I’m about to turn 34. From the age of nine (1989) through just recently (2011), my comic book purchases were almost exclusively DC. A few times a year I’d buy something from Marvel or Dark Horse or Image, but DC has always received the lion’s share of my hard-earned cash.
Part of the reasoning behind this was that I’d put so much time and energy and money in the DCU – getting to know its characters and its mythology for 22 years. It was a big investment, big enough that I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing with another company. It would’ve been too much work.
Then the New 52 happened, and suddenly Tim Drake had never been Robin, Barbara Gordon was walking, Superman was making out with Wonder Woman, and everyone from Terra to Superboy to the Question bore little resemblance to their previous incarnations. Other characters were missing completely: Donna Troy, Elongated Man, Cassandra Cain. It was a whole new gimmicky world, but it contained just enough pre-New 52 elements to be an utterly frustrating experience for longtime readers.
Meanwhile, Marvel was busy launching its Marvel NOW! initiative, resetting existing titles to #1, bringing on new creative teams, and introducing new books. The Avengers became the third-highest grossing movie of all time, while the Green Lantern film reinvented suck. It became evident that it was time for a change. Here is a list of the Marvel NOW! (or Marvel NOW!-ish) books I’ve either checked out (by which I mean more than three issues) or have consistently picked up since I started buying Marvel:
Avengers Arena: Murder World
I read every issue of Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker’s Avengers Arena: Murder World, which is sort of a Battle Royale/Hunger Games for the teen superhero set.
Here’s why Avengers Arena: Murder World worked so well as an entry point to the Marvel universe: half of these characters were pre-existing, the other half invented solely for this book. I’d only heard of (and read the adventures of) X-23, the rest were new. Going back and researching Red Raven, for example, and discovering she’d been around for 20 years and was the third Red Raven to exist, or looking up Mettle and learning about the Avengers Academy, made the experiences of these kids on Murderworld pretty gripping even for a newb, and got me rolling on learning about Marvel history.
The follow-up, Avengers Arena: Avengers Undercover, also by Hopeless and Walker, finds the same group of kids tracking down one of their fellow survivors for reasons I don’t want to spoil.
I’m going to admit that I didn’t spend as much time with FF as I could’ve (about four issues) but that I was thoroughly entertained nonetheless. As an entry point, I don’t know that FF really works: the storyline’s a bit involved, and with only the basics of the characters down, I got a bit lost almost instantly.
The title refers not to the Fantastic Four, but rather the Reed Richards-created Future Foundation, an oddball collection of heroes (Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and others) serving as mentors and teachers for an even more oddball collection of youngsters.
Matt Fraction’s involved, charming stories and Mike Allred’s playful art make this a book I’ll go back to when the chance presents itself (or when I know enough about the Marvel U to just dive right in).
Wolverine and the X-Men
Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men follows the students of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning as they come into conflict with the Hellfire Academy, some students defecting from one school to the other, Wolverine’s brother making an appearance, Mystique making a throwaway “women in refrigerators” joke, and more.
This was an entertaining book, and very easy for a new reader to get into. I already knew, but had to investigate nonetheless, why it was the Jean Grey School rather than the Xavier Institute. I didn’t know what had happened to Nightcrawler, but I enjoyed all the little Bamfs running around.
Recently reset to #1 with Jason Latour taking over writing duties, and picking up where the last incarnation left off.
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
I knew absolutely nothing about any of these “superior” foes of Spider-Man, and I wasn’t required to: Superior Foes of Spider-Man follows some endearing, comically sad C-listers as they navigate their own journeys through half-assed supervillainry. I’m sure some of the jokes would be more rewarding if I knew who these people were, but Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s book is so well-paced, so comically sad, and so inventive that it is pretty much a perfect way to get into Marvel if you aren’t already (I’d vote Hawkeye accomplishes the exact same feat slightly better and in a more serious way, but I’ll get to that in a bit). You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not picking up Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
Daredevil is a unique case in the sense that I’ve always followed Daredevil (dating back to when I was nine) but never with the interest and dedication as I did with Mark Waid’s recently-ended (and relaunched) series.
Chris Samnee’s art reminds me of Mike Allred’s on FF, but a bit darker. And Matt Murdock’s struggle with outing himself as Daredevil while agonizing over the declining health of his best friend Foggy, added a new layer of urgency and intrigue to the standard “blind guy lawyer with baton fights crime” story (which was already pretty damn interesting on its own).
Same team is now working on the new Daredevil series, which follows a disbarred-in-New York Murdock as he attempts a new career in San Francisco. I kind of hope he’ll return to New York, though, since Daredevil swinging around a crime-laden Hell’s Kitchen/Manhattan always seemed so cool. I’m sure I’ll learn to love SF.
My only exposure to Moon Knight prior to this was his appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes Spring Special #1 in 1990, but I knew he was a popular character and the book was being written by Warren Ellis (whom I’ve praised the virtues of before) so I wanted to check it out.
This is a pretty newbie-friendly book – Ellis handles exposition really well. There was a throwaway line about Moon Knight ripping off a guy’s face, which led me to read about Moon Knight’s poor nemesis Bushman getting the ol’ Joker treatment, and…well.
First issue was appropriately dark and bizarre and I expect great things from this book.
Kamala Khan is a teenage girl struggling with her faith (Muslim) and race (Pakistani) in the face of tolerant non-tolerance (in her case, the faux-concern of her high school’s predominantly white A-crowd) and oppressive parents. After being granted powers by a green-fogged hallucination of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Khan suddenly finds herself rescuing her enemies and discovering yet another reason to feel alienated and misunderstood.
Ms. Marvel is a good jumping-on point for new readers because the title character is herself completely new to the Marvel universe. And the Buffy Summers-ish teenage-girl-struggling-to-balance-teenagehood-with-superhero-life is a winning formula.
Taking its cues from Hawkeye, She-Hulk follows Jennifer Walters in her civilian life as a struggling lawyer, with her superhero-ing coming second to real-life adversity. The first issue was great, the second merely okay, but I’m going to stick with this series because the vibe is so overtly Hawkeye, and because Charles Soule is such a dependable writer. Also, I dig Hellcat (She-Hulk’s new partner in crime fighting).
As for non-Marvel NOW! books:
Hawkeye is a near-perfect book. I’d say it was perfect, except the title occasionally refers to Kate Bishop (the other Hawkeye) as she makes her way in Los Angeles. Kate’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but Clint Barton (the original Hawkeye) shrugging through his life as a landlord in Brooklyn is so good that it’s a pain when the focus shifts elsewhere. Unless it’s Pizza Dog, who is utterly fascinating. Kate Bishop and Christmas cartoons, not so much.
As the title page states, this is what Clint does when he’s not being an Avenger and wow, it’s good. The colour palette, the facial bandages, the way four issues can view the same incident from different angles. This is a book that rewards you (handsomely) for paying attention: note the discarded sneaker on the sidewalk.
And that Matt Fraction – so handsome!
“All of the power, none of the responsibility” was the tagline for the recently-ended Scarlet Spider book, in which reformed villain (and Spider-Man clone) Kaine makes up for his bad days by being a reluctant superhero in Dallas. Reformed villains turned reluctant heroes can be some of the most interesting characters in the business, and Kaine is amongst the best. Plus his outfit is so cool. Plus, he’s Spider-Man! But not!
The series recently came to an end, but Writer Chris Yost is now writing New Warriors, so you can check out Kaine’s adventures in that book (co-starring Speedball, also awesome).