General Question

shrubbery's avatar

Comic book fans: Where do I start?

Asked by shrubbery (9833 points ) December 3rd, 2011

I’m one of those annoying people who is loving all these superhero movies but haven’t read any of the content material. I really, really want to but I walk into a comic book store and it’s so overwhelming. I know there are so many different stories and alternate universes and different canons for all the various superheros and I just don’t know where I should start.

I talked to the guy at the store about how much I love the X-Men: First Class movie and he pointed me in the direction of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men series of which I have read issues 1 to 18. I enjoyed them and they’re really pretty and even though he said that they’re pretty much stand alone and basically told me not to bother starting at the beginning with the stuff from the 60s I still feel like I was missing a lot when I was reading them.

I’m really excited for The Avengers movie and he also recommended me a starting point for that but I can’t remember what it was and I feel like instead of just starting when they’re all already together I should be reading each individual character’s stories first too.

I loved the older Batman movies as a kid and though I haven’t seen Batman Begins I really enjoyed The Dark Knight, and have always just loved the idea of Batman but my dad was more into Tintin and Asterix than superhero comics and no one else in my family really was either and my mum was just into the sci-fi so I had Star Wars action figures instead (which I’m totally okay with but I wish I hadn’t been so pigeonholed so early because basically all I read now is sci-fi).

Anyway. I think I’m attracted to X-Men and Batman more because even though X-Men have powers it’s science based and about evolution and there’s nothing alien about Batman, he makes himself into the hero.

But, of course there’s Superman who, if I’m going to get really into this comic thing, I obviously can’t do without. I’m loving watching Young Justice but I wasn’t sure where to start with anyone in the Justice League because again they all have such rich histories with so much content.

Just one more question, is there like a “camp Marvel” and “camp DC”? If you read one, is it blasphemy to read the other? Or does everyone get along?

SO. If you read through all of my ramblings and have any suggestions for me, please share! I’ll be forever in your debt if you can help me.

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18 Answers

FutureMemory's avatar

When I was a kid in the 80’s I collected comic books. I remember how big a hit The Dark Knight was in ‘86—‘87…it essentially reintroduced Batman to the current generation of readers, and spawned all of these Batman movies that have come out since 1989. I would consider it a must read.

Generally speaking I was into the more underground side of things, so I was never a big fan of Marvel or DC stuff.

For non-comic book people, Marvel and DC are the two largest comic book publishers. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern are DC creations, while X-men, The Avengers, Spiderman and The Fantastic Four are all Marvel titles.

Aethelflaed's avatar

So, not quite the question you asked, but maybe look at Graphic.ly. They’re an online digital comics reader/marketplace, and most of the comics there (though not all) are less traditional than the DC/Marvel superhero genre. But they’re great for finding different genres (Vikings, steampunk, mermaids, historical, zombies, dinosaurs – superheros are but one genre in a larger medium) and more creator-owned, independent stuff. My personal favorites include Mouse Guard and I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space. And being the Socially Awkward Penguin that I am, I like that I can buy them online without having to interact with people at the comic book store.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Oh, and also, DC just a few months ago did a universe reboot where they start everything over so as to bring in new fans. The “New 52” as they’re called are shit in almost every conceivable way. Just don’t go there.

shrubbery's avatar

@Aethelflaed, thanks, I appreciate the suggestions for more obscure comics. I’ll check them out, but I do still want to look into the classic big names too though. I heard a little about the new 52 on tumblr, about how they’ve made superman into an angsty alien instead of farm-boy Clark or something.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@shrubbery Yeah, it’s… the art is bad, the writing is bad and often incoherent (and seeing as how it’s a reboot, you should never have to ask “should I have read the comic before this?” but you do, a lot), the characters are poorly done, and because DC (and Marvel) have some diversity issues it was a great opportunity to bring in more readers than the white middle class cisgendered straight dude, and then they didn’t (and actually made things a bit worse than before…). And they managed to piss pretty much everyone off. They just totally blew a great opportunity.

shrubbery's avatar

@Aethelflaed wow, I didn’t realise that. I heard they were pretty sexist and Wonder Woman’s costume was crap but I didn’t realise it was as bad as all that. Definitely staying clear, thanks.

cookieman's avatar

Marvel and DC love to be rivals. And while they are in competition financially, the rivalry is often good natured. Most creators have worked at both companies, most readers have read both.

Marvel is typically seen as being more grounded and realistic in their storytelling.

DC is typically seen as being more grandiose and fantasy-based in their storytelling.

There are many exceptions to these rules. Both can be great.

Now, if you’d like to venture outside of mainstream super hero fare, there’s fantastic books from Image Comics (and other publishers) in a variety of genres (western, noir, horror, etc.) – but that’s probably a different discussion.

Back to Marvel & DC…

First of all, you shouldn’t worry about trying to catch up on 60–70 years of continuity. It’s too big a task and will drive you nuts. Furthermore, both publishes (either subtly or grandly) reinvent or update many of their characters origins to keep them fresh. Not unlike James Bond.

Where to Start?

DC just launched a universe-wide reboot in September. All 52 of their super hero based titles basically started over again. They’re currently only at issue #3. You can easily hop on board now knowing only the basics of each character.

I recommend Action Comics documenting the early adventures of Superman (written by Grant Mortison); Batman (written by Scott Snyder); and Wonder Woman (with art by Cliff Chang). All are spectacular.

Over at Marvel, they have been quietly refreshing many of their titles to be more new reader friendly (a soft reboot if you will). Check out Captain America (by Ed Brubaker) – it’s only on issue #4. If you’d like some WWll era Cap, check out Captain America & Bucky (also by Brubaker) – still only a few issues in. Over in X-Men world, I’d recommend Wolverine & the X-Men (with art by Chris Bachelo). It’s only on issue #2.

Iron Man, Thor, and the Avengers are pretty deep into current continuity, so I’ll recommend to Collected Editions (or “Trade Paperbacks”) that are fairly recent.

The first Iron Man trade by Matt Fraction with art by Salvador LaRocca.

The first Thor trade by Michael Straczinski with art by Olivier Coipel.

As for Avengers…I’d wait if I were you. In a few months, Marvel is starting a new Avengers title featuring the characters from the movie (by Bruan Bendis and Mark Bagley) that should be great for new readers.

Now, there will always be off-handed references or story beats that involve older continuity. Those are there for the old-time fanboys (like me). Don’t worry about it. Most modern comics are written in such a way that it won’t hamper your enjoyment of the story if you miss them. Eventually, as you read more, you’ll get it all.

Best of luck and welcome to the wonderful world of comics.

shrubbery's avatar

@cprevite thanks so much for your recommendations. I guess I just felt guilty for starting now with newer ones or reboots, not having read any before. I wasn’t sure if I should start with older ones, so that I wasn’t a fraud, say if I wore a Batman t-shirt for example. I know a lot of people are grateful that the movies are bringing in new fans to comics but a lot of people can be harsh and judgemental too. So being an old-time fanboy and recommending me start with newer stuff is a big relief I guess, thanks. (What are your opinions on The New 52?)

The problem I have is, though, that I love to read (novels) and just get as much out of my reading experiences as I can, and I can’t help but be frustrated that so many things are going over my head when I read the newer comics. There’s only so much I can take of me telling myself “Just don’t think about it they’ll explain it later” and then it just doesn’t because obviously you are supposed to already know. Like in Joss Whedon’s X-Men, why is there an alien? Why does Kitty have a dragon?! I guess I’m picky but I suppose I have to weigh up how overwhelming it would be to read everyone’s backstories against how annoying not getting every little thing is.

Do you happen to know when this new Avengers stuff is coming out? As in will it be out before the movie or after?

geeb_seye's avatar

Marvel comics are my favorite, i used to read them when i was a child.

marinelife's avatar

I think it is hard to try to read from the beginning. Comic books tend to be standalone. I would think you could start anywhere, and then just add on as you go.

Or, if you want to go chronologically. you could go by copyright dates.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Well, because of the DC 52 relaunch getting into things on that side should basically be as simple as picking up books you want to try for an issue or two and seeing if they meet your taste. Everything is just getting started so you haven’t missed much.

DC, for now at least, is doing less of the cross-over thing so that helps too. I’d give Batman and Dark Knight a try, three issues in I think they’re a bit better than Batman & Robin and Detective Comics. I’ve never been much of Superman fan, but the title has managed to keep my attention so far even though Action Comics and Superbooy didn’t and Supergirl is fading fast. I’ve thought JLA was pretty strong though it could’ve used a little more meat, Nightwing (to go along with your Batman interest) has been good, and Teen Titans (to go along with your JLA/super-team interest) has been excellent to the point of it being one of my new favorites (doubly surprising since I never really thought it worth following prior) I’d go as far as to pick up #1—#3 (and #4 depending on when you buy) as they’re still forming the team.

Other happy finds, in my opinion – though they aren’t really your core interests, were Animal Man, Frankenstein, and Omac none of which I had any background or expectation with, all of which I’ve found worth keeping up with through three, and soon four, issues.

I can’t really speak to Marvel as I don’t follow them much but recently I picked up a couple issues of an X-title for the first time in many years. Just reading through, it didn’t feel like anything had changed except the price. That didn’t inspire me to keep buying, but it might be good for you since it may mean getting back in to it won’t be all that difficult.

(Lack of evolution and a failure to commit to radical change are just the way most/all mainstream comics have been for a long while now, big things/events/arcs happen but genuine change isn’t really part of the comic book DNA for more issues than it takes to undo it and start the cycle over again. /soapbox)

Oh, you might want to browse the titles from publishers BOOM! and IDW too. I’ve been pretty happy with the ones I’ve checked out.

lila9001's avatar

either donald duck or archie comics, always funny and easy to read :)

cookieman's avatar

@shrubbery: In serial fiction, you have to start somewhere. I started reading Marvel comics in the late 70’s. They had over ten years of history before that. I certainly (at age twelve) didn’t go back and read all that.

And with any fiction, some things just are. Is there a story as to how Kitty Pryde got her dragon? Sure, but who cares? All you gotta know to enjoy the stories is that Kitty is a gal who can phase through walls, she’s smart and sassy, and has a pet alien dragon. Just enjoy the story.

DC’s “New 52” is hit or miss. The overall reboot is a great idea. They’ve done continuity-wide reboots before. However, with 52 titles, they’re not all gonna be gold, or may just not be your taste (I hear Demon Knights is wonderful, but I’m not into medeival fantasy).

The new Avengers title is slated to be out in advance of the movie.

Now, if you really, REALLY want to learn a particular character’s history, there’s alway Wikipedia for a quick catch-up quick-study.

Happy Reading.

mazingerz88's avatar

@shrubbery My humble suggestion is focus more on which superhero entertains you best and read all you can about that character. My concern is that you may lose the fun factor with the seemingly intense attention you wish to impart on the art form.

When I was a kid, I read all Spidey comic books I could get my hands into. Eventually, I moved on to Superman and then Batman. In my 30’s, I loved how they gave Batman it’s new treatment and so far, the movies were great except for Batman 3 and 4.

I never got into the X-Men comic book at all and got my orientation from its movies. Then I was introduced by a friend to the Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and got hooked for a while. This New 52 series sounds crappy because it is meant for a new generation. I have a feeling I would hate it since I got imprinted differently.

So relax, take your time! : )

filmfann's avatar

It’s always best to start at the beginning. There is a collection of most of the super heroes. The Essential X-Men and the Essential Iron Man are great. Batman and Superman both have several collections showing their origins.
Regarding the Marvel/DC camp, I ignore it. Marvel has done wonderful things with the psyche of their characters, and they are must read, but it’s hard to get more fucked up than Batman.

GladysMensch's avatar

Start with Sandman. Then prepare for disappointment

shrubbery's avatar

Hi everyone, so I went in to the store today where I’d been buying my Astonishing X-Men. I had a list of suggestions compiled from you guys and from tumblr where I asked as well and just handed it to the guy and said please help, because even though you guys are great there were still some contradicting things.

So this is what I came out with.

I asked about The New 52 and said what I’d heard and he just said that Catwoman was probably treated a bit badly but that was all as far as he’d found so far and said I should start there, so considering he was the guru and really nice I caved and let him pick those, the Superman one and Wonder Woman one that you suggested, @cprevite. He didn’t have the Batman one by Scott Snyder and I forgot to ask about the Dark Knight ones. I’d said I’d enjoyed Young Justice and team stuff so he gave me the new Justice League ones. Someone I follow and look up to a lot on tumblr loves Young Avengers so I asked about those, he didn’t have them but recommended Avengers Academy instead, and out of the real Avengers ones you guys recommended I’m not sure if the one he gave me was any of those but he said go with that one if I’m looking for stuff like the movie. Lastly I got my next Astonishing X-Men volume. I had all the others you all recommended me on the list too but there was only so much money I could spend today! I won’t be able to visit the same comic book store until next year because I’m going to my home town for the holidays and they don’t have much there but I’m hoping to get a summer job and save up and if I like these splurge a bit more when I get back. As it is these were paid for by my mother and I have to take them home for her to wrap and put under the Christmas tree before I’m allowed to read them. Thanks for all your help! I’ll let you know how I find them after Christmas if you like.

cookieman's avatar

Oh yes, Young Avengers by Alan Heinberg and Jimmy Chung is amazing. Be sure to the first trade as it’s light on continuity and easy to follow.

The current YA series is pretty steeped in history.

Heinberg, btw, is television writer having worked on Lost and Grey’s Anatomy.

I’m glad you got some stuff to read.

PS: You’re far from annoying.

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