Ah yes, a jumping-on point. That’s what people are looking for. A good #1 issue of a comic book gives readers everything they need not only to understand whatever comes next in the series, but offers a rounded, insightful and entertaining story by itself: the art of making a strong first comic book issue is one people have talked about endlessly. How do you get all your characters, themes and motivation clear within a twenty-odd chunk of narrative?

Shelfdust asked over a hundred comic book critics, podcasters, vloggers and commentators to pick their personal, subjective favourite ‘first’ comic book issues of all time. They didn’t have to pick the comics they thought were notable or “important” – we asked them to pick the best opening issues based on their personal taste, and then took their rankings and compiled them into a huge master list of over 300 separate comics. From there we ended up with a top fifty list which shows off the range and taste of comics as a medium: there’s comedy, there’s noir, there’s obviously superheroes, and there’s even – dare you believe it – some manga in the list. It’s a controversial list, and a weird one: in other words, it’s perfect for fighting about!

Read on to find out the comics which were ranked by comic book critics to be the best #1 comic book issues of all time…

50: Thunderbolts #1
Written by Kurt Busiek
Drawn by Mark Bagley
Inked by Vince Russell
Coloured by Joe Rosas
Lettered by Comicraft

You probably would’ve expected Thunderbolts #1 to be higher up in the list, because its first issue provided one of the most memorable moments in superhero history: after following the adventures of a new superhero team as they come together, it’s revealed that these aren’t new characters after all. The Thunderbolts are actually a group of supervillains in disguise, and they’re pretending to be heroes to try and fool the world into trusting them. That twist caught most people off-guard because at the time the Avengers had been declared dead, and this team had debuted in minor appearances elsewhere before they got their own series: it looked like a new heroic franchise was being launched, when secretly something smarter and far more subversive was in the works.

49: Sailor Moon #1
By Naoko Takeuchi

Naoko Takeuchi’s defining manga starts off in assuming form, following a young girl called Usagi as she makes her way to school. A clumsy and hyperminded person, Usagi’s day-to-day life spills out across the pages in a really affectionate and endearing – which leaves the reader caught out when we find out that we’re actually about to water a high-powered fantasy origin story. There are signs that strange things are happening, caught from glimpses of conversations between the other pupils, or Usagi’s encounter with a strange-looking cat early on. However, that really takes second place to Takeuchi’s ability to create a really enjoyable lead character who plays into certain expectations whilst pulling away from them at the same time – Usagi is a klutz, sure, but this first chapter makes it clear there’s so much going on in her head at once. From here Sailor Moon becomes unstoppable.

48: The Dark Knight Returns #1
Written by Frank Miller
Drawn by Frank Miller
Inked by Klaus Janson
Coloured by Lynn Varley
Lettered by John Constanza

The 1980s saw Frank Miller at the height of his creative power and, flanked by the incredible team of Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley (with letterer John Constanza) he set about redefining DC’s most enigmatic hero: Batman. The Dark Knight Returns is an idiosyncratic work from Miller, heading into the future to show the character as an old man, retired from the mask and living in his own shadow. Years have passed and everybody views what Batman was in different ways, but it’s when Bruce Wayne inevitably gets pulled back into the cowl that he sees how things really are. Forced to take out a returning Two-Face, who has covered himself in bandages, Batman rips off the covering to see Harvey’s face is whole and uncorrupted – the two sides of his identity were all in his mind. Likewise, the Batman and Bruce Wayne personas are two parts of the same person. This is without paying any attention to the artistry, the sequencing, the storytelling – just the character work at the heart of this story is so thoughtful and carefully pieced together that there was no choice but to redefine Batman ever after. This story changed the franchise forever.

47: Suicide Squad #1
Written by John Ostrander
Drawn by Luke McDonnell
Inked by Karl Kesel
Coloured by Carl Gafford
Lettered by Todd Klein

The concept of Suicide Squad is an amazing one: the Government puts together a team of super-criminals, kept under a short leash by director Amanda Waller, who will be sent into high-risk operations. They’re cannon fodder: if the mission goes well, their jail sentence will be commuted, but if it goes badly… well, they’ll be able to write it off. Just a criminal who died, nobody important. That’s an amazing thing for a big publisher like DC to put out: but writer John Ostrander doesn’t just sit on that concept and let it do the lifting for him. This is a deft piece of writing which places the prison where Waller recruits her team on the site of an old plantation – and never forgets the dynamic between the jailors and the captives. The issue brings the whole cast together quickly, runs through them just as swiftly, and sends them off for their mission. They’re viewed as assets only: disposable and unworthy of any particular perspective, but as soon as they’re off and out of Waller’s sight, the creative team start assembling character, humanity and personality for each of them. It’s a subversive start to one of the more brilliant and disturbing ideas to ever hit superhero comics.

46: Daytripper #1
Written and drawn by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Coloured by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Sean Konot

Each issue of Daytripper follows the same man – an obituary writer called Brás – but through multiple alternate timelines. In one timeline he dies an old man; in another, he is murdered when he’s young. Through that premise the series is able to address some big concepts – free will, fate, determination – yet the most striking thing is the incredible, eloquent way brothers Moon and Bá unwind Brás into a fully-fledged person across each issue. Each issue kills him in a different way, and different arrangement of events, and in this first issue it’s because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. That dawning realisation crawls over the reader on the first read, but looking back you can see everything set up so carefully and particularly by the brothers. This issue is a slowly-wound watch, clicking into calculated place as it arranges every character into just the right place they need to be for the narrative to complete itself. The artistry here is astounding, and it sets the series perfectly.

45: Secret Wars #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Esad Ribic
Coloured by Ive Svorcina
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos

The comic that killed two Universes. With several years of build up through various Avengers books, pressure was high for Jonathan Hickman to deliver on everything he’s been working on to date: teamed with Esad Ribic, he proved that he was more than up to carrying that burden. The first issue of Secret Wars destroys both the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Marvel Universe, as they fight one another but ultimately fail to prevent destruction from coming to them all. On the way that means small moments of triumph, optimism or tragedy for wildly different characters like Miles Morales, Mr Fantastic and The Punisher. If the world is going to end, this is how you’d want to see it happen: with fireworks, chaos, and that small flicker of hope that everything could still be alright in the end.

44: The Question #1
Written by Dennis O’Neil
Drawn by Denys Cowan
Inked by Rick Magyar
Coloured by Tatjana Wood
Lettered by Gaspar Saladino

As if DC didn’t have enough noir trappings in their output already, The Question gave us a truly crusading vigilante hero who stops for no man and is merciless in his pursuit of justice and truth. The first issue of the series sets us up by immediately showing us the no-nonsense approach which would characterise both the series as a whole and its lead character: Vic Sage breaks into a hideout, beats up two criminals, and gets hold of a blackmail tape which he promptly runs on national news to show how corrupt his city is. Throughout the issue we then see how his brutal approach sets up a bunch of dominos, ready to collapse into one another with only one inevitable outcome possible. His steadfast dedication is admirable in some respects, but as with any truly noir lead you can see how fallible he is in the role: the end of the issue was the only possible way for his story to end, and the efficiency of the final few pages cuts into the brilliance of O’Neil and Cowan as storytellers. For all the talk and machismo, it takes barely a page for The Question to meet his match, and his fate at the end of the issue makes for one of the best cliffhangers in comics.


43: We3 #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frank Quitely
Inked and coloured by Jamie Grant
Lettered by Todd Klein

I made a promise I wouldn’t cry. We3 is a deeply upsetting and heartfelt comic from Morrison, Quietly, Grant and Klein: the story of three animals wired into cybernetic suits and turned into unstoppable killing machines by the Government. At once the story covers ideas like militarism, Governmental control, free will and innocence in blunt-force fashion – here are three animals, you will adore them, and you will want them to escape and run free – and acts as an incredible showcase for Quitely. Here, he takes his accomplished style but changes a filter: here, the action comes from the perspective of the animals. We see things the way the animals would see things, and that’s matched through Klein’s lettering, which emphasises the familiar and blurs the confusing and new.

Chase Magnett has written about We3 #1 for Shelfdust! Click here to read his piece!

42: Damage Control #1
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Drawn by Ernie Colon
Inked by Bob Wiacek
Coloured by John Wellington
Lettered by Ed King

Dwayne McDuffie doesn’t get credit for how funny his scripts are, but with Damage Control he got the chance to really take the piss out of superheroes. In a world of alien invasions and giant robot attacks, Damage Control are the company who step in to clean up the messes that heroes leave behind, and in issue #1 that takes the form of an actual giant robot, beaten and left lying amongst the skyscrapers. The most brilliant touch is that it turns out Spider-Man (who defeated the robot by messing with its wiring) is actually still inside the machine, trapped in there by the Avengers. Damage Control eventually get him out through a mix of perseverance and adept physics – seeing them work their way round a problem is as entertaining as everything else about the issue, which is at once completely ridiculous and surprisingly well thought-through.

41: Akira #1
By Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira is set in a post-apocalyptic future, a world where a bomb was dropped in the 90s which resulted in the outbreak of World War III. Years on from that point, and the story kicks off in high gear before somehow ramping things up to move faster and faster in an exhilarating and combustible rush of an opening. Akira is many things, but the start is just pure adrenaline, as we follow a group of young bikers as they go to explore the site of the nuclear explosion, only to quickly get wrapped up in strange mysteries, ghosts, all manner of sci-fi nonsense. Not only does Otomo introduce a number of crucial characters in masterful fashion, but brings an anarchic sense of liberation and outrage to proceedings: there’s a real sense of anger in this first chapter which sees the kids trying to keep up with a number of mysteries and adults who are almost wholly cynical and actively trying to hold them back. There’s so much going on in these first few pages, but the character’s hold strong throughout and give readers a brutal, necessary kick in the head: this is a series which feels important from the start.


Click here to find out entries 40-39!