I’ve been asked, as a local afficionado of several superhero books from both of the major comic companies, what constitutes a good start for getting into particular series’. Unfortunately the internet seemed diametrically opposed to the notion of giving easing-to-navigate lists of such, making the choice of which book to crack open first a bit of a daunting task for the uninitiated. After all, a character like Batman has as many as sixteen ongoings and miniseries’ occurring at once, and which one you choose to encounter during your comicbook odyssey can be the difference between adoring a character and wanting to read more or deciding the writing’s shit and instead falling to the dark side with Japanese tennis mangas and Superman trade novels.
So for anyone who cares, here’s a list of what I consider to be required reading for the superhero comics I primarily read.
NOTE: There are most likely books missing from my list that others will recommend as required reading, which will either be ones I haven’t read or ones I thought were shit. This is my personal opinion on what constitutes a good book for these series’. As well as this it doesn’t take into account awesome one-offs like Scott Pilgrim, since it’s just about the two big distributors.
A WORD OF WARNING: Don’t take into account anything you’ve seen in any movies derived from the following series’, because more often than not they take inspiration rather than outright copy-pasting the book’s stories and, therefore, go along different continuities. If you’ve been embittered about X-Men following the travesties of The Last Stand and Wolverine, don’t let it stop you reading Whedon’s fantastic Astonishing run.
First book: Hush (Jeph Loeb)
My first foray into The Dark Knight’s saga was a 12-issue titanic triumph featuring just about every major villain of the time from his Rogues Gallery as well as introducing a new one that I found quite compelling. I managed to pick it up with only limited knowledge of the Bat mythos beforehand, and found it easy to understand whilst not being handheld through prior explanation of canon through expository dialogue. As a starting point Hush features everything you could want to suck you into Batman’s tight story and tighter characters, and there’s a vagina joke in there somewhere.
Year One (Frank Miller)
The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)
Gotham Underground (Frank Tieri)
The Long Halloween (Jeph Loeb)
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (Neil Gaiman)
Batman and Son (Grant Morrison 1)
The Black Glove (Grant Morrison 2)
Batman R.I.P. (Grant Morrison 3)
Batman and Robin 1 – Batman Reborn (Grant Morrison 4)
Batman and Robin 2 – Batman vs Robin (Grant Morrison 5)
Time and the Batman (Grant Morrison 6)
The Return of Bruce Wayne (Grant Morrison 7)
Batman and Robin 3 – Batman and Robin Must Die (Grant Morrison 8)
Batman Incorporated (Grant Morrison 9)
Yes, I know there’s a lot of Grant Morrison there, but it’s coz he’s awesome.
First book: Rebirth (Geoff Johns)
When diving into Green Lantern, it’s always Geoff Johns. ALWAYS. His groundbreaking six-year run on the title has redefined the charcter of Hal Jordan as well as introducing the other coloured corps’ into DC continuity. The Green Lantern Corps series by Peter Tomasi is worth giving a look, but the primary Green Lantern title exclusively by Geoff Johns is a rare example of single-author comic series that is always top-notch and doesn’t ever seem to lose its steam. Rebirth can be a little confusing to neophyte readers, but over the course of Johns’ run it begins to make sense as the first thread in a universe-spanning mosaic of war, love and shedloads of character development.
Further reading (all by Geoff Johns):
Revenge of the Green Lanterns
Wanted: Hal Jordan
The Sinestro Corps War
Rage of the Red Lanterns
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Green Lantern: Brightest Day
War of the Green Lanterns
First book: The Flash – Rebirth (Geoff Johns)
Yes, I appear to be grovelling at Geoff Johns’ feet a lot with this list, but his stuff really is fantastic. While not as engrossing as GL, The Flash does have his own special storyline that is, as with GL Rebirth, a little confusing to start with – moreso here because of the intricacies of time-travel that are utilised – but as the short run gets going on its way to the crossover event Flashpoint it paints an interesting portrayal of one of DC’s longest dead superheroes brought back to life, adjusting to a world two decades older than last he saw it. Plus the shortness of the run can be an added sell for people who want a shorter story to read in a shorter space of time.
The Dastardly Death of the Rogues (Geoff Johns)
The Road to Flashpoint (Geoff Johns)
Flashpoint (Geoff Johns)
Batwoman: Elegy (Greg Rucka) – don’t let the title fool you, this is damn good stuff. The battle between Kate Kane and a self-styled Alice in Wonderland villain is surprisingly deep and a good springboard for the upcoming ongoing series in September.
Final Crisis (Grant Morrison) – The 2008 crossover event will leave a vast number of readers confused, but it’s one of the most post-modern takes on superhero tag teams I’ve ever seen. Plus anyone reading the Morrisong Batman arc will need to give chapter 6 a glance for Batman’s fate against Darkseid.
Nightwing: The Great Leap (Peter J. Tomasi) – A neat little lead-in for Dick Grayson’s run as Batman, Nightwing battles Two-Face to save a murder witness from certain death.
First book: New X-Men Ultimate Collections 1-3 (Grant Morrison)
Serving as another good jump-off point for people new to a series, Morrison’s stint with the X-Men gives a dark portrayal of many of the central protagonists we’ve all known for decades, introduces us to new and intriguing characters like Cassandra Nova and Xorn, and ends with both a shocking twist villain reveal and a surrealist arc maintained by Morrison’s signature style. The book gives any new reader almost anything they need to know in order to enjoy any of the current titles.
Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon)
Deadly Genesis (Ed Brubaker)
Ghost Box (Warren Ellis)
Messiah Complex (various)
Messiah War (various)
Utopia (Matt Fraction)
Second Coming (various)
First book: Winter Soldier (Ed Brubaker)
If you’d told me three years ago that I’d be delving into the story of the most patriotic superhero in the history of ever, I’d’ve smacked you across the head for possibly linking me to what I considered at the time to be my second-least favourite superhero ever conceived (the least-favourite honour goes to Superman). Admittedly my quick glance at Cap’s backstory gave me the impression he was nothing but a jingoistic Americatard blithely beating enemies to mush with the stars and stripes and quoting the Pledge of Allegiance every five minutes. Getting into his first book, Winter Soldier, removes this notion and paints Cap (and, moreso, his former sidekick and eventual successor Bucky Barnes) as a three-dimensional character far beyond what I’d originally thought of him. The ongoing arc by Brubaker is one of the best comic stories I’ve read recently, astounding me with both the visual aesthetic and complex plot that is only ever briefly hard to follow. Definitely worth a look, and better than it sounds.
Further reading (all by Ed Brubaker):
Civil War: Captain America
The Death of Captain America
Captain America Lives!
The Trial of Captain America
First book: Deadpool – Secret Invasion (Daniel Way)
I don’t think he even really needs an explanation – if you like, anti-hero psychotics with wicked regeneration skills and a penchant for whipping out katanas to finish his problems faster than an alcoholic reaches for one last cocktail, then Deadpool is the one to check out. His hilarious introspective dialogue is the major sell, breaking the fourth wall at times and at all others making his second and third personalities almost take on lives of their own.
Deadpool: Dark Reign (Daniel Way)
Dark Reign: Deadpool/Thunderbolts (Andy Diggle and Daniel Way)
X Marks the Spot (Daniel Way)
Monkey Business (Daniel Way)
What Happens in Vegas (Daniel Way)
I Rule, You Suck (Daniel Way)
Merc with a Mouth: Head Trip (Victor Gischler)
Invincible Iron Man Ominbus Vol. 1 (Matt Fraction) – The fantastic and intriguing start to Fraction’s run shows Iron Man confronting demons from his past and regressing into his future, on the run from Norman Osborn and struggling to keep himself together during the Dark Reign. Reading the arc in big books like this is good because once you start, you won’t want to put it down.
Thor (J. Michael Stracynzski) – With a mediocre start featuring the Fantastic Four, the action then follows the titular Son of Odin as he revives the city of Asgard and deals with his double-crossing brother Loki. While the conclusion sucks more than a pool vacuum (which you’ll require reading Kieron Gillen’s adjacent run in order to remove suckage) the vast majority of the story serves as a quasi-origin story as well as a great reinterpretation of one of Marvel’s longest-lasting Avengers. Speaking of…
Siege (Brian Michael Bendis) – Following on from a long-running series of crossover events including Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion, Siege brings the separate storylines of various Avengers and Dark Reign participants full circle, setting up the Heroic Age and the new Avengers run. As a crossover it’s short and snappy but still gives all the major players a chance to shine, and was my first indication that Captain America may not be an American flag that gargles patriotic gonads.
So there’s some of my picks for the main ones I read. Of course, there are many more series that may also be awesome (except for Superman and Avengers Academy, obviously) so I encourage you to explore the wide depth of comics that are out there. A tradition I’ve had for the last couple of years is that I pick up a book from a series I’ve never read every time I go to a convention – maybe something like that can help you see what’s out in the graphic sea.
Just please don’t read Cry for Justice. Seriously. It really does gargle gonads.