You’ve reached the end of the Netflix scroll, IG just doesn’t hit the same when travel budgets are moot, and you’re not shelling out $10 a month for BET+ just to get foggy episodes of Martin. You’re bored. So are we. It’s going to be a loooong quarantine.
Luckily, there’s a solution out there — one that’s colorful, widely diverse in content, and provides damn near endless escapism. Allow us to reintroduce: comic books.
Not convinced? We get it. Comics has carried on for more than a century, and the overlapping story arcs, deaths and resurrections, ever-shifting superhero teams, and periodic universal resets — not to mention the annoying-ass segment of fans demanding you know every inch of the material — all make getting into it seem like a hassle. And despite the fact that it suddenly feels like we have all the time in the world to parse through all the weird minutiae of the Marvel or DC Universes, sheltering in place doesn’t mean you don’t have other shit to do.
But the multiverse is vast and full of wonders, friends — and no matter your expertise or curiosity level, comics have something for you. Maybe you’re looking for the inspirations for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies you loved (or DC’s scattershot equivalent). Maybe you want to reconnect with the characters and books you loved as a kid. Maybe you’re looking for some self-contained stories that aren’t as bogged down by decades of continuity. Whatever you’re curious about, we’re here to help.
Getting started: The how
Much love to all the local comic book shops — and most definitely support them once we come out on the other side of this — but if y’all don’t stay your ass at home and get used to digital comics, we’re gonna have some big issues. Thankfully, digital comics are a nerd revelation. Not only do you avoid piles of books, but it grants easy access to a wealth of material that’s readable on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Tablets are perfect for this; not only can you use it to zoom in on small details, picking up on subtle artistic touches, but many apps and platforms can automate that panel-level view. And as for those apps and platforms…
Comixology is an Amazon-owned service that allows you to read and subscribe to your favorite series, either through a web browser or via iOS or Android app. It’s by far the widest library you’ll find in a comics service, with thousands of titles from all the major publishers, and is also the closest thing to having a pull list at a comic shop; by subscribing to series in the app, you’ll automatically get access to the new issues once they drop each Wednesday. It’s not without its flaws, though: You can’t buy anything directly through the app. Instead, you’ll need to buy things through Comixology’s website or Amazon, then download them in the app for on-the-go reading.
If you want to avoid that hassle — or if you just don’t want to pay a la carte for series or graphic novels — the Comixology Unlimited option gives you access to the entire library for $5.99 a month. (That’s less than the cost of two single issues.)
If you already have Amazon Prime, you also have access to a library of close to 500 comics and graphic novels, including some of our can’t-miss recommendations below. It’s not as wide a selection as Comixology, but it’s also, well, free. For those, you’ll use the Amazon app or website to “buy” them, and then read them using the Kindle app on your phone, tablet, or laptop.
Here’s where the rabbit hole gets deeper. If you already know Marvel characters are your specific steez (or if Disney is your preferred gazillion-dollar global conglomerate rather than Amazon), then Marvel Unlimited is a great choice. For $5 a month or $60 a year, you can feast on virtually all of the publisher’s entire 81-year archives — more than 30,000 titles at last count. That comes with a good dose of curatorial polish; the app features mad reading lists for iconic characters and events, and you can look up anyone you can think of to find titles they’ve appeared in. However, keep in mind that new issues don’t appear on the service for three to six months; if you’re addicted to an ongoing series, you’ll either need to be patient or cop those elsewhere.
DC’s subscription service offers even more content than its comics rival… kinda. The app doesn’t offer nearly as many comics as Marvel Unlimited. It’s more of a selection that skews heavily toward marquee characters like Batman and Wonder Woman, so if you want deeper cuts then head to Comixology. However, DC Universe also gives you access to the company’s many animated projects — from series like Doom Patrol and Young Justice to the animated features that stand among the best comic-book movies ever made — and live-action films. All that spandex’ll cost ya: DC Universe runs $7.99 a month or $75 a year.
Next step: The what
So you know how to find things. Great. What are you going to actually read? As much it’s great to stay current, jumping into an ongoing series will probably only cause frustration. Both Marvel and DC have implemented a ton of multiversal resets (or “events”), which tend to switch up everything from origin stories to powers and abilities, and even relationships between characters — making maintaining continuity arduous, thankless work.
To make it easier on yourself, focus on looking for trades, short for “trade paperbacks” (TPBs) — single books that contain an entire story arc, usually six issues or so. Most, if not all, of the best titles and story arcs are compiled into trades once they’ve concluded in the ongoing issues, allowing casual readers to hop into their favorite characters’ most iconic storylines.
Now, though, it’s time for the fun part: choosing a story. And for that, we’ve got a few recommendations from both of the majors, as well as a few graphic novels that might tickle your fancy.
The Ultimates (Marvel, 2002)
At this point, there’s not a soul on the planet who hasn’t heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And if you want the source material for the most profitable movie franchise of all time, it ran for 13 issues damn near 20 years ago. While the story — written by Mark Millar with art by Bryan Hitch — slightly differs from its filmic brethren, the familiar cast of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are all here in their kaleidoscopic glory.
Also check out: Civil War (2007), Mark Millar’s massive Marvel crossover event that informed Captain America: Civil War; Jim Starlin and George Pérez’s 1991 storyline Infinity Gauntlet, which provided the larger Thanos-and-the-Infinity-Stones storyline that lasted through the MCU’s first decade.
Black Panther Vol. 3 (Marvel, 1998)
For Black comics fans, it almost goes without saying that Black Panther is damn near biblical at this point. And if that’s the case, Christopher Priest is the apostle Paul: His 56-issue run on the series starting in the late ’90s defined our understanding of King T’challa, the geopolitics of Wakanda, and even created BP’s all-woman special forces, the Dora Milaje, committed to protecting the king. Mark Texeira’s rich penciling — defined by the heavy contrast of his deeply crushed blacks versus Wakanda’s natural radiance — meshes perfectly with Priest’s clever, chirpy dialogue, creating the blueprint for what you’d later see on the big screen in T’challa’s MCU movie.
Also check out: Priest’s run on Deathstroke Rebirth — the DC assassin Will Smith played in Suicide Squad — these last few years has some of the best writing in superhero comics right now, and is definitely worth your attention.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (Marvel, 1982)
X-2 is the best X-Men movie starring the entire team (before you losers start, I’m not including Logan in this), and this graphic novel by Wolverine master Chris Claremont provided much of that inspiration. There are a number of deviations from the original source material — the story centered around Magneto and Professor X rather than Logan — but all the guts of peak X-Men are present, from the shaky alliance between Magneto and Xavier to the pained realization that humans are generally trash, and mutants should maintain social distance at all costs.
Also check out: X-Men: Schism (2011). This event does something that no X-Men film has done: show how fucking ridiculous Scott Summers (aka Cyclops) is as a leader and a person. (Which, I might add, is a crucial part of X-Men canon, but whatever, let’s just tell the Jean Grey/Phoenix story for the umpteenth time.) Written by Jason Aaron, who also managed to give Thor a creative resurgence long before you laughed your way through Ragnarok.
Also, X-Men (2019): Writer Jonathan Hickman has a big brain, and it was all the way necessary in revamping the X-Men series. Hickman’s finally granted the mutants their wish: A complete and separate island nation. (An island that’s also a mutant. Long story.) But they learn pretty fast that running a nation is not for play-play.
All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy (DC, 2017)
Scott Snyder is really good at writing the Caped Crusader. (His Court of Owls Batman arc a few years back had DC heads in an uproar.) And while the Bats definitely fits the description of a glorified military cop in spandex, the romp of a road trip that he goes on in this one reaches peak kinesis. There are so many influential Batman comics that we could recommend, but this modern take on the cape and cowl is a true delight to blaze through.
Also check out: There’s no shortage of legendary Batman shit over the years, and all of these are classic: Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb; Frank Miller’s Batman Returns and Batman: Year One; and The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (the team behind Watchmen, which, yes, read that too).
Spawn Collection Vol.1 (Image, 1992)
Created by writer and Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane, Spawn (aka Al Simmons, a Black-ass name for a Black-ass character) was the antithesis of the bubblegum comics that Marvel and DC were touting at the time. Its first run isn’t perfect — the writing is all over the place at times, and McFarlane can get a lil bit too much dip on the chip at some instances, as can happen when White writers handle Black heroes — but it establishes the ultraviolent, bleak world that the demonic Spawn thrives in, and gives you the necessary background to start following a truly compelling character. This volume covers a ton of what takes place in the 1997 movie, which we cannot in good conscience recommend at this time, but still fuck with.
Also check out: Image United (2009). I normally wouldn’t suggest a crossover title, but this one not only brings back Al Simmons as Spawn, but pits him as a villain against almost all of Image’s major heroes. Win-win.
Saga (Image, 2012-)
There’s no particular trade to recommend here — just start reading from issue one and thank us later. Saga is a revolution for comic book newbs and vets alike, as well as those who’ve strayed from the path. The sci-fi space opera follows a galactic war from the perspective of a couple torn between both sides — and in short order became one of the most endearing, surprising, and hopeful series around. No cap.
Also check out: The apocalyptic series East of West, also on Image, follows a powerful group of world leaders who moonlight as religious extremists all gearing up for the end of the world. A little close to home in these trying times, maybe, but the best escapism sometimes is.