Screen to Print: The Top 5 Superhero Gateways

Time to Hit the Books

(Villains are robbing a comic book store)

The Beetle:OK, which ones of these are valuable?”
Comic Store Owner:Well, that depends, what are you looking for? One-in-one-hundred variants? Low print run indie titles?”
Beetle:Gah, this is impenetrable! Okay, you know what? Just put them all in a box for me. C’mon, Overdrive. Let’s just go, please.
Overdrive:I didn’t even know they still made these things.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Chances are good that you’ve seen a few superhero movies during the past decade. An entire genre that was mostly inhabited by Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man has grown to the point where most of the Marvel Universe has appeared onscreen and DC isn’t far behind it. After so many movies, you might be inclined to check out the comics where they originated, but that leads to a tricky question: Where the heck do you start? 

Finding a starting point is the hardest part of becoming a comic fan. Do you just pick up the latest issue about a hero that interests you and hope you don’t get lost? Do you start with issue number one and try to go through hundreds of issues? Don’t even get me started on how volumes or monikers make it so there can be a dozen things called Spider-Man #33 or five called Green Lantern #16.

The trick is to find a gateway. That’s a story or series that gets you into the world and then provides a way to expand into the setting. So what are the five best superhero gateways? Let’s find out.

#5 Team Books

Deadpool: “I ain’t letting Cable kill this kid, but I can’t do this alone. We’re going to form a super-duper f***ing group. We need them tough, morally flexible, and young enough to carry their own franchise for 10 to 12 years.”

Deadpool 2

It may be cheating to use a type of comic instead of a specific one, but team books are the sampler platters of superhero gateways.

There are two types of superhero teams: organized units like the X-Men and Fantastic Four and superhero clubs like the Justice League and The Avengers. Both types have unique benefits as superhero gateways.

An organized unit superhero team is a lot like an ensemble TV show. You might not like every character, but there’s always another one who will be in the spotlight soon enough. If you don’t care what Phoenix is up to, wait around for X-23 to take center stage. Human Torch not to your liking? The Thing will show up eventually. You’ll usually be able to find someone you like.

The superhero clubs are a great gateway and launching point. The members usually have their own series. Do you like The Flash? Go see what he’s up to without the Justice League’s support. Black Widow’s espionage caught your eye? Go see what she’s doing in her own series. And as a bonus, most superhero teams have a couple of obscure members who you might like as much as the movie stars.

#4 Ms. Marvel (2014)

Captain America:Logan says [Ms. Marvel] is different. Special.
Medusa:They’re all special.
Captain America:Not special enough for a phone call from a guy who’s famous for not liking people. She must have made an impression.

Ms. Marvel #7

Perhaps you are the type who likes stories with a lighter tone that are still recent enough to start from issue number one. If so, the new Ms. Marvel is the superhero gateway for you.

Kamala Khan was a superhero fangirl living in New Jersey. She was exposed to a strange mist which activated her Inhuman ancestry and gave her shapeshifting superpowers. She became a superhero, taking the name Ms. Marvel from her idol, Captain Marvel.

Ms. Marvel encountered several established heroes, quickly gaining a reputation as a rising star and an utter dork. She has been a member of The Avengers and leads a team of teenaged heroes called The Champions.  Her foes are eclectic, from serious threats like the terrorist Kaboom and knight templar Lockdown to goofy opponents like The Inventor, a half human/half cockatiel clone of Thomas Edison.

Ms. Marvel is an excellent starting point for new comic readers, with a style reminiscent of the earliest Spider-Man stories mixed with the young adult tone of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. A Ms. Marvel TV series is slated to debut on Disney+ in 2022.

#3 Secret Wars (1984)

The Beyonder:I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours. Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish!

Secret Wars

The MCU has had many good and bad moments, but one thing we’ve never seen is a true battle between Marvel’s greatest heroes and villains. Not a mere superhero fight: a war. That’s why Secret Wars is our number three Superhero Gateway.

A mysterious being called The Beyonder brings The Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and several unaffiliated heroes and villains to a hidden planet called Battleworld. He does not understand why the heroes fight to protect others or why the villains only look out for themselves. He orders both sides to fight to the death and offers the winners their hearts’ desire.

The heroes and villains organize into armies, with The X-Men and Magneto splitting off to form a third faction. While the heroes and villains duke it out, Doctor Doom investigates The Beyonder and plots to steal his godlike powers. But who will win the Secret Wars?

Secret Wars featured Marvel’s A-List heroes and villains in an all-out battle, but also spared time to focus on lesser known characters. Where else will you see The Lizard, Photon, Enchantress, or Molecule Man given as big a role as Doctor Octopus and The Hulk? The event also introduced several characters and elements that would become staples of their characters, chief among them Spider-Man’s black costume that evolved into the anti-hero Venom.

#2 Crisis on Infinite Earths

Firebrand:I-I’m still confused. Who are all these people? I only know a very few.
Obsidian:We’re from different times, Firebrand… sometimes even different Earths. You know me and Superman and I only know a few others.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Sometimes the best starting point is an ending. Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC universe and brought about a new status quo.

A being called The Monitor gathers an army of superheroes and villains to warn them of an apocalyptic threat. All of reality is being consumed by a wave of anti-matter, heralded by an army of monsters called Shadow Demons. The assembled superbeings must travel time and the multiverse to save all that exists.

Crisis is a great superhero gateway because it affected everyone in the DC Universe. Even obscure characters like Shining Knight, Anthro the Caveman, and Enemy Ace stood side by side with The Justice League, Justice Society, and the Teen Titans to save the world.

The Crisis on Infinite Earths was an enormous event in every sense of the term. If you want more info about this superhero gateway, check out our Crisis on Infinite Earths retrospective.

#1 Marvels

Phil Sheldon: [about the rise of superheroes] “It was life or death. It was grand opera. It was the greatest show on Earth. And we… all of us… had the best seat in the house.

Marvels

Many superhero stories focus on grandiose heroes and devilish villains. Normal people are bystanders, damsels in distress, or collateral damage. Marvels is our number one superhero gateway because it follows the history of the Marvel Universe from an angle rarely seen, that of a non-powered onlooker.

Phil Sheldon is a photographer working for the Daily Bugle who is waiting for his big break. While covering a science expo, he sees the debut of a combustible android soon known as The Human Torch. Shortly afterwards, an Atlantean warrior called the Sub-Mariner begins a rampage. At first terrified, Sheldon is inspired to follow and catalogue the strange heroes and villains coming out of the woodwork, beings that he dubs “Marvels”.

Sheldon’s story starts during World War II as he is shown reacting to The Invaders and other contemporary heroes. It continues in the 70s as everyone is blown away by the exciting heroes, but slowly growing terrified of a newly discovered race called the mutants. Flash forward again and readers see peoples’ reaction to apocalyptic threats like Galactus. But where does Sheldon’s story end? I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Marvels condenses Marvel’s WWII history and the first years of their biggest stories in the 70’s. Old fans will recognize several in-jokes and references while newcomers will find a primer of Marvel history, all drawn with some of Alex Ross’ best artwork.

What was your superhero gateway? Is there a better starting point that isn’t on the list? Tell us in the comments! Just no gatekeeping, OK folks?

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