I grew up with British comics, picking up battered old annuals and holiday specials from jumble sales, back when eBay was but a twinkle in the eye of Geoff E. Bay. I wasn’t exactly choosy so long it was 5p or less and had a suitably exciting picture on the front. The Beano, Dandy or any of the other funnys; titles like Lion or Valiant from the 60s and 70s; Commando and other war stories by the bucketload; anything that was there. No idea where they all are now, they’d probably be worth MEEEELEONS. Or possibly 5p.
From the time a boy’s thoughts turn to the healthy pursuits of tanks, guns, planes and warfare in general, the one comic I bought every week, reserved at the newsagents, was Battle (soon to become Battle Action Force). I loved it, particularly Johnny Red and Charley’s War, and would rush around the garden with friends assuming the roles of various Action Force characters to combat the evil Red Shadows. Over the years, it slowly went downhill (it was never the same after Palitoy brought in a bunch of GI Joe action figures and that “Duke” bloke and Cobra turned up in the comic), then Action Force left entirely and were replaced with the slightly weird Storm Force, then the whole title merged with Eagle. Least, I say it slowly went downhill, reading various reminiscences around the web a common theme is that a comic was brilliant at whatever point the person started reading it as a child, but turned rubbish by the time they stopped. Perhaps a more likely hypothesis is that most comics stayed the same, it was the readers that changed. Either way, eventually I started buying PC Plus instead of Battle and generally left comics behind in favour of computers.
American superhero comics didn’t turn up in small town jumble sales, so I’d come to those characters in other media like film (Superman, Batman), cartoons (Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar) and games (the classic four player Teenage Mutant Don’t-Mention-The-Ninja Turtles arcade game and numerous others). In the early 90s, I picked up a few X-Men issues (possibly inspired by a keen adolescent interest in Psylocke’s costume), but landed in the middle of a particularly baffling storyline and soon gave up. That was the problem with comics, where to start? Most of the big titles had anything from twenty to sixty years of accumulated backstory, including numerous retcons and reboots. It was City of Heroes that really kick-started my interest again; oddly enough it attracted a fair few comic fans, and people would chat about what they were reading on supergroup forums, including some newbie-friendly suggestions, so from that, if you haven’t read a comic for twenty-odd years and fancy giving it a shot, here’s a couple of starting points you could try.
If you want “proper” shield-wielding, flying, giant-sized superheroes but without all that continuity baggage, Marvel launched their Ultimate line, re-introducing Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four & co. Of that range, The Ultimates (available as two volumes in trade paperbacks) are a 21st century version of the Avengers in 50″ high definition widescreen, still brash and utterly ludicrous, but also somewhat grounded in our reality, with a very dark streak.
If spandex-clad superbeings leave you cold, Y: The Last Man (first issue available there as a PDF) is just brilliant; a simple premise (the protagonist is the last man in the world; I’d have put spoiler space in, but you could probably guess from the title), phenomenally well executed. Totally gripping, and nobody shoots lasers from their eyes.