Comics on Film: How to Introduce Your Movie Friends to Superhero Comics — DC Edition

Comics on Film: How to Introduce Your Movie Friends to Superhero Comics — DC Edition

Apr 28, 2017

Last week, we proposed a series of Marvel Comics stories that you can show your friends in an effort to both get them into comics, and clearly communicate what the major characters are all about without having to watch a dozen movies. This week, we're going to do the same for the characters that we'll be seeing in this November's Justice League, the latest chapter of the DC Extended Universe.

So, far, the DCEU has had only three films: Man of SteelBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. This June will see the arrival of the highly anticipated Wonder Woman, before the big team-up film arrives in November. While that doesn't represent nearly as much of a commitment as starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time, hopefully the stories we've picked for you here can give you and your friends a bit of a leg up on understanding what the icons of the Justice League are like in the source material.

So, here are some recommended comics stories for the major members of the DCEU's Justice League.

 

Superman — “Birthright” by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu
 
There have been a lot of different stories that have detailed the origin of Superman, perhaps one of the most often-told tales in the history of superhero comics. The reason that we choose “Birthright” as a recommendation for this list is because it does an excellent job of combining the classic, timeless version of the Man of Steel with some newer, more innovative concepts firmly placing the character in the modern world.
 
Although he’s the original superhero, Superman is pretty unique amongst his fellow heroes because of the place he chooses to occupy in the world. Unlike some popular heroes in other franchises, Superman exists as a hero not because he feels he has some past wrong he needs to balance out, but because he knows that his abilities give him a unique ability to help the inhabitants of his adopted home. As a story, “Birthright” gives a clear perspective about how this gifted young man exposes himself to the outside world, and how he chooses to shape himself as a hero in the eyes of the world. While some viewers of 2013's Man of Steel film will recognize some aspects of this story, reading the issues themselves will give even more insight on why this was a version of the origin worth adapting.
 
Beyond serving as a great and effective origin story for Superman himself, though, “Birthright” is also one of the most effective introductions to every facet of the character’s life. Why does he choose to become a reporter in his civilian life? What do characters like Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen add to the equation? And – perhaps most importantly – how does a lowly (if brilliant) human being like Lex Luthor credibly become the worst, most dangerous enemy of the most powerful being on the planet? “Birthright” answers these questions and much more cleanly, effectively, and in a very emotionally compelling way.
 
Just be ready to have a tissue at hand by the time you reach the last page.
 
 
 
Batman — “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
 
This choice comes from a different place than the others, because it’s about as far as you can get from an origin story. By this point, Batman’s origin story is ubiquitous in popular culture. You know who Bruce Wayne is, and how a walk down a dark alley put the young child on a course that would lead him to becoming a dark creature of the night. So…what story might allow you to learn something new about Batman?
 
The incomparable Neil Gaiman (SandmanCoralineAmerican Gods) sought to do just that in this “send off” to a generation of Batman stories. Instead of an origin, this is a conception of what might happen in Batman’s head not as he’s living, but as he’s dying. In this unusual, ethereal tale, Batman is a spectator at his own funeral, observing the eulogies of allies and enemies all relating very different, conflicting stories relating how Batman meets his end.
 
What you get from that are very different “flavors” of the Dark Knight through the ages. With renderings that evoke some of the more celebrated Batman artists in history, Gaiman winds up and hits a home run by tying it all together to illustrate more about what makes Bruce Wayne a superhero in better form than many of his colleagues. We've seen just the surface of what Ben Affleck's Batman really brings to the table with his strength, formidability and willpower. This story will help to fill you in on what makes Batman's soul really strong, too.
 
This story will likely teach a more general fan of Batman something new about him, while also reinforcing what makes him such a timeless icon. Seems hard to do better than that.
 
 
 
Wonder Woman — “Year One” by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott
 
DC’s “Rebirth” initiative, launched last year, has gone a long way in bringing some formerly astray characters back into more recognizable stature. When superstar writer Greg Rucka (White OutQueen & CountryStumptown) was announced as the returning writer to Wonder Woman, it came with a lot of smiles from longtime fans, since Rucka is responsible for a very well-regarded run with DC’s iconic heroine in the early-mid 2000’s.
 
One of the first stories that Rucka told while on her “Rebirth” title was a re-establishment of her origin story, which had gotten a little difficult to follow over the past several years. Unlike her colleagues in DC's "Trinity," Wonder Woman's origin story is not nearly as well known as Batman or Superman's, and DC had made some shuffles to it over the last few years that they now seem content with walking back a little bit. Be that as it may, the creative team for this effective and modernized re-telling of Diana's origin makes it one of the best versions of the tale you can absorb. In trademark fashion, Rucka cuts to the quick in showing what makes Wonder Woman's native society so elusive, while also helping to establish what makes Diana such a unique part of it. In the end, you see why Wonder Woman, from the ground up, is one of the absolute best characters that DC Comics has to offer, beyond her iconography alone.
 
One thing that Rucka has always championed about Diana is the fact that her immense physical formidability is tempered by the godlike wisdom that comes from her immense sense of compassion. By the end of "Year One," it'll be easy to see why she stands as one of DC's heaviest hitters. Since this graphic novel becomes available for the first time in May, just a few weeks before we see Diana's cinematic origin in the Wonder Woman film, this would be a great book to read before walking into the theater on June 2nd.
 

Now just as a note before we continue, all of the remaining stories on this list are written by the man who's now largely responsible for translating the characters of DC Comics into other media, including movies. Much of that is because he wrote these characters with the express purpose of either reintroducing them to fans, or because he was charged with reshaping the DC Comics Universe itself.

 
 
The Flash — “Rebirth” by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver
 
Years before he was running across the airwaves of the CW in a popular television series, it was felt by a fair amount of Flash fans that his place in the comics just seemed...odd in the late 2000's. Between 2006-08, DC had moved Wally West out of the ongoing books, replaced him with former Impulse and Kid Flash Bart Allen, then killed Bart and brought Wally back. For over 20 years, the current stories of the DC Universe were without the definitive Silver Age Flash Barry Allen, until he was surprisingly brought back in a 2008 summer crossover event.
 
In early 2009, DC launched "The Flash: Rebirth:" a 6-issue mini-series that served to re-familiarize current readers, and Barry himself, with the modern DC Universe and what Barry's place would be in it. In this series, Barry's origin story is reshaped by introducing the concept of his murdered mother for the first time, with his father serving behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. The series also reintroduces several classic Flash aspects — not least of which is Eobard Thawne himself — back into the current stories of the DCU.
 
If you're not particularly familiar with the Flash or his supporting cast and environment, then "Rebirth" is the kind of story that drips with reverence for the world of Central and Keystone cities, while also setting the DCU up for an event that would follow: "Flashpoint." If you're curious about that consequential story, the road to "Flashpoint" starts right here, and the reverberations of this series are definitely felt in what we've already seen from Ezra Miller's Flash in both Batman v Superman and the recent Justice League trailer.
 
 
 
Aquaman — “The Trench” by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
 
To the uninitiated, Aquaman has been a hard sell as a character for a lot of people to get into. People see him as the laughing stock at DC Comics far too often, and for those who don't take the time to learn about him, it was a mystery why a character like that would be on the flagship superhero team of the publisher. When Geoff Johns repopularized the character first in his crossover Blackest Night, it seemed like attitudes had started to shift. Then came the New 52, and Johns and artist Ivan Reis would be re-teaming to bring his adventures to life in a monthly book once more.
 
When 2011's Aquaman #1 hit stands, the series outsold every title that Marvel Comics put out for the next six months. Aquaman outsold Spider-Man, the Avengers, Iron Man, the X-Men...well, you get the point.
 
The very first issue of "The Trench" confronts the laughable perceptions about Aquaman head-on, before telling a story that truly illustrates what makes him such a heavy hitter. Did you know that because his body is oriented to go into the furthest depths of the ocean that his skin is effectively bulletproof? Did you know he can swim two miles per second, so running faster than a cheetah and jumping higher than a six-story bulding on land is like child's play to him? Did you know that if someone threatens him or any innocents, he has few qualms about shoving a trident through that enemy's skull? Caling Aquaman "ill-tempered" is putting it mildly, but he's also the king of a lost civilization. If any word can describe him, it's probably "regal." Well, and bad-ass.
 
"The Trench" is a great first Aquaman tale because of the engaging story, Ivan Reis' blockbuster visuals, and the entire affair's ability to introduce you to the guy who might become one of America's new favorite superheroes this November. Reading this will make it clear why an actor like Jason Momoa is the right guy to bring the Sea King to life for the foreseeable future.
 
 
 
Cyborg — “Justice League: Origin” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee
 

While this may be kind of a cheat to include since its not a solo Cyborg story, this is probably the book to read if you want to have a good, solid foundation on which to see the version of the character as played by actor Ray Fisher. You see, for most of his existence in DC Comics history from the 1980's through 2011, Cyborg was a staple character of another team: the Teen Titans. For years, Victor Stone was the heart and soul of the team that also included the likes of Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Raven. When "The New 52" changed the DCU, though, writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee took the opportunity to reshape the premiere superhero team and make Cyborg into a founding member.
 
While "Origin" does what it's supposed to do in assembling the team for the first time, the character who gets the most focus from the ground up is Cyborg. The circumstances in the story surrounding his origin are very similar to what we saw so briefly near the end of Batman v Superman, where he's apparently saved partially by the ingenuity of his own father, as well as by the power of Apokoliptian technology. Either way, Cyborg makes his presence felt as one of the team's hardest hitters, and though he's on the young side, he's also way ahead of the technological curve.
 
In a world where smart devices are the norm and in everything from our TV's to our refrigerators, it makes sense to have a character like Cyborg who is always augmenting himself to become better and faster than he was before. "Origin" does a good job within the context of the full Justice League in showing you why he's earned his spot there, while also not being a bad choice to see what the dynamic of the team at-large is like as well.
 
 
So, that's our list for the characters of DC Comics! Do you agree? Are there other characters that should've been included? Do you find value in reading some comics before seeing a superhero movie? Be sure to leave your comments below, check out last week's list for Marvel characters if you haven't already, and we'll see you next week for a new edition of Comics on Film!
 

Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango, and various fan outlets. He's also a regular on podcasts hosted by Batman-On-Film and Modern Myth Media, while hosting his own show called Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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