So you want to get into Marvel Comics but don’t know where to start. Well kids, pull up a chair and listen to your Auntie Bria because there are absolutely some good places to begin reading comic books and you won’t even have to go all the way back to the 1960s!* Will you likely want to jump on Wikipedia and do some research about some aspects of the history of these books or characters? Probably. It’s impossible to jump into a medium with such a long history as comic books without there being at least some sort of background you’d like to know more about. However, I think that each of these suggested titles can be picked up and read with minimal confusion. Each of these suggestions also takes place in the main Marvel Universe which is also referred to as the 616 verse. I also tried to refrain from any company wide arcs for reading ease.** With that, enjoy these suggestions and feel free to ask any clarification questions you might have in the comments.
[Amazon – Comixology]
I have fondly referred to this book as my gateway drug to Marvel Comics. Not only have I used this book to get tons of my friends into comics but I consider it to be one of my favorite runs of all time. Written by Joss Whedon and with art by John Cassaday, Astonishing X-men takes the X-men back from the black leather street looks (thanks for that, X-men films) and back to their spandex superhero roots. Mutants have always been treated with at least some fear and distrust by the public and the X-men want to fix this.
Whedon brings together Cyclops/Scott Summers, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Beast/Hank McCoy, and Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde, a group of characters who certain have issues with each other but work together as a team because they have to astonish the world. It’s a story that not only can stand on its own but also one which will introduce you to the characters in a way that will leave you wanting to know more about them. Although Whedon’s run concluded back in 2007, it’s certainly a book worth reading if you’re interested in the modern X-men. Plus, as an added bonus, Whedon introduces us to some awesome new characters, namely Hisako Ichiki/Armor and Abigail Brand. If you have any interest in the X-men at all, this is the book to start with.
Avengers Disassembled or New Avengers
[AD: Amazon/Comixology – NA: Amazon/Comixology]
I’m combining two different starting points into one here because I think where you choose to start is dealer’s choice and either can work. If you start with Avengers Disassembled, you’ll have more of the background information for the amazing arc that can help give House of M more of an impact. (House of M is another book I absolutely recommend but I definitely suggest getting some universe context first.) Just like it says on the label, the Avengers Disassembled arc is the team falling apart due to… well… I won’t spoil that bit for you. New Avengers, however, is a brand new team of Avengers being brought together to deal with a problem that only the Avengers can handle. These books are also the start of Brian M. Bendis’s groundbreaking and earthshaking run on the Avengers books. He brings together some classic Avengers and even introduces some new and (at the time) expected members to the team. This isn’t your parents’ Avengers team but oh man are these good stories and absolutely worth your time.
Fair warning though, both of these starting points are books from about seven years ago. If you’d rather start with something more recently published, then the Heroic Age books could be a good place. Both Avengers and New Avengers were restarted just a few years ago so keep an eye out for Avengers Volume 4(Amz/Cmx) and New Avengers Volume 2(Amz/Cmx).
[Amazon: Volume 1 – Volume 2 – Volume 3 – Comixology]
Spoiler Alert: This book will break your heart because you will come to love these kids just that much. Runaways is based upon a simple premise: what if your parents really were evil? Alex Wilder, Nico Minoru, Gert Yorkes, Molly Hayes, Karolina Dean, and Chase Stein are six teenagers whose parents are exactly that so what do they do? Run. Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Adrian Alphona, this is one of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s a gloriously diverse team that feels more incredibly real despite their decidedly fictional situations.
Runaways also exists mostly outside of the main Marvel story arc, something that’s somewhat rare for a comic that’s also set in the same universe. Characters such as Spider-Man make occasional appearances but knowledge of the overarching company stories isn’t necessary to enjoy them. There are several tie-ins with these arcs where the Runaways team up with the Young Avengers but they can be skipped without missing out on too much of the story.
My suggestion is to pick up the first run which is linked above. It’s the first volume, can stand on its own, and gives you an excellent idea of what both the book and the team are like. Honestly, I can’t say enough nice things about this book. It’s absolutely worth checking out whether or not you think you’re interested in Marvel Comics as a whole.
Captain Marvel and Hawkeye
[Captain Marvel: Comixology – Hawkeye: Comixology]
Both of these books are recent additions to the Marvel line up and are both easily accessible to new readers. They also both focus on single heroes and their solo adventures. Hawkeye, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by David Aja, is billed as “This is what happens when Hawkeye isn’t with the Avengers. That’s all you need to know.” It’s an incredibly fun book plus you get the bonus of Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye, who has the distinction of being one of my absolute favorite characters.
The first arc of Captain Marvel helps establish that she absolutely deserves the title and the legacy of her codename. The latest arc has Carol back in the present day and teaming up with a former Captain Marvel. Both books are certainly a good read and a nice way to ease yourself into the Marvel universe, especially if you aren’t ready to commit to huge team books like Avengers or X-men.
Invincible Iron Man
[Amazon – Comixology]
So you’ve seen the Iron Man films and now you want to learn more about Tony Stark. Well Matt Fraction and Salvatore Larroca have you covered in spades. (Sorry, I’ll just need a moment. This book gives me a lot of feelings.) Invincible Iron Man takes the entire Iron Man mythos, boils it down to its essence, and represents it in a way that’s so beautifully done and amazing. Spinning out of the Marvel event known as Civil War, Tony Stark has become the Director of SHIELD and gets the unenviable job of trying to put the broken superhero world back together.
Where the book really hits its stride is with the second arc, “World’s Most Wanted”. Picking right up after the company crossover event Secret Invasion, Tony Stark is on the run from the government which, at the moment, happens to be Norman Osborn. (Yeah. THAT Norman Osborn.) He has the only remaining copy of the list of registered superheroes in his brain and Osborn wants it. Oh, and it’s giving him brain damage. This book’s not only great because of the story it tells about Tony but also because of its supporting cast. From Pepper Potts to Maria Hill to Rhodey, Invincible Iron Man makes excellent use of its entire supporting cast, even giving some of them their own storylines and character growth. If you are at all interested in Iron Man, this is absolutely the book to read.
[F4: Amazon/Comixology – FF: Amazon/Comixology]
Oh the Fantastic Four. The First Family of Marvel. They deserved so much better than those two films. If Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing have your interest, you should definitely check out Jonathan Hickman’s three year run on Fantastic Four and also its spinoff, FF. Just like Fraction’s run on Iron Man, Hickman boils the Fantastic Four down to its essence, bringing important aspects of their mythos such as Doctor Doom and making them fresh again. To top it off, Hickman also makes wonderful use of Reed and Susan’s two children: Franklin and Valeria.
If you find yourself liking Fantastic Four, checking out FF is definitely worth it. Hickman creates the Future Foundation which expands the cast of characters and tells an all around great story. This is a book whose underlying theme is all about family and not in a cheesy way. It’s definitely worth the read.
[Amazon – Comixology]
I’ll go ahead and fess up that I’m not a Spidey fangirl and have therefore been awful about reading his books. (My first introduction to his weekly title was… not ideal.) Therefore, I’ll also freely admit to outsourcing this part of the article. The suggested comic run to start with here is ‘Big Time’. It’s a nine issue arc that reintroduces Peter Parker to both the modern era and readers. Written by Dan Slott and with art by Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, and Stefano Caselli, it’s definitely worth the read. The arc starts with issue #648 of The Amazing Spider-Man and certainly sets you up to continue reading about everyone’s favorite web slinger.
And that’s it! Of course there are hundreds more books and thousands of characters to read about but I wanted to just cover the modern basics for you here.
Finally, if going back in time and reading books doesn’t sound appealing and you want to read the new books along with the rest of us, you can always check out Marvel NOW. Marvel is current in the process of restarting many of its major titles. The Avengers and the New Avengers are being taken over by Jonathan Hickman and the X-men titles (All New X-men, Uncanny X-men) are being taken over by Brian M. Bendis. Basically, pick any superhero or superhero team that interest you and they have either started or are just about to start a new run. Personally, I recommend the Avengers, Indestructible Hulk, All New X-men, and Fantastic Four. All have very solid creative teams and look like they’ll be pretty great books. The Marvel universe is still coming down from its HUGE crossover event ‘Avengers vs X-men’ so you might need to resort to Wikipedia occasionally, especially for the X-men titles, but these are intended to be good jumping on points.
And that’s that! Whether you choose to start with one of the recommended books above or one of the newer titles, I hope you enjoy your adventure into the Marvel Universe. Again, feel free to ask me any questions or clarifications that you might have.
Thanks to my friends Mandy Bulat and Pat Loika for their input and suggestions.
*Helpful Note: Comics can be confusing sometimes for more than just their looooooong history. Because we absolutely adore being confusing, the word ‘volume’ has two meanings in comics. The first basically refers to when a comic reverted to issue #1 and then all the subsequently issues. For example, New Avengers Volume 1 began in 2005 and went for 64 issues. In 2010, Marvel relaunched the title and numbering began at #1 again which made this Volume 2 of the book. The second refers to each individually published trade of a certain comic that collects approximately 6 issues into one hardcover or softcover book. Therefore, you could be looking to purchase Volume 2 of New Avengers Volume 1. If that wasn’t confusing enough, most comics will restart the numbering of volumes with each new volume but a few books, like the Runaways, will continue with the same numbering of each volume despite having relaunched. The best thing to do is to consult Wikipedia and the publishing details to make sure you’re purchasing the right book.
**Helpful Note 2: Company wide arcs refer to story arcs that affect multiple books and usually has some sort of effect on all the major characters in the universe. There will usually be a main book for the crossover and then there will either be tie-ins (ie: New Avengers #42 is a Secret Invasion tie-in) or there could be an entirely new book as a tie-in (ie: Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #1-3). The ones from the past ten years of particular note are House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, Fear Itself, and Avengers vs X-men. None of these are particularly great places to start reading but if you find yourself enjoying a title such as the Avengers or the X-men then they are probably well worth looking into to help gain a broader knowledge and enjoyment of the Marvel universe.