Having read Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro's "Bitch Planet" #1 (which is out now, and hopefully you all have your copies), it got me thinking about the power of a perfect first issue, first issues in general, and what it takes for a comic to be a success -- namely, a lot.
A first issue of a new series has so many challenges, no matter what kind of first issue it is. If, like "Bitch Planet," you're introducing readers to an all new world, you have to manage effortless world building and clear character work, a plot that at least suggests where you are taking the reader, and a quality of undeniable execution in order to ensure that your readers come back for a second issue, that they don't forget about you, or worse, decide that the second piece of your story is just not worth their time and money. It's a unique problem that few mediums face. A novelist has so much more time -- almost as much as they need -- in order to convince you to come back for future installments, and if they like, there's no need for future installments since they can tell a complete and cohesive story in one shot. The same is true for film and even music, to a degree, where you buy a whole album and get the full vision of what a band intends to say.
Television is perhaps the closest analogy to comics, as both feature ongoing stories told in smaller digestible pieces -- but you don't have to insert three or four dollars into your television or computer every time you want a new story. Sure, you probably pay for cable or some kind of streaming service, but there is so much content that it's easy to think of individual shows you like (or don't like) as basically costing you nothing.
It's no surprise, then, that comics struggle in our modern age. Readers pay a very high price for a very small piece of a larger pie, and yet we all know that most creators are underpaid. Comics are a beautiful and wholly unique medium that I love, and you really do need to have that love to be either a reader or creator. Most creators will struggle to make ends meet, and as a comics reader, you have to become wildly active in the community to stay current on what's coming out. Film, Television and Music are marketed to consumers mercilessly, while comics require a certain amount of time, effort and engagement from their readers -- and that's probably part of what we like about them. But all of these things makes first issues even more important, with even higher stakes. A comic not only has to deliver something so good that someone pays for it, but so good that they will come back to pay again to read more, knowing that this will not complete your investment but rather be another step toward the full picture. That's wildly impressive when you think about it. It makes our love of comics all the more mind-blowing -- and it must be love, I suppose, or else why would we invest such time and money into it. And so, that first issue is so critical. It must effortlessly tell you everything you need to know to commit to more.
So what is it about "Bitch Planet" that passes this test?
For starters, it is perfectly cohesive and consistent in its vision. The '70s exploitation women-in-prison sci-fi vibe paired with a wildly feminist, take no prisoners story is captured effortlessly by artist Valentine de Landro. I'm sure many artists could have drawn the project well, but de Landro's style makes certain none of the message is missed. One look at the book, and readers are absolutely clear about the tone the creators wish to convey. There's nothing subtle about this book, but '70s exploitation is not a subtle genre, so de Landro was right to jettison any hint of subtlety. There's a time and a place for everything.
Between DeConnick and de Landro, the world building, despite being wildly unique and complex, is finely crafted, giving the reader everything they need, but not overwhelming them with exposition. Like Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's sprawling "Lazarus," DeConnick and de Landro dole out the story in an organic way, showing only what the characters are experiencing, asking readers to be intuitive and use their brains, but not asking for more than is reasonable. And what the book requests is deliberate -- it is conscious of exactly what it gives, and of what it needs you to invest. Few books manage this delicate balance with such precision and grace.
But above and beyond the perfectly conceived vision and consistent execution, "Bitch Planet" is just as smart as can be. I won't go into details for fear of spoiling the wonderfully clever plot points, but the first issue is a book that will manage to surprise even the most jaded of readers. The plot is meticulously integrated into the book and is absolutely emotionally devastating in a powerful way. The impact DeConnick and de Landro achieve in twenty-two short pages is shocking.
All of these things together combine to a first issue that, so long as you are interested in the subject matter, make picking up a second issue a foregone conclusion.
It's comics domination.
It's a first issue that reminds you what is so delicious about comics in the first place. The perfect tease of a larger story, doled out into tiny pieces that you can experience in the coming months, that will subvert expectations, surprise and delight you.
It's what comics is all about. Buy "Bitch Planet" #1, and revel in the beauty of a perfect first issue.