Having to do your background reading just to go and watch a movie sounds a whole lot like schoolwork, but thankfully when it comes to the world of comic books things ain’t so bad!
With theaters set to play host to a gorgeous buffet of superhero flicks over the next year, Cult of Mac took it upon ourselves to play teacher and instruct you on exactly which graphic novels you should be chowing down on before walking into Avengers: Age of Ultron or Batman V Superman.
Now you too can be the snide guy (or gal) in the back row, telling everyone why it wasn’t as good as it was on the page…
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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Is there a single comic book fan out there (or one in a couple, even!) who’s not excited about the sequel to 2012’s superhero mega hit? Telling the tech-friendly story of an Artificial Intelligence known as Ultron who goes all Skynet on mankind, “Age of Ultron” is not only set to be arguably the year’s most exciting blockbuster — its plotline is literally taken from a comic series.
Must read: Age of Ultron
Despite its troubled production history, I’m confident that Ant-Man has the potential to be this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy: meaning the fun breakout hit which takes everyone by surprise. But before you shrink down to sneak into the theater, which comic should you read to familiarise yourself with everyone’s favorite insect-sized hero?
How about The Irredeemable Ant-Man, by none other than The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman. Unlike the “Age of Ultron” recommendation, this series may not match up to the version of Ant-Man you’ll see Paul Rudd play on screen, but its story about Eric O’Grady — a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who steals a new Ant-Man suit and proceeds to become a, well, irredeemable jerk — is more fun than it has any right to be.
Must read: The Irredeemable Ant-Man
The Fantastic Four (2015)
Chalk it up to the last two underwhelming FF movies if you want to, but The Fantastic Four has the dubious distinction of being the comic book movie on this list I’m least excited about seeing. Smacking way too much of Interstellar envy, the movie has yet to do anything to make me think it’ll be worth plopping down money to go and see.
The comics, on the other hand, are worth reading. There are two many great ones to pick, but if I was going to suggest one that gives a taste of how great a (modern) Fantastic Four story can be it would be “Frightful,” the Ultimate arc which ran from #30-32. With the Human Torch left with just one week to live, the FF turn to Doctor Doom for help, while a zombified version of the super team, named the Frightful Four, come to down. It’s all good fun, and if the movie can capture a fraction of its brilliance, I’ll be a happy camper indeed.
Must read: Ultimate Fantastic Four: Frightful
The smart-talking “merc with a mouth,” Deadpool has been a favorite of comic fans for coming up to 25 years. He previously appeared in the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but 2016’s solo movie promises to be much truer to the spirit of the character. “We’ve got a director that understands that world, and writers with a slavish devotion to the canon of that character,” actor Ryan Reynolds previously told Short List. “That’s the most important aspect: it’s made in a way the most critical of fanboys could embrace. Well, that’s the hope.”
So which comic arc should you familiarise yourself with before setting foot in a movie theater? There are plenty to choose from, but I’d be tempted to jump straight into Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force. Sure, Deadpool only plays part of the team, but his comic relief and hinted-at depth makes him one of the series’ best characters. You’ll miss him whenever he’s not in a panel.
Batman V Superman (2016)
There have been plenty of classic Batman/Superman stories over the years, with the ideological differences between the two DC heroes always making for a fun pairing. The two have had fun shared outings in Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s classic “Hush” storyline, Mark Waid’s superb run on JLA, the gorgeously painted futuristic Kingdom Come, and even a literal crossover in the Elseworlds “Speeding Bullets” story.
If you were to ask me for one Batman and Superman story you shouldn’t even consider seeing Batman V Superman without reading, however, it is Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Taking the opposite approaches of Bats and the Man of Steel to their furthest possible extremes, this is the graphical novel without which there would be no movie. If the line “You’re beginning to get the idea, Clark. This… is the end… for both of us” doesn’t get you excited, nothing will!
Must read: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Like the first film on this list, Captain America 3 is another example of a Marvel movie based specifically on one story arc. The “Civil War” miniseries ran from 2006-2007 and concerns a U.S. government Superhero Registration Act, requiring all super-powered characters to unmask and become officially regulated law enforcers. The result is a conflict between those who support the act, led by Iron Man, and those who oppose it, led by Cap.
Must read: Civil War