The top reason I hear for people hesitating to get into comics is they don’t know what to read. It’s a valid reason—I get it. I started reading comics when I was 7 and proceeded to absorb nearly every manifestation of the medium I could get my hands on, essentially to this day. “Catching up” is a light-years-beyond daunting task. However, there are a number of comics that stand out even among an entire genre of enjoyable books. Also, if you read them, you’ll have a general idea of what’s going on the in the vast universe (err.. multiverse) that is comic book reading.
Without further adieu, I bring to you my personal top 10 list of comics to read to get “into” comics.
10. Origin: Wolverine
Writers—Bill Jemas, Paul Jenkins, and Joe Quesada; Pencils—Andy Kubert; Colors—Richard Isanove
Explaining the sheer buildup to this comic is almost impossible. When this premiered in 2001, the entire comic book population had zero idea where Wolverine actually came from—and things had been that way our entire lives. I first heard about this in Wizard magazine and hype doesn’t even begin to remotely describe how I felt about this. When it finally dropped, the comic also delivered on every. single. front. I won’t give away any spoilers, but this is a mandatory entry on a list of must-read comics.
9. Sin City
Writer & Artist—Frank Miller
This is one of the rare comics to make my top 10 creepiest list as well as top 10 must reads. Frank Miller’s noir classic is not for the faint of heart. Aside from the blood, gore, and profanity, you’ll find sublime styling and a grim story that you won’t be able to put down. The 2005 movie was solid, but there’s no way to get the full impact of this dark tale without picking up the physical book. **P.S. start with The Hard Goodbye**
8. House of X/Powers of X
Writer—Jonathan Hickman; Artists—Pepe Larraz & R.B. Silva
You know a comic is good if it came out within the last 5 years and it’s on this list. In fact, this series came out in 2019—so you know it’s legit. House of X/Powers of X (Powers of Ten) is another series that was hyped well before it’s release. It was shrouded in secrecy, but all we were promised was that A) it would “change the landscape of the X-Men forever,” and, B) it was written by Jonathan Hickman. Say no more. I was literally speeding down the road every Wednesday from July to October to pick up the newest issues of this series. This comic makes the list, alone, just for placing that childhood excitement about comics back into me. Oh, and it’s absolutely incredible, as well.
Check out my recent review if you want to know a bit more about the story—you won’t be disappointed.
7. Kingdom Come
Writers—Mark Waid & Alex Ross; Artist—Alex Ross
Now we’re getting into actual classics. I believe this was my introduction to the Art of Alex Ross, back in the day. To say I was shocked is a complete understatement. This is where I started seeing comic books as a legitimate artistic medium. Follow along in a dystopian future where our favorite superheroes are aged and a younger, more dangerous group of “heroes” threatens world wide stability. The story is somewhat complex, but also a thrill from beginning-to-end. If a “comic book reader” tells me they haven’t read this, I’m not entirely sure they are familiar with the comic medium.
6. Superman: Red Son
Writer—Mark Millar; Artist—Dave Johnson
I’m sure many people will be familiarized with this tale because of the upcoming animated film, but nothing beats the ink-and-paper story. This tale re-imagines Superman’s origins as crash landing in Soviet Russia, rather than the sleepy and peaceful Kansas farm we all know. The story is exactly as frenetic and starkly different from the original as you would think. Several alternate versions of classic characters round out this already stellar tale. I won’t spoil my favorite, because he’ll likely be yours, too. Take a glimpse into an alternate reality and simultaneously expand your perspective on the Man of Steel.
5. Final Crisis
Writer—Grant Morrison; Artists—J.G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, Carlos Pacheco, and Marco Rudy
If you want to take your mind through a wormhole and then parallel park it on the edge of an alternate dimension.. go ahead and pick up this book. I heard about Final Crisis for years before I finally picked it up, and I was very happy when I did. The story is undoubtedly strange, but it introduces a plethora of characters and moments you’ll be thinking about for a long-time afterward. Two words: Thought Robot. Thank me later. Not to mention, I consider Final Crisis one of the last “true” DC stories before the reboot to the New 52 (Flashpoint being the actual last true story). A staple read in the DC mythos.
4. All-Star Superman
Writer—Grant Morrison; Artist—Frank Quitely
This story can legitimately be described as beautiful. It takes the legend of Superman and re-crystallizes it in a way that makes it infinitely fresh but also un-endingly familiar. Frank Quitely is known for lending his pencils to stories in a manner that makes the tale forever synonymous with his art (read: New X-Men). This story is no different. You’ll look back and see his panels when you think of this chronicle. I’ve come to realize the form in which I think about Superman is directly rooted in this story. When his powers receive a sudden boost and he effortlessly overhead presses—with one. arm.—200 quintillion tons, I fully understood Superman is simply on another level than 99.99% of other superheros. The book is full of moments like this, and the story construction shows Morrison truly understands what makes Superman who (and what) he is and why fans love him so much.
Writer—Alan Moore; Artist—Dave Gibbons
Most people are now familiar with Watchmen because of the recent HBO mini-series. This is but the tiniest, most minuscule peek into what this series is. Watchmen almost doesn’t need explanation. It took the idea of superheroes and spun it on its head, making them darker, more morally ambiguous, and not even that nice. In fact, only one of the “heroes” in this story even has powers. If you want (aka need) to read a story that transcends time and continues to make appearances in popular media to this day, pick this up. Special shout out to Ozymandias—that dude is just dope.
2. Civil War
Writer—Mark Millar; Artist—Steve McNiven
I will always call Civil War the story that brought in the modern incarnation of comics. The entire Marvel Universe is literally the way it is because of this single story. It introduced a myriad of moments, themes, and story elements that are now standard in continuity. The story was also a real-deal sensation. I remember Spider-Man’s unmasking being covered on Good Morning America—in real. life. The story is also completely beautiful to look at from start to finish. It made Steve McNiven one of my top Marvel artists, where he remains to this day. If you read one Marvel story to begin your foray into the comic world, it must be Civil War.
1. The Dark Knight Returns
Writer—Frank Miller; Pencils—Frank Miller; Ink—Klaus Janson; Colors—Lynn Varley
Where do I even begin with this? To start, it’s the greatest piece of comic literature ever committed to the printed page. In fact, it’s my favorite book, period, and that includes publications that were printed, illustrated, sent by smoke signal, or otherwise. It’s simply phenomenal. It takes Batman and makes him so cool that walking away from this tome without him being your favorite comic book character is a near-impossibility. It brings back classic characters in ways that are surprising but also natural. It has Batman BEAT. UP. Superman. Do I need to say anything else? Frank Millers artwork is hauntingly beautiful from the opening to the close. The action, the story, the emotion.. it’s all there. There is no other book you should—or can—read first if you’re planning to get into comics. Hat’s off the the best comic of all time, my favorite book, and the work that truly solidified comic books as my favorite form of media.
I hope you enjoyed my list! There will, of course, be debate, but I feel each of these holds its weight and are near-necessary to read to understand what’s going on in comic books today. There are more books you could read, but these will get you where you need to go. If you can look back and say this post helped you get into comics.. my job is done. And if you read comics, but haven’t read any one of these.. we need to talk 0^0.
Feel free to leave me any recommendations in the comments! I’m sure you all know about comics that are also in the heavyweight-class.
Until we meet again.
—The Cavalier Nerd