April was another month that reminds us how lucky we are to be comic readers right now. As fans, we are often easily distracted from the high quality of the medium by shiny new movies, endless doom predictions about the direct market, and oddly-passionate debates about fictional characters’ genders and ethnicities.
Take that away, though, and look hard at the actual comics. You’ll find consistently rewarding stories each week, stories pushing boundaries of representation, nostalgia, form, execution—sometimes all at once. This month’s best debut comics are a nice encapsulation of that. There are major statements by a rising publisher, creators who’ve gotten recent attention through Big 2 work branching out, a little whimsy, and a whole lot of horror.
March was strong, powered by new creator-owned work from Jeff Lemire and Robert Kirkman, with Gideon Falls and Oblivion Song, respectively. April might lack that name power, but given the strength of this work, it seems like some of the creators below will hit A-List status soon.
Let’s do it!
Black Hammer Age of Doom #1 by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston is...disqualified. This book (one of my favorites) is more a tonal shift than a pure debut, picking up where predecessor—just Black Hammer—left off. While the previous run revelled in the nostalgia of superheroics, however, this one does horror. Fans of old school Vertigo, take note.
Curse of Brimstone #1 by Justin Jordan and Philip Tan and Immortal Men #1 by James Tynion IV, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams were books I wanted to like but didn’t. Curse of Brimstone spoke to me as a concept, dealing in the desperation plaguing impoverished corners of rural white America, but this debut felt like half an issue, rather than a complete artifact. Immortal Men, meanwhile, was just messy. That said, I’ll give both books another shot, as neither had flaws that were fatal.
Rising publisher Vault Comics has produced stellar work since launching in 2016, including Alien Bounty Hunter, Heathen, Spiritus, and Zojaqan, inspiring fans to spread word-of-mouth praise, aggressively. But April 2018 felt like the month Vault landed, making an emphatic statement with a 1-2 combo of sold out debuts, Deep Roots #1 by Dan Watters & Val Rodrigues and Wasted Space #1 by Michael Moreci & Hayden Sherman. In addition, films were announced for Heathen and Failsafe, with Michael B. Jordan attached. So yeah, pretty good month for Vault.
Best Debut Comics of April 2018
Crude #1 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, & Lee Loughridge
After Crude #1, I’m legitimately afraid of the emotional trials Orlando, Brown, and Loughridge have planned. Orlando is a precise and deliberate writer who really lives with his characters, be they costumed superheroes or, as in Crude, secretive Russian murder operatives. His dialogue and reactions are believable and deeply-felt, which for me as a reader engenders deep empathy.
Crude, meanwhile, is a book about violence and loss (and I’d assume eventually payback), wherein Orlando does his usual thing with the characters. This is always a nice touch on Big 2 books, not emotionally trying because we know things will mostly be okay. Crude, however, is Orlando and Brown’s unique vision, and provides us no such guarantee. Of course, I mean all that as a compliment. If Infinity War proved anything last weekend...SPOILER...it’s that we love watching our heroes suffer, we love being made to feel.
Dead Hand #1 by Kyle Higgins, Stephen Mooney, & Jordie Bellaire
Writer Kyle Higgins, though young, has been a writer to watch for sometime, with several of his notable works involving the character of Dick Grayson, most recently on the excellent Elseworlds series, Nightwing: The New Order. While he’s written creator-owned works in the past—checkout C.O.W.L. if you haven’t already—it’s pretty reasonable to expect that his ongoing work on DC has earned him a more prominent sort of buzz.
Basically, I went into Dead Hand thinking that based on the creative team—Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire are, obviously, pretty buzzworthy themselves—if this book was strong enough, it could grow into a big hit. Guess what? It was. This book practically crackles with mystery, action, and intrigue as it leads up to one of the best final page reveals in recent memory.
Exiles #1 by Saladin Ahmed, Javier Rodriguez, & Alvaro Lopez
I must admit, I had a hard time getting amped for a team with alternate versions of characters and also a cartoon Wolverine baby. Yet, I enjoyed Exiles #1 (and #2, also out in April), because of the execution by the creative team. There are wild tonal shifts in this book, sometimes from one panel to another, but the art team of Rodriguez and Lopez handle them deftly. See below:
Ahmed, meanwhile, is one of Marvel’s brightest newcomers after making an underdog Black Bolt solo book into must-read comics, and he’s doing great things again here. He gives this team a reason to exist (a compelling one at that—the multiverse is imperiled...again!), and commits. A problem I sometimes have with the Big 2 is too much winking at concepts and not enough taking threats seriously. Ahmed’s script goes all in here, and as a reader, it’s hard not to go along.
Skyward #1 by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, & Antonio Fabela
Skyward #1 is in many ways the ideal debut issue. It makes quick work of orienting us with our protagonist—dad, mom, daughter—and then it introduces its conceit—the gravity in the world disappears and many people float lethally into the ether, including the mom from our central family. This all goes down in the span of maybe six pages. We skip forward in time and there we are with our main character, the grown daughter.
It’s quick yet emotionally moving. We then get down to world-building as our character goes about her day, leading up to a vital point in any good first issue...a killer cliffhanger. What I liked about Skyward was how light it felt (I could swear that pun wasn’t intended, but anyone who knows my writing won’t believe that), like an old school comic from a simpler time that anyone could pickup and enjoy.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.