Sunday, April 22, 2012

Top Ten Off Brand Superheroes

Based on glowing recommendations from Pierre and a new appreciation for the storytelling in The Walking Dead, I started reading Robert Kirkman's Invincible from Image Comics. I'll won't go into a in depth review of the series here today but I will say I enjoy it.

I had been putting off reading the series because I think in my later years, I have developed a prejudice against Off Brand Superhero comics. I think a lot of that is due in part to the wave of Youngblood and (later) Authority clones we have seen in recent decades.

However, that has not always been the case with me, and over the years, I have tried out a lot of Off Brand Superhero comics. Here is what I consider my Top Ten Favorites from decades past with a few honorable mentions at the end. For the sake of this article, I am defining Off Brand Superheroes as Spandex wearing characters. How many are you familiar with and who would you add to the list?

No 1: Nexus by Steve Rude and Mike Baron

While this series sometimes meandered during story lines, there is no denying the brilliance of Steve Rude's artwork. And Mike Baron often took the stories in some fun and unexpected places.

No. 2 Dreadstar by Jim Starlin

This might seem like a bit of a cheat to put this here, as some people might categorize this title as Space Opera or Sword and Planet. This series is Jim Starlin in his prime on a series he put a lot of thought into. Along with Nexus, this is one of the longer running series on this list with a lot of amazing crescendos throughout the run.

No. 3 The Elementals by Bill Willingham

Before he became a multimillionaire ;) writing Fables for Vertigo, Bill Willingham created his take on the Fantatic Four back in the 1980s. Great artwork and zippy storylines made this a fun title to read. Unfortunately, financial problems with Comico resulted in a mess later.

No. 4 The Strangers by Steve Englehart and Rick Hoberg

The Ultraverse brought us a ton of great titles. This was such a great setup. Strangers on a subway car all get superpowers due to an unexplained power bolt and later we get a mystery as someone seems to be killing off members of the group.

No. 5 The Futurians by Dave Cockrum

As with many titles on this list, this group had a bouncey publishing history. Still, Dave Cockrum's signature design style always made it worth reading when you could find it.

No. 6 Next Men by John Byrne

This should probably be up higher in the list, but sometimes John Byrne's plotting just leaves me cold. However, if you are even remotely a fan of John Byrne's work in any form, I would strongly suggest sampling this series.

No. 7 Grendel by Matt Wagner (writer) and others as artists

This title spanned multiple versions and eras of the title character as it kept going so it's a bit hard to really review as a whole per se. I will say that it is perhaps the finest examination of the enduring influence of heroic legends and the permutations that can develop around such myths.

No. 8 Doctor Mirage by Bob Layton and Bernard Chang

Like the Ultraverse, Valiant produced a lot of great comics during their short tenure, so it was hard to pick a favorite easily. To be honest, XO Manowar and Harbinger were really the two I liked best from that line, but Doctor Mirage fits my prescribed definition of an off brand superhero better. I've always liked the focus on the relationship between Doctor Mirage and his wife in this series. It sort of reminded me of the banter between Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man series. Also, even back then, it was easy to see that Bernard Chang was a real superstar.

No. 9 The Justice Machine by Mike Gustovich

I remember this series being full of some really clever ideas (the facist planet the series takes place on is named Georwell) and plot twists at the time, but finding issues was sooooo hard. Later incarnations would vary in quality (so much so that in one later volume, events in a previous volume were openly mocked.)

No. 10 Next Man by Vince Argondezzi

Is there anyone besides me that remembers this series? Probably not. Even my memory of the series is vague, but what I DO remember is that the art was a wonderful facsimile of Jack Kirby's style at a time when most comics were shunning that style.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are a few that I also liked but didn't make it into the top ten.
Division 13 by Dark Horse

There was only one issue of this published which was a damn shame as it struck me as one of the cooler comics to come out of the Dark Horse Comics Greatest World. If I had to describe it, I would say it was Ultimate Challengers of the Unknown with a bit of Suicide Squad tossed in. Other series (X and Ghost) would have much longer runs, but they didn't captivate half as much me the way this first issue did.

Southern Knights by Henry Vogel

I only got one issue of this (because that was all I could find) but I really liked it. In writing this article, I discovered you can buy them digitally (from DriveThruStuff ) so I may try a few more issues in that format.

Tiger-Man from Atlas Comics

Here is an oldie but goodie from Atlas comics. Interestingly enough, this savage claw bearing character had a lot of attributes that would later make the Wolverine so popular. If only Atlas had known.

DNAgents by Mark Evanier

I think I got one or two issues of this, but it just didn't compel me to follow it. I think it came at a time when the Teen Titans had been big for so long that a host of imitators from the Big Two burned me out on teen teams. I also remember being a bit chagrined by the number of crotch shots in every issue. Oh how did we survive without Comics Alliance to save us from such things back in the day? ;)

Well, that felt pretty all inclusive, but I would be delighted to hear from any of you guys as to which of your favorite off brand superhero I missed!

Have a great day!

- Jim


Caine said...

you sure did bring your A game. "Justice Machine"? Very cool. You covered an ULTRAVERSE book, a VALIANT book, and a COMICS GREATEST WORLD book. Great job. Glad to have you blogging again.

Trey said...

What about Miracle (Marvel) Man? Or Alan Moore's take on Supreme?

I think those would easily top my list.

After that I'd maybe go to Chaykin's Power & Glory, though since that's a bit of a satire maybe it doesn't count.

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are also worth a mention.

DIOTEK said...

interesting post!
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Caine said...

I always liked Power & Glory my self as well.

Blitzdawg said...

Hard list to argue with in terms of titles selected (one cold maybe argue of the placing because of so many factors). Very glad to see you have read at least one Southern Nights. I had a few of these issues in the 80's because Butch Guice did the art on them and he was in my hometown at the time! I would have a hard time choosing just one Valiant title.
Anyone remember Malibu comics and their flagship hero "Prime?"

JimShelley said...

@Caine - Thank you Caine! You know I have a soft spot for both the Ultraverse and CGW.

JimShelley said...

@Trey - good additions! Keep your eyes on this blog for an upcoming All Alan Moore Off Brand Heroes article.

JimShelley said...

@Diotek - I think you owe me money.

JimShelley said...

@Blitzdawg - I remember Prime. At one time, there was going to be a Prime movie, but that never happened unfortunately. And your hometown must be near me down here in Columbia, SC.

Popbox Entertainment said...

I, for one really miss the Ultraverse titles! And didn't they have a short lived animated series on UPN?

Welcome back Jim, and if you liked the Southern Knights, did you see the Champions/Southern Knights crossover by Heroic Comics?

There seem to be more "off brand" heroes popping up. For something really off brand, and if you are a fan of the golden/silver age type stories it is always a joy to read almost anything by Big Bang comics!

nude0007 said...

Invincible is a more juvenile, bloody, and fun take on the "son of superman" concept and the DC universe in particular.
I really liked it for some reason, though.

I've only read a little Nexus, but it is very adult, yet fun

Dreadstar is, of course, awesome, but Starlin insisted that the character change dramatically throughout, and it seems that although he sets out to "save the universe" (or so it seems), he ends up failing to do anything close to that. Too real?

Strangers. I really liked that book. I thought the Magnus revival was nothing short of miraculous. It kept all th eold elements of Magnus, and built a better, modern story that I found hard to put down. I didn't read any of the issues where his son took over, though.

Justice Machine just has such unusual concepts going for it. The mystique is often bigger than the comic, though.

I still think the original Atlas characters have a lot of untapped potential. Unfortunately, the recent revival, if it has actually happened, seems to be screwing with the good parts of their concept too much. Haven't actually READ any of them, though.

I agree that Miracle man should have been in there somewhere, and THUNDER agents.

I've never read next man, southern knights or division 13 (although I read some comic that sounds a lot like division 13, can't remember the name right now, but I liked it.)

Abba Studios said...

Very cool list. I haven't read all of the comics listed, so I will make an effort to check them out.

JimShelley said...

@Nude0007 - try to find some of the old Atlas comics at your local comic shop. You can usually find them in the quarter bins. They are interesting for a number of reasons.

You can also use the search bar of this blog to find some that are downloadable.

JimShelley said...

@AbbaStudios - Thank you. I checked out your blog and you have some good stuff and artwork posted there!

Abba Studios said...

Thank you +JimShelly


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