Question of the Week: How To Start With Marvel Comics In Simple Terms

Another question this week that I get from time to time: Where do I start reading Marvel Comics in layman’s terms.

Normally, I’d just respond to this question with my guide on Where to Start with Marvel in 2016, and some egregiously delighted praise for Ultimate Spider-Man, but the recurring frequency of the question got me thinking, which is not something I like to make a habit of.

My ‘Where to Start’ guide will give you a lot of options, and explain a fair bit about comics, but it doesn’t necessarily narrow down approaches, and the pros of cons and each. There’s no right path by any means, but it can be useful to at least know your options.

So here we go: Dave’s 3 Paths for Starting Marvel Comics.

Marvel heroes gather outside Avengers mansion
The building’s on fire, but at least we’re all here!

Path 1: I’m Reading Flippin’ Everything

Much like watching dogs chase cats, or getting tremendously excited anytime Idris Elba appears on screen, it’s only natural to want to read all the Marvel Comics ever. Especially when you first discover the joy of reading comics, there’s a tendency to want to read all of them so that you get the full story, and don’t wanna miss a thing.

I have felt exactly this way. In a lot of ways I still do. I understand completely.

As recommendations go, beginning from… well, the beginning seems like an offensively simple idea. If you want to catch up on LOST, you start with season one episode one. If you want to catch up on Harry Potter, you read the first book. So with Marvel, if you want to catch up, you just start with the first comic (Fantastic Four #1, published in November, 1962) and go from there right?

This is an option certainly, but it’s one that can very quickly turn excitement to intimidation to frustration through sheer heft and confusion. In short, reading every Marvel comic is a whole lotta comics goin’ on. There’s going to be a lot of good, and plenty of bad, and sometimes it just isn’t worth the immense amount of time or even sorted coherently (we’ll get to that).

BUT… trying to read as much of Marvel’s storied history as possible IS totally worth it.

It’s exactly the reason I created the My Marvelous Year reading club guides.

(Pitch Time! Time for Dave to try and sell something that doesn’t actually cost anything!)

With My Marvelous Year, we’re reading 10 storylines published during a single year of Marvel publication, one year at a time, with a new year’s reading list covered every week. So the first week of 2016 we read Marvel Comics published in 1963 (plus FF #1 in 1962), and the second week we read Marvel Comics published in 1964, and so on.

If you want to learn more about the club, or want to sign up, you can do so here.

Needless to say, this is my favorite option for the Path 1 reader. I’m having a blast working through all of Marvel’s history, and anybody can join at any time, and work through at your own preferred pace.

To recap:

Pros of Path 1:

You read more Marvel Comics than you ever thought possible
You know more about Marvel history than you ever thought possible
You are almost never left wondering “Wait, when did Magneto aggresively threaten a Bovine midwife in order to extract information about his children?”

Cons of Path 1:

You will definitely get less sun.
It takes a lot of time, and reading, and not every comic is great!
Strict adherence to this approach means you won’t want to jump ahead to more recent books that you might enjoy more! It’s very easy to get bogged down feeling like you “have” to read everything before you can move ahead – this can make reading comics a chore, and that suuuccckkks.

Path 2: Give Me a Guide and I’ll Jump In Anywhere

This is basically why the Comic Book Herald ‘Marvel Reading Order‘ exists.

My general framework has been suggesting comics that will help you understand the Marvel Universe as it stands today, and to place them in a chronological order that avoids as many “Wait, when did Character X DIE?” moments as possible.

It’s a blend between comprehensive (you still read a WHOLE lot of comics) and efficient (you don’t have to read everything, and as always, the choice is yours). Plus, you get a variety of entry points, so if you only want to read from Civil War forward, hey, you can do that.

The second wrinkle with this approach is reading based on a particular character you like. Wolverine fan? There’s a guide for that. Shellhead? There’s a guide for that? Negasonic Teenage Warhead fanatic? I mean, I do have both an X-Men and Deadpool guide, but that’s it, let’s not go crazy here.

To Recap:

Pros of Path 2:

You read curated guides through the modern Marvel U.
Flexibility to pick and choose your own starting points
You get some, varied amounts of sun.

Cons of Path 2:

There will always be history or references that you haven’t read.
Requires some mental gymnastics initially as you get used to reading Marvel books.
It will make completists sweat profusely.

Path 3: All Killer, No Filler

This Path is the easiest, and probably the most common recommendation. Instead of trying to conquer comic overload, you simply read the good stuff, the best of the best, the classics!

Comic Book Herald has plenty of guides to suit this reading style including:

The 25 Most Essential Comics From 1961 to 1998
The 100 Best Marvel Comics From 1998 to 2015!

My rec for a lot of new readers interested in this approach is to work your way through the 100 Best stories list and see what you like. I’ve compiled that list in chronological order because, nerd tendencies, but it’s substantially looser than other guides.

Pros of Path 3:

You read the good stuff whenever you want!
You’re free to go outside and see the sun!
You can START with Superior Foes of Spider-Man like that even makes any sense!

Cons of Path 3:

You’re going to miss stuff. Not good for completists.
Can be confusing.
Some stories are simply better with the rich and storied history of the characters.
And there you have it, three possible approaches to starting with Marvel Comics. To each his own, and to all: Enjoy the comics!

Have an approach that has worked for you? Do what feels right to you in the comments below!

12 Replies to “Question of the Week: How To Start With Marvel Comics In Simple Terms”

  1. I rediscovered comics after about 10 years away and wanted to get an idea of what was happening in the Marvel Universe.
    I have devised my own plan with the help of your website.
    Using the 100 best stories list, the 25 essential list and adding in the main X-stories I have tailored my own essential list from about 1998 to present.
    Currently up to New X-Men ultimate collection Vol 1.
    So far most of the comics have been great (Alias, Punisher, Sentry) and only a couple have been average at best (Black Panther, Ultron Unlimited) but everything is improving my knowledge of the Marvel Universe.
    Sitting in my library is every TPB from Inhumans to Annihilation, over the past few months barely a day passed without the postman delivering a new book.

    1. Annihilation is the best marvel story IMO, and it’s great because it has profiles in it which give a lot of history

  2. Oh man, everyone gets into comics differently. I was reading only independent stuff for a couple years, and then i found a cheap copy of Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Vol. 1. I enjoyed the book as a slice of history and found it interesting. It was like an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon but better, because of Jack Kirby’s artwork.

    After that I went to a local comic book store and decided i was going to try to get in on the newer story lines. This was late 2012 i think, I asked for what ever the new series was for Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk…I was disappointed.

    I didn’t understand anything that was in those new comics and at the time i couldn’t handle that. I was still in the “i need to read every issue of everything stage” i’ve moved past that now. I bought several essentials, but ended up not being able to handle the black and white. And then i found Marvel Unlimited and everything changed.

    My initial approach was to just start with FF#1 and go from there. I do not recommend this. While i enjoy most of the marvel silver age material i can only handle it in small bites. Between Stan’s writing and the constant explaining of what we can already see in the panel its just too much.

    What worked better was just googling the best creators with whatever character you like and go from there. I started with Simonson’s Thor. I loved the first three quarters of that series. It kind of slows down towards the end. After that I read Planet Hulk, the Thanos reading order up to Annihilation, Daniel Way’s Deadpool, and the Posehn/Duggan Deadpool run.

    Sometime during me reading the Deadpool issues i started with your modern marvel reading order. I started with Marvel Knights and I just finished Secret Wars. I pick and choose which series i want to read. If i start into a series and I don’t like it. I move on and maybe read a summary of it.

    I know this is blasphemy but i’ve skipped most of the X-Men and Spider-man stories so far. I read House and Son of M. I tried to read Morrison’s X-Men run but damn that artwork is awful. I’m sure it doesn’t help that it was the first X-Men ongoing i had read. I plan on going back and reading the Claremont X-Men eventually, i just haven’t gotten to it yet.

    What i’m doing now is: I mainly read your reading order, but i through in some random stuff here and there to give myself a break. I’ve been reading a silver age issue a night before i go to bed. I find the stories relaxing and Stan Lee’s wall of text helps me sleep. I’m on Avengers (1963) and F4 (1961) #60. Throw in a little Sub-mariner and pre 90s cosmic stuff.

    Part of me wants to say screw it and go back to reading whatever series strikes my fancy ( like Carol danvers captain marvel) but i love that i’m actually getting a (mostly) coherent story now. New/Mighty Avengers and Thor are really good. Its almost impossible to get a understandable Inhumans story arc without going through the reading order.

    I’ll stop rambling now…

  3. That’s what keep me from participating in My Marvelous Year. The fact that i want to keep going through the modern marvel reading order and get up to 2012.

    1. Yeah definitely an understandable approach! I love a lot of the older Marvel Comics, and especially as we make our way through the 80’s now it’s been a blast. But there’s always a part of me that’s ready for the more modern books.

  4. The funny thing, is that I love reading comics out in the sun, and am super tan from it. Since I started reading more, I’ve got more sun since I was a kid, hahahah.

  5. Hey Dave, I just wanted to say how awesome you are, I readed some comics when I was a kid and after Marvel cinematic universe became a thing my interest in comics didn’t stop growing, but it wasn’t until I found your page that I truly was able to understand the comic world and start reading.

    It has been a pain in the ass sometimes (classic comics in the marvelous year are a torture sometimes without the nostalgia thing I don’t have because I’m a 1994 baby), but nonetheless you and your page have helped me embrace this hobby and become a happy reader and tortured completionist with time management problems.

    So thanks! thanks! and thanks again! I hope you carry on helping us newbies for many years!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the site and guides!

      Those older comics can feel real… old sometimes 🙂 Definitely get that. Don’t worry, My Marvelous Year is rapidly approaching the 90’s.

  6. Hey! So I just wanted to stop in and thank you for all that you do on this site! I am an avid manga reader and once I realized I was interested in the Marvel Universe I thought I could pick it up as easily as you start a new manga series. I very quickly realized that isnt the case! The MU seems to be such an intricate tangled mess that certainly intimidated me. However, your guides have been extremely helpful!

    1. Glad you’re enjoying and finding the site helpful!

      I’m actually the reverse where manga is the brave new world I need to explore. I can neither confirm nor deny that it took me a clean 20 pages to realize I was reading Attack on Titan backwards 😉

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