Prepare Yourself For Marvel’s Phase Four with These Must-Read Comics

After that super exciting San Diego Comic-Con Marvel panel—Jane as Thor! Bisexual Valkyrie! Mahershala Ali! Monica Rambeau! Shang-Chi! Lauren Ridloff! Kate Bishop! X-Men!—comics nerds are understandably going through a period of very intense emotions. If you aren’t particularly well versed in Marvel lore or just need to brush up a bit, the following list should help you out. For each forthcoming MCU movie and TV show, here’s are my comics reading recommendations, plus a little background info on characters that non-comics readers may not be aware of. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to catch up!

 

Black Widow (May 2, 2020)

What we know: Movie starring O-T Fagbenle (Mason), David Harbour (Red Guardian), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Florence Pugh (Yelena), and Rachel Weisz (Melina). Directed by Cate Shortland.

Where to start: A lot of people have a lot of opinions about the MCU’s Black Widow, but I maintain that comics Black Widow is infinitely more interesting and compelling.

 

The Eternals (November 6, 2020)

What we know: Movie starring Salma Hayek (Ajak), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Angelina Jolie (Thena), Don Lee (Gilgamesh), Richard Madden (Ikaris), Lia McHugh (Sprite), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), and Lauren Ridloff (Makkari). Directed by Chloé Zhao.

Where to start: Who are the Eternals? Good question! Conceptualized by the late, great Jack Kirby in the 1970s, these superpowered beings were the creations of the Celestials, god-like aliens. They came to earth and, after some genetic experimentation, forged two super-species of humans, the Deviants and the Eternals. Because they lived near people but not with them, they inspired our mythologies—kinda like how in the MCU the Asgardians influenced Norse mythology.

  • The Eternals: Whatever you do, you absolutely must read Jack Kirby’s phenomenal 1976 series.
  • Eternals: To Slay a God: Charles Knauf, Daniel Knauf, Daniel Acuña, and Pascal Alixe (2008-2009) nicely establish the team for a new generation.
  • Thor: The Eternals Saga: In this series from the late 1970s by Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Walt Simonson, and John Buscema, Thor finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between the Eternals and the Deviants.
  • Eternals: For a different take try 2008 series from Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.

 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Fall 2020)

What we know: Disney+ TV show starring Daniel Brühl (Baron Zemo), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), and Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier).

Where to start: Both of these sexy boys have been Captain America in the comics as well as worn their own mantles. Let’s talk recs of both.

 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (February 12, 2021)

What we know: Movie starring Awkwafina (role TBA), Tony Leung (the Mandarin), and Simu Liu (Shang-Chi). Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Where to start: Marvel is going all out with its deep-cut characters. Despite first appearing in 1973, Shang-Chi has slipped under many Marvel fans’ radar. Shang-Chi is known as the “Master of Kung Fu.” In the beginning he was an ordinary human who relied on his immense fighting skills rather than superpowers. But after being exposed to cosmic rays, he was also able to create duplicates of himself. He had his own series for a while, and has guested on numerous other series. The Mandarin—the real Mandarin—was, in the comics, half Chinese and half white. The Mandarin’s Rings are Makluan (an alien race) tech containing the souls of cosmic fighters; each ring gives different powers to the bearer. Since Marvel no longer has the rights to Fu Manchu, Shang-Chi’s real father, there’s a good chance they’ll make the Mandarin his bio-dad instead. Like Blade, Shang-Chi has had few solo titles and mostly appears in other characters’ comics. That being said…

  • Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu: An omnibus by Steve Englehart, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Jim Starlin, and Paul Gulacy that collects classic issues from his early days.
  • Domino: Killer Instinct: He has an interesting arc in the first volume of Gail Simone and David Baldeon’s series from 2018-2019.
  • Iron Man: The Dragon Seed Saga: The Mandarin was a frequent antagonist of Iron Man. This volume by John Bryne has his 1968 origin story.
  • House of M: If you know nothing about the X-Men, this is not the best place to start. However, the Mandarin and Shang-Chi cross paths in an unusual way during this 2005 storyline by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel.

 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 7, 2021)

What we know: Movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch). Will tie into WandaVision. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

Where to start: With a title that harkens back to H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and a director with a background in horror films, this should be good and scary. Does this mean Shuma-Gorath will be the villain?

  • Doctor Strange: The Oath: Brian K. Vaughan fans will want to check out this 5-issue series he did in 2007 with Marcos Martin.
  • Doctor Strange: Across the Universe: The current run, by Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz, started in 2018 and is well past the third arc. It’s a bit much for newbies to dive into but is worth the effort.
  • Doctor Strange Masterworks: I also recommend trying this collection of issues from the original run from 1964 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It’s weird and Silver Age-y in the best way.
  • Essential Doctor Strange: There are two volumes of this collection, but in particular I suggest the second by Roy Thomas, Dan Adkins, and Gene Colan. In it Stephen Strange battles Shuma-Gorath.
  • Essential Marvel Horror: Get a feel for how Marvel comics handle horror with this handy collection.

 

Loki (Spring 2021)

What we know: Disney+ TV show starring Tom Hiddleston (Loki).

Where to start: Loki can be good and he can be very, very bad, but he’s always interesting. Fortunately, there are plenty of titles to choose from.

  • Young Avengers: Style > Substance: Definitely start with this 2013 series from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It is sheer perfection and my favorite Loki ever put down into comics form. He’s still a kid/young adult in this series (don’t ask), but he’s *chef’s kiss.*
  • Loki: Agent of Asgard: Trust Me: By Al Ewing and Lee Garbett this 2014-2015 run has our beloved/hated resident trickster running top secret missions for the All-Mother.
  • Journey into Mystery: Fear Itself: For something completely different (and more than a little creepy), try this 2012 series by Gillen and Doug Braithwaite.
  • Thor #364-366: “Frog of Thunder”: I cannot recommend enough the 1986 arc by Walt Simonson. This story was Easter egged in Thor: Ragnarok.
  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: And of course, issue #12 by G. Willow Wilson and Takeshi Miyazawa is the cherry on the top of Loki recs.

 

WandaVision (Spring 2021)

What we know: Disney+ TV show starring Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau). Will tie into the Doctor Strange movie.

Where to start: If you think Scarlet Witch and Vision’s movie relationship was wonky, wait ‘til you read their comics. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch was a two-volume series from the 1980s by Bill Mantlo, Rick Leonardi, and Steve Englehart that details their romantic relationship. In it Wanda gets pregnant but then Mephisto gets involved, and a bunch of muddled comics plot bombs later…nope, I’m not gonna spoil it. Suffice it to say, their marriage wasn’t altogether happy and their separation has MAJOR consequences up, down, and across the comics.

  • Avengers: Vision & The Scarlet Witch – A Year in the Life: A collection of the 12 issues of the 1985 title Vision and the Scarlet Witch and the second issue of West Coast Avengers. Basically, this covers Wanda and Vision’s marriage.
  • West Coast Avengers: Vision Quest: John Byrne’s storyline tells of Vision’s death and resurrection and the disastrous effects that has on his marriage to Scarlet Witch.
  • Scarlet Witch Vol. 1: Witches’ Road: James Robinson and Vanessa Del Rey’s 2015-2017 is a personal fave.
  • See also: What If? Avengers Disassembled (2014) by Jeff Parker and Aaron Lopresti
  • House of M: Yes, this arc again.
  • The Vision: Little Worse Than a Man: Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s take from 2015-2016 isn’t just one of the best Vision comics, it’s one of the best comics period. It connects back to Wanda and Ultron, but it’s really about Vision’s other extremely dysfunctional marriage.

 

What If…? (Summer 2021)

What we know: Disney+ animated TV show starring Jeffrey Wright (the Watcher) and undisclosed assorted other MCU characters and actors.

Where to start: There are 13 volumes of “What If…?” comics going back to issues from 1997. I suggest looking at the cover descriptions for each and finding the stories with the characters you like.

 

Thor: Love and Thunder (November 5, 2021)

What we know: Movie starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor/Odinson), Natalie Portman (Jane/Thor), Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie). Directed by Taika Watiti.

Where to start: First off, Dr. Jane Foster is Thor. Not female Thor. Not lady Thor. Thor. Just Thor. No gendered modifiers necessary. As we learn in the comics, “Thor” is both a name and a title. When Thor becomes unworthy of Mjolnir, he becomes Thor Odinson, and when Jane picks up the hammer she becomes Thor, complete with long flowing blonde hair, rippling muscles, and a medieval-esque dialogue font.

 

Hawkeye (Fall 2021)

What we know: Disney+ TV show starring Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye).

Where to start: Really, I pitched this piece just to complain about the MCU version of Hawkeye. God, that dude’s awful. Just the worst. It should’ve been him, not Black Widow. (You can put that on my tombstone.) Heaven help us if the show brings back that terrible faux-edgy haircut. I haaaaaaaaate him. Anyway…

  • Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon: The only Hawkeye series you really need to read is Matt Fraction and David Aja’s seminal run (2012-2015). It’s a masterful piece of work, easily one of the best Big Two comics series in recent years. Since the show’s logo is taken directly from that series, hopefully this means the MCU is swapping out their poor man’s Ronin for human disaster Clint Barton. Fraction and Aja gave the world Deaf Hawkeye and one of the best versions of Kate Bishop, and for Marvel to hint at their storylines without actually using them would be a major breach of the audience’s trust.
  • Hawkeye: Kate Bishop: Anchor Points: For more Kate goodness I suggest checking out Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero’s 2016-2018 series in which she works as a private detective in LA.
  • West Coast Avengers: Best Coast: Thompson’s Hawkeye follow-up only just ended. It reunites Kate and Clint and a bunch of other weirdos – plus Jeff the Land Shark!

 

Black Panther 2 (TBA)

What we know: Still in development so no details yet. Presumably most of the previous cast will return. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Depending on the timing, this could tie into Spider-Man 3 with Kraven the Hunter. Or it could connect with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier through Baron Zemo. But wait, there’s more! In the comics, the White Wolf is T’Challa’s adopted white brother who becomes an antagonist of Black Panther and the head of the Hatut Zeraze, Wakanda’s secret police. However, in the MCU, Bucky is called the White Wolf in the Black Panther post-credits scene…

Where to start: Go back to the beginning with…

  • Black Panther: The Complete Collection: Christopher Priest was the first Black writer and editor at the Big Two and the first Black writer on Black Panther. His work from 1998-2003 is well worth reading, especially as a parallel to…
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze redefined Black Panther for the 21st century.
  • Black Panther: Panther’s Rage: A collection with issues from 1961 and 1972. With issues from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby superteam and Don McGregor, this is as fundamental as it gets.
  • Shuri: I can’t *not* mention this ongoing series by Nnedi Okorafor and Leonardo Romero—don’t ask why, just read it.

 

Blade (TBA)

What we know: Movie starring Mahershala Ali (Blade). In theaters who the hell knows when, but I’ve already set aside my ticket money.

Where to start: Blade was one of the early Black American superheroes and has been around since 1973. He’s half vampire, has superhuman strength, speed, and healing abilities, and is a master of numerous fighting styles. And has been mentioned repeatedly on Twitter, all I want is for the reboot movie to include Moon Knight just so we can get him calling Dracula a nerd.

  • Tomb Of Dracula: The Complete Collection: You might try this miniseries by Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, and Gil Kane that ran from 1991-1992.
  • Blade: Blood and Chaos: Another solo series, this one from Christopher Golden, Marv Wolfman, Marc Andreyko, Don McGregor, Gene Colan (1998-1999).
  • Blade: Undead Again: By Marc Guggenheim, Howard Chaykin, and Marko Djurdjevic, this solo title from 2006-2007 is a good follow-up.

 

Captain Marvel 2 (TBA)

What we know: Still in development so no details yet (not even if it’ll be set in the past or post-Blip). Brie Larson is the only confirmed cast member at this point. My vote is to set the sequel in space and reunite her with Goose.

Where to start: Carol Danvers’ pre-DeConnick origin story was messy—there are three Captain Marvels and one of them is in the DC universe—and required her to fly around in a skimpy bathing suit. Now she’s fully clothed and armored and a major badass.

  • Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More and Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero: If you, like me, squealed with delight throughout the first Captain Marvel movie then you need to check out DeConnick and Christopher Sebela’s 2012-2013 run and DeConnick and David Lopez’s 2014-2015 run. Like many other fans, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s takes rekindled my love of comics.
  • Captain Marvel: Re-Entry: I’m totally hooked on the current run by Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero. So good!
  • Ms. Marvel: Last Days: Brie Larson reportedly requested a Ms. Marvel appearance in her sequel. In case Kamala Khan does turn up, read volume 4 by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona where Kamala and Carol team up. Or, better yet, read the whole dang series.

 

Fantastic Four (TBA)

What we know: Still in development, no details yet, not even a single hint. I assume it’ll be an origin story and, depending on the release schedule, could connect into the introduction of a major galactic villain…

Where to start: Four people go to space, get hit with cosmic rays, and come back down with superpowers. Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) is a super-stretchy super genius; Invisible Woman (Sue Storm) can, well, you know; Human Torch (Johnny Storm) is, well, you also know; and Thing (Ben Grimm) is a dude who’s basically a rock.

  • Fantastic Four: The Complete Collection: Just about everyone recommending FF comics will pick Jonathan Hickman’s 2010-2012 run, and for good reason.
  • Fantastic Four: Ultimate Collection: Waid and Mike Wieringo’s 2004-2005 run is a definite must-read.
  • Fantastic Four #48-50: “Galactus Trilogy”: Another for Kirby and Lee. Since half the Phase 4 Avengers are wandering around in space, there’s a not insignificant chance that Galactus is going to be the next Big Bad and this short arc is a good primer.
  • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: This collection by Warren Ellis (2005) is a more serious take on the previous story.
  • Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power: The best version of Galactus ever written is, of course, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (2015-).

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (TBA)

What we know: Still in development, no details. Presumably most of the previous cast will return. Won’t start filming until 2020, meaning Disney will have to bump something off the 2021 slate, cram a fourth film into 2021, or push it to 2022. Directed by James Gunn.

Where to start: Like all characters that have been around for ages, there are a lot of GotG comics and they fluctuate in quality. Here are a few of the better ones.

 

Mutants (TBA)

What we know: Still in development. I can’t see how they can fit mutants AND vampires AND magic AND pandimensional ancient god-like beings AND cthulhu into the world they’ve established, but maybe with the multiverse? It also complicates the character of Scarlet Witch, who, in the comics, is a mutant, not a metahuman like she is in the movies. And if Doctor Doom shows up—and why would you have the Fantastic Four and not introduce their main nemesis—then things get really hazy.

Where to start: The X-Men have been around forever; there are, like, a million mutants, and the majority of X-Men comics are mediocre at best. Because of this, doing a “where to start” is nigh impossible. Instead of throwing you back into the distant past, let’s stick with more current series.

  • X-Men: Season One: This 2012 series by Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie is accessible and engaging.
  • X-Men: First Class: Jeff Parker, Roger Cruz, and Victor Olazaba’s 2006-2007 series is also but has nothing to do with the movie of the same name.
  • House of M: Those ready to jump head-first into the overcomplicated X-Men mythology should read this arc.
  • Ms. Marvel: Generation Why: Special shout out to G. Willow Wilson and Jake Wyatt’s issue #7 of this series from 2014-2015. Not telling you why, just go read it.

 

Spider-Man 3 (TBA)

What we know: Still in development so no details yet other than it’ll be set during Peter’s senior year of high school and will deal with the ramifications of the mid-credits scene in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Presumably most of the previous cast will return, and the villain might be Kraven the Hunter (yay!). Tom Holland is supposedly going to bow out of the MCU after his contract ends with this movie.

Where to start: It seems like everyone loves Peter Parker from the comics except me. I don’t dislike him, but I’d much rather read about Miles, Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen. However, even I have to admit these recs are pretty fun.

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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