How Superhero Movie Fans Can Get into Comic Books
After years of going to the movies to see the latest superhero blockbuster, do you ever feel the urge to read the comic books that they were based on? Then, you can get excited when a new character is introduced or a phrase pops up in the movies that only comic book fans know. With so many heroes having decades of stories under their belt, the idea of starting to read comics can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are some tips for learning about comics, reading them, and even starting a collection.
The Ultimate Guide Books
It would be nearly impossible to read the entire run of any of the major comic book titles on which your favorite movies are based. Many of these series have gone on for decades and have branched out into multiple timelines. You can’t binge like you can a TV show. Instead, there is a book series called the Ultimate Guide which takes your favorite characters and condenses their history into one book. It’s like a superhero encyclopedia. Consider picking up a copy of whichever hero interests you the most, and you’ll get a crash course on every major event that has occurred in their comics, including character profiles, important story lines, locations, and gadgets. Not only will they give you an idea of which stories you’ll want to explore, they will also give you the background you need to delve into these stories without wondering who is who and what has come before or after. This is especially true of characters whose movies deviate from the comics. Be aware, though, there are spoilers in the book in terms of the outcome of famous story lines that you might want to read.
Experts on YouTube
It helps to know an expert in comics who can you point you in the right direction as to how to start reading stories. If you don’t know one, there is always YouTube. There are tons of videos out there profiling a character, story line, or event.
Comics Explained is probably the most thorough of these series. Each video breaks down its topic into detailed pieces, providing a play-by-play of each story along with commentary by the narrator, Rob, and including actual panels and art from each comic profiled. Rob moves fast, cramming in as many details as he can so that by the end, you are practically an expert on the subject itself. If you are looking for something a little less intense, try WatchMojo, Looper, or Screen Rant for a quicker, less in-depth analysis, usually in a list format.
If you still decide you want to start at the beginning of a character's comic book story, you are not going to find single issue copies of the first years of Batman and Superman on the rack at your local grocery store. Instead, look for books which contain the earliest issues of that hero’s comics reprinted or selections of the best comics from that hero’s golden age. That way, you’ll be able to see where it all began and cover a lot of ground in terms of reading about the character’s origins. You’ll see how much the character has changed over the years and what elements have been there since the very beginning.
You can also find comics collections that include a particular theme, like superhero weddings, comics published during the World War II era, the 50's, etc. Find a topic that interests you and look for books that contain these issues.
Marvel and DC Wiki
If books are too ancient a reference point, just go on Wikipedia for comics research. Marvel and DC each have their own Wiki site with extensive details on the comics created by each company. One search will lead you down a rabbit hole of information without having to click through multiple websites to cover a ton of ground. They also include lists of comic book appearances under each topic searched along with photos, history, and names of creators. I use this often when I want to look up a particular character's origin or powers.
There is no shame in becoming a comics fan by watching the movies first. If you are a fan, chances are, you are buying the DVD and/or Blu Ray editions of these films which are loaded with bonus features about the making of the film. Sometimes, these special features even delve into the history of the characters and the story on which that particular movie is based. I recommend the Batman Anthology series which contains documentaries about the Batman mythos and the history of comics in general going all the way back to the 30’s when Batman first debuted. The special editions of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films are also full of information about the comics and the storylines on which the films are based. These features lay a solid base on which you can build your comics knowledge and pursue the stories that you want to read.
One of my first comics teachers came in the form of podcasts. It’s fascinating how these intricate, decades-long stories can inspire conversation and contemplation over what is essentially drawings and thought bubbles on paper. Comics fans love to debate and discuss every detail of a story, challenging the rules laid down in a universe and coming up with ideas about what will happen next. This has spilled over into the cinematic stories that are now told in that every choice and look that a character makes is going to be considered, questioned, and even mocked. Start with a podcast about the movies, and they should lead you to shows about the comics as you start to hear particular comics events referenced over and over. I recommend Smodcast’s podcasts including, The Secret Stash and Fatman on Batman.
Graphic Novels Based on the Movies
Say you want to get into comics just to see how the stories differ from the movies you love. Maybe you want to read Days of Future Past after seeing the X-Men movie of the same title or want to know how Civil War plays out from watching the third Captain America movie. These stories will be the easiest to find because they are printed in a graphic novel format and can be found at any book store, comic book store, or resell shop. They are usually thick with a glossy paperback or hard back cover. Sometimes they are spaced out over a few volumes, and you will pay more than you would a single issue, but you’re going to get the full (or mostly full) story in one publication rather than just one piece of the story a few pages at a time.
However, don’t expect these stories to even resemble the events that you saw on film. They are very different, featuring alternate characters, motivations, and outcomes. Only the premise is the same, but each version fits with the medium and the ongoing story that its creators are trying to tell.
If resources (or funds) are scarce, just go to the library. Every library should have a comics or graphic novel section. As a kid, this was my only access to comics, and it’s still a place where I go to borrow the latest stories that I want to read before I’m sure that I want to buy them to reread again. Not every comic is going to appeal to you. So, it makes sense to try before you buy.
Buying to Read vs. Collect
Before you start buying comics, try to decide right away if you’re just buying them to read or if you actually want to collect them. If you’re out to collect, don’t start buying up every new comic thinking that if you keep them in good condition, they will be worth something in your lifetime. Really research the process, making sure that you are buying the right editions, that you are properly preserving them, and that you’re not wasting your money.
For years, people collected comics thinking that they would use them to put their kids through college one day. Instead, they were left with piles of bagged and boarded books that may have even decreased in value over the years due to their condition or the fact that the title just isn’t coveted. The people who got rich by saving Action Comics #1 (first appearance of Superman) or Detective Comics #27 (first appearance of Batman) in pristine condition was a fluke. No one predicted how popular the characters would become and remain and how many other people would throw out their copies, making them a rare and coveted piece of history. Now, everyone saves their comics so their rarity is limited, making them less valuable.
While it’s nice for those with the money to have copies of these coveted titles, if you’re not in it for the comics themselves and you don't have the money to spend on the already highly valued issues, you’re better off finding something else to collect for a profit.
My exploration of comics not only led me to a better appreciation for my favorite characters, but it opened me up to a unique medium that is more sophisticated than its reputation gives it credit for. As a result of reading my favorite superhero titles, I have also come across other types of comics, such as those based on famous novels, biographies, and fiction that has nothing to do with costumes and powers.
I have utilized all of the above techniques to accumulate an education about these stories, yet the comic book universe is so extensive that I still feel far from an expert in the field. Instead, I am an all around appreciator who concentrates on the areas that interest me most, and it gives me just enough knowledge to get excited when a new movie title is announced or a new character is introduced in the movies. Best of all, I get to enjoy both the literary and cinematic versions equally in their own unique ways. Hopefully, you will too.
Are you a comic book reader/collector? What got you into comics? Leave your answers in the comments below!