I get asked for recommendations all the time by new subscribers of Marvel Unlimited. It’s a huge, sprawling, poorly curated service, and with more than 50 years of content, it can be overwhelming for even experienced readers.
Here are some of my recommendations, separated by character/team.
With his only superpower being “shoots a bow,” Hawkeye was never anyone’s favorite Avenger. That is, until Matt Fraction’s brilliant 2013 series Hawkeye, which follows what Clint Barton does when he’s not being an Avenger.
Hawkeye could easily be a show on AMC. It’s down to earth, funny, and tragic. It’s the comic that pulled me back into comics, and something to be cherished — especially since it’ll soon be over.
You may be tempted to start back with the very first issue from 1963. Avoid this temptation, as it’s not only mediocre, but lacking most of the characters you know and love.
Instead, skip straight to Giant-Size X-Men #1, which introduced fan favorites like Nightcrawler, Storm, and added Wolverine to the team. That’ll give you a bit of historical background.
From there, you could cut directly to Uncanny X-Men #94, which follows Giant-Size X-Men #1, but more importantly, is the beginning of writer Chris Claremont’s run on the series. Claremont wrote X-Men for 16 years, creating some of the most loved stories and characters.
But, it took him a while to get into the swing of things. Feel free to skip ahead to Uncanny X-Men #125, which is the start of the Proteus storyline, leading into the Dark Phoenix Saga — perhaps the greatest X-Men story ever.
From there, feel free to keep reading until Claremont leaves in the early ’90s. However, don’t be surprised to find that the quality drops significantly after his departure.
If you want just a small sample of Claremont’s genius, try Uncanny X-Men #141-142, which comprises The Days of Future Past storyline, the basis for the most recent X-Men movie. It’s only two issues, and if you don’t like DoFP, then you probably won’t enjoy X-Men.
If you want to see Claremont with almost complete creative freedom, I highly recommend the one-shot X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, where the X-Men face off against racist televangelist William Stryker. (Which was the basis for X-2. See a pattern here?) GLMK takes a frank look at the issues of race in X-Men, which is supposed to be a central theme, though often forgotten.
But let’s say you want something more modern. I can offer two suggestions: Grant Morrison’s trippy New X-Men from 2000, or Joss Whedon’s followup, 2004’s Astonishing X-Men.
I highly recommend Whedon’s run. It’s short, smartly written, and just plain fun.
Today, Wolverine is so popular that he is often reviled by fans, but the reason he came to be that way is Frank Miller’s 1982 limited series, simply titled Wolverine. It was the basis for the recent movie, The Wolverine, and tells the story of the burly Canadian’s travels through Japan to save the woman he loves.
Another Wolverine solo story I highly recommend is the uncannonical Old Man Logan from 2008, in which a much older, now pacifistic Wolverine, sets off on a cross country trip to save his family from the Hulk Gang. If that sounds like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, you would be right, but it’s a fun, if heartbreaking story.
He was always sort of a ghetto Spider-Man — and a bit of a joke. That is, until Frank Miller took over in Daredevil #168, introducing ninjas, assassin and love interest Elektra, and Daredevil’s mentor Stick. Miller took a book that was close to cancellation and turned it into one of Marvel’s most loved franchises.
Even after Miller left in 1983, Daredevil has remained one of the better-written books in the Marvel lineup.
I’m not a huge Captain America guy, but you’d be remiss not to read Ed Brubaker’s Captain America from 2004, which includes, among other things, the Winter Soldier storyline that was the basis for this year’s hit movie.
I have an uneasy relationship with everyone’s favorite wall crawler. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, but Marvel loves running him through the muck — replacing him with clones, undoing his marriage, turning him into some kind of mystical spider-demon freak, you name it.
My general advice is to stick to Spider-Man stories from the ’70s and ’80s, and completely skip the ’90s.
But one gem I particularly love is his original showdown with the alien symbiote Venom, starting in Amazing Spider-Man #299. Venom has all of Spider-Man’s powers and then some, and on top of that, he’s bigger, meaner, and scarier. Todd MacFarlane’s Venom, with his creepy smile, stalks Peter Parker’s loved ones in search of revenge.
While later artists added ridiculous flourishes like a foot-long tongue covered in green slime and multiple heads, it’s MacFarlane’s original that still gives me chills.
If you want something a bit newer, the recent The Superior Spider-Man is a lot of fun. The story is that Doc Ock has taken over Peter Parker’s body in a bid to save his own life, but in the process takes on Peter’s sense of responsibility, and he decides to become the “superior” Spider-Man that Parker could only dream of being. Imagine Spider-Man with all the sensibilities of a Venture Bros. villain, with the requisite spy robots, goon army, dirty tricks, and massive battle mechs. It’s Breaking Bad meets Spider-Man, and it’s blast to read.
Other Notes for New Readers
You might see a lot of titles under the “Ultimate” banner. Be aware that these take place in an alternate universe, as a sort of soft reboot of traditional Marvel franchises. I advise against these for new readers; while they started off well, they’ve been mishandled to the point of unreadability. Sure, there are some gems, but I’ll leave you to discover them after your feet are wet.
You might want to investigate Deadpool, who is seems to be more popular all the time. Deadpool is a violently, often comically, unstable mercenary. He’s not to every taste, but a decent place to start is the recent Deadpool series by Gerry Duggan and comedian Brian Posehn. It starts off rather schlocky, but later in, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” gains an incredible amount of depth.
That’s a decent list of where to get started. Of course, this isn’t a definitive list. I’ve missed a lot of stuff like Avengers, Iron Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, mostly due to my X-Men bias. But regardless, this should give you a decent survey of the Marvel universe. Happy reading, True Believer!