Comics have become a mainstay in geek culture. In their infancy, they were tools to capture children’s imaginations, and featured little depth or character development. As such, comics were dismissed and labeled immature entertainment. But as the people who read those stories grew older, the complexity and depth grew as well. Superheroes went from being simple crime fighters to complex characters with realistic issues like drug addiction, depression, and marital issues. Today, readers can relate to a broken Batman who mourns losing a sidekick, or an alienated Bruce Banner who’s constantly torn apart by his inner monster, the Hulk. Today’s comics are respected and revered, but with so much history where does someone unfamiliar with these characters begin reading?
Before the search engine wars, before Google’s rise to power, or Wikipedia’s existence, buying a comic book was akin to taking a half-court shot in the dark. Anytime you have complex characters with established mythos, it becomes difficult to follow their story arcs. After hundreds of issues and dozens of writers and artists, how do you sort through all the comics — where do you begin? I find myself trying to answer this question anytime someone discusses comics. Although difficult, I’ll attempt to finally answer this question.
Like with any medium it’s important to understand the history behind these characters. Comics.wikia.com has become an excellent way to catch up with characters’ back stories or familiarize yourself with different story arcs. And yes, Marvel and DC Comics are both huge names in the industry, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore IDW, Dark Horse, or Image. You’ll find truly outstanding gems within these publications and others alike. Again, visit the linked wiki and read up on series or characters you’re interested in. Become familiar with the mythos as well as authors and their writing styles. Some stories are light-hearted one shots, while other are dark series that span months at a time. The truth is you just have to read and research.
Reboots are a great place for a budding enthusiast to begin. Long-established histories are erased, and characters are given fresh starts. Take Spider-Man, for example. In December 2012 Marvel ended the Amazing Spider-Man series with its 700th issue. Without spoiling it too much, the Amazing Spider-Man‘s ending gives way to Superior Spider-Man which is now on its eighth issue. As a newcomer you can jump into Superior Spider-Man without reading Amazing Spider-Man in its entirety. Instead, you can choose to read the crucial storylines from Amazing Spider-Man series like the Sinister Six arc or Amazing Spider-Man #300 (the first appearance of Venom).
In 2011, DC comics gave 52 comic book series new starts with #1 issues. This “New 52″ included a range of familiar faces such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Nightwing, and even the Joker’s main squeeze Harley Quinn, who was introduced to the Suicide Squad. The New 52 run is still fairly new, so catching up isn’t a hassle.
There are times when a writer decides to write one issue of a comic in its entirety. This differs from the standard monthly or bi-weekly issues. One-shots are easy to jump into and give you a glimpse at a character’s mythos. A perfect example is The Killing Joke, a one shot penned by the acclaimed Alan Moore (the very man who wrote Watchmen) which looks into The Joker’s origin. Other one-shots needn’t carry that much weight. The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans, pictured above, is a classic stand alone story.
Trade paperbacks are a great way to read a story arc you might have missed or want to revisit. These are usually a collection of multiple comic issues covering a major event. You can pick these up without having to know too much backstory Want to find out how Wolverine becomes the anti-hero we know and love? Pick up the Weapon X trade paperback. Note: these are sometimes released in hardcover form (don’t let the name throw you off).
It’s hard to distinguish the difference between a trade paperback and a graphic novel. Readers often debate that graphic novels are more akin to actual novels than to comics. They usually have a fully fleshed out story with easily identifiable parts (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution). Yes, they sometimes include fictional characters, but graphic novels can also be nonfictional, The United States Constitution: A Graphical Adaptation comes to mind.
Now that you know the different types of comics, 2D-X has some recommended reading to get you started. You’ll find an assortment of one shots, full series, trade paperbacks, and reboots. Hopefully our recommended comics should allow you to enjoy comics like a seasoned reader.
- Author: Alan Moore
- Artwork: Brian Bolland
- Hardcover: 64 pages
- Publisher: DC Comics; Deluxe edition (March 19, 2008)
- ISBN-10: 1401216676
The Killing Joke defines Batman and Joker’s chaotic relationship. We also get a peek into the Joker’s psyche as Moore tries to justify the clown’s madness with a rational explanation. Moore’s writing brings out a genuine pathos that we seldom see from Joker — you actually feel bad for the guy. You’re also treated to Bolland’s artwork, which tells a chilling story in itself. There’s an iconic shot of Joker emerging from chemical waste that literally illustrates the moment he loses his sanity. In the end, The Killing Joke teaches us that no matter the circumstances we all have a choice. This is a one-shot that any newcomer can easily pick up and enjoy.
- Author: Frank Miller
- Artwork: John Ramita Jr.
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Marvel Comics
- ISBN-10: 0785100466
- ISBN-13: 978-0785100461
First off, ignore the wacky Ben Affleck flick. That is not Daredevil. This is one of the most badass characters in Marvel history. Miller further solidifies this by writing one of the more prolific origin stories. Miller also retooled Daredevil’s power to make him a more believable character. Mix this in with Romita, Jr.’s revolutionary art style and you have a classic that pushed the genre forward.
- Author/Artist: Kevin Eastman
- Author/Artist: Peter Laird
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: IDW Publishing (January 10, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 1613770073
- ISBN-13: 978-1613770078
These aren’t the cutesy multi-color bandanna wearing turtles from the ’90s and beyond. These are the no-nonsense turtles that get down to business. The art style is darker than later Ninja Turtle iterations and the writing isn’t meant for kids; these potty mouthed turtles drink booze and slice up their enemies. However, you can’t take the stories too seriously, either. This is a book that you sit back with, turn off your brain, and enjoy.
- Author: Various
- Format: DVD
- Publisher: Marvel
With 199 issues under its belt, it’s almost impossible to collect this story arc in book form — it’s quite hard on the wallet. Marvel’s Civil War spills into dozens of other comics, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Black Panther, New Avengers. Multiple writers jumped in to pen this massive collection which features a conflict that many have compared to the post-9/11 Patriot Act. This is a must read for anyone interested in comics and superheroes. The hero on hero combat alone is enough to warrant a purchase.
- Author: Robert Kirkman
- Artist: Charlie Adlard, CliffRathburn, Tony Moore
- Paperback: 1088 pages
- Publisher: Image Comics (May 19, 2009)
- ISBN-10: 1607060760
- ISBN-13: 978-1607060765
This is the source material for the popular AMC television series, and Telltale’s masterfully crafted adventure game. Some have considered the books a black-and-white zombie drama, but don’t let that turn you away. The artistry at work is phenomenal, and you’ll soon forget that the comic is without color. Kirkman does an excellent job of throwing plot twists at readers while flesh-eating zombies lurk in the shadows. The Walking Dead demonstrates the extreme measures people are willing to take to survive. I’m positive that after you finish compendium one you’ll run out and buy the next one.
- Author: Alan Moore
- Artist: Dave Gibbons
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: DC Comics (April 1, 1995)
- ISBN-10: 0930289234
- ISBN-13: 978-0930289232
This was the first comic I ever read as a kid. The bloodied shattered window on the cover immediately caught my attention. However, I didn’t appreciate it until I was much older. Alan Moore wrote Watchmen a few years before the end of the cold war and captured the pending fear of total annihilation. He managed this all while questioning the concept of a superhero by asking who watches the those who are supposed to watch over and safeguard the average person. This is a masterpiece in both comics — and literature as a whole — and a staple comic for newcomers.
On top of this recommended reading, list keep an eye out for these amazing writers and artists. And don’t be afraid to venture off and buy a random comic that looks appealing. The worse that can happen is that you don’t like it.
- Grant Morrison
- Alan Moore
- Frank Miller
- Stan Lee
- Roy Thomas
- Mark Millar
- Gail Simone
- Robert Kirkman
Don’t stop here. Remember, Google is your friend. Find story arcs you can purchase, and if you find an interesting #1 pick it up and stick with it for a while. There’s a satisfying payoff that comes with finding a new series and growing with it. Never feel discouraged when you don’t know a certain back story to a character. Instead, research. If there’s a comic you can’t seem to find at a shop, search the publisher’s online store — digital comics are a rising trend.
And that’s your introduction to comics. Comic book veterans, lets use the comments section below to educate newcomers and recommend stories, authors and artists.