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Comic Theme Month – Oddest Brand of Comics Within a Comic Company

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is “What do you think is the oddest brand of comics within a comic book company, like the way that Vertigo is a brand of comics within DC Comics?”

Read on to see what I’m looking for specifically, along with some examples to get you started…

Occasionally, comic book companies will differentiate between the various comic books that they publish by establishing different brands of comics within the comic book company proper. So DC has the DC Universe brand of comics (Superman, Batman, etc.) but they also have Vertigo, for books for mature readers that also often are at least partially creator-owned and they used to have Wildstorm, as well.

But they also have brands like when they try to group similar titles together and say that they are a “brand” of comics, like when they had “Marvel Edge,” and put Punisher, Hulk, Daredevil and Ghost Rider into one “brand” of comics (despite said titles not really having all that much in common).

So, while not saying anything about the quality of the comics within the brand, what do you think were the oddest lines of comics throughout the years?

I’ll give you an example of each…

For the first type of brand, DC’s 2004 “DC Focus” line of comics. These were all comics that explored the notion of how superpowers would be like in the “real” world. They had some excellent comics in this line, especially Steve Gerber and Brian Hurtt’s Hard Time, about a teen dealing with his powers while serving 50 years in prison….

but still, as good as the individual comics were, this seemed like a hard sell, and the line did, indeed, fall apart with roughly a year. Hard Time was given a second chance as a Vertigo comic, but that did not work, either.

For the second type of brand, in late 1999, presumably trying to cash in on the public interest in technology with YDK looming, Marvel launched “M-Tech,” three sort of connected comics based on the idea that they were all technology-related heroes. Again, the quality was fine (Joe Casey and Leo Manco’s Deathlok was a cool book) but the line seemed sort of dead in the water as soon as it was released and it just lasted a year…

Now you folks make YOUR picks!

43 Comments

Marvel’s Tsunami line. Confusing name, confusing mission. What was it supposed to be — teen friendly? I never totally understood.

Also, Rocket Comics from Dark Horse: http://www.darkhorse.com/Features/Trailers/191/Rocket-Comics Why dub them Rocket Comics? I don’t get it.

Well, Minx comes to mind for the notoriously terrible name alone. But Star Comics was an odd experiment, just because it didn’t fit Marvel well at all. That said, I’d love to see Planet Terry show up in one of the Marvel cosmic stories.

@Nick Marvel’s Tsunami line was meant to target the teen, manga-reading demographic. It featured teenage characters, plots that you might see in manga or anime, and Eastern-inspired art…with the exception of “Mystique”, which really didn’t belong. The comics were also generally published in digest format instead of trade paperback.

I’ve always thought Marvel Knights was a pretty odd imprint. Even from the beginning, there was no real theme (Daredevil, Black Panther, and the Punisher were all street-level heroes, sure, but how do the Inhumans fit in?). Their point might have been to be darker and edgier, but eventually nearly every Marvel franchise (including Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, which are usually pretty lighthearted) had Marvel Knights series.

Basically, what I’m saying is that there’s no real distinction between Marvel Knights and any other Marvel book.

I can think of a bunch of these, but I’ll limit myself to one at a time. First off: Malibu’s Genesis line – The Protectors, Dinosaurs For Hire, and the Ex-Mutants. Everything we publish that isn’t the Ultraverse, now shoved into one semi-coherent universe.

Marvel’s New Universe is an obvious WTF?!? concept in the industry. Kickers, Inc. was a total hunk of crap. The rest were mediocre at best.

Marvel’s Razorline is the first that comes to my mind.Who thought Clive Barker super heroes was a good idea?

Those biography comics that are coming out these days seem pretty strange.

Marvel’s Godzilla and Japanese Giant Robot comics from the 70s also seem weird.

Come to think of it, Shang Chi as an original character tied to an adaptation of Fu Manchu is pretty weird.

I don’t know if any of these count as a brands of comics.

Also if you think about it Ultimate Marvel is kind of strange. It’s like they’re retelling all their comics, so now they’re publishing 2 versions of all their characters. Can you imagine if TV was like that? Imagine if classic Battlestar Galactica and the new BSG ran side by side. It would be weird. In most media reboots replace the old continuity. Can you imagine Doyle writing classic Holmes stories alongside alternate reality young Sherlock Holmes stories?

The idea behind Marvel Knights was mainyl about editorial control: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti had total control over the line, which basically ran separately from Bob Harras’s regime as Marvel’s EiC. And indeed, Quesada’s stewardship became a de facto tryout for the EiC job he later took on.

As to curious imprints:

— Shadowline was an imprint within Marvel’s “epic” imprint that was devoted to what we’d now term “mature readers superheroes.” It was sort of late Wildstorm before late Wildstorm. Written entirely by D.G. Chichester, the three Shadowline series — Powerline, Saint George, and Doctor Zero — were eventually cancelled, with the planned crossover story for them being published as an anthology/miniseries called Critical Mass.

The central idea was that, instead of superheroes, there were enigmatic, often immortal superhumans called “shadows” who lived among humanity. Doctor Zero was a supremacist shadow who took on an identity as a sort of Superman pastiche, playing to the media, and had an archfoe, Dr. Henry Clerk, who was a kind of Lex Luthor by way of black ops. Saint George was a man in armor designed by shadows whose role was to protect humanity from the more ruthless shadows. And Powerline was a pair of teenagers who amplified one another’s powers and were entangled in a war between two ancient dynasties of superbeings. The recurring character Shreck was later introduced to main Marvel continuity as Terror, Inc., and had a short-lived 1990s series also by Chichester.

— Startling Stories was a very short-lived “non-continuity” Marvel imprint devoted to letting big-name creators go wild with Marvel characters. It’s most famous for Peter Bagge’s Megalomaniacal Spider-Man miniseries, and the long-suspended followup, The Incorrigible Hulk. Brian Azzarello did a well-received Hulk mini, and Ron Zimmerman did a…well, a fairly mainstream and unremarkable Thing series, all told. It also produced the somewhat fondly-remembered Unstable Molecules “FF as real people” miniseries. The imprint vanished pretty quickly, and I suspect the wild tonal shifts among the minis were part of why.

— DC’s Realworlds, a very peculiar series of one-offs about real people who were fans of DC characters ending up cosplaying for various reasons and going through drama. It was very unusual because of the way the superhero connection was handled, but it didn’t really catch on. I’m not sure if any were produced beyond the three I can remember: Batman (about a mentally challenged man whose Batman fandom puts him in a dangerou situation), Justice League (about an adult reunion of childhood friends at a cosply party stirring up melodrama), and Superman (about a young tough who gets a Superman emblem tattooed on his chest and winds up in lots of trouble over it).

Ah, there was also a Wonder Woman Realworlds about an actress playing Wonder Woman in late-1940s Hollywood getting mixed up in the Red Scare.

The Crazed Spruce

December 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Oooooh, remember Helix, DC’s line of science-fiction comics? The only one to survive the first three months was Transmetropolitain, which wound up absorbed into Vertigo.

But I always thought the most awkwardly forced line was Marvel’s “Alterniverse”. (Basically just What If? with a few random one-shots and graphic novels (like The Last Avengers Story) thrown in.)

How about Comico’s Keyline imprint? It produced one issue of Empire Lanes in about 1989 and approximately zero issues of Jaguar Stories and Comico Illustrated thereafter. It was supposed to make the idea of a color publisher going back to black-and-white printing seem, um, exciting.

Those DC Focus books Touch and Fraction were pretty good. Had they come out 10 years earlier, they might have been Vertigo books. Maybe.

Is that Simonson on the Warlock book Walt, Louise, or another one entirely? Yes, I’ll look it up…

Rocket is an odd name, but had some good books, like Giffen’s Syn, the book Lone, and the early (?) Sean Murphy book Crush.

I’ve picked up a few Shadowline books (mostly for the Sienk. and Kevin O’Neill covers), but haven’t read them yet. Sound interesting.

Was that Dorkin/Haspiel Thing mini part of the Startling Stories line? That wasn’t bad.

If one of those Realworlds books wasn’t by Harlan Ellison, I do believe he was supposed to do one. Which is a cool concept, of course.

Helix lasted a LITTLE longer than 3 months, Spruce. Cyberella lasted a while, that Ennis/Esquerra thing had a couple minis. But yeah, I wonder how much it got derailed by having to change the line name, and how much it was that SF comics are a hard sell. (Also, the Matt Howarth 3 issue mini Star Crossed came out from Helix!)

I like that Marvel was publishing both Star Comics AND Epic Comics at the same time. Especially since Groo sorta kinda could have come out from either.

What other imprints have there been…Dark Horse had the Legend imprint, but that was pretty good stuff. No real reason it had to be separated out, though. Image has had a TON of different imprints. Did Wildstorm keep Homage separate once the move to DC was made? Of course, the only thing I can think of that still came out from them after the move was Astro City (which was an Image book, an Homage book, DC, as well as being from Busiek’s Jukebox Productions).

Didn’t Crossgen have some separate imprint before they got bought out/went under back in the day?

Ooh, ooh, do a theme about comics published by the most different companies!

Code Six was CrossGen’s imprint for books that weren’t part of the CrossGen big picture.

Realworlds also had a Wonder Woman issue, although it claimed that the Wonder Woman ‘influence’ of the book was from a fictional movie serial rather than the comic book.

Julius Schwartz’ last line of work for DC Comics was the DC Science Fiction imprint, a series of original graphic novel adaptations of great works of SF.

DC Comics also launched !mpact, a line of superhero comics aimed at an all-ages group, based on heroes owned by the Archie comics company, an imprint that would eventually lead to the recent Red Circle line of comics.

wasn’t ELSEWORLDs infliential?

Back when Image spent most of their time publishing ultraviolent, uber-’90s Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld comics, they published the retro series 1963, a bunch of one shots that celebrated and gently parodied the Silver Age. Alan Moore wrote them and artists like Steve Bissette & Rick Veitch drew them in the styles of Kirby, Ditko, and their contemporaries.

What about Marvel UK? I mean, who even knows what a UK is? Am I right?

Ditto Tsunami. Wonder why they thought a teen Emma Frost series with Greg Horn covers would sell well to teen girls…

I kinda liked the Razorline/Barker heroes. Which one was it, Saint Sinner, was like a Vertigo book. Hokum and Hex was a bit strange.

Ultimate Marvel is kinda weird…

I have a bunch of the Impact books I’ve gotta read. Surprisingly good group of creators, including Mark Waid, the late great Mike Parobeck, and even fairly early Joe Quesada. There were also Red Circle books out from the mid 80s that featured the characters. (Where does the Red Circle name come from, then?)

Those Archie characters are coming back, I think online and from Archie themselves…

Thinking of those characters brings to mind the various iterations of THUNDER Agents from the mid 80s, when that property was in legal limbo, but it’s not really that relevant to this topic.

Elseworlds is influential and pretty good, but not really an odd imprint.

Mike Loughlin brings up the 1963 stuff, which was really good (and I didn’t even have the nostalgic love for the “original versions” since I’d just started collecting in the early 90s). Alas, the Annual never was, and never will be, for various creator issues between Moore, Veitch, and Bissette. Bissette IS doing stuff with the characters he owns from the series, though, and the Fury and a few others are coming back in the near future. The 1963 characters also guested in a Shadowhawk issue(s, can’t remember how many), as well as in Valentino’s autobio A Touch of Silver. They may have even appeared in Big Bang Comics (another oddball Image “imprint” — throwback/retro/nostalgia superheroes published by the “cutting edge” superhero guys. Of course, their cutting edge was a lot of knockoffs of big 2 characters, in a sense…)

But one of the Jones Boys has the win with Fantagraphics Eros line. Weird/sad that THAT part of their business was what kept them afloat for years (now they’ve got the Peanuts and Disney reprints…). However, there have been some neat Eros comics. I know Beto did some, I thought there was a Domino Lady comic, and Colleen Coover did the “girly porno comic” Small Favors (oh my!) before doing stories in the younger reader aimed XMen First Class. (I love that sort of … irony, I suppose.)

It never actually came out, but at one point Archie Comics was planning on doing a “grim and gritty” revival of their superhero characters…I remember seeing creepy promotional art of The Fly and The Hangman, looking more like horror comics than superheroes. I think Steve Englehart was one of the writers involved. After the initial announcement, the project just kind of quietly died, and years later they licensed the characters out to DC for the “Impact” line instead.

The Midnight Sons line by Marvel.

The problem is that they launched a line that essentially had Ghost Rider…and a lot of second/third tier ideas that they tried to have take off combined with a distinct lack of horror. Dr. Strange, while central to the Marvel U., always seemed to work better as a background character/support character, and the same goes for guys like Blade and Morbius. It makes sense that they would all work together, but the concept clearly was marred by 90′s excesses and read more like superheroics than supernatural horror, so what was the point exactly?

That isn’t to say that it wasn’t all bad (I actually have all of Night Stalkers and a lot of pieces of the other books), but when one of the books is essentially a group of people chasing down pages of a spell book before a magic dwarf uses them for evil, well, yeah, it needed some fine-tuning.

DC comics had Piranha Press from 1989-1992, with Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children being their most successful title.
Darkhorse had there super hero universe with Ghost, Barb Wire, X, etc.
Innovation had their black and white lone of comics which included Celestial Mechanics and something about time travel to 1930s Hollywood

Jeremy Aron Patterson

December 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The 1980s Red Circle brand was changed to Archie Adventures Series after a year!

Jeremy.

Dark Horse : Legend (Hellboy, Madman, Sin City, etc), Maverick and I enjoyed most of Comics Greatest World (X, Ghost, etc.)
DC: Piranha Press (Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children), America’s Best Comics and the much lamented Paradox Press (the BIg Book Of series).
Marvel: Marvel UK, Star, the Curtis magazine line

The New Universe, while well-intentioned, was odd and pretty bad. Star Brand, though, was absolutely terrific for Shooter and Romita Jr.’s tenure.

Back in the late 80′s, Eclipse gave Tim Truman’s 4Winds Studios their own imprint, which resulted in some decent comics, like the Airboy revival from Chuck Dixon and Tom Yeates, John Ostrander’s Hotspur, the recently reprinted Winterworld mini and Truman’s own Scout franchise. They also tried to do some superhero books like Sgt. Strike that never quite took off…

Anyone remember Malibu’s Bravura line? Featured Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, Edge by Steven Grant and Gil Kane(former superhero discovered that his fellow ‘heroes’ were all on the take), Walt Simonson’s Star Slammers, Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals and Strikeback by Jonathan Peterson and Kevin Maguire.

Bravura also had Chaykin’s Power and Glory, and it was announced that his Forever Maelstrom was going to come out through that line as well (it later came out through DC, and someone else drew it).

Paradox Press was also the origin of 2 major movies (which was probably part of the intention) — Road to Perdition and A History of Violence both came out through that line. Also a book called Green Candles, JM DeMatteis’s Brooklyn Dreams, and the Bogeyman. Oh yeah, the US version of the Gon manga too.

DC also had their manga line, CMX, right, and never did anything with it, really. They also were paired up with Humanoids for awhile, and paired with 2000AD several years ago. Somehow they still aren’t getting that if you barely promote a line, it won’t sell….

Comic theme month is fun!

I only read the first issue of Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, but I really really thought it was terrible.

IIRC though the Pirhana Press line also gave us Epicarus the Sage, Gregory and the sublime Why I Hate Saturn – so it’s not all bad.

No one’s going with Tangent? DC’s fifth-week line of comics that kept the names of various DC stalwarts but nothing else? “Hey, kid, like Batman? How’d you like an absolutely unrelated story we happened to call Batman?”

Someone already mentioned Fantagraphics Eros, which actually helped keep them afloat during the 90′s. less well know would be their Monster line that launched concurrently to Eros, but didn’t last nearly so long. All I can recall is a Don Simpson King Kong book. Also, in the 80′s, Jan Strnad ran a sub-imprint at Fantagraphics called Upshot!, although I have no memory of what the theme was.

And “Just Imagine! Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe!” More like creating another Tangent line.

DC also just cancelled off “First Wave,” the imprint featuring noirish characters like Batman with licensed Golden Age and Pulp characters like Doc Savage (or was it the Shadow?) and the Spirit. Surely Slam Bradley was in the mix somewhere as well.

Marvel/Paramount! Basically to get back the “Star Trek” franchsie, Marvel had proposed to adapt other Paramount properties, but it never happened. I know a “Mission: Impossible” movie tie-in was bandied about at one point. But it did lead to the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers.

Elseworlds got as as far as the theme for DC’s annuals for one year, and was a series of GN’s, though never really an imprint.,

“Oooooh, remember Helix, DC’s line of science-fiction comics? The only one to survive the first three months was Transmetropolitain, which wound up absorbed into Vertigo.”

Being fair, I believe that Garth Ennis’s ‘Bloody Mary’ limited series was successful enough to have a follow-up published by Vertigo too.

“Basically to get back the “Star Trek” franchsie, Marvel had proposed to adapt other Paramount properties, but it never happened”

Nobody ever remembers “The Adventures of Snake Plissken”.

Nor should they.

Ed (A Different One)

December 12, 2011 at 9:57 am

I was going to mention Razorline but Matt beat me to it . . .

I still have an old #1 of the Ectokid lying around somewhere. I always wondered if this had any influence of M. Knight Shalayan’s Sixth Sense?

I loved Star Comics when I was a kid, especially “Alf”. Looking back, some of that stuff was pretty amazing. They did a half-issue story in which Alf was transported to a world inspired by ’70′s underground comix like “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” and “Zippy the Pinhead”… in a kids comic! There was even a gag that directly referenced Len Wein and Berni Wrightson.

Mark McD: It’s too bad to hear “First Wave” is kaput. I bought the first few issues, before missing one and not being able to catch up. It was great to see Doc Savage and The Spirit running around with “The Bat Man”, complete with two pistols. The Rags Morales artwork was also really good.

Fantagraphics had a funny animal line for a while as well. Which seems even less Fantagraphics-y than the porn line.

No one mentioning Milestone?

I was stoked to see Icon and Rocket on an episode of Young Justice.

Theno

Ah yes Milestone – Let’s stand up for equality among races by segregating the ethnic minority characters and creators into their own comics line.

The whole concept never sat well with me.

@Jeff Ryan — well, Tangent was done as a nod to how Julius Schwartz did something similar in the ’50s and ’60s with taking old concepts (Flash, GL, etc) and redoing them for (what became) the Silver Age. I like what I’ve read of them. The first Flash one was good. When I talked to Todd Dezago about it, he mentioned that the artist on it Gary Frank was reluctant to do a female Flash, figuring it’d be too “cheesecake”, but DeZago told him to rent “Clueless” and that was the model for the book, and that got Frank on board.

@Patrick Joseph — I forget what the name was, but I know Don Simpson used a pseudonym for those monster books. Upshot…I think there was a book about adventures of the crew of a ’30s era Hollywood movie/noir-y mystery thing, and possibly a book with a Rocketeer-esque adventurer. But yeah, I wouldn’t have remembered it without you saying it. Strnad may have had his book Dalgoda in there, which was a SF dog/man in space thing.

The Marvel/Paramount line also included new Men in Black comics, right? As some people may recall, MiB was originally a Malibu comic. I’d guess getting Malibu’s coloring dept, effectively shutting down the Ultraverse, and securing the MiB rights led to Marvel buying Malibu. (That’s probably about when the Bravura line stopped too then, huh?) But Paramount could have been trying to branch out into comics, and used their connections with Marvel to try to break in, but since there was little beyond ST that was any good, well…

(Another idea for a theme — movies that were based on comics that you’d never heard of — MiB is an example, and I’ve got others, but if you want to do one like that, Brian….)

@MarkAndrew — some of those funny animal comics weren’t your simple Disney Duck type stuff. The Critters series had some “adult” themes to it, and I’m guessing Milton Knight’s stuff was in there. Can’t remember the name of the series, but in Critters 44 there’s this weird political funny animal thing. So on the surface it seems weird, but the actual content is more in line with FG stuff. (Gotta dig out and read Lust of the Nazi Weasel Women again…) So they were funny animal books more in the spirit of Gerber’s Howard or Cerebus stuff, iirc.

@DanCJ — To be fair to Milestone, iirc, McDuffie/Cowan et al started Milestone as a separate company focused on ethnic minority characters and were building that as a separate thing, and then somewhere along the line, entered into a distribution deal with DC (which I believe later turned into an ownership thing on DC’s part). The way the line turned out it appears that it was supposed to be segregated off from the main DC line, but I don’t think that was the initial intent. Some people may recall the contemporaneous line ANIA, which similarly had ethnic minority characters, but no distribution deal with a big company, so ended up forgotten like a lot of early 90s stuff.

DC did some Elseworlds books based on German Expressionist films. The first two (Superman: Metropolis and Batman: Nosferatu) were obvious. I’m not even sure the third book (Wonder Woman: Blue Angel) was ever published… I’ve never seen it.

A lot of lines that don’t make any sense at the ground level are united at the editorial level. Which makes sense within the company, but leaves the rest of us scratching our heads.

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