This is the second part of the short series I’m doing on finding your way into Marvel comics. In the first part, the introduction, I briefly talked about the difficulties you can face in getting started, and I outlined a very, very basic history of the Marvel universe, finishing with an outline of three universe defining 21st century events. In this part, I’m going to lay out the first of my suggested routes into comics, the approach of going for background reading and major crossover events before getting into individual character stories and series.
This is the approach that I personally took, and whilst it’s not the cheapest of the three, I would say that it’s the most sure-fire way of being able to pick up almost any Marvel comic and being able to place it in terms of where it fits into the Marvel universe. in order to describe this approach, I’ll tell you what I did, and then I’ll outline what I might do differently, and the rough cost of the approach.
The first thing I did was to buy the Marvel Encyclopaedia, published by DK (ISBN: 9781405344357). This hefty book, published in 2009 provides a comprehensive A-Z of pretty much all the characters of note in the Marvel universe as of 2009, along with double-page spreads of the major crossover events. It seems pretty ridiculous, but I read this book cover to cover before properly getting into the comics universe, giving me a basic idea of all the major characters and storylines that you need to be aware of in order to orientate yourself. Another similar book is Marvel Year by Year (ISBN: 9781409378884) which tells you about Marvel storylines on a year-by-year basis, along with a few character profiles and other useful bits of info. Of the two, I’d say the encyclopaedia is more useful for someone starting from square one.
The next step I took, armed with my basic knowledge, was to read big crossover events and slowly build a more detailed knowledge of the universe. I actually started with Planet Hulk, which wasn’t a crossover but a limited series, and this allowed me to become familiar with the genre whilst not needing much background knowledge. I then went on to Planet Hulk’s sequel, World War Hulk, which is a big crossover, and allowed me to follow the Hulk’s story into a world populated by the rest of Marvel’s biggest heroes. This was a bit more of a challenge, as I had to deal with more unfamiliar characters like Rick Jones and the Sentry, but overall it was a natural progression, and the background knowledge I had helped me to fill in the gaps.
From there, I essentially set out to read as many crossovers as I could. This was partly led by value for money, as the crossovers tend to have more issues in one graphic novel, and partly because the big stories were so good for introducing me to the main characters and stories that I keep going on about. I can’t remember the order I actually read them in, but having read them a lot of them, I can now give you a list with the benefit of hindsight, with the most important ones in bold:
- Civil War
- Planet Hulk and World War Hulk (though these can be read beforehand)
- Secret Invasion
- Fear Itself
- Schism (I haven’t actually read this one but I need to)
- Avengers vs. X-Men
There are others that have been published since, but having read the most recent comics, I think you can do without the likes of Infinity and Original Sin unless you start reading characters that obviously rely on those crossovers. There are other, smaller events that I haven’t included as well, like Shadowland, which comes after Siege chronologically, and is a good way to get to know some of Marvel’s ‘street heroes’. There are loads of other crossovers, and you can see a great list on Wikipedia if you’re interested in finding more.
Once you’ve read the crossovers and found the ones you like, you can then start to pick up on individual strands that come out of them. For example, in the aftermath of Secret Invasion, a lot of Marvel’s titles came under the ‘Dark Reign’ umbrella, where you knew that the events of the story would be tied to the consequences of Secret Invasion. Thanks to this, I was able to pick up graphic novels for characters like Ms Marvel and Hercules that I hadn’t really read anything about before, and enjoy them in the context of the story.
The reality is that once you’ve read some of these crossovers, you can pick up any character book that takes your fancy that was published around the same kind of time as the crossovers themselves, and then from there you can follow those character arcs wherever they lead. The best thing about this approach is that once you’ve read a crossover or a character book following from one, you have multiple stories that you can choose to follow up on that can take you deep into the Marvel universe; the choice is yours!
Hopefully this has given you a good idea of what this approach entails, and why I think it’s a good way to go about getting into comics, especially for people who really want to embrace the whole Marvel universe. It’s not a good approach if you just want to find out about a particular character, because it’s designed to give you a very broad knowledge. Below I’m putting in a list of estimated prices for the recommended books, and feel free to comment with any further questions.
- Marvel Encyclopaedia – £15 from somewhere like the Works, rrp is more like £30
- Civil War – rrp £10.99, but you can find it for a lot less online, as with all of these crossovers.
- Secret Invasion – rrp £14.99
- Siege – rrp £12.99
- Avengers vs X-Men – rrp £17.99