06.10.2008

DC Comics… a newbie’s guide

DC ComicsI was asked to recommend a few DC comics to help a newbie reader get started. With approximately 70 years of comics published out there, it can seem a daunting task to figure out where to begin.  Personally I would recommend you start off with some of the collected editions (typically called graphic novels or trade paperbacks) available through many bookstores and online retailers.  These provide you with a complete story and are often good reads. 

Now, I’m going on the assumption that most people have a basic understanding of the core DC characters from watching the “Super Friends” growing up.  If not, then where have you been living?  There are a few well known DC stories, such as “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, “Infinite Crisis”, and “Countdown”, that I would not recommend to a newbie reader even though these books are high-profile and often discussed.  Given the complexity and continuity involved in those books, I would wait to read them until you are fairly entrenched in the DC mythos. 

I would recommend you start off with one of the team books (such as Kingdom Come or JLA).  That way you can see a variety of characters.  Once you discover a character that you find really interesting, seek out their own title for further adventures.  If you find yourself intrigued by certain characters and want more information immediately, try Wikipedia.  Comic fans are really diligent in keeping the superhero entries up-to-date (just watch out for spoilers).

If you are looking for a good superhero adventure, I would recommend…

  • Kingdom ComeKingdom Come – A near-future tale of what could happen if superheroes lacked a sense of responsibility.  Includes the Justice League and the next generation of heroes.  A thought provoking story and Alex Ross’s painted artwork is unbelievable.   One of the best superhero comics ever.

  • JLA Volume 1: New World Order – This starts writer Grant Morrison’s fantastic run on Justice League.  This league featured the big guns: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter.

  • Identity CrisisIdentity Crisis – Best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer’s superhero murder mystery.  Fantastic story featuring a wide variety of DC characters.  This story made it fun to discuss comics again.

  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Writer/Artist Frank Miller’s gritty masterpiece that redefined Batman and changed superhero comics forever.

  • Batman: Year One – Another Frank Miller gem.  You can see a lot of Batman Begins in this tale

  • Batman: Hush Volumes 1 & 2 - A good recent Batman story with amazing artwork by Jim Lee

  • Superman/BatmanSuperman/Batman: Public Enemies – This comic has great action, fun superhero bits, and amazing artwork by Ed McGuinness.  And you get two heroes for the price of one.

  • Superman: Up, Up and Away – Solid story that kicked off the current run of Superman comics.

  • The Death of Superman – While this isn’t the finest literature on the list, it’s decent and worth mentioning because of the impact on the general public and comic publishing afterwards.

  • Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman – Allan Heinberg (TVs “Grey’s Anatomy” & Young Avengers) wrote this tale that kicked off the current run of Wonder Woman.  Great art, too!

  • Green Lantern Sinestro Corps WarGreen Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volumes 1 & 2 – Runaway hit of 2007!  It features the Green Lantern Corp against their newly-created evil counterparts.  One of the best Green Lantern stories ever told!

  • Flash: Born to Run – Writer Mark Waid retells Flash’s origin.  From the 1990’s, but still great stuff!

  • Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters - Writer/Artist Mike Grell made Green Arrow interesting and gritty in the 1980s.

  • Green Arrow Volume 1: Quiver - This storyline by big-time Hollywood writer Kevin Smith kicked off the current incarnation of Green Arrow.

 

If you are looking for mature reader stories that really make you think, I would recommend…

  • WatchmenWatchmen – Soon to be a major motion picture!  This is considered by many to be writer Alan Moore’s masterpiece.  The gritty story deconstructs the super hero concept and contrasts it with real world reactions.  Great stuff.  Can be read again and again.

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – An astounding psychological horror story by writer Grant Morrison and artist Dave McKean.  Batman must enter Arkham Asylum after the inmates have taken control.  Very dark, disturbing, and full of symbolism. 

  • Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes – The first story of Morpheus, Lord of Dreams.  This was a landmark series that pushed comic book writing forward.  Very creative, thought-provoking, and still one of the best ongoing series ever.  This particular trade isn’t the strongest of the series, but it sets the stage for the rest.

  • FablesFables Volume 1: Legends in Exile – A fantastic series that takes the fables you heard as a child and gives them a fascinating twist into modern day.  This is the first trade, but the whole series is excellent.

  • Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits – Writer Garth Ennis spins an awesome tale of John Constantine after he discovers he’s dying of lung cancer.  Just forget the Keanu Reeves movie and enjoy this fine work.

I hope this helps those new to DC comics.  It’s a fantastic and varied line of titles, and I think they offer something for everyone.

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12 Responses to “DC Comics… a newbie’s guide”

  1. Steven Marsh Says:

    Dear The Irredeemable,

    I was going to begin this letter by asking, “Are you high?” but thought slightly against it once I saw your disclaimer about familiarity with the “Super Friends.”

    First off, I’m amazed Kingdom Come is the first item on the list for beginners. The whole miniseries reads like a love letter to fanboys (not meant as a pejorative), and some aspects of the plot — such as the revelations of a grown man and the lightning-based climax that follows — will make little to no sense to someone not steeped in the lore… or, at least, will have little impact. (I was deeply moved by the deathbed opening scenes, but only because I knew who the hell that was.) Compare this to its Marvel counterpart — Marvels — which makes little to no assumptions about reader knowledge.

    Batman: Hush suffers for similar reasons. Many whole issues, err, I mean, chapters are meant to be career-spanning overviews of these classic struggles… which, again, without context, don’t make much sense. (Again, the Big Reveal in Hush has little impact if you don’t know who it is.)

    I don’t know if they’re in print, but my super-powered recommendations would be more along the lines of:

    Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told and Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (and, if you like the latter one, Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told). Although two decades old by now, these collections offer history-spanning glimpses of the various eras of DC’s publications; in a lot of ways, this is important, because much of what I’ve seen coming from DC in the past decade or so has been mining the past and bringing it back. For example, it’s hard to fully appreciate “DC: New Frontier” if you haven’t read any comics from the 1950s. Similarly, Identity Crisis establishes a conflict between the Silver Age and Modern Age that’s much more impactful if you’re actually familiar with the “feel” of those era’s comics (although I stress that Meltzer did a much better job than many of providing back story).

    Batman: The Long Halloween is another good recommendation; it’s similar to Batman: Hush in terms of the epicness of struggle, but since it’s a “Year One” story, very little assumptions are made of the reader. And it’s a rippin’ good mystery to boot.

    I might put John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series on there, primarily because it serves as the launching point for the entire post-reboot (err… post-first-reboot?) universe.

    I seem to recall liking Cosmic Odyssey, and my mind wants to say it’s a good intro to the cosmic side of the DCU (which, again, has been crazy-important in the past half-decade or so), but I confess it’s been years since I read it.

    I have similar recollections of The Longest Night, but I’d have to thumb through it again to see if it’s a good read for newbies.

    I don’t have much to add on the Mature Readers side. I note that The Doll’s House, although chronologically the second TPB, was actually released first by DC. In a lot of ways, it’s a better intro to the series than Preludes & Nocturnes, and feels much more thematically connected to the rest of the series than P&N. (Gaiman’s pretty much admitted that for the first seven issues or so he was spinning his wheels trying to figure out what he was doing.) :-)

    I’d probably also note that, if one ends up liking Watchmen, V for Vendetta is another good (if challenging) read by the same author.

    I might come up with some better ideas later… but I’d definitely save Kingdom Come for the second-semester course. :-)

  2. Shag Says:

    Steve – Wow! Thanks for the feedback! Okay, I’ll do my best to address your thoughts, and tell you where you are wrong. ;P

    I still feel strongly that Kingdom Come is a great book for beginners. Admittedly the new reader would not “get” many of the more subtle points, but that is not necessary to be caught up in the primary plot. I think being exposed to that many characters, outstanding artwork, and a very compelling plot is definitely worth it. I also feel there is enough in the story to grasp the Captain Marvel plot going on. Finally, I agree that “Marvels” is a much better entry point for new readers, however, this was about DC.

    In regard to “Hush”, I don’t think you necessarily need to know all the history to enjoy the mystery and action. I certainly didn’t know the history of every character when I read my first comic book. That didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. In fact, it piqued my interest even more. I think this can stand alone or carry weight for the veteran. Now that I think about it, that same explanation works for “Kingdom Come” also.

    I’ve never actually read the “Greatest” trades, so I couldn’t speak to those. My thought on this is that many of the stories may be great, but I’m not sure they will help a new reader as they step into current continuity. However, if they are looking for good historical context, this is an excellent suggestion.

    I’ve never read “Long Halloween” or “Longest Night”, but I’ve always heard they are really good.

    “Man of Steel” was almost on my list, but they continue to change Superman’s origin (even within the next year or so). So I left that one off.

    Okay, my turn to act shocked. “Cosmic Oddysey”? Ummm… different strokes I guess…

    I actually disagree about “Doll’s House” being a better starting point. It’s definitely more like the rest of the series. That is actually where I started reading, but I was always confused about the stuff I missed from the first arc. I think there is benefit in reading the first trade first. As I said previously, it’s not the strongest, but it sets it up.

    Again, thanks for all the great feedback! Even if we don’t agree on every story, it’s nice that we can have such passion for our hobbies. Keep throwing feedback and suggestions my way!

    Thank again!

    Shag

  3. Steven Marsh Says:

    Dagnammit! Not “Longest Night.” Final Night. Final Night. Sun-gettin’-et crossover.

    Grf.

    As for Cosmic Odyssey, I did add the caveat that I haven’t read it in a long time (as in “probably 15 years”)… :-)

    And if the mandate is to try to get folks to understand modern continuity (GOOD LUCK!), this list is obviously different.

    Oh, one more “good flavor of the modern DCU” choice (especially the JSU side of things) would be the Starman Omnibus, Vol. 1 (once it comes out), or the other early Starman TPBs. James Robinson rocks my world.

    By the way, what did you think of Meltzer’s JLA relaunch? I never picked it up, and opinions were all over the place, so I know next to nothing about it. (FWIW, I was a fan of Identity Crisis.)

  4. Choco Taco Says:

    I think that Kingdom Come is a fine story for new readers. They won’t be able to get some of the things that only longtime readers would know about, but so what? It’s still a good self-contained story.

    I disagree with your Wonder Woman choice. Allan Heinberg’s run was a mess.

    I also think that Identity Crisis is a horrible story, and I’m not sure that I’d give it to a new reader because of the lack of story logic contained therein.

  5. Stuart Renton Says:

    Great stuff there. I think whoever you wrote that article for will have a lot of choices in what to read next…

    I’ve read Sandman and I love that. It’s completely brilliant. And so is Hellblazer.

    But all the other stuff is new to me.

  6. Shag Says:

    Well, Stuart… you better start reading! :)

    I hope this list helps you tackle DC comics.

    Shag

  7. Shag Says:

    Steven – Thanks for the follow-up.

    When I typed “Longest Night”, I was thinking of “Batman: Dark Victory” which I think was the sequel to “Long Halloween”.

    “Final Night”? Umm… again, different strokes…

    Starman is freakin’ awesome! I considered putting it on the list but I’m not sure how approachable it is for a new reader. I’d have to re-read it and see how much of the history is explained and how much the reader must know innately.

    I’m personally a fan of Brad Meltzer’s JLA. However, I understand many people are not and I can sort of see their issues. That’s another reason I didn’t list that one.

    Shag

  8. Shag Says:

    Choco Taco – Okay, confession time for me since you and Ravenface have been giving me a hard time about my Wonder Woman selection.

    I actually haven’t read the whole thing yet. I’ve only read the first couple issues which weren’t bad. I know, I recommended something that I haven’t completely read myself. However, I really felt that this list need a Wonder Woman recommendation. I’d heard others liked this book (once it was finished), so I added it to the list.

    I now hang my head in shame for fudging a bit on that one.

    The Inexcusable Shag

  9. Stuart Renton Says:

    OK. I’ve got Kingdom Come… Will give it a read as a totally non-DC reader.

    Will report back soon.

  10. The Irredeemable Shag Says:

    Awesome! Can’t wait to hear your opinion!

    Shag

  11. Mat N. Says:

    Kingdom Come is a Squandron Supreme rip-off and shouldn’t be on anyone’s list…especially for new readers because the story itself is so mired in reference it won’t make much sense to them. Golden Age was a much better book and reads very well on its own, even for new readers.

    Don’t get me started on the Identity Crisis crap.

    -Mat N., the Nifty Nerd
    http://www.theniftynerd.com

  12. Dana: Stimulated Boredom Says:

    Excellent article / resource!

    I am heading after work to pick up ‘Kingdom Come’ on your recommendation and also realized (blasphemy) that I don’t have Dark Knight Returns (have ‘Year One’, ‘Arkham’ etc). Big Frank Miller fan.

    Thanks Shag :)

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