From my experience working in a comic store and at comiccons, listening to comic podcasts, and reading message boards, the question that keeps popping up is how to get into comics. It’s a fun world where all the heroes you liked growing up come from and, for the most part, are still alive and well going on adventures. It’s like your favourite movie series or TV show never ending, with different actors coming in at times, freshening things up, new writers coming in reinventing classic tales and referencing the old. Kind of like Doctor Who or James Bond, but instead it’s Batman and Spider-man.
However, the fact that these books never end and that these characters have 50-75 years of history does make getting into comics a daunting task. So with the help of this blog, I will have this column giving you my advice on how to get into particular characters. It will also bring to light some great stories you can read that have some characters you might want to read more of. Do you guy know of any good Mr. Freeze stories? I do, and I look forward to sharing them with you. This first entry in the column will be about getting into comics in general and I will write more character based articles from here. Please comment to let me know if there are any characters you’d like me to look into.
If I Want To Get Into Superhero Comics, Do I Have To Start At Issue 1?
Not necessarily. It depends the series and the character, but for the most part, like Batman and Spider-man (the most popular characters in comics today according to sales), starting with issue 1 might turn you off on the whole comics idea. As our video reviews show, these comics have not aged very well. They were also written for kids between 8 and 15 so the language and scenarios are usually simpler and lack depth. Also, technology was not what it is now and the colouring is usually bland and the art a bit more simplistic. These elements become endearing and fun as you get into current comics and search for the root of these characters, but I do not recommend starting there. If you are still curious, then please check out all the videos we are uploading on the site, reviewing the earliest issues of your favourite characters. More recent first issues from Marvel and DC can be good starting out points for you to discover characters. For example, DC has a whole bunch of stories beginning with #1 issue called New 52. So, for instance, if you want to get into Wonder Woman, just look forWonder WomanNew 52 #1. Marvel has done the same thing with the Marvel Now series, so you can get into Fantastic Four by looking forFantastic FourMarvel Now #1. You can ask your local comic book store for those. If they don’t have the first issue, you can always order the trade containing the first few numbers and continue the rest in single issues or keep reading in trades. You can always find those issues on e-bay stores or at comiccons. They should not be too expensive.
What if I just want to get into Marvel or DC in general to get a sense of the characters?
Easy answer for you: Events. Events are comic book miniseries that usually have an impact for the universe as a whole and since they are written or coordinated by one specific writer, you get all the positive points I mentioned earlier. Since they deal with a lot of characters and deal with changes in status quo, the writer(s) make sure that the reader knows of where characters are at the moment and what they are up to. With Marvel, you can always tell a certain era of books by figuring out who is the head of the School for Mutants or who is head of Shield (as of this article, it is Wolverine and Maria Hill respectively). So, if you want to try Marvel out, just get yourself a trade ofCivil Warby Mark Miller (2007),Seigeby Brain Michael Bendis (2010), orFear Itselfby Matt Fraction (2012). If you want to check out DC, then you could look upInfinite Crisis(2008),Flashpoint(2012),Trinity WarorForever Evil(both trades will be coming out in 2014 but single issues are available at the time of this article). All those DC books are by Geoff Johns. These stories are a mixed bag when it comes to quality but picking any of those up would give you a sense of the Marvel or DC universe at that time and you can then choose if you want to move on from there or if you are curious to read what came before and which characters you like best.
You only mention superheroes, is there anything else out there not superhero related that I can get into?
Oh, yes there is, a whole bunch, and it’s even easier than with superheroes. The rules I mention above don’t apply to non-superhero comics, usually. Most of them have a beginning, middle and an end and are written by one main writer. You also have to begin with the first issue since that is where the single author begins his story. There are current series that have not ended yet like Sagaand Walking Dead, but they still fit the bill and you can start with the trades and catch up to the single issues and read them when they come out once a month. I could make my job easy and just tell you to search “Vertigo” or “Image” on google or amazon but I will give you some pointers for non-superhero books. Before I continue, I would like to warn any reader that in most cases with non-superhero comics, the subject matter is mature and might mention or contain sex, drug use, foul language, sexual deviance and violence. For instance, the four series I describe below and the two I mentioned before all contain sexual matter.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman is my favourite series and though it is within the DC universe at first, it becomes its own separate world. It is a mixture of fantasy and philosophy. The premise is that certain elements surrounding us in our daily lives (like Death, Desire and Dream) are personified as godlike beings and this is their story. It is collected in 10 trades.
Y the Last Man by Brian K Vaughan is realistic story of a world where all men are dead, with the exception of one young adult. He is on a journey to get to his girlfriend and soon becomes the target of several different groups for a variety of reasons (you would be surprised how little sex this book has considering the premise). It is collected in 10 trades.
Sweet Toothby Jeff Lemire is about a near future where a virus has killed a large portion of people and all of society has been broken down. Women are also starting to give birth to animal human hybrids and we follow the story of a boy with antlers as he tries to survive in this world. It is collected in 7 trades.
100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello is like Reservoir Dogs meets Sin City. It starts as a man giving people a suitcase containing a gun and some bullets (guess how many) and telling them they can get away with murder. As events unfold, there is a deeper story at play about organized families hiring a special task force of hit men, creating order in organized crime. While the other series on this list were written with a unisex approach, this series is more testosterone driven. It is collected in 10 trades.
I hope this helps you get started.
Ok, so if it’s not the issue number, how do I know where it’s a good place to start?
An easy way to begin reading superhero comics is to look for a specific writer. Usually, when a new writer starts on a series and stays for a year or two, they start off fresh and slowly build a continuous story. In comics, we call that a “run”. Good examples of this would be Doug Moench’s run in Batman, Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force, Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine, Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men(don’t worry, it’s the normal x-men you like, he just wanted it to sound special), Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern, Johnathan Hickman’s run Fantastic Fourand Dan Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-man(which is still happening at the time this article is written). These are all examples of writers from the recent past so new readers wouldn’t need to worry about the problems with aged comics I mentioned earlier. The great thing about starting with a writer is you can then keep following the character from then on and see how the next writer approaches the character and builds on what the previous writer did.
Although I will write individual entries for characters, you can always look up “Best writer for (enter super hero name here)” on google and start from there. Just make sure you start reading from the beginning of their run or the beginning of a storyline in their run. For instance, at a comic show I was at recently, someone wanted to get into spider-man and was looking for issue 1 (I don’t think he knew it would be 25 000 $). I told him the same stuff I have written here and instead handed him Part 1 of Spider-Island, an event in Dan Slott’s run on Spider-man. I hope he liked it.