the artist can truly “act” with his or her art, and I think Yu is more comfortable with big time, high concept, big-screen moments), I really did enjoy it quite a bit. I also appreciated that of the first issues I am discussing, this was more of a “one and done” book than the others, and didn’t rely on a crazy cliff-hanger to get things going. I think that’s a better way to go; it gives the reader a better idea of how the creators will treat the characters and stories, and, for me, actually makes me want to pick up the second issue even more than if it had ended in some nail-biting cliffhanger.
Ron already wrote about Thor: God of Thunder, so you should read his review, but suffice to say, I really enjoyed this book, and I think the creative team here is probably the most exciting of any of the issues I read. Esad Ribic’s work reminds me of a grittier Frazier Irving, and I loved how this book looks different than anything else I am reading. Aaron’s got a real handle on Thor and the whole issue, with it’s time-jumping, humor and high stakes, makes me think that this book, along with Hulk, will be one of the Marvel NOW! books I think I will keep reading.
It’s funny to read all these first issues all at once, especially since my memories of DC’s New 52 are still rather fresh in my brain. It’s interesting to see different writers take on the task of the first issue (Big time cliffhanger? Cool one and done?), and see what these artists are like as they tackle these characters and figure out how best to express the writer’s scenes. It’s the same reason why I try to eat a newly released candy bar — you know it’s gotta be pretty fresh, since it’s all new, you know?
Yes, personally, I think having 13 first issue covers is super stupid and lame, but since I am neither, I don’t buy them all, so it doesn’t matter to me. If you like all the different covers, fantastic. Good on you, but just don’t get pissed at me when you find out that Google does image searches. And yes, I understand that a lot of this first issue madness only happens because first issues sell, and yes, I can see why people would get upset because it’s so crassly commercial. But, on the other hand, if it keeps comic books creators in business, I guess I am for it.
First issues are, more than ever, the foundation of modern comics, both creatively and commercially. That’s just the time we live in — things are changing, whether we like them or not. Just like iTunes killed the album, maybe, in the age of digital comics and trades, maybe issue numbers’ days are similarly numbered. Who knows? For me, the first issue is an opportunity to give comic books another chance, and even though I didn’t have a lot of context for some of these new books, I actually didn’t mind — it was nice have a fresh start, to be honest. Will I keep reading these new stories? Not sure. I will stick with Hulk and Thor, for sure, but I’ll keep reading the reviews here and see what happens. No matter what, though — it was nice to get a chance to check in and see what was what.
Mike Romo is an actor living and working in Los Angeles, CA