Your MCU reading list
Civil War is over. Infinity War is two years away. With Marvel’s Phase Three now in motion, and with plenty more standalone films in the works, I’ve rounded up a selection of Marvel’s best comic books to get you prepared for what’s ahead. These aren’t necessarily going to form the basis of the movies in the works - Marvel tends to capture the spirit of the source material without really directly adapting it - but if you’re looking for further adventures to stoke your excitement for these characters, you can’t go wrong with what I’ve picked out here.
If you want a really easy way to read most of these stories and you’ve got a tablet device, I recommend Marvel Unlimited - it’s like the Netflix of Marvel Comics, with thousands of books to read. I’ve been using it for three years, and while there are some gaps in the library, it will give you a cheap way to read almost everything on this list. I’ve also picked out individual books that you can buy on their own, either through the Marvel app or from anywhere that sells graphic novels. I promise they’re all worth reading. Let’s get started...
With Homecoming arriving in 2017 and confirmed to be focusing on the high school life of young Peter Parker like no other movie, read a modern classic that follows the same part of Spidey’s early years. Ultimate Spider-Man, from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, contemporised the story of Peter Parker from his ‘60s origin into something that feels like an early Noughties teen comedy drama (but, you know, better, because Spider-Man is in it). The animated kids’ TV series of the same name is roughly based on this book, though this has more of an all-ages appeal.
Ultimate Spider-Man eventually covers every major villain, from the Green Goblin to Venom, and many stranger choices besides, as well as his romance with Mary Jane. It gets to the heart of the character, and has some of the funniest dialogue of any Spidey book. A great entry point, and exactly what you need to get excited about Homecoming.
Start with: Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1: Power and Responsibility
Also try: Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1: The Parker Luck
Ant-Man and the Wasp
If you can’t wait until 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp for more adventures of Scott Lang, then pick up Nick Spencer’s run on the character which started last year, casting him as a loser superhero in Miami, still desperate to win back the affections of daughter Cassie. It’s one of the funniest books out there, and features Scott teaming up with a reformed villain dressed as a bear, as well as dealing with a social media app made for supervillains. One memorable sequence sees Lang having a one night stand with a sworn enemy while still wearing his Ant-Man helmet.
It’s been made specifically to appeal to fans of the 2015 film, putting Scott in a not-dissimilar circumstances of being down-on-his-luck, and anyone who liked the character’s appearance in Civil War will enjoy Spencer’s well-judged and funny dialogue.
Start with: Ant-Man Volume 1: Second Chance Man
Also try: FF Volume 1: Fantastic Faux
Arguably the standout character of Civil War, even in a movie with about 900 other superheroes, T’Challa has been around for decades in the comics. I recommend reading the current ongoing series of the Black Panther, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Brian Stelfreeze, which is just a couple of issues into its run. Its release has been fortuitously timed around Civil War, so you’ve got an easy way to get to know the character (and Wakanda) from scratch. You can download these issues individually on Marvel’s app.
T’Challa also plays a key role in the brilliant sci-fi epic New Avengers series from 2013, in which he and a desperate Avengers faction are forced to destroy countless alternate realities in order to protect their own from destruction. Also worth considering is Christopher Priest’s well-regarded ‘90s Black Panther series, which Marvel reissued in time for Civil War. Collectively, these books build up a comprehensive picture of Black Panther and his background.
Start with: Black Panther (2016) #1
Also try: New Avengers Volume 1: Everything Dies
Civil War might already be out but, the second and third Cap movies rank among the MCU’s best so he’s worth including. Both movies take inspiration in tone and content from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s seminal run with the character, which brought Bucky back from the death and flowed into the Civil War event. What happens at the end of the Civil War movie actually has some precedent in the comics - Cap was briefly the nation-less character ‘Nomad’ in the ‘70s - but being an insurgent, on the run from government, with no shield and an underground Avengers team? It’s new and exciting territory.
Since there are likely to be no more Cap-centric movies in the near future, I instead suggest you read the entirety of Brubaker’s run with the character. Civil War the comic, as you might know, leads directly into Captain America’s death - and the subsequent appointment of Bucky as Cap instead for an extended period. This thriller angle made Cap one of the most unmissable books Marvel published for half a decade, and it gives the Winter Soldier the sort of time and background detail that the busy movies don’t allow for.
Start with: Captain America: The Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection
Also try: Avengers Volume 1: Avengers World
Lord knows what’s going through Tony’s mind at the end of Civil War: betrayed by his close ally, leading an Avengers team that composes of a seriously injured Rhodey and an unreliable super android (and Peter Parker, I guess). He’s not in the best place, but I’m sure he’ll pick up the phone and mend bridges with Cap in time to fight Thanos.
Warren Ellis’s Extremis is considered the best modern Iron Man story, and it’s a fine read, but there’s another I consider my favourite. I recommend Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s four-year run on Invincible Iron Man. At its peak, it sees Tony on the run from a government-backed group of supervillains, led by Norman Osborn, who are desperate to obtain the list of secret identities disclosed in the Civil War storyline - and Stark goes as far as wiping his own memory to stop them.
Start with: Invincible Iron Man Volume One: The Five Nightmares
Also try: Iron Man: Extremis
Look, we’re going to be waiting forever for that Black Widow solo movie, so let’s go for the next best thing. There are two great recent solo books involving Natasha Romanoff - the current book by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee is a properly fun spy/conspiracy thriller that relies almost entirely on images to tell its story, rather than dialogue. It’s only just started, too, so you can hop on from issue one. If they ever make that Black Widow picture, this is exactly the sort of territory they should be looking to tap into.
Another really strong Black Widow solo book is the Cold War-infused run by Nathan Edmondson, which is slightly lighter on action, and goes for a slightly more cerebral thriller angle, with gorgeous art from Phil Noto. Both of these books are different approaches to the same thing, showcasing Natasha’s unique corner of the Marvel Universe (that someone should definitely make into a film, while we’re still young).
Start with: Black Widow (2016) #1
Also try: Black Widow Volume One: The Finely Woven Thread
A lot of speculation seems to be pointed at Thor: Ragnarok borrowing elements from the storyline Planet Hulk, where Banner is exiled from the solar system and becomes a kind of gladiator on a faraway planet, overthrowing the ruler there. I’m not sure about that, since Ragnarok has been described as a ‘cosmic road movie’ and Jeff Goldblum is in it, but it’s still one of the better recent Hulk stories Marvel has put out there.
On the Thor front, if you want to read an epic God of Thunder tale that straddles thousands of years and deals with the murder of thousands of gods, I strongly recommend Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder book, starting with the volume below. It’s by far the best modern Thor story I have read, and is nicely self-contained for people who know the movies but not the comics.
Start with: Planet Hulk or Thor: God of Thunder Volume One: The God Butcher
Also try: Thor by J Michael Straczynski
The Avengers: Infinity War - Parts 1 and 2
The basic idea of Thanos wielding the infinity gauntlet comes from the old Marvel event book of the same name. It’s a galaxy-spanning tale that affects all corners of the Marvel Universe - it’s all on Marvel Unlimited if you want to check it out, though to anyone new to comics it might feel a little dated. The Russos’ own version of that story, like Winter Soldier and Civil War, will likely just use elements of it for inspiration.
Instead, I’m going to recommend two books to you that ignited my love for cosmic Marvel: Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers (the latter of which I recommended earlier as a great Black Panther story). This story starts with Cap and Iron Man arranging the largest and coolest line-up of Avengers imaginable to face world-ending threats, and it leads into the story Infinity, which features superhero battles in space and Thanos himself. It’s a little dense for a superhero comic, but one of the most satisfying stories I’ve ever read involving the Avengers roster - a proper sci-fi war tale that uses the idea of the Avengers as a foundation.
This made me more excited about Thanos as a villain than any other Marvel book I’ve read. I now look forward to watching about 90 superheroes beat him up in 2018 and 2019’s Avengers pictures.
Start with: Avengers Volume One: Avengers World and New Avengers Volume One: Everything Dies
Also try: The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos Rising
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 features Kurt Russell as Peter Quill’s father, whoever that is in the MCU (expect it to be a surprise). In the comics, it’s all-round space bastard and mean ruler J’Son of Spartax. The excellent first arc of Guardians of the Galaxy’s 2013 series by Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven deals with Peter’s relationship with his father, and later volumes explore that in further depth - it’s really one of the fundamental aspects of the character, which is why it’s such a good match for the movie’s 2017 sequel.
Start with: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume One: Cosmic Avengers
Also try: Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning Omnibus
The next MCU picture to roll along will be Doctor Strange. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch was snapped in a New York comic book shop holding a copy of The Oath, one of the more notable modern stories involving the Sorcerer Supreme, written by the brilliant Brian K Vaughan. That’s worth picking up. Even more up-to-date, though, is the recent Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo series involving the character, which gives a spotlight to the weirder mystical side of Marvel that may have some crossover with the imagery we’ll see in Scott Derrickson’s movie.
Start with: Doctor Strange Volume One: The Way of the Weird
Also try: Doctor Strange: The Oath
This is nice and easy. The Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel (who will be the hero at the centre of the 2019 movie) has only been around for less than five years, so the story you want to get hold of is Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy’s first volume of Captain Marvel. While Danvers has been around for decades in the Ms Marvel guise, the more contemporary reimagining of her as this cosmic hero is one of the most well-liked books published by Marvel in the last decade.
Start with: Captain Marvel Volume One: Higher, Further, Faster, More
Also try: Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps