Superheroes for New Readers
So, you're thinking to yourself, "I'd like to get into reading comics, but I just don't know where to start." And that's an understandable reaction. After all, in terms of when they were created, Superman and Batman are senior citizens and Spider-man should be going through his mid-life crisis. These characters have been around for a long time, and how could a new reader ever hope to untangle all those years of history?
Believe me, the comic companies don't want you to flounder and then give up. Both DC Comics and Marvel have developed ways to introduce new readers to their most popular, most established characters.
At DC, the reinterpretation of Batman has helped kick off a series of books. When Frank Miller wrote Batman Year One in the 1980s, it was designed to reimagine the origin of Batman, to retell how Bruce Wayne became Batman. To say it was a huge success, both critically and commercially, is to put it mildly. Frank Miller's work on this book and on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns really changed the way Batman has been written in the subsequent years. When you read Batman Year One, you'll probably go, "Hey! This is just like Batman Begins!" And Batman Begins is definitely inspired by Frank Miller's work more than the original work of Bob Kane.
So, Batman Year One was very successful. So, DC has reused the idea several times, for good effect in my opinion. Focusing fairly tightly on the Batfamily, we've seen Batgirl Year One (my personal favorite, because, come on, Batgirl!); Robin Year One (love this one because the narrator is Alfred, who just doesn't get enough attention); and the newest treatment, Nightwing Year One, featuring an all-grown-up Dick Grayson, aka the first Robin. There's also a JLA Year One, for those of you curious about DC's superhero team-up.
Marvel has taken a different approach to their characters' history. The Ultimate Universe is where the origins of several different superheroes are retold, made all modern for today. So, for example, in Ultimate Spider-man, Peter gets a job at the Daily Bugle as a website designer, rather than as a photographer in the original stories. Ultimate Spider-Man kicked off the Ultimate Universe, and it's been a huge success; Spider-man One and Two definitely have more in common with Ultimate Spider-man in terms of the relationship between Peter and MJ.
Marvel has broadened the Ultimate Universe beyond just Spidey, though. There's Ultimate X-Men, which is seriously essential for anyone who wants to get into the X-Men comics, because they have, in my opinion, the most confusing history of any superhero comic. This is understandable when you consider how many different X-Men series there are and have been; I recommend that you should start with Ultimate X-Men before going any further in the X-Men universe.
Also in the Ultimate Universe is Ultimate Fantastic Four, showing us all about the beginnings of Marvel's first superheroes. For the sci-fi junkies out there, Orson Scott Card, author of Ender's Game, is writing Ultimate Iron Man, a character that blends derring-do with sci-fi gadgets.
In short, there's ways to start reading comics without feeling overwhelmed. If you're still confused or unsure, talk to the people at your local comics store. The guys at my store are great at helping newbies learn more about comics; in fact, they're so great that when I moved away, I set up mail order so I could still call them and ask questions. You can find a store near you by calling 1-888-COMIC-BOOK.