We’ve reached that point in the year when it’s time to turn our attention to Black Friday ads and presents for the holiday season. This week, I was struggling to find an article topic, and I was too busy to read anything new, honestly. It happens. So instead, I thought about our unofficial mission statement with the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast: to help bring people into the tent that is the modern comic book industry. So many folks love comic properties, watch comic book movies or shows and wear comic book t-shirts, but haven’t ever really read comics. So what I’m going to offer up today are my top 5 comic book recommendations for someone who’s interested in getting into comic books.
I will caution, tastes vary wildly and your mileage may vary for some of these picks, but they’re the ones I’ve gotten the most positive feedback from when I loan them out to someone who is not looking for a specific character or genre in mind. Usually, that’s where I start, by asking what a person’s favorite other pop culture passions are, their favorite movies or shows or bands, and that can help steer me in a more specific direction.
Also, these are not the best ever top books of all time—although some might make that list, too—these are the most accessible, entry level comics. I’m not going to put a book like Watchmen here because, while Watchmen is mostly self-contained, much of the greatness of Watchmen comes with an understanding how comic books work. These books are ones that don’t have any major pre-requisites, and can be enjoyed whether you’re into comics or not. Without any specific info, these are my default recommendations. If you’ve got somebody in your life who is looking to dive in, these are some of the best places to start.
Note: I’ll hyperlink our digital overlords at Amazon for shopping convenience, but most of these titles are evergreen and are probably at your local comic shop right now! As it is, each of these can be found for under $20 if you look in the right places. Good luck!
As far as comic books go, this series reads the most like a James-Bond esque spy thriller. There’s drama, intrigue, a big mystery—but it also has some hallmarks that make the book an easy adjustment for new readers. The art is very realistic and cinematic. Sometimes overstylized art can be a turn-off for a new reader, no matter how awesome it is. This collection contains the Winter Soldier storyline that the Marvel Cinematic Universe adapted, but both versions are different enough to still leave plenty of surprises. And as great as the Captain America movies were, there are some character elements (especially for the Winter Soldier) that are handled even better in the comics.
Utlimate Spider-man is the youthful Spidey reboot that began around the time of Sony’s first Spider-man movies. Early stories offered a modern take and modern storytelling techniques (think decompressed storytelling). That could have possibly been a turn-off for readers on initial publication, as you’re waiting multiple issues for Peter Parker to even put on the Spidey costume, but now that these stories are collected in trades, they make for some really great, really accessible stories. Bendis and Bagely really hit the soft spot of updating some of the best of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gerry Conway, and others all while making the book enough of their own that it all resonated. Ultimate Spidey ran for 160+ issues before giving way to Miles Morales’s Spider-man, which is also a really great entry point if you want to skip ahead there.
Sometimes comics come along and tell stories that could only ever work in comic book form. Enter Walt Simonson’s Thor run. It starts off with a bang with the introduction of Beta Ray Bill and doesn’t let up. Ultimately, it leads to cosmic threats, Norse mythological references, Thor turning into a frog, Loki, Thor, and Odin teaming up, an armor upgrade and a beard, meeting Clark Kent, and all sorts of general fun. Sometimes folks love comic books that would make a great movie—this isn’t that. These are comic books that are simply great comic books. What Simonson does here can’t be replicated in any other form of media as effectively. His books deftly combine so many elements of comics from the fun and silliness of some books to the cosmic grandiosity to the just sheer craziness all while teaching you about a more obscure mythology. The stakes range from life and death to getting along with family. You get to have fun and learn stuff and then have even more bombastic entertainment with these great stories.
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s OGN is probably a darker and more mature title on this list, but everybody seems like they’re into the Joker these days, and this is as good a place as any to get that fix. Bolland’s hyper-detailed art is realistic without ever devolving into phototracing, and it’s a beaut to behold. Presenting a possible origin for the Joker, who had never really had a proper origin (and still probably doesn’t), Moore’s story was originally conceived as an out-of-continuity tale that eventually was brought into the fold. I prefer the out of context reading. In my mind, this is the story that finally makes Batman snap and take out his greatest nemesis. It’s not necessarily the terrible things that Joker does to Batman, but to Jim Gordon and his family that drives Batman over the edge to stopping the laughter at the end of the story. Did I mention this one’s really dark? My interpretation is just that; as the consequences of this story showed up in the main titles as well as an alive Joker, so take it as you will. Regardless, the story of the Killing Joke is a satisfying done-in-one tale with compelling writing and art that appeals to all kinds of audiences.
Art Spiegelman’s masterpiece is the comic I give to my literary minded friends to convince them that comics are an art form capable of pulling out feelings and emotions that film or animation might not be able to convey. Just because it’s a comic, it doesn’t have to involve capes or skintight costumes. In Maus, Spiegelman recounts interviewing his father about his experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust. The Jews are mice; the Germans cats; the Poles pigs; and the French frogs. The complicated emotions, not just on his father’s side of the story but for Spiegelman as well make this a richly compelling read. It’s heavy stuff for sure, with a darkness that any fictional Joker story could never match, but it’s also one of those stories that deserves to be read by as many people as possible.
Plus, after people read this Pulitzer-Prize-winning piece of literature, I like to hit them with the trivial fact that Spiegelman was one of the creators of Garbage Pail Kids!
So there you have it, five different books you could offer for different types of folks looking to get into comic books. Obviously, if someone is really into Shazam or The Boys or Captain Marvel, encourage them to check out those books, too! We try to offer plenty of options through our articles and podcasts to give you ideas to help. But if you’re flying blind and just want to get them some comic books that are good to start with, these are the way to go.
Until next time,
I’ll be looking for that next great entry-level story for next year’s recommendations list! Feel free to drop any suggestions in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @chachachad1!