One of the most quintessentially “nerdy” things in existence is the comic book. Even in today’s society, comic books are considered nerdy — and that is not a bad thing. Nerds are awesome and so is all our nerdy stuff.
But some of us barely picked up a comic book growing up. I, for one, didn’t get into reading the source material of all the stuff I loved until a few years ago when the TV show “Constantine” was airing.
Almost instantly, I fell in love with the series and wanted to know more and more about John Constantine, the Laughing Magician. I read a few articles online, some Wikipedia entries and discussions about who would win in a fight — Constantine or Batman. The consensus generally is that, if given time to plan ahead, Constantine would win hands down, with which I am in total agreement. (Let me know what you think.)
But it wasn’t enough. And since I have the patience of a 2-year-old, the week-long wait between episodes was killing me.
Determined to pass the time between episodes, I finally decided to actually sit down and read comics. I found the first issues of “Hellblazer” and buckled down for a long read. The series, after all, didn’t end until its 300th issue.
They were well worth the read. I highly recommend them for anyone who might enjoy the darker side of comic books. It’s not a kids series — there’s violence, death, profanity and an uncomfortable look at humanity and society as a whole. The protagonist himself is barely an anti-hero. There’s a reason one of his nicknames is “Con Job.”
Since I started reading that series, I’ve picked up others as well. I checked out the New 52 “Constantine” and “Justice League: Dark,” which left much to be desired from what was supposed to be the reimagining of John Constantine. I’ve read “Deadpool” comics, of course — “X-Men,” “Ms. Marvel” (circa Kamala Khan), “Alias” and many more. I quite enjoyed most of them.
Here’s the reason I’m writing about this now: Before I got that push from discovering a character that has since become one of my all-time favorites, one of the main reasons I didn’t read comics was because, well, where should I start?
It’s no secret that comic book timelines are confusing, to say the least. And it’s often difficult to get your hands on earlier issues. Constantine’s first appearances were in 1985’s “The Saga of the Swamp Thing” comics. I’ve seen images of some of those panels, but I’ve never read those full comics because I just can’t find them.
The closest I came to starting beforehand was from reading up on the backstory of my favorite X-Men character, Gambit. But in trying to find a good place to start, I was ultimately left deciding it wasn’t quite worth my time and effort. Do I start with the first issue of X-Men? With the first appearance of Gambit? Do I start with the first-ever comic published in that series, or the one that’s chronologically the earliest? I’m a bit of a completionist, so I wouldn’t want to just read the issues with Gambit in them. I’d want to read them all, which … are a lot of comic books. And would “all” include the spin-offs? All the offshoots of X-Men? What about series tangentially related to X-Men, such as “Cloak and Dagger” and even “Deadpool,” which feature characters from that side of the Marvel universe, despite the main characters not actually being mutants?
Even just writing that paragraph almost made me dizzy from the possibilities. No wonder I gave it up when it was only a casual interest. Maybe if I’d grown up reading comic books, it would have been easier. But I didn’t, so it wasn’t.
How does this help any of you, readers, who may be interested in picking up a comic series for the first time ever? My takeaway is this: Find a character that interests you and start there. For me, I was lucky; the character that sparked my interest was published through an imprint of DC Comics, Vertigo. It was basically the darker side of DC Comics (before the movies came out, anyway). Vertigo was largely separate from the rest of the DC universe, with very few crossovers and even fewer that were canon crossovers, as opposed to the one-shot style like “Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe.”
There was a very clear kick-off point for John Constantine fans. I didn’t have to worry about the reading order because it was basically just the one series, up until its conclusion in issue 300, after which Constantine was absorbed into the greater DC Universe. Things then got a bit more confusing and a bit less worth it.
So, pick your character and start with their introductory series. I can’t help with X-Men … the issues I’ve read have mostly been random pickups here and there. But most characters in either DC or Marvel have defined series. Sometimes there are modern revivals, as with “Hawkeye,” and that makes it easier. It also gives you fewer issues for your starting series, which can be a bit less intimidating.
Or, pick a series that isn’t from one of the big two publishers. DC and Marvel are the best-known, but there are dozens of smaller publishers that might have something a bit more interesting for you.
There are a few comic book stores in Kitsap County. Visit them and ask the people who work there. They’ll be happy to help introduce you to the crazy wormhole of comics. Go to the comics section of a book store and peruse the titles.
Ask around online. See which comics are winning awards or are bestsellers at online retailers. Ask friends who read comics for recommendations. And don’t let the enormous number of possible starting points deter you from checking out the creative, inspiring, often ridiculous and wildly entertaining world of comic books.
What are your favorite series? What can you recommend to a comic newbie who is still sad she’s read every issue of “Hellblazer” and wants more?