I could Tweet right now: “Marvel had four new No. 1s this month…” and the response from my followers (most of whom are passionate comic fans) would be a mix of “Ugh, stop it!” and “Let runs continue!” plus one guy who DMs to ask if I’ll send him Marvel digital codes (I won’t). Those first two reactions speak to an ongoing shift in superhero comics, one very much evident in May 2018’s debuts.
This month brought new No. 1s for The Avengers, Black Panther, The Justice League, Superman, and Venom. In June, there’s another new No. 1 for Justice League, and in July another still for Superman. Also this summer there are No. 1s for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The West Coast Avengers, Fantastic Four, and so on and so on forever. So then, what does this all mean? Nothing. It’s just how the business of comics (which you probably don’t understand and neither do I) functions. Several years ago, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso told Entertainment Weekly they were “slowly working into a season model that’s not too unlike what we see in our favorite cable TV shows: a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers and is respectful of long-term fans.”
It doesn’t mean early ends of runs. If runs sell, they live to the next season with the same writer (see Jason Aaron on Thor, Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther, Charles Soule on Daredevil, etc.). It just means there’s a clear entry point for new readers (plus a hassle for you when you organize you books). And this month the list of best debuts was pretty thoroughly dominated by new superhero seasons, seasons that just like Alonso promised, build upon what was happening while also clearing the way for some new viewers—er, readers.
Let’s get to the lists!
Barrier #1 would have without question made our list, but it’s hard in good conscience to call this book a debut issue, as it’s been available online via Panel Syndicate since 2015. Still, the first print issue hit retailers this month, and so we think this excellent comic from Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Munsta Vincente bears mention.
Rick Remender is one of those creators with a real knack for working with the best in the business, including Jerome Opena and Sean Gordon Murphy. His collaboration with Bengal for Death or Glory #1 is no exception, ranking as one of the best-looking debuts this month. The story, however, didn’t grab me right off. I felt like I’d been thrown into the action without yet having a strong affinity for the protagonist. Still, I’ll be back for the next issue.
Mark Russell is one of my favorite writers in comics, thanks to his work on The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and recent backup stories in Superman specials. And now he’s tackling another character ripe for commentary in his new book, Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1, the first of a four-part story that I will read in its entirety.
Justice League: No Justice #1 of 4 was a very good comic (as was No Justice #4), but unlike some of the other superhero books this month, it felt more like a continuation of DC’s recently-concluded Metal than the debut of something new. That’s not a bad thing, not all. I really liked how Metal directly gave way to this and I’m excited to see the next iteration with June’s relaunched Justice League #1, but in a month with so many strong debuts, our committee of one puts this book here.
Quicksilver: No Surrender #1 from Saladin Ahmed and Eric Nguyen and Venom #1 from Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman were both close to making our list. Quicksilver picks up where Avengers: No Surrender ended, with fascinating art and a deep script, while Donny Cates, Marvel’s most bombastic new voice, takes over Venom. These debuts were strong, but I feel like both books have major jumps in their futures.
In a month heavy on fresh starts and new directions for the muscles and tights crowd, I for one was glad to also read a refreshing book like We Are The Danger #1 from writer/artist Fabian Lelay, which as I said in my review is a stylish slice-of-life comic that does a great job of making both teen life and live music visceral.
Best Debut Comics of May 2018
Avengers #1 by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, & Mark Morales
I didn’t care much for last year’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, with its odd-timing a full six months or so before its content would be relevant. After reading Jason Aaron’s first issue on The Avengers, however, I’ve changed my tune, seeing as that book planted seeds that grew into this one.
For more on why I liked this book so much, check out this piece from earlier in the month. It’s reductive and simplistic, sure, but I think Jason Aaron just gets The Avengers. Also, Ed McGuinness art has been a wonderful surprise. I’ve always thought he was fine, but he’s really elevated his work to the occasion, although I suspect Mark Morales has really helped, too.
Black Panther #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Daniel Acuna
I was a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates writing before he came to comics in March 2016, as poignant and thought-provoking as it has long been. When he started on the All New, All Different Marvel Black Panther iteration, I had high hopes, and, while I wasn’t exactly disappointed, Coates' first arc made it evident he was new to the medium. His issues were idea-heavy with little (or no) action.
Those concerns, however, are long gone. This issue was a mysterious and visual tour de force filled with characters we know in an odd situation—space, and while I’m not a fan of gimmicky outings to the stars, this doesn't seem to be one of those. Coates expertly teases deeper meaning within this intriguing script, which brings out the best in Daneil Acuna's art. This book was so good it reaffirmed my excitement to continue Black Panther, as well as for Coates' forthcoming run on Captain America, slated to start July 4….I know, right?!
Ether: Copper Golems #1 by Matt Kindt & David Rubin
The first volume of Ether was one of my favorite comics in ages, and I’m thrilled to see the series from writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin return to the narrative with Ether: Copper Golems #1, which picks up exactly where the story left off, a la Black Hammer last month.
This book may reappear on my forthcoming Top Comics of May 2018 (although I don’t normally like to double up). The point is, you should each and every one of you be reading this book. It’s so freaking good. Also, it shares some thematic ground with Black Hammer.
Harbinger Wars 2 #1 by Matt Kindt & Tomas Giorello
Although far from most talked about, Harbinger Wars 2 #1 was the best start to a superhero event I’ve read in some time. I love that Livewire, a fantastic character, is at the heart of this thing, but more than that Kindt and other Valiant writers in recent months have done a great job developing their books in a way that gives all the publisher’s best characters real and believable stakes for being involved. This is refreshing, given that some other superhero conflicts in recent years have felt a bit contrived (cough...Civil War II...cough).
Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, & Alex Sinclair
A lot of really smart folks who write about comics have weighed in on Man of Steel #1 (Alex Lu at Comics Beat, Jarrod Jones at Doom Rocket, and GeekDad/GeekMom), rendering my own hot take sort of lukewarm. Still, this is a great comic, one that also represents Brian Michael Bendis’ officially move from Marvel (where he’s been nearly two decades) to DC, launching a new era for Superman as he does. In this issue Bendis makes a lot of really strong, really Bendis-y decisions, from the funny-but-not-too-funny banter to how a pair of hapless toughs discuss Big Blue in hushed tones.
Bendis' experience as a creator shines, especially when he lays track for a coming fight between Superman and his new villain, Rogol Zarr. On top of his experience, though, Bendis also shows himself to be an enthusiastic fan, a kid who grew up in Cleveland where Superman’s creators were from, and who has watched DC from afar, wondering what if. My only note is that he continues to make the curious choice of sidelining Lois Lane, which strikes me as odd. Like Jarrod Jones pointed out at Doom Rocket, this is a “pairing of creator and character that feels like a grand-slam.”
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.