There’s a lot of talk about jumping on points in comics. I get it. We all want a place that we can safely dip our toes into. A place we can wade in and figure out if the water is nice. You want to know what everybody’s deal is. What the status quo is. Who the dude in the weird hat is. (Hint: he’s probably a Kirby character.) Singing nannies have told us the beginning is a very good place to start. Maybe that’s not always the case. Here’s the thing: you should just jump in.
I know – you’re probably looking to click away from Panels right now. “What a dumb idea!” you’re thinking. “Who does this Chris guy think he is?” That’s probably the right attitude to have when you see my byline, but hear me out just this once!
One of the draws of massive, interconnected superhero universes is the history. But that’s the problem with something being massive. There’s a hell of a lot of it. I’m here to tell you that you just can’t read it all. It kind of sucks. People who like cape comics tend to be obsessive. We want it all. We want to push it all in our brains and be able to call up minutiae at a moment’s notice. And that’s cool. There’ll be time for that, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, and it’s not always issue one.
We’re blessed now with services like Marvel Unlimited that give you the ability to dig back to the beginning. Let’s be real, though – you’re not going to read 75 years of Spider-Man. You might, and that might be a fun experiment, but you’re probably better off jumping into a run you’ve heard good things about and going forward from there. Or… for example, you can do what I did and jump into the DC Universe with possibly one of the worst entry points of all time and fall deeply in love with the entire, messy thing because of it.
My first real foray into the DC Universe was 52, a weekly series that told the story of the year without Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. It barely features a character that even enters the ballpark of being called A-list. It spins out of a bunch of weird ongoing continuity involving stuff like The Crime Bible, Mister Mind, the idiosyncrasies of the Marvel family and the ongoing wars between multiple fictional countries. Oh, and Booster Gold and two separate versions of the Question – who are all great.
I recently re-read a bit of 52 because of my fond memories of it and was stunned by how thick it is with deep cuts of continuity. I was kind of shocked that I got so into it, but in the moment I was enthralled by this new, big, weird world that I was discovering. It had so many strange loose ends and interesting characters that I’d never heard of. I started going both directions in time to learn about them. I was grabbing old issues and looking forward to upcoming books that were featuring them. There’s almost always enough context to at least understand who a character is at least as far as that specific story is concerned. You might not get their whole deal right out of the bag, but do you really need to?
It’s not always going to work. Some mainstream superhero comics are going to be impenetrable without some knowledge of continuity, but more often than not, everything you need to know to enjoy the story is in there. I know this isn’t going to work for everyone, but it’s honestly my favorite way to read comics and I wish more people would give it a shot. We couldn’t live in an easier time to do it, either. If there’s a nugget of info that’s really got you tripped up, Wikipedia is there for you. You’re reading Panels, which means you’ve got a comics community that is ready, willing and able to fill you in on whatever you need.
If there’s a character or team that’s had you interested, the best thing you can do is ask your comics reading buddies what’s good, pick off that list and just dive right in. You’ll keep your head above water and you’ll probably find a bunch of stuff to love while you’re doing it. Who doesn’t need even more comics to read?