Beginning on May 3 Marvel will launch Phase Two, the next step in what's become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a greater degree of diversity going into the characters being presented in the next phase, I thought it might be fun to go down the list of films being released and give some recommendations on what comics/graphic novels you could be reading to get ready for each film as they come out.
I have to tell you that these suggestions are all relatively recent since it seems like much of the current Marvel film slate is going to the well of more modern material to tell its film stories. Having said that though, I think you'll find many of these stories will be an excellent primer to get you ready for the next couple of years worth of Marvel superhero movies.
May 3, 2013: Iron Man 3
Prime Choice: Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
Although it appears that the newest Iron Man film will be drawing from a relatively wide degree of comics material, the title Extremis has been floated several times as one of the key inspirations for Shane Black's story. It deals with the evolution of Iron Man’s technology becoming less of a suit of armor and more of a cybernetic organism; Tony injects himself with a techno-organic virus that allows him to store his armor in the hollows of his bones and assert it by will.
In the comics it was no longer a bulky piece of machinery, but an armored prosthesis that interfaced directly with Tony’s brain, begging the question that the official synopsis of Iron Man 3 itself asks: does Tony define the suit, or does the suit define Tony? Given what we've seen from recent trailers and nightmarish visions that Tony has of waking up with a suit independently operating, among the epic-looking confrontation with the Mandarin, it looks like there's a great deal of Tony's inner turmoil that will be externalized in the form of his greatest creations. Because of that, it can't hurt to have done a little homework with Extremis before you get ready to jump into the latest Iron Man outing.
Honorable Mention: Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca
When the first Iron Man film hit theaters in May 2008, with it came a new volume of the Iron Man comic series starting once again at issue #1 (as Marvel tends to do on a pretty regular basis). This began a long run on the character by writer Matt Fraction, then fresh off of the success of a great revamp of The Immortal Iron Fist along with writer Ed Brubaker.
Fraction's run on Iron Man proved to be a pretty heavy critical and commercial success, and posited something else rather interesting that Iron Man 3 may also be exploring in part: what happens when a physical and intellectual rival may surpass you in the field you're supposed to be best at? That's one of the key questions at the heart of Five Nightmares. While he was still working in a directorial capacity on Iron Man, Jon Favreau seemed to have nothing but praise for Fraction's take on the character and his world, so it should prove interesting to see if Shane Black has followed suit in a more subtle fashion. Either way, though, this is a good story and well worth your read.
November 8, 2013: Thor: The Dark World
Prime Choice: Thor Vol. 1 by J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel
Real, real, real. That seems to be the mantra I've heard most consistently surrounding Thor: The Dark World, and the Thor book that I've read most consistently that tried to make Asgard a place you can reach out and touch is definitely writer J. Michael Straczynski's (Babylon 5, Changeling) acclaimed run on a new volume of Thor. Not only did it seek to make Thor and his world the most real it's been in the comics, but it's also one of the most fundamentally accessible runs on the character in comics.
With Alan Taylor serving as the film's director, everyone from the stars to the production personnel are talking about his knack for creating grit and realism out of the fantastical, as he did with his episodes of Game of Thrones. From his work there, as well as other television work on Mad Men, character also plays a vital role in his construction of drama and the motion picture, and on that principle, Straczynski's Thor series is also worth looking at for those reasons. The writer really makes you feel the recent loss of Asgard, and Thor's burden as its rightful king to do right by his people while also being respectful of the lower realm that he loves. Character is a driving aspect of this comics run of Thor, and given Alan Taylor's resume, he'll be putting a similar application to the next film.
Honorable Mention: The Mighty Thor by Walt Simonson Omnibus
If I were writing a syllabus for a Marvel Comics class right now, this is a book that you would read as a massive overachiever. When you ask newer Marvel fans what their favorite run on Thor is, they'll most likely say J. Michael Straczynski's. But, if you were to ask Straczynski what his favorite run on Thor is, or most other big Marvel fans for that matter, then you'd probably hear the name Walt Simonson. Simonson's run on Thor was epic in every sense of the word, visiting the nine realms and beyond, while ushering in a plethora of new characters and simply great storytelling from a veteran of the comics medium.
Beyond that, Christopher Eccleston's villain for Thor: The Dark World, Malekith the Accursed, is an early Simonson creation that made his first appearance in the writer's eighth issue on the title. The inclusion of similar characters coupled with the high regard for the run in general make it a pretty likely place to go if you want that leg up on the characters and situations of the film, and it's also comic book storytelling at its finest. Simonson's run on Thor went from issues #337-355, #357-369 and #371-382, as well as the four-issue Balder the Brave miniseries.
Marvel released a massive omnibus of every single one of those issues if you don't want to go hunting in long boxes for them, and if you read this run, you would definitely be the teacher's pet.
April 4, 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Prime Choice: Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
This one's pretty obvious. Not only is it a great creative choice for the next Cap film, but it's also an accessible comics story that most people will enjoy very much based just on its own merits.
Right after the title for this film was announced at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, John Gholson wrote a spectacular Marvel Studios Countdown about the story, why it's a great choice for a film, and what will likely have to be modified in order to make it work in a different medium, as well as fit within the film universe. I echo a lot of his sentiments, but in truth this is my absolutely favorite Captain America story, revolving around my favorite Marvel Comics character.
I have to warn you, if you want to try and stay in the dark about the identity of the Winter Soldier himself or other creative details you'll probably want to steer clear of digging too far into information about this book. If you don't have that trepidation, then by all means read it. Devour it! You won't be disappointed.
Honorable Mention: Captain America: Man Out of Time by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina
One of the things that we know Steve Rogers will have to deal with in the new film is the shock of waking up in an entirely new world. While we got to see the slightest hint of this struggle in The Avengers, it's a far more necessary component of Cap's latest solo film and will definitely need to be front and center. Not only is it a relatively big question still hanging over the people that saw the team-up film, but it definitely needs to be reconciled for the character himself going forward.
In 2011, acclaimed comics writer Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Superman: Birthright) penned the story Captain America: Man Out of Time, a five-issue miniseries that sought to give a modern spin on the character's arrival in the modern era. While technically Steve's awakening from 1964's Avengers #4 is still in Marvel Universe continuity, the comics operate off of the creative device known as the "floating timeline." This means that although nearly 50 years have passed since the publication of that Avengers issue, the Cap of the comics has aged maybe a decade in all of that time.
So, to reconcile the extreme changes in the world as well as be accessible to new readers, Waid's story tells about Cap's reawakening in a time not too far off in the past from our own. The result is a great jumping-on point for the comics version of the character, and a heartwarming one at that.
So, those are the books for the "big three" characters that I recommend most in preparing for Marvel's Phase Two. We'll come back at a later time and prepare you for Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers 2, Marvel's other Phase Two movies.
Other people might have stronger opinions. If you do, what are they? Something I missed, perhaps? Sound off below!
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 4/10)
With the Star Trek Into Darkness film just over a month away, IDW Publishing is concluding its terrific prequel series with this week's Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #4, which looks ominous as all hell with a Klingon gracing the cover. But what questions it will ask (while maybe even giving a few answers) makes the issue worth picking up by itself.
The first three issues seemed to have a central theme of when it's appropriate to violate even the most serious of orders, with the largest of ramifications. We've also seen the return of classic Trek characters and some interesting occurrences being set up for the new film, so all in all Countdown to Darkness has been a rewarding read for those of us looking forward to the next adventure of the starship Enterprise.
Thanks for reading the Geek Beat! Be back here in 24 hours for my next installment of the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown, otherwise we'll be seeing you in seven days. Join the conversation below about Marvel book you'd recommend to people excited for Phase Two!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.