How to Start Reading Comics: A Beginner's Guide
So, You Want to Start Reading Comic Books?
This guide tracks my journey in becoming a comic book reader in the hopes that it might help others who have the interest but don't know where to begin. With the recent surge of superhero movies and television, many people (like myself) have developed an interest in the world of comics. That world is just so vast and deep that it can be intimidating for us new readers.
After you read this article, check out the handy resources and tips for new readers at the end!
How to Get Your Comics
You might be asking yourself, as I once did, "Where can I buy comics?" Well, there are several different ways:
- I took the Trade Paperback approach. If you're lucky enough to have a comic book shop nearby, then great. Support them! You can pick up single issues and Trades there. If not, your local bookstore usually will have various Trades.
- In case you're not of a mind to collect and store a bunch of physical comics, most publishers, including the Big 2, offer digital comic services to pick up back issues and purchase ongoings.
- Another great option is your local library. Seriously, you'd be surprised at the Trade Paperbacks you can check out there while saving your wallet a little heartbreak.
The Big 2: DC and Marvel
Entering the world of comics, you may hear the phrase "The Big 2." This refers to the two largest publishers of comic books: DC and Marvel. The debate over which is better has raged on for many years, but in my experience they both put out equally amazing content. It really all depends on what kind of hero you're looking for.
In Marvel, the majority of characters feel like normal people dealing with their powers and the circumstances surrounding them. There's also a distinct chronological feel to Marvel's stories with an emphasis on history. This can make it harder to get into at first, but is ultimately very rewarding.
For example, Spider-Man is your average guy who develops spider-like abilities. He then has to cope with the idea that "with great power comes great responsibility" as he lives his life from high school to college to working man. He has girlfriends, makes friends, and grows as a person over a specific set of time. This makes jumping into a later Spider-Man a little intimidating, but allows you to follow and empathize with Spider-Man through his journey.
In DC, the majority of characters are larger than life types, role models as opposed to your average Joe. The stories are often more formulaic, focusing more on individual storylines instead of how events fit into a larger pattern. This can make it easier to get into, as starting from the beginning is less important than knowing who your character is.
For example, no matter what Batman comic you pick up, you can expect him to be rich, fighting crime at night, working with his butler and/or a sidekick and that you shouldn't need much, if any, prior information to understand whatever it is that Batman is doing.
Getting Into DC Comics
In 2011, DC published an event called Flashpoint that shook up the DC universe. The conclusion of said event lead into the DC universe reboot known as the New 52 Initiative. This relaunch involved the re-imagining of many of DC's biggest characters.
The changes in this new universe ranged from small tweaks to complete reboots. This means that getting into DC is much easier now that the current universe effectively began just a few years ago with issue 24 the highest number among current series (at the time of this publishing).
- How to get into DC comics: Beginner's guide to the New 52
Here is a more in-depth guide to DC Comics that I continue to update as new trades and anthologies are released.
New 52 Categories
DC's publications, post New 52, are split up into the following 7 categories:
- Justice League
- Green Lantern
- Young Justice
- The Edge
- The Dark
The Justice League category is for the big name heroes and their team books. Titles include the likes of The Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and more.
The Batman category focuses on the primary characters related to Batman such as Nightwing, Catwoman, Batgirl and others. These heroes are mostly street level heroes without powers. They tend to feature "Just a man and a mission" kind of stories.
Superman family stories usually focus on overcoming obstacles that are not physical in nature. Sure, there are threats that only a "Super" hero can face, but their stories are really more about fitting in, self-discovery and growing as individuals.
The Green Lantern category is for your cosmic stories, featuring threats and events that span the galaxy. The themes here include finding strength in emotions and in other people, as well as the struggle of not only fighting for the greater good, but how to fight for the greater good.
Young Justice is the home of DC's young heroes such as the Teen Titans. These are coming of age stories sharing some themes (and Superboy) with the Superman category.
The Edge is home to war stories, westerns, anti-heroes, crime, politics, and some smatterings of Sci-Fi.
The Dark is for your Magical or Paranormal heroes, such as Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger, and Frankenstein. These stories tend to focus on tragedy, horror, and the dichotomy of good and evil.
Recommended Titles by Category
- The Justice League
- Wonder Woman
- The Justice League of America
- Birds of Prey
- Batman and . . . (originally Batman and Robin)
- Detective Comics
- Red Hood and the Outlaws
- Batman Incorporated (Completed)
- Action Comics
- Superman/Wonder Woman
- Green Lantern
- Green Lantern: New Guardians
- Red Lanterns
- Teen Titans
- The Ravagers (Completed)
- Legion Lost (Completed)
- All-Star Western
- Suicide Squad
- Animal Man
- Swamp Thing
- Justice League Dark
- Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger
- Trinity of Sin: Pandora
- I, Vampire (Completed)
- Getting Into (DC) Comics: Why Read Justice League Dark
A brief guide to why readers new to, or experienced with, the current DC comic universe should read the Justice League Dark title.
Getting Into Marvel Comics
Marvel was a bit of a challenge for me, largely because of how vast and deep the universe is and the focus on history and its impact on the involved characters. My strategy was to focus on large events that helped shape the universe as a whole first, then focus on individual characters or teams that I liked.
My Event Timeline:
- Civil War
- Secret Invasion
- Dark Reign/Siege
- Fear Itself
- Avengers Vs. X-Men
- Age of Ultron
- Original Sin
- Avengers & X-Men: Axis
- Time Runs Out
- Secret Wars
- How to Get into Marvel Comics: A Beginner's Guide
This is my full introduction and guide to Marvel before, and including, the Secret Wars event. It's a long wild ride, but if my journey into marvel has taught me anything: It's worth it!
In October 2012, Marvel began its Marvel Now! initiative which, similar to DC's New 52, saw the relaunch of many of Marvel's titles. Unlike DC, however, this relaunch initiative was not a reboot of Marvel's continuity. Instead, it serves as a good jumping on point for those somewhat familiar with the Marvel universe.
A full list of titles launched in this initiative, including "All-New Marvel Now!", will be coming soon.
All-New All-Different Marvel!
Secret Wars will, more or less, completely destroy the Marvel Multiverse and leave it in a brand new single continuity. Or so it claims. The All-New All-Different begins in October 2015 just as Secret Wars comes to a close and jumps us 8 months into the future of this new universe.
Marvel is completely relaunching their entire line with this endeavor, easily compared to DC's New 52 reboot. Everything from this point forward is a new #1, whether that's returning series in the new status quo, or the plethora of new titles being launched.
A complete guide to this relaunch will be linked here once it is underway.
- ComicVine.com is an excellent resource for comic research and news.
- This Publication History provides a complete list of Marvel Events so you can choose your own jumping in point if you want to start earlier or later than I did.
- Once you have figured out which Marvel Heroes you want to track, this Marvel Comics Database is a good resource for figuring out reading orders.
How to Use the Marvel Database
- Just search for your hero in the search bar, make sure you select the mainstream continuity or Earth 616 version.
- At the bottom of the hero's wiki page, under "links," there should be one that links to appearances.
- From there click show next to chronological appearances. Then click the arrows next to "month/year" to sort ascending.
- If you've done all that, then you have a chronological list of comics for that character in order of first to most recent!
Not all characters can be sorted like this, which means some painstaking research with comic vine, and others are already sorted in chronological order (like Wolverine).
Finally, Just Follow Your Passions
I present this guide, not as a definite roadmap, but as one of the many paths one can take in the hopes that I might help one of you find one of your own. There really is no wrong way to get into comics. As the old comic saying goes "every comic is somebody's first comic". Meaning that if the comic is well written, you can theoretically jump in anywhere. Comic books are a medium of passion, so find characters, writers, and/or artists that evoke that passion within you.