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I was about 10 years old when I got my first X-Men comic. The Age of Apocalypse storyline started in 1995, and it’s the earliest X-Men plot I can remember: It was an alternate timeline where Charles “Professor X” Xavier was dead, and all of his students—the typical X-Men heroes—were given different backstories. Since all of the characters had a fresh start, it was a relatively welcoming entry point into a wide-spanning universe that is typically anything but inviting. I started reading and kept going for years, branching out to other team-based Marvel series like X-Force and X-Factor. Eventually, I read enough books across the Marvel universe to have a fairly holistic view of what was going on.
I would never do that shit today.
It breaks my heart, but I think that Marvel comics (and DC, the other of the two largest comic-book publishers in the country) are the least accessible form of popular entertainment out there. The challenge to becoming a new comic-book fan is untangling the convoluted web of stories that happened before you picked up your first book. The characters’ interconnectedness makes for a high barrier to entry and a low chance of enjoying a full story as a newcomer. It’s not uncommon to read captions that say things like “See Thor #51” to understand a reference, or to have to search the internet for context for something that happened elsewhere in the universe. Comic universes reward being obsessive.
Marvel’s built-in gatekeeping was once limited to comic books, but after three decades of Marvel Studios, screen adaptations now have enough content to begin to follow the same path: You have to already know the Marvel Cinematic Universe to understand any given installment in it. Its latest series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, highlighted the point in its season finale.