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“I Want to Read Comics After Seeing the Avengers”: Post-Avengers Comic Book Recommendations…

The Avengers opened in a lot of major markets this weekend. It is opening in the United States this Friday. It’s set to be huge and has been quite well received by critics and audiences. Now, I know that this massive blockbuster movie won’t convert the millions of avid movie-watchers into comic book fans, if only because other comic books have failed to see that appreciable a gain from success in other media. However, on the off chance that somebody comes out of the cinema thinking “hey, I really like that and would like to check out the source material”, I’ve compiled a handy list of recommendations that should be readily available and easy to find for would-be fans looking to get a taste for the iconic characters in their original media.

Just a quick note. I’ve limited this list to stuff that is relatively easily available, and quite accessible. I know that there’s a giant omnibus of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Avengers released to coincide with the movie, but I find it very tough to believe that the casual movie-fan will pick it up and find it the easiest to engage with. Similarly, I’ve left the more complex continuity-based material off. I like Brian Bendis’ Avengers stuff more than most, but it’s not the easiest to follow unless you’re willing to spend hundreds on tie-ins and crossovers. Similarly, there are no-brainers like The Infinity Gaunlet that simply aren’t easily collected. A shame, because they’d fit quite well.

Still, most of these books are relatively “in continuity”, and so assume some knowledge of the characters and status quo. I’ve included two handy guides Accessibility and What You Need to Know, with a view to giving you an idea of how easy a book is to pick up. Anyway, here’s the guise, with links to longer reviews and discussion pieces.

The Ultimates

The book that had a huge influence on the films being produced by Marvel. It’s essentially a modern-day retelling of their origin story, told with more contemporary sensibilities. For example, Captain America is portrayed as a man with social values from the forties, while Thor’s claims to be a god are doubted by his friends and colleagues. You won’t find a more engaging or more accessible book out there, and I’d actually argue it’s an improvement on Whedon’s film. It’s from the writer of Kick-Ass and Wanted, Mark Millar, a writer who has a great eye for movie-friendly material, so it reads especially well as an introduction to the medium.

Accessibility: High

What You Need To Know: Nothing

Why It’s Here: Because it’s a huge visual influence on the films, perhaps the most cinematic mainstream comic book ever written and it’s my own personal favourite Avengers story, even after all these years.


Keeping with the blockbuster feel of the movie, this crossover pits the icons of DC and Marvel against each other – giving us Batman against Captain America and Thor against Superman. It’s from writer Kurt Busiek, who wrote a well-regarded Avengers run that is too continuity-heavy for casual readers. While the plot makes extensive reference to the history of both companies, with countless easter eggs and subtle nods, Busiek does fill the audience in quite well on each plot point. It isn’t the deepest or most thoughtful book, but it is great fun and features some of the best comic book art you’ll find courtesy of George Perez.

Accessibility: Medium

What You Need To Know: A passing familiarity with the heroes of both companies is recommended for the most enjoyment, and to get a large number of in-jokes, but Busiek does a good job introducing characters as he goes along.

Why It’s Here: Because it is a wonderfully bombastic superhero tale with some of the most gleeful fun I’ve seen any writer and artist have with these iconic mainstays.

The Mighty Avengers: Dark Reign

There’s a lot weighing against this book. It’s in the middle of a giant company crossover, for one thing. It features none of the cast from the movie in any major way, for another. However, it’s the most enjoyable “superhero-y” Avengers title that Marvel has put out in quite some time, and it does a great job referencing the long established comic book traditions of the team while remaining reasonably accessible. Of course, it engages with comic book touches like talking cows and characters trapped in books, but writer Dan Slott does an astonishing job crafting a character arc for his lead character and bringing the reader up to speed.

Accessibility: Low to Medium

What You Need to Know: Norman Osborn, the bad guy from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, has been made the “top cop” of the Marvel Universe; founding Avenger Hank Pym must illegally assemble a team of superheroes to do the standard super-hero-y stuff; the only problem is that everybody thinks Hank Pym is a joke.

Why It’s Here: Because it actually picks up on Whedon’s tone and theme surprisingly well. Whedon’s Avengers is the story of a bunch of heroes in a pragmatic world, who refuse to compromise and become symbols of courage, idealism and valour. Slott’s team follows a very similar arc. It’s also a fun read in its own right.

Captain America by Ed Brubaker

Okay, now we’re into runs on individual characters. Ed Brubaker does a great job grounding Captain America, presenting him as a soldier rather than an iconic super-hero type figure. He’s been writing the book for four years, but it’s actually quite self-contained. He does like to throw in the odd reference, here and there, to a piece of classic lore, but he does contextualise it. It is kind of noir-ish, but Brubaker doesn’t skimp on the comic book elements. Indeed, fans of the film will note that the cosmic cube and the Red Skull are both major players in the run. Personally, I think the opening stretch of issues is the weakest, but they are still damn good.

Accessibility: Medium to High

What You Need to Know: The Avengers have just broken up; Cap’s sidekick Bucky died in the War (he also died in the film); there was once a psychotic who claimed to be Captain America during the fifties, but wasn’t.

Why It’s Here: In many ways, Captain America feels like he should be the focal point of The Avengers. Brubaker updates the character for the modern world and tells a fairly self-contained story featuring the character, his world, and his ideals.

Thor by Walt Simonson

I think Thor by Walt Simonson might be one of the best “classic” run on any of the three primary Avengers. It’s certainly the most accessible. Sure, Simonson uses outdated narrative tools like thought balloons, and he lays on the exposition a bit heavy, but that also means that the reader is never locked out of the comic by a lack of knowledge of Marvel’s shared and complex history. Thor, by his nature, is a character who lends himself to somewhat corny dialogue and scenarios, and these are the most “comic-book-y” stories included on this list of recommendations, but they are superbly enjoyable fantasy. They won’t be to everybody’s taste, especially those who like their heroes grounded, but they are well worth seeking out.

Accessibility: Medium to High

What You Need to Know: Nothing, it’s all in there.

Why It’s Here: Simply put, it’s perhaps the most accessible “classic” comic book out there on the market for those looking to sample some more old-fashioned Avengers goodness. It also served as a heavy inspiration to Kenneth Branagh’s superb Thor, so it’s hard not to recommend it.

Iron Man: Extremis

This is a bit of a no-brainer. Rumour has it that this will be the story for Iron Man III. Even if it wasn’t, it’s one of the best Iron Man stories ever published. Sure, it doesn’t use too many of his supporting cast, and is stronger in concept than in character, but it’s also a superb introduction to the character through Warren Ellis’ fascination with futurism. It’s also an origin story, so that can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for.

Accessibility: High

What You Need to Know: Next to nothing.

Why It’s Here: It’s an origin story for one of the most successful characters in the franchise, while also capturing the spirit of a lot of the best stories. It is also rumoured to provide the plot of the next film in series.

Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski is a writer who has had considerable success outside comics, writing Babylon 5 and Changeling among others. When he took over Thor, the writer was granted complete freedom from the crossover events taking place, and spared any obligation to tie into the shared continuity. This was quite handy, because it allowed him to tell his own story, at his own pace, with one hell of a hook. What if Asgard ended up in Oklahoma? The story is somewhat undermined by the fact that Straczynski left before providing an ending to his story, by Kieron Gillen did a great job taking over after the author’s departure.

Accessibility: Medium

What You Need to Know: The story takes place after Asgard and Thor “died” during a version of “ragnarok.” While he was away, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic cloned him. Because Iron Man is a bit of a dick.

Why It’s Here: It’s a fun and entertaining comic that explores the overlap between the magical and the mundane that comics so frequently allows. Placing Thor and his people in Oklahoma allows for some interesting situations and Straczynski writes a fairly compelling lead and villain. Indeed, this run features a superb Loki.

The Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction

Iron Man was arguably never captured better than by Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau. Their interpretation of the character just clicked in a way that the character never really did before. There have been good runs, with Michelinie and Layton’s still awaiting collection, but Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man is designed to build off the ideas that Downey Jr. and Favreau proposed about the character. The biggest problem, however, is the fact that Fraction’s story is overwhelmed by the continuity that Straczynski avoided. So the status quo is prone to shift from issue-to-issue, and characters pop from out of nowhere. Still, the character work is exemplary.

Accessibility: Low

What You Need to Know: Tony Stark is a recovering alcoholic; he is doing Nick Fury’s old job, and has made a lot of enemies by doing so, especially among other heroes; Obidiah Stane (the bad guy from the film) has a son. As of issue seven, you need to know that Stark screwed up massively during an alien invasion and got fired. His status quo literally changes between issues, so one minute he has the job and the next he doesn’t. Also, Norman Osborn (from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man) replaced him in Nick Fury’s old job.

Why It’s Here: Matt Fraction captures the spirit of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man remarkably well, even if his narrative does get a bit too caught up in “the next big event” syndrome that plagues modern comics. It’s clever, it’s well-written and it’s well characterised.

Ultimate Human

Okay, this is fairly simple. Bruce Banner decides that Tony Stark can probably help cure him. Things do not go to plan. Cue four issues of fighting, with a script that is much smarter than it needs to be. It’s here because (a.) it’s great fun and (b.) I like to pretend something like this happens after Banner and Stark drive off together at the end of The Avengers.

Accessibility: High

What You Need to Know: Hulk smash; Tony Stark arrogant.

Why It’s Here: Because it’s fun.

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