One of the scariest things as a new reader and biggest barrier to entry is the crazy mythology that comes with some titles. What do you mean these X-guys have been at it for more than 600 issues? And yes some people have read all of them, but accepting that you do not need to know everything can be tough. I think that you should jump in even if you know nothing at all. There is no better way to get ready for reading comics… than reading comics!
We live in the era of Netflix and watching a TV show means watching every single episode since number 1. That is not the way I got into some of the most important shows to me. I just happened to have liked an episode and I kept watching week after week. I did not start watching Buffy, X-files, or any of the seminal cartoons of my childhood from the beginning. Nowadays if someone tells you to watch a given show most people will go back to season 1 episode 1 and binge watch the entire show. Almost no-one will start watching from this week’s episode. Which can be terrible for shows that did not find their groove until season 2. But I digress…
Knowing everything is not a prerequisite to enjoy a story. Star Wars literally started with episode IV. You know that Han has a troubled past, you can feel that Uncle Owen knows way more about that old crazy Ben than he is sharing. So the viewer instantly knows there is more to the story, that these characters have a back-story, but does not need to know exactly what it is. And when I meet someone who has never watched Star Wars (yes they exist), my first advice is basically never to start with episode one. Nobody has ever needed episode one to like episode four. Quite the opposite in fact!
I grew up reading French bandes dessinées. Usually the same team works from beginning to end on a series. It would have never come to mind for me not to read a series from the first volume and chronologically. Of course, even if you cannot start at the very beginning, good jumping points are important. I did start buying single issues with #1s, including the launch of the new 52. And when I get into “finished” runs, I like finding a good place to start. For example, after hearing for years that I needed to read Brubaker’s run on captain America, the day I decided to dive in, I got lost. My friend and trusted adviser Dave (who happens to sell comic books for a living) took me from darkness to light. It took him ten minutes to give me options of what could work for me, from hard covers to omnibi, the pluses and minuses of each jumping-in point, etc. I know that unfortunately not everybody has a Dave in their comic book store, nor does everyone have a comic book store down the street, but the message is that there are resources. Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, forums- there are a lot of people out there willing to help.
But you usually do not need anything more than the book you are reading to enjoy the book you are reading. Someone is telling you a story. Are you enjoying it? That should be the only question that matters. Not a lot of people have read “everything Batman” since he first appeared in 1939. Everybody had to start somewhere. And the Batman Scott Snyder is writing right now is very different from who Batman was 30, 20 or 10 years ago. So just dive in. And maybe after a few issues you will go back and read all of Daredevil (like a certain someone at Panels, Preeti) It is fantastic if a book makes you curious and makes you want to know everything. But it is okay if you don’t. You may want to, but you really do not need to.
For example, I started to read Hawkeye with Aja/Fraction #1. All I knew about Clint Barton came from movies, reading some Avengers comics in which he only had a small role, and what his costume was supposed to look like. In issue 8, Clint gets cornered by a few female characters. I did recognize Black widow, and had basically no idea who the “friend-girl” or the ex-wife were or why they were making an appearance. And I could have googled it, asked my friends, or even twitter who they were and why they mattered. But I didn’t. I just rolled with it. I could feel they were there as people who cared about the main character even if I did not understand why. The following issue gave me names (Jessica Drew and Bobbi Morse), context, and everything I needed to appreciate why they had appeared. All that mattered to that specific story was given to me. I would even argue that not knowing too much about them helped me enjoy the book. A lot of my friends seemed more confused about Jessica Drew showing up and the implications it had for where the book tied back in the current continuity of the Marvel Universe.
I will go even further. Pick up a comic you might like or want to read even if it is not a good jumping-in point. You will figure it out. Something seems to have happened between these two characters? Something probably did. Don’t worry about the details. I learned to buy a single issue just because the cover was appealing or I liked the name of the writer. My boyfriend started to read Saga with issue 4, because it happened to be the one on my coffee table. It was enough to get him to realize that he liked the book. Let writers take you on a journey. Like a lot of people (and yes I do appreciate that my geek cred is going to take a hit) I had no idea who Thanos was when he showed up in the post credits sequence of The Avengers. Guess what? When Thanos became relevant, they told me why! Do I know everything there is to know about Thanos? Absolutely not. But I certainly did not need to to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy. And being lead on this journey to discover who Thanos is has been awesome.
So to the question: “When should I start reading this title?” the answer is “Right now!” Don’t think, just jump in!