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 we’re counting down all through December. Today we reach the top thirty! Expect capes, bikes, and plenty of mindless violence along the way. Also drugs!

30: Astro City #1
Written by Kurt Busiek
Drawn by Brent Anderson
Coloured by Steve Buccellato
Lettered by Richard Starkings

Kurt Busiek is probably the best superhero writer of all time. Just an observation, not an opinion. With Astro City he took the opportunity to step up off the shoulders of all the comics that came before and put his own voice into a superhero narrative in a way wholly his own. Astro City was the result, drawn with restless warmth by Brent Anderson, and one of the biggest superhero universes ever conceived started to stir to life. The first issue of the series follows Superman-stand-in Samaritan, a hero who has many of the trappings of his more famous forebear but sits just differently enough to Clark Kent. Busiek explores a single day in the life of a hero, but through the adventures and rescues sits a beautiful character study which would go on to become the definitive voice of the series: every single person in this world is rounded and thoughtful, and over time the creative team would move on to explore each of them in turn. Yet by itself the first issue stands out for being a wonderful piece of writing, first and foremost, a demonstration in craft and skill from one of comics most talented creators.

 

29: Ex Machina #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Tony Harris
Inked by Tom Feister
Coloured by J. D. Mettler
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher

You’re all going to need to get used to seeing Brian K. Vaughan’s name, to be honest. Ex Machina is the first of many comics to make this list, which probably cements his status as the best first-issue writer of all time. The first issue of Ex Machina, his foray into politics, doesn’t let up for a second as it follows the career path of Mitchell Hundred as he goes from civil engineer to aspiring superhero and then into the role of Mayor of New York. There’s time for every character to get a bit of time with Vaughan and Harris’ lead, which allows them to deepen just as Hundred himself does with each encounter: each scene only serves to develop every character involved as they solidify into whatever role they’ll need to play moving forwards. Smart and contemporary (for the time), Ex Machina offers an accessible view into politics which is appealing and engaging in equal measure.

 

28: The Immortal Hulk #1
Written by Al Ewing
Drawn by Joe Bennett
Inked by Ruy José
Coloured by Paul Mounts
Lettered by Cory Petit

Hulk has seen a lot of variations on the “Puny Banner. Hulk Smash!” dynamic over the years, but Al Ewing’s approach is something very different. In The Immortal Hulk, when Bruce Banner dies, Hulk rises at night to take vengeance. The opening issue provides a straightforward example of that, as a botched robbery sees Bruce take a bullet to the head – and an innocent bystander killed in the process. Hulk rises up to seek out the people responsible and gain a measure of justice. It’s a great example of a comic working out its premise in front of the reader, and Ewing is no stranger to big scary green monsters. Bennett is one of the real stars here, though, bringing a gruesome energy to proceedings which makes this into an appealingly grisly issue. Hulk’s never been this scary before!

 

27: House of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Pepe Larraz
Coloured by Marte Gracia
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Okay, so it is a very recent issue, and there’s always that worry of bias. But when it debuted House of X immediately stood out as an issue which people will be talking about (and re-reading) for years. Backed by Pepe Larraz and the incredible colouring work of Marte Gracia, Jonathan Hickman set out not only to define the X-Men: but the rebuild what they’ve always been. Most writers work off the foundations of those who have come before, but Hickman went right down into those foundations and started smashing them. The result is an actually uncanny narrative telling us where the X-Men have now gone, and who they have become, and what their goal is. Although the mysteries laid out here haven’t all been revealed yet, the issue stands alone as a bold step forward for a franchise which badly needed a new lease of life.

 

26: Transmetropolitan #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Drawn by Darick Robertson
Inked by Jerome Moore
Coloured by Nathan Eyring
Lettered by Clem Robins

With Spider Jerusalem, Warren Ellis created perhaps the perfect vehicle for his sardonic voice, brought to sketchy, squirmy life by Darick Robertson. And the first issue of Transmetropolitan is perhaps one of the greatest character introductions of all time, showing this manic and multifold journalist coaxed back into life in the big city with the offer of a huge sum of money. Every page of the issue is covered in small details, ranging from the incredibly vulgar to the somewhat vulgar: the artistic team are either having an absolute ball or the worst times of their lives as they bring both the rural backwater town and the shimmering, anarchic city to life. Nobody is holding back anything here, making for a fast paced and invective-filled introduction to Spider’s world.

 

 

25: Daredevil #1
Written by Mark Waid
Drawn by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin
Inked by Joe Rivera
Coloured by Javier Rodriguez and Muntsa Vicente
Lettered by Joe Caramagna

For several years there was a contest to see who could write the most miserable life for Matt Murdock – a contest which was only broken with the arrival of Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin to a rebooted series in 2011. They changed things round with a bouncy, life-loving Daredevil, who fought brighter villains and had a brand new outlook on life. Rivera and Martin both became stars through their work on the series, with the first issue providing a dazzling and exciting take on the Man Without Fear. Although there was a new shimmer of brightness in his life, however, Waid’s script made it clear that the darkness was still there. And who can argue with a comic inked by the legendary Joe Rivera? It all made for a winning change of pace for Marvel.

 

24: Vision #1
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

On the other hand, who would’ve thought that Vision could prove to be the lead for a dark and unnerving Marvel series? Tom King made his name on writing maxiseries, but perhaps more notable is his ability to create a mood within his first issues which keeps readers hooked in for whatever might come next. The Vision has the benefit of having Gabriel Hernandez-Walta on art – a hugely talented penciller whose work, coupled with Jordie Bellaire’s colours, created a sombre tone which would help inform the characters and their world – and King’s script is consistently “worrying” without tipping its hand until right at the last minute. The Vision became a cult classic series at Marvel almost overnight, and its first issue offers unnerving page after unnerving page for readers.

 

23: Paper Girls #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Cliff Chiang
Coloured by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher

It’s that Brian K. Vaughan again, this time joined by the gorgeous creative team of Cliff Chiang and Matthew Wilson for a supremely 1980s-charged science fiction mystery… thing. Paper Girls is exactly what it says it is, but also so much more, following four young women as they cycle their morning paper route, hurling newspapers onto every porch. As they go about their path, however, Chiang inserts unexpected and surreal twists into proceedings in such a way that you can’t quite tell everything that’s going on, or why it’s happening the way it is. There’s a really casual nature to the way the artwork shifts into odd form, making everything feel completely natural even as the strangest things imaginable start to drop into the plot without reason. Vaughan doesn’t neglect character for quirk, however, and the four girls at the heart of the series have a warm and witty rapport which keeps traction and gives the readers something to hold onto.

22: Gotham Central #1
Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker
Drawn by Michael Lark
Coloured by Noelle Giddings
Lettered by Willie Schubert

It’s almost a running joke by now that the Gotham Central Police are hapless to the point of being completely irrelevant – particularly when supervillains get involved in matters. But what Gotham Central did was take that concept and apply it to real people, who were tired, underfunded, and working day-to-day in situations which could result in their deaths at any moment. The first issue of the series highlights that idea immediately, introducing us to an officer and killing him almost immediately when he accidentally walks into a room with Mr Freeze. With Batman, any encounter with a villain is going to ultimately end in a draw, the villain sent back to Arkham and Batman retiring to his cave for some brooding. For the men and women of the police force, any minor villain could kill them at a moment’s notice, and that immediate rise in tension strings through the first issue of the series. It’s a slice of life style, given realism and ordinary authenticity by the creative team, but a slice of life where that life could be snatched away at any moment. The people of Gotham don’t care, Batman doesn’t care: the officers only have themselves as backup and support. After reading this issue, however, they’ll also have the support of the readers – from this perspective, it’s impossible not to care what happens to them.

21: Batman & Robin #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frank Quitely
Coloured by Alex Sinclair
Lettered by Pat Brosseau

A burst of vibrant energy following some fairly dark and sinister storylines, Batman & Robin harkened back to the brightest times of Batman as it followed Dick Grayson as he put on the suit and teamed up with Damian Wayne for some neon adventures. Designed to be sheerly entertaining, the issue gives Frank Quietly some big and bold things to do, but also lets him have some fun: he draws in his own sound effects, gets to redesign a Batmobile, and draws a lot of people getting double-punched by the dynamic duo. The elements of melodrama and suspense present from Morrison’s previous run are still in place to an extent, but the story has swivelled round to give them a more comical, over-the-top spirit. It’s a really entertaining comic, and just the thing that the Batman franchise needed at that time.

 

Check back next Monday as we head into the top twenty!