Here at Geeks Under Grace, we celebrate all types of comics, from the challenging pages of The Killing Joke to the delightful fun facts in Japanese travel manga. There is no Marvel versus DC here. No female fans versus male fans. No toxic gatekeeping. We do not disrespect persons or pages.
However, we do understand how hard it is to start a new series. Superman alone has been in constant publication since his inception in 1938. That’s over 80 years! Besides the insane amount of time, he has starred in innumerable titles from Action Comics to The Adventures of Superman to Superboy (not the clone Superboy; that’s a different story altogether). This does not account for his appearances in the Legion of Super-Heroes as a boy or the Justice League as an adult. Even the most dedicated fan would have trouble keeping up with such a huge canon.
With that, GUG staff has worked together to come up with some of the best places for new comic fans to jump into a series. That could be meeting Marvel where they are, finding stories connected to your latest Netflix binge, or deciding which DC universe you want to indulge. Without further ado, here are some of GUG’s favorite places to jump into comics!
Courtney – Marvel
I always loved DC as a kid, but the comics all seem to be connected. Superman’s backstory changed over time, yet the new narratives referenced the old. This is the case for many DC characters, as I discovered when I tried to read the Batgirl Rebirth series. Don’t get me wrong. I love DC, but I want to be able to understand the story. When Batgirl is fighting crime on two legs but mentions being the paralyzed Oracle, I get a bit confused.
Marvel, on the other hand, gave their characters a make-over. Scratch that. They handed the mantle to new characters, producing some of the most inclusive teams I have seen. Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales have garnered much controversy for taking the name of previously white superheroes. However, Marvel did nothing to retcon Carol Danvers or Peter Parker. In fact, they may have created one of the best starting points for big-name publishers.
The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, embiggened onto the scene in 2013, just before a rebranding called All-New, All-Different Marvel. This happens after a huge event known as Secret Wars. Often, Marvel and DC try a reboot like this. They have a huge, world-shattering event, yet end up in the same places they were prior. All-New, All-Different Marvel was…well, different.
It introduced new characters to the universe, like Gwenpool. Instead of retconning old characters, it gave them the role of mentor. Captain Marvel helps Ms. Marvel learn to control her powers, for example. Spider-Gwen and Silk team up with Spider-Woman to learn from her experience. The A-Force, an all-female superhero team, is comprised of heroes both young and old. This can all be a bit much to take in, so I will recommend one series which sums up a lot of this new generation.
Kamala (my favorite superhero ever) creates a team of teenage supers called The Champions. This team initially includes Kamala herself as Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, and Nova (son of Nova). They later include a time-displaced young Scott Summers (yes, Cyclops from X-Men), Amadeus Cho as the Hulk, and Vision’s android daughter Viv.
Even though you may not be familiar with these faces or their monikers, you will be curious to learn more about each of them as the series continues. Later issues feature Gwenpool, Ironheart, Wasp, and Moon Girl. Practically every new teen (and child) superhero is introduced in the pages of Champions, making it a wonderful way to dip one’s feet into the new Marvel lore.
I chose Champions not only for its wide appeal for newcomers but also for its values. Kamala, Miles, and Nova were dissatisfied with the way the Avengers handled emergencies, so they made their own team. This was not necessarily a move made out of spite (although, being teenagers, it could be part of the puzzle). Really, they wanted to embody the values they felt the others lacked. The Champions picked their name to inspire people and give them hope. Most of the problems in their comics stem from real-world issues: sex trafficking, prejudice, and identity theft being just a few. While supervillains do grace their pages, the issues Champions tackle are very real.
Besides that, this team is all-inclusive without a feeling of forced diversity. Amadeus, Riri, Kamala, and Miles are not treated any differently than their white companions. In fact, no one references their skin color in any issues I’ve read. Interracial relationships are hinted at through flirting, although romance is not even a subplot (thankfully). The only possible outlier is Viv, a robot. The distinction is not because of her pink skin, but her trauma coping responses. If you are curious about her, I encourage you to read Vision, Vol. 1: Little Worse than a Man and Vision 2: Little Better than a Beast. They are one-shots, so very little canon to remember.
Anyway, go read Champions! You are sure to fall in love with the characters. If you don’t, you’ll get an idea of which ones you may want to look into and which ones annoy you to death. Even if the teenagers don’t sit well with you, you are sure to find some adult mentors in the pages who can fill the void.
Johnathan – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I started as a little guy pushing in VHS tapes and watching four mutant turtles talk surfer slang. This evolved into sweaty palms as his beloved master Splinter stabbed his cane into an evil demon mole. From a young age, I developed a love for Kevin Eastman’s TMNT world. I am surprised and enthralled to have the four brothers grow up with me. We moved from saving April O’Neil from Baxter Stockman to seeing O’Neil work for Mayor Stockman as a double agent.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a rich world apart from its numerous cartoon installations. The TMNT (2003) version is the closest I’ve ever seen them stay true to the original, while adding some personally noice touches. There are still some story arcs, even from back in the day, that other media has only scratched at.
Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder are so played out that it’s embarrassing when other media uses them. I’d like to see a really (I mean, really) good plotline with the Technodrome and the Triceratons. They can dive into the story where both races have to share a planet and work on making peace.
How about Donatello being Metalhead? And that time when Donatello brings Metalhead back, and there are essentially, two Donnies?
Let’s go even further and talk about the time Raphael is the Shredder!
But I digress. If this gets your attention, I suggest starting with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Universe comics. It’s a sort of soft reset, with a few notable changes. Raphael is born apart from the other three, setting in stone his now-comfortable persona as the loner, the tough guy, but still holding strong to the family concept. Arguably, he wrestles and brings the concept into question more than anyone.
The Universe comics also change the dynamic of Splinter and Shredder, turning them into spirits that have reincarnated from past lives. A new spiritual realm idea draws in a more mystical element. Communication with certain plot heavy characters bring additional parts that, if spoiled, will take away from the impact.
I wasn’t sure how I felt at first, regarding this new direction. However, the Ninja portion of the title has only ever been men and women with socks on their heads wielding cool weapons and fighting moves. I gave this new concept a try and wasn’t disappointed. At the very least, the themes of family and honor still shine as the themes, and the tone has become darker. And that really keeps me glued to TMNT.
The Last Ronin is a stand-alone idea, so definitely pick it up and read it! Don’t read anything about Jennicka until you’ve at least read past the City at War arc in the Universe comics.
LJ – Moon Knight
The Moon Knight series coming to Disney+ feels like it’s just around the corner. You’re likely in my shoes – wanting to do some reading to learn more about the character before the show comes out. After discussing at which point to enter with friends more knowledgeable than myself, I settled with the 2006 run. Moon Knight, Volume 1: The Bottom seems to be a fan favorite. The first volume successfully told me everything I needed to know and introduced me to characters without being an origin story.
Marc Spector a.ka. Moon Knight gets his abilities from an Egyptian god known as Khonshu, and is basically Marvel’s answer to Batman. At this point in his life, Marc seems to be at rock bottom and hasn’t heard from Khonshu in a very long time. The beginning of the book explains what his career as a crimefighter was like – how he had it all and how he lost it all with his origins explained a bit later. For those eager to jump in, know that this is a dark series and full of violence. So, it may be best to proceed with caution, unless you’ve already been reading some of the more mature comics out there.
It was those Oscar Isaac training videos that got me excited for the upcoming series. I have to wonder how dark they will go on Disney+, when Netflix would have been a good home for such a character. The only knowledge I had of Moon Knight prior to reading this was his appearance in 2017’s Spider-Man animated cartoon series and the first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance video game. I hope my entry point gives someone an idea of where to start. I hear the 2014 run is a great place to start, as well. At that point, he has multiple personalities — I’ll have to check that out for myself.
Serena – Green Lantern
Green Lantern first appeared on comic bookshelves as a new All-American Comics hero in issue #16 around 1940. He was created by Martin Nodell (using the pseudonym “Mart Dellon”) after inspiration hit him one evening while waiting for a train. He saw a train man “waiving a lantern along the tracks.” As the lantern’s light changed from red to green, he began putting his new hero together in his mind. He used designs from Greek mythology and Chinese folklore to create Alan Scott, the world’s first Green Lantern.
Scott was a train-crash survivor who finds a lantern in debris forged from a green meteor. He uses that debris to fashion a power ring and become a crime-fighter. Mr. Nodell continued to draw Green Lantern, with Bill Finger writing the stories, until 1947 when All-American Comics was part of a 3-company merger, which was later rebranded as DC Comics. Green Lantern was subsequently cancelled in 1947 but was revised in 1959 by a new creative team. He has been a DC Comics regular ever since.
As one could imagine after 81 years, there have been several different iterations of Earth’s Emerald Knight: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rainer, Guy Gardner, Jessica Cruz, Simon Baz, and my personal favorite, John Stewart. All have donned the Green Lantern ring and been tasked with protecting the Earth and its sector, 2814. Each ring-bearer has had their own comic book arc or two, and several have been members of the Justice League or Justice Society. For anyone interested in reading Green Lantern comics, finding a good starting point can be overwhelming. Understandably so!
Enter Geoff Johns, former Chief Creative Officer for DC Comics. In 2004, Geoff Johns began his revitalization of the legendary Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps mythos in the 6-issue mini-series, Green Lantern Rebirth. Johns not only revived the iconic Hal Jordan but began revamping other parts of the Green Lantern universe, such as the Guardians of the Universe and Sinestro, a Green Lantern turned Yellow Lantern villain. Johns also added something new called the “emotional spectrum,” paving the way for lantern corps with new colors and powers.
Before the addition of the emotional spectrum, Green Lanterns had a pretty lame Achilles Heel – the color yellow. This was for seemingly no other reason than it was different than the color green. When Geoff Johns took the reins, he changed the meaning behind the Green Lantern’s weakness from the color itself to “weakness to the Yellow Impurity of Fear,” due to the entity known as Parallax (the avatar of fear). This update made more sense for the characters; created a tangible vulnerability; and led to the creation of one of DC’s greatest villains, Sinestro, creator of the Yellow Lantern rings and leader of the Sinestro Corps.
The Green Lantern power ring is charged by the Lantern’s battery, but the light constructs are created with the Green Light of Will and maintained by the ring-bearer’s own willpower. Since fear is considered the opposite of willpower, when a Green Lantern begins to fear or doubt, the constructs lose their composition. This makes the Lantern vulnerable, and the Yellow Impurity begins to sneak into the Lantern’s ring in an attempt to take them over. After several traumatic events left him broken and afraid, Hal Jordan surrendered to Parallax and the Yellow Impurity, causing his own descent into madness and subsequent death (Emerald Twilight, issues #48-50). At this point, Kyle Rayner takes over as Earth’s protector for the next several years.
Geoff Johns’ mini-series Green Lantern Rebirth (#1-6) reintroduces Hal Jordan many years after the Parallax event. That makes this the perfect jumping on point for eager readers. This arc includes several different Green Lantern characters, Johns’ changes and updates, and enough background on what happened with Jordan to keep the reader from feeling lost or confused. The art is bright and colorful, and the story is relatable and compelling. Geoff Johns continued his masterful retelling of the Green Lantern in issues #1-67 (2005-2011) and issues #0-20 (2011-2016). There are many tie-ins and crossover issues that are worth reading if one is a “completionist,” but they’re not required to enjoy Johns’ Green Lantern story.
The Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps comics are rich in mythos and full of relatable characters who are constantly growing and learning from mistakes. Each Lantern has a unique personality and creates their own brand of light constructs. With the ever-changing cast of characters, both main and supporting, Green Lantern is one of the most popular DC Comics, and Geoff Johns’ writing remains the most iconic of any Green Lantern run. There’s no better starting point than here!
Derek – Avatar: The Last Airbender
It seems to me that if you grow up with a certain kind of geek medium, you have an “insider knowledge” that makes the medium feel natural to you. On the other hand, that knowledge may make it seem impenetrable to others. I grew up with video games all the way back to the NES and fantasy novels in the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms universes. I never touched a comic book. As Marvel and DC move into the national spotlight, it makes me curious, but then exhausted. Where do you even begin?
For me, the natural way to get into comic books was to transition directly from one medium to another. Many comics have been written as canonical extensions of video games, movies, tv shows, or novels. Some examples would be the recent Vader comics for Star Wars, or the Horizon: Zero Dawn comic continuing the story of Talanah. But the best comic books I have ever read are those that continue the Avatar: The Last Airbender story.
It is tempting to continue a story just to make a profit, and almost every franchise falls victim to this eventually. But Avatar left us with a very specific burning question in one of the final episodes when Zuko asks his father, “Where is my mother?!” In The Search, this question is fully explored, and I’ve never been so keen to turn the page of a book. But back up a step – first you need to read The Promise, which kicks off the sequence of post-show comics. There are many such comics now, but the first five: The Promise, The Search, The Rift, Smoke and Shadow, North and South are all written by the same team. All are worth your time. If nothing else, make sure you get some closure by reading up through The Search.
Nathan – Spider-Man
Spider-Man, Marvel’s flagship character, has persisted nearly sixty years and undergone multiple iterations on both page and screen. Readers looking for Spidey comics to swing into will be inundated with options, from famous stories such as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” or “Kraven’s Last Hunt” to popular runs across various series from talented creators such as Gerry Conway, J. Michael Straczynski, Paul Jenkins, Todd MacFarlane, and Dan Slott. But for new fans, or readers not acquainted with comics or Spider-Man lore, I offer two “jumping on” points: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s run on Amazing Spider-Man and Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man.
Co-created by Lee and Ditko, Peter Parker’s web-spinning alter ego first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. He received his own ongoing series the following year. Lee and Ditko wrote and illustrated 38 consecutive issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and I would argue these original stories form the bedrock for the character and his world. Readers are not only introduced to Peter and his powerful origin story. They readily engage with the various supporting cast members (Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, and Gwen Stacy), classic villains (Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, etc.) and locations (The Daily Bugle, Midtown High, the suburb of Queens, Empire State University) that have become synonymous with the character’s history over the last several decades.
Stories such as “If This Be My Destiny” still stand out today. Though Lee’s dialogue is often verbose, he nevertheless captures Peter as both a hero and a young man, creating a powerful yet relatable character for generations to admire. What other teenage hero has to worry about finances, his aging aunt’s health, his social awkwardness, homework, constant bad publicity, and relationships on top of pummeling (or being pummeled by) supervillains? Look at almost any issue of any modern Spider-Man series and you’ll find Lee and Ditko’s fingerprints marking the pages. Other, more recent stories may be more prominent, but few have been as historically impactful or constantly relevant to the Spider-Man mythos.
Shortly after the turn of the 21st century, Marvel launched a brand new universe – the Ultimate Universe! Among a myriad of titles depicting alternate versions of favorite characters, Ultimate Spider-Man led the charge under Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis takes several elements from the Lee/Ditko days – including the iconic origin story and several characters – and mixes them with other elements from Spidey’s storied history (Venom, Carnage, the Clone Saga, the Hobgoblin). The result is a unique take on the character that somehow blends forty years of history without feeling weighed down by four decades of continuity.
For readers who feel as if older stories are dated and long-winded, Bendis’ streamlined dialogue brings beautiful relevance and relatability to his modern day characters. His famed partnership with artist Mark Bagley (111 consecutive issues, marking the longest run from a writer/artist team in Marvel’s history) provides remarkable consistency and fluidity to the material. New readers may also be enticed to learn that Ultimate Spider-Man, unlike a decades-long ongoing series like Amazing Spider-Man, has an actual ending. After 160 issues (about 11 years), Bendis brings Peter’s story to a close. This allows Bendis to introduce a new Spider-Man – Miles Morales of Into the Spider-Verse fame. If they so choose, fans can easily transition from Peter’s adventures to Miles’ own mythology.
I should add that both the Lee/Ditko run and Ultimate Spider-Man are relatively easy to collect both physically and digitally. I prefer physical comics and can attest that both runs are available across various formats. Lee and Ditko’s work can best be found in a few Epic Collections or omnibuses. Several trade paperback volumes and a few Ultimate Collections are perhaps the easiest way to collect Ultimate Spider-Man.
Courtney (again): DC
I may be cheating here by putting my views in twice, but I couldn’t do a Marvel section without adding one about DC. I grew up with Superman, and he was my first favorite comic book character. Clark Kent and Lex Luthor may be two of my favorite characters of all time, really. So I had to add a little something about their world.
While DC has tried to reinvent its main universe multiple times, it never seems to work out. However, that does not mean readers can’t enjoy the wonders that are the DC alternate universes! Similar to Marvel’s multiverse (seen in the MCU), DC has speculative universes. Unlike Marvel, these universes do not seem to be tied together, and they take more drastic, artistic directions. DCeased and DC Bombshells immediately come to mind.
If you want women empowerment, I suggest DC Bombshells. Almost nothing is the same as the normal series in this female-saturated universe. You might find yourself constantly turning to Wikipedia to see the original incarnations of the characters, but those are not necessary to understand the new story they have set up. The authors completely revamp the stories of well-known figures like Wonder Woman and lesser-known figures like Big Barda. They also pull previously distinct dimensions together, like making Star Girl sisters with Supergirl. Content warning: There are a lot of lesbian relationships in this book. Nothing is explicit, but if that is not your cup of tea, check out my next recommendation.
Kingdom Come. Alex Ross beautifully paints the world, and every superhero is different than their original iteration. Superman is old and gray. Shazam is SPOILERS, and Wonder Woman is trying to hold the world together. This is a story about a world with superheroes gone wrong. Unlike Watchmen or Invincible, though, Mark Waid’s tale keeps hope centered in the picture. With names like Gog and Magog, there is also a lot of religious imagery to appreciate.
Those are my recommendations for any foray into the DC Universe. If you are brave, you can jump into the New 52, Rebirth, or any number of Crisis events. However, if you just want a good story that’s beautifully rendered or maybe one that makes you think, consider trying the alternate universes instead.