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understanding superhero comics requires some arcane magic I do not have
April 14, 2014 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I liked the new Captain America movie. I want to read more about these characters. How do I get into the comics? Where do I start? Can I use the Marvel app to do this? How do I read them in order with all those team-up comics and spinoffs? *Should* I read them in order? Also, what slash fiction should I read while reading them, and should I read that at a certain point in the continuity, or just do my usual thing and go on a fanfic binge once I'm caught up?
posted by NoraReed to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Slash" is specifically erotic fanfiction, as in "Kirk/Spock", no? I mean, if that's what you're after, more power to you, but I think you meant "fanfic", not "slash".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:55 AM on April 14


Just your luck, there's what looks to be a pretty good reading order blog post for contemporary-era Captain America. That's the version Captain America you're seeing in the movies, more-or-less. Winter Soldier is a character that only came into existence in 2005, for instance, so you're not going to see him in a Captain America book from prior to that.

Also keep in mind that reading the comic "in order" (especially if you mean starting from the 1940s) isn't required or even expected. There's 70+ years of continuity, reboots, retcons, characterization changes and so on that never necessarily became canon, or became canon and was discarded in a reboot.

You can always pick up a few books from, say, the 40s or the 70s or whenever and if it turns out you like that Captain America, you can keep going in said era.
posted by griphus at 7:02 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Regardless of what order you catch up on canon in, you will find things in fanfiction that confuse you. Thus, I recommend you do what I do not worry too much about being "caught up" because, as griphus said, we're talking about several decades of canon. Just read what interests you in canon and then do the same with fanfic. I suggest using Archive of Our Own, finding the tag for the pairing that interests you, then sorting by most bookmarks--some of that is going to be garbage, but I've had luck finding good reads that way.
posted by chaiminda at 7:24 AM on April 14


Also, I think there is general agreement that while the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is inspired by, and generally linked to the comics they are a distinct continuity.

So just because it happened in the comics doesn't make it true in the films.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:40 AM on April 14


No, I definitely meant slash fiction. I mean, I meant the more general definition that is queer in general and not necessarily just porns. But I didn't mean not porns.

Griphus, that's pretty much what I was looking for, thank you.
posted by NoraReed at 7:41 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The Ed Brubaker run on Captain America (starts in 2005) is a good gateway from the movies, especially anything to do with the Winter Soldier. His wikipedia page has all the info. If you click 'show collected' on the section marked Captain America (vol. 5) #1–50, (vol. 1) #600–619, (vol. 6) #1–19, they have a list of trade paperback collections with ISBNs. Very helpful.

As you read, there'll sometimes be references to stuff going on in other books (at one point, this culminates in the Civil War storyline that involved the Avengers, the X-Men, Spidey, etc...). You can branch out from there if you like, but the books usually do a decent job of catching you up. You don't have to read all the team-ups and spin offs.

Comic book numbering and continuity is often extremely confusing and maddening when you're looking to get into something new. I usually just look for writers I like and then if they have a tumblr or twitter, look for writers they like.

One difference to note is the pre-frozen relationship between Cap and Bucky. In the comics, Bucky was a teen sidekick, like Robin from Batman. Coming from the movies, I found that a little jarring.

As for fanfic, the Marvel universe (movie and comic) is the biggest section on AO3. Figure out what you like, and there'll probably be multiple people writing it.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:42 AM on April 14


Also I promise you most of the people writing slash for Captain America have not read the comics either. I got caught up with only two iron man movies and Wikipedia.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:01 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Post-Captain America 2, fandom is having a lot of Emotions About Bucky Barnes, so I sure hope you're into Steve/Bucky because that seems to be the direction fandom is going right now. I'm keeping track of what I'm reading and liking on my Pinboard under the Avengers and Captain America tags. Most of MCU fandom picks and chooses what it likes from the comics to go with the movies, so you don't really need much comics knowledge.
posted by yasaman at 8:26 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Oh! One other thing: coming from the movieverse, you might be confused as to why Cap/Tony is the biggest pairing in the Marvel section of AO3, especially when there's Tony/Bruce and Steve/Bucky right there. In the comics, Tony was much more of a Cap fanboy than he is in the movies. Like, Coulson level of fanboy. Also, in at least one alternate universe glimpsed by Reed Richards, Tony is a woman who is married to Steve. Ah, comics.

Also, 616 Tony is kind of a huge dickbag without RDJ's charm to help him out.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:29 AM on April 14


Like yasaman says, if you are interested in Steve/Bucky, this is a great time for fanfiction. The Steve/Bucky tag on AO3 is updating constantly, fueled by fandom's outpouring of feelings for Bucky in CATWS. You'll be able to follow along just fine without comics-specific knowledge.
posted by crankylex at 8:56 AM on April 14


The reading order linked above looks pretty good to me and does the hard work of figuring out where stuff crosses over. The Winter Soldier arc is also not a bad jumping-on point, as it's the beginning of Ed Brubaker's very long run writing Captain America, which is all pretty solid. I don't think you need to read all the spinoffs and crossovers and team stuff to get it, but the Civil War stuff is pretty essential to the modern Captain America storyline. Note that Falcon in the comics has a fetching red and white suit and can communicate with birds.

You can read a lot of these comics through Marvel Unlimited. The selection is great, with nearly everything appearing 6 months after release, and a lot of older classics as well. The implementation is awful - the search facility is pretty bad, the "smart panels" view doesn't really work, navigating between comics is awkward. The Android app is really terrible. I am told the iOS one is a little better, the web interface is not too bad but there's no offline viewing. And it won't help you navigate through arcs at all or link comics in a sensible reading order, you're basically on your own. If you have recommended reading lists and a bit of patience with the search facility and the app's tendency to crash or forget you're logged in, you'll be fine.

Fanfic written before the film came out tended to pull in comics canon to fill in the Winter Soldier backstory, especially his relationship with Black Widow and their shared Russian past, but you can basically jump in anywhere and now is an excellent time to do it as there's a splurge of post-film fic that doesn't even use that bit of comics continuity. Here's a recent rec roundup, or try unfitforsociety's avengers recs as a pre-film starting point.
posted by penguinliz at 9:19 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


General rule of thumb for Marvel comics: anything more than about 15 years old isn't necessarily canon anymore.

DC has historically taken a very nineteenth-century approach to the "historiography" of its canon, i.e., everything that has ever been written is more-or-less still true unless an intervening event says otherwise. Said events mostly took the form of "Crisis" crossovers, with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis being the most prominent, along with the un-crisis-attended New 52 reboot. The canon is this divisible unto fairly discrete sections, with only a relatively few canon details surviving from one section into another. The biggest is definitely Crisis on Infinite Earths, but it's true for all of them to a lesser or greater extent.

Marvel, on the other hand, takes a more mythological approach. The basic understanding in the Marvel canon is that the heroes you're reading about had their origin stories no more than about fifteen years ago. So Captain America's origin in World War II fighting Hydra and the Nazis? Then getting frozen in ice and rediscovered in the 1960s? Still kind of true, though the stories are written such that his rediscovery is still only a decade or two ago, despite the fact that it's been almost fifty years since then. Same for characters like the Fantastic Four: they still got their powers from that fateful experimental orbital flight, but it's always assumed to have been no more than ten or twenty years ago despite the original having been published in 1961.

Rather than treating all of its publications as exacting historical accounts, as DC tends to, Marvel treats its stories much more like the Greeks treated their mythological accounts. Did Zeus father Hercules/Heracles before or after he fathered Perseus? Well. . . no. Both events are part of Zeus's story, but the stories don't really lend themselves to that kind of chronological ordering.

The upshot is that with Marvel comics, you don't necessarily need to start from the beginning and read exhaustively, nor is there necessarily a single fixed, obvious point where you can start reading to get yourself up to date. If you're interested in the publication history, you can totally get away with snagging one of those "Marvel Essentials" volumes, which tend to contain the most important/significant issues of a single character from the first few decades. From there, you can probably get away with starting at the Marvel Civil War (which, while problematic, was a big enough deal that you do probably need to read it) and moving forward from there. Or maybe issue # 600, where Rogers becomes Captain America again after. . . well you need to read Civil War for that. But I'm not seeing much that you'd miss by just picking up an Essentials volume, then jumping to Civil War and moving on from there.
posted by valkyryn at 9:41 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


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