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The Best Defunct Marvel & DC Publishing Lines

February 5, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Marvel Knights

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last week we discussed the Biggest Comic Book Imitators!. Here’s what some of you had to say:

El Atomico: “Would’ve loved more on my faves, Squadron Supreme:
Hyperion=Superman–see also kryptonite and argonite
Power Princess=Wonder Woman–complete with senior citizen army boyfriend
Golden Archer=Green Arrow
Dr. Spectrum=Green Lantern
Blue Eagle=Hawkman

Al Lobama filled me in about this originally being a cooperative effort or something sometime back, but still would’ve loved more.

Still, great column, thanks, Gusto!”

Ken Wood: “I love Supreme. If Superman were a bitter, old a-hole, you’d have Supreme. He was one of my favorites to read growing up.

Pitt was kind of a rip off of Hulk. Pitt was definitely different, with an alien and child that controlled him, but there were obvious similarities in the looks department.

Youngblood was basically a rip off of several different characters put into a team. Shaft and Hawkeye, Badrock and the Thing, etc.

Wildcats, Gen 13, DV8, were all Wildstorm books that were essentially X-Men rip offs, but they were all really great. In fact, I wish they were as popular as the X-Men because these are probably my favorite two franchises in comic book history.

I’m sure Image has plenty of others if I spent enough time going over all my old books.”

Richard C: “The Shield (1940) // Captain America (1941) // Minute-Man (1941) // Captain Battle (1941)”

Prez Gar: “The Squadron Supreme and The Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Literal imitations of the Justice League and the Legion of Super-Heroes. One could also argue the original Guardians of the Galaxy were also somewhat copying the Legion, by being based in the year 3000.

Then you’ve got X-Men and Doom Patrol, similar to Swamp Thing and Man-thing. Their debuts were extremely close together, both teams of misfit heroes led by a man in a wheelchair.”

Caliber_”Nickname”_Winfield: “I dunno, The Shadow and Bats are really different beyond the “rich guy fights crime” deal. Plus, Batman was literally made for no reason other than to cash in on Superman. The editor told that hack Bob Kane to “go home and make me another Superman”, which, all things considered, is pretty damn amazing that him and Bill were able to do that. When has an attempt to cash in on a fad ever actually worked that well? Now, also, the original design of Batman was a freaking joke.

I mean, Batman’s inspiration was drawn from the 1926 film The Bat, and it’s 1930 sequel, The Bat Whispers. Even Bob Kane admitted as much. Funny, considering Batman’s greatest enemy, The Joker, is a rip-off of The Man Who Laughs.

It’s funny, nothing is original in life.”

Too many great comments to share. Go back and see for yourself. Also, as always, thanks for the input!

This week we discuss…

Defunct Marvel & DC Publishing Lines

DC’s Vertigo Comics said its final goodbye to fans a couple of weeks and and the imprint has left a lasting legacy as one of comic books’ most groundbreaking line. 

With its demise, it joins a long list of imprints that range from a flash in the pan to making a decent impact. 
You might not recognize the names Razorline, Tsunami, or the Marvel Mangaverse. You might vaguely recall Zuda, Focus, Piranha, Minx, and CMX. If they don’t ring any bells, don’t beat yourself up over it. These are all names of long gone publishing lines from Marvel and DC. Some were pretty cool, a few produced a gem or two, but they all got the axe at some point. I pulled together some of my favorites and I’m sure you’ll have a couple as well.

I’m just sticking to the Big Two because the sheer amount of choices would be too much for one column. 
Let’s start with STAR COMICS (Marvel). In the 80s, the Star Comics line was aimed at younger readers and mixed books based on cartoons and toys with all-original properties like Planet Terry, Royal Roy, Wally The Wizard and Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. Personally, I LOVED Spider-Ham! I thought it was a fun twist to Spider-Man and have enjoyed his return on the comic side and on the movie side. While the line didn’t last, it brought plenty of young fans to the table and turned them into comic book readers.

One of my personal favorites was EPIC COMICS (Marvel). Epic was Vertigo before Vertigo and without the long line of historic titles. The line offered creator-owned and mature reader titles under the eye of editor Archie Goodwin. Epic lasted from 1982 to 1994 and was revived for a brief, forgettable period in 2003. In its heyday, Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, Marshall Law, and Elektra Assassin were standouts. Also, this line gave us our first American editions of Akira/The Airtight Garage.

What a fun line MC2 (Marvel) was. MC2 started out as a one-off that surprised everyone with its popularity and gave us Spider-Girl and a handful of books that took a look at a possible future Marvel Universe. The quality of Spider-Girl is the sole reason this line made the list.

Next up is 2099 (Marvel). This line answered the question: “What would the Marvel Universe look like 107 years in the future?” The answer gave us this 1992 line that took a peek into Marvel’s world of tomorrow, mixing sci-fi with the traditional super heroics. 2099 lasted six years, and has since undergone a couple of revivals and reappearances in other titles. Peter David and Rick Leonardi’s Spider-Man 2099 was the biggest hit (seeing a pattern here?) and the character has popped up in Marvel proper.
I’m still waiting on a Ravage 2099 reboot.

Who can forget MARVEL KNIGHTS (Marvel)? This line is a little twisted because it started as a specific line led by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti with the goal of attracting top creators to lesser-known properties. They were free to do what they liked with reduced continuity and increased production quality. It was such a hit, Quesada got the editor-in-chief position and the ideals that formed Marvel Knights poured over the whole universe. The line hasn’t ever been officially ended but it doesn’t have a point anymore outside Marvel Knights 20th from last year.

Perhaps no imprint has received more negative press than NEW UNIVERSE (Marvel). Judge me all you want but I enjoyed the New Universe stuff. The New Universe was intended to be an all-new line and an all-new fictional universe updating Stan Lee’s ideals of amazing adventures in the real world. Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s Star Brand introduced a more mature style of superhero storytelling but the line was hampered with a low budget, a confused audience, and poor sales. Mark Gruenwald ingrained the New Universe into Marvel continuity in 1994’s Starblast event. Over the years we’ve seen other elements from the universe crossover and I can’t wait for the day when someone tackles this again. 

Go with me on this one. ULTRAVERSE (Marvel). While this line wasn’t created by Marvel, the Ultraverse was bought from Malibu Comics and featured characters like Prime, Hardcase and Rune. Sadly, things didn’t go well, sales dropped and the line shuttered away due to “legal reasons”. Even sadder, Gerard Jones and Norm Breyfogle’s Prime never found an audience. Their take was a cool update on the Captain Marvel/Shazam! idea and should have been more popular. In fact, the entire line took familiar concepts and gave them a fun spin, which I thought should have been utilized better by Marvel. Some of these could very easily make it with the right marketing and even make the jump to the big screen. Here’s hoping.

Let’s switch it up and look at WILDSTORM (DC). Wildstorm is in the same boat as Ultraverse. It started at Image and ended up as an imprint of DC Comics. Wildstorm is a bit different as it was a place that offered creators a chance to own their work and create works wouldn’t fit in Vertigo. The best example was Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line. Most of the line has been swallowed into DC’s New 52 but for years books like WildCATs and The Authority were consistently providing top quality stories. I know we got The Wild Storm series from Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt but after the cancellation of a new Wildcats, I’m keeping this on the list.

Let’s talk about IMPACT! (DC). This line was a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1991, comics were in a serious grim-and-gritty phase. Like today, there wasn’t much material that was aimed at kids. The goal of Impact! Comics was to present a superhero line aimed at younger readers that used the licensed Red Circle characters from Archie Comics. Again, sales were never stellar and the line was done away with after the Crucible event storyline. The Comet was Impact!’s longest-running series but the whole line was a pretty fun, simple read. In 2008, DC tried to bring new life to the Red Circle characters but the characters found a home as part of Archie’s New Crusaders series. We could use more lines like Impact.

Do you remember HELIX (DC)? This was DC’s attempt to do for science-fiction what Vertigo had done for horror. Helix lasted two years but the line featured new work by Garth Ennis, Howard Chaykin, Warren Ellis, Walt Simonson, and Chris Weston among many others. Quite a lineup of names. The line never found it’s rhythm and was folded into Vertigo, with Ellis’ and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan being the biggest title of note. This imprint was a little before its time.

While DC’s Black Label is starting to gain traction, the groundwork was started with ALL-STAR (DC). It offered big-name creators out-of-continuity opportunities with A-list characters. Only two of the four announced series actually saw print, and of those two, only one actually managed to reach completion, with the second being promised new branding. What did we get? Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder. A title that never really clicked and is known more for it’s awkward craziness than its quality. All-Star Superman from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s was the real standout and has earned classic status. We can only guess what an All-Star Batgirl, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern would have looked like.

Another one that could easily make a comeback is MILESTONE (DC). In fact, the rumors of a comeback were swirling not too long ago but nothing has come of that. While this wasn’t an imprint in the traditional sense, this line was published through DC Comics and that works for me. Milestone’s initial run of titles lasted from 1993 through 1996 and crossed over with the DC Universe during the Worlds Collide event. Milestone was groundbreaking in a number of ways and introduced a number of new talent. Static/Static Shock, proved popular enough to headline his own cartoon series. Hardware, Icon, and Blood Syndicate provided an urban view and some pretty entertaining stories. Last I heard the imprint was involved in a legal dispute so there’s hope this could still get new life.

I’m torn on ending with the Ultimate Universe. It’s ending is still frustrating to me and writer Brian Michael Bendis established at the end of the 2017 miniseries Spider-Men II that the universe and its superheroes still exist. What do you think?

Which one do you miss the most? What did I miss? Comment below!

That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!