The RKL List of #1 Issues

by ryankl

I was recently asked to pick my Top 10 Comics Issues with a #1 on them. It proved a difficult and very interesting task. It told me a lot about myself. [NOTE: between the time I initially wrote this and this publication date, I changed one element, s one comic came in, and one went out. Such is the fickle nature of lists.]

You can read a complete rundown of the overall vote/list I contributed to over at Shelfdust!

I had to really stew on this and consider a lot, so here is some of my thought process, followed by my Top 10, with a little commentary!

Daredevil/Matt Murdock is my favourite character, but I couldn’t find a #1 I cared about to go into this list. I own his first appearance, it’s signed by Stan Lee, it’s awesome, but it’s not exactly an amazing comic. It’s also nowhere near the first Daredevil I ever read, nor the reason I fell in love with him. But I couldn’t pick either Frank Miller runs on the main title because neither start with a #1. Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada relaunched well, but it wasn’t in my top 10. If the Lark/Brubaker issue was a #1 it would have been HIGH on this list, but it’s not.

Then I thought about old comics I loved, and while my childhood was spent in Spider-Man territory, and on to Venom, with some X-books amidst it all, it was rarely a #1 that led me there, Venom was in the Spidey titles, and whatever numbers they were up to, and Venom: Lethal Protector might have gotten a #1, but that’s not gonna make the list [though I would be interested to reread that mini, I still have all the issues here in my office]. Same with the X-books, they were floating in whatever numbers they were at – though did AGE OF APOCALYPSE have a #1 issue? Was it an Alpha? Does that count? Either way, close, but most likely just off the list.

I will say, BARTMAN #1 nearly made the list based on how many times I read and reread that issue [and mini] in my youth, but it just got squeezed off. As did THE WALKING DEAD #1, because it might have been instrumental in getting me back into comics as a young professional – shout out to my brother for buying me that trade for my birthday – it was the first trade and the end it landed on that made me a huge fan, not just the first issue.

So, without further ado, here’s my actual list, each served with a little reason why. Enjoy.

10. VAULT OF HORROR #1

This one was a reprint. It collects a variety of stories from other issues. But this was one of the very first comics bought for me, and it started a long-standing tradition of loving everything EC had once put out.

The stories themselves aren’t the absolute pinnacle of what EC could offer, but this issue is one I’ll remember forever because I remember where I was when it was bought, I still remember its cover, I remember reading it over and over throughout the years, and I know it was the first building block of my own comic collection and the place where I forged my own path as a lifelong comic reader.

10. VAULT OF HORROR #1

This one was a reprint. It collects a variety of stories from other issues. But this was one of the very first comics bought for me, and it started a long-standing tradition of loving everything EC had once put out.

The stories themselves aren’t the absolute pinnacle of what EC could offer, but this issue is one I’ll remember forever because I remember where I was when it was bought, I still remember its cover, I remember reading it over and over throughout the years, and I know it was the first building block of my own comic collection and the place where I forged my own path as a lifelong comic reader.

9. LOCKE & KEY #1

The effective hooks of a first issue are many: deliver characters we can connect with, make the premise simple and enticing, have knock out art, have 1-2 moments that grab our collars and shake, do it all with economical use of pages/scenes with no fat. Yep, it’s gotta be all thriller, no filler.

Gabriel Rodriguez & Joe Hill effortlessly bring us into this world they build through really strong character interactions and a hook that’ll catch you for days. It almost seems simple how well they did it, but don’t be fooled, this is arcane alchemy. And it was so good I bought the #1 issue again when IDW offered it with a full script in it. Absolute brain fuel.

8. THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #1

This is the book that brought me all in on Danny Rand. I previously dug him for the loose Daredevil connection, and the killer yellow threads, but this run from David Aja and Ed Brubaker/Matt Fraction locked me in for life, and the foundation is all laid here in this issue.

Danny Rand is a kung fu master, and there are few better equipped to show that than David Aja. The early double page splash of Iron Fist fly kicking some HYDRA goons in the rain is just stunning [and mirrors the same trick Brubaker pulled over in Daredevil with Michael Lark, and both times they are just as effective].

The whole mythos then gets a little tweak with the introduction of Orson Randall, and the stakes go up, and the tone is set. It’s part superhero story, part gritty 70s action flick, and all billionaire kung fu.

7. CASANOVA #1

I’ve come back to this issue a whole bunch of times, usually when I’m writing my own #1 issue. Maybe it’s because I love Matt Fraction’s writing, maybe it’s because Gabriel Ba builds a whole world in one go, or maybe it’s because this issue covers so much ground and uses so many comic skills that I find it inspiration fuel every time.

I do appreciate the cyclical nature of this issue, and the fourth wall breaking captions, and by the end I know Casanova Quinn, and his job, and his problem. And I know I will read this comic for the rest of my life, no matter what schedule it comes out on.

6. THE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #1

This is a book no one was asking for. Phil Hester and Robert Kirkman go about building a new super, which is hard enough yakka, but then they make him not very super, and very barely heroic. In fact, he’s a scumbag and by the end of this first issue you want to keep reading because you really want to see Eric O’Grady’s house of cards fall down around him.

And yet I still kind of love him, and have enjoyed reading him elsewhere, but that’s due to the way his character grows over time. In this debut, he’s absolute pond froth. But you just can’t look away at this seedy underside of what goes on behind the Marvel superheroics.

5. SLEEPER #1

Okay, now the list hits the real tour de forces. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips here start something truly special, and I think it’s their second collaboration, and it’s one of the first comics I bought when getting back into comics and it was the one that completely solidified my fall back into things.

This is a phenomenal debut: it gives us a character we can’t look away from, it surrounded them with other people who are interesting and will help/hinder him along the way, and it slowly unpacks why we should care for our character through the main complication of the text.

A spy comic by way of some superpowers, this is hard hitting action and a slew of characters you’ll follow to the grave and beyond. I’ve read this entire series more than once and it only gets better.

4. ELEKTRA #1

I love Elektra. Frank Miller introduced her, he told the best story with her, and he buried her. That really could have been her entire catalogue in story, but I’m glad it’s not because Mike del Mundo and W. Haden Blackmen did something special with her in this maxiseries, and it all starts in this character focused debut.

Elektra has history, so it’s unpacked here in gorgeous detail, and this builds context, which they then quickly move away from. This isn’t yet another story of Elektra circling her boyfriend Matt Murdock. This is her story they want to tell, and she will be the centre of it, so she thinks about the past right before moving forward and taking a bounty hunter style job to find someone. It’s all fairly simple in summary, but the way it’s told is so exceptionally fluid, and it’s juxtaposed against Bloody Lips, a new villain invested here who is truly fascinating.

And then we get the final splash of Elektra descending into Monster Island.

Yes, Elektra, our leading lady/ninja/bounty hunter jumps out of a plane and descends towards Monster Island in her wingsuit. Comics! When they’re this good, they’re better than anything else out there.

3. UNCANNY X-FORCE #1

I’ve not been an X-mark since the cartoon when I was in primary school, so I initially slept on this book. I don’t really follow Wolverine or Deadpool, I knew little of Fantomex, Archangel didn’t feel like anything that had been interesting in a while, and I dig Psylocke but not enough to buy into this comic. But then I started hearing things, so I dug back and got the first issue and didn’t stop pulling it monthly until the run ended.

This issue not only makes me care about an X-team, but it invested me in characters I had little connection with, and made me have to come back to see how it would all unfold over time. The wild adventure style storyline is certainly something a little different, and Jerome Opena elevates it beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. There are funny moments, but also some gore, and the cast selection shows itself to be genius for what is being set up. This run is an absolute titanic force of how good it can get when someone plays with the toys, and it all began in this debut issue I roundly ignored until I realised I had it wrong, and I’m so glad I realised my error.

2. KILL OR BE KILLED #1

Okay, maybe my favourite comic from the past decade, and something so incredibly my specific jam, and the pinnacle of what I’ve enjoyed about what happens when Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker collaborate.

This debut issue is a masterclass.

Brubaker carries us through this all with a resonating first person caption voice that’s captivating. We see Dylan try to kill himself, and then we rewind to build context, and then we shift again to showcase other pertinent information. It’s all dripped out at a delicious pace, but one that constantly gives us something else to add to the pile to astound us.

Phillips uses gutters to isolate characters, and guide the eye, and make us feel the emotional scope of this character and the world around him he feels so constantly attacked by. I’d love to map out how this issue gives up information, and how it does it. Putting something like this together, giving us so many character interactions alongside our leading man’s state of mind and motivation moving forward is a masterclass in how to give an audience everything they need without them ever seeing it coming or having a moment to feel bored.

Every comic writer should read this issue to see why we should never rest on our laurels. We can always do better.

1. Y: THE LAST MAN #1

This is the cliche choice, the one people are told to read, to seek out, to study. And there’s reason for that.

Yes, this issue is that good. You might not dig the story [I guess, I don’t know how, but that’s cool], but there’s little denying this issue does everything it should and does it with the most simplistic style. If you step back, this issue looks so easy, and doesn’t do much, but it really just pushes information into your brain through conversation and dialogue and that’s not easy to do without making anyone feel like a James Remar Exposition Machine.

Every character for the series gets time here, they all get moments that shine, and by the end of this issue you know them all and have cast your lot in with the right or the wrong ones. The hook in this issue isn’t that all the men on Earth die, that’s just doing what it says on the tin, the masterful magic here is in how much you love the characters and need to know what will become of them all.

In a world where most comics end their #1 issue by revealing the hook that’s already been in all of the solicit/prepress material, this comic goes another route. Knowing that Yorick wanted to propose to his girlfriend at the worst moment and got interrupted is the key to this series. Brian K Vaughan never sells this book as a post-apocalyptic tale of every man on Earth dying, bar one. He sells it as the story of the last boy on Earth becoming the last man on Earth. A great reminder than your story isn’t your hook, your hook is there to make people give your story their eyes. Then your job is to make them care.

Reread this issue, see how BKV does it, especially with the world’s finest work from Pia Guerra, and marvel at how he does it. One tip: he has 40 pages, so he’s got that working for him. Good luck to you!