Comics for Dummies! (with a focus on DC)

I've just written this little guide. If you have any additions or stuff there's missing, I'd love to know. Also if there's any mistakes.

Comics for Dummies! (with a focus on DC)

Starting out fresh in comics can be a pretty daunting experience if you're completely new to them, so I have made this little guide that can hopefully help those who are just starting out. It took me quite a while and a lot of reading here and on wikis to figure out what's up and down. I'm pretty new-ish to comics myself, so don't take the following as gospel. I'll also be concentrating on DC, but much of it should be applicable to Marvel as well. Some of this might be a bit duh!, but some countries, like mine, have none or little tradition for this type of comic.

First is an overview, then I'll explain some of the technicalities, and lastly there's a segment of where and how to get the comics.


DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League etc.) and Marvel (Spiderman, Hulk, Iron Man, Cap. America, Avengers, X-Men etc.) are the big two publishers in comics, and they concentrate on superhero comics. Aside from those two there's some smaller, independent publishers like Dark Horse and Image. Their comics cover many different genres.

Each publisher publish a number of titles, which are usually monthly. DC has 52+ comics out every month. A title, such as 'Action Comics' or 'Batman', is numbered consecutive, starting from 0. Each title has a main focus, which is usually either a specific superhero or a group of superheroes. One character can have several titles all centering on him/her; in this case, each title usually has a further specific focus. For example, 'Detective Comics' focus on Batman solving cases, while 'Batman & Robin' focus on his partnerships.

Each issue is most often part of a story arc or story line. The basic story arc will cover several or more successive issues in a specific title. It's usually very difficult to pick the story up in the middle of a story arc, though sometimes there are small notes at the start of the issue. Each story arc is written by one writer, but the issues in the arc might have different artists, leading to some lesser or greater variation in style. Story recommendations are almost always in the form of story arcs and the best place to start reading a title is always at the start of a new story arc.

If a writer has done a lot of story arcs on the same titles, it will be referred to as a 'run'. For example Grant Morrisons' run on Batman, which number at least eleven story arcs that are all connected to each other. Some of them are more independant than others, but others will make no sense if read out of order.

Most titles share the same universe. If a character dies in one title, it will influence and be referenced in related titles to a greater or lesser degree. More advanced story arcs will cover several titles, like for example the Batman 'Death in the Family' event which spanned at least 9 titles and totaled 23 issues spread out over those 9 titles. Many characters will also often make cameos in titles that are not centered on them.

Big events will cover most or all of a publishers titles. For DC that's events like Infinity Crisis, Identity Crisis, Final Crisis. These are huge and very complex story lines that span a ton of characters, titles and issues. I don't recommend starting on these without having good, broad foundation of knowledge of characters and previous events, or it'll get confusing as hell. It might be a good idea to read up on the events here or on wikipedia as you see them referenced.

Canon, alternative universes and more

Comics can be very complex, and depending on the writer, it can be heavy reading which requires a lot of thinking and knowledge to really understand, especially if you're just starting out and don't have a deep knowledge of the characters and events. Some titles or storylines have been annotated by fans. Googling the name of the story arc and 'annotation' should do the trick.

DC did a reboot of their entire comics universe in 2011, called the New 52. This reset the numbering of all titles to 1, and events that had happened before the reboot were no longer canon. Canon refers to which events are considered 'real', in-universe. Some characters didn't survive the reboot; others have had their origin remade or are changed in other ways. Marvel have recently done a 'soft reboot', and the Marvel NOW! titles should be the ideal titles to start up with (but I'm speaking from hear-say here).

Within the canon universe there are also many alternative universes, which all exist concurrently. For DC, the Earth Prime or Earth Zero is the primary universe where most titles and storylines are based. Earth 1 and 2, and quite possibly others, are also in action sometimes; characters from Earth Zero can jump to Earth 2 or the other way round. In DC there are 52 concurrent universes (I think). Movies, cartoons, games and comics complementary to these do not exist in the primary universe and are never considered canon. This counts for both DC and Marvel.

There are also story lines that exist completely outside these alternative universes - basically What if? story arcs. In DC these are called Elseworlds.

Comics are also referred to by their Age. The Golden age was the first, in the 1930, 40, 50ties, followed by the Silver and Bronze age. In the 1980ties the so-called Modern age started. Most story arcs in play today are from the modern age.

How and where to get the comics

The basic way of getting comics is to pick them up in paper form from a comic book store. Trade paperbacks, trades or TPBs for short, collects 4 or more issues in bookform, and is often the best way to read up on older, non-current storylines. They can be in hardcover, paperback, deluxe editions. A trade usully collects one storyline. Sometimes this can be issues from the same title, other times the trade collects issues from many different titles; depending on the story line. Not all issues will be published in trades. Sometimes 'bridging' issues will be missing from trades, or unpopular titles might simply not get published in trades. Trades are always delayed compared to buying the comics as they come out. Publish time can differ, but a delay of half a year is not uncommon. Also a little tip: If you buy trades on or another international bookseller, be sure to check what language the trade is in. Just because the title is in english doesn't necessarily mean the comic itself is...

Another way to get comics is digitally. There are several apps for tablets: Comixology is the most widely used one, and it collects comics from pretty much every publisher and sells and stores them digitally in the app. DC and Marvel both have their own app. Both have a very large number of their comics available digitally. Comixology and the publisher apps are more or less connected, so that if you buy in one app, it will show up in the other (at least for DC & Comixology). You can search/browse by story arc or title. Although it is possible to read the comics on a smartphone with thse apps, I wouldn't recommend it, as the size simply is too small to really enjoy it.


Bought the wrong comic :/

Now this is a bummer.

I were just looking through my shiny new pile of trades, anticipation reading them, and then I notice an ad in German on the backside of Batman: Black Glove. I hoped that it was just a misplaced ad, but no luck there. The entire book is in German I did have German in school, but I were never good at it, and I seriously cannot even remember how to say 'thank you'. Bought it from, and while I could return it, I'm not sure it'll be worth the hassle - the delivery rates are not exactly cheap around here. I think I'll just buy the comics digitally, then put the trade on the shelf where it'll look good if nothing else.

At least that will teach me to read the fine print, even if the title itself is in English.

The worst thing is that I'm a librarian, and I really, really should know to check the details. Just never occurred to me that there might be comics in other languages on