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.

20: Justice League #1
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Drawn by Kevin Maguire
Inked by Terry Austin
Coloured by Gene D’Angelo
Lettered by Bob Lappan

You can tell there’s going to be trouble from the moment Justice League begins. The series which would go on to become Justice League International starts off with Guy Gardner sat alone in the Hall of Justice, waiting for the rest of the new team to assemble and practising his speech. He thinks he’s the leader, you see – but the problem is that nobody agrees. Each new arrival brings fresh arguments until everybody is out-and-out fighting each other – and Batman’s forceful late arrival doesn’t help much either. This was a different approach to superheroes, letting them be characters first and turning their lives into a daily routine of heroism. They go to a job, assess a situation, and act on it: or rather, Batman does all of that, and the rest of the team begrudgingly go along. It’s a masterclass in building up tension – readers are in no doubt that the mission will go fine, sure, but will the team rip themselves apart in the process?

19: Mister Miracle Vol 4 #1
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Mister Miracle is a deeply curious comic, the product of Tom King and Mitch Gerads and presumably several very late nights with little sleep. There’s something hypnotic and mesmerising about the opening of the maxiseries in particular, a dark and worrying piece which follows the New Gods as they head into their next inevitable chapter. Scott Free is the focus of course, but the book lines up memorable appearances from Kirby’s other creations – Barda, Orion, Highfather – who all make up part of the grand woozy tapestry here. Gerads’ artwork is deliberately confusing and obfuscating as it keeps readers off-track – the only consistency is the beloved nine-panel grid, which feels like a consistent march towards something sinister. It leaves you wondering what the hell is going on, and forces you to pick up the next issue, providing depth and mystery which leaves an indelible mark on the reader. Darkseid Is.

18: Runaways #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Adrian Alphona
Inked by David Newbold
Coloured by Brian Reber
Lettered by Paul Tutrone

It’s interesting to compare Runaways with Thunderbolts, as each has an opening issue which hinges on a brilliant and unexpected twist. Here, we follow a group of kids whose parents throw a party each year: after spending time with each family separately, Vaughan’s script then hurls the kids together into an awkward, tentative group who wait for their parents’ private meal to finish. When they get bored and go eavesdrop, however, it leads to a massive surprise at the end – something you wouldn’t have expected to happen in a Marvel comic, and one which makes it almost impossible not to pick up the next part of the story. It’s not just a comic about a twist, though: each character gets time in the spotlight, and the interaction between each different family (and then between the children when they’re forced together) is perfectly observed.

17: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol 1 #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Drawn by Mark Bagley
Inked by Art Thibert
Coloured by Steve Buccellato
Lettered by Richard Starkings

We’ve all seen Spider-Man’s origin so many times that it’s almost reflexive to skip a page whenever you see a spider crawling up onto Peter’s hand during a flashback. And the strange thing is that in their retelling of the Spider-Man story as part of the Ultimate Marvel line, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley hardly stray from the beats of the original story… and yet it’s filled with fresh new life. Although it now looks gleefully dated to the time it was made, Ultimate Spider-Man #1 remains a breath of fresh air, especially against the deliberately edgy or provocative books which made up the rest of the Ultimate line. Here we get a perfectly charming take on the classic story, with new patter from Bendis and fast-paced art from Bagley which gives you everything you already know, but in a way you didn’t realise you wanted.

16: New Gods #1
Written and drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked by Vince Coletta
Lettered by John Constanza

Jack Kirby’s New Gods explodes straight towards the reader right from the start, a burst of cosmic energy which arrives fully-formed and ready for war. The comic introduces a dazzling number of concepts and characters, each of whom seem to have a long and intensive past which only gets briefly revealed before the story moves on to the next. Our protagonist is Orion, whose intensity and drive seems to be matched only by Kirby’s own momentum (he was working on two other comics in addition to this simultaneously at the time). Orion declares he’s ready for battle, and spends the rest of the comic looking for it, heading off on a mission to destroy his people’s enemy, Darkseid. It’s only at the end that we see Darkseid himself, in person, as he declares himself ready in turn for Orion – the idea being that these two dominant forces are going to ultimately crash into one another, and cause all kinds of chaos moving forward. New Gods #1 sets up the future in exciting fashion, and sends Kirby’s galaxy-spanning epic soaring forwards into the thrilling unknown.

15: The Walking Dead #1
Written and lettered by Robert Kirkman
Drawn by Tony Moore

The first issue of The Walking Dead has Tony Moore as artist, which would be reason enough for any issue to stand out. But his fine approach to storytelling is matched by a fascinating narrative choice from Robert Kirkman which gives this issue a real edge. Rick Grimes, the standard protagonist, is a police officer who gets shot in the line of duty. When he wakes up from a coma, the world is full of zombies. That’s it, that’s the comic! But that early jump in time means everything for the narrative: Rick enters the world and has to adapt to it at the same time as the reader, giving a different sense of depth to his desperate struggle for survival. It’s a strongly told yet simple story, and all the more effective for it.

14: Y: The Last Man #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Drawn by Pia Guerra
Inked by José Marzan, Jr
Coloured by Pamela Rambo
Lettered by Clem Robins

Many people would hail Y: The Last Man as the definitive “#1” comic book issue. It’s easy to see why: it’s structure jumps from character to character with absolute grace, giving the reader everything they need to know about every single person who appears. The “hook” of the series is meant to snag readers towards the end as we see every male character die in a sudden, violent burst delivered by Pia Guerra, but in all honesty most people will have already been hooked by the smart dialogue and intriguing characters long before that. The rest of the series continues in a love-it-or-hate-it fashion, but the first issue is a snappy, assured debut which offered something different to anything else in comics at the time.

13: Fantastic Four Vol 1 #1
Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked by George Klein and Christopher Rule
Coloured by Stan Goldberg
Lettered by Artie Simek

Is it actually good? Debatable. But you have to acknowledge the importance of Fantastic Four #1. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby defined superhero comics forever with this issue, introducing four heroes whose simple powers belied the complex world which was to come. Kirby is having fun with the issue – especially his design for The Thing, which is a classic part of American comics – and Lee does his standard thing, corny dialogue and basic personalities. The issue itself? Nothing much to write home about, to be honest. But its legacy is undeniable.

12: Giant Days #1
Written by John Allison
Drawn by Lissa Treiman
Coloured by Whitney Cogar
Lettered by Jim Campbell

John Allison’s self-published Giant Days books may have seemed an unlikely candidate for a shiny series from BOOM! Studios, but the first issue of the series – initially planned to be a miniseries, boosted into a long-term ongoing story based on the success of the first releases – proved to be a perfect fit for the publisher. Bringing in cartoonist Lissa Treiman to handle the artwork brought fabulous life to each of the three girls at the heart of the series, living together at Sheffield University, and the opening issue sets about exploring their growing bond across the course of the first few days away from home. Taking the original stories and expanding outwards, this issue sets up everything you need for Giant Days as a whole, but never forgets to make sure that the characters feel likeable, funny, and relatable. There’s no more entertaining way to spend twenty pages than with Giant Days, and the first issue is so charming you almost forget it’s set in South Yorkshire.

11: OMAC Vol 1 #1
Written and drawn by Jack Kirby
Inked and lettered by Mike Royer

Jack Kirby’s series was designed to be a vision of the future – but not even the King could’ve realised how darkly accurate he was when he set about creating the first issue of OMAC. From artificial intelligence being used to trick people into thinking they have friends and confidants right through to the Amazon-esque policies of the sinister company which hires Buddy Blank, the series throws in wildly unlikely ideas which have over time grown to form the basis of our contemporary society. Kirby’s paranoia was meant to be overt and shocking, but now it simply feels prescient and unsettling – how did he know this would all start to come to life? This is technological horror with poise and bombast from the greatest to ever take up pen and paper, and it stands as a stark and worrying sign of the times – decades before those times ever caem to pass.

 

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