With all the comic book-based movies and TV shows in the public consciousness these days, there’re probably lots of folks who’d really like to try reading actual comic books but who don’t have the first clue about where to start. Let’s face it: your typical local comic shop (LCS) isn’t the most user-friendly place in the American marketplace. Faced with a giant wall of monthly floppies, another giant section of white boxed, bagged-and-boarded back issues, and a couple of shelves of trade paperbacks (TPBs) and original graphic novels (OGNs), it can be a little intimidating even considering where one might start with an interest in comics. That’s doubly true if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re hoping to find once you get in the store.
So. This series serves two purposes. If you’re a comic newbie, and you want a place to start, hopefully we can provide that. And if you’re a seasoned pro, well, you can at least discuss why you think this list is all wrong and how you’d have laid it out differently.
In either case, your feedback is welcome.
As I mentioned last week, this list is based around complete, (hopefully) fairly short stories—the kind of thing that you can buy in a single TPB or hardcover collection. It’s true that there are some great longer stories out there, but no newbie is gonna go out and plunk down the cash for the complete run of Star Wars: Legacy (Vol. 1), no matter how awesome that story is. And I refuse to recommend that someone go out and buy twelve trades of anything sight unseen. That just isn’t realistic.
The stories listed below are in the order in which they occurred to me. Most of the links are to the Comixology website. Last week, I went through numbers one through five on this list; this week, we’ll do Part 2: numbers six through ten.
6. Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? Writer Brian Michael Bendis has been the main man at Marvel for a good, long while now, but before he was that, he was a guy with a Hell of a lot of indie cred who wrote stories in a way that no one had ever seen. This particular story is the first TPB from his Powers series with Michael Oeming, still going strong, but now at Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint. Bottom line, Powers is a clever police procedural set in a world where superheroes are a fact of life.
As a comics newbie, you need to read this story for two reasons. First, because it’s awesome. Second, because Bendis is a major talent in today’s marketplace, and if I’m being honest, you really can’t talk comics these days without having at least some passing familiarity with his work. To put it in pro-wrestling terms, if Frank Miller is the comic industry’s Hulk Hogan, then Bendis is Triple-H—a really talented worker who you can’t help wishingwasn’t in charge of the most important company in the industry. With that said, though, there’s a reason why both those guys are famous. Who Killed Retro Girl? is a great book and a terrific example of Bendis at his absolute best.
7. Spider-Man: Blue. As I was putting this list together, it occurred to me that you can’t make a list like this without putting a Spider-Man story somewhere near the top. The problem with that, though, is that Spider-Man has been around since the Sixties, and it’s hard to come up with a complete story that’s self-contained over a short number of issues. I could’ve maybe recommended The Death of Gwen Stacy (soon to be a major motion picture; coming to a theater near you), but that was written way back in the day, and while it’s great, it’s also not necessarily the most approachable story when one considers the tastes of the contemporary audience.
The next best thing, then, is the Jeff Loeb/Tim Sale retelling of that same story in Spider-Man: Blue, which is also heartfelt and touching but maybe a touch more relatable for today’s readers. My daughter Emma really likedBlue but found The Death of Gwen Stacy to be utterly impenetrable. Granted, she’s only eight, but the girl knows her comics.
8. Secret Wars. Secret Wars was the comic event that made me a comic fan for life. All the heroes and all the villains get swept off into space by the god-like Beyonder, where they’re forced to battle it out for the ultimate prize. ‘Nuff said.
I got Emma a copy of Secret Wars for Christmas last year, and she read it cover-to-cover at least three times before she read anything else. Even now, almost a full year later, I catch her re-reading the thing at least once a month. I don’t know that Secret Wars was all that visionary or ground-breaking even when it came out, but it’s so damned cool that it’ll get you hooked, I promise.
9. Daredevil by Bendis and Maleev, the Ultimate Collection (Vol 1). The Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev run on Daredevil is absolutely my favorite comic series, period. It’s Bendis at his best, with a small cast, telling deeply personal stories. And it’s crime fiction at its grittiest, set against the backdrop of modern day New York City. Maleev’s art is awesomely non-traditional and totally revolutionary, and I just love every page of it.
Fair warning: this collection will set you back a full $30, and it’s only the first of three mammoth editions, and even after that, the story continues unbroken through another huge volume that was written by Ed Brubaker.
|This book is so great. You have no idea.|
But I’m not telling you that you have to read all of it. I’m merely suggesting that if you’re looking for a book that embodies the very best of what today’s comics industry has to offer, you can start here and absolutely find what you’re looking for.
10. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga. Up to now, I’ve made an effort to stick mostly to modern books that were written for a contemporary audience. The Dark Phoenix Saga isn’t one of those, and for that reason, I don’t know that I can necessarily recommend reading it first. With that said, the X-Men are a big deal in comics, and this particular volume is a big part of the reason why. If you’re looking for a book to explain why the X-Men are cool, this is the one to read first.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is the first time we saw Wolverine really go ballistic and kill people with his claws, it’s the story of that time the X-Men got into a fight with those guys on the moon, and oh by the way, it’s also the story of that time when one of the most beloved characters in all of comics got killed—and then stayed dead for quite a few years.
And that’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll do books eleven through fifteen.
Also, if you came today looking for the next part of "The Return of Dr. Necropolis," it'll be out tomorrow. I finally finished drafting the new bit on the way home this afternoon, but I need to look it over again tomorrow before I put it up. And then, I'm tellin' you, come Hell or High Water, that thing is going on break until I can get some other stuff finished.