Between the success of “Spiderman: Homecoming” and “Wonder Woman” at the box office, the upcoming Marvel and DC mega-movies in the fall and winter, and the slew of comic book adaptation trailers coming out of San Diego Comic Con this week, it’s clear that comic books are having a moment.
Or maybe comic books’ moment arrived a couple of years ago, when Netflix made “Daredevil” available to the streaming site masses. Or in 2009, when Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Or one year before then, when Tony Stark rocketed back onto screens in Marvel’s then-recent reboot. In 1992, when “Maus” became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer. In 1991, when Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series won the World Fantasy award. Somewhere the midst of the ’70s and ‘80s’ comic and animation booms.
Comics are the official retcon-and-reboot genre, and with an entire generation of comic books to catch up on, picking up your first volume can be tricky. Trying to purchase entire runs of a series is expensive. These two things work in tandem to discourage millennials from trying out the genre at all. The secret to breaking into the world of comic books isn’t to cast a wide net and hope for the best. In order to break into worlds that have been expanding, condensing and overlaying one another for longer than our parents have been alive, it’s actually better to small — really small — and then work outward.
Comic books stretch all the way back through the 20th century, with the two big publishers, Marvel and DC, gaining their footing around the 1950s. Production companies have managed to reboot the live-action Spider Man film franchise three times in the last 15 years,but that’s nothing compared to the number of Spider Man series that exist in print form.
Here are a few tips for navigating the superhero world without breaking the bank.
Picking up volumes from a series or full graphic novels is an easy way to get used to the comic book format without stacking up millions of thin comic books. While the most recent story arcs will be in comic book form at your local store (hi, Vintage Phoenix!), looking for compilations is usually more rewarding and easier to navigate for those used to reading conventional print novels.
While we’re at it, libraries usually stock at least a few volumes from popular writers and artists. Check there for a free, easy way to narrow down what you like. And don’t feel wedded to superheroes — autobiographical options like “Fun Home” or “Maus” can be as good an introduction to comics as Superman or Thor. Or just pick out whatever series have the most consecutive issues in a row and start reading (If they have “Locke and Key,” grab it).
“Doctor Who” is actually a helpful reference point for superhero fans looking for an easy entry point. Every so often, a new writer takes over a comic book property for several issues and publishes a complete storyline with that world and those characters. Finding a well-respected run in your favorite world isn’t hard – Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” takes place in a future world where many mutants have been wiped out, but still features favorites from the movies like Cyclops, Kitty Pryde and Colossus. Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” is almost universally respected and recounts the Caped Crusader’s first steps fighting crime in Gotham. Start with a favorite hero or team, then check the handy-dandy interwebs for recommendations. Roxane Gay’s recent “World of Wakanda” series was brilliant, and there are plenty of offerings by acclaimed authors out there.
Although Marvel and DC comic books are far more commonly adapted for the big screen, there are plenty of smaller comic publishers out there with equally good offerings. Image Comics (the best!) and IDW Publishing do a way better job of representing minorities in their comics than the big publishers, which is hugely important to keep in mind if you’re already tired of seeing straight, cis white men on your TV and movie screens. Dark Horse Comics has the Hellboy and BPRD properties. They’re all worth a quick browse. Smaller publishers can afford to go “niche” with their offerings, which means some incredible, imaginative series can make it onto our shelves.
Speaking of which, Image Comics and IDW also show up on Humble Bundle periodically, where interested customers can pay a few dollars for 30 to 40 PDFs of recent volumes and issues. If you’re not wedded to reading hard copies, they’re a ridiculously affordable way to try out hundreds of series from smaller publishers. Just beware getting addicted to more than a few new series at once — it’s how they’ll hook you.
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