A Guide to Reading Comics: Where to Start?
Did you ever want to get into comics, but did not quite know how? There are endless amounts of comics, ranging from genre to genre and where to start can be quite overwhelming. Especially, if you do not know much about them and do not have anyone that can teach you the do’s and don’ts. Comics are a blackhole, in a way, and you can be sucked into a community that already knows what they like and do not like; but alas, I am here to save the day — well, attempt to. In the recent years, more comics have expanded and they are not just superheroes comics like the majority of the popular comics were for baby boomers and millennials.
In the recent years, comics have expanded and they are not just superheroes comics like majority of the popular comics were for baby boomers and millennials. Around the time baby boomers had comics, Batman and Superman were just being created and were something that was dominant in the scene of comics. Nowadays, you have comics like Saga and Sex Criminals that have made it to the forefront and they are nothing like a superhero comic. There are also conventions that support this idea as well and lead to an even bigger stance in the community of comics.
What comics are going to be mentioned are not only superhero comics but comics for readers who do not necessarily enjoy superhero comics. If Captain America is not something for you, then not to worry. Although, the superhero comics will be dominant — there have been many other genres of comics under Marvel, Image Comics, Vertigo Comics and etc. They have made their way to the forefront recently.
Let’s begin with what comics are as a buffer. Comics are a medium in which you express your ideas through art combined with text and other visuals. They are often in the form of juxtaposed sequences of panels and images. In the picture to the left, it gives you a rundown of how to read comics. Now, this is the standard way. Some artists and creators do change that up, depending on what you are reading and what they prefer. However, that is the standard way one would read a comic.
Now that we have that covered, let’s start with what comics you should start with if you want to start reading.
Marvel / ‘Ultimate’ Marvel
Good ol’ Marvel Comics or Marvel Publishing, if you will. I’m sure you’ve heard of Marvel; even without being in the comic book community. Marvel has come into your peripheral. One can assume it was the Marvel Cinematic Universe that caught your eye. The movies have become bigger and bigger in the recent years. Alas, the movies had to derive their content from somewhere and that somewhere is comics.
Here is some background information just in case you want to know where your newfound gems are going to come from. Marvel started in 1939 as Timey Publications; however, by 1950, its named changed to Atlas Comics. In 1961, creators such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko created the masterpieces we know such as The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spiderman, X-Men, Inhumans, and etc. Many of these, which will inspire generations of comics to come. They also provide good places to start, some of them are mentioned below in greater detail. But, first let’s touch on Ultimate Comics and what Marvel has done with the new millennial if you would like to look into that as well.
Ultimate Marvel was aimed towards millennials; it is a generation of comics made in 2000 to 2015 to represent updated versions of the superheroes that were previously different. You will realize that when you read how many of the plots actually were compared to how they are now when you continue your endeavors. What you have under this imprint of comics are: “Ultimate” in the name, such as “Ultimate Spiderman,” “The Ultimates,” and “Ultimate X-Men,” and etc. The characters that exist in these comics are ones that don’t necessarily exist in the regular Earth-616 Marvel Universe, which is the default universe most comics are in.
Where to Start?
Now, you might be asking why I am talking about such old comics in 2016. The answer is simple, the original origin stories have derived from what is being mentioned below. So, if you do decide to get into Spiderman from 2008, then the origin is similar to where it started. And, they say, if you don’t like an origin story of how it began there is a high chance you will not like it in the long run. No matter who creates it and changes it and makes it their own. All origin stories are quite similar to where they began, and what is better than to start at the beginning and then choose from there on out if you want to read other versions of that comic.
So, where do you start? That’s the ultimate question. Well, let’s start with Spiderman.
The Amazing Spiderman began in the 1960’s; this was where it all began. It was not a full series when it originally started out. Once comic readers got a whiff of it though, it was created into a full series in 1963.
Peter Parker changed the way comic readers were looking at comics. The comics that were being published at the time were comics such as Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Ant-Man — all sidekick type comics. Spiderman was one of the first characters that was not a sidekick, however simply a high school teenager fighting crime on his own. Spiderman, in a sense, started the non-sidekick superhero fad. And for that, we do thank him.
Amazing Fantasy #15 was the mini-series that Spiderman was featured in. The comic was canceled. That was the last issue before it’s departure and if not for that moment, we would not have gained such a diverse and successful Spiderman series.
The original plot goes a little something like this: Peter Parker goes to a high school called Midtown High, where he is a ‘gifted’ science student and on his way to college with a full scholarship. Peter Parker was a confident young fellow, confident enough to ask girls on dates. He often faces rejection because he is perceived to be a nerd. While attending a demonstration on radiation, he is bitten by a radioactive spider — that immediately dies afterward. Peter starts feeling ill and leaves the demonstration, almost getting hit by a car by making a leap into the air. By instinct, he lands on the side of a wall and clings to it. He realizes what abilities he has and realizes that they include speed, strength and the agility of a spider.
Peter decides that he wants to test out his newfound powers and so he decides to fight against a wrestler. Peter is wearing a mask, just in case he loses. But, he quickly beats the pro wrestler and wins the prize money. A TV producer finds him and thus begins his TV career. As he is on set a criminal passes / runs by Peter. Being famous results in Peter Parker becoming arrogant and not necessarily caring about anyone, but himself.
He says “Catching criminals isn’t what he’s paid to do.” Coming home from a gig, Peter notices the police at his house and realizes that the burglar from earlier was the one who killed his Uncle Ben. Realizing that he could have saved his Uncle from being killed if he wasn’t arrogant and selfish, he starts to become a hero, “With great power must also come — great responsibility.”
This results in Peter becoming a neighborhood hero, as opposed to a vigilante. And, thus, he begins saving the world from enemies. He also created a “Spider-Tracker” to which he can spider-sense his enemies better and track them down. As the years go on, he meets his three loves — two of which you might have heard of. The first one is Betty Brant, they split and then he goes to college and that’s where he meets Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson.
Throughout this series, you also learn that his parents were CIA agents who were killed by enemies of the U.S. It was also added that his parents knew Nick Fury and even encountered the Wolverine on a mission. He later went on to have multiple TV animation series’ as well as live action series’ and even spin-offs as well as other comic endeavors. This has led up to what we have encountered of who he is now and how he has changed. Those include Miles Morales and a new version of Peter Parker.
The Hulk was one of the first superheroes who also came upon the scene of comics, a year before Spiderman made his appearance. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, his first appearance was made in 1962 in the Incredible Hulk #1.
Bruce Banner is the son of Dr. Brian Banner who was an atomic physicist and mother Rebecca. His father Brian hated him. Brian was an alcoholic and a very angry man. Because his mother Rebecca loved him so much, Brian was prone to jealously. Brian even believed that radiation had altered his work and gave him a mutant son. So, Brian then abused Bruce and finally murdered Rebecca, and was ultimately placed in a mental hospital.
He was then left to live with his aunt and father’s sister, who understood the great pain that he endured. They raised him as their own child and cared for him deeply. He grew up with him as a gifted and child prodigy from then on. After graduating from a science high school, he studied nuclear physics and became a star student. As an adult, he went to work for the U.S. Defense Department where he fell in love with Betty Ross. And while that was happening, he designed a “Gamma Bomb.”
Going to rescue a student who was stranded in the gamma test site, Banner went in while they halted the countdown. Except, they did not halt the countdown and Banner was stuck inside. Figuring that he would die, no one would even know he went in there. The bomb went off and caused him to transform into the Hulk, a powerful, green-skinned, humanoid.
The good ol’ Avengers — now, you may know a little bit about them from the films from the MCU. Fun-fact is that they originally started in 1963 with Avengers #1 — created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Avengers is inspired by the successful DC Comics version Justice League of America, which was created in 1960.
Originally labeled Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it consisted of Hank Pym (Ant-Man), Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and The Wasp. Captain America joined shortly after 4 issues. What the Avengers did were fought the villains that no one superhero could do on their own. A villain that Spiderman could not take on his own, the Avengers would do that instead. They had their famous “Avengers Assemble!” line that they would say when they were about to fight a villain, which consisted of mutants, robots, humans, aliens, supernatural, and etc.
The Avengers consists of previously created superheroes by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the series was published bi-monthly through issue #6 and then monthly after that until issue #402 (Sept. 1996). Avengers is known for its spin-offs, annuals, and miniseries. Some of those spin-offs include; West Coast Avengers (four-part miniseries), Heroes Reborn, and Avengers vol. 3. Some of the newer versions of the Avengers are The New Avengers, The Mighty Avengers, Avengers: The Initiative, Dark Avengers, All-New, and All-Different Avengers.
The plot of the 1960’s version of Avengers was aimed around Loki. The Asgardian God, who is seeking revenge against Thor. He then leads Rick Jones (A-Bomb, also sidekick to many Avengers superheroes, including Hulk) to collect Ant-Man, Wasp, and Iron Man. This was to help Thor and Hulk who Loki was using as a pawn. The group defeated Loki and Ant-Man stated that they should form a group since they work so well together. So they decided to form a team and that team ended up being the Avengers, whom the Wasp named.
After that instance, the roster changed — Issue #2, Ant-Man became Giant-Man, Hulk left, and the revival of Captain America in issue #4. Cap then joined the team and was given the title “founding member” in the status of Hulk‘s place. They went from them on to fight master’s of evil, of any and all sorts. Another milestone that happened was Captain America‘s resignation, which then Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver joined. Giant-Man was now Goliath and The Wasp came back as well. Hercules became part of the team as well, along with Black Knight and Black Widow. However, they did not become actual members until years later.
Spiderman was asked to join, but declined; Black Panther joined after rescuing the team from the Grim Reaper. There was also a crossover with X-Men and the Avengers in 1968, which then introduced Vision. The Wasp and Ant-Man then got married.
Avengers headquarters is in New York City, it is called the “Avenger’s Mansion,” you have good ol’ Tony Stark to thank for that one.
DC Comics, known as Detective Comics, Inc., produces characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Hawkman and Green Arrow, as well as many many more on an endless list. They have created teams such as Justice League, Teen Titians, and Justice League of Society. Even villains like Joker, Catwoman, and Deathstroke.
They debuted their first comic in 1935, and Detective Comics was formed by Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack S. Liebowitz. In 1938, DC launched their fourth title which introduced Superman, and it was called Action Comics #1. The first comic book to feature that type of character known as superheroes — and from then on proved to be a sales hit.
There are two significant ages that DC is known for and that is The Golden Age and The Silver Age. The Golden Age is the 1930 to 1950 era of comic books. During this time, comic books were first published and rapidly increased in popularity. Many characters were introduced such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (Shazam).
This was the event that debuted the Superman in Action Comics #1 that was mentioned above. Between 1939 and 1941, DC Comics and All-American Publications introduced superheroes such as Batman, Robin, Flash, Wonder Woman, Atom, Hawkeye, and many more ().
Following The Golden Age, The Silver Age was a period of artistic advancement and commercial success in the mainstream version of comics — mostly in the superhero genre. The Silver Age is covered from the period of the 1950s, more accurately 1956 to 1970 and was succeeded by the Bronze and Modern ages. After WWII, superhero comics declined. Comics about horror and crime were becoming more popular in the comic book scene. In 1962, the Justice League of America was created and Marvel followed suit with Fantastic Four ().
Batman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Batman’s origin has had countless retellings of it over the years. During the Golden Age, Batman‘s first appearance was in Detective Comics #27. He is a crime fighter, his origin was first introduced in Detective Comics #33 (Nov. 1939) and is explored in greater depth in Batman #47. These two comics state that Bruce Wayne is born to Dr. Thomas Wayne and Martha. They are very wealthy and charitable in Gotham City. Bruce is born into a wealthy, privileged existence until the age of eight. When he was eight his parents were killed by a criminal named Joe Chill, while on their home from a movie. That is the moment that Bruce swears he will get rid of the evil that is instilled in Gotham City. And, take revenge upon the person who took his parents lives.
After that moment, he engages in physical as well as intellectual training, but he soon realizes that those will not be enough. He then chooses to make a disguise and takes on the persona of Batman. In the early comics, Batman has a fiancée named Julie Madison, he also takes in Dick Grayson a orphaned circus acrobat, who is named Robin. Batman also becomes a founding member of Justice Society of America, as well as Superman. With that being said, he only participates occasionally and that is what that title implies.
Batman then gets back on the good side of the law and becomes a member of the Gotham Police Department. During the Silver Age, the story was completely changed.
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933. The origin story of Superman is one of the most popular franchises that DC has created. Although the details have varied and changed with each retelling, most themes remain the same like in Batman. Superman was rocketed from the planet Krypton to Earth, where he was found and raised was by a couple in Smallville. While growing up, he develops super-powers and travels to the city Metropolis where he officially becomes Superman and protects people.
The Golden and Silver Ages have explored their own versions of Superman, which are Earth-One and Earth-Two. He was altered and intensified in 1986 when the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which rebooted Superman‘s history. Thus, Man of Steel was born and revisited the early life of Superman. There was an updated version started in 2004 by Mark Waid called Superman: Birthright. But, this version conflicted with the earlier version and thus another version was made in 2009 by Geoff Johns.
Green Lantern originated in 1940 by John Broome, Gil Kane, Bill Finger, and Martin Nodell. Green Lantern was another origin story retold several times over throughout the years. During the Silver Age, the first version of Green Lantern was in Showcase #22. Green Lantern was Hal Jordan, who was given a power ring by a dying alien.
The Silver Age Green Lantern was a special character in the DC family — he was the only one with a family. He has two brothers, Jack and Jim. He has a love interest Carol Ferris, who was in charge of the Ferris Aircraft and Hal’s Boss. Carol preferred Green Lantern to Hal Jordan and took a role is trying to win him over, even proposed to him. Carol was one of the first strong-willed women of authority, which was rare at the time.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths ended and the entire DC Universe went into a different continuity. And, during this time, the characters origin story was retold and expanded into a limited series. The first of these series went into his past about his childhood, brothers, and father.
Other Genres of Comics
If you do not like superhero comics and that is not something you think you are not going to get into in the near future, here are some other comics that are under the science fiction genre. As opposed to the superhero plot. There are comic publishers such as; Image Comics, Vertigo Comics, and Dark Horse Comics. Amongst many more than you can find here. Other comic book publishing companies are becoming more and more popular for readers that do not want to read about Iron Man every week, or Captain America.
Saga (2012 – Present)
It is often to be considered as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones.” There are also the comparisons between The Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet. Saga has 33 issues currently.
Saga is an epic space fantasy comic book series, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It is published monthly by Image Comics. The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars and Brian, the creator, actually created this comic in his childhood. He created this comic in math class, calling it a fictional universe.
Saga is a comic about a husband and a wife from extraterrestrial races, Alana, and Marko, are feeling from authorities. They are also two lovers from different worlds whose people are at war with one another. They are fleeing from authorities on both sides of the galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel. Hazel is born at the beginning of the series, and she occasionally narrates the series as well as an unseen adult. There are also story arcs that happen throughout the series and they all also have different plots as well, if you decide this one is for you to check out.
Black Science (2013 – Present)
Black Science is created by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera on Image Comics. The first issue was released in 2013. The story follows Grant McKay, who is an ex-member of the Anarchist Order of Scientists. He has done the impossible: deciphered Black Science and punched through the barriers of reality. McKay and his team are thrown through dimensional barriers to alien worlds while they try to repair the Pillar and return home. The Pillar is a piece of tech that has allowed McKay and his team to travel between the dimensions with the use of Black Science. It is released monthly on Image Comics.
Sandman (1989 – 2015)
The Sandman is a comic published by Vertigo Comics created by Neil Gaiman. The first issue of The Sandman was debuted in 1988. He has appeared in DC Comics before such as Swamp Thing vol. 2 in 1989. The Sandman is a comic about how Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured and learns that sometimes change is inevitable. The Sandman falls into the dark fantasy genre such as urban fantasy and epic fantasy.
At the start of the series, Morpheus is captured by an occult ritual and held a prisoner for 70 years. Morpheus escapes in the modern day. After avenging himself upon his captors sets about rebuilding his kingdom, which has fallen into disrepair in his absence. The character’s haughty and cruel manner often softens after being imprisoned at the beginning of the series. The challenge of undoing past sins and changing old ways is huge for someone who is set in his ways and has been for billions of years.
Most of the storylines take place in Morpheus’ realm and the waking world — but, they occasionally visit Hell, Asgard, and Faerie.
If this seems like something you may be into, then the next thing you are going to do after reading this article is go to your local comic book store (if you have one). Another comic book community insider I want to tell you about are conventions. Comic-Con, Wonder-Con, and Cons on Cons on more Cons. It is where you dress up as your favorite superhero (or don’t) and be a part of the great community we call a family. You meet the people who create and draw these comics and the entire time you are there, it is like you’re home. What a time to be alive right?
Now, this is not saying that you should absolutely read these comics first — but, this is a good starting point for anyone who wants to start reading comics. The older versions of the superhero comics are where it started. If you get the gist of the personality from those, it does not change too much in newer versions of those comics. There are some you can skip. Instead of wasting your time and reading all of the origin stories that every comic intstills, you can read these few to see if you like and see if they are for you. But, even if these are not for you, there are some others that may be up your alley as well. This is simply to get your comic book wheels turning and seeing what you like out there. Your comic endeavors either start or end here. Whether you like, love, or simply do not want to read one ever again is up to you. But, without further ado, welcome to the community! Just warn us if you are about to scream about a comic you are excited about, so we can pull out our earplugs. We are getting way too old for that.
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