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The best first comics to introduce yourself to superheroes

If you love DC or Marvel movies, try these books

Graphic grid of seven different comic book covers Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source images: Various

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Are you or someone you know deep into superhero movies? Have you — or them, hypothetically — had trouble figuring out which books about those superheroes to read?

You’ll find no judgement here. DC and Marvel Comics have over 80 years of canon to explore, but this list is here to help. Each of these curated superhero suggestions was picked to be a great introduction to one of the biggest superheroes in Hollywood today.

While these might not be the comics that long-time readers expect, and some might not even feature the movie heroes exactly as you know them, these will keep new readers turning the page until the very end. From reinvented legacy heroes to classic arcs that established the status quo of super-stories as we know them, there’s something for every kind of reader here.

Aquaman and other characters on the cover of Aquaman: Sub Diego, DC Comics (2015). Image: Christian Alamy, Patrick Gleason/DC Comics

Aquaman

Aquaman: Sub-Diego

Will Pfeifer, writer; Patrick Gleason, artist

He’s long been maligned as the man who can talk to fish. But this 2005 series reimagined Arthur Curry and his adventures through a horror comics lens. Gleason channeled some big Mike Mignola on early Hellboy energy here as Arthur investigated a devastating earthquake that sank the city of San Diego into the ocean — and turned all its human inhabitants into water-breathers who couldn’t survive on land. Not only is this an immediately engaging tale with exhilarating art and a central mystery you’ll get sucked into, but it’s also a great jumping on point. As Aquaman fans know, Arthur is a hero of both land and sea, and new readers even get introduced to a new Aquagirl with the brilliant and brave Lorena Marquez.

Sub-Diego isn’t just an underwater adventure, it’s also a classic bit of cosmic storytelling. As Arthur traversed the seas and skies, we got to enjoy appearances from a roster of iconic DC characters like Martian Manhunter and Batman, while never distracting from the story at hand. The fallout from the San Diego earthquake is a taster of the sprawling DC Universe, and it takes the reader on a human journey of loss, rebirth, and discovery.

Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Damian Wayne) stand read in front of a red Batmobile on the cover of Batman & Robin #1, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, DC Comics (2009) Image: Frank Quietly/DC Comics

Batman

Batman & Robin Vol. 1

Grant Morrison, writer; Frank Quitely, Philip Tan, artists

Sure, this might not be the Batman and Robin that we expect but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison are one of comics’ greatest creative teams, and they showcase why here with a Batman story that is missing one thing: Bruce Wayne. Their Batman is actually Dick Grayson, and his Robin is Bruce’s son, Damian — with their mentor nowhere to be seen.

This book balances the severe nature of modern superhero comics with a level of silliness and jest that feels more like the ‘66 TV series. Morrison and Quitely have lots of fun with the inversion of a lighthearted, sweet Batman and a scowling, cynical Robin. This is an easy pick up for any reader, new or old, but kids will likely get a kick out of how central Damian is to this story. That said, the story isn’t the lightest read — so maybe save this for the teens and older.

The silhouette of a Black man is strapped to a red and white flag-striped table on a field of blue, on the cover of Truth #3, Marvel Comics (2003). Image: Kyle Baker/Marvel Comics

Captain America

Truth: Red, White & Black

Robert Morales, writer; Kyle Baker, artist

If Steve Rogers was a real person, this is the Captain America book he’d tell you to read. We all know the story of the Super Soldier Serum that turned Steve Rogers into the hero known as Captain America. This brutal and brilliant comic asks the reader to reconsider that legend, and delve deeper into the nature of people who would want to create a super soldier in the first place. Using the real life horrors of the Tuskegee Experiment as a basis, Truth: Red, White & Black centers on Isiah Bradley, the American government’s guinea pig in its attempts to replicate the serum that created Captain America. Just as in the atrocity that inspired Truth, the US government are torturing and killing unconsenting Black people to achieve it.

This is the kind of bold, moving, and visionary cartooning that often never makes it through the big two machine, and Robert Moralez and Kyle Baker’s seven issues that are as powerful today as they were in 2003 It’s the kind of book that will make you reconsider everything that you know about Captain America, and realigns the way you read any other comics about him. For a new reader, it opens a door to a more realistic and historically accurate introduction to the character. And for all of us, it adds a realness, depth, and gravitas that the mantle of Captain America deserves.

Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel on the cover of Captain Marvel #1, Marvel Comics (2012). Image: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Javier Rodriguez/Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight

Kelly Sue Deconnick, writer; Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, artists

It’s hard to overstate the impact of this reinvention of both Carol Danvers and the mantle of Captain Marvel. The series launched an entirely new generation of comic book fandom. In Pursuit of Flight is the first time the heroine took on the mantle, so it’s a perfect jumping on point for new readers. And even if you aren’t already a fan of Carol this is an interesting take on superhero storytelling, that grounds the hero in her humanity.

Make no mistake though, this is also a no holds barred action-adventure comic as Carol Danvers — under her new moniker — interrogated her own past and what the mantle of Captain Marvel truly meant to her. Deconnick often spoke of the series imagining Carol as Chuck Yeager, so it’s not only a superhero story but also one about an ambitious test pilot. Dexter Soy and Emma Rios offer up unconventional and emotive art which only adds to the experimental feel of the story. Just as Carol is a Captain Marvel like no other, this is a superhero comic that aims to reinvent our idea of a hero and who gets to be one in the Marvel Universe.

The Flash dashes through a lightning storm on the cover of The Flash #1, DC Comics (2016). Image: Karl Kerschl/DC Comics

The Flash

The Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice

Joshua Williamson, writer; Carmine Di Giandomenico, artist

Getting to know the Flash can be as hard as keeping up with him. But during DC’s line-wide Rebirth event, the publisher took him back to basics. Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico began by unleashing the Speed Force on Central City, endowing dozens of citizens with their very own speed powers. It was up to Barry to show them the ropes, and that makes this book a perfect place to start your Flash education. Readers are served all of the ins and outs of the power that Barry wields, while getting a potted history of the chaos he’s wrought with it at the same time.

Di Giandomenico is an artist who delights in making the page come alive with action, which is perfect for a book that gives multiple characters both good and bad the power of the Flash. Plus, Williamson has proven himself as a seminal writer of the character and his entire run is comic book gold.

“Give up?” Iron Man says to the enemies that surround him on the cover of Iron Man #227, Marvel Comics (1988). Image: Mark Bright, Bob Layton/Marvel Comics

Iron Man

Iron Man: Armor Wars

Bob Layton, David Michelinie, writers; MD Bright, artist

Bob Layton and David Michelinie are behind some of Iron Man’s most iconic outings, but this one is the easiest to pick up and dive into with little to no knowledge of Tony and his escapades. Also, it was just announced as an upcoming Disney Plus series!

Like the best stories about Tony Stark, this one deals with personal accountability and reconciliation with the harm his own creations cause. But it’s still a comic about a man who builds iron armor that can fly. The problem is that someone has stolen his plans and has made armor for the bad guys! MD Bright and Layton deliver those chunky ‘80s Iron Man suits that you crave, and this classic comic will make any new reader feel like a totally seasoned pro.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man swings through New York City carrying four defeated bank robbers on the cover of Spidey #1, Marvel Comics (2015). Image: Nick Bradshaw, Jim Campbell/Marvel Comics

Spider-Man — Spidey Vol. 1: First Day

Robbie Thompson, writer; Nick Bradshaw artist

There are plenty of great Spider-Man stories. But like so many of the biggest names in superhero comics, they’re often tied up in ongoing storylines, massive events, and wider conflicts that mean a deep wiki dive — or just diving right in without any context — neither situation is ideal.

Spidey is a stand alone series that still captures the magic of Peter Parker and his street level superheroics. There’s everything you could want from a Spider-Man comic: Otto Octavius, Gwen Stacy, Flash Thompson, and Norman Osbourne all appear just in issue #1. It’s the building blocks of Spidey-lore: recognizable without being derivative and informative without being boring.

It helps that Bradshaw was born to draw Spider-Man. This is the kind of comic that you wish you’d picked up off a newsstand as a kid. Dynamic, colorful, and full of movement, every page will draw in even the most superhero-neutral reader. Each issue also works as a villain-of-the week-standalone — featuring iconic rouges like Dr. Doom, Electro, Vulture, and Fin Fang Foom. But the whole 12 issue series is still a satisfying coming of age hero narrative for Peter Parker.

Superman hefts a car to throw at torch, chain, and bat-wielding enemies, alongside a young girl in a red jacket, on the cover of Superman Smashes the Klan #1, DC Comics (2019). Image: Gurihiru/DC Comics

Superman

Superman Smashes the Klan

Gene Luen Yang, writer; Gurihiru, artist

The nature of the Golden Age of comics means there is a lot of anti-Nazi sentiment. At its best, this manifested as (often uneven) anti-racist messaging, some of it incredibly forward thinking for their time. In Superman Smashes the Klan, writer Gene Luen Yang channels one of those moments, a 1946 radio play called Superman: The Clan of the Fiery Cross, in which the Last Son of Krypton overthrew an actual Ku Klux Klan cell over a series of 16 serialized episodes. Yang and Gurihiru loosley adapt the story, creating a revitalized version of the tale of an inexperienced Superman teaming up with a young boy to take on the violent white supremacist group in the ‘40s.

Beautiful and timely, this is an educational and engaging read for all ages, and is the kind of book you can hand to any reader, especially if you tell them the true story behind it. The artist team known as Gurihiru bring an easy charm to a tough topic that makes Superman Smashes the Klan even more accessible. This is great for fans of historical comics, superheroes, or introducing a tough topic to a young reader in an easy to digest way. Superman might be the hero we know, but the real power comes from standing up for what’s right and speaking out against what’s wrong.

Beta Ray Bill — an orange space warrior with a face like a horse’s skull — swings Mjolnir down, smashing the letters “THOR” on the cover of Thor #337, Marvel Comics (1983). Image: Walter Simonson/Marvel Comics

Thor

Thor by Walt Simonson Vol. 1

Walt Simonson, writer/artist; Glynis Oliver, colorist

When it comes to getting to know the god of Thunder, there is only one man to turn to. Though most of our picks skew contemporary, Walt Simonson is the master of Thor’s most wacky and wonderful stories. Simonson’s arc started with a smash as he introduced Beta Ray Bill, a badass alien warrior who was somehow wielding Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer! It’s a cosmic start to one of the greatest runs in comic book history.

Sci-fi lovers will enjoy every single second of this radical romp, which takes the reader from the depths of space to the sunny parks of Earth. Simonson is a legend for the reason, and the immersive art in this stunning fantasy epic is a great example. You’ll feel like you’re falling into the stars as you turn page after page of this seminal and silly series, It’s some of the most fun you can have with a comic book.

Wonder Woman raises her gauntlet on the cover of The Legend of Wonder Woman #1, DC Comics (2016). Image: Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon/DC Comics

Wonder Woman

The Legend of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Origins

Renae De Liz, writer/artist; Ray Dillon artist

Being a princess ain’t easy. For Princess Diana of Themyscira, growing up on the Amazonian island makes it even tougher. This stunning series reimagines the origins of the heroine — and just so happens to be one of the loveliest looking books of recent years. There’s character and color galore as Diana grows up and tries to find her way in two worlds. Fans of the classic Wonder Woman comics could just as easily enjoy this as someone who’s only ever watched the movies. And if you’ve never read a comic before but love pretty things and kickass women, then this will also satisfy all of your reading needs!


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