DC Comics is one of the largest and oldest comic book companies in the country. In its storied 85 years of existence, it has published some of the most well-known and beloved superheroes ever, starting of course with the holy trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
To give you an idea of how long Superman and Batman have been around: Batman was introduced in 1937, while Superman debuted in 1938, meaning they predate the Second World War, Television, Microwave ovens, and even McDonald’s! (Although Bette White is still older than all of them)
For new readers, it can be a challenge to start getting into DC’s storied past; from dozens of starting points, gate-keeping neckbeards, and numerous reboots, where do you even start?
Well, the short answer is: there’s really no one correct way of going about it, there’s no pilot episode, no one linear narrative, and definitely no one single origin. Every title is spread out across different series’ and every writer might have their own approach to a particular story.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up a specific issue and start from there. One of the fun things about comic books is the journey of learning more about a particular superhero, story, or groups of superheroes! In this article, we’ll discuss some of my personal choices about where to start, which series’ to start with, and which ones I think you might enjoy!
A Little History on DC Comics
To start, let’s take a brief look at DC Comics history:
The publication started out as National Allied Publications back in 1934. The company debuted with New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine, a comic book anthology that spanned from 1934-1947. It was its first line of comic books and was instrumental in introducing major superheroes like the Specter, Green Arrow, and Aquaman. New Fun was followed by New Comics, which also introduced certain publication standards, such as the overall size of the magazine, that are still followed today.
Following the success of New Fun and New Comics, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, National Allied Publications founder, left to make a new company called Detective Comics, Inc., which eventually released Detective Comics#1 in March of 1937. Detective Comics would become Detective Comics, Inc.’s breakthrough line, thanks to its introduction of Batman in Detective Comics#27. They followed it up with Action Comics#1 in June of 1938, introducing, for the first time, the “Superhero” archetype, with its debut hero: Superman.
Eventually, National Allied Publications and Detective Comics, Inc. would merge to form National Comics Publication in 1946. Although it was officially named as National Comics, the company started referring to itself as Superman-DC as early as 1940. By the early 1950’s, most fans knew it as DC Comics, prompting the company to officially adopt the name DC Comics in 1977.
So if you’ve ever wondered what the “DC” meant in DC Comics, now you know: Detective Comics!
Rebirth and Why It’s A Good Idea To Start With The New Titles
Now that we have an idea about the long and storied past of DC, let’s get into the nitty gritty of starting your DC comics journey. Although it might seem like superhero universes are one, big narrative, the reality is that it’s actually split between a variety of factors, from a specific writer writing their own version of the story, to different versions of the same story, among other things.
In essence, new writers don’t exactly have to find Action Comics#1 to learn about Superman (considering that a mint copy of Action Comics #1 sold for a cool one million dollars, it’s also not the most affordable option!); they can start with a particular series of stories, or runs, and work their way from there. Another mistake new comic book readers make: trying to read everything about a particular superhero. Sure, we all love Batman (I will fight you if you don’t), and while collecting all the issues and stories concerning the World’s Greatest Detective, you will be narrowing your comic book experience and potentially miss out on some great titles.
One thing both DC and Marvel do to keep their repertoire of stories fresh and accessible to both new and old readers is by introducing reboots. In 2016, DC launched Rebirth, arguably one of the most successful reboots in comic book history.
A bit of background: in an effort to stay relevant with newer readers, DC launched the now-controversial New 52 series. New 52 was published from 2011 to 206, and I say “controversial” because, while I personally enjoyed it (and my new comic book reader friends enjoyed it too), many of the old school comic book fans were shocked! Appalled! Horrified! How dare they destroy the sanctity of these stories?!
New 52 wasn’t just a simple retcon; it changed so many aspects of the original DC universe as to be almost unrecognizable to older fans. While it did prompt new readers to start getting into the DC line of comics, it unfortunately alienated a lot of the old readers that had invested so much time and emotion on pre-existing storylines.
Public clamor got so bad that DC needed to do damage-control. Enter Rebirth.
True to its name, Rebirth re-introduced the original DC universe (with some minor changes), as well as incorporating the New 52 timeline. Finally, DC found a good balance between catering to their legion of loyal fans while reaching out to newer fans and first-time comic book readers.
If you’re the latter, Rebirth is the perfect place to start your DC comics journey: it’s accessible enough that new readers won’t be too overwhelmed, and at the same time, has enough back story and mythos to explore. For new fans, this is a great backbone for your DC comics knowledge-base, and older fans will find it enjoyable too.
Year One is the collective title of many of their titles (i.e. Batman Year One, Wonder Woman Year One, etc.) wherein they re-introduced some of DC’s most famous superheroes, either giving them retconned origin stories, or incorporating the events of New 52 to the original DC storyline. This continues to Year Two and Year Three, before Rebirth was ended and re-incorporated into the larger DC Universe.
As a starting point, you can’t go wrong with any Year One title: it introduces you to the origins of a beloved character, and introduces you bit by bit to the larger DC storyline.
Beyond Rebirth, or, My Favorite DC Titles
Rebirth is a great starting place for new fans, but if you’re less concerned about a starting point and more about reading a great storyline, then I have a few recommendations for you! Here are some:
The DC Superhero community rallies together to find a mysterious villain who had orchestrated the murder of Elongated Man’s wife. I loved Identity Crisis because it dealt heavily with the concept of memory, ethics, and the idea that villains aren’t always who you expect them to be.
Part of the Elseworlds imprint, Kingdom Come tells the story of a future where the Superheroes of old, now jaded and out-of-touch with reality, come into conflict with the newer, more amoral, and violent new superheroes. Kingdom Come is a great way to reframe the characters we all know and love into fascist, militaristic, quasi-villains. A good read for anyone wondering what would happen if Superman decided to take over the world.
After an encounter at the Earth’s sun, Superman is given only one year left to live. During this time, he strives to fulfill his mission on Earth, tell Lois Lane about his feelings for her, and leave a legacy that will last for all time. All-Star Superman takes a poignant look at Superman as both superhero and Man, and how the unstoppable march of death can take a toll on Superman himself.
Superman: Red Son
Another Elseworlds imprint, Superman: Red Son asks the question: what if Superman landed in the USSR instead of the U.S.? Red Son is a classic Superman tale and takes a hard look at the whole concept of Nature vs. Nurture.
A word on following recommendations, though: nearly every single comic book geek will have their own carefully crafted and curated list of comic book recommendations. Read as many of them as possible, but don’t go buying into the idea that a specific list is the only one you need: comic books, particularly DC comics, are great because of the sheer variety of stories they tell.