Comics are not an easy medium to break into. Yes, they’re easy to find, and the number of blockbuster films based around them has increased exponentially in the past decade, but that doesn’t make an entry point any easier to find, especially when it comes to Marvel comics.
Marvel technically started in 1939 back when it was called “Timely Publications.” Its Captain America series started in 1941 in response to World War II, but it wasn’t until 1961 when the company launched The Fantastic Four and other superhero titles that it officially became known as the “Marvel” we know today.
And here we reach our problem: Breaking into Marvel comics is a genuinely difficult thing to do. There are certain “entry points” to make it easier, but, for the most part, Marvel has a distinctly chronological feel with an emphasis on the publication’s decidedly long history. There are different universes and realties to take into account, superhero mantels switch hands, characters die and seemingly come back to life. It’s a lot, and sometimes the chronology isn’t actually much of a straight line.
So, we’re going to try and make things easier. This is for those of you who love Marvel movies and television shows, but have never read the comics. Or it’s for those of you who maybe read comics when you were younger, but fell off the bandwagon and want to get back on.
Or maybe you’re just looking for something new to occupy your time, and everyone keeps talking about these damn superheroes, so you might as well check them out.
Below is a list of Marvel comic series and story arcs to get you started. Some are those aforementioned “entry points,” places where you can jump into the storyline without being too confused by what’s going on, while others are a little more separate from the complicated, ongoing story.
Yes, that Civil War. Kind of. The 2016 Captain America film by the same name was based around this infamous story line in the seven-part Marvel series, but it’s far more complicated and includes more superheroes than you’ll care to count. It’s heartbreaking and complicated, and shakes up the entire Marvel universe in a way that hadn’t been done before.
When Nitro, a supervillain with the power to literally explode, escapes Rykers Island prison and kills some heroes as well as some children at a nearby elementary school, the U.S. Government steps in and proposes the Superhuman Registration Act. The act requires all super-powered beings to register themselves as “living weapons of mass destruction” and submit to federally mandated standards of behavior. If you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War, then that part’s relatively similar except that it includes everyone from the Avengers to the X-Men to the Fantastic Four. Again: too many to count.
Captain America becomes the leader of the Anti-Registration heroes, while Iron Man picks up the torch for the U.S. government and vows to bring Cap and his Secret Avengers to justice. A lot of people die. Prepare yourself for a wonderful storyline and lots of tears. Once you’re finished with this one, you can also check out Civil War II.
Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!
On the much more lighthearted side of things is Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!. If you’ve seen Jessica Jones on Netflix then you have a vague idea about Patsy, who’s played by Rachael Taylor and goes by “Trish” on the show.
We’ve cited Hellcat! as one of the best comics of 2016, and we stand by that assumption. It’s charming and heartwarming, and will genuinely make you smile. Mix together a positive lead heroine, a cast of diverse (and heavily female-oriented) characters, and a lighthearted sense of humor with a heavy sense of justice, and you’ll arrive at Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!.
Patsy loses her job only to decide that she needs to start up a temp agency that will place super-powered people who don’t want to be in the hero business with jobs that are perfect for them. A telekinetic guy works in a book shop to help move heavy merchandise around, a man who can control bedbugs becomes an exterminator, etc. The series brings out the best in its characters and you end up seeing a more lighthearted side of some newer but still all-time Marvel favorites. Plus, you don’t need zero working knowledge of the Marvel comic-verse to get started.
Young Avengers Vol. 2
Next on the list is the fantastic Marvel NOW! 2013 reboot of Young Avengers. It’s a whole new team with a super relevant cast of characters. Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye, Kid Loki, Marvel Boy, and Ms. America come together to fight crime and be super! enthusiastic! about everything in the way that only teenage superheroes can be.
There’s a lot of romantic undertones throughout the whole thing because this wouldn’t be a series about super-powered teenagers without it. Ms. America (aka America Chavez) — who’s actually getting her own comic series now — is a foul-mouthed, temperamental, super-strengthened badass. Kate Bishop is a much younger and more savvy Hawkeye, having mostly taken over the mantel from Clint Barton. Young Loki has to deal with haunting visions from his past. Also: keep a look-out for a surprise about Wiccan and the guest character, Speed.
Young Avengers definitely falls into the category between Civil War and Hellcat!, combining Hellcat!’s humor with hints of Civil War’s more serious tone. The Young Avengers also show up in Civil War, which makes this a pretty good primer if you really want to know what’s going on.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
The Ultimate Comics reboot for Marvel is kind of bunk for the most part, but Miles Morales as Spider-Man is anything but. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man is the follow-up to Ultimate Spider-Man (which you could also start with, but if you don’t know the basic story line of Peter Parker as Spider-Man by this point, then you’ve officially been hiding under a rock for way too long), and starts after the “Death of Spider-Man” story line, which is exactly what you think it is. (Sorry, not sorry.)
This particular title ended in 2013, but the story line was picked up again in 2014 with Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man. So, this is your starting point. The Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man story line takes place in a different universe than the mainstream Marvel universe, Earth-616, but Miles was brought into that mainstream storyline with the All-New, All-Different Marvel brand in 2015. Remember how we mentioned that this stuff is kinda stupid-complicated?
Miles was born and raised in Brooklyn to an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. Much like his predecessor, Peter, he’s a lovable science nerd. But Miles suffers from different anxieties than Peter over his position as Spider-Man, and is very much his own character with a wonderful personality and a great story to boot.
Here’s another series that steps away from the mess of the ongoing Marvel universe. It wasn’t long-lived, but 2014’s She-Hulk series made Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) a complicated character with a heart of gold and a pile of law degrees to back her up.
Jennifer is a 7-foot-tall, green working machine who don’t take no shit and has worked with the Fantastic Force and the Avengers. There’s not much to say about the series that won’t give it away, but know that if you enjoy it — and you will — Jennifer’s going to be continuing as the main character of Hulk in December. That series is going to be dealing with the fallout of the Civil War II storyline, so this is a great way to help prepare.
Also, Jennifer is a main character in Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! because literally everything is connected in some way or another in the Marvel universe, but you don’t need knowledge of either series to understand them. Luckily. It’s pretty rare find.