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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.
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.”
“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.
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.