To say that I was a big fan of Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, an all-ages Supergirl miniseries published by DC Comics in 2009, is a pretty big understatement. I firmly believe that it's the single best Supergirl story of the past 20 years, with exactly the kind of fun, action-packed adventure that DC needed to offer younger fans. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read Danger Club, the new creator-owned book from the Cosmic Adventures team of Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones, to find that it bears more resemblance to the grim, hyperviolent teen superhero books that have popped up in the wake of the completely inexplicable success of Kick Ass. Although it's thematically the exact opposite of their previous book, however, it does have one thing in common with Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures, and that's that Danger Club #1 is awesome.At first glance, Danger Club looks like a lot of comics that have popped up recently, especially in the wake of Kick Ass attaining its completely inexplicable success. It's dark right from the premise, starting off three months after an entire world's worth of super-heroes have gone out into space to fight in some cosmic crossover event and died. The only heroes that remain are the teenage sidekicks, left to prepare for whatever it was that killed their more powerful counterparts, but instead of banding together and preparing to face down the threat, they're caught up in fighting amongst themselves, with the most powerful among them declaring himself to be their all-powerful savior and demanding their unquestioned loyalty. The first issue picks up with a small group of the kids setting out to take him down before his megalomania makes things even worse than they already are. It all ends up playing out through the time-honored medium of bloody violence by a group of kids desperate enough to kill each other.

That's probably the most shocking aspect of the book, especially if you're like me and you're coming to it knowing that this was the team who did a comic where Supergirl imagined that she could escape her troubles by going to the moon and becoming Moon Supergirl.

Compared to that, this...

...comes off as a little shocking.

Admittedly, there is a trip to the moon in this comic, but it's mostly a setup for someone getting beaten down like the creators wanted to take advantage of a sale on red ink. But while the shock value is certainly part of Danger Club, it's not the only thing that the book has to offer. The big, bloody fight is the centerpiece of the first issue, but the story that's built around it is done with a level of intelligence and craftsmanship that lesser books can't even come close to reaching. And that's what makes this one of the best debut issues I've read in a good long while.

Part of it comes from the fact that there's a lot of self-awareness, in what Walker and Jones are doing. They know they're working in a genre that's become full of people trotting out the same clichés of teenage super-heroics gone bad, and in a way, they really embrace it. The characters are clearly stand-ins for other archetypes, but that's just the start of it, and it goes all the way to the point where they've literally named one of the characters "Kid Vigilante." That's his fist on the cover.

That they went with a name that is also a vague description of his job is basically hilarious, but it's blown away by the fact that one of the other characters, Jack, is a cigar-smoking, eyepatch-wearing teenage version of Nick Fury:

But that self-awareness goes beyond just the grim humor that makes this a fun book. It's what makes it a good one, too. Walker and Jones are smart about what they're doing, right from page one:

I love that opening page.

There's just so much going on here that's conveyed in one simple image. It sets up the contrast at the heart of the story: that we're reading about a world that used to be full of bright, colorful adventures with characters who worried about each other, and that this has now given way to those same characters hating each other so much that they're beating each other to death in the ruins of a sports arena. It's an entire backstory in one page, that we can all understand because it speaks the language of super-hero comics, and very specifically echoes a trajectory that actually happened in DC comics over the past forty years.

That alone would be a pretty great reason to use this as the lead image, but there's so much more to it than that. It sets up the method that Kid Vigilante is going to use to attack Apollo later in the story. It sets up the aesthetics for the past that have changed -- and, for Apollo, that haven't changed -- into the way the characters look on the next page, reflecting the changes to their world. And it introduces us to Apollo as a character, and shows us exactly why he needs to be taken down.

And it does it with one facial expression and exactly eleven words.

That's the real genius of this image. Walker and Jones only have twenty-four pages to set up their entire series, introducing a cast of characters, a premise, and an entire world. With this, they set up the entire conflict between these characters in the most efficient way possible.

I love Jones's art, and while I was surprised to find that he went with a slightly more detailed and "realistic" style for this one than he used on Cosmic Adventures, his art's every bit as expressive as it was there. The haughtiness comes through on his face as he dismisses his friends' concerns, and it's clear that he thinks of them as his lessers. And the dialogue is just as telling: "Step aside, mortals! This is a job for a true Olympian!" isn't just a Silver Agey bit of introductory dialogue, it's his entire mission statement.

We see that arrogance on display seven pages before Apollo reappears in the comic, and everything that he says follows from the way he's shown here. He feels like a fully formed character from the moment that he's introduced, and we understand why our protagonists have to do what they do. And visually, it's like I said: He hasn't changed. Same costume, same arrogance. What has changed are the other three characters, both visually and in the way that they react to him.

It's an incredible way to kick off a series, and it proves to everyone else out there that you can do a comic that dabbles in violence, grittiness, and brutality without sacrificing a smart, well-crafted story while you're at it. It's masterful comic book storytelling, in a way that you could only accomplish using the language of super-hero comics.

Danger Club #1 is on sale now at your local shop, or you can pick it up on Comixology, and it's well worth it.