Before I started reading monthly titles or picked up trades, my introduction into the world of superhero comics was through novels and novelizations. I’ve seen Batman: The Animated Series, the 90s X-Men, Justice League, and so forth but when it came to the page, books were my way in. The very first time was in 2005. I was in Grade 8. I headed into the library and came across Judith O’Brien’s novel, Mary Jane, inspired by the 2000 Ultimate Spider-Man comic series. It was written from the point of view of a teenage Mary-Jane Watson as she dealt with being the new girl in school, her parents’ divorce, ballet, and a new friendship with a boy: Peter Parker. I was happy to get to know Mary-Jane as someone beyond Spider-Man’s love interest and I devoured its contents that same day. I’d let that book sustain me until my next encounter with the Marvel and DC superheroes a few years later.
Fast forward to Fall 2010, I’m a first year student at York University in Toronto and I’m not making the social transition from high school to post-secondary as successfully as my academics. So I sought refuge in my local library and stumbled onto Greg Rucka’s Batman: No Man’s Land novelization. I had seen the masterpiece of Nolan’s The Dark Knight two years prior and have always been a big Batman fan so I thought, “Why not?”, and checked out a copy.
This book was a life changer.
Not only did it introduce me to the writing talents of Greg Rucka (Two words: Gotham Central) but it also got me into my first crossover event between DC’s multiple Batman titles that I didn’t know existed. It wasn’t until after I read the original issues recently that I realized how much the added details enriched the comic’s premise. I was hooked. I wanted more of these novels that featured my favourite superhero characters. I started to search feverously and found Infinite Crisis by Greg Cox. It was a huge 2005–2006 DC comics event that had all of its titles crossing over into one another and it was the first time my reading experience was met with hesitation. I don’t know 75 years of DC Comics! How will I understand anything that’s going on? While comics made me feel like a fish out of water, I’ve been a book reader my entire life. This confidence in the medium helped me get over my fears and plunge head first into this story.
I won’t lie to you and say I understood everything that led up to the story I was reading but I can say that it didn’t affect my enjoyment one bit. If anything, it planted the seeds for a hunger I never had before: comics.
Next on the list was The Life and Death of Superman by Roger Stern based on the 1992 storyline that got all of mainstream media talking at the time (Newstime Magazine had a special issue called World Without a Superman). I read as Superman defended Metropolis valiantly against the unstoppable force known as Doomsday only to die in the arms of Lois Lane.
I may not have seen the iconic panel at the time but the impact was just the same. I read as the the Man of Tomorrow was no more (Spoiler: In true comics fashion, he comes back to life because, duh, he’s Superman). Fall was slowly turning into winter and my final book was Enemis & Allies by Kevin J. Anderson. It wasn’t based on or inspired by a comics storyline like the others but instead was an original story featuring Superman and Batman. The nuclear arms race is our backdrop as Superman and Batman cross paths for the very first time into their early years as heroes. A great book to read if you’re excited for the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie and I’ve always loved it when these two very different heroes meet up for the first time. It lends itself to some great conflict.
After Enemies & Allies, I felt that I was ready for the next step: trades and graphic novels. They were great and I started to hoard some of that DC history in the process. I even went out of my superhero comfort zone with comics like Y: The Last Man and Ghost World but I still craved for that monthly ongoing experience. In September 2011, DC Comics launched The New 52 which acted as a universe reset with 52 new titles exploring new histories of their iconic characters. This was my way in and I felt like the novels I’d been reading prepared me for this moment.
It’s been more than four years since I started reading comics. My tastes have evolved beyond just superheroes at this point but I still think about those books. A few months ago, I found Mary Jane 2 by Judith O’Brien on the Barnes and Noble website and I couldn’t help but smile as I added it to my cart. If I could recommend a way into superhero comics for the book lover, I’d suggest giving these books and others like it a try. It’ll be a toe dip into the vast waters of superhero history but it’ll be a start.
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