DC Universe Online: A Short Reading List

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DC Universe Online has been out of beta and in full release for a week now; we hope you’ve managed to get some sleep since it launched. Last week, ComicsAlliance posted a suggested reading list that was circulated among the staff who built the game: close to 100 graphic novels detailing all sides of the DC Universe as it’s been laid out in the comics. But maybe you’re a gamer who just wants to check out a small handful of books to get the lay of the land. So here’s a stripped-down list of five graphic novels that will give you a decent introduction to the characters and landscape of the DCU… plus one extra.

(More on TIME.com: Did You Join the DC Universe Online Today?)

DC Universe: Origins. DCU 101: a set of little two-page stories that explain several dozen DC heroes and villains’ origins, powers and histories, ending with a short list of their most significant appearances. It’s a fine way to learn what a lot of in-game characters’ deal is in a hurry, and a solid sampler of some terrific superhero artists’ work, too.

Final Crisis. Grant Morrison’s superhero magnum opus is famously dense with detail–we published a prospective reader’s guide to it last year. (It’s more fun if you read it slowly, a couple of times over.) But it’s also a terrific overview of the scope of the DCU, and includes scenes in lots of in-game settings, like the Watchtower and the Hall of Doom.

Superman: Brainiac. Written by DCUO head writer Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, this is the story that reintroduced the omnivorous mechanical alien who’s the Big Bad in the game so far.

(More on TIME.com: Gaming Tip Sheet: “DC Universe Online”)

JLA: World War III. The final collection of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s run on JLA (also part of JLA Deluxe Edition Vol. 4) is another cast-of-millions extravaganza with plenty of fight scenes, and even has a memorable appearance by DCUO character Queen Bee. But the real reason it’s on this list is its climactic scene, an unforgettable variation on the premise of the game.

Luthor. If you play DCUO as a villain, one of the teams you can join up with is led by Superman’s nemesis. Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s story–originally serialized as Lex Luthor: Man of Steel–suggests that what really drives this bad guy is that he thinks of himself as a hero protecting the world from a flashy, caped alien.

BONUS! Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug. So that fourth-wall-breaking green guy with the antennae who tends to turn up for a few seconds, then disappear? Yeah, he’s a regular. This anthology of his ’80s-era appearances, mostly by Robert Loren Fleming and Keith Giffen, is very heavy on the comics in-jokes–neophytes may be baffled–but let’s put it this way: if you’re the particular kind of comics geek who cares about Ambush Bug, it’s a thrill that he’s in DCUO.

(More on TIME.com: Q&A: Marv Wolfman on DC Universe Online, Love for Video Games)

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