Listen, we don’t like critically comparing comics. Every alchemical combination of art and words is its own beast, and there’s rarely anything to be gained from stacking two different books against each other. But sometimes we find ourselves hopeless against the siren call of #content, and we just couldn’t pass up the timing of DC Comics and Marvel Comics both releasing major jumping-on points this week—especially when we discovered the near-identical final pages of both issues. After careful consideration, we decided to judge Avengers #1 and DC Nation #0 in three different categories and declare, definitively, which Big Two publisher produced a better summer kickoff comic. Fear not: despite calling out the matching final splashes above, there are no substantial spoilers in the assessments below.
Category #1: Accessibility
DC Nation’s entire purpose is drawing readers—new, casual or dedicated—to DC Comics’ major summer comics. Avengers #1, released the week after Avengers: Infinity War made more money than God at the box office, is the official launch of Marvel’s “Fresh Start” initiative to re-center its most iconic characters. So did either book achieve its goal?
DC Nation #0 Main Cover Art by Jorge Jimenez & Alejandro Sanchez
DC Nation is comprised of three different short comics, and unsurprisingly ends up with three varying levels of accessibility. Tom King and Clay Mann’s Joker story, “Your Big Day,” ably sets up Batman’s summer event—his impending wedding—and the tension of Joker’s likely presence at the ceremony. King’s approach to the Clown Prince of Crime still doesn’t ring quite right, but all you need to know to follow DC Nation’s first entry is “Joker = Unhinged,” which most potential readers have memorized by this point.
Brian Michael Bendis and José Luis García-López’ Superman tale, “Office Space,” unfortunately weighs down the middle of the issue. While the duo eventually get around to a vague hook involving a new character, Bendis’ trademark patter runs rampant over Garcia-López’ iconic art, and Bendis’ stammering, insecure take on Clark Kent may frustrate readers. There’s also a mystery concerning Lois’ presence that comes across as more confusing than enticing. Despite “Office Space” being only Bendis’ second story for DC Comics, readers are likely to feel like they’re already behind on the plot. It’s clear where readers can find Bendis’ Superman next—The Man of Steel mini-series debuting later this month—but not why they’d want to.
Finally, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson and Jorge Jimenez succeed completely in setting up the utterly bonkers Justice League: No Justice mini-series with a 10-page prelude. While No Justice ostensibly spins out of Metal, any exposition is quickly handled in this short. “Mystery,” “Wonder” and “Wisdom” definitely aren’t “cosmic energies,” as the script claims, but this bombastic tale taps into the same wide-eyed, high-concept awe of Steve Orlando’s just-concluded JLA series, or even Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s all-time best run from the ‘90s. Snyder, Tynion IV, Williamson and Jimenez set up the entire mismatched cast, explain everything you need to know about the premise and end on a major tease that readers can follow into next week’s Justice League: No Justice #1.
Avengers #1 Cover Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
On the other side of the aisle, Avengers #1 opens not with any of the stars of Infinity War, but with a gathering of super heroes from one million years in the past. Even the most casual fan should recognize most of these mantle-bearers (although Starbrand Not-Hulk may confuse folks unfamiliar with Jonathan Hickman’s weird run on the title), but it’s still a potentially alienating choice. Avengers #1 technically spins out of last fall’s Marvel Legacy #1, and it’s only this opening sequence that feels reliant on previous knowledge. Once Jason Aaron moves the plot into the modern day, the combination of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Thor Odinson feels like a warm embrace from an old friend. Aaron catches readers up with each hero’s status quo nicely, but Tony’s suggestion that newer heroes should be taking up the Avengers banner might sting, since Marvel seems to be shuffling away its younger, more diverse characters in favor of highlighting the old guard once again.
Still, the structure of the rest of the issue, which finds heroes operating independently or in small combinations, brings to mind the expert cast juggling of Infinity War, and gives readers an opportunity to meet each team member in his or her element. The stakes of the core conflict are firmly established by issue’s end, and the final page directs readers to Avengers #2, which hits stands in just two weeks.
Curiously, our review copy had in-house ads for the new Thor, The Immortal Hulk and Tony Stark: Iron Man ongoing series (as well as X-Men Gold’s upcoming wedding issue), but not Captain America, Black Panther, Doctor Strange or The Life of Captain Marvel. Given that Cap and Black Panther are both written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Captain Marvel has a film on the way and Doctor Strange played a major role in Infinity War, it’s disappointing that Marvel didn’t at least include a last-page ad directing readers to every individual ongoing. The Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider and Jennifer Walters Hulk/She-Hulk also have recent, accessible, high-quality standalone runs available in trade form, and Marvel could have carved out space to point curious readers toward more information on the series’ non-MCU characters. (And let’s not even discuss the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ad that ruins the book’s best page turn.)
Advantage: Despite a Super-dud, DC Nation just edges out Avengers by offering decently standalone stories with clear directions on which comics to pick up next. Avengers #1 is a good start, but Jason Aaron’s bibliography points to this issue reading better in the context of a larger story, and Marvel largely dropped the ball on pushing readers toward other books.
Category #2: Art
Since DC Nation was up first last time, let’s start with penciller Ed McGuinness, inker Mark Morales and colorist David Curiel’s work on Avengers #1. McGuinness screams “big gun,” which is exactly what Marvel needed for Avengers #1, but it’s unclear if he was the right big gun. A veteran of books like Spider-Man/Deadpool and Hulk, McGuinness excels when he can layer on huge muscles and lean into the knowingly goofy side of superhero comics. Paired with Jason Aaron’s eons-spanning plot about threats on a scale heretofore unseen, it’s doubtful if McGuinness’ (technically quite skilled) cartooning can give the book the gravitas it needs. While his depictions of the book’s larger-than-life characters are impressive, something about McGuinness’ work never feels “serious” in the way that Jerome Opeña, Dustin Weaver and Esad Ribic’s early work on Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers series did. Curiel’s coloring is also likely to be divisive; while it provides a nice visual continuity with the just-concluded Avengers: No Surrender maxi-arc that Curiel also worked on, it frequently felt too dark for McGuinness’ bold, burly style.
Avengers #1 Interior Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales & David Curiel
Over in DC Nation, Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire make mad magic together in the Joker short, with Mann providing one the creepiest single-panel shots of the character in recent memory. Mann seemed stuck just under the A-list before his Batman tenure, and Bellaire clearly brings out the best in his fine-lined style here and in the ongoing series.
José Luis García-López, inked here by Dexter Vines and colored by Alex Sinclair, doesn’t quite reach his career-best (although Rao knows García-López’ worst is better than countless artists’ best), but his timeless approach to cape comics and his ease with visual acting fits well with Bendis’ newsroom-focused plot. It’s a shame Bendis didn’t give García-López more to work with when it came to the Man of Steel in action, but the few shots we do get, while not as flashy or contemporary as the rest of the book, remind readers why García-López is often considered the gold standard when it comes to DC Comics superhero art.
DC Nation #0 Variant Cover Art by José Luis García-López, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair
Jorge Jimenez, meanwhile, emerges as the VIP of DC Nation in the No Justice prelude. Working with colorist Alejandro Sanchez, Jimenez captures over a dozen unique character personalities with flair, and his sense of scale in the final pages perfectly drives home the awe inherent in Scott Snyder’s approach to the Justice League. Even the goofy color-coded costumes of the No Justice event look good under Jimenez and Sanchez, and it’s a delight to know that they’ll soon be working on the ongoing Justice League title.
Advantage: With no slight intended to Ed McGuinness, DC Nation takes the prize once again. Every colorist pairing in DC Nation works, and two out of three line artists bring their A-game, with the third doing just fine. McGuinness is in great form in Avengers, but it just isn’t clear if he’s a good fit for Aaron’s plot, and the coloring choices cast a literal shadow over the inherently fun line art.
Category #3: Value
Avengers #1 costs $4.99 for 32 story pages. DC Nation #0 costs $0.25 for 29 pages of content.
Advantage: Sorry Marvel—there’s no beating a quarter as the cover price. DC Comics is likely taking a monetary loss on DC Nation #1, but they’re earning it back with interest when it comes to consumer goodwill and advertising.
DC Nation #0 Variant Cover Art by Clay Mann & Jordie Bellaire
The Final Verdict
At three-to-zero, it may seem like Avengers #1 got massacred, but we have to stress that it’s a good book—it just can’t compete head-to-head with a value-priced trio of short stories with more appropriate art choices. DC Nation shows off three different aspects of the DC Universe and clearly tells readers what they should read next. Avengers #1 may feel more “Avengers-y” than some recent iterations of the book, but it under-performs when it comes to selling the larger “Fresh Start” initiative, and doesn’t quite hit the high-water marks of the franchise’s cinematic equivalent. Readers likely won’t be disappointed by Avengers #1, but it’s not clear if they’ll be wowed either, and that in itself is a letdown considering Marvel’s big hopes for its summer launches.
DC Nation #0 Variant Cover Art by Jorge Jimenez & Alejandro Sanchez