Comics can be daunting for newcomers. With so many different universes and different continuities, it can be difficult to know where to start. This is something I’ve written about before, but it’s a matter that deserves some more attention, because it seems like creators and publishers are aware of the problem – and as a result of their efforts to fix it, there’s never been a better time to dive into comics.
Two of the biggest publishers, DC Comics and Marvel, have both held major crossover events, bringing characters from different series together. The events themselves probably won’t matter to anyone who’s not already heavily invested in these characters and worlds, but the important part is what comes afterwards – events like these give publishers a chance to reset the existing canon to some extent, letting each series drop its continuity baggage and move forward with storylines that aren’t so caught up with past events.
DC’s big event was Convergence, which ran from April through May this year. In this storyline, the villain Braniac decided to collect different universes and smash them together, because… it’s not important. What’s important is that it brought an end to the New 52 branding and universe established with DC’s last big shake up in 2011, and gave DC another chance to start fresh. All but 25 of DC’s series were wrapped up with Convergence, and while the numbering and storylines from those 25 remain intact, they’re joined by 24 brand new books covering everything from DC staples like Justice League of America and Constantine: Hellblazer to more unexpected, humorous tales, like Bat-Mite and Prez. The new series’ all kicked off in June, so even though there are a few issues of each out, it shouldn’t be too hard to track down any #1s you may want.
Marvel is currently undergoing something similar to Convergence, but on a much grander scale: Secret Wars. Named after a similar event from the ‘80s, Secret World is a months-long event that collects different universes and smashes them together, because… who cares (I’m getting a weird sense of deja vu). What matters here is that this event is establishing a new Marvel universe under the All New, All Different Marvel imprint. This means, much like DC’s New 52, every Marvel book is getting reset, with a bunch of new and returning series kicking off from #1 from October. In a lot of cases, the new stories follow on from pre-Secret Wars ones, and with the same creative teams, but they are – importantly – all new story arcs that, hopefully, won’t require much (or any) background knowledge.
Vertigo, a less superhero-centric imprint from DC Comics, is also making a comeback in a big way. At San Diego Comic Con, they announced 12 brand new series spanning science-fiction, supernatural, humour, and romance. Clean Room, a psychological thriller by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt, is bound to be worth a look when it kicks off in October, as will the new Lucifer series by Holly Black and Lee Garbett, which sees Lucifer Morningstar (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series) falsely accused of the murder of God.
Even outside the two powerhouses, things are looking good for newcomers. Image Comics recently announced a slate of 19 new series due to start this year, from some of the best creators in the medium – Scott Snyder, Brian K. Vaughan, Emi Lenox, Skottie Young, and Todd McFarlane, to name but a few. And on top of all these, Image is just a very newcomer-friendly publisher anyway, with most of their runs being self-contained, finite, and far more genre-diverse than DC or Marvel. Archie Comics have just launched an excellent new run of Archie – the first reboot in the series’ 75 year history – and IDW’s Jem and the Holograms, which launched earlier in the year, might be my single favourite book right now. Across the countless indie publishers, there are hundreds of new titles vying for your attention, and there’s something for every taste.
Finally, there’s the question of accessibility. The collector market for physical comics has typically locked newcomers out of jumping in with anything earlier than the latest issue of any given series, but digital distribution makes that moot. Comixology has a massive library spanning almost all publishers big and small, makes finding things relevant to your interests easy and intuitive, regularly curates collections and offers themed discounts, and gives you comics that are readily available on just about every connected device you own. Marvel Unlimited, is far from as user-friendly as Comixology, but it’s value for money is unmatched – giving you tens of thousands of Marvel back issues, with stuff as recent as six months old, for just $10 USD per month.
Between major continuity resets from the big publishers, plenty of brand new series from the likes of Image and Vertigo, a surge in indie comics, and unprecedented ease of access through digital distribution, there’s never been a better time to dive right in.