There’s no science here, no right way to start. A good comic is a good comic (In theory). But that isn’t that helpful an answer I guess so let’s dig a little deeper.
The easy answer is to just start browsing, look for something that catches your eye and start reading. There’s no science here, no right way to start. A good comic is a good comic (In theory). But that isn’t that helpful an answer I guess so let’s dig a little deeper.
First of all I would say start off by looking at trade paperbacks or graphic novels rather than individual issues. Unless you’re really committed to riding the zeitgeist of the latest stuff. It’s generally cheaper, and you’re more likely to find something at least resembling a complete story. A lot of titles are written and structured with the trade in mind these days.
You should decide is you want physical copies, or if you want digital comics. Comixology is a great platform that has a deep library of material. I would especially recommend that path if you have an iPad or similar tablet, it’s a great way to read comics. If you’re looking for Marvel stuff, they have a Netflix-like subscription service (Marvel Unlimited), but it does have some big gaps in the catalog, and while it works well on tablets, in a browser it’s not great. It’s also 6 months behind the latest stuff if you care about that.
Now, think about what kind of stories you want to read. Yes, a lot of mainstream comics are about superheroes, but there’s plenty of other stuff out there, you just may need to dig a littler harder. Marvel and DC stuff may be intimidating because of their vast interconnected universes, but once you find something you like, that can help give you direction to find something else you may like too.
The big problem I usually see with comic book suggestions lists for new readers is that they’re bad at pointing you towards a second book. (That and they all recommend the same shit.) They recommend stuff that’s both an easy jumping on point, but also an easy jumping off point. So I guess my other question is, do you want to read comics, ot do you just want to read a comic? Because the answer would result in different recommendations.
Personally I generally love DC and Marvel stuff because of their crazy interconnected worlds, not in spite of them. Sometimes they can be an insane puzzle cube that’s impenetrable, but whenever I do find that hook or inroad I needed, it opens up a whole world of great stories. It’s super fun and exciting when it happens. Sometimes that hook is the start of a new story, sometimes it isn’t. It’s just about finding that thing that makes you care enough to go back to start and find out how they got there. The story that finally was my breakthrough into the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe, after years of finding it mostly impenetrable, was a story about Namor and Norman Osborn. Again, there’s no science to this stuff.
Wikipedia can be a useful tool, especially when a character you don’t recognize pops up, just be aware of its flaws. It’s not always accurate, but most often just commits the sin of omission. It’s not a replacement for reading the original stories, but can be a good start for learning more about what, or who you’re interested in. A more useful source is The Comic Book Database. It has lists of every appearance of any comics character in chronological order of publication, and tons of other info.
With all that said, here are some recommendations if you really don’t know where to start. My criteria here are to recommend trades that tell a complete story within one volume that’s not impossible to find. (i.e. JLA/Avengers is a great book, but it’s out of print and not available to purchase digitally so that gets left off.) Also a story that’s not too strongly tied to a particular continuity event.
Atomic Robo is kind of the perfect pulp hero. For one, his robotic nature makes his ability to survive the ridiculous situations that pup heroes always find themselves in believable. But more importantly the fact that he’s been alive for so long means that he can be in any kind of pulp setting you would want. And writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener make the most of him. The first story is good, but not the strongest, and I might have left that off the list (Maybe.), but they recently shifted the title away from traditional comics publishing, with it now coming out as a web comic, and part of that involved them putting up the whole back catalog online for free. So this comic is actually the absolute easiest to recommend.
If you like that
Clevinger did a little work for Marvel , including a 4 issue mini-series Avengers & the Infinity Gauntlet and what unfortunately only ended up being a one-shot Captain America: Fighting Avenger.
If you’re looking for another pulp adventure, Mark Waid and Chis Samnee’s The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom is great. And those two also worked together on many issues of Daredevil.
Spider-Man & The Human Torch
This five issue mini-series explores the friendship between these two heroes over their long history, with each issue taking place in a distinct era. It also came out at a time when I thought the mainstream Spider-Man titles were really terrible and joyless, so this comic that’s really fun and funny stood out all the more. Also, it has the Spider-Mobile, which is the best thing.
Writer Dan Slott’s understanding of Spider-Man’s history is staggering and impressive. Ty Templeton does an amazing job of changing his art style to match up appropriately with each period. It’s a really fun and charming series, that embodies the best of what Spidey can be. When I read it all I wanted was for Slott to be given the keys to the main series.
If you like that
Surprise, surprise, Dan Slott went on to write the main Spider-Man series; starting with a rotating team of writers, and latter getting the full reigns himself. These are some great comics. If you want to go from the beginning of his run, you can start with Brand New Day, but New Ways to Die is what really kicks it off for me. That run doesn’t make this list because of all the pitfalls of main continuity, and there are some quality dips from other writers during the rotational period. (Don’t read One Moment in Time.)
Paul Tobin’s run writing teenage Spider-Man under the Marvel Adventures line is some great fun Spider-Man comics.
The old Gerry Conway stories with the Spider-Mobile are hilarious and great.
Joe the Barbarian
This is a compelling take on the standard “through the looking-glass” story, where our hero finds himself in another world, somehow the center of attention and embarks on an epic quest. There’s always some kind of metaphorical, or allegorical, part of this kind of story, with it reflecting the real world in some way. Here everything is more explicit; from the start it is established that Joe is having a diabetic hallucination. Even Joe himself, though dealing with his own confusion, is aware of this. This provides a freshness to a kind of story we’ve seen countless times. I also really like the visual storytelling that switches back and forth between reality and fantasy. Top notch visual storytelling.
If you like that
There’s a wealth of stuff writer Grant Morrison has worked on. Seaguy, Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery, Animal Man, and his run on Action Comics, are just a few examples.
Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
The key to a good Superman story is strong iconography. For a Superman story specifically I think that getting that visual iconography right is more important than plot, or character writing. Superman is a symbol first and a character second. You can make him a character, but I don’t think that should come at the expense of the visual storytelling. That’s his greatest strength, although it is hard to make new compelling stories under that restriction. This is a story that I think completely pulls it off. Bizarro World is such a crazy setting, but it works so much better contrasted with a Superman who looks like he was pulled out of a 1940s cartoon. The comic does find room for good character writing, so I don’t want to undersell that too much, but the draw here is the amazing art.
If you like that
This just a part of Geoff John’s run on Action Comics, with collaboration from Richard Donner the director of Superman, and that whole run is good. It eventually led to a giant, long running crossover story involving all the Super books that I liked a lot, but it locks the simplicity and art that this story has.
Johns and Donner also collaborated on Last Son, which has some great art by Adam Kubert.
Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine
Speaking of Adam Kubert, here’s another series he drew, written by Jason Aaron. While Spider-Man and the Human Torch became fast friends because their personalities gelled so well, Spidey and Wolverine have a more contentious friendship. They genuinely can get on each others nerves. This story finds the two of them lost in time on a wild ride. This is an amazing, crazy emotional roller coaster. It’s crazy shit like this that can happen in just a couple issues that make me so thoroughly unimpressed with comic books movies.
If you like this
Jason Aaron has written a whole lot of Wolverine comics, of all different kinds of tone. I would point you to his run on Wolverine & the X-Men, where Wolverine is the headmaster of the newly formed Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.
Marvel Apes started as a marketing gimmick first and a comic second. It starts as so many things do, with Zombies. Marvel Zombies spun out of Ultimate Fantastic Four and was about an alternate universe where almost every person on Earth, super powered or not had become a zombie. The story doesn’t matter though; what matters was that this series gave Marvel an excuse to print a shit-ton of Zombie variant covers for their entire line. Marvel Apes was a cynical attempt to recapture that magic money machine. So the real point of this comic was variant covers of marvel characters as apes and monkeys.
With all that said, I freaking love this comic.
Writer Karl Kesel, who just a naturally funny writer, went all out with this series. He draws you in beautifully with what seems to just be a dumb delivery vehicle for ape and monkey puns, but then he pulls the rug out from under you; in a way that’s surprising, shocking, and really engaging. This comic is legit great.
If you like that
The series did continue beyond the first 4 issue mini-series. In particular Marvel Apes: The Amazing Spider-Monkey one-shot is one of my favorite single issue comic period. Right after that though, the series crosses over with Marvel Zombies and the dream is over.
Kesel has written a bunch of stuff, including a lot of Superboy comics in the 90s. The 4 issues mini-series Unlimited Access, which was the last piece of the DC/Marvel crossovers of the 90s is excellent, and stand out from the rest of that stuff.
Robin: Year One
Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty write this series that tells the story of Dick Grayson’s first year as Robin, omitting his origin. And unlike Batman’s early year, this isn’t a story that’s been done to death. This story also established Two-Face as THE villain for Dick Grayson. The art by Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin is incredible and perfectly matches that silver age style with modern standards.
If you like that
Dixon, Beatty, and Martin went on to make Batgirl: Year One, which might be even better. Conveniently, the recent trade printings include these two series in the same book.
If you’re looking for some other matching of great art and smart writing on a Bat book, Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s collaborations on that stuff does it for me. Namely on Detective Comics, and Batman: Streets of Gotham.
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell
A white collar criminal, nicknamed “The Great White Shark” pleads insanity to avoid hard jail time. Unfortunately for him the judge sends him to Arkham Asylum. So we’ve got a story about a sane man in an insane world. .How do you survive in that environment? How does that world change you? This is a good example of a Bat-book with very little Batman.
If you like that
This is another series from writer Dan Slott. If you want more villain work from him, The Superior Spider-Manis the shit.
If you just want another Batman-less Bat-book Gotham City Central is excellent for that, focusing on the Gotham police department.
Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil
Jeff Smith writes and draws this origin story for Captain Marvel that captures the wonder and joy that other modern stories about the character lack. It unapologetically embraces all the silliness of these characters and this world, in a way that’s both fit for children and feels more mature than DC’s more recent take on the character. Beautifully uncynical.
If you like that
Jeff Smith’s masterpiece Bone is too long for this list, but I can recommend that to anyone. His more adult themed RASL is also excellent, although very different.
Leave a comment or hit me up on twitter @ComicPanels if you want more specific recommendations for comics to read or whatever.