So, You Want to Read Comic Books?: Part 1 - Film Familiarity

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Selection from the cover of Civil War

You’ve seen The Dark Knight, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and loved them all. Now, you’re curious to read the original stories. But every time you pick up a comic book, you’re overwhelmed by backstory, back-issue references, and parallel universes. After all, it seems like some of the major comic book heroes and their storylines have been around forever. Superman, the most iconic superhero, was first introduced to the world in Action Comics #1 in June 1938. So, where do you start?

Personally, I was introduced to the world of comics when I was very young. My uncle used to take me with him to the local comics shop when I was all of five. Standing on a step stool, I browsed the comic bins alongside him, and he would purchase a comic or two for me (anything featuring Catwoman was a favorite of mine.) Still, I understand what it’s like to try and get into to something new only to find it infinitely more complicated than I first thought, and get confused or frustrated.

I follow a few general guidelines when selecting comics. First, choose comics to read that you have some interest in, even if it’s outside the norm of your usual tastes. This will allow you to become more aware of what is available, and to define and refine your tastes. Second, don’t go for single-issue comics. Instead, I recommend reading the trade paperback volumes so you can develop an understanding of the character and storyline. All of the recommendations below are available to you through our catalog. We also have comics you can borrow online via Axis360, Hoopla Digital, and ComicsPlus.

In this three part series, I’ll be offering my recommendations for “gateway books” into the world of graphic novels. In Part 1 - Film Familiarity, we will explore five titles featuring characters that you more than likely were introduced to via film, and may be interested to learn more about. In Part 2 - Classic Heroes, and we’ll go over several titles that are considered a “must-read” among longtime fans. In Part 3 - An Independent Outlook, I’ll go over standout titles that don’t necessarily fit into either of the previous two parts and that you may not be so familiar with. Nevertheless, these titles have been deemed noteworthy and worth a glance or two by comics’ aficionados.

Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson

You've seen Black Widow as an Avenger and even an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But on her own time she searches for atonement for her past as a KGB assassin - in ways those teams just wouldn't approve. Outmatched by the brute force of a powerful new villain, Natasha faces her deadliest test and discovers a deadly plot unfolding that spans the entire globe.

I love this graphic because it doesn’t discount the Black Widow’s time with the Avengers or as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D; rather, these facts are woven seamlessly into the story. We’re introduced to a Black Widow that not only are we familiar with, but will get to know better as the story progresses. If Marvel were to make a solo Black Widow film soon this may be one of the story arcs they choose to go with.

 Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar

Nobody knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since. What happened to Wolverine is the biggest mystery of all.

The reason this story was chosen is because it offers a fresh take on a familiar character. We’ve seen Wolverine as a solo character, and as a member of the X-Men, but never in any of his incarnations have we seen him as vulnerable as he is in Old Man Logan. Expect to find yourself asking, “Does the Wolverine even still exist?”  Another cool aspect of this graphic is its western tone. It harkens back to the days of early Clint Eastwood films.  

Thor, Vol. 1: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron

Thor’s hammer lies on the moon, unable to be lifted! Something dark has befallen the God of Thunder, leaving him unworthy for the first time ever! But when Frost Giants invade Earth, the hammer will be lifted - and a mysterious woman will be transformed into an all-new version of the mighty Thor! Who is this new Goddess of Thunder? Not even Odin knows, but she may be Earth's only hope against the Frost Giants!

Ignore the naysayers who’ve spoken about this being just another gimmick by Marvel, or feminist propaganda. Be prepared for great art and a good storyline. The Mjolnir being wielded by a woman has breathed fresh life into the Thor storyline. Also, expect a bit of mystery to the chosen one’s identity. The only ones who know it are herself, and the reader. 

Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen

Ever since Darth Vader's first on-screen appearance, he has become one of pop culture's most popular villains. Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE into his own solo adventures - showing the Empire's war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side!  

With the latest Star Wars film we’ve seen a revival of interest in the original three movies. This story takes place between Episodes IV and V. It allows the reader a little more insight to who Darth Vader is. I recommend this one to those with an interest in the films, or who have heard a lot about them and are just curious about this character. 

Civil War by Mark Millar

The landscape of the Marvel Universe is changing, and it's time to choose: Whose side are you on? A conflict has been brewing from more than a year, threatening to pit friend against friend, brother against brother - and all it will take is a single misstep to cost thousands their lives and ignite the fuse.

I added this title to the list with some reservation as the story involves a majority of the Marvel Comic Book universe. Nevertheless, for those of you perusing this portion of the recommendations it is likely you will have some surface familiarity with many of the characters thanks to previous films. This is a must read for those anticipating Captain America: Civil War, or those who enjoy political debate.   


Don’t miss Houston Public Library at Comicpalooza, the best multi-format pop culture convention in the southwest, June 17-19! Stop by our table in the Exhibitors' Hall, and look out for our panels this weekend:

Friday June 17, 2016

Comics are for Everyone, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Review of Kids Comics, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Superhero Storytime, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM and 4:00 - 5:00 PM
Using the Web to Find Rare Comics, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
The History of American Comics, 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Saturday June 18, 2016

Paper Circuits, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
X-men and Social Movements, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Superhero Storytime, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Real Wonder Women and You, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
History of LGBT Comics, 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Cosplay Your Plushie, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


So, You Want to Read Comic Books?: 
Part 1 - Film Familiarity
Part 2 - Classic Heroes
Part 3 - An Independent Outlook

--Marlena A., Freed-Montrose Neighborhood Library

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