Open Spider-Man Comic Book on Table with Coffee Mug and Glasses

So, first of all, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and a very happy (and safe, to say the least) New Year. The first post of the year is actually a follow-up to one of my former posts. I’m talking about my easy guide to start reading Marvel Comics. In that post, I promised to give you a post about what to know when reading Marvel Comics. A Marvel Comics 101, you might call it. So here it is.

Marvel Comics 101 – Overview

I will cover three things that to me, in the beginning of my comic book adventure, were a bit confusing. And hopefully, you will find the points helpful and make your comic book reading easier.

The three points are:

  • The early history (the origin of Marvel Comics)
  • How to collect Marvel comic books
  • Series and crossover events

So without further ado, let’s jump in…

A Brief History Lesson

To begin, let’s dive into the early history of Marvel Comics. Where did it all start? How did it come to be? Well, let’s find out.

The Golden Age of Comics

Marvel Comics started all the way back in the 40’s and 50’s under the name of Timely Publications and later Atlas Comics. They featured series about Namor the Submariner, early stories about Captain America and various anthology series. In fact, some of the latter introduced several characters later used in the Marvel Universe, we know today.

The Silver Age of Comics

In the beginning of the 60’s, the name was changed to Marvel Comics when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko began publishing superhero comic books. Amongst their first series are the Fantastic Four (appropriately denoted Marvel’s First Family) and the Incredible Hulk. From the first FF series, many more characters were introduced, Black Panther and the Silver Surfer to name a few. And eventually, these characters would also be featured in their own series.

In these years, many of the other beloved household characters and teams also had their origins. Some of the now most well-known characters were introduced in Marvel Comic’s various anthology series before getting their own. Thor in Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man in Tales of Suspense, Doctor Strange in Strange Tales. And then we also have Avengers and X-Men.

How Do I Collect?

Having established the early history of Marvel Comics, let’s move on to some basic terminology of the Marvel comic book world.

First off, a word or two on characters and series. There is an almost endless catalogue of Marvel characters. Some of the best-known are Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men (including Wolverine) – a lot of them thanks to the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each of these characters or groups of characters (like the X-Men or Fantastic Four) are featured in their own series.

Each of these series consists of a certain amount of issues. Issues are the either weekly or monthly (or something else) publications of the series. They are sold separately but can also be collected as trade paperbacks (TPB), collected editions or omnibuses, to name a few.

Trade Paperbacks

A TPB is a collection of issues of the same series typically telling a more or less isolated story arc in the respected series. Obviously, it is also part of the over-all story and continuity. A TPB normally consists of 4-8 issues and has a title and a volume number describing the story arc and the chronological placement in the run of the series.

To give an example, let’s have a quick look at the Deadpool run from 2012. It consists of 45 issues collected in eight TPBs.

Deadpool Vol. 1: Dead Presidents Deadpool (2012) #1-6
Deadpool Vol. 2: Soul Hunter Deadpool (2012) #7-12
Deadpool Vol. 3: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Deadpool (2012) #13-19
Deadpool Vol. 4: Deadpool Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. Deadpool (2012) #20-25
Deadpool Vol. 5: Wedding of Deadpool Deadpool (2012) #26-28
Deadpool Annual (2013) #1
Deadpool Vol. 6: Original Sin Deadpool (2012) #29-34
Deadpool Vol. 7: Axis Deadpool (2012) #35-40
Deadpool Vol. 8: All Good Things Deadpool (2012) #41-45

Collected Editions/Complete Collections

Collected editions or complete collections are the step up from the TPBs. They usually collect more issues, and normally include additional issues from other series, one-shots or so-called annuals, all being part of the over-all story. 

To take the Deadpool series from before as an example, this series is collected in four volumes of complete collections:

Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 Deadpool (2012) #1-14, #20, #26
Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 Deadpool (2012) #15-19, #21-25
Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet (2014) #17
Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan: The Complete Collection Vol. 3 Deadpool (2012) #27-34
Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool (2014) #0-4
Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan: The Complete Collection Vol. 4 Deadpool (2012) #35-45
Wolverine’s Death: Deadpool & Captain America (2014) #1
Deadpool Annual (2016) #1

As can be seen, most of the complete collections consist of more than just the main series of Deadpool. The two mini-series Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet and Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool can also be collected as TPBs, so you can get the full story. That is, however, if you know which ones to buy and read.

Omnibus Editions

Finally, there is the omnibus edition. This is usually the biggest format you can get, both in size and thickness (numbers of issues). As the name implies, it collects all issues in a series, event or by a writer.

Not much more to say about this, so let’s continue the above example. It is a short list:

Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan Omnibus Deadpool (2012) #1-45
Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet (2014) #17
Wolverine’s Death: Deadpool & Captain America (2014) #1

Marvel Unlimited

As I also mentioned in my 5 steps to start reading Marvel comics, instead of collecting physical copies, you can go digital. If you are into this, I would definitely recommend opening an account on Marvel Unlimited, Marvel’s own digital comics platform. As of this writing, it contains more than 25,000 digital comics, and you can access them by paying a monthly fee of $6-$10 (depending on the subscription).

Series Vs. Crossover Events

Almost every character in the Marvel universe has their own on-going series. Actually, some even have several going on the same time. For some time, Spider-Man had 2-3 running series simultaneously. 

Besides their own series, they have their occasional appearances in other characters’ series and team features like the Avengers. These guest appearances may or may not be connected to the series of the character in question.

Sometimes, the Marvel universe is subject to a crossover event. As the name implies, these events crossover between various characters, gathering them for larger story arcs with far-reaching consequences and fallouts in the universe.

Crossover-events are their own limited series of 5-8 issues. Furthermore, we have the so-called tie-ins. They give a more detailed and comprehensive picture of the story by following some of the characters involved.

The build up to the crossover events is mostly found in the individual series leading up to the main events. Similarly, the tie-ins typically consist of a couple of issues of the characters in question during the event.

An Example: Civil War

To make things more tangible, let’s take an example of one of the most famous crossover events, Civil War. Below, I have listed some of the TPBs you can collect to get the full story:

Civil War (main event)
The Road to Civil War (prologue)
Civil War: Amazing Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins)
Civil War: Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four tie-ins)
Civil War: Black Panther (Black Panther tie-ins)

There are approximately 20 tie-in TPBs to Civil War – most of the issues can, however, also be found in the running series of each character.

As a rule, it is sufficient to read the main event, but as already stated, by reading all tie-ins, you will get a more complete picture of the story. Then there is the reading order. One option is to read the main event and tie-ins TPB by TPB (assuming you’ve bought them physically). Another is to read each issue in the correct chronological order. That is the order in which each issue has been published. 

If you’re reading on Marvel Unlimited, you can browse for the various events. Then you’ll find the entire series including tie-in issues, all placed in chronological order. 

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This concludes my three points in what I have called Marvel Comics 101. Surely, there are other things in this part of the literary world that I have not touched upon. If so, let me know, and I’ll do what I can to address them in a future post!

If you liked this post, don’t hesitate to either share or comment. And if you are interested in the newest updates on the site, all you have to do is subscribe to the newsletter.

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Photo by Mahdiar Mahmoodi on Unsplash.

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