With all of the comic book properties invading TV and movies over the last decade, it’s easy to want to jump headfirst into the medium and read everything within grabbing distance. There’s a problem, though: Since the industry pumps out dozens of new issues per week, and thousands per year, it’s almost impossible for new fans to know where to begin. Rarely can you go to a comic book store and pick up a single issue of Batman or The Avengers without having to know what came before it in order to actually understand what’s going on presently. But don’t worry, we’re here to help.
There’s no reason why collecting comics should seem more like a second job than an enriching hobby. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the absolute best examples of the medium from over the years, spanning every genre available. This isn’t a “Best Comics of All Time” list—it’s more of a primer course for where to start.
From classic superhero books to politically-charged thrillers and cynical, autobiographical titles, this list of The 25 Comic Books you Need to Ready Before you Die will start your habit off right.
25. The Punisher MAX (Marvel Entertainment)
Writer: Garth Ennis
As part of the traditional Marvel Universe, The Punisher was always severely toned down as the company attempted to market him to kids as a hip action hero with a ton of cool gadgets. But when Marvel finally brought the character into its mature MAX line with writer Garth Ennis, the spandex costume and goofy sidekicks were replaced with a devastating arsenal of weaponry and a cynical, sociopath-like attitude towards others.
In this series, a much older Frank Castle lives in a realistic world where superheroes don’t exist and the villains are drug dealers and sex traffickers. During Ennis’ 60-issue run, Punisher shot and stabbed his way through countless law-breakers. The personal ramifications of his one-man war on crime, meanwhile, left him emotionally crippled and incapable of having anything that resembled a normal life.
Ennis added supreme depth to a character who was normally nothing more than a walking, talking cliché. Though you can still label this book as part of the superhero genre, it’s more akin to a blood-soaked crime title.