A Chronological Critique Of Modern Marvel: Introduction

Over the next few months (possibly years), I intend to work my way through the modern Marvel universe in (mostly) chronological order. Below, I explain the how and the why.

I wanted to be Batman when I was a kid. When I realised that was an impossible dream because I hadn’t been born into a life of extraordinary wealth, I decided that I might as well be Superman instead. The whole alien origin story seemed slightly more probable than the playboy billionaire orphan origin story.

Growing up with an attic full of old DC comics was tough. If I’d been introduced to Marvel at an early stage, I could have taken the sensible step and aspired to be Spidey. Severe arachnophobia might have made the necessary eight-legged encounter extremely distressing but a bite from a radioactive spider seems like an easy ride compared to being orphaned as a baby. That said, Peter Parker isn’t doing all that well on the parents and guardians front either.

Here’s the thing – I know enough about Marvel comics to have a decent understanding of Spiderman’s origin story. I’ve seen the Raimi films, I’ve absorbed enough of comic culture to know that the Vulture is an old man with fake wings and that Mysterio should feature in a Marvel-themed reboot of eighties movie F/X.

The recent rise of Marvel as a cinematic power – in both the Avengers focused connected universe, and the X-Men and Spiderman films – encouraged me to seek out some actual Marvel comics. I’ve read an issue or trade paperback here and there over the years, but I’ve never followed a character or storyline through the years. I’m not exactly a fan of superhero comics, you see, having left even my beloved DC behind in my early teens. When the New 52 launched, I thought a reboot might be a perfect time to jump back in but I found the majority of the stories tedious (Night of Owls was superb though) and gave up after the second round of trade paperbacks.

I might have stuck around a while longer if DC had their own equivalent of Marvel Unlimited though. It’s the WWE Network of Marvel comics and (for those who don’t know) the WWE Network is the Netflix of wrestling. Just the one brand is included, unlike Netflix, but almost every comic published by Marvel is available to read, either online or off. It’s an absolute treasure trove of popular culture.

When I asked friends and followers to suggest a good point to start with Marvel comics, I received all kinds of suggestions. Many recommended that I start with Marvel Now, the semi-relaunch that swept across the main titles recently, while others said it’d be a shame to miss the early versions of famous characters, and the Lee/Kirby Silver Age of the sixties. The most common suggestion was to start around the ‘Age of Events’, when cross-overs and continuity-shaking events became common. I’d always been intrigued by the Civil War storyline and the upcoming Captain America film helped me to settle on that as a rough starting area.

Jumping straight in to Civil War seemed risky though – if the characters are all interacting with one another, there might be no time to establish who they were before everything changed. So I kept digging and found this guide on Comic Herald. I’ll be starting here, but I’m not following the guide exactly.

Next week, as part of Boxing Day’s Saturday Supplement, you’ll be able to read part one of my reviews, which will cover Inhumans, Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run and Greg Rucka’s two Black Widow miniseries. Whether you’re a seasoned Marvel reader looking for a newcomer’s thoughts on the modern history of these characters and stories, or a novice wondering which books to read, hopefully we’ll have some fun exploring the good, the bad and the ugly over the coming months.

Back to the Saturday Supplement.

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15 Comments

  1. Det. Bullock says:

    As a DC guy (though only since my late teens, at heart I’m a Carl Barks & Don Rosa guy) I can say this:
    The best way to jump into modern Marvel rather than Civil War is starting with Alias and The Pulse then onto the New Avengers and in general try to read most if not all of the unofficial head writer of the moment (which for a long while before and after Civil War was Alias’ creator Brian Michael Bendis, I don’t know if he still is as I fell behind a bit) as their storylines usually dominate the entire universe.

  2. thanosi says:

    The Marvel Knights period is roughly where i started reading about 8 years ago and is really the starting point for modern Marvel. The key series to start around this time to my mind are;
    Alias by Brian Michael Bendis
    Daredevil which starts briefly with Kevin Smith before going into a years long run under Bendis and then Ed Brubaker
    Captain America also by Ed Brubaker
    The Avengers Dissassembled arc and consequent New Avengers series also by Bendis
    J Michael Straczynski’s Thor
    New X-men by Grant Morrison and the subsequent Astonishing X-men by Joss Whedon

    No doubt i’ll think of more to add so expect replies :D

  3. Deano2099 says:

    Adam- I started on the same path the start of the year, even down to following the same guide. Also added in a few extra bits a pieces. Have got through around 2300 comics so far and just about to start Civil War over Christmas…

    I’d suggest giving that Black Panther series a go, it’s one of the most stylised, different series on the list. You’ll know in an issue or two whether you hate it or love it. And skip stuff you don’t like. My biggest problem/regret was reading stuff for the sake of continuity. Especially some mini-series. If you read an issue and it sucks, skip ahead. Especially at this point of the guide.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I’ve already read the stuff I’m covering in the next article, as well as Black Panther. I’m saving the latter for the write-up after next since it’s such a big chunk of comic. Cheers!

  4. Jamesac68 says:

    This sounds like an incredibly unpleasant way to read comics. Don’t read Marvel, read the ones that catch your interest. Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel are both great, or maybe the work Dan Slott has done with Silver Surfer is more your speed. Diving into every comic no matter the writer/artist because it’s part of a shared world is just a bad idea.

    There is no hopping-on point. Grab a book you like and start reading, preferably at its #1. Most books have re-launched recently, or at least in the last couple years, so it’s easy to do. There’s just no point beyond gaining an encyclopedic collection of knowledge about pointless backstory that will be changed in a couple years when a new writer puts their own personal stamp on whatever corner of the Marvel universe they’re writing. That’s time you could spend checking out Head Lopper, or Groo, or Trees, Papergirls, Invader Zim, Prez, Invincible, or a million other high-quality comics that would make you happy for having read them.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Oh, agreed. To be a little clearer, this is my starting point – I’ll be giving almost everything a chance but won’t stick with things for the sake of sticking with them. If I really don’t enjoy an arc, writer or character, I’ll give my reasons for skipping but I won’t be enduring to earn a completionist badge.

      • Jamesac68 says:

        Oh good. In that case, happy exploring! :)

        Greg Pak’s Amadeus Cho books always make for fun reading. From Hercules to the terribly-named Prince of Power miniseries to the new Hulk book, Cho is consistently great.

  5. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I wish Marvel Unlimited was available on Windows Phone. It’s almost worth buying an i-thingy for. I started buying comics again around this era. Mostly indie books, to be honest, but it was also a turning point for Marvel, when they finally threw off the shackles of the CCA and started hiring indie writers to bring a different approach to guys in spandex. There was some truly excellent stuff at the time like Slott’s She-Hulk and Milligan and Allred’s X-Force. Enjoy!

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    Mungrul says:

    I can’t comment on best order to read Marvel comics in, as I’m not a huge fan, but I can weigh in mentioning that my favourite ones are probably Garth Ennis’ Punisher Max books.

    While I read some Spidey growing up, my comic reading habits were formed by 2000AD. My Nan owned a newsagents and would send me a Prog a week, from about Prog 200 to Prog 800. And the ideas and social commentary in those comics had a massive influence on me.
    Alan Moore was a regular writer for them back then, and he treated his audience like adults, as did most of the writers. Of course, Ennis also did a stint at 2000AD, and that shows in his later writing.

    Punisher Max is unlike anything else I’ve read in the Marvel universe, and is uniquely grounded in stories and characters with no superpowers at all.
    Sure, one could argue that overall, it’s a bit too grim-dark for its own good, but the important thing is it makes you think.
    That brief glimpse of Frank in the teaser for Daredevil season 2 has me all manner of excited.
    If they treat the Punisher with the same degree of maturity they treated Daredevil, and fall back on Ennis’ Punisher Max for the story, I’ll be stupidly happy.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      For Gart Ennis I much preferred Punisher Warzone. A very good, back to basics story for the Punisher that perfectly treads the line between the Comicy and Grim Dark versions of the Punisher. This is of course helped by steve Dillon’s artwork.

  7. somnolentsurfer says:

    Round here, don’t we start with Young Avengers?

    I’ve heard Journey into Mystery’s alright too. Must give that a go sometime.

  8. YohnTheViking says:

    If modern Marvel is what you’re after I’d say Civil War is a good starting point. Marvel basically made that entire storyline to introduce new readers anyway. So all the characters are introduced in a proper manner, and it covers most of the earth-bound Marvel heroes and villains. Even has a couple of books dedicated solely to give you biographies of the characters involved.

    If you wish to go back in time a bit the three Infinity storylines are ok, if a bit more made for fans. And of course they are getting some repacked releases now that it’s to be the big storyline of the movies.

  9. mattevansc3 says:

    Just skip Avengers Arena. That single series killed off all love I had for Marvel comics.

    Not only is badly drawn, not only is it badly written but it killed off interesting characters from other series just to promote some two dimensional cliched characters that didn’t make it out of their next series.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Though picking up ther series it butchers wouldn’t be a bad shout. While Sentinel, Avengers Academy and The Runaways are clearly aimed at the teenage market they do put a good spin on the general Marvel mythos. Essentially what happens when teenage heroes (or would be sidekicks) have no moral guidance or the wrong moral guidance.

  10. ComicBookHerald says:

    Dave from Comic Book Herald here, just wanted to say thanks for sharing the guide, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the comics you pick!

    I’m a continuity nut myself, but I definitely agree with some of the thoughts above regarding the better titles from this time period. Alias, Black Panther, Daredevil… all great picks. Garth Ennis Punisher and Mark Waid / Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four are personal favorites as well.

    Enjoy the comics!