I wrote the first draft of this back in 2014 and then updated it in 2016. But both times I never actually followed through. Will I this time? Who knows. I will at least post it this time at least.
I havent read American comics in quite some time. Specifically since March 2011, so eleven years. But recent reading around comics as well as someone asking me for recommendations on what Marvel comics to read has got me interested in diving back into them.
My brief history with comics
I used to be a huge fan of American comics. Particularly the output of the “big two”, DC and Marvel. While they weren’t always easy to get a hold of in Ireland, particularly the originals as opposed to collected reprints from the company’s UK branches, I remained a fan from a young age. When I got a proper job and, more importantly, regular access to comic shops in Dublin (and later far superior online stores) things really kicked off. It was all Previews and standing orders and the lonely masturbation of a perpetual virgin. Even when I went back to college in 2001 I (on occasion) heroically decided not to buy drink so I could keep my standing order.
At that time I also started getting into scanlations (fan translated manga). The more of those I read the more I lost interest in American comics. It didn’t help that publishers became more and more blatant in their attempts to coerce you into purchasing more by making giant crossover events a bi or tri yearly occurrence. With manga you just had one title to follow to keep abreast of all the continuity there was. With Marvel or DC you had to buy literally dozens of different titles, deal with reading and release orders, and so on. In short you had to go out of your way to give the publishers your money as they made it harder and harder to keep up with what was coming out. In the mid 2000’s I finally had enough and cancelled my subscriptions and standing orders. I tried to keep up with the few titles that really interested me. But “events” and reboots and re-launches made that too much of a pain in the arse. So I moved my comic reading almost exclusively to Japanese, Korean and Chinese comics. I’d read the occasional stand alone or collected edition of American comics if I saw them recommended. Every now and then I’d dive back in but almost always end up drifting away again.
I stopped reading Marvel regularly just before Marvel’s Fear Itself event (I’d stopped reading DC around Blackest Night and had no urge to go back, particularly after the reboot). This was in March 2011, so just slightly over eleven years ago. When I started writing this a few years ago catching up to three or five years of comics was intimidating. How much more so is eleven years?
Where and how to start?
Recently I’d been reading about superhero RPG’s especially the upcoming new Marvel RPG. This inevitably involved discussing the current state of characters which got me interested in what was going on. Along with that I’ve gotten a bit burn out with the foreign language comics I’ve been reading and was casting about for something new. Coincidentally my brother asked me for recommendations on some good Marvel comics to read. He probably wanted a handful of suggestions, which was clearly his mistake as I was never not going to go overboard, and overboard I did go.
As my memory is none too sharp I could only remember a few runs or authors I’d particularly enjoyed so while researching them I tried to supplement or correct this with various recommendations and guides. It didn’t grow too much out of control (yes it did) as I know my brother doesn’t give a shit about continuity. I on the other hand am haunted by it.
So I read through quite a few different guides (or five, five guides and quite a few forum/reddit posts). I also watched this quite nicely edited video. I shall condense the knowledge gained into three possible approaches:
- Start at one of the various company mandated soft reboots / relaunches. The two most recent ones are “Fresh Start” from 2018 and “Marvel NOW!” from 2012. There are also other less successful or less well regarded relaunches like 2015’s “All New, All Different”, 2016’s tragically named “Marvel NOW! 2.0” or 2017’s “Legacy”.
- Read the events in chronological order. The big crossover events update and form the status quo of the setting. There’s generally two a year, with maybe a bonus X-Men focused one or two. This will likely give you a good overview of the universe but might not (will not) be a thoroughly satisfying reading experience.
- Pick a character or team you like. Find their most well regarded recent run e.g. Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America and go from there.
I am leaning towards approach 3 though 1 is also tempting, 2 is honestly a non starter, though depending on how far back I’m going to go I might want to re-read an event to catch myself up on the status quo. I think I’m going to pick two or three titles to start with and if I enjoy them I’ll tackle “Fresh Start” (I heard the Fresh Start Hulk is amazing).
Where and How to read them
While I enjoy physical comics there is no way in hell I would go back to buying them. It’s just a better experience reading comics digitally. I generally read comics on my TV (which I’ve wired up as a second monitor) and its great being able to see all the artwork in detail without breaking spines and the next issues just a click away. I also enjoy reading them on tablet, specifically my iPad using either Chunky, Comixology or Marvel Unlimited. As I’m not sure if my interest will hold I won’t be subscribing to Marvel Unlimited for the moment, though I do think its excellent value. I already own a good deal of Marvel stuff on Comixiology and elsewhere so it’ll be it or Chunky or whatever reader I use on my PC (I used to swear by CDisplay but I’ve been using MangaMeeya7 recently as well).
The Reading List
No of comics in reading list: 0
So I’m going to pick three or so heroes or teams and read their most well regarded / representative arc and go from there (unless I don’t like it). Even large runs are only generally around fifty issues. It won’t be that long a list…right?
First our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Spider-Man was, from a young age and for a long time, my favourite Marvel super-hero, actually probably my favourite super-hero full stop. Inevitably there have been missteps over the years, storylines I wasn’t fond of, character decisions I didn’t really like (looking at you “revealing his secret identity during Civil War”) but by and large I enjoyed the character. But Marvel killed that with One More Day. I just walked away, lonely Hulk style. That was in 2007, in 2010, after hearing about how good some of the post OMD storylines had been I reluctantly decided to give it another try. I was happy I did because while I still think OMD was a mistake the post-OMD stuff included some of the best Spider-Man story-arcs out there. Unfortunately while I could remember really enjoying them I couldn’t fully remember the new status quo that the post-OMD stuff introduced, which meant that I’d need to go back to the beginning of Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Amazing Spider-Man Issue 546. Prior to Marvel NOW! Amazing Spider-Man ended with Issue 700. So that’s 154 issues. Technically you can break it down into “Brand New Day” which is Amazing Spider-Man 546-647 and “Big Time” which brings it up to 700 but it’s all the same writer so might as well bung it all in.
No of comics in reading list: 154
While I enjoyed the various Avengers titles they usually ended up changing up the teams often enough that I didn’t mind jumping on with Fresh Start. The same held true for Captain America, Hulk, Iron-Man and Thor. Of the major Marvel sub-franchises that only really left the Fantastic Four. I initially hadn’t liked the Fantastic Four, they seemed boring to me. But I developed a passing interest and tried them out at the beginning of Fantastic Four Volume 3 back in 1998 and I ended up really enjoying them. Like most American comics the creative team determines the quality of a particular title, self evident of course. However just because its obvious doesn’t mean I haven’t slogged through bad runs on comics because I liked the character or because of “franchise loyalty” and most people I know who are into comics have done so as well. The Fantastic Four stuff was solid, if often not amazing. The novelty of getting to know a part of the Marvel Universe I was largely ignorant of helped, also Doom. Things really got going with Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo’s run from 2002 – 2005. Really if you’ve any interest in the Fantastic Four I’d strongly suggest getting your hands on that run.
After that run there were four major runs, in order, by J. Michael Strazynski, Dwayne McDuffie, Mark Millar and Jonathan Hickman. Strazynski and McDuffie’s runs were largely average, nothing terrible, nothing great, solid stuff. Millar’s run on the other hand was terrible, it didnt just showcase how little he understood about what made the characters work but simply as a narrative exercise it was sloppy, lazy and lacked any kind of emotional resonance. Avoid it like the fucking plague. Luckily those who suffered through it were rewarded by Hickman’s run. Which was amazing (well I drifted away from Marvel in the middle of it but by all accounts it maintains its quality). To be honest, in general I love all of Hickman’s Marvel stuff from that period but the Fantastic Four and FF stuff were particularly good.
Anyhow, to drag this back on topic. I wasnt going back to the beginning of volume 3 and while I enjoyed Waid’s stuff it seemed to make the most sense to simply pick up where Hickman took over the title. What I didn’t know that Hickman went on to build the storyline started in Fantastic Four into a big sprawling epic across several titles and several years, well bollocks. I mean look at this shit.
However my main goal here was to read the Fantastic Four stuff. So basically just the first three columns above, So that would be:
- Secret Warriors 1-28
- Secret Warriors Specials
- S.H.I.E.L.D volumes 1 and 2 and specials
- Fantastic Four 570-588
- FF 01-23
- Fantastic Four 600-611
Only 105 comics, not even as many as the wall crawler. I mean I will inevitably read the rest of Hickman’s saga but for the moment we’ll pretend otherwise.
No of comics in reading list: 259
I’m going to stop myself now because it would be so easy to let this snowball even more than it already has. Its probably all but inevitable that I’ll end up reading some stuff that I havent listed (the full Marvel Cosmic Saga beckons to me from outside the window, “Only another 195, its nothing at all” it murmurs). No. I have to be strong.