If you've ever thought about getting into comic books, then I can tell you: as both a huge fan and as a retailer, now is the time to start reading. In response to heavy success at the box office, comics publishers are doing everything they can to get neophytes interested in their periodicals and graphic novels. As a result, the climate of what is normally a dense continuity that most new readers would find difficult to jump into is currently pretty friendly to people that might want to dip their toes into the adventures of your favorite superheroes.
As the king of superheroes in multiplexes, Marvel has made a concerted effort to tap into the audiences that helped make The Avengers the number three film of all time last summer. Though, as most people would agree, DC isn't exactly slouching either, with some of the most critically and commercially successful superhero films of the genre's existence showing up over the last several years in the form of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. Because so much business with these iconic characters is being done in movie theaters, it should be of little surprise that the comics publishers want to try and bring some of that business to the source material for those films.
Back in June of 2011, DC Comics announced a new publishing initiative called "The New 52," where they would be cancelling all of their ongoing superhero titles and relaunching them with new number one issues. The continuity of their shared universe would also be altered, so that all of their major characters are a bit younger, a little less seasoned, and maybe even a little different then you remember. Even the most timeless character on DC's side, Superman, received a pretty extensive makeover, where the first issue of the new Action Comics series saw Krypton's Last Son start his career not in the elaborate costume we all know, but in jeans, a t-shirt with the familiar S-shield, and an indestructible red cape that barely reached his hips.
The gimmick worked, and it worked so well that even a continuously derided character like Aquaman saw his new series outsell every single Marvel Comics title for the first six issues. DC co-publisher Dan DiDio recently said that selling a lot of issues of Batman isn't so much an indicator of success, since he's so universally popular. When you sell a lot of Aquaman, though? That's reason to celebrate.
Marvel, not to be outdone, pulled something similar off this last year with a multi-title relaunch called "Marvel NOW!" While they didn't decide to play fast and loose with their ongoing continuity as DC did, they still relaunched many of their titles and most popular characters with new number ones, while also giving a pretty extensive aesthetic makeover to many of the characters' costumes. Captain America's duds, for instance, look a lot closer to the costume worn by Chris Evans in The Avengers than they look like the classic Joe Simon/Jack Kirby design that's been in the comics for decades.
The results are hard to argue. Many new fans are turning up, and feel like they can jump into both universes at once with little worry for dense, prohibitive continuity getting in the way. If you've ever been interested in the ongoing adventures of Batman or Iron Man, of the Avengers or the Justice League, then as a geek and a comic book peddler I can tell you: now is the time. The companies are trying to appeal to the uninitiated in a way not seen since at least the 1980s, and if you're curious about those quirky things called comics, I'd encourage you to take that first step into a larger world at your local specialty store.