First Issue Roundup – Spring Edition

 

I love first issues. I love knowing that the creators behind the first issue of a series are excited that finally, after months, if not years, of preparation, they can finally get their story into the hands of an audience.  There is so much hope, optimism and energy behind the first issue that I can't help but pick them up.  
 
Of course, over the past few weeks there have been so many first issues that I feel like a really, really cheap date! That's the tyranny of the first issue–the publishers know that people get excited about #1's ("it's gonna be worth something–you just wait!) and, I think, take a liiiiiittle advantage of the situation. We've been positively clobbered by the anti-event–instead of a big event taking all of our money, we have all these new series (often results of a huge event) pulling us back into the store, even though we promised ourselves before walking in that we would be aggressively skeptical of these newcomers who want entry into our precious stacks.  Marvel has "The Heroic Age," which, honestly, I am not sure what to make of. It sounds…like, are we in the Heroic Age now? Isn't that a little, uhm, ambitious, to give the current day a full on "Age" moniker?  According to Marvel, "the world's greatest super heroes as they emerge from darkness with a renewed sense of hope and optimism, leading to the formation of all new teams with new members…and brand new characters! " Hmm.  "Emerging from darkness," huh? Like they are waking up from a darkest night, perhaps?  The "Heroic Age" title, for me, has me thinking that all the heroes have been transported back to Medieval times, and now are carrying swords and being all magickal like.  So, Marvel's heroes are all hopeful and positive, which means that they have to get struck down pretty hard, just get learn 'em, right?  With a new tone to the storylines and an apparently "stunning new artistic look," it sounds like Marvel is getting back to basics by focusing on some their oldest school members and, uhm…well, selling more comics to hardened fans, while doing their best to serve as great jump-on points for new readers.
 
So, honestly? This sounds like when they changed Dungeons and Dragons all around so new people could check out the game, which meant dumbing down the rules and making everything really boring.  I really hope this is not the case, but color me skeptical so far.  
 
Of course, DC's has a few ways to get all #1 on our asses.  First, we have a "First Wave" which brings back some classic heroes, including Doc Savage and The Spirit, and then we have all of the books spurred on by "Brightest Day".  Thankfully, the First Wave series all seem to be limited to six issue runs, and, after paging through them at the store this past Sunday, I think I am going to wait this one out. Just…I'm just not feeling it right now.  (If you love them, please tell me! Though I have enjoyed Rags Morales' work in the past, it just seems somehow flat to me in these books.)  
 
So, we have a lot of first books to wade through these days, and I thought I would touch on a few that I really enjoyed recently and see what you thought.
 
Interestingly, the first book that comes to mind immediately isn't part of the Heroic Age or riding the First Wave. It's Ron's recent Pick of the Week, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1 by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert.  Man, what a well engineered first issue. Startling, world-changing initial premise? Check. Grim sense of foreboding doom precipitating major obstacles? Check. Well written characters? Done. Actually showing what might happen if you changed the world's timeline that you almost never see? Delivered.  
 
What's great about this issue is that it is much more than just a setup for the other issues. It has its own beginning, middle and end, with the end elegantly ending one section of the story and introducing the other. Yes, it sounds obvious–this is what a solid ending should do, but we all know that this is not always the case, especially with a first issue.  I would go on and on about this book, but you have probably all read (and heard the show about) it, so I will move on. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1 – Story: 5 / Art: 5
 
Speaking of what a first issue "should" do, perhaps it would be useful to see what these beginnings seem to have in common:
 
First, you need characters. If we already know them, you don't have to spend much time, if any, introducing them to the reader, but the reader needs to recognize–and just as importantly, needs to empathize with–the main characters to build the emotional bond that compels us to keep reading.  
 
Second–and this is a very close second–you need the big problem.  The first issues…wow, they gotta work on that big problem, you know? They have to do something particularly interesting, because for most of us, this is not out first time at the dance.  First issues tend to have either world-changing or personally devastating initial obstacles, often the kind that take a few issues to overcome. Storytellers handle the obstacle differently, of course. My friends and I always used to complain that Star Trek: The Next Generation spend most of the show figuring out the what the problem was and then solving it in the last few minutes, while the original Star Trek started off with the characters encountering the big problem immediately and then spending the rest of the show trying to overcome it.  There's no right way to do this, but I will admit that I tend to enjoy the hook happening early on and working with the characters to figure out how to bring things back to normal (or, perhaps, the "new" normal).
 
In comics, it seems that once the main character is introduced, he or she has to get some sidekicks before the story can really get going.  Pretty standard stuff, of course–this is how Star Wars worked. 
 
Once we have our cast of characters and the big problem identified, we need to leave our readers hanging before we actually start working on solving the big problem.  It is hard to overstate how incredibly vital this first cliffhanger is for the the story to be successful, ie, that people will be so interested in the characters and their struggle to solve the problem that they will remember to pick up the next issue next month (if we are lucky…nothing undercuts that great first cliffhanger like a 3 month wait).
 
I think that Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1 did a great job of covering these elements. The next book, the much-anticipated Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #1, at first seemed like it would be a lock. We had a master storyteller in Grant Morrison here, right?  I gotta say, I felt like many of in the iFanbase…this was not as spectacular as it needed to be. Morrison is a visionary writer, of course, but I think his books often work better as a whole story, rather than split out in over several issues (though I did appreciate that this first issue was a rather sizable 48 pages–that's a good way to get people invested in the book, make the first part longer so you are more invested for later issues). I certainly found myself incredibly underwhelmed by this book.  I mean, I understood what was going on, but instead of getting a chance to side with the confused Bruce Wayne, I was basically watching what was happening to him, rather than being part of his narrative (as I was able to do both with Peter and Logan in Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine). When he spoke, it was a mishmash of confused utterances and I found myself feeling rather uninterested in what was going on, which was depressing. Then, when that kid came out dressed like Robin with a little Bat shield, I felt insulted–but that's just me. (But I mean, really? Where did he get the eye makeup? Why would he wear it? That shield seemed pretty advanced for the time period–whatever.)  This is a tricky #1, though. We all kind of know what is going to happen, eventually, so the stakes are just kind of wonky.  (Yes, I realize that is the case in most of these books, but if the tale is well written, you don't remember that.) While I am going to pick up #2, it is more out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of excitement, which, for me, constitutes a real disappointment.  Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #1 – Story: 3 / Art: 4
 
The biggest #1 risk I took last week was picking up Birds of Prey #1.  To be honest, I think I bought this just to show myself that I was still openminded about stuff. Like, I know I am supposed to worship Gail Simone, but I keep misfiring, I guess. I just wasn't into her Wonder Woman run, and everything else…it was fine, I guess, but I have yet to experience "awesome" Gail Simone. And, like, Ed Benes–I tend to think his stuff is often too cheesecake-y, but every so often I dig the way he draws characters.  And I really liked old school Hawk and Dove, like, from in the 60s, I guess. When they were both guys and used to get attacked by hippies on bad acid and say words like "hep."  This was a pretty standard first issue, totally by the numbers: introduce an easy to recognize main character (Black Canary), get the (personally devastating) obstacle introduced to us by another easy to recognize character (Oracle),  build the team as we learn more about the problem and then end it with a big bad guy (gal) at the end of the story pummeling the characters to pieces.  Again, pretty standard stuff, but there were some good character moments, especially in a scene with Hawk, Dove and Lady Blackhawk, whom I know absolutely nothing about but really, really want to get a drink with. I think I will pick up the next issue, but mostly because I am interested in the lesser-known characters, not necessarily because I care that some bad guy has all the secret information about all kinds of heroes, which was already done in Identity Crisis years ago. Birds of Prey #1 – Story: 3 / Art: 4
 
Finally, I want to talk about I, Zombie #1 (I was going to talk about Brightest Day #1, but that's kind of really a #2–we'll have to do an article about #0's, I think), by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred.  I gotta say, really solid first issue–this was less about the big obstacle and more about getting to know the protagonist, which lends itself to a different kind of pacing and an opportunity to set the stage in a far more personal way.  We know something is up with Gwen, the attractive gravedigger–it's hinted at in the title–and though we know that, at some point, she's gonna dig into the grave she just helped put a dead body in earlier that day and munch on some brains, but we just sit back and enjoy watching her go through her day until she gets her chance for a midnight snack. I, Zombie (iZombie?—I think I've got a good idea for the next iFanboy t-shirt..!) reminds me a bit of Local, which told a story of a young woman finding her place in the world, just the way the story meanders a bit, going from hour to hour, with all the stakes at primarily a personal level.  Of course, this is just the first issue, so the stakes will probably change, but I have to say, I would be happy to read a few issues that were just about Gwen living in this town, talking with locals.  Of course, the art has a lot to do with this–Allred's work here is just gorgeous–but the writing, too, with its wry wit and gentle snarkiness is really enjoyable.  If the first issue was designed to get to know Gwen, I am all in–though, yeah, I agree, she makes eating brains sound really, really nasty. Ecch.  I, Zombie – Story 5 / Art 5
 
As I page through the lists of comics that have come out, I am positively overwhelmed by the quantity of first issues that have been released.  Seems like everyone's done their spring cleaning and want to get a fresh start. Though I can see why it would be a little annoying (way more comics to buy and possibly start pulling–which is, technically a good thing, just expensive), it's probably a really good time to get some new folks into comics.  If you have some friends who have asked you about comics but you weren't sure what to recommend, there's nothing like starting a new series together, you know?  This seems like a great opportunity to get some folks into both superhero comics with Astonishing Spider Man & Wolverine and moody alternative comics as represented by I, Zombie, and those are just the ones I have talked about in this article!  
 
The first issue is a great opportunity to give a creative team a chance to show their stuff and inspire you with their stories and characters.  I am really trying to add a few first issues to my stack to just open my eyes to new titles; whether or not I stick with them doesn't really matter, in the end–at least I gave it a try, you know?  We'll have to check back in at the end of the summer to see which of these books we are still enjoying…
 
How about you? Have you picked up any first issues lately? Which ones do you recommend? 
 
See ya in seven!
 

Mike Romo is an actor in LA who feels a bit undead right now. You can email him here or there's this twitter thing here

 

Comments

  1. Hey, I like this feature, Mike! Hope it’s a regular thing. I agree with what you said up top — there is so much potential in each new #1 that it gets me a little more excited than a regular comic book. Now, I’m very often disappointed in what I actually read, but I don’t let that stifle the optimism for another new #1. 😉 There’s something great about starting something new — even if you drop it right after, realizing it wasn’t for you.

    BTW, I *AM* really enjoying the main First Wave series by Rags and Azzarello. The Spirit mini is pretty good. Doc Savage is… not so much.

  2. Black Widow 1 was good. I liked Liu’s writing, and Acuna’s art and the set-up in issue one seems interesting.

     I also tried Ironman Legacy 1, which I really didn’t care for, and on second thought, I’m not even sure why I bought.

     I didn’t love First Wave or Izombie, and I’m dropping both until I hear good things about the book.

     

     

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Really digging the First Wave main title and The Spirit. As Conor mentioned on the podcast, the less said about Doc Savage, the better. 

    iZombie has me totally torn. I LOVE the art, but I thought the script was on the weaker side. Giving it another issue or so.  

    Agreed with Dave. Really like this feature.  

  4. I feel like they tried to make the current spirit too much like a Batman story. I agree with Paul about iZombie, I’m still debating whether or not to pick up the second issue, the art was nice – especially the inking – although I thought it was a little stiff for my taste but I don’t know if the story will keep me interested.

    Has anyone been eagerly awaiting Turf#2 as I have? I thought the amount of word balloons would be overwhelming at first glance but for some reason I didn’t feel that way while reading them.

  5. I think with Marvel and DC in a renewed phase we were bound to get a bunch of number ones.  But so far all of the ones I’ve read have been pretty good.

    Fantastic article Mike! 

  6. And… because there’s no place else to say this, I’m really kinda devastated that Doc Savage has been kinda crappy, because I REALLY liked author Paul Malmont’s novel, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. So, I know he GETS the pulps, I just think his execution as a comics scripter hasn’t been up to par. Still, I bought issue #2, hoping it would all snap into place. It hasn’t. But: I’d recommend Iron Man Noir #1 as a good example of an adventure pulp that snagged me with its first issue!

    iZombie’s script didn’t really stun me, nor did Birds of Prey. I did enjoy American Vampire #1 a few months back. I also enjoyed Black Widow #1, and wrote a review of it here. It had a good tone, some really good ideas, and a flawed execution. But it’s got potential, still.

  7. The Good: Guild #1

    The Bad: Brightest Day #1

    The Zombie: Marvel Zombies 5 #1

    (yes, I’m the guy still reading Marvel Zombies, but it stars Aaron Stack as if plucked directly from Nextwave, and this volume brought in Howard the f@#$ing Duck!)

  8. Flash #1 was pretty good. Although I felt the second one was a bit better. Still a nice set up for future Flash stories.

    I thought Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne was a bit better Mike. I agree with some of your assumptions, mainly that Morrison’s stories are probably better as a whole then in issues. But it was a fun romp with cavemen, can’t ask for anything more.

  9. I really wanted to like Birds of Prey #1 because I would love to read more books with strong female characters, but it completely fell flat for me. 

  10. Great article. I really felt the same way about Return of Bruce Wayne #1 as you did. I think i made the mistake of thinking i could/should enjoy a Morrison story in single issues. 

    The flood of #1’s seems to be the exciting curse of comics. We all love the idea of a new story, or a new team, or a solo book for a favorite character. Sometimes you get the feeling its pure marketing like in the 70s and 80s when the goal was to flood the newsstand with new characters and series’ designed to only last a few issues just to have another high selling #1 on the market. It makes you cynical and more discerning as a consumer. 

  11. I don’t know if I read the same book as everyone else, but I Zombie did everything wrong you could do with comic book writing. Over-Expositive narrative: check. cofusing layout: check. even more confusing panel transitions: check and finally, in a clear excersize in lazy writing, spelling out the traits of a character, without establishing or developing thime: check.

    I love Allred, but he was off his game on this one.

  12. Batman’s speech patterns weren’t exactly a ‘mishmash of confused utterances’. We clearly hearing it from the perspective of the cavemen, to whom his speech was wholly alien and far too fast (hence the words being squashed together) to understand. I really liked the issue, Chris Sprouse is always excellent. However, it remains to be seen how good it will be moving forward with the different artists.

    Amazing Spiderman Wolverine, despite having the worst title ever, was by far the biggest surprise and by far the best #1 here (and for a while). Loved it.

    iZombie was terribly disappointing; it just read flat, predictable and simply hackneyed. The art was nice, but I have zero interest in following the story lest I hear it gets a lot better. 

    That’s a very odd turn of events for me, considering I’n nearly always turned off by most super-hero stories these days. 

  13. I picked up two #1s today.

    Atlas

    Zatanna

  14. The only thing about iZombie that i liked was the cover. 

  15. great comments, guys!

    I love that everyone pretty much hated I, Zombie but me..ah, well, that’s what makes this fun, I guess.  

    I did totally get the fact that I was listening to the cave people listening to Bruce’s utterances, obviously–but that was my whole point: I didn’t like the fact that I was observing it from their point of view! I mean, sure, it was clever, but, honestly, why would it sound like that–he’s still saying the words, right? it’s not like the cave people had cotton in their ears..they would still hear the words, right? Whatever–it just didn’t click with me for whatever reason.

     

    I am with ya, Neb.  It would be great–super great–to have a book with strong female characters like you said, but I think it just was so paint-by-the-numbers that the characterization never really flew.  Too bad; I hope something changes, but I fear it may be too late for many of us who tried the book out.

     I actually have First Wave and Doc Savage in my pull boxes, but my comic book shop owner didn’t pull the first issues, so I have the #2s until he gets more #1’s (or I just go to Golden Apple and get them from there…)

     anyway, thanks chiming in and for the nice feedback, too.

    -mike

  16. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I think Batgirl is actually a good alternative to BoP (though I kinda liked BoP too). Batgirl isn’t a team book obviously, but the chemistry between Steph and Barbara is terrific. One of my favorite ongoings right now. 

  17. @mike I adored iZombie, can’t wait for me.

    Seconding Paul’s suggestion of Batgirl too, great book.  Really all the *.Girl books are great right now (hopefully Winick keeps it up with Power Girl)

  18. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    And we can add Zatanna to that list. While not as good as the initial run of Power Girl or Batgirl, it looks like it’s gonna be a lot of fun. 

    Speaking of great #1s, have I mentioned how much I love DC Legacies? Because I love DC Legacies.  

  19. Dammit, Paul has convinced me that I need to go back and get Legacies. I was set to miss it — not the biggest Len Wein fan, but Paul’s enthusiasm is contagious.

    I actually bought a buncha #1’s today, mayyyybe influenced by this article. Grabbed Zatanna and the Heroic Age anthology, and even the Heroic Age teaser book, which was like 5 little #1’s. Grabbed Atlas, even though I wasn’t reading the previous incarnation. I love Gabriel Hardman’s stuff, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

    What’s the word on the Paul Levitz Legion book? Do I need to go back and grab that one too?

    (Incidentally, I thought Avengers #1 was great. Great study in dialogue for a team book — everyone sounded different, and everyone was revealing character through their words and actions.)

  20. @daccampo I really enjoyed it, fantastic art and a solid story. 

  21. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I didn’t enjoy Legion #1 as much as I’d wanted to. Sticking with it, but it’s not as good as other recent Legion stories it references like Legion of Three Worlds and Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. 

    Note: DC Legacies isn’t the most sophisticated book on the rack. But it’s filled with joy and enthusiasm for golden age heroes. And there are STREET TOUGHS who work for mobsters who chew on matches. I just had a lot of fun with it.  

  22. Does Return of Bruce Wayne really count in this #1 roundup? its only the start of a mini :/
    And I liked it, got a heartly laugh from seeing the prehistorically-old chum

    Zatanna #1 – more please
    Avenegers #1 – might get this in trade, not really my bag
    Spirit #1 – suprisingly good
    Doc Savage #1 – NO!
    Legion of Superheroes #1 – on the fence, ill see how I feel about #2
    Atlas #1 – wheres my Gorilla-Man!? The next issue will have Gorrila-Man right?
    Birds of Prey #1 – every page without Hawk on it is really good

  23. @mike

    Hate is a really strong word. I am indifferent to it, after reading it.

  24. I am noticing some mild passive aggression towards Simone.

  25. I think Mike’s being pretty straight up about his feelings on Simone’s work.

  26.  Didn’t see any mention of Justice League Generation Lost #1. I liked it even though it was mostly set-up for the series. Cool premise, I will be getting #2.

     

  27. I remember someone saying that a first issue is like being with a new woman as opposed to an 80th issue being like a… well most of you know where I’m going with that. These first issues feel like the former.

  28. incredibledave – I would definetly reccommend checking out Avengers #1, JRJR’s work is top notch and Bendis really did a great job with the script, it really felt like a team up book from the lighter hearted days. A lot of good dialogue between characters. I’d make that my pick of the week. I can’t believe I missed DC Legacies, I was at the store today too!

     Anyone been reading the Amazing Spider Man: Shed storyline, Bachalo has been killing it on ASM. I really enjoyed Doctor Voodoo in Age of Heroes, does anyone know if he’s getting a title?  I picked up Astonishing X-Men: Xenosaga 1 of 5 today, Kaare Andrews art is beautiful, he really knows how to draw sexy people. And he really he seems to reaaallly enjoy drawing Emma Frost’s boobs. Warren Ellis also writes some good interactions, I’ll definetly check out more of this.

  29. Avengers – Fun and exciting.

    Brightest Day – Not as great as the #0 and the #2 had me drop it.

    iZombie- Gorgeous but I’ll tradewait.

    Zatanna- A different kind of gorgeous but I’ll be damned if this Roux guy isn’t A list after this issue.

    Birds of Prey- It was okay. I’m not rushing for the #2 so I’ll tradewait unless I hear #2 is the shiznit.

    Batman: Return of Wayne- Solid opening which I know will get better after rereads.

  30. haha I like the term "tradewait" never heard that one. You think Siege would be worth tradewaiting? I almost picked up the 4 issues today but 3 was missing so i didnt bother. I’ll be reading the return of wayne again, I thought it was a decent start,

  31. @ GincyMcSweeney Doctor Voodoo had a book but it got cancelled. Also can’t agree with you about Andrews. Loved his Storm, she was edgy and cool, but his emma frost was hideous. (maybe that was the point though?)

  32. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @GincymcSweeney – Here’s my review of the recent Doctor Voodoo trade.

  33. har13quin – i agree with you about emma frost looking weird but andrews definetly made no attempt to hide his affinity for her tatas hah. in any event i meant the way he draws the xmen in general they seemed to be very modelish to me. i do love the storm and he was able to pull off the mohawk without making it look tacky

  34. @paul – thanks for the heads up, i’ll have to check that out, hopefully we’ll get to see some more of voodoo. it’s too bad it was cut short after only 5 issues.