An interesting thing happened to me at Barnes and Noble the other day. I was perusing the Graphic Novels section, deciding what to buy for my monthly comics purchase, when a polite young man who’d been browsing the shelves beside me walked up and asked:
“Do you have any recommendations?”
I thought about this question for a couple seconds. The young man looked to be around 11 or 12 years old, which narrowed down the options some. But Barnes and Noble has dramatically improved their stock of comics, leaving lots of appropriate choices left on the table.
So I did what every comics reader should do when someone asks them for recommendations. I asked the kid what he liked.
He answered: “Well, I like Batman and the Flash. And Spider-Man.”
So we dug around in those heroes’ respective sections, and I came up with several recommendations I liked. As there are lots of potential young comics readers coming off of Wonder Woman, DC television, and each Marvel movie, I figured I’d share my recommendations with the Internet. Because there’s not a lot of guidance out there for parents or kids who are looking for something that’s both good and appropriate to read.
Let’s dive in.
Batman: Giving good, age-appropriate Batman recommendations can be tricky. Different kids are ready to read about different things, and Batman stories vary in tone from far-too-silly to far-too-grimdark. As an example, I’d maybe recommend the current run of Detective Comics to a younger reader, but I would not recommend the current run on Batman. And both of those comics are being published under the same brand at the same time!
Thankfully, there’s a go-to choice that’s appropriate not only for younger readers, but for anyone.
The Batman Adventures tied into the seminal, 1990s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, and the comic was just as good as the TV show. The stories are smart, well-written, and completely age-appropriate no matter what age you are. The art, driven by the animated series’s style, is especially clean and easy to follow. For me, The Batman Adventures (and its follow-up Batman: Gotham Adventures) defined villains like Ra’s al Ghul, the Riddler, and Two Face. The series also introduced a number of original villains, most notably the Threatening Three.
I still own many of these stories in single issue form from back when I was a kid. They still hold up, and I still count them among my favorite Batman stories.
The Flash: I am not a big Flash reader myself, but I got a bit lucky on this one. DC’s recent Rebirth initiative has produced a lot of great comics, including the most recent relaunch of The Flash (which I had previously checked out from my local library).
Lightning Strikes Twice has most everything you’d want out of a Flash comic, including freaky super-science, a bevy of speedsters, weird continuity callbacks (kids can figure these out, trust me), and the Flash being ironically late for many, many appointments (though he does catch a break near the middle of the story). It also prominently features young Wally West as he decides whether and how to become a hero. It’s a story about how life can be overwhelming unless you trust others to have your back, which is a nice message to send. Also, the art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Ivan Plascencia is incredibly fluid and gorgeous.
Spider-Man: Barnes and Noble kind of freaked me out on this one, as there’s one Spider-Man series that’s far and away the best recommendation for a current young Spider-Man fan. And for a second, I thought B and N didn’t have it.
But thankfully, we ended up finding both first volumes of Ultimate Spider-Man. Originally, Ultimate Spider-Man was just an early 2000s update of Spider-Man’s origin, but the series went on to create a wholly unique Peter Parker surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast (including great takes on Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, J Jonah Jameson, and Gwen Stacy). The series provides a lot of classic, high school-level drama and angst that the original Spider-Man stories focused on, updated for the modern era.
Eventually, Marvel sent Ultimate Peter Parker off into the sunset (giving him one last compelling victory on his way out), making way for the Ultimate Spider-Man that most kids probably recognize, Miles Morales. Inspired by Peter, Miles launched off into his own book which is also very good, though I am not up to date on it. I know some readers have mentioned that Miles’s book slows down some as it goes on, but the first volume is definitely worth a read.
My young reader was more excited about Spider-Man than anyone else, and more excited about Miles than Peter. So he went home with the first volume of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. Which is a pretty good choice, especially for a kid who said he really liked Spider-Man: Homecoming.
I hope you find these recommendations useful, and let me know in the comments if there’s something you’d recommend for younger readers!
Wonder Woman (Bonus Rec): I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a good Wonder Woman recommendation as well, in light of her recent movie’s smashing (and well-deserved) success. I have not actually read the whole thing myself, but the pages I’ve seen from The Legend of Wonder Woman look delightful and age-appropriate. The book starts off by focusing on a young Diana on Paradise Island, and the line-work and colors really sing.