Comic books and graphic novels are some of the most adapted forms of media today, with franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe raking in hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Still, the comic book medium remains a rather niche form of entertainment.
Although many people want to get into comic books, the vast industry — ripe with hundreds of different writers, publishers, universes and stories — is often intimidating to newcomers.
To counter this, The Spectrum came up with 10 must-read beginner comic books for anyone to enjoy. Readers can find most digital or physical formats in stores and the UB Libraries. This list — featuring a wide array of genres — should allow anyone to enjoy this underrated medium:
Saga — Image Comics, Brian K. Vaughn
“Saga” is what happens when “Star Wars” meets “Game of Thrones,” with a hint of Shakespeare thrown in as well.
This epic encompasses almost every aspect of geek culture, with many elements of sci-fi, fantasy, romance and comedy present during the years-long story. The series follows Marko and Alana, young new parents from warring worlds, who struggle to raise their child, Hazel, while simultaneously hitting obstacles at every corner and being pursued by dozens of people who want them dead.
The series depicts war, gender roles, ethnicity, sexuality and love, which has earned it critical acclaim and makes it one of the best comics on sale today. However, be advised that this series is both incredibly violent and sexual, with the art, while beautiful, doesn’t shy away from censoring the incredibly detailed sexual encounters and violence/gore.
While this creative choice may scare some away, it was actually planned by the author, Brian K. Vaughn, who wanted to make a story that would be virtually impossible to adapt to any other form of media besides comic books, meaning you likely won’t be seeing a TV or film adaptation of this story any time soon.
However, if readers are still open to it, they will be able to experience one of the medium’s greatest and most creative stories, with lovable characters and a deeply emotional plot that will keep readers on their toes with each new issue.
The series is currently on hiatus, giving new readers plenty of time to catch up on the story before the next installment comes out.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World — Oni Press, Brian Lee O’Malley
A love letter to all things nerdy, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” tells the story of the titular Scott Pilgrim, a slacker musician who meets the girl of his dreams, but must fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends before he can date her.
The series is a hilarious, fun-spirited and heartfelt read for anyone looking for a great time and easy introduction to comic books. You may also know of this series from the 2010 Edgar Wright film of the same name, which, while a loyal adaptation, is completely different from the original source material, allowing fans of the film to experience an entirely different story.
A fantastic, stylistic and emotional story that welcomes readers who are both familiar with or brand new to the medium, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is available wherever you can buy comics in both black & white and in full color.
Hawkeye (2012) — Marvel Comics, Matt Fraction
“Hawkeye” follows Clint Barton, the most often forgotten Avenger, as he protects his apartment building’s tightly-knit community (and a pizza-loving dog) from the various threats of New York City, while simultaneously training his new protégé, Kate Bishop, to become her own independent hero.
Uniquely stylized and fun, this story is a fantastic introduction to the Marvel Universe, as it is grounded and simple enough for new readers to enjoy and does not require a lot of prior knowledge of the larger Marvel universe.
“Hawkeye” is the inspiration for the upcoming Disney+ show of the same name, which will be released later this year and focus on the same main characters. There is no better time to get caught up on the characters than now.
Watchmen — DC Comics, Alan Moore
A deconstruction and critical analysis of the superhero genre, this famous Alan Moore maxiseries introduced the world to the “graphic novel,” as a way of reinventing what a comic book can be.
The story follows a group of superheroes who are attempting to stop World War III, while also trying to solve the mysterious death of The Comedian, a former colleague of theirs. The grounded plot presents the idea of superheroes as if they were present in the real world and influenced events such as the Vietnam War. “Watchmen” asks whether these heroes do more harm than good for the world, and explores what happens when they become too powerful for their own good.
Recognized as one of the greatest novels of all-time by Time Magazine’s List of the 100 Best Novels, this series is an excellent introduction to comic books and graphic novels for those who may be unfamiliar with the medium and looking to experience a deep and multilayered story.
But, as is the case with “Saga,” readers should be warned that “Watchmen” deals with heavy subjects, ranging from war and extreme violence to sexual assault, and isn’t afraid to showcase this through its gory, yet brilliant, artwork.
Despite being published by DC Comics, the series has no association with other heroes — like Batman and Superman — within the universe. Rather, it is its own separate entity, making it a perfect read for newcomers.
The Walking Dead — Image Comics, Robert Kirkman
Most people have heard of this series thanks to the well-known TV adaptation of the same name, which follows a ragtag group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they venture across the U.S.
However, despite the overall similarities between the show and the source material, there is enough of a difference between the two to warrant a reading of the source material — even for fans who have already watched the show. The 193-issue series presents new characters and different interpretations of well-known characters, making it an engaging read for everyone.
The series delivers an emotional and stylized story through post-apocalyptic America that welcomes newbies to the medium with open, decaying arms.
The Dark Knight Returns — DC Comics, Frank Miller
Another iconic comic book, this four issue miniseries from Frank Miller follows an aged Bruce Wayne as he is forced to come out of retirement and return to the mantle of Batman. Widely considered to be one of the greatest Dark Knight stories within the DC Comics mythos, this series delivers a grounded and gritty ‘80s story that, despite the intimidating premise, is incredibly easy for beginners to understand.
The story is entirely independent from the rest of the overly complicated DC multiverse, but it helps for readers to know of some basics of the Batman lore, such as his sidekick Robin and relationship with police commissioner Jim Gordon. The series also inspired Ben Affleck’s interpretation of Batman in the 2016 film, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” as well as its 2017 sequel, “Justice League.” It also has its own 2013 animated adaptation of the same name.
Despite this story focusing on the ending of Batman’s journey, it can be the beginning of readers’ own adventures into the comic book medium.
Superman: American Alien — DC Comics, Max Landis
Another story that is completely separate from the DC multiverse, this series follows Clark Kent’s pre-Superman years and his journey to becoming the iconic character Man of Steel.
Each of the seven issues follows a different chapter of Clark’s life, from when he developed his powers during his childhood, to when he first moved to Metropolis. Each issue has its own distinct art style that correlates with the themes of each case, ranging from a bubbly Pixar-esque style when Clark was a child to grimy, bloody artwork that depicts his life of fighting crime.
Fun and full of heart, “Superman: American Alien” is a fantastically unique interpretation of the Last Son of Krypton’s story that is a great way for both newbies and comic book veterans alike to see Superman in a completely different light.
Archie (2015) — Archie Comics, Mark Waid
Despite its unassuming teen rom-com premise, Mark Waid’s “Archie” delivers an emotionally layered story featuring likeable and hateable characters and accompanied by beautiful artwork within every panel. The story follows the sleepy town of Riverdale, as everyone learns of and gossips about “the lipstick incident,” which caused small-town sweethearts Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper to suddenly break-up after being together for years.
Great for anyone who isn’t interested in superheroes and world-threatening action, the series focuses on the relationships and characters themselves.
The series also inspired the CW series “Riverdale,” which features the same characters, allowing fans of the show to easily adapt to the comic book versions of their favorite characters.
Bandette — Monkeybrain Comics, Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover
From husband and wife writer/artist duo Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover comes “Bandette,” a series that centers around the titular character, Bandette, a fun-loving teenage thief who makes friends and enemies alike throughout the criminal underworld of Paris.
“Bandette” has won several Eisner awards (which are essentially the Oscar awards of comic books), and has been in continuous publication since 2013. “Bandette’s” loveable characters, cute and simplistic art style and fun storyline makes it a perfect choice for comic readers of all ages and experience levels. Readers can find the whole series digitally, in bookstores or online.
Kingdom Come — DC Comics, Mark Waid & Alex Ross
The second Mark Waid-written title on this list, “Kingdom Come” focuses on a DC Universe where the older, traditional heroes — such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman — have retired. Young and reckless new heroes have taken over in their place, but are doing more harm than good with each villain they fight. This forces most former Justice League members to come out of retirement and take care of the newcomers, either by whipping them into shape or sending them to prison, so the world isn’t ended through a superhuman war.
“Kingdom Come” is yet another deconstruction of the superhero genre, similar to “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” The story’s themes of legacy, the next generation and finding the balance between good and evil makes for an engaging story that will keep readers glued to the page.
Accompanying the fantastic storyline is beautiful art from comic book legend Alex Ross, whose Norman Rockwell-style produces breathtakingly realistic interpretations of these classic superheroes. While the story does require readers to have some basic prior knowledge of the DC Comics universe, all readers really need to know is the essential characteristics of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Shazam (who, at the time of publication in 1996, was known as Captain Marvel).
The four issue miniseries rewards those who are fans of these characters with a brilliant comic that will leave readers wanting more.
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