Marvel Comics has been running strong for over half a century. The thousands and thousands of comic books they have published would make anyone confused as to where to start when you want to learn more about a specific character. You love these characters in the MCU films, but don’t have time to read every comic they are in: where to start? Here are some great starting points in comics for all your favorite Avengers and Avengers-adjacent heroes.
Recommended Comic: “Extremis” by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov (covers Iron Man Vol. 4 #1-6, 2005-2006)
I had trouble deciding between “Extremis” or “Demon in the Bottle,” a classic storyline from 1979 where Tony battles his addictions. However, more elements of the “Extremis” storyline made it into the MCU (in Iron Man 3, to be specific), although Tony’s alcohol problems were somewhat addressed in Iron Man 2. Extremis is a great modern introduction to the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man, showing off what makes him a unique hero and giving his supporting cast time in the spotlight as well. Plus, you can thank this storyline for making Iron Man’s armor significantly more powerful over the following years.
Recommended Comic: Captain America: Man Out of Time #1-5 by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina (limited series, 2011)
The limited series Captain America: Man Out of Time is one of my favorite Cap stories. Not only is it a great introduction to the character of Steve Rogers, but his portrayal in this series is very similar to how Cap is in the MCU. Steve’s adaptations to the 21st century are always interesting because while the world has changed a lot since the 1940s, the core conflicts of humanity have remained largely the same. There’s also time travel; what more could you ask for?
Recommended Comic: “Planet Hulk” by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan (Incredible Hulk #92-105 and Giant-Size Hulk #1, 2006-2007)
“Planet Hulk” is a key storyline for our big, green friend, with elements from it incorporated expertly into Thor: Ragnarok. While the MCU Hulk enjoyed his self-imposed exile as a celebrity gladiator, the Hulk in the comics had a much more dramatic and tragic story. Marvel’s Illuminati (a superhero council comprised of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and Professor X) decide that Hulk is far too dangerous to be left unchecked and exile him across the galaxy. And instead of loving his warrior status on Sakaar, comics’ Hulk is sold into slavery and must fight for his freedom. If you enjoy “Planet Hulk,” I also reccomend its sequel story “World War Hulk.”
Recommended Comic: Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Javier Pulido (Hawkeye #1-5 and Young Avengers Presents #6, both 2012)
In the MCU, much as we love him, Hawkeye is still kind of a joke. But in the comics, Hawkeye is given much more depth, as a former bad guy turned Avenger with plenty of romantic partners and engaging conflicts. Fraction and Aja‘s Hawkeye run was amazing and it took Clint Barton to new heights. With apprentice Kate Bishop as his partner-in-crime, the two Hawkeyes have some amazing adventures and cause plenty trouble outside of their Avenging duties.
Recommended Comic: Black Widow: Homecoming by Richard Morgan, Goran Parlov, and Bill Sienkiewicz (Black Widow #1-6, 2005)
Black Widow unfortunately does not have as many key storylines as the other Avengers. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger, Natasha Romanoff tries to get out of the spy game in this storyline.nBut a failed assassination attempt interrupts her normal life and forces her to head back to Russia, a post-Soviet country she does not recognize anymore. “Homecoming is a great characters study of Black Widow and brilliantly showcases her origins as a spy and assassin.
Recommended Comic: Thor: Blood Oath #1-6 by Michael Avon Oeming and Scott Kolins (limited series, 2005)
Thor has so many comics, more than I ever anticipated. In a crowded world of stories, Thor: Blood Oath is the best place to start. Though a modern story, it takes place in Thor’s early days, showing Thor and his buddies, the Warriors Three, on a quest to appease the father of a giant they had killed. Their journey takes them across the Nine Realms in search of a pantheon of magical objects. It’s a great introduction to Thor’s main characters and his fantastical world.
Recommended Comic: Doctor Strange: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin (limited series, 2006-2007)
While a main player in the MCU, Doctor Strange is actually more of a behind-the-scenes player in the comics. He is always helping out Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and other heroes, while maintaining an eye on the supernatural and magical elements of the Marvel comics universe. “The Oath” features plenty of Strange’s superheroing against magical threats, but also humanizes him by showing to what lengths he will go to protect his friend and partner, Wong.
Recommended Comic: Marvel Knights Spider-Man Volume 1 by Terry Dodson and Mark Millar (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1-12, 2004-2006)
Oh God, Marvel really has a never-ending slew of Spidey comics. He’s got parallel dimensions, alternate versions of himself, clones, several timelines, reintroductions, and so many storylines and the team-ups. He has really teamed up with everyone. Marvel Knights was an imprint of Marvel Comics in 1998, so these comics don’t technically take place within the main Marvel continuity. This volume starts with a good mystery and leaves Peter questioning how far he will go to protect the people he cares about. It’s a very good run with cool, daring artwork.
The Recommended Comic: Black Panther Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Black Panther #1-4, 2016)
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a fantastic author and his work in comics is no exception. The political intrigue and family drama of Coates’ Wakanda is fascinating. This is a Wakanda in the middle of uncertain times, as T’Challa must deal with a terrorist organization called the People who want to rise up against himm. It’s a well-written and well-drawn book that any reader can enjoy. And as a bonus, the book also includes the Fantastic Four issue from 1966 that introduces Black Panther himself.