This is for my IRL buddy who has never picked up a comic, and wants to check out the various Avengers outside the movies, but is super overwhelmed. This is my attempt to impart to her the knowledge that I’ve gained in my year or so of comics-reading. Please feel free to give me any info you’d add to this, so I can give her as complete info as possible.
You should start with any comics at Wikipedia or Comicsvine. You might happen on some spoilers, but unless you mean to start at the VERY beginning of a series and read everything up to now, you’ll need some background. Really, to fully understand most Marvel series, you have to read every one of them, with all of the crossovers and stuff. These websites can give you the necessary information on series, characters, plotlines, and anything else you might need if you’re super confused by what you’re reading. I tend to find where I’ve started reading on the page, and read the arc or two before it. If I come across any characters or references I don’t understand? Wikipedia. A plotline seems to be dropped so it can be picked up in another series? Wikipedia. I know I want to read a specific comic, but I’m not sure which issue I’m looking for/want to know how to find it? Wikipedia. It’s great. The Marvel website can be useful too, but I find it’s often lacking information, so I don’t really recommend it.
My next advice would be to read (or read ABOUT) as many “Marvel events” as you can. They shouldn’t be where you start, but reading Disassembled, Civil War, Dark Reign, Siege, and others have a huge impact on the individual titles, and are great ways to meet the other prominent Marvel characters you may not have known about otherwise. It was reading Civil War that I met the Young Avengers, now one of my favourite series. (Fans are divided on the quality of Civil War, but its impact on later series is undeniable).
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a cartoon show, but is also a great way to meet other characters who didn’t make it into the movies. It’s not entirely representative of the way they’re portrayed in the comics, but they’re a nice start. Plus, the show is amazing and you should watch it.
Okay, so I’m not an expert on all of the Avengers, but (based on the ones in the movie), I’ll give you the info I have collected:
I wrote up everything I know about Thor here. Just use that.
I haven’t read any Hulk – does anyone have any recs there? Sorry, kind of useless on him.
Hawkeye is getting his own self-titled series starting later this summer, so I’d recommend checking that out when it starts. I’m really excited, because it will also include Hawkeye II, Kate Bishop. She took over the title when Clint died, but then he came back, so he got a new name, but now he’s back to Hawkeye so there are two of them… you see why Wikipedia is useful.
I’ve been told many times that the Captain America arcs to start with are “Man Out of Time” and “Winter Soldier”.
For Iron Man, you should read the “Extremis” arc, because it will be a large plot base for IM3. After that, I’d say check out Matt Fraction’s work, which started with “The Five Nightmares,” continued with “World’s Most Wanted,” books 1 and 2, and so on. They’re collected as numbered volumes as well, so once you get past those, it’s easy to find vol 4, whose name I’ve forgotten, and on.
Black Widow has never had her own series, to my knowledge, other than the movie spin off. She does show up in Fraction’s IM run though, and she’s pretty awesome in that.
Beyond that, there are a billion Avengers titles you may want to check out to see everyone together; Avengers, Secret Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, Young Avengers… yeah. But as I said, it’s nice to see characters you wouldn’t have known otherwise (although avoid Avengers vs X-Men, it is NOT good). And I believe Marvel is actually publishing a series based on the movie Avengers right now.
You MAY be tempted to check out the Ultimate comics - series which were invented to start at point zero with the same characters to make them more accessible. I started here last summer. Yes, they are more accessible, but they’re not very… good. They had good aspects, and some series were decent - I didn’t mind Ultimate X-Men, and Ultimate Spider-man is still going strong, but The Ultimates (their version of the Avengers) is problematic to say the least. Jumping into the main universe, despite the sheer volume, is more rewarding.
The comics industry is really suffering right now, so I’d say buy anything you want to read, but if you are a filthy pirate, you can find this stuff generally by searching for the arc name or the issue number.
I’m not sure how much of that is ridiculously convoluted, but as always, I’m happy to answer questions for anyone who has them. If I don’t have the answer (which very possible), I’ll be happy to find it for you, or direct you to someone who can better help you.
Happy reading and AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
EDIT: bullmooseroosevelt fills in some gaps in my knowledge. Black Widow has apparently had some of her own series, and Adam recommends “The Name of the Rose, Black Widow and the Marvel Girls, or Black Widow Vol. 3 (which starts with Black Widow: A Right to a Life). She has some good older stuff too; I really liked Web of Intrigue, even though it was 80s-ish, and I think that one’s collected in one book.”
I’m no expert on Hulk either, but if you’d like to read some good stuff with him I recommend the World War Hulk arc. I’m trying to get more stuff, but I think this arc is a really good way to get to know the Hulk side of Bruce Banner’s personality (plus you can see what Tony and Bruce’s relationship is in the comics). I especially recommend the one-shot Last of the Titans. I really got my Hulk feels on there.”
I (Byron) have also heard good things about World War Hulk. If that means anything.
A hand guide for those of you interested in reading the Avengers.
Message me if you’d like any info beyond this.