X-Men was released in theaters nearly 20 years ago and that, more or less, ushered in the modern age of comic book movies we're living in today. Once Iron Man and The Dark Knight both arrived in 2008, it was all over. There was no turning back. Fast forward to today and comic book properties, not just superheroes, are the most sought after in Hollywood, be it in movie or TV form. With that in mind, and given the current state of things, there has perhaps been no better time than now to get into comic books.
The current situation in the world has caused many of us to be in a state of self-isolation while practicing social distancing. Movie theaters are closed. Bars and restaurants are mostly not operating, save for take out. We're stuck at home for the foreseeable future. And one can only stream so much Netflix. So why not curl up with a good book? Or, in this case, a comic book, which is a medium that perhaps not nearly enough people are taking full advantage of, given how influential they have become in the broader pop culture landscape.
This is not to say that publishers like Marvel Comics and DC Comics don't attract large numbers of readers. The comic book industry, as a whole, topped more than $1 billion in 2018. But when one considers that a movie like Avengers: Endgame, on its own, can now bring in $2.8 billion at the global box office, good enough to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, it would seem the comic book industry that feeds Hollywood is, itself, dwarfed by the adaptations of these stories.
I can't say that I rightfully expect that comic books, in their purest form, are for everyone, but given the popularity of these stories in other mediums, it does surprise me that more people don't seek out the source material. Did you like Captain Marvel? Are you eagerly awaiting the arrival of Captain Marvel 2? As it just so happens, Carol Danvers has been a fixture in the pages of Marvel Comics since 1968 and has appeared in more than 3,700 issues, including several different solo series. Similar scenarios can be presented for virtually every comic book property in movies or TV. Do you like The Walking Dead? Robert Kirkman's comic the show is based on recently wrapped up its run and has 193 issues to enjoy. Don't get me started on Batman or Superman. That is a bottomless pit (and I mean that in the best way possible) that one could fall down in a hurry and never come out of. An all you can read buffet of superhero goodness that could last nearly a lifetime. The same could easily be said for Spider-Man, The Avengers and many other superheroes that have become undeniable global pop culture icons.
One issue I can understand for new readers is that jumping into comics can be a bit intimidating. There are decades worth of stories to navigate. Luckily, the comics industry, as a whole, recognizes this and does what they can to make it easy, relatively speaking. Various series are numbered so it's relatively clear as to where that particular story starts and ends. Also, trade paperbacks, which are the most common form of collected editions in the industry, generally contain a relatively contained story arc within an ongoing series. Plus, Marvel, DC and other publishers have plenty of resources on their websites to help direct readers to the right stories, as well as laying out the proper reading order. Local comic book shops are also excellent resources. In my personal experience, employees at comic shops are knowledgeable, passionate and helpful. They are there to guide readers and help get the right book(s) in their hands.
Another possible barrier to entry is cost. Cover price for a new comic is typically around $3.99 these days. That can add up quickly. Fortunately, there are plenty of more affordable ways to go about it. Marvel Unlimited, for example, is essentially Netflix, but for Marvel Comics, and has more than 27,000 issues available. It costs $10 per month, or $69 annually. There is also Comixology Unlimited, which costs $5.99 per month and has comics from a wide variety of publishers. DC includes a digital library of comics with a subscription to DC Universe streaming service. Aside from that, most comic book shops have discount bins that can be a treasure trove for new readers. Libraries are also a widely untapped resource in the modern age. Many libraries now offer digital comics as well. This is truly a great way for brand new readers to explore for essentially free.
Sure, some of this may sound a bit like homework when compared to simply hitting the play button. But there is a reason I urge people to look beyond the screen to the stories that inspired the movies and TV shows so many of us enjoy. I have loved the worlds created by the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and countless others for as long as I can remember. But there was a time, in my youth, where superheroes were about as uncool as could be. I stopped reading comics for fear of being socially ostracized, more than I already was at that point in time. Then it happened. I remember the day. I was watching X2 in a theater on opening weekend with a friend of mine who didn't read comics back in 2003. When Hugh Jackman's Wolverine began tearing up that SWAT team in the mansion, I sensed something changed. People understood. My friend understood. Everyone understood. It didn't matter that it wasn't on the page. These movies, when executed well, were going to make people love these characters and these types of stories the way I always had.
Certain die-hards did, and perhaps still do, dislike the idea of certain people only being fans of movies/TV shows featuring comic book characters. I've always thought it was wonderful that these adaptations helped people enjoy these stories and find love for these characters. Why should it matter if those discoveries were made outside the confines of a comic book? With that having been said, I feel there is a lot of joy to be had for these same people if they dig into the source material. To quote Rage Against the Machine, "It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?"