Alright. Your cherry’s popped. You’ve taken a look at some of the graphic novels and trade paperbacks I suggested a few weeks ago, and now you want some of the good stuff – the monthly comic; you’re ready to go geek.
You’re ready to try your local comic store. Well, first things first – you need to find it. The easiest way is to plug your zip code into this page here; that’ll throw up the location of the one nearest to you.
Once you’re there, don’t be put off if you see some stereotypical fanboys in there – like I said last time round, we’re not all like that and even those of us that are will quite happily try and guide you through the masses of continuity and titles you’re likely to see on the shelves.
See, the Marvel and DC super-hero universes have been around in pretty much the same form for a lot of years now, and spinning yarns about these characters tends to mean that one title will reference events in another somehow – some characters drag a lot of story behind them. Right now, both companies are in the middle of a big crossover – where there’s a central mini series where big things happen that spin off into other books. For DC it’s the reality re-writing Final Crisis and for Marvel it’s the Skrull invasion of Earth in Secret Invasion.
Me, I love that kind of thing, but if you’re a new reader, take my advice and steer well clear. Go for the less involved books that stand on their own and you’re less likely to be confused.
I’m not going to cover all the comics out there – there’s just too damn many, but I can point you in some directions of things you might like. I’m only going to cover ongoing books, too. There are mini series running all the time, starring new characters or existing characters in stand-alone stories – check ‘em out, they’re often a lot of fun. I’m also providing some more links to the trade paperbacks of each series in case you like the sound of them.
Okay, Marvel: Invincible Iron Man is a pretty much iconic take on the character that you’ll recognize from the movie. The Tony Stark you see here is a businessman currently trying to defend his company from attacks from the son of his dead enemy, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridge’s character in the movie). It’s a solid comic that’s winding down its first arc right now – but it’s easy to get caught up on.
Daredevil is another book that stands untouched by crossovers. Forget the slightly lame Ben Affleck movie from a couple of years ago; the current run is a gritty noir-drenched piece of art. Good stuff, and another one that’s pretty easy to get the gist of as you go. And hey, there’s a nice run of trades out there to get you caught up. Try jumping on at the start of an arc – the just-shipped Daredevil #111 introduces a new villain, Lady Bullseye, and is a pretty good starting point.
Brubaker is also the writer behind Captain America. It’s just wrapped up an epic story about the death of the original Captain America and the picking of his replacement. Although it’s amazing, you’re best off until the next issue hits the stands – Captain America #43, due out in a few weeks will be a fresh starting point for the new man behind the classic name. If the past few years of story are anything to go by, it’ll be worth the wait.
I’m hearing good things about the Immortal Iron Fist, too. Danny Rand is the latest in a line of fighters to be gifted with the power of the Iron Fist – think of it as a kung-fu epic with a modern twist and you won’t be far off. A new creative team kicked off a couple of issues ago with #17, but there are also a couple of one-shots showing the adventures of Iron Fists at different points in history that have come out recently that could be of interest.
Getting back to characters that you probably know, I’m glad that I can recommend Amazing Spider-Man right now. Spidey is once again single and down on his luck, with a good supporting cast and a thrice-monthly comic. You won’t see much of Mary Jane in the comic (no, not that Mary Jane …) as, due to a storyline about a year ago, she and Peter are no longer married. In fact, they never were. That caused some consternation in the comics community but honestly, you don’t need to concern yourself. Spider-Man here is the Spider-Man you’ve always known. A big storyline kicked off a few weeks ago, “New Ways to Die” featuring the return of a few familiar foes – Venom and the Green Goblin included – in a new way. Good stuff.
There’s plenty more out there in the Marvel Universe – if you like science fiction, try Nova or Guardians Of The Galaxy. If you like mythic fun with heart you can’t do better than Incredible Hercules. If you want a modern day epic take on gods on Earth then try Thor or Eternals. For kick-ass heroics with a bounty hunter slant, try She-Hulk, or if you like your ladies to have a more militaristic bent, try Ms. Marvel. Most of these books are shaking off a crossover right now (if they’ve got a big Secret Invasion banner across the top, they’re still involved in it, but these ones in particular are pretty tangential to the main story so shouldn’t cause you too much trouble).
Personally, I’d steer clear of Hulk – right now, he’s red, angry and not Bruce Banner. I’m not a huge fan of the direction or the writer’s take on the characters … but hey, it could be your thing. It’s big and bombastic, and Ed McGuinness’ art is pleasantly cartoony so it may be worth a look. The first arc just wrapped up with Hulk #6.
Punisher War Journal follows Frank Castle through the Marvel Universe, super-villains and all, while the adults-only MAX Punisher comic has him in a more realistic, violent setting. The more adult book just finished up a five-year epic run from Irish writer Garth Ennis, and it’s well worth a look. The new writers jumped on an issue or so back with #61.
Then there’s the X-Men family of books – and it is a family. Most reader accessible is probably Astonishing X-Men, which stars the core team, most of whom you’ll know from the movies (Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler amongst others). It’s a pretty stand-alone book and a new arc started two issues ago with #25.
If you want to see the mutants on a broader canvas, try Uncanny X-Men – #500 came out maybe two months ago and is a great jumping on point.
There are plenty of other iterations of the X-Men out there too, with different casts and focus in each book – Young X-Men stars a group of (you guessed it) younger mutants, X-Factor has an offshoot team operating as a detective agency in Detroit and X-Force has a Wolverine-led black ops unit for bloody work that the rest of the mutants don’t know about. X-Men: Legacy follows a kind-of-amnesiac Professor Xavier as he trawls through his past. Wolverine itself has a storyline going on set in the far future, so it’s completely free of any continuity, although elements do hark back to other characters. There’s also another Wolverine title, Wolverine: Origins,
but it’s mired in continuity. Of all of these, I’d say X-Force is probably the most new-reader friendly, but even that may be too much.
The Fantastic Four are also pretty much untouched by other books. The current run is pretty enjoyable, but it’s about halfway through a year-long saga so it’s probably not an ideal jumping on point.
Then there are the Avengers. The classic Marvel team has three iterations currently – Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, and Avengers: The Initiative. All three are heavily embroiled in the Secret Invasion crossover I mentioned earlier, which involves the Earth being invaded by a race of shape-changing aliens. That’s slowly drawing to a close, but it promises to set a new status quo for the Marvel Universe once its done. But even then, a lot of books will trundle on with little noticeable effect on them, if past experience is anything to go by.
There are also some kids’ books if you want to get a younger relative reading. The Marvel Adventures line of books stars recognizable versions of the big characters in the Marvel comics line – Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, and The Avengers all have their own books. They’re actually pretty fun reads without pulling in the death and destruction evident in many of the main books. Similarly, kid superheroes Power Pack and Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius also have pretty regular comics out that are, er, just for the kids. Yeah, just for kids …
A similar line of younger-reader friendly books in the mainstream Marvel Universe are set in the past, telling stories of a simpler time with a healthy dose of fun. X-Men: First Class follows the original X-Men when they were students, and Wolverine: First Class follows the hairy Canadian when he assumed the unlikely role of mentor to young X-Man Kitty Pryde. Both are very new reader friendly. There’s also Spider-Girl, starring the potential future daughter of Spider-Man and Mary Jane, set in a future that pretty much resembles our own.
Finally there’s also the Ultimate line of books – a reimagining of the main Marvel characters free of continuity that the originals had. Thing is, that was almost 10 years ago and much of the books now drag along quite a bit of continuity of their own. Currently the books are involved in a line-wide redefining event so you’re probably best steering clear.
Outside of superheroes, Marvel are also producing a line of Stephen King comics that are meant to be good right now, adapting The Stand and producing new stories in the world of The Dark Tower.
Okay. Deep breath and on to DC Comics.
The home of icons like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, DC has struggled the last year or two with its editorial direction, but the current crossover, Final Crisis – along with its spin-off mini-series – promises to define the DC Universe for years to come. I’ve heard that before, but I’m always hopeful …
Anyway: Superman. There are two main Superman comics: Superman and Action Comics. Both are good reads right now, but they’re about to become intertwined with each other and sister (or cousin, I guess) book Supergirl. The story will – for a while, anyway – bounce between the three titles. That said, the caliber of artists and writers on them is great, so now’s probably a good time to take a look if you’re interested in Big Blue. Generally, you know where you stand with Superman. Clark Kent, the Daily Planet and his wife Lois are all constants in his world. A new storyline kicks off in a few weeks with a Superman: New Krypton special, which sees a city of thousands of presumed-dead Kryptonians descend on Earth. DC are priming it as a big deal, so that’s probably a good place to start.
Supes (as his pals call him) is also a mainstay in the weekly book Trinity. The book is schedule to run 52 issues and is just over a quarter of the way in right now. It also stars Batman and Wonder Woman (obviously the other two members of the trinity), with virtually all the DC Universe in supporting roles, and it’s … okay. I was expecting more from it, but that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. It just might involve a few too many “who the hell are they supposed to be?” moments for a new reader.
Batman is pretty much indecipherable to newbies right now, unfortunately. Both main books, Batman and Detective Comics, are involved in a big redefining storyline called Batman RIP. Rumor has it that when all’s said and done, Bruce Wayne will be hanging up the cape and cowl for good (or at least for a while). You may be better off checking out Nightwing – starring Dick Grayson, the first Robin – or Robin, which stars current Robin, Tim Drake. Both are kind of related to RIP at the moment, but are pretty easy to pick up.
Batman also runs a team of heroes who tend to be a little preemptive than your average super-hero team in Batman and the Outsiders, which is also getting dragged into RIP. I enjoy the book but freely acknowledge it’s more for the motley group of characters there that I’ve known for years rather than the direction of the story or the writing.
Wonder Woman is okay as a stand-alone comic, but I’ve found the current direction disappointing; she has a new civilian identity as a secret agent, basically, and she’s annoyingly naïve in the role. It’s not for me, but it may be for you.
The big icons of the DCU are also gathered in Justice League of America. As well as the big three, there’s Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary and a host of others. The just-released issue #25 is a good jumping on point and marks a great increase in quality over recent issues.
Justice Society of America is the other cornerstone team book of the DCU. Right now it’s winding down a yearlong epic sequel to the classic Kingdom Come, so it may not be the right time to step on board, but keep an eye on it.
There are a lot of other books starring DC characters worth checking out – the excellent Jonah Hex is a gritty book in the old west which attracts the best artists in the business. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked is a youthful, fun take on a new hero, which is easy to get caught up on. Teen Titans stars a group of younger DC heroes, including Robin and Blue Beetle … I’m not a huge fan of it right now, but the earlier trades in the series are worth a look. Manhunter stars Kate Spencer, a defense lawyer by day who turns vigilante by night. She’s also part of the Birds of Prey, where the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon – now paralyzed and a computer genius – runs a group of female operatives on various missions.
It’s worth checking out Green Lantern and to a lesser extent it’s sister book,
Green Lantern Corps, too; both are building to a sci-fi epic right now that started a few years ago, but they are structured in such a way to be easily accessible. Green Lantern is wrapping up a six-issue story right now, but should have a good jumping on point in a month or so. GLC, by contrast, is usually pretty easy to get into, but the mass of alien characters can get a little confusing.
Then there’s Green Arrow/Black Canary, the newly married couple’s book. Again, it’s wrapping up a big story right now, but it will be setting off in a new high-action direction in a couple of months with #15.
It’s also worth mentioning that as much as I like the character, I wouldn’t jump on board
Flash right now. The original – and long-dead – Flash, Barry Allen has just recently returned in DC’s current crossover, Final Crisis, and the Flash comic is going to be restarted shortly to accommodate that – so wait until Flash: Rebirth hits stands later this year (or early 2009).
DC also has the adult-geared Vertigo imprint. Hellblazer, starring a decidedly non-Keanu Reeves-like John Constantine, is a fixture here and you can pretty much jump on board at the start of any arc.
Other great reads from Vertigo include Fables its spin-off Jack of Fables – both are pretty long form, though, and it might be better to start from the beginning rather than jump in with both feet. House of Mystery is a pretty new horror comic which looks to be building a good head of steam and is definitely worth your time.
I’d also recommend Young Liars, just so long as you don’t mind brain-damaged nymphomaniacs, killer dwarves, transvestites, decapitation, lots of drugs, warped families and an unhealthy amount of John Wayne Bobbiting of major cast members.
That’s a lot to take in, I know, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the rest of the comics out there.
Dark Horse publishes indy stuff like Hellboy and B.P.R.D., as well as licensed properties – they have a good line of Star Wars comics, an excellent Conan book if you’re into barbarian violence (and who isn’t?) and are currently out selling a lot of Marvel and DC stuff with their Buffy comic. It helps that it’s written by Joss Whedon (amongst others) and is the official eighth season of the show.
Image Comics, meanwhile, publish a range of comics from superheroes (like Invincible, Dynamo 5 and Noble Causes) to horror (Walking Dead) and sci-fi (Fear Agent) to everything in between – including personal favorite Proof that I mentioned last time. While the Image brand can’t easily be defined, each book is easy to pick up and follow on its own which is a great bonus. Personally, I’d recommend Walking Dead and Proof.
IDW are another up and coming publisher. They’re selling pretty well with Angel: After The Fall, which follows the Buffy spin-off’s final season much as Dark Horse’s Buffy book does. Again, it helps to have Joss Whedon on board. IDW also produces 30 Days of Night (remember that movie?) and various other comics. Check out Locke and Key, by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son – the first arc wrapped up recently, but the next should be starting soon.
Then there’s Boom! Studios, Devil’s Due, the Dabel Brothers, Avatar … honestly, the best way to judge if you like something is to pick it up and take a look. Talk to people in the store – especially the staff. Tell them what kind of movies you like, what books appeal to you. Chances are they’ll be able to recommend something to suit your tastes.
One last thing before I wrap – webcomics. There are all kinds of web comics out there, from the stick-figure and often heartfelt XKCD to Girls with Slingshots and Hijinks Ensue. You can also check out the webcomics community Act-I-Vate and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards Zuda, the online arm of DC Comics, and specifically the excellent High Moon, a werewolf western, and Night Owls, a pulpy, comedy-horror take on a 1920s era detective agency.
And hey, the one thing you can’t beat about webcomics is the price point!
There’s more, of course, much more, but I only have so much space. Feel free to email me at email@example.com, drop by my blog, or check out comic sites such as Comic Book Resources, Newsarama and the Pulse and their related communities for more advice on what to read.
And remember kids, no matter what they tell you, comics are cool. Or they can be – if you just give them a chance.
Rich Lovatt runs a daily blog, Comic By Comic that, in spite of the name, also does stuff with TV and film. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.