Recently, I began a great and mighty Endeavor. You see, I wanted to start reading comic books again. Specifically, Marvel comics in the main 616 universe. (For the unaware, Marvel embraces the concept of "alternate realities" so endemic to comics to the extent of having one character [Reed Richards, of the Fantastic Four] actually create a numbering system for them. 616 is the principle reality in which the majority of Marvel titles are set.)
But actually figuring out what books I wanted to buy turned out to take quite a lot of research, and eventually, a really elaborate chart. Since I don't think my situation is all that unique, I wanted to post such chart upon the interwebs, that others who might find it Of Use would have the option.
Back in the nineties, when I was in high school, I read a lot of comic books. So too did all my friends, so we we sort of divided up the different series and each collected some of them, shared our purchases amongst each other, and were thus able to follow pretty much everything that was going on in continuity. When I went to college, I wasn't spending much time with other comics fans, there wasn't a local comic store, and the ongoing plot of X-men began to be deeply stupid (as well as to contain art that I really couldn't stand). These factors combined, I drifted away from comics, and such things as I heard about through general nerd osmosis (Civil War, Secret Invasion) sort of confirmed my general opinion that I didn't really want to bother getting back in.
Then I graduated college, got a job, began having money to spend on comics, and Marvel started releasing really quite excellent comic movies. Really, it was X-men First Class that drew me back in; specifically, by reminding me how much I liked Magneto. And then I was thinking to myself, "didn't I hear that he's actually on the X-men again now...?" So I wandered over to amazon to look at the X-men trade paperbacks and figure out which ones I needed to follow the current storyline. And I ran face first into a wall. None of the "X" titles featured the same characters as they had when I was last following comics, and most of them didn't have the same titles either. What *was* the connection between "Uncanny X-men" and "X-men" any more? Why had I never even heard of any of the characters in "X-men"?!
I really prefer to collect comics in trade editions, both because I think they’re nicer and they stand up properly on my shelves, and also because I don’t really like to buy things twice if I can avoid it. The comics industry, however, really does not seem to be set up with people who buy like this in mind. One is expected, I think, to follow the monthy/biweekly releases of those titles one likes, and then collect the trade editions of particularly favorite storylines. Because of this, the trade editions are really not marketed or designed in a way that makes it easy for someone who doesn’t already know exactly what they want to find anything.
The books are either not numbered, or numbered very unhelpfully (three different books labeled "Avengers volume 1"?) and I couldn't figure out what the hell order they were meant to be read in, even if I could tell what relation the different series had to each other. I might have given up at this point, but the pre-Avengers films had started to come out, and they were very good. They reminded me how much I liked Loki. The corners of fandom I lurk in started to fill with Steve/Tony fics, and I went rapidly from "what? why?" to "omg they are perfect for each other". Also, I am stubborn.
So I picked a semi-arbitrary starting point and began my Endeavor: to create a chart showing what order trade volumes are to be read in, and how they line up chronologically to each other.
The starting point I chose was “Seige”, the big event which occurred at the end of 2009. I wanted to pick an event as a starting point, because it usually marks the beginning of new storylines/titles, and thus, makes a good entry point. I picked this one because I wanted to start post-Civil War, because it’s depressing, post Secret Invasion, because it seems both depressing and stupid, and post-Dark Reign because Norman Osborne’s hair bothers me. Also, Avengers-based storylines where either Steve or Tony are dead/in a coma are of limited interest to me. In order to catch all the preludes and whatnot, I began my chart in January, 2009.
Because trade paperbacks are not necessarilly published/released in chronological order, I generated my initial chronology not by the publication dates of the trade paperbacks, but by the release date of the first comic collected within. (ie, “Captain America: Reborn” is slotted into my chart in July of 2009, when the first issue of the miniseries was released) This method works for generating a preliminary order, but I decided it wasn’t really sufficient. Time passes at varying rates in different series and at different times, which means that Book A might technically both start before and end after Book B. (Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade was particularly problematic in this regard.) Also, Marvel, in their infinite wisdom does not always publish in chronological order. The final version of the chart thus represents essentially my best guess as to the closest to a sensible reading order. I tightened it up where possible to decrease dead space, and revised slightly the order of some things. (Mostly around events, which is where publishing schedules for the individual issues are mostly likely to force things to be published slightly out-of-order.) In general, I applied my best judgement, and if something looks wrong, please, let me know.
The chart is a work in progress, but currently contains, to the best of my knowledge, all X-men related titles and all Avengers and Avengers-related (ie, Iron Man, Thor, etc) titles for main marvel continuity (universe 616), as well as select miniseries and tie-ins where I’m aware of them. It does not contain Astonishing X-men, because Astonishing X-men is not only impossible to fit into the larger marvel universe, it appears to be making no attempt to do so. It appears to me to be at this point as AU to regular 616 continuity as Ultimates. Currently, I’m working at incorporating the Fantastic Four into the chart (because while I hate Reed Richards, I do find his daughter’s relationship with Dr. Doom to be all kinds of adorable), and then I’ll move on to more solo titles. If you see something I’m missing or should add, by all means, let me know.
Events and event tie-ins are color-coded, to make it easier to follow them. I have inserted comments in a few places where I thought them helpful (ie, to identify Captain America volumes where the part of Cap is not being played by Steve Rogers). Also, titles and order are of necessity more vague for books near the bottom of the chart which have not yet been published. Chart was created in google docs and exported, which means that my embedded commentary has been rendered as footnotes. Where I thought it was necessary to clarify which trade paperback was referred to, the principle author's name is bracketed (generally for books with no subtitle, just a series name and volume number).
Comments/suggestions/criticisms more than welcomed.
Edit: Now contains Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Wolverine-related titles.
Edit 2: Now contains Spiderman, Daredevil, and other solo titles, and I am begining to incorporate the new post-AvX Marvel Now! titles.
Edit 3: Now largely complete for 2009-present, working on 2000-2009.
Edit 4: Now replaced by complete version over here.