Hey prospective comic reader, I know you’re a little apprehensive about where to start when it comes to getting into reading comics, because there are tons of comics out there and you’ve got questions.Fortunately, you’ve come to this site (which considering that this is mostly a comic book site, I wonder how you got here, but oh well), and have I got a message for you!
Perhaps the most common question I get when people are trying to get into comics is, “Where do I start.”
Simple answer: you just do. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where.
If we’re talking mainstream super-hero books, then the best place to begin reading comics is to just pick up a comic that seems interesting and go with it. While the story may not seem like it makes sense at first, readers can usually get the hang of what’s going on relatively quickly. If not, then go back and buy a few back issues to get the gist of what’s happening.
Superman, Batman, the X-Men, the Avengers, etc. have been around for decades, and considering that those stories are so interconnected and laced with years and years of meaning, it would be impossible to point to a specific place to actually “begin” reading a certain character; certain stories have emphasized certain elements over the years, and stories that were important in the 60′s might not be important today . . . but then again, maybe they will.
The most important mindset one has to have while reading comics?
Unlike any other medium, comics not only craft new stories and situations, but they unearth the past in order to either retell, reuse, or recontextualize a character or a concept.
Grant Morrison’s Batman is a perfect example of mining old 1960s stories and making them cool for today. Does a reader have to know what a Whirly Bat is, or that Kathy Kane was the original Batwoman, or just what Zur-En-Arrh is? Not at all. It would enhance the meaning perhaps, but these things are inessential. (That doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth researching, though.)
View each comic you read as if it was a doorway into other stories. When I read Mark Waid’s Legion of Superheroes, I knew nothing about those characters, but I fell in love with them, and because of that, I researched more Legion stories. I found archive editions of The Legion of Superheroes and poured through them. Then, I read the Action Comics story by Geoff Johns where Superman reunites with the Legion in the future, and I went back and looked through the old Paul Levitz stuff.
Television isn’t like this. When I watched Lost, I wasn’t introduced to decades of stories that I could research and fall in love with. I was stuck with what they presented me week to week (though I suppose I got on Lostpedia to look up references and characters).
Books can be like this to an extent, but it isn’t as if books are part of a shared universe where characters can interact with one another and redefine their characters and roles based on those interactions. (That’s why Alan Moore created The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
Comics are special because they are interconnected and allow for individual stories to work together into a cohesive world, yet it isn’t absolutely necessary to read every comic to understand that world.
Infinite Crisis was the last great interconnected event, in my mind. In the first issue, Captain Marvel crash lands onto a police car containing two officers. I wasn’t reading Gotham Central at the time, but if I had, I would have seen that scene in a longer form in that book. Neither event really happened “first” so much as they happened. It doesn’t take away from the events in either book if I don’t read them, but it certainly enhances the scope of the world by reading both . . . even if you’re like me and you don’t read Gotham Central until years after publication.
This post mostly stems from this tweet from @dcwomenkicknass and also this one. Some comic readers make comics more complicated than they are. People want to make it seem as if continuity layering upon itself is somehow a bad thing, but that’s what makes this industry beautiful. Some stories plod on to the future like any other medium, but others bring back ideas or stories from years before. Even titles that start with a new #1 are building upon years of stories for readers to go back and unearth.
Ultimately, comics are one big treasure hunt where readers can find a new character that they like and go hunt down related back issues because they connect with that character, which may lead to more characters, more hunting, and more comics!
Perhaps this is why the comic book industry’s sales aren’t what they used to be. Maybe people just aren’t reading comics in a mentality of curiosity and wonder but rather in a mindset of a linear methodology. Comics aren’t like this, however. Stories aren’t really A to Z because popular heroes have been published for decades. It’d be more correct to say that any story on the stands right now begins at H and ends with S.
While A through G may exist, they are still unnecessary to understand H through S, and more than likely, T through Z will never be written.
Maybe this is maddening to some readers, but what medium tells an actual full story? In other words, I want to ask these people:
When watching television, are you confused when you haven’t seen the main character’s birth? Are you worried when you haven’t seen characters eat or use the rest room, that they aren’t taking care of themselves?
Are you concerned that you don’t understand the love interest that has a history with the main character but has never been introduced prior to that episode?
No because stories provide context for character and plot so the average viewer or reader can understand. Comics are no different, so stop treating them that way.