Some Marvel-ous gems?
July 8, 2009 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some off-the-beaten-path Marvel comics titles that are really good, and that don't involve any of the big name superheroes (like X-Men, Spidey, etc.)

(Due to a connection through which I can get Marvel books for free, I'm only interested in Marvel-owned properties.)

I just read Runaways and really enjoyed it. I am interested in some (possibly more obscure) Marvel titles that are whole storylines unto themselves-- i.e. I won't need to be super familiar with each character's past exploits in order to understand the story and enjoy it. Bonus points for origin stories or stories where it's not just superheroes fighting each other with lightning bolts.

I liked Runaways especially because it was set in present day earth and I got to see how all the characters originated, and it just seemed more fresh and original than a lot of other 'kids with powers' storylines. No footnotes needed to understand who was fighting who and why.

I am also interested in any dark, psychological Marvel comic books or storylines that are a bit offbeat and quirky.

posted by np312 to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
currently running series only, or older series as well?
posted by radiosilents at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2009

The newer Moon Night titles spring to mind. Anything under the "MAX" imprint will probably fit the bill.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2009

Err Knight, obviously.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2009

Are you only looking for brand new issues, or anything relatively recent? Also: single issues or TPBs?

I don't follow comics beyond what's in the shops when I drop by, but this wiki page lists all current runs. I know it doesn't narrow down anything for you, but it's a start. See also, MAX comics, as turgid dahlia mentioned.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:56 PM on July 8, 2009

Alias is a pretty good one that takes place in the back alleys of Marvel universe. The story is continued in The Pulse.
posted by strangecargo at 4:00 PM on July 8, 2009

Incognito is on one of Marvel's imprints and by the guy who writes Captain America, but it's a great noir story about a supervillain in witness protection. I think it'll be just 8 issues, but I'm hoping they bring it back later, b/c it's one of my favorite current series. The first four issues are out so far.
posted by leesh at 4:04 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer radiosilents and filthylighttheif's questions: no limit on how old it is. And it can be single issues OR TPBs.

Keep them coming! Thanks for the great answers so far.
posted by np312 at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2009

Christopher Priest's Black Panther and Dan Slott's She-Hulk are my favorite Marvel titles of recent years. So far as I recall, they'd both still be good for someone unfamiliar with the characters.
posted by Zed at 4:25 PM on July 8, 2009

If you're not married to Marvel, but enjoy Brian K. Vaughn, you've read his second-best series in Runaways. I would highly recommend his magnum opus, Y: The Last Man. Also absolutely worth a read but not as good as Runaways IMO would be the still ongoing Ex Machina.

My favorite thing I've read from Marvel in the last couple of years is the Dark Tower comics that expand on the books by Stephen King.
posted by ashabanapal at 4:28 PM on July 8, 2009

Another vote for Alias. I think you're missing out on all the really good stuff by restricting yourself to Marvel - Powers is terrific, as is Y and plenty of other superhero-type stuff by smaller publishers.
posted by luriete at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2009

I know you wanted more obscure and less spandex, but Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America is really good (and out in trade paperback).

I'll probably get heaped with scorn and derision for this, but Jason Aaron's Ghost Rider run is awesome kick-ass cosmic hillbilly stuff. New trade just came out.

Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty OK, and worth reading if someone is giving you the TPB.

I like Agents of Atlas. There's a TPB of the original mini, but not a collection of the recent stuff yet.

Get Omega: The Unknown not cuz it's awesome (it ain't) but because it's written by Jonathan Lethem, who IS awesome.

OH! The Daniel Way scripted Deadpool books are way more clever and funny than anything the artsier publishers are putting out, IMO.

Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 is pretty good, and, hey, it's Gaiman.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2009

Check out the great licensed properties from the 1970s and 1980s. Some of these have been reprinted and/or collected, but others haven't.

Conan, for example, has been collected by Dark Horse, and is a great book. Star Wars has also been collected by Dark Horse (though different people like different parts of that series -- my preference is for the pre-Empire stuff).

My favorite titles include ROM and Micronauts, though you're going to have to find these via individual back issues. Licensing problems prevent reprints and collections right now. If you poke around the checklists for this era, you'll find lots of interesting short-run series.

I'm not a huge fan of modern comics, though, so cannot help you in that regard.
posted by jdroth at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2009

Oh yeah: also get Kick-Ass, an Icon imprint that's just about as bloody and nihilistic as any comic I've ever read. I <3 Hit Girl!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:58 PM on July 8, 2009

the Rocket Raccon 4 issue miniseries from the 80's was better than it had any right to be.
the Punisher MAX line has been surprisingly good (in places).
the Marvels 4 issue run (kurt busiek/alex ross) was fantastic.
they published some Groo the Wanderer books back in the day, and there are some laughs to be had there.
Cloak and Dagger, either old or new, are an interesting take on superheroism.
the old Savage Sword of Conan run from the mid-70's was incredible.

also, i know that you specifically stated that you're not looking for the big name superhero comics, but if you have access to Marvel, and how old they are doesn't matter, you've got just an enormous wealth of Jack Kirby stuff to choose from. wiki him if you don't know who he is, and decide where you'd like to jump in from there.
posted by radiosilents at 6:16 PM on July 8, 2009

Current books you might like:

War of Kings, Trojan War, Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Monthly books:
Thunderbolts, Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Ironman, Halo, Agents of Atlas

I will throw it out there because it is really good reading: The Dark Reign titles. It is the main 'event' in Marvel right now but it is a dark and interesting spin on the whole Marvel U. I recommend Dark Avengers at the very least and the upcoming crossover with the Dark X-Men.

Also I second the vote for Captain America, it just went back to legacy numbering, and is starting with the return of Cap in a 5 part series that came out last week 'Reborn'.
posted by moojoose at 6:33 PM on July 8, 2009

Seconding radiosilents on Rocket Raccoon -- it totally turns the talking-animal genre around, and was first in my mind but for some reason I thought it was DC. The GI Joe comics from the 80s were often excellent - it had nice long stretches where characters and war got their due, harkening back to Sgt Rock style, but interspersed with new additions to the toy line which veered off into dumb sometimes; not sure how they measure in the off-the-beaten-path, since they're not really part of the spandex-and-mutants universe but ran well over a hundred issues. I'm also a fan of the mid-80s Dakota North miniseries; both fits in and satirizes the sort of sexy-fashion-detective of the time. In the late 1970s I was a fan of the Godzilla and Shogun Warriors comics, but, well, I was 6 at the time.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:45 PM on July 8, 2009

The first thing that came to my mind was Milligan and Allred's X-Force (which became X-Statix, and there's a Deadgirl spin-off). I think the creative team started X Force with a high issue-number, but with entirely new characters/story, etc.

I'm not really a Marvel Guy, but looking at my shelves I see...

Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy is truncated, but fun. I'd stay away from New X-Men unless you're a big X-Men fan or a big Morrison fan. I'm a big Morrison fan, and it had high points, but as a whole was okay at best. Marvel Boy, though: thumbs up!

Jonathan Lethem's Omega The Unknown is highly regarded and features Gary Panter art for the comic-within-the-comic.

I read a Dr. Strange tpb by Brian K. Vaughn at a friend's house that was really enjoyable as a light comedy-adventure story.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 7:07 PM on July 8, 2009

I think you're missing out on all the really good stuff by restricting yourself to Marvel - Powers is terrific

What he said.

Is there any particular reason you're asking for Marvel titles only? Because if what you're looking for is well-written, "off the beaten path" supercharacters without the baggage of a major publisher's convoluted history, you'll find lots of good stuff outside the Marvel universe. Powers fits perfectly. It's dark and wonderful superhero/detective storytelling.
posted by mediareport at 7:17 PM on July 8, 2009

If you're looking for dark, offbeat and quirky from Marvel, you should track down a copy of the old Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz "Elektra: Assassin" mini-series. You can find it in a single book here or collected with a few other things here.
posted by sad_otter at 7:31 PM on July 8, 2009

Definitely Alias.
A lot of the Ultimate titles are really excellent takes on classic Marvel properties that may strike a chord with you for the same reasons as Runaways. The Ultimates, in particular, is great action-movie fun.
The reboot of Squadron Supreme was good for a while, until JMS left.
posted by mkultra at 8:05 PM on July 8, 2009

The Immortal Iron Fist (most recent volume) has been quite good.

Cable & Deadpool is amazingly awesome, if you like Deadpool at least.

The Hood six-issue miniseries was an interesting look into the makings of one of the currently most-powerful figures in the MU.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man (12 issues, now defunct) was great; rather Deadpool-like. It's not about Hank Pym, BTW.

The current Incredible Hercules run has been a lot of fun.

Seconding Thunderbolts; I started with New Thunderbolts #1, which continued until New Thunderbolts #18 at which time they renumbered at Thunderbolts #100.

Also seconding the Ultimate Universe; I love it. (Although the recent Ultimatum event is kinda making me sad :-/.)
posted by Jacen Solo at 9:08 PM on July 8, 2009

Nextwave was a lot of fun!
posted by cadge at 10:07 PM on July 8, 2009

The original Marvel Zombies was... interesting. (The follow-ups were at best meh.)

And yes, Alias, Elektra: Assassin, The Ultimates, 1602.
posted by Iosephus at 11:20 PM on July 8, 2009

The most recent volume of Nova is good stuff.
posted by jzed at 1:16 AM on July 9, 2009

Try Ed Brubaker's Criminal. It's an Icon book. No superheroes at all. It's a crime comic. It tends to reset every few issues, with new characters who are connected to the older characters in tangential ways. I don't read a lot of comics anymore, but I do read Criminal. Link.
posted by dortmunder at 3:13 AM on July 9, 2009

Peter Milligan's and Mike Allred's X-Force (later switched to X-Statix) is totally amazing, unlike any other comic I've ever seen (Nextwave would be the closest thing, I think, and Nextwave is also pretty effin rad). The only dead spot comes towards the end of the run on X-Statix, when a tabloid uproar over a story involving Princess Di coming back from the dead caused Marvel Editorial to flinch and force a bunch of really bad last-minute changes to an issue. And even that issue's worth seeing, if only for the train wreck.
posted by COBRA! at 7:13 AM on July 9, 2009

Yeah, X-Force/X-Statix was pretty awesome, highly recommended. It kind of flew under the radar while Grant Morrison was shaking things up, but it's beautifully weird.

Also worth checking out:

Bill Sienkiewicz's run on New Mutants (the first series). Also, Elektra: Assassin as recommended above.
The older Howard the Duck comics are probably dated in their humor, but Steve Gerber came back to do a limited series in 2001 for Marvel MAX that was great.
posted by mkultra at 7:38 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Alias. Also chiming in to suggest Garth Ennis' Punisher: Born, which is basically Frank Castle's origin story from Viet Nam. I have had my issues with Ennis and generally care not a fig for the Punisher, but that story is really damn good.
posted by Skot at 9:44 AM on July 9, 2009

WRT currently running series, I am enjoying Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy(which features Rocket Raccoon!), both written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, a long-running comics writing partnership sometimes referred to by fans as "DnA". Both series take place mostly off-Earth, and therefore don't intersect heavily with regular Marvel continuity, which is a plus in my book (see below). They also feature interesting, often funny takes on long-established Marvel characters like Nova, Mantis, Adam Warlock, and others.

In general, I'm not that fond of most Marvel Comics books because they've suffered from some bad editorial decisions and too many company-wide crossover events that were badly done. (On the other hand, DnA's "War of Kings" crossover, involving the titles mentioned above and a couple of miniseries, was an example of how to do it right.) There are still some occasional bright spots, such as Nextwave and the recent Hellcat miniseries; in particular, the Marvel Adventures line, which Marvel created as an all-ages alternative to the tits-n-angst that infects their main line, is surprisingly enjoyable--in particular, the Hulk comes off as this big goofball. Worth a look, definitely.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:50 AM on July 9, 2009

Oh, and if your 'connection' extends to some indefinite point in the future, Marvel is going to publish 1) an anthology with a bunch of Fantagraphics-types doing Marvel characters (Dash Shaw Dr. Strange! Tony Millionaire Iron Man!) 2) a three-issue Dr Strange/Spider-Man series by Brendan McCarthy.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 4:37 PM on July 9, 2009

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