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Comic Culture: The Importance of #1’s

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There really isn’t a direct correlation between babies and comics, but for some odd reason after meeting my niece for the first time recently I started thinking back to my childhood and how I got into comics. Specifically, I began to think about how she might get into comics as well someday, and how #1’s are so critical to bringing readers in, as well as potentially pushing them away. Also, with the semi-recent reboots/retcons of both DC and Marvel the topic just seemed to come to the forefront for me.

First and foremost, a good #1’s sole purpose should be to introduce you to the main protagonist, as well as draw you into their story. There should be a hook that gets you to come back for more. These days I think this idea gets lost as a lot of #1’s are actually continuations of old stories, that have simply been renumbered as a #1 to boost sales. This gimmick is not old, by any means, but truly does new readers a disservice. Because, while most of a book’s readership quite often remains constant no matter the numbering, there are some new readers that see a #1 as a jumping on point. And, if it’s truly not a jumping on point, then the whole idea of an effective #1 has completely missed the mark.

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Both DC and Marvel have done a pretty good job with their initiatives at making their books “new reader” friendly. There are exceptions like Green Lantern (which was not rebooted) and Journey into Mystery (which was not given a #1). Both of these exceptions were obviously made for a reason and I am not here to speculate as to why. I will say that Green Lantern, despite not being rebooted, continues to sell well even through the end of Geoff Johns’ epic 9-year run on the book, as well as the shift in creative teams on all Green Lantern family books. In my humble opinion, this can largely be attributed to the fact that Green Lantern has slowly been promoted to a top tier character in DC’s catalog over the last 10 or so years under Johns’ hand.

On the other hand, Journey into Mystery has not had such good luck. With a lack of sales and character recognition in the title, it was inevitable that the book would soon disappear into the distance. With Marvel Now, it seems like there is a correlation between books that haven’t been renumbered meeting the same fate as Journey into Mystery. It appears that a conscious decision was made to leave these books behind when books like The Avengers, Captain America, X-men, etc. were all given the shiny new #1 treatment. That’s not to say that books like Red She Hulk (another doomed book) won’t return some day or perhaps in a different iteration. The priority to keep them alive is just not there right now. And it makes sense. If you are going to put your time and effort into polishing up some of your books, you would clearly spend time on the A and B-listers, and not the C-listers. The downside here is that it leaves some readers who love these lesser known characters out in the cold; however, in the world of comics we all know that we’re not always going to get what we want.

What works for some, might not work for others and I am well aware of that. What I feel like is a solid #1 may completely miss the mark for someone else. Stan Lee’s old adage was roughly that “you should treat every book like someone’s first.” This mindset couldn’t be more relevant when you are dealing with a true #1, i.e. the first in a series. Most writers and artists have that first issue (maybe two) to hook a reader and if they don’t, then those readers will probably never pick up the book again. With so many new series starting these days, especially at Image, it has become more important to knock reader’s socks off. #1’s are important and I am not going to sugar coat it. If you pick up a #1 and it doesn’t WOW you, then don’t pick up another issue. There are too many AMAZING books on the shelves that could better serve your dollars. Reading a mediocre book just doesn’t cut it anymore, at least for me. So the next time you pick up a #1, think of some of these things and don’t be afraid to cut a book loose right away. Trust me. It won’t kill you.

Happy reading.

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