> but a lot of what I've read ends up being marvel because every time I try to get into DC I get absolutely lost on trying to find a continuity.
What if I told you that some DC readers say the EXACT SAME THING about Marvel? Marvel has had pretty much the same continuity since the 1960s. DC had 2 major reboots that let readers start fresh, post-Crisis (1985) and New 52 (2011). But none of that matters. How are you getting "absolutely lost"? Are you hyper-focusing on overall continuity before having read many of the important stories? Don't do that. That's a skill that should have been learned from reading Marvel too. Let it all come together over time. These companies aren't doing anything DRASTICALLY different from each other storytelling-wise. They are both decades-old superhero shared-universes with thousands of characters with ongoing continuity published in monthly/bi-weekly installments and the occasional crossover/event.
> I read batman year one, long Halloween and so on, but all the reading order lists make absolutely no sense and prompt you to read things like the death in the family right after
Why/how does that make no sense? Is it because you didn't read Jason Todd's "origin story" in Batman: Second Chances (which takes place in the issues surrounding Year One)? Does that mean you'd want to read Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying for Tim Drake too? Are you just saying that YOU, personally, require more backstory than those lists suggest? What's wrong with ComicBookHerald's Batman Reading Order? Is that too much backstory? How are they/we supposed to know the exact amount of "important" backstory you're looking for? You should list examples that you've encountered.
> Why do no lists have this and how am I supposed to know what's going on?
Because there's so much of it, it's not all good, and it can usually be explained in a single sentence: Batman steers street hoodlum away from life of crime by training him to be Robin. I mean, how have others been managing to get it? Likely by understanding that comics don't follow a perfect story through-line unless you read everything (not recommended either). You can either (1) wiki the missing information or (2) ride along. Some people don't even recommend reading Death in the Family. The well-written, self-contained, Batman-centric story arcs are much more interesting than his continuity/Bat-family, imo.
> I'm not asking for a grand list where they all fit, just a skeleton of important stories that don't jump around.
Those two lists are not as different as you think. You want (1) no jumping around and (2) just a "skeleton". That's still a long list with plenty of subjective input about which stories are considered "important". For example, are every story about each Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, GCPD chars, Detective Comics characters, rogues, etc. important to BATMAN's story? What if Batman isn't Bruce Wayne anymore?
There's also an approach to comics that involves reading just the popular/acclaimed stories and ONLY reading all of the in-between stories if you're interested. For example, you might not care about one of the 4 Robins enough to read more about them. There might be enough recaps/re-tellings that make the original story redundant/unnecessary.
Keep in mind, this is just ONE character at ONE publisher. You might spend years reading most of Batman's stories. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of series about other characters or even from other publishers yet to be discovered that you might like even more.
These are the "modern essentials" I recommend to new readers (Black bold titles were added to flesh the original list out for you):
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
You can pick up the trades for either of them and catch up that way.
You can also start from issue 1 on either title. Comixology.com conveniently has all of the issues available digitally
Or you can just jump in to the current story arcs. Superman #26 is coming out this week and is a standalone story by a different creative team, so you may want to wait until the next issue comes out, which will be a new story arc. For Batman, issue #25 was the start of a new arc, "The War of Jokes and Riddles" and issue #26 is coming out this week so it would be easy to read both back to back
Hopefully this is helps!
Consider your intent/commitment. Think about stories/characters from TV, movies, games, etc. that you already like. Do you seek “good” storytelling or encyclopedic DC 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 Aquaman until Geoff Johns’ 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.
Digital: Comixology. Print (US, collected editions): instocktrades. Price aggregate (print): ISBNS.
Modern DC characters/teams:
Alternatively, you can skip to the recent Rebirth re-launch with the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 event and then any Rebirth series #1. Check out the /r/DCcomics sidebar for more info.
Events/crossovers can be fun and/or tedious. They are most appreciated by readers already 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 DC events/crossovers:
Discover your preferences and let them guide you. Do you like old/new comics? Specific genres? Complex/simple narratives? Cartoon-y/photo-realistic art? Familiar/far-fetched concepts? Literary/meta-fictional references? 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.
How to Get Into Comic Books (13:40) by Patrick Willems
Comixology for digital. instocktrades for physical (US). ISBNS for price aggregate.
Alternatively, you can skip directly to the new Rebirth re-launch by reading the Rebirth event (2016) and any Rebirth #1. Check out the /r/DCcomics sidebar for more info.
Discover your preferences and let them guide you. Do you like older/newer comics? Weird concepts? Super-smart meta-analysis and social commentary? Family-friendly content? Hyper-violence? Male/female protagonists? Humor? Horror? Have you noticed that a specific artist, writer, or creative team consistently produces content you like? Follow these instincts.
Suggestions to improve the guide are welcome.
"Mature" DC comics available in deluxe-sized hardcover format:
DC Imprint comics (comics in separate DC universe, varied-genres, target mature readers) available in deluxe-sized hardcover format:
The Authority is a superhero team that travels The Bleed (cosmic space) keeping order against threats like international terrorists, invasions from alternate Earths, and "God", a hostile alien creator of the solar system. The team consists of a british woman with electrical powers, a man that is psychically bonded with cities, a Tibetan woman that uses wings to fly, a bio-engineered Superman analog, a bio-engineered Batman analog with foresight in battle, a scientist with nano-tech for blood, a Dutch drug addict/shaman with cumulative power of his ancestry, etc.
Batman - Modern Essentials
Rebirth survey results (May 2017).
New 52 survey results (February 2014).
New Reader Recommendations