> I could just pick up a n52 issue 0 or 1 and feel confident that I wasnt missing out on lore or events (for most characters)
Well, that's just a matter of perspective, right? You DID miss out on lore/events that happened before and give context to all the changes that were made in New 52 (post-Crisis + Flashpoint). Some highly celebrated runs like Morrison's Batman and Johns' Green Lantern started BEFORE New 52. If you're reading superhero comics by "era" (e.g. Marvel NOW!, Marvel Now 2.0, Dark Reign, Bendis event era, All-New All-Different, etc.), then you just have to find a reading order.
Personally, I recommend being a little more "loose" in how you read i.e. reading by "mood" instead, regardless of publication date or era. Start with self-contained, recommended starting points and just read, read, read.
> For example lets say I'm interested in Spiderman
Here's my usual new Marvel comic reader guide:
How to Get Into Comic Books (13:40) | Patrick Willems
Consider your intent/commitment. Think about your favorite shows, movies, books, etc. Do you seek quality storytelling or encyclopedic superhero knowledge? Plan to collect? Do you have the time/money to read 50 or 500 comics per character?
Don’t try to read everything at once. There’s too much. Forget about catching up, continuity, universes, etc. for now. Think of it like solving a jigsaw puzzle one small piece at a time until you finally start to see the big picture. Older comics can be an acquired taste for modern audiences, so they aren’t always ideal starting points. Creative teams change often, characters get re-worked, and origins are re-told.
Pick an interesting character/team and seek their most popular/acclaimed stories. Focus on self-contained/complete stories. You will encounter unexplained references/characters/events—just keep reading or Wiki. Don’t let the tangled interconnectedness of shared-universe comics overwhelm you.
Discover your preferences and let them guide you. Avoid over-analyzing—just start reading. Do you prefer old/new comics? Specific writers/genres? Cartoony/realistic art? Character/plot -driven story? Explicit content? Follow these instincts. Didn’t get a reference? Make that your next read.
Suggestions to improve this guide are welcome. Check out the Marvel Comics Guide in the /r/Marvel sidebar for more info.
Alternatively, try these attempts at "complete" reading orders: ComicBookHerald, CMRO.
> Where should I even begin to get caught up?
As a "DC guy" (assuming that means you still read DC comics), you should already understand that getting "caught up" in large superhero universes isn't really a short-term or low-commitment goal. Are you more interested in reading for enjoyment (quality storytelling) or gathering encyclopedic Marvel universe knowledge (major plot points, status quo changes, etc.)? They don't have to be mutually exclusive, but it's far more efficient to read wiki summaries and bios for the latter. I'd recommend focusing on popular/acclaimed titles over figuring out "what they've been doing for the past 20-25 years". Keep in mind: there's a lot of good stuff and only so much free time.
If you're familiar with Golden - Bronze Age comics from DC, and you like them, then go ahead and revisit some Marvel classics like (Marvel Unliimited links included):
Otherwise, I'd recommend some more "modern" essentials:
Check out the Marvel Comics Guide in the sidebar for more info.
Consider your intent/commitment. Think about stories/characters from TV, movies, games, etc. that you already like. Do you seek “good” storytelling or encyclopedic Marvel knowledge? Are you here to collect or read? How much time/resources are available?
Don’t try to read everything—there’s too much. Forget about continuity, universes, and timelines; it's all very confusing, even to creators/fans. Older comics can be an acquired taste for modern audiences, so first appearances/early origins may not be the best starting points. Creative teams change often, characters get re-worked, and origins are re-told (e.g. I never cared for Hawkeye until Matt Fractions’ run).
Pick an interesting character/team and seek their “greatest hits”. Focus on well-received, relatively self-contained, and complete stories. You may encounter the occasional unexplained reference/character/event—just ride along (Wiki if necessary). Remember, there are so many other great characters and publishers to explore, and not all comics are about superheroes.
Where to buy (US):
Spider-Man (potential starting points):
Peter Parker (616) & Miles Morales (Ultimate):
Modern Marvel characters/teams:
Events/crossovers can be fun and/or tedious. They are most appreciated by readers well-versed in relevant continuity. Generally, the best non-event comics integrate these seamlessly or avoid them entirely (notwithstanding editorial/executive mandates). Regardless, you may want to familiarize with major plot points.
Modern Marvel events/crossovers:
Discover your preferences and let them guide you. Do you like: old/new comics? Specific genres? Literary/natural narratives? Cartoony/realistic art? Familiar/weird concepts? References/self-contained? Social/political commentary? Family-friendly/explicit content? Optimistic/pessimistic characters? Have you noticed that a specific artist/writer consistently makes comics you like? Follow these instincts.
Suggestions to improve this guide are welcome.