1100 words on yuletide! Not a complete story yet, but at least I'm over the minimum and I know where I'm going. Whew.
Today's December posting meme topic is:
December 18: Comics 101 (what you think someone completely new to them should know or try; good entry points, etc.) for akamarykate
I feel like on the one hand, I'm so not the person to answer this, since I've only been reading superhero comics since 2010 (though I've been reading other comics since probably 2000? I think that's when I first read Sandman?), but on the other hand, I've only been reading superhero comics for four years, and I got into it after avoiding it for such a long time (it only leads to heartbreak, kids! Don't do it!) so I do know what kinds of things are easy to find, easy to get into, and don't require a lot of other knowledge.
So. If you are looking to start reading non-superhero comics, the answer is very easy: Sandman
by Neil Gaiman. Still his best work to me (and probably will always be his best work), it's one of the few things I've found that actually does live up to the hype. If you enjoy stories about how stories are shaped and how they shape us, and how one immortal anthropomorphic being can learn to change and grow, you should totally read Sandman
. If, like me, you're not big into horror, power through the first few issues in volume 1, until you hit "The Shadow of Her Wings," wherein you will meet Death, and everything will just keep getting better from there.
When you're done with Sandman
, read the spinoff, Lucifer
by Mike Carey, which follows Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer) and his demonic consort Mazikeen and a host of other characters on a different journey. I don't think Lucifer
is quite as spectacular as Sandman
, but it has some pretty brilliant moments of its own and I found it well worth reading (and rereading).
If you're looking for something a little less cosmic, but no less trippy, I also recommend - with a HUGE caveat - Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man
, which is the story of Yorick, the last man left alive on earth, and his pet monkey Ampersand, who also managed to survive the die-off that killed all the men. This is a globe-trotting roadtrip story with pirates, lesbians, monkeys, Shakespeare, and spies (the Culper Ring!), and it's highly enjoyable...until the end. DON'T READ THE END. THE END IS TERRIBLE.
All three are all self-contained, complete stories, which I think makes them a good place to start, since you can get used to reading comics (I still am terrible at parsing the art, personally, but doing one reading for the text and then another, slower run through paying close attention to the art has helped) and also find some closure in the stories. I am very big on stories having endings, so even some of the superhero comics I'll be recommending are limited runs with defined endings.
If you enjoy Brian K. Vaughan's writing and want to take a chance on Saga
, it's ongoing right now and it's about a pair of starcrossed lovers who refuse to accept that their story should end in tragedy, and how they go about making a life and raising a daughter while their two planets (planet and moon? I should go back and reread and then get caught up - I am very behind) are at war and are hunting them both down as traitors. Given Vaughan's history with terrible endings (see above), I don't know that I trust him to make this all end in a way that doesn't ruin everything, but it's a highly entertaining ride along the way.
In terms of superhero comics, remember that this is all based on what I've read, and I only read things I enjoy, so it's going to be heavily weighted towards the characters I like. I can't claim to give a broad overview of either Marvel or DC, because there's so much I'm just not interested in (let alone the things I actively avoid).
So I would start a superhero comics newbie with Blue Beetle vol. 3
, written by Keith Giffen and John Rogers (with art by Cully Hamner). Yes, John Rogers, the dude from Leverage
. It's the story of a teenage boy who finds what he thinks is a rock but which turns out to be a piece of sentient alien weaponry, and it welds itself to his spine and gives him a bunch of powers. It also starts out in the midst of some DC crossover event you don't have to worry about, because Jaime gives you a little summary of it at the beginning. All you have to know is, he went to space with the Justice League and somehow got stranded there, and when he gets home, his whole life has changed.
The thing I love about Blue Beetle
- about Jaime
- is that he is the sensible kid. He doesn't try to hide his secret identity and come off like an asshole to his friends and family because ~they must never know~. Which means instead of being ~forever alone~ he has a support network he can call on when aliens invade and he has to kick ass.
The series is a lot of fun, with some real heart-clenchy moments and some fabulous kickass action.
Next, I would start you off with that newly beloved tradition of FORMERLY DEAD SIDEKICKS, and have you read Batgirl vol. 3
by Bryan Q. Miller, since it also is finite (*shakes fist at DC editorial*) and features a character that I love but DC Editorial hates: Stephanie Brown, the fourth Robin (and former Spoiler), and third Batgirl. Steph's dad was a second-tier Batman villain and her mother was an addict, and she got knocked up at 15 (16?), but when she overheard her dad's evil plans, she decided she was going to spoil them (hence "Spoiler"), and put Batman and Robin on his trail. Except it didn't quite work out that way. Batman never wanted her around, and she ended up dating Robin (Tim), and because of Batman's distrust and poor treatment of her, she ends up taking a deadly beating from Black Mask. Except she never got a memorial in the Batcave the way Jason did (even after he came back, the case still lingers, waiting to be knocked over in the next over dramatic Batfamily brawl) and this was a whole cause celebre on the internet back in 2005, long before I was into comics. ANYWAY.
As with other dead sidekicks, it turns out that Steph was not so much dead as terribly injured and so she was sent away for a year to recover in the care of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, and when she comes back, through a series of circumstances, she becomes the new Batgirl. She's also a (poor) college student trying to have a life, and an inspiration to people in the city of Gotham. If Batman is about fear and Nightwing is about justice, Batgirl, in Steph's hands, is about hope. It ended too soon with a wrapup that made me sob like a hungry baby.
Anyway, this is another fun series about a girl who decides to stand up and do something to stop crime and despair from taking over her city.
To be honest, these are also the two DC series I've found to be most Marvel-like in their feel, which could be why I enjoyed them so much.
If you come away from Batgirl
interested in more Batfamily shenanigans, I'd recommend the pre-reboot Birds of Prey
, Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive
, and Batman: No Man's Land
. The latter two are very strong storylines that come to conclusions instead of trailing off into new stories.
My other very highly recommended, read this if you don't read anything else from DC recommendation is Gotham Central
, which is a police procedural comic that's about 25 issues long (iirc) by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, and it's about the Gotham City PD's Major Crimes Unit (MCU, just to confuse things for everyone), which is the unit of detectives handpicked by Jim Gordon so he can trust they're not corrupt, and they handle crimes involving costumed villains and metahumans. Yes, they are the police who have to deal with the Joker et al. And sure, Batman occasionally drops by with a clue or a criminal wrapped up tight, but the cops are not really thrilled about his involvement. SUCH A GOOD SERIES. And also brilliantly pays off a storyline begun in No Man's Land
, and gives us Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen, one of the great police partnerships in fiction.
If you've discovered you have a taste for superhero comics after this (or at least a taste that matches mine), next I would recommend you read Young Avengers
vol 1. and 2. There you will meet the divine Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye, as well as Eli Bradley (BABY COME BACK), Tommy Shepherd, Billy Kaplan, Teddy Altman, and Cassie Lang, and you will have some background as to what they all went through before you re-meet some of them in volume 2. I would also recommend reading Kieron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery
run, which is the closest I've come to finding something like Sandman
in the Marvelverse, and which is concerned with the adventures of Kid Loki, who has 1000x the charm of his adult 616 counterpart, and only about 1/4 of the murderousness.
And once you know who Kate is, you must read Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye
, which is fantastic in many different ways, and which is coming to a close shortly (or has already come to a close? I am so behind). It's more of a Clint Barton hangs out and fights mob thugs in his spare time comic than a superhero comic, but Kate helps out and he has an awesome dog and some lovely neighbors in the apartment building he owns, and it's a good read.
If you are interested in other Marvel ongoings that are pretty easy to hop on board with right now, there is Ms. Marvel
by G. Willow Wilson, about Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager in New Jersey who gets superpowers and decides she wants to be like her hero, Captain Marvel, and fight bad guys, but who also has to deal with being a teenage girl whose parents want to protect her. Delightfully charming. Definitely recommended. As is Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel
, about Carol Danvers. I personally liked the first volume better? But now Carol's having adventures in space, which is also super cool (and I still need to catch up on this as well.)
And if you have a very specific interest that I've taken too long to get around to, I would definitely recommend that you read Captain America vol. 5
, which contains the Winter Soldier storyline in issues 1-14 (skip issue 10, iirc, it's the House of M crossover and means nothing). That's not the full story, but it will give you the start of how Steve discovers the Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes, and what he's going to do about it. The whole of volume 5 is a good read (with the exception of issue 15 - skip it - it's 20 gross pages of Crossbones torturing his girlfriend) because you get to see Bucky and Natasha's reunion and Bucky Cap and the Sam saves Bucky from his terrible plans show (though Sharon's storyline is best left undiscussed, because ugh). I also enjoyed the first Winter Soldier
solo book through the first couple of arcs, but the ending of "Widow Hunt" is just untenable (and given Sharon's earlier storyline and what happens to Sin in issue 15 as well, I admit to giving Ed Brubaker the side-eye with regard to female characters' agency). I haven't read the new Winter Soldier
solo book, but I have heard good things, and Daisy Johnson is in it, which is probably relevant to people's interest if they're watching SHIELD.
If you just want STEVE ROGERS AND ALL HIS BUCKY FEELS, I cannot recommend Mark Waid's Captain America: Man Out of Time
strongly enough. It's the one where Steve is willing to break the space-time continuum and live out the rest of their lives as hobos if it will allow him to go back and save Bucky. It's also the one where the whole "visit the Grand Canyon" thing comes from.
If you choose only one book to read off this list, let it be Truth: Red, White or Black
, which is the story of how the supersoldier serum was derived by experimenting on black soldiers, and how the first Captain America was a black man named Isaiah Bradley (Eli's grandfather), and the terrible things he suffered at the hands of the government. The art is terrible - I don't know who decided the art for such an important story should be so cartoony and ridiculous - but the story should be required reading.
I hope this helps! There's so much I haven't read, so this isn't as complete as it could be, but I can try to make more specific recs if you have something in mind.