Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #11 by Drew Barth
First issues are notoriously difficult to get just right. Those first moments of a comic’s life need to set up characters, setting, story, and a whole hook to keep readers interested for the next month’s issue. Writing these first issues is laborious because there are so many things a creator wants to get out into the world as quickly as possible to show readers what the series is going to be about but they just don’t have the time and space.
Luckily, second issues exist. But second issues are just as difficult as firsts, for different reasons. Creators have introduced small pieces of what will comprise the larger story, but the job of the second issue is to start the heavy lifting process for a series. Characters and story aren’t being introduced anymore—these aspects are being given more purpose to the larger narrative the creators are attempting to make. A good second issue is going to show a reader what direction the story is going and what the larger ideas are for the series.
The best way to really look at the strengths of second issues is to look at two masters of the craft who have written dozens of second issues between them: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis. DeConnick’s name may sound familiar as she and a host of artists are responsible for the rebooting and subsequent explosion in popularity of the character Carol Danvers—Captain Marvel. This rebooting has subsequently led to the Captain Marvel film released last week. But what was it about their series in particular that resonated so much with readers? Let’s look at the opening page from Captain Marvel #2:
From this first page we’re being introduced to a different kind of Carol Danvers. We had seen a bit of this new characterization from the first issue—introducing her new costume and powers as well as setting up her identity conflict—but already in the second issue we’re getting her out of costume and on the ground. And it’s in this second issue that we’re getting more into the heart of what makes DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel so iconic and special to readers: its focus on the connection between women. For the longest time, Danvers was defined by her association with the previous Captain Marvel—the alien Mar-Vell. And while DeConnick still utilizes that aspect of Danvers’ past, she works on forging a new future for Captain Marvel.
What helps to make this second issue so important to the rest of DeConnick’s run is the setting up of a nebulous timeline. After flying the plane pictured above, Danvers is transported to the past, an island in the middle of World War II specifically. The initial set-up for time travel is utilized as a way for Danvers to relive portions of the past, specifically in connection to Mar-Vell and Helen Cobb, the owner of the above plane. But why relive the past? Because of Danvers’ questions of identity and who she is now as a hero. DeConnick lays down the groundwork for what her initial character arc for Captain Marvel will be and that’s what makes this second issue so strong.
Now we move to NextWave, one of the only series I can think of with a dedicated theme song. Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen bring us a series that is a pure distillation of superhero fiction: punches, explosions, conspiracy, and a team made of various Marvel misfits. It’s also one of the funniest series of comics to be released by a major publisher. NextWave is one of those series that was iconic from its first issue, but only cemented that status further with the second. Kieron Gillen says “We all live in the shadow of NextWave” and it’s hard not to agree with him.
And how can you not love a series that starts its second issue with Fin Fang Foom in little purple shorts? How can you also not love a series with two-issue arcs that keep its pace and story quick and fresh? The first issue of NextWave sets everything up for the reader: the Beyond Corporation creates the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E.) and recruits a group of C-tier Marvel heroes to fight evil around the world. But the Beyond Corporation is actually just a terrorist organization in disguise that uses its corporate facade as a means of finding and testing biological weapons of mass destruction. One of those weapons is Fin Fang Foom. No spoilers here: everything mentioned above is in the first issue.
The second issue is where we get to the heart of what Ellis and Immonen’s plans for NextWave: punches and explosions. Issue two is a perfect distillation of what Ellis refers to as “widescreen comics” in both its pace and its sense of action. The major element of issue two, the fight with Fin Fang Foom, is massive, loud, gregarious, and over at the end of the issue. And that pace is perfect for widescreen comics. NextWave wasn’t a major event book even though it was happening at the same time as Marvel’s massive cross-over event, Civil War. And as a result of that, NextWave could do whatever it wanted with its own space in the Marvel universe. We’re given a hint of that in the first issue, but the second cements the series completely as this weird off-shoot that takes superhero fiction in its silliest direction. That’s why the second issue of NextWave is so iconic and indicative of the series as a whole: this issue cuts out everything but the action while remaining tongue-in-cheek about that action. It is a series that knows it’s ridiculous and embraces that ridiculousness at every moment.
Second issues are easily one of the hardest things about writing comics due to what they have to accomplish for a reader: maintain interest, reveal just a bit more about the story, and give the reader some satisfaction for staying beyond the first issue. Whether it’s setting up the groundwork for more of the story, giving us important character moments, or just showing us the pace the series is going to take, the above mentioned second issues helped to cement their series as great pieces of comic fiction.
Get excited. It’s time for seconds.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.