Originally posted by Stuart Kirkman
Welcome to the second in a series of comic book recommendations, designed to help the uninitiated break into this impenetrable medium, and take them from noob to know-it-all. The first five suggestions are fairly short, standalone stories that don’t require any knowledge or pre-reading. From there we’ll go into some longer runs of 4-6 volumes, then some even bigger commitments, and eventually some current ongoing series.
Last time we discussed one of the pillar’s of DC, so this time we’re switching over to their competitor and showcasing Marvel’s most beloved heroes in this fantastic story:
The more popular a character is, the more books are published in their name, the more convoluted their history becomes, and the more substandard stories they become involved in. That’s just the nature of this business; everyone wants to get their hands on the webslinger, but not everyone has safe hands. Finding great and accessible Spider-Man stories is a bit like ordering food at a questionable restaurant while in a foreign country. You might end up eating a lot of shit before you find something you like.
In Spider-Man: Blue, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale manage to retread one of Peter Parker’s most tragic stories (there are a lot to pick from), while juggling a handful important side-characters and half a dozen of his classic villains. It’s a look back at the classic era of Spider-Man, but through a modern lens. Tim Sale’s art style and storytelling sensibilities are perfect for this, and along with colourist Matt Hollingsworth he achieves the perfect tone for this sombre story.
Along with his exclusive writing partner Jeph Loeb, these two have told a handful of emotionally resonant tales about some of Marvel’s biggest heroes, but this one is probably the most special. It’s a sharp reminder of just how tragic a figure Spider-Man is, and a great example of why he’s such a fantastic character. If you only ever read one Spider-Man book, this should be the one you choose.
This story has been released in hardcover and trade paperback, but both of those are currently out of print. Luckily it’s also collected with Daredevil: Yellow and Hulk: Grey in a lovely Oversized Hardcover, and if you don’t feel like spending that amount of money you can also find it on Comixology and Marvel Comics Unlimited.
If you liked this you might also enjoy…
Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
If you like what Loeb and Sale have to offer in Spider-Man: Blue, then the chances are you’ll enjoy everything they’ve done together, but The Long Halloween might be the most ambitious and significant. This is a 13-issue maxi-series that covers a full year of Batman’s early career, and in a similar way to Blue, a variety of Batman’s rogues gallery are featured. Each issue tells a fairly standalone story, but they all contribute towards a larger murder-mystery plot. These are the days before Robin, so Batman is a more morose and lonely figure than ever. The sequel, Dark Victory, shows how Bruce Wayne came to be the ward of the first Robin, Dick Grayson, and it makes a fantastic companion piece to this if you’re interested in seeing more. This story has been released a few times so it’s easy to find in Trade Paperback, but if you want a really special copy then you’ll have to track down a copy of the Absolute Edition.
Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley
This run might be a bit too much for a new reader, as it’s now well over 200 issues long, but if you’re looking for something to really sink your teeth into then this might be the Spider-Man story for you. In 1999 Brian Michael Bendis was given a rare opportunity to retell the early years of Spider-Man in a brand new version of the Marvel Universe. This Ultimate universe was a modern re-telling of some of the most popular characters origins and early adventures, so during these stories Peter Parker is still in high school, living with his Aunt May, working for J. Jonah Jameson, having lots and lots of girl problems. The series has gone through many reboots, but has always retained its core sensibilities. Not only is it the most accessible long-form Spider-Man story, it’s also the most consistently well told, which is why Bendis is still writing a version of it today.
If you want to sample this title to see if its for you, then you can pick up the first Trade Paperback for cheap on the second hand market, just make sure you buy the one called Power and Responsibility, as they’ve reset the numbering a couple of times over the years. There are OHC’s and Ultimate Collection TPB’s that collect two volumes each, and an Omnibus that collects the first 6 volumes, but all of the first volumes are currently out of print. You can also find the whole series on Comixology, but the best way to go would be Marvel Comics Unlimited, just look for the one with (2000) written next to the title, or you’ll end up accidentally starting halfway through. For a full reading order of Ultimate Spider-Man volumes you can use this list to guide you.
Silver Surfer: Requiem by J. Michael Straczynski & Esad Ribic
If you’re looking for something as emotionally resonant as Spider-Man: Blue there aren’t many Superhero comics that can measure up, but that’s not to say there are none at all. This four-issue mini-series tells the story of the Silver Surfer’s final days, as he discovers that his body is deteriorating and doesn’t have long left to live. During his long life, the Silver Surfer has travelled across the entire universe, impacting the lives of billions of people. When he puts his mind to is, JMS can be a very poetic writer, and the narration in this story effectively expresses the emotion and tragedy of what the character is going through.
Even though it’s told on a grand scale, it’s actually a very personal story about looking back on your life and saying a final goodbye to the people and places that are most important to you. Joining Straczynski on this series is Esad Ribic, one of the few artists that still paints their interiors, and he provides some truly stunning work here. Some of the story takes place on Earth and alien worlds, but a lot of it is in the vastness of space. Ribic cleverly uses large panels of blackness to set the tone for this dark story about a man who is questioning his significance in the universe. This book is quite difficult to find in print, but you can get it digitally on ComiXology and Marvel Comics Unlimited.
That brings us to the end of the Comics 102, but there’ll be three more recommendations in the mini-series category, and then we’ll move on to some longer series. To keep up with these suggestions as they come out, you can bookmark the Beginner’s Guide to Comics page, which has an index of all the recommendations as they come out. Please let us know what you think of these stories in the comments, and make sure you come back in a few days for Comics 103.