Marvel’s Avengers releases today on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, delivering an original take on the superhero squad with a realistic aesthetic that kinda looks like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but doesn’t exactly mirror the look and feel of the big-screen blockbusters. That disconnect is a little off-putting at first, but having played the early hours of the single-player story mode this week, I’m thrilled to say that Marvel’s Avengers does an especially great job of bringing heroine Ms. Marvel to life, has stellar dialogue that feels authentic to the comics, and keeps each playable character feeling distinctive and unique.
Don’t know the modern Ms. Marvel? The young Kamala Khan hasn’t appeared in the MCU yet, but she’s one of the Marvel Comics world’s best creations over the past several years—and she’s the heart and soul of the game so far, from what I’ve played. Looking for more of Ms. Marvel’s adventures and to read some of the best recent comic arcs for The Avengers and their individual members? Here are five graphic novel collections that you should check out—either before you play Marvel’s Avengers or at any time, really—that shed some light on these heroes in ways you won’t see in the game or in the Marvel movies.
Captain Marvel used to go by Ms. Marvel, but the modern incarnation is very different from the cosmically-powered Carol Danvers. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani American teenager from Jersey and a Muslim, all of which plays into her life as she discovers that her Inhuman genes give her the ability stretch, contort, and scale the size of her body at will.
There’s teen hijinks, romance, and family stress amidst her rise from average teen into superhero, and co-creator G. Willow Wilson does a fantastic job of packing the story and dialogue with wit, heart, and a window into cultural elements that might be unfamiliar to readers. And while artists cycled in and out during Wilson’s 60-issue run, I’m partial to co-creator Adrian Alphona, whose adorably simple facial expressions on distant characters adds an extra bit of charm as we first get to know Kamala.
The first graphic novel, Ms. Marvel: No Normal, won the 2015 Hugo Award for best graphic story and collects the first five issues of the monthly comic, and you can get it digitally from Comixology too. Meanwhile, the first Ms. Marvel hardcover edition essentially pulls together the first two paperbacks, spanning 11 total issues.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is arguably best known outside of the world of comics, as a cultural writer and the author of books such as 2015’s Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. His first entry into comics, as writer of Black Panther starting in 2016, won wide acclaim and helped shape the trajectory of the big-screen version. Tackling Captain America was a different kind of challenge for him; it “scares the hell out of me,” he wrote in The Atlantic.
But he has done a fine job of creating a Cap tale for today, and righting the ship after the controversial Secret Empire storyline that saw a Cap imposter pledge allegiance to the evil Hydra. In Coates’ Captain America, the hero fights within a nation that distrusts him, and against a government that sees him as bad PR and even works to actively sabotage him. It’s all the more difficult to maintain his allegiance to the so-called American Dream in an America that is fractured and weakened, and that’s what makes it feel especially vital right now.
Winter in America brings together the first six issues of Coates’ run in paperback, along with additional content, and is also available digitally. The hardcover edition, meanwhile, spans the first 12 issues.
Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk isn’t the Hulk like you’ve seen him on-screen before. Recalling the character’s horror roots, Immortal Hulk sees a Bruce Banner raised from the dead and seemingly … well, immortal: kill him during the day and the green guy is always back at night, no matter what. And he’s pissed.
Widely praised as one of Marvel’s top books over the last couple of years, Immortal Hulk succeeds at twisting the familiar while dabbling in body horror and other unexpected and intense story beats. As our friends at The AV Club wrote early in the run, “The Immortal Hulk is a twisting thrill ride and chilling character study rolled into one brilliant superhero reimagining, constantly upending reader expectations to illuminate new facets of the titular monster. It’s Marvel’s best comic right now, featuring a creative team at the top of its game.”
Immortal Hulk: Or Is He Both? collects the first five issues in paperback along with other material, and is currently super cheap in digital form from Comixology. Meanwhile, the paperback Immortal Hulk Omnibus brings together the first 15 issues and more.
You might think of the Avengers as a pretty small team, but Jonathan Hickman’s take goes much, much wider. Faced with a potential existential threat, Captain America and Iron Man activate a team of reserve heroes, including Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and many more. It’s an enormous team, but Hickman’s Avengers still manages to give certain characters focus while others make fun little cameos here and there.
If you’ve read any of Hickman’s recent (and brilliant) reimagining of the entire X-Men universe, then you know he has a thing for world-building—and doing it at a large scale. Coming to his Avengers run only recently, I see the same kind of sensibilities in this work, especially when paired with his parallel run on New Avengers. That book focuses on a smaller team, a behind-the-scenes Illuminati including Iron Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and other Marvel heavyweights as they try to maneuver to save the world … by any means necessary.
Interestingly, Marvel is set to re-release Hickman’s dual Avengers run starting next week with a hearty paperback featuring the first five Avengers issues, first six New Avengers issues, and six issues of Astonishing Tales: Mojoworld. Otherwise, there are older individual paperbacks and hardcovers of each series, and Comixology has digital graphic novels and other bundles available too.
Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye was one of the key books that hooked me back into comics as an adult some years back, portraying the character with roughly 1,000x more personality than Jeremy Renner’s rendition in the films. Given the widespread acclaim for what ended up being a pretty compact 22-issue series, I know I’m not alone in that admiration.
This is a little bit of a cheat on this list, as Hawkeye is not currently in the game. However, he’s coming—and more urgently, Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye, will be the game’s first add-on character. Clint Barton’s Hawkeye (Hawkguy) is the biggest focus in this series as he takes over as manager of a New York apartment building, defends his neighbors, gets his ass kicked (repeatedly), and rescues a dog from bad guys (Pizza Dog!). However, Bishop is a regular, plus her solo adventures in Los Angeles span a few of the issues, interspersed along the way.
Marvel tackled the graphic novels a bit differently to accommodate that focus, collecting issues out of order in Vol. 3 (all Kate) and Vol. 4 (the end of Clint’s story). It’s all great, and fingers crossed that Marvel’s Avengers delivers both Hawkeyes with the kind of spunk seen here. Grab Hawkeye Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon (in print or digital) and please enjoy. There’s also a digital omnibus that has the entire Hawkeye run and other tied-in issues for just $25.