With all of the recent announcements regarding Marvel Studios’ next batch of movies, it’s understandable if you’re not quite sure where to start when it comes to getting prepped for Phase Three of the Cinematic Universe. Decades of comic-book continuity inspired the characters and stories that make the leap from page to screen, and there’s a lot of material out there to sort through.
In the interest of giving you all the research material you could want leading up to 2015’s conclusion of Phase Two (after July’s Ant-Man), we’ve compiled a reading list for the next chapter of Marvel’s big-screen saga. For each of the upcoming films, we’ve identified a few story arcs — and complete books, when available — that will help ensure you’re prepared for all the names, places, plot twists, easter eggs, and source material that inform Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And just to keep things nice and organized, the recommendations come in chronological order of each film’s release.
So without further ado, it’s time to read on, True Believers!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (May 6, 2016)
Civil War – While the third Captain America movie isn’t expected to be a straight adaptation of the seven-issue Civil War crossover series penned by Mark Millar, it is expected to draw heavily from the themes and general tone of the 2006-2007 event that pitted Marvel’s heroes against each other, with Iron Man leading one faction and Captain America leading the other.
All seven issues of the primary series, which features some amazing art by Steve McNiven, have been collected in a single, paperback edition that also includes some supplementary material.
Iron Man: Civil War – With Tony Stark and Steve Rogers lining up on opposite sides of Marvel’s big-screen Civil War much like they did in the comics, you’ll want to have a better understanding of each character’s perspective on the events leading up to — and during — this divisive storyline. This 2007 collection of stories that focus on where Iron Man is coming from philosophically does a nice job of presenting the billionaire playboy philanthropist inventor’s side of the war for readers’ hearts and minds.
Captain America: Civil War – And for the other side of the great debate, this collection of stories focused on Captain America’s perspective provides a nice counterpoint to Iron Man: Civil War.
DOCTOR STRANGE (November 4, 2016)
Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 (Marvel Masterworks) – Much like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme is an unknown commodity for many mainstream movie audiences, so it makes sense to start any recommended reading list with the character’s origin story. This 2003 collection puts all of the early adventures of Doctor Strange in one handy volume, featuring the character’s weird, arcane exploits penned by Stan Lee and illustrated by the wonderfully trippy art of Steve Ditko.
Doctor Strange: The Oath – Y: The Last Man and Runaways writer Brian K. Vaughan (who went on write for the television series Lost and Under the Dome) scripted this five-issue series that re-established Dr. Stephen Strange as one of the Marvel Universe’s most interesting characters, taking him on a dimension-hopping journey that hearkened back to the character’s roots.
While the upcoming film might not pull any specific plot points from this critically praised storyline, Marvel Studios would do well to look to The Oath for inspiration when it comes to all the things that make Doctor Strange such a compelling character.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 (May 5, 2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 – Widely regarded as one of the best runs any writers have ever had on a Guardians of the Galaxy series, these two volumes collect the entirety of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s 25 issues of cosmic adventures with Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and a revolving cast of other weird characters from the farthest reaches of the Marvel Universe.
The live-action Guardians of the Galaxy may not have lifted plot points from the series, but it definitely sampled heavily from the humor, grit, and “Dirty Dozen in space” vibe of this particular run, which went a long way toward making these characters relevant again. There were also some passing references in the live-action movie to planets and races explored during this run in the comic, so it certainly couldn’t hurt to get acquainted with the Abnett/Lanning iteration of the team.
THOR: RAGNAROK (July 28, 2017)
Thor by Walter Simonson, Vol. 1 – Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the Thor solo movies have shied away from straight adaptations of specific story arcs from comics, and instead have drawn from specific periods and themes that are widely associated with the best iterations of the characters. To that end, few writers have shaped an established character more than Walter Simonson, whose long run on The Mighty Thor is generally considered one of the greatest sagas in the comic book medium’s history.
If you want to know what to expect from the next installment of the live-action Thor movie franchise, you can be fairly certain that anything good that comes out of it will owe some thanks to Simonson’s Thor, which established many of the personality traits, history, and supporting cast that we now associate with Marvel’s God of Thunder. Simonson’s run begins in this collected edition, which includes issues #337-345 of the series and features an epic conflict that changes the status quo for the character significantly (which may be the sort of thing Marvel president Kevin Feiege was alluding to when he announced the film’s title). The run concludes in Thor by Walter Simonson, Vol. 5.
BLACK PANTHER (November 3, 2017)
Black Panther, Vol. 1: Who Is The Black Panther? – Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has mentioned that he’s consulting with director/producer Reginald Hudlin on the Black Panther movie, and that makes perfect sense given that Hudlin has scripted some of the character’s most memorable story arcs over the last decade or so.
First and foremost among those arcs is the kickoff to the fourth volume of Black Panther, in which Hudlin takes readers on a trip through the history of Black Panther’s homeland of Wakanda and the origins of the Black Panther mantle he wears. Featuring cameos by Captain America, Iron Man, and at least one villain rumored to be in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Hudlin’s inaugural run on the series is one of the best the character’s ever had. Hudlin went on to script the series for the rest of this volume and well into the next volume, so if you like what you read here, there’s more where that came from.
It’s also worth noting that Hudlin’s inital run on the series was later given the motion-comic treatment and aired on television as Black Panther: The Animated Series, Season 1. It’s basically the same story that’s told in the first volume of the series, with actor Djimon Hounsou voicing Black Panther and Scandal star Kerry Washington voicing Princess Shuri.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, PART I (May 4, 2018) & PART II (May 3, 2019)
The Infinity Gauntlet – While there is indeed a Marvel Comics storyline titled “The Infinity War,” the more likely source material for Avengers: Infinity War is the 1991 cosmic crossover known as “The Infinity Gauntlet.” Over the course of six epic issues, all of the heroes (and some villains) of the Marvel Universe were forced to team up to defeat Thanos, a powerful being known as “The Mad Titan” who had assembled the most devastating weapon imaginable: The Infinity Gauntlet. Using the various “Infinity Gems” embedded in the gauntlet, Thanos could manipulate time and space and, well… just about anything else he wanted to control.
Given that most of these stones have already been identified in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that we’ve seen both Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet sans stones (and, most recently, the fully assembled Gauntlet in a teaser shown at Marvel’s Phase Three reveal), it stands to reason that everything is leading up to a big-screen battle inspired by writer Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet saga — which is still regarded as one of the most epic cosmic events the Marvel Comics universe has ever experienced.
CAPTAIN MARVEL (July 6, 2018)
Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight – As far as recommendations go, this one’s easy. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick recently relaunched the Captain Marvel series to much acclaim, and has made Carol Danvers’ superhero alter ego one of Marvel’s heaviest hitters and most compelling characters.This first volume of the series does an impressive job of reacquainting readers with Carol Danvers, who will be the subject of the upcoming live-action movie, and showing readers exactly why she’s such an integral part of the new Marvel Comics landscape.
The paperback edition collects the first six issues of the series, and when you get done with it, you’ll probably want to pick up Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Down. There’s a good reason everyone is so excited about the notion of a Captain Marvel movie, and these books show you what that reason is.
INHUMANS (November 2, 2018)
Inhumans: The Origin of the Inhumans – The Inhumans have come a long way since being introduced as supporting characters in the early Fantastic Four comics. You can see just how far they’ve come — and what they’re all about — in this collection of the earliest appearances of The Inhumans in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four stories.
From the introduction of the genetically altered Royal Family who willingly mutate themselves as rites of passage, to the Inhumans’ shifting alliances with Earth’s heroes and villains over the years, this collection offers a great way to get acquainted with the origins of some of Marvel’s weirdest superheroes.
Inhumans – In 1998, writer Paul Jenkins crafted an amazing 12-issue series that explored the world of the Inhumans and their relationship with both the Earth and the universe beyond their isolated city of Attilan. Combining all of the political intrigue of Game of Thrones with a dark story of heroes and villains who have little to differentiate them, Inhumans was a masterpiece of storytelling that managed to make some of the strangest, most unconventional characters in the Marvel Comics universe suddenly very, very relevant to both the fictional world they inhabit and the real world we all live in.
The title card for the upcoming movie is clearly meant to evoke that series, and Marvel Studios would be smart to not let the similarities end there.