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31May/112

Comic Book Movies 2011: A Newbie’s Guide (Part 1)

One of the most frequently asked questions I get in my job as a bookseller who specialises in, amongst other things, graphic novels is “where do I start?”. Well okay, that's the question most frequently asked after we've established that yes I'm a woman, yes I read comics, yes I've actually read all of these ones behind me.

As we settle down to a monster year of comic book films coming to our cinemas, let's have a look at an ultimate guide for beginners to the stars of the year: Thor, The X-Men, Green Lantern, Captain America, Conan, and Judge Dredd. Heck, I'll even throw in a little Priest, Cowboys & Aliens, and Tintin for you.

Comic Book Movies of 2011

If you know your comics from your graphic novels, skip to your film of choice - ordered by release date. Otherwise, read on! Disclaimer: these comics have been chosen for how newcomer friendly they are, there are many more great comics out there of course - we may talk about them later.

Thor
Priest
X-Men: First Class
Green Lantern

(Captain America through to Dredd are in the next installment!)

Comics can be pretty overwhelming when you're starting out. You might know that you have to pick up Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but the rest is a bit of a mystery and you can't seem to find the beginning of any story that doesn't contradict the other ones you've picked up. You may even be a little puzzled by the difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. Do not panic! This is fairly normal, and while it may seem like every comic geek just knows what to read and when, at some point a lot of us just stood there thinking, "well... crap". Do not be afraid, just ask for help – your local friendly comic geek will be glad to help. Often rather enthusiastically.

It helps if the comic isn't just in your head.

First, lets get the basics down. The term "comics" is used to describe the media as a whole, and is also used to describe the individual issues that you can buy from your local comic book shop. The usual length is 32 pages, and generally they come out monthly though that inevitably varies (not least due to delays!). The story is spread out across these installments, and are often collected together in a trade paperback release, also known as a graphic novel. Sometimes a story will go straight to graphic novel first, but more often it's a good way of bringing together a particular story arc from the single issues.

The graphic novel is a book rather than a comic (but still contains comics and is therefore a comic!), in that it has no advertisements, and is released with an ISBN: meaning you can buy it from your local book store or online book retailer. Being thicker than a 32 page comic also means it has a larger book spine, allowing it to be shelved in a normal bookcase or similar, rather than needing more delicate looking after.

In many ways, the graphic novel is the dvd box set to the new series broadcasting on television. You can get it all at once without having to wait between cliffhangers, but you are reading it after the comic shop buyers, sometimes many months after. It's really personal preference and both forms have their pros and cons. For this article I'm going to focus on graphic novels as I'm predominantly talking about older story arcs that are much cheaper to purchase in collected form than they are in the much sought after singles!

But make sure to hold it the right way up.

It's no exaggeration to say that 2011 is going to be a huge year for comic book movies. 2010 had six comic book films released at the cinema while 2011 has nine with a potential 2012 schedule to match. Of course, the popularity of comic book and superhero films is no new fad; Superman has long enchanted us on the silver screen while we try to pretend certain Batman films never existed. But since X-Men knocked out audiences in 2000, Hollywood has enjoyed a new period of the profitable comic book film which has led to the current glut.

Time will tell if this is to be superhero overkill, but the signs are suggesting otherwise so far with the big comic names coming out to play, and the promise of Nolan's last Batman next year to look forward to regardless.

So mark your diaries, book those cinema tickets, and get ready for some darn good reading!

Thor

ThorSwooning is optional but recommended.

 

The Mighty Thor Volume 1Title: The Mighty Thor Volume 1
Author: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Larry Lieber
Artist: Jack Kirby
Publisher: Marvel

Available either in the Marvel Masterworks series (cheap!) or as a hardcover omnibus (expensive!), this is the collection of original Thor tales from his 1960s adventures in the Journey into Mystery comics (#83-120).

These are the Kirby pencilled comics (among other great artists), and begin with the lame medical student Donald Blake discovering that he is in fact the great thunder god Thor of Norse mythology. Well actually, he's sharing his body with him. And his new cane is Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, in disguise! Thor has of course been punished by Odin for his lack of humility, though what Blake did to deserve the weirdness is unknown. But at least he gets to chat up Jane Foster. No wait, that's Thor.

Hey whaddya expect, it's the Silver Age!

Thor Visionaries Volume 1Title: Thor Visionaries/Legends Volume 1
Author: Walt Simonson
Artist: Walt Simonson
Publisher: Marvel

Fast-forwarding to the 80s, Simonson's run is probably the most famous of all Thor comics. Available either in the Visionaries or Legends series, both contain Thor #337-348 where things start to get a little spacey, and yes, legendary.

Stunning art, amazing dialogue, and above all, tons of fun as Thor takes on aliens and giant monsters For most Thor fans, this is the good stuff, and if you liked the whole mythological vibe going on in the film, you'll love these lavish tales. DOOM!

The fun continues in the next volumes as Simonson's writing extended to #382 (and his art until #367). Look out for my favourite storyline in #364-366 featuring Frog Thor the mighty Thunder Frog!

Thor Volume 1Title: Thor Volume 1
Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Author: Olivier Coipel
Publisher: Marvel

Straczynski's run has been hugely popular with fans who had been waiting patiently for the return of the hammer wielding Norse god. The writing is good, a slow burner of a story that draws the reader in and leaves them wanting more (includes #1-6). The following volumes have been equally well received.

All in all, a good take on modern Thor and a nice lead into Marvel's Siege event which you might want to investigate once you've read some of the basics.

 

Thor the Mighty Avenger Volume 1Title: Thor the Mighty Avenger Volume 1
Author: Roger Langridge
Artist: Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson
Publisher: Marvel

One of three specially commissioned limited series runs to coincide with the release of the film, which isn't always a good sign, but crucially this title has been regarded as one of the most underrated series of 2010.

This is one of my favourite re-imaginings of Thor and is such a joy to read - I highly recommend this run! Sadly cancelled after 8 issues, but Volume 1  (#1-4) and 2 (#5-8)  are must haves - especially if you liked the film.

 

Priest

PriestAlways with the "Look! Behind you!" trick.

 

Priest: GenesisTitle: Priest: Genesis - Volumes 1-3
Author: Min-woo Hyung
Artist: Min-woo Hyung
Publisher: Tokyopop

The original volumes are slowly going out of print, but thankfully this newer collection is underway. Published by Tokyopop, I'm hopeful someone else will take this over.

The film is loosely based on this stunning manhwa (Korean comic) but this is still basically a wild west type tale of vampiric monsters and fallen men. Definitely worth picking this up and seeing if it tickles your fancy as the concept is awesome.

 

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First ClassAlso, I can kill you with my brain.

 

First Class: Tomorrow's BrightestTitle: First Class - Tomorrow's Brightest
Author: Jeff Parker
Artist: Roger Cruz
Publisher: Marvel

It's probably wise that I mention this first, volume 1 of the First Class series which shares its concept with the latest film. Collecting #1-8, this centers around the original 5 X-Men (Cyclops, Beast, Jean Grey, Iceman, Angel) under the tutelage of Professor Xavier.

A word of warning however: this series is either love it or hate it. Have a leaf through before deciding!

 

Dark PhoenixTitle: The Dark Phoenix Saga
Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
Publisher: Marvel

The most famous of all X-Men stories, regularly popping up in the top ten comics of all time type lists. Collecting X-Men #129-137, this is a must have for any Jean Grey fan - and who isn't?!

The handling of Jean Grey and her Phoenix power is, I think, much better handled here than in the films and a much more satisfying story. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say, this is a comic for every comic (and X-Men) fan!

 

 

God Loves, Man KillsTitle: God Loves, Man Kills
Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Brent Anderson
Publisher: Marvel

Published as a graphic novel only, this served as one of the inspirations for the second X-Men film, X2. The big bad is a reverend named William Stryker who has been whipping the country into an anti-mutant fervour.

It's pretty dark stuff, and a thrilling read - Claremont is undoubtedly one of the greatest (and most prolific) X-Men writers. If you like your mutants with a dash of social commentary, this is the one for you.

 

Asgardian WarsTitle: Asgardian Wars
Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Paul Smith, Art Adams
Publisher: Marvel

Okay, full disclosure: this is one of my favourites. That said, I'm far from being alone in my love for this particular story. Collecting X-Men and Alpha Flight #1-2, New Mutants Special Edition, and X-Men Annual #9, this is a fantastic story both for fans of Loki, and X-Men fans.

If you enjoyed the Thor movie, chances are the character of Loki has you intrigued. Grey characters are always the best, and here he gets to meddle with our favourite mutants, even going so far as to kidnap Storm - how very dare he. A (really) great story aside, the art in this, particularly from Adams in the second half, is holy-crap-amazing.

New X-Men Volume 1Title: New X-Men Volume 1
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver, Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Marvel

Collecting New X-Men #114-126, this is the beginning of Morrison's much celebrated run. Morrison pretty much flipped the X-Men upside the head, obliterating millions of mutants and more importantly giving the heroes some up to date uniforms to replace the dodgy spandex. This is love it or hate it stuff, though the majority of readers fall in the first camp, but that's Morrison through and through. I have my quibbles with some of the characterisation of the women heroes (as I do with most comics!) but overall this is good fun.

 

Astonishing X-Men Volume 1Title: Astonishing X-Men Volume 1
Author: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel

Well, clearly a recurring theme of the X-Men is "love it or hate it"! Whedon's writing either grabs you or it doesn't, so if you are in the former camp then this is a pretty safe bet for you. This is a popular series, with Cyclops and Emma Frost now in charge of the team.

Admittedly I'm more of a classic X-Men fan, partly due to my love of Jean Grey, but I'm thinking I should maybe give Whedon another go.

 

Green Lantern

Green LanternI don't recall Hal having puppy eyes before. Yum.

Green Lantern ChroniclesTitle: Green Lantern Chronicles Volume 1
Author: John Broome
Artist: Gil Kane
Publisher: DC

Collecting Showcase #22-24, and Green Lantern #1-3, these are the original Hal Jordan tales from the Silver Age. Green Lantern had been around before as Alan Scott, an engineer who possessed a magic lantern and ring. A popular character but DC thought it best to reinvent itself in the late 50s to avoid falling sales.

Hal was a hit, a daring test pilot who found himself becoming the latest recruit of the intergalactic police, the Green Lanterns. And y'know, it's aged pretty well.

 

Green Lantern/Green ArrowTitle: Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection Volume 1
Author: Dennis O'Neil
Artist: Neal Adams
Publisher: DC

In the early 70's, the straight-laced Hal teamed up with the more dynamic Oliver Queen to tackle the social issues of the decade, the two of them touring the US in a camper van! The pair tackled some serious themes for the time, including drugs and racism, which makes it a hugely interesting read if you happen to be into comics history. Ahem.

A great critical success, this run was sadly cancelled due to poor sales. This collection is a bit harder to get a hold of but really worth it. Trust me.

This is also the characterisation of Green Lantern that is being used for the new film. Collects Green Lantern #76-82.

JLA: Year OneTitle: JLA: Year One
Author: Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn
Artist: Barry Kitson
Publisher: DC

Retro-continuity at its best, this collects all 12 issues of the limited run that sought to re-introduce the original (but post-Crisis) JLA team. Essentially a new history after the comics universe did one of those strange timey-wimey things that happen so often.

Focusing on the five new-old core members then, this is a great read featuring some wonderfully characterised favourite heroes: Aquaman, Black Canary, lash, Martian Manhunter, and of course Green Lantern. Very warmly received, I really enjoyed this one - and there is a lot of bang for your buck! I seem to remember one part making me head-desk rather severely, but that's pretty par for the course.

RebirthTitle: Rebirth
Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan van Sciver
Publisher: DC

And we'll skip a few (refrigerator stuffing) years forward to the return of Hal Jordon here, another limited series fully collected for your reading pleasure. Hal has been off being Parallax and the Spectre, but is now brought back to his proper place as Green Lantern.

This is actually a great title to start with to get into the present day Green Lantern mythos as you don't need a whole lot of prior knowledge and everything is explained. Huzzah!

 

Sinestro Corps WarTitle: The Sinestro Corps War Volume 1
Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Dave Gibbons, Angel Unzueta, Ethan van Sciver
Publisher: DC

I confess, this is a favourite of mine. Initially picking it up because of the fabulous art, I found it easy to see why Green Lantern has really stepped up to the big boys table in recent years. This is brilliant stuff, with Hal Jordan facing up against his former mentor Sinestro who's gone a bit off the deep end in his quest for order and stability, finding that fear is a great motivator. Collecting Green Lantern #21-23, Green Lantern Corps #14-15, and Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1.

You will need volume 2 with this, and I highly recommend Tales of the Sinestro Corps which has some of the surrounding tales, but also a really handy section at the back that explains all the characters (of which there are many!) in the present story. Great if you can find it cheap! (Though I also really enjoyed the stories.)

Secret OriginTitle: Secret Origin
Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reiss, Oclair Albert
Publisher: DC

Collecting Green Lantern #29-35 this is a modern re-telling of the original rise of Hal Jordan to fit in with the new (post-timey-wimey) continuity. As such, it works fantastically as a stand alone introduction to Green Lantern but also ties in nicely with the more recent events like Blackest Night.

Being in the past, Sinestro is a Green Lantern again, investigating the death of Hal's predecessor who was investigating an upcoming event called, you guessed it, Blackest Night. Another great one to start with.

This is the comic that has inspired Ryan Reynolds' take on Hal in the movie and subsequently has been re-released with a movie cover.

 

And there we have it! Stay tuned for the next installment featuring Captain America, Conan, Cowboys & Aliens, Tintin, and Dredd. And potentially some more newbie guides and not-so-newbie guides too.

Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Thanks so much for this awesome guide! I really wasn’t expecting to find something so awesome when I googled “What do I read if I liked Thor”, but I’m so glad I did.
    I really can’t wait to see your next installment with Captain America- and I wonder if you’d mind me asking for Iron Man suggestions?
    I’m not overly comic-y, most of what I read is Dark Horse… and I spend at least an hour a week in a comic shop bonding with the owner and his workers who I adore- but none of them have been able to help me out on the “No, really, I am overwhelmed by all of the comics…” for whatever reason- I guess they’re just too used to having read the comics first or something.
    Thanks so much, again! This is a great help.

    • Thanks! Glad you found it so useful. I must confess, I completely forgot to come back to this so I shall re-add it to my list to follow up on and do some more starter articles as well :)


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