As accessible as comics are today, there are still plenty that are challenging to get into.

I’ve spent the past few months spotlighting different books to offer up some interesting series that, for the most part, readers can pick up – without ever having read a comic before – and enjoy. Despite that, there are plenty of great books out there that you just can’t do that with.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to break one of my big rules for this blog and share some of my picks for books that are tremendous…and need some background knowledge in order to appreciate.

With that in mind, let’s get started with the series that gave me the idea for this piece…

-Young Avengers: Last week I wrote about Phonogram, and a few months back I focused on The Wicked + The Divine, so I think it’s pretty obvious I’m a fan of the pairing of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. These two bring a pop-music sensibility to everything they’ve created. Which is what makes their run on Young Avengers, featuring second generation heroes like Wiccan and Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, that is) trying to make a name for themselves, so endearing. It’s manic and wistful and crammed to the hilt with interdimensional villains, concerts, and five A.M. pancakes.

And Kid Loki. Don’t forget Kid Loki.

It does, however, rely on previous knowledge of not only what came before for the Young Avengers, but also Gillen’s run on Journey Into Mystery, detailing the backstory of Kid Loki. Theoretically you could read this series without having read these books. But you’d be missing out on some of the bigger emotional beats the series hits.

It’s a book, like the pair’s other works, that looks at the relationships we form with those closest to us and how they can shape us into the people we try to be. A worthy read for anyone who’s ever been an outsider with a tight-knit group of friends.

READ – Young Avengers, by Allen Heinberg and Jim Cheung; Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways; Avengers: The Children’s Crusade; Journey Into Mystery, by Kieron Gillen.

-Batman and Robin: Spinning out of Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic, Batman and Robin picks up after the supposed death of Bruce Wayne and sees Dick Grayson, the first Robin and former Nightwing, take on the mantle of Batman. Aided by Damian Wayne as the new Robin, the pair fight crime in a Gotham City churning out new villains to challenge the fresh-faced Dynamic Duo as they also work to find their time-displaced mentor.

The book’s character dynamics are the big selling point. Seeing a more lighthearted Batman teamed with a grim, cynical Robin offers a unique inversion to the traditional roles seen in previous comics. Add in shorter, three-issue arcs, each drawn by a different artist that highlights the brighter, more colorful aspects of the normally muted Gotham City, and the book looks just as unique as it feels.

Despite how great this sixteen-issue run is, it is difficult to appreciate it without having read Morrison’s early Batman works, along with the mega-crossover Final Crisis. To top it off, DC published the miniseries Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne concurrently with Batman and Robin, adding in another series to read to understand this book’s final arc.

This series has the biggest list of books to read, but it’s one of the best Batman books I’ve read. It’s definitely worth the time to get through what came before, and is for anyone who wants to see a character shake-up that actually feels organic and not just a marketing gimmick.

READ – Batman and Son; Batman: The Black Glove; Batman: R.I.P.; Final Crisis; Batman: Time and the Batman; Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.

-Power Man and Iron Fist: Netflix has helped the stars of some of Marvel’s street-level heroes rise higher than they’ve been in years. Say what you will about the Luke Cage (adequate) and Iron Fist (garbage) series, the pair are meant to be together, not separate. Outside of Batman and Robin, there’s no comic book pairing better than Power Man and Iron Fist.

Their most recent series, written by David F. Walker and drawn by Sanford Greene, brought the heroes back together after being on their own for too long. Danny, heavy heart underneath an immature attitude, springs at the chance to re-team with Luke, now a father to a young toddler and not looking to get wrapped up in any “fiddle-faddle.” Soon enough though, demons, gang wars, and wrongful imprisonments draw the former partners back together to re-form the “Heroes for Hire” and keep the peace in Harlem.

The main drawback to this series is that, despite being short-lived, it took its second arc to act as a tie-in to the crossover event Civil War II, a lackluster tale involving preemptive justice that was more interested in action set pieces than philosophical questions. Add in a surprise villain reveal in the third arc that falls flat without having read Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways, and there are plenty of elements that just feel empty without the requisite background knowledge.

However, this book should be the blueprint for what Netflix does in the future. Its got great banter, emotional character moments, and redefines this pair for a new generation of readers. Don’t sleep on it if you’re looking for books featuring these two.

READ – Civil War II; Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughn.

-Swamp Thing: Despite being known for adding an unhealthy dosage of “grimdark” to the DC Universe, the “New 52” did produce some pretty good books. One such book was Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette’s Swamp Thing run that, despite having its share of horror-filled moments, was a hopeful look at the character.

The series begins with Alec Holland, the “basis” for the Swamp creature made famous by Alan Moore’s seminal run, newly resurrected and unwilling to heed the whispers in his head of needing to return to the swamps to halt the growth of “the rot.” Despite his best efforts, Alec has no choice but to rejoin with “the green” once more to save the world from a dark future known only as Rotworld.

This series is complicated in what is needed to really enjoy it. While the “New 52” was designed to be an easily accessible start for new readers, Snyder’s Swamp Thing relied heavily on elements Moore introduced in his run. It also tied directly into the climax of the miniseries Brightest Day and the mediocre coda Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing, both of which worked to set up the status quo seen at the beginning of the first issue. Finally, the series was the spiritual twin of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, which saw “the red” working to combat “the rot” as well, culminating in a crossover between the two books that saw the apocalyptic future realized.

For supposedly being “easily accessible,” that’s a lot. But Snyder manages to get inside Alec’s head and show someone grappling with doing what’s right for the world verses what’s easiest for himself. Anyone who’s heard of how great Moore’s run is should check out this spiritual successor as well.

READ – Animal Man, by Jeff Lemire; Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore; Brightest Day and Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing.

So there you have it. Four series, all fairly short, that are great comics that require a primer to really appreciate them. They’re not the best places to start, but if you find yourself really sinking into the world of comics, then give them a try sometime.

Breaking the rules is fun. Let’s do it again sometime.

The complete runs of Young Avengers, Batman and Robin, Power Man and Iron Fist, and Swamp Thing are available in comic shops and digital retailers. 

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