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I Just Comic’d and So Can You

Kylie

Kylie

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.
Kylie

You’ve probably noticed a bit of an increase in comic content here on The Fandomentals. In fact, sometimes Thursdays and Fridays can seem almost be dizzying with the number of issues being reviewed. When you then add in our deeper analysis pieces, it’s only a matter of time before you might think, “ya know, maybe there’s something to all of this.”

Up until very recently, I’m what you would have called a comics novice. It’s not that I had anything against the form, and in fact being such an auditory learner, I actually very much enjoy having visuals to accompany a story. But it’s just…not something I read. I couldn’t have told you where the “local comic book shop” was in my hometown, I only knew the big superheros through TV shows, movies, and toys, and about a month ago, this comprised my entire graphic novel library:

Thanks to Avatar: The Last Airbender and Adventure Time, I did at least have the experience of purchasing a digital comic book. But for the most part, I hid from the medium. Until I didn’t.

Getting Over the Stigma

When I say “stigma”, I’m in no way talking about the whole “comic books are for nerds” aspect of the industry. I spend hours gushing about anthropomorphized space rocks on a show written for 7-year-olds. Do your worst, Biff.

Rather, I’m talking about how positively daunting comics can seem. TV is easy: you start with the pilot episode. Once in a blue moon it might be a spin-off or sequel, and then all you have to do is determine if it’s necessary/worth it to watch that first. But comics feel like an entirely different beast.

DC and Marvel have been around since what, the 1930s? And every time I’ve thought about diving in, I get completely stuck. Is there a hero I care about? A setting? These comics released five years ago are only a “soft reboot” of this one franchise, so how far back do I actually have to go? And what about this crossover where these other five characters come into play but the villain was actually introduced in this one run that was pulled, and aacctualllly you’re not going to understand the group dynamics fully if you don’t start from the 2004 issues, though you can skip the ones all written by…

It could just be me, but there was always the feeling that I’d be starting at the wrong point no matter what, or at least missing out on some important context. Then, even if I read a volume and enjoyed it, how could I possibly think to engage with other fans before being called out as a “fake” fangirl? So I simply chose not to engage, out of both fear and laziness.

Then I read Griffin’s pieces on Batwoman and I realized that was no longer an option—I had to find out more about this angry, Jewish lesbian woman out for justice.  

Now, I’m lucky in that he willingly held my hand through the process. But through it, I learned three truths about comic books.

1. They are written for the masses and meant to be read. In fact, they’re rather easy to read. Take a look here:

See that writing on the left-hand side with “T” for Teen? Yeah, that means this is a series for ages 12 and up. 12. There is no reason why I, a fully-functioning schmadult, would not be able to figure this out, especially since publishers want to sell their comics.

Starting on a random issue probably doesn’t make much sense, but the truth is you could start at the beginning of any “run” for any title, and you’ll be able to follow the story. Those tend to have “#1” on it (some exceptions).

2. There is no wrong way to enjoy media. I’ve talked before about the shortcuts I’ve taken simply because there is too much stuff to consume. Guess what? I started watching Adventure Time by just going through “Bubbline” episodes. I’m only *now* watching season 1 of Supergirl despite season 2 destroying my soul

Comics are not an exception. You want to faceplant into Batgirl: Birds of Prey #5 because the review sounded fun? Just do it. Chances are, if you find yourself compelled by a character or two, you’ll naturally seek out other comics where they appeared. Do you want to only read an AU about multiple wlw characters fighting nazis during World War 2 that has no bearing on DC Comics canon? Great! Read it, enjoy it, and don’t be scared to call yourself a “fan”!

You can only be “fake” if you are truly feigning excitement about something. Sure, there’s always going to be curative fans on the internet who will give you a hard time. But then that leads us to…

3. There is always someone who knows more than you about comics. It’s the nature of the beast. There have simply been too many issues for too many years, and you are not going to be the master of this field. Heck, this isn’t even factoring in indie comics. Enjoy what you enjoy, and know what you know. From what I’ve found, being upfront about a lack of understanding for a character or situation usually just leads to a recommendation for another comic you could read—one that’s likely to be engaging.

Taking the Plunge

So hopefully with that anxiety lessened (was it just me?), there’s the pragmatics of how to begin. My recommendation: pick a series or character.

Picking a series goes back to that whole esoteric the-start-with-issue-#1 principle. You want to read Star Wars? It’s a simple search on Marvel’s site. Missing Avatar: The Last Airbender? The Wikipedia page on its comics is a font of knowledge. Remember, comics are like the Ring of Power—they want to be found!

My path was slightly more winding, since I was determined to get my hands on everything Kate Kane. Batwoman is what you might call a secondary character in the DC universe, and though her modern iteration was introduced in 2006, her self-titled series didn’t come along for another five years. Griffin steered me towards Batwoman: Elegy, a Kate Kane-centric arc that began in Detective Comics #854 and ended 6 issues later.

“And then I go into the self-titled series, beginning with Issue #1?” I asked foolishly, still shaking from the emotional ending to Elegy.

“Well no, it’s Issue #0,” Griffin answered. “But you can simply get Batwoman Volume 1 and you’ll be good to go.”

“You promise?”

“Actually, do you want to first read a 3 issue stand-alone arc that serves as the perfect feed-in to the self-titled series?”

That’s when the explicatives began.

But the truth is, it’s not that complicated. Rule #1, remember? The Batwoman Wikipedia page (not even DC wiki…just the normal one) had this information, the “stand-alone” arc mentioned was actually just the next three issues in her Detective Comics run that was excluded from the trade paperbacks for some reason (which Griffin himself missed his first time through), and even if I hadn’t had a Griffin to ask, a quick Google search would have also pointed me in the right direction.

Behold the other font of knowledge

Or I could have gone to a comic book shop and talked to someone in person, but it’s hard to imagine that horror.

And this is the case for any comic book character. It just took me under a minute to figure out that Marvel relaunched Spider-Man in 2014 (and also 2015 maybe?), which seems like a fine jumping-off point. Meanwhile, DC has been rebirthing everyone over the past year, so there’s a recent Issue #1 for almost any character you find yourself drawn to.

I feel bad ignoring indie comics, but given the fact that their universes tend to be less expensive, or at least given that there is a shorter history, they’re almost inherently self-explanatory. For instance, Saga by Image Comics is a bit of a Fandomentals favorite, which Milan is currently working his way through. And…yeah. A quick search takes you to Image’s website where it’s pretty clear that all you have to do is count to seven.

The Rabbit Hole

The thing is, riding the learning curve is a very natural progression. You read a series and, assuming it’s enjoyable, get caught up on it. Then you wait with baited breath for the next issue. Kind of exactly like anything else, be it a TV show or a book series.

However, here’s the fun part: you can fill in the pieces in the meantime. And probably will want to.

Being the fool I was, I truly thought that I’d only care about Kate Kane as Batwoman. She’s a relatively newer character in the general scope of things, and has a completely manageable number of volumes. I liked her enough from Detective Comics and her self-titled series where I picked up Bombshells, despite it being a stand-alone AU (the character voices are brilliant). But still, I figured that’d be the end of it—I would finally be caught up to where I wanted to be. And then it happened. Specifically this:

I already knew of Renee Montoya’s existence in the DC universe because of 1.) a flashback to Kate’s former relationship with her at the end of Elegy, 2.) Gotham sticking their version on a literal bus, and 3.) Supergirl’s interesting adaptational choices when it comes to the source material.

But I had never seen them in “heat rising from the asphalt sexual tension” mode before. I *had* to know more, especially in the canon timeline, leading me 52 (which heavily doesn’t disappoint in this department), wherein I realized I needed Renee’s backstory, found in Gotham Central (which happens to be everything I’ve ever wanted in a piece of fiction), and now I’m dutifully making my way through Crime Bible with Final Crisis – Revelations as my next stop.

Is what I’m saying making no sense to you? Doesn’t matter, because I know what I’m talking about!

The thing is, the deeper into this I get, the more sense it starts to make. Which…duh. But along with that comes a huge lessening in that overwhelmed feeling I had at the start. I don’t even think I’m a “fake” fan anymore, and can speak with some intelligence about timelines and writers. I’m also at the point where I’ve gotten a handle on enough pieces that whatever I read next will click into place somewhere. Comics are rather good at cross-referencing, probably because the writers want you to be compelled by the universe. It’s almost like the point, or something.

But more than anything else? It’s fun. It’s brightly colored picture-stories broken down into 24-page issues. The only thing I should have been scared of was how quickly this took over my life. Now, I welcome the comic pieces around here. After all, it’s a good week or two until my next issues are released.


Images courtesy of DC Comics, Disney, and Nickelodeon
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Voted Thanks!
 
  • Griffin

    This article was great and I hope people take it to heart. Also, you actually used the Superboy-Prime header! YESSSSSSSS! Oh man, those who catch that will LOVE IT.

    • I’m all astonishment that you approve

  • Ian Smith

    Right now is a great time to jump in. As you mentioned, DC is “Rebirth”ing everyone, and Marvel has just started throwing “#1″s up in the corner of any issue that starts a new arc (even if the actual issue number is much higher.) also there’s ComicVine and good ol’ google. Getting your feet wet and getting caught up has never been easier.

    • NGL when I was quickly googling Marvel franchises to make a point, I had more than a few “wtf is this?” moments. But yeah, if the #1 you pick is super confusing for some reason, searching for a better jumping off point is really easy, especially since there’s millions of people who’d be happy to help.

  • rara

    I had never read a comic book before this summer. The only reason I deicided to get into them was that I knew the Legend of Korra was going to continue in comic form and I wanted to get used to reading them before Korra came out. I am a massive geek so it made very little sense that I hadn’t even dipped my toe into the comic book pond. To be honest I was a bit prejudiced against comic books. I didn’t learn how to read until I was ten so I always associated comic books as picture books and they annoyed the hell out of me because I despertely wanted to be able to read full novels.

    Once I deicded that I was going to start reading comics there was the question of which one because I knew literally nothing about them. I wanted something Queer and Women centric and I found great recommendations on AutoStraddle.

    The Batwoman sequence of issues definitly confused me to begin with. Can’t wait for Wednesday issue!

    • It’s great too that there’s so much diversity. I mean yes, like any medium there’s an overall wealth of white male protagonists, but it’s not as though the queer/women-centric stuff I’ve been focusing on is in thin-supply. Or even jewish stuff, which just isn’t super explored on TV or in movies.

      I woke up today and thought it *was* Wednesday for some reason and I’m just so antsy now, haha

      • Griffin

        Yeah, there’s still a thin-supply of Jewish stuff. Aside from one-off issues (take a wild freaking guess as to who wrote the yahrtzeit issue back when Colossus was dead…) or people randomly remembering that a character is Jewish, you’ve read the vast vast vast majority of it already to my knowledge.

        Which is a shame. Hal Jordan might be half-way interesting if writers remembered his mom was Jewish. Might being the keyword here…

        • Thin supply versus… the Rugrats Passover Special from 20 years ago? I’m seriously not remembering much that’s contemporary, lol

  • Stephen Garrett

    There’s been a few times in my life when I was into comics, buying them regularly. 2006, when 52 was coming out, was one of those times, and it remains one of my favorite comic series. And I have most of the Gotham Central trades, and it too is one of my favorites. Glad to see that you’ve enjoyed them.

    Of course, I remember meeting Renee Montoya as a 10 year old, when I tuned into Batman: The Animated series and the episode “P.O.V.” and watched her be the most competent cop in the episode and, to top it off, she figures out the case *and* helps Batman take down the crooks of the episode. 🙂 And then there’s the ending of “Harley and Ivy”…

    Poison Ivy: *driving away with Harley from Batman and Joker fight* “No man can take us prisoner!”
    *gunshot goes off, Ivy’s car’s tire blows out, they spin out and crash*
    Renee: *approaches with shotgun* Alright ladies, raise ’em.

  • Eleanor

    I’ve dipped in and out of comics, mostly preferring series with quite discrete beginning and end points. The main thing that gets in the way of my reading comics is that in the UK it costs £12-£15 for a trade paperback, and I can read the whole thing in under an hour!

    It’s super sad because I loved the first TPB of Saga, among many others, but haven’t got the cash to keep investing in it. It’s great that libraries have massively expanded their comics selections in the last 5-10 years, but more often than not they deal in a range of first issues rather than purchasing a whole run. I guess I’ll have to start doing write in requests.

    • Mims Dahn

      I have done a lot of requests to libraries, but I have found that they prefer concluded series. My local library still feel that no matter the target market, comics have a large audience with children, so they prefer to be able to know the content. We have a lovely comic nut there, but he still feels burned by the Batman: A Death In The Family debacle with the call in. Saving Jason Todd wasn’t open to people outside of the US and he was really distressed as a kid for not saving Robin.

  • Mims Dahn

    I must say my trajectory has been to the opposite. I love comics, but a combination of its serial form and access difficulties makes it very exhausting on my wallet. There is absolutely no market for resale. So I have been scaling back, especially on Marvel and DC because of the “reboots” and Civil War II made me put Carol on hiatus, though Miss Marvel is a treasure.

    Your new coverage of comics is great. I have so much appreciation for it and for this post. There is so much discouraging people from throwing and immersing themselves into comics, especially women, so it’s really wonderful!

  • Claire

    “It could just be me, but there was always the feeling that I’d be starting at the wrong point no matter what, or at least missing out on some important context. Then, even if I read a volume and enjoyed it, how could I possibly think to engage with other fans before being called out as a “fake” fangirl? So I simply chose not to engage, out of both fear and laziness.” – This is very much how I feel about comics and, like, a third of the reason I haven’t started really immersing myself in them. The other two thirds are money reasons, though: I simply don’t have enough cash to keep buying comics for 13-17 pounds (or more), especially considering that I could get a book that’s three to four times as thick as a comic for about the same price. Also, I found that I don’t really reread comics, even if I like them – I’ve got two Miss Marvel and three Black Widow comics and I don’t think I’ve read any of them more than twice. Which is weird, because I love rereading books and rewatching movies and TV shows. So I feel like comics just don’t really click with me that much – which is a real shame because there seem to be so many good ones out there!

    • Yeah money is a little prohibitive with this. I’m basically willing to invest in all things Kate Kane, but there are some I might have to settle for reviews on.

      Reread value, idk yet. It’s not natural for me to do it yet, but I do notice that there’s things I always miss the first time through, especially with the art. I think for me it will depend on how much time I can set aside.