Comics are well and truly part of mainstream culture these days, no doubt thanks to the sheer number of film and television adaptations that have arrived over the past several years. The problem is that comics have been around for decades, and often bring long complicated continuities along for the ride. Where do you begin if you want to start seriously reading comics?
Here's a brief guide on where to kick things off with some of the most popular comic book properties around.
The Avengers have been around as a team for a very long time, so there's plenty to choose from. The best place to start, though, is probably the titles launched after the Marvel Now relaunch from a few years back. There's the blandly titled Avengers series, that follows the main (fairly large) Avengers team, and New Avengers featuring the secretive Illuminati trying to prevent the destruction of the planet. Both of these titles lead into the still-ongoing Secret Wars event.
You should also check out Uncanny Avengers, a team designed to fight crime while improving mutant-human relations. This one is also a sequel to Uncanny X-Force and Avengers vs X-Men so you might want to read those as well. Other stories to read include the Kree-Skrull War, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Infinity, Ultron Unlimited, and The Ultimates.
Batman has been around for over 75 years, and there are too many incarnations of the character to keep track of. So where do you begin? If you want to start reading the regular exploits of Bruce Wayne (and Jim Gordon, who is currently Batman), then you might as well start off with titles launched after DC's New 52 reboot. There's the regular Batman series featuring the adventures of the Dark Knight, plus Detective Comics featuring Batman doing what he does best - solving crimes in true detective style.
But 75 years is a long time, and there have been plenty of other Batman stories you can buy as collected editions. make sure to check out Batman: Hush, Batman RIP, Batman Earth One, The Man Who Laughs, A Death in the Family, Knightfall, The Killing Joke (which is almost universally considered as the Best Batman/Joker story ever written), Batman: Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns.
Last year's Netflix series really helped redeem Daredevil from the travesty that was the 2003 movie, and if you liked the show you'll probably want to read up on Hell's Kitchen's red-suited vigilante. The best place to kick things off would be Frank Miller's The Man Without Fear, a story covering Daredevil's early days and a big inspiration for the recent Netflix series. The recent Daredevil run that saw Matt Murdock publicly outed as a superhero and fighting crime in San Francisco is also a must read.
The Merc with a Mouth is getting his own movie in February, so you better get reading before then. Deadpool has only been around since 1991, so there isn't that much to catch upon. If you want to get started from scratch, start off with Deadpool's 2012 solo series. It's got a great mix of humour and darkness to it, and is a great way to get to know the character. If you fancy reading more of the wacky clown-like Deadpool then I suggest the series that started back in 2008. Just be warned, most fans are incredibly derivative of this particular series. It's still fun to read, though.
The very first Deadpool series is a good read, but it's probably a good idea to skip the earliest stories from the early '90s until you've read a bit more. That was a time before Deadpool had really taken shape as a character, so they're not that great.
The Flash's own TV series has been doing phenomenally well since it launched last year, and given the character's impending cinematic debut it's a great time to read up on the Scarlett Speedster's published history. The New 52 is the ideal jumping point to get reading, especially if you don't know a single thing about The Flash.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians weren't really a big marvel property until the movie announcement came along, so there isn't a huge amount of reading. If you want to start right from the very beginning, you have to go back a bit. Read Annihilation and it's sequel series Annihilation: Conquest to fully understand why the Guardians came together, then get reading 2008's Guardians of the Galaxy to see what they get up to as a team. If you're looking for something closer to the movie experience, then skip all that and jump straight ahead to 2013's relaunch.
Groot fans will also want to check out the character's solo series which started a few months ago. The short-lived Rocket Raccoon series was also a good read, and the recently launched Star Lord series (covering Peter Quill's origin story) is looking promising.
You should probably skip the very first Guardians of the Galaxy series from back in the day, that's completely unrelated to both the movie and the current team.
Dredd doesn't get much love, despite being a classic British comic icon. there have been some great stories over the past 40-ish years Dredd has been printed in the pages of 2000AD. The handy thing is that the Judge has never been rebooted or revamped over that time, so it's easy to keep up. You can start from the very beginning with the first Case Files volume. It's easy progression from there since each volume collects a single year of published comics.
If you'd rather cherry pick, Origins is a great place to learn the backstory of Dredd and the Judge system, or you could instead opt to learn about Dredd's true nemeses: The supernaturally powered Dark Judges. New readers should also check out America, a one-shot that shows that the Judges are not always the good guys. There's also a crossover that features Batman and the Joker. No I'm not making that up, and yes it is canon.
The Justice League, or Justice League of America as it is often known, is another DC staple that has been around for decades. That can make things tricky, but luckily DC does have a tendency to reboot everything every few years. So if you want to get into reading about DC's superhero team, the stuff published after the 'New 52' reboot is the perfect place to start.
The first volume of the post reboot League covers its origin story, which makes it a perfect introduction for new readers. Other titles to check out include Kingdom Come, The New Frontier, Rock of Ages, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Tower of Babel.
The exploits of Peter Parker have been going on for over 50 years, so there is no easy place to start. The best place to kick things off is the Dying Wish arc, which had a fairly controversial ending. From there you can start reading Superior Spider-Man in its entirety, before heading onto the 2014 Amazing Spider-Man relaunch and reading on from there.
Also worth checking out is Ultimate Spider-Man, an alternate universe-based series that revamps Spider-Man's exploits with a more modern setting. If you read that in its entirety, make sure to check out Ultimate Spider-Man Vol 2 which introduces the half black-half Latino spider-hero Miles Morales. Miles is pretty fantastic, so don't dismiss him because he's not Parker.
For more Spider-exploits, be sure to check out the likes of the controversial retcon-extravaganza Brand New Day, Spider-Man Blue, Spider Island, and Maximum Carnage. It might be worth checking out Civil War too, since Spidey has a pretty prominent role.
Star Wars has a long history with comics, some bad and some good. Make sure to skip the classic Marvel series, they weren't very good and don't tie into the later films very well. The recent Marvel series, launched after the Disney/Lucasfilm buyout, are pretty great, however. I can recommend the main Star Wars series, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca's own mini series. There's also Shattered Empire, a four-part series that picks up where Return of the Jedi left off.
There also happen to be a ridiculous number of comics published by Dark Horse before the Disney buyout, but those are currently non-canon. If you must read them, make sure to check out the Thrawn Trilogy, Shadows of the Empire, and Dark Empire. Physical copies of the Dark Horse comics don't appear to be in print anymore, so digital copies are going to be the most cost-effective way of doing things.
Probably the most influential comic character of all time, with a publication history dating all the way back to 1938, there is a lot of Superman to sink your teeth into. As ever, it is no mean feat to sort the bad from the good. While there is a new status quo in the pages of Superman comics (namely the fact that he lost most of his powers), a good place to get started is, once again, with the New 52. Going back four years is certainly a lot better than heading back 75+ years, right?
There is plenty more that shouldn't be missed, including Superman: Unchained, All-Star Superman, Superman: Birthright, Red Son, The Death of Superman, Superman: Earth One, Last Son of Krypton, Kingdom Come, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is one of the breakout successes of modern comics, starting back in 2003 and still going strong 148 issues later. As an anthology series, getting started is incredibly easy - provided you're happy buying paperback collections and not the individual comics. You can either buy yourself individual six-issues collections (starting with volume one, naturally), or you can opt for the three larger compendiums. Each compendium contains 48 issues of the series, taking you all the way up to #144.
The final part of DC's trinity of heroes is finally made her big-screen debut in next year's Batman vs Superman, and it's about damn time too. Obviously those of you who haven't kept up with Wonder Woman's print exploits will need some pointers to read up on the character.
As with the other DC comics, 2011's New 52 reboot is the best place to get yourself started with Wonder Woman's comics. As ever, there are decades of old stories to read through, and you should make sure to check out the likes of The Circle, Eyes of the Gorgon, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Found.
There are plenty of other comics out there that either had a limited run or have only just started picking up momentum. That doesn't mean they're any less worthy of your time, they're just much, much easier to get reading. Here are a few of those:
- Ms Marvel, featuring the teenage inhuman Kamala Khan. This series has been incredibly well received, and since it only started last year it's easy to get going.
- Preacher is heading to TV early next year, so you might want to read up on the source material first. Obviously, start right from the beginning.
- Watchmen, a book that some consider to be Alan Moore's magnum opus. It was only a limited run series to begin with, so you can read the entire story in its entirety fairly quickly.
- Jessica Jones has made her way to Netflix with her own TV show, but she hasn't had much solo stuff in recent years. If you want to read more about her backstory, make sure to check out Brian Michael Bendis's Alias series. Fair warning, like the show, it is pretty dark in places.
- Y the Last Man is another adaptation heading to the small screen fairly soon, and people only have good things to say about the adventures of the last man on Earth (and his pet monkey). Get started right at the beginning.
- You might know Scott Pilgrim thanks to Michael Cera and Edgar Wright, but there's plenty more to sink your teeth into. The rough plot remains the same (Scott has to battle his new girlfriend's seven evil exes), it's just spread out over six volumes. Get them all here.
The stuff in this list is but a small selection of fantastic comics that have been published throughout the years. There's a lot to read, but if you're serious about getting into comics then it's well worth the effort.
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