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Reading List: Marvel Comics for Beginners

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If your concept of superhero comics is that they’re full of overly muscular men and scantily clad women, you probably haven’t picked up a comic in a while. Of course those types of comics still exist in multitudes — and they probably always will, as long as there’s an audience for them — but there has been a movement within comics for a long time to make them more accessible to different audiences. Women are the fastest-growing segment of new comics readers, and major publishers such as Marvel have realized that if they want to compete in this new comics market, they have to appeal to more diverse audiences.

There have been a lot of ups and downs on this road to expanding the reach that comics have, but one thing I can say for sure is that some excellent ones have come out of this attempt. If you haven’t ventured much into superhero comics, and are intimidated by entering a vast shared universe like Marvel’s, here are some great series you can start with.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, The Volume 1: Squirrel Power

It’s really difficult to read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and not immediately fall in love with it. The comic features Doreen Green, a college student who can commune with squirrels and has their agility and speed. Her sidekick, a squirrel named Tippy-Toe, helps her defeat bad guys while also posing as a normal college girl. The sense of humor in this book is incredible but it’s Henderson’s rounded and whimsical drawings that really bring everything together. It’s a positive story, complete with a fuller-figured main character who doesn’t ascribe to the unrealistically skinny stereotypes that are so prevalent in the medium.

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Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

If you’ve heard of any of these series before, chances are that Ms. Marvel was it. Kamala Khan has made headlines over and over again for being a teenage Pakistani American (and Muslim) superhero, and she’s just as amazing as everyone says she is. Kamala’s important for representation, of course, but she’s also just relatable and amazing. She’s a teenager who was a fan of superheroes before she got superpowers (she even dabbled in superhero fan fiction) and that enthusiasm is clear in everything she does. The first run of this series is pretty much perfect. If you check it out, make sure you pay attention to the panel backgrounds because artist Adrian Alphona has a tendency to insert little jokes in them.

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Runaways Vol.1: Pride & Joy (new Printing)

This series is a modern classic, and it’s being turned into a TV show; that means this is a great time to get caught up on Runaways. Brian K. Vaughan (from the smash hit Saga) and Adrian Alphona (Ms. Marvel) create a memorable team of teens in this series; they’re the children of a gang of infamous super-villains, and they’ve all just found out their parents’ true identities. This series is beloved by so many, for good reason: Alphona’s art is on point, as always, and Vaughan writes a believable group of kids. They’re not angst-ridden for angst’s sake — something too many authors do when they don’t know how to write teenagers — but they’re emotional and grappling with this difficult new information, all the while trying to decide what to do next and how to function as a group.

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Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1

If you enjoyed the Netflix series Jessica Jones, then this one is for you. It’s not, however, for anyone who isn’t a fully fledged adult. Alias, the series that introduced the character of Jessica Jones, was published under a line of Marvel comics that was meant solely for adults; it’s got a lot of drinking, and adult issues and themes. Imagine the Jessica Jones TV show as a comic, which is what this is basically (but of course, the comic came first). Gaydos’ art is really interesting in this series; his moody colors and art style set a great noir tone for this dark detective series.

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Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol. 1: Anchor Points

If you think of Clint Barton (played by Jeremy Renner in the movies) when I say the name “Hawkeye,” you’re forgiven. He might be the best-known Hawkeye, but in my opinion, he’s not the greatest. That honor goes to Kate Bishop, who shares the name with Clint. In this new series, set after the classic Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja (which I also highly recommend), Kate is a private investigator living Los Angeles. It’s just brilliant, and the bright vivid colors set a great scene.

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Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: Bff

Who’s the smartest person in the Marvel world? Why that would be Lunella Lafayette, a young girl who doesn’t exactly fit in. Lunella also happens to be an Inhuman, which doesn’t help matters. But when she meets a T-Rex in Central Park, she has to help him stop a band of thugs while also dealing with the pressures of daily life. This is a comic that’s beloved by readers of all ages, especially as the plot introduces shades of gray into the world Lunella lives in, rather than the traditional good and evil, black and white that is so prevalent in comics storytelling today.

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Groot

If Groot was your favorite character in Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re not alone. And that’s why I can’t recommend this miniseries enough. It’s just one four-issue series collected into one book, so it’s all-encompassing. You don’t have to chase down the next book in the series for this one! It details what happens when Rocket and Groot go off on an adventure by themselves and become separated. It’s heartwarming, sweet, and funny, and Kesinger’s art is just beautiful. If you think Groot is just a simple talking tree, this book will change your mind and show you his untold depth.

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Young Avengers Volume 1: Style > Substance (marvel Now)

There’s more than one Young Avengers series, so it’s important that, when seeking this out, you specifically look for the Gillen/McKelvie (of Phonogram and The Wicked and the Divine fame) byline. This series focusses on a group of teenage heroes brought together by a young Loki to fight off alternate reality versions of heroes — including their own parents. It’s celebrated for many reasons: great storytelling, amazing art, and vivid and vibrant characters. Its inclusivity is also wonderful: The book centers on a gay couple and features many diverse characters.

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Captain Marvel: Earth's Mightiest Hero Vol. 1

Comics can be very confusing (if they weren’t, this list would probably be wholly unnecessary), but the saga of Captain Marvel’s publication is a great example of why barriers to entry to comics are too high. Carol Danvers has gained a legion of loyal fans who call themselves the Carol Corps (she’s even going to star in Marvel’s oft-delayed first solo movie featuring a woman, played by Brie Larsen). But it can be really difficult to actually figure out where to start reading the character. This volume, penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick, with various artists attached (my personal favorite is Felipe Andrade’s dreamy work) is it. But this isn’t the only Captain Marvel Volume 1, or even the only Captain Marvel Volume 1 written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol is a fighter pilot in this story, with an all-new (less bathing suit-esque) costume and this story really makes it clear why the character has resonated with so many readers.

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Swapna Krishna writes for Engadget, Syfy Wire, and the LA Times. Her work has been published at Paste Magazine, Bustle, Newsweek, and many other outlets.

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