Leaving an Imprint

This week, Marvel <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/27845-marvel-revives-treasury-editions-for-spidey.html">announced</a> the return of its Treasury Edition format for current Spider-Man title <i>Spidey</i>. Unseen since 1984, the Treasury Edition is an oversized reprint presented in a 10” x 14” format. <p>And while the return of the Treasury Edition doesn’t represent the revival of a defunct formal line, it is a revival of a concept Marvel hasn’t used in over 30 years. This got us thinking about other concepts Marvel has tried over the years, including some of its biggest (and deadest) publishing ventures. <p>So here’s a look at 11 functionally deceased publishing lines from Marvel Comics, including some that existed as recently as <i>Secret Wars</i>.


One of Marvel's attempts to diversify its output in the 1980s, the Star Comics line was aimed at younger readers and mixed books based on cartoons and toys with all-original properties like <em>Planet Terry</em>, <em>Wally The Wizard</em> and, of course, <em>Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham</em>. Whether or not that makes up for licensed titles <em>The Get-Along Gang</em> and <em>Care Bears</em>, is another question. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> <em>Spider-Ham</em> was the greatest of the original titles, but quasi-Garfield <em>Heathcliff</em> was the longest-lived book of the line, surprisingly. <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> It's tempting to speculate that the only book not to fill the dollar bins are the two <em>Star Wars</em> titles, <em>Droids</em> and <em>Ewoks</em>, but we're still holding out for a <em>Royal Roy</em> revival.


Horror novelist Clive Barker created an entire superhero line for the publisher, with the output being something that brought a little Vertigo flavor to Marvel, complete with magical heroes and art that bucked the trends of the time. Launched as the 1990s sales bubble was beginning to burst, the line lasted less than a year, with an entire second wave of titles written but never released. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> <em>Ectokid</em> featured a future all-star creative team, with Steve Skroce illustrating scripts by James Robinson and then Larry Wachowski, who'd go on to co-create <em>The Matrix</em>. <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> The line faded into obscurity, but Barker stole the name of one of the series, <em>Saint Sinner</em>, for a later project, saying that the series was "a waste of a good title."


The little imprint that could, MC2 started out as a one-off <em>What If?</em> that proved popular enough to carry not just one title (<em>Spider-Girl</em>), but a whole raft of books offering the look at a possible future Marvel Universe. Even when the line faded, <em>Spider-Girl</em> lived on in various incarnations for some time -- as well as in many fans' hearts to this day. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> There's no competition: Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz' <em>Spider-Girl</em>, all the way. <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> <em>Spider-Girl</em>'s continued success was a testimony to fan activism, with the title simply refusing to die on more than one occasion thanks to the outpouring of support the book enjoyed. While the title may be off the shelves currently, the example it provided of a publisher listening to its fan base will live on for some time...


An ill-advised attempt at bandwagon jumping, the Mangaverse was Marvel's attempt to lure manga fans to its characters by... drawing them differently...? <p>That's unfair; the line offered alternate versions of signature characters like Spider-Man, the Punisher and the X-Men, recreated with backstories that, it was hoped, would resonate with manga readers. Any lessons about the importance of format and price point to the appeal of manga were ignored, however, and the line faded away after two years, only to enjoy a short-lived revival three years later. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> I'm going to go with <em>Marvel Mangaverse: The Punisher</em>, which turned the gun-toting Frank Castle into a BDSM-themed heroine named Hashi Brown (yes, really) who spanked and tickled her way through crime. Fan service, anyone? <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> The <em>Spider-Man: Legends of The Spider-Clan</em> mini-series brought both Kaare Andrews and Skottie Young to a wider audience.


Another attempt from Marvel to draw in manga readers, the Tsunami line was a mixed bag from the get-go, with books ranging from the mostly all-ages <i>Runaways</i> and <i>Sentinel</i> to the darker <i>Venom</i> and <i>Mystique</i>. That confusion seemed to doom the line, which ended within 18 months, although a couple of titles survived its shuttering. <p><b>Signature Book</b>: Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's <i>Runaways</i>, which gave the line (and the publisher) a book with the kind of critical appeal that many wouldn't have expected. <p><b>Lasting Legacy</b>: While their <i>Secret Wars</i> tie-in marks the first time the <i>Runaways</i> have had their own title in several years, the characters have continued to appear in multiple Marvel titles over the last few years.


Less a Marvel imprint as an entirely separate publisher that ended up swallowed whole by Marvel thanks to a buy-out (ala DC's WildStorm acquisition), the Ultraverse started life as the premiere line of indie Malibu Comics with such characters as Prime, Hardcase and Rune quickly becoming fan-favorites. <p>That success and Malibu's state-of-the-art computer coloring set-up drew Marvel's attention and, one corporate takeover later, the Ultraverse characters were mixing things up with the X-Men, Avengers and the Marvel Universe as a whole well, at least until sales fell and the line was forever filed away, with mysterious legal reasons apparently meaning it shall never be seen again. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> Gerard Jones and Norm Breyfogle's <em>Prime</em> was a really enjoyable update on the Captain Marvel/Shazam! idea, and the lack of any collected editions is one of the great losses of the 1990s comics world. <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> Outside of digital comics coloring, there is none: Marvel's desire to keep the Ultraverse locked away has effectively removed any legacy the line had outside of in fans' memories.


What would the Marvel Universe look like 107 years in the future? An odd number, sure, but that was apparently the thinking behind the 1992 line that took a peek into Marvel's world of tomorrow, mixing sci-fi with the traditional super heroics. Born out of a failed concept by Stan Lee and John Byrne (one actually titled The Marvel World of Tomorrow), the line lasted six years, and has since undergone a couple of revivals and reappearances in other titles. <p><b>Signature Book</b>: Undoubtedly Peter David and Rick Leonardi's <i>Spider-Man 2099</i>, the launch book of the line and the one that outlasted almost everything else published as part of the imprint. <p><b>Lasting Legacy</b>: <i>Spider-Man 2099</i> recently received his own title for the first time in years after Miguel O’Hara had several guest appearances in <i>Amazing Spider-Man</i>. That book relaunched after <i>Secret Wars</i>, now in a new volume, still by Peter David.


One of the most important and well-remembered Marvel imprints, Epic was Vertigo years before Karen Berger got the go-ahead from the powers that be at DC; offering creator-owned and mature reader titles shepherded by one of comics' most well-respected editors, Archie Goodwin. <p>Epic lasted from 1982 through 1994, before being revived for about two seconds in 2003 as an imprint to bring new talent to the publisher that never quite gelled. <p><b>Signature Book:</b> There are so many to choose from, from Jim Starlin's <em>Dreadstar</em> (the first Epic series) through <em>Marshall Law</em>, <em> Elektra Assassin</em> or the first American editions of <em>Akira</em> or <em>The Airtight Garage</em>. One of the strengths of Epic was that it didn't have one core title. <p><b>Lasting Legacy:</b> Epic provided a model for countless other publishers of how to do this kind of thing right. There might have been a Vertigo without Epic, but it might not have been the same without this model to look to.


An oddity on this list, Marvel Knights was an imprint that outlived its usefulness when essentially the entire Marvel line became a Marvel Knights book. Started as a boutique line headed up by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti to attract top creators to lesser-known properties by offering reduced continuity and increased production quality, the success of the line led to Quesada being offered the editor-in-chief position of the entire publisher... A move that revitalized Marvel as a whole, but left the Knights line without much of an identity. <p><b>Signature Book</b>: <i>Daredevil</i>, which brought Brian Michael Bendis to Marvel and arguably built his reputation into what it is today. <p><b>Lasting Legacy</b>: The Marvel Knights line has been dormant since a brief revival in 2013 with <i>Hulk</i>, <i>Spider-Man</i>, and <i>X-Men titles</i>, but it technically still exists.


Marvel's much-heralded 25th birthday present to itself, the New Universe was intended to be an all-new line and an all-new fictional universe updating Stan Lee's original concept of fantastic adventures set in "the world outside your window" for the then-modern day, headed up by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter's Star Brand, showcasing what he believed was a more complex style of superhero storytelling. Unfortunately hampered by low budget, low concept and low sales, the line staggered to a close within just three years. <p><b>Signature Book</b>: Star Brand, Shooter's reinvention of the Green Lantern concept, was intended to be the line's lead book, but sadly, <I>The Pitt</I>, an upscale, if somewhat desperate, one-shot intended to bring attention to the line by nuking Pittsburgh is probably a more honest way of remembering the line as a whole. <p><b>Lasting Legacy</b>: Mark Gruenwald brought the New Universe into Marvel continuity in 1994's Starblast event. An attempt to relaunch the concept as <i>new universal</i> under the pen of Warren Ellis was abandoned after low sales and a computer crash that destroyed months of work on the series. Recently, several characters from the New Universe appeared as central components of Jonathan Hickman’s <i>Avengers</i>, with Starbrand and Nightmask receiving their own joint title in the wake of <i>Secret Wars</i>.


Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was designed to bring its most popular characters to a wider audience, piggybacking on the success of the burgeoning <i>X-Men</i> and <i>Spider-Man</i> film franchises. Launched in 2000 with <i>Ultimate Spider-Man</i>, the line aimed to present iconic versions of Marvel’s characters unfettered by decades of byzantine continuity. <p>Eventually, after adding the X-Men, a version of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and countless other characters of the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe was also bogged down with 15 years of continuity, with many of its fan favorite characters and titles having been launched and relaunched numerous times. <p>Finally, Marvel pulled the plug on the Ultimate Universe, incorporating several elements back into the mainstream Marvel Universe with <i>Secret Wars</i>. <p><b>Signature Book</b>: Brian Bendis’s <i>Ultimate Spider-Man</i> was undoubtedly the flagship of the Ultimate line. Working for over 100 issues with Mark Bagley, Bendis redefined Peter Parker and his supporting cast before eventually killing Parker off and replacing him with a new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales. <p><b>Lasting Legacy</b>: Again, <i>Ultimate Spider-Man</i>. Though the Ultimate Universe is no more in the wake of <i>Secret Wars</i>, Miles Morales and his family now inhabit the mainstream Marvel Universe, operating as Spider-Man alongside Peter Parker, and as an Avenger.

Ultimate Ends: 11 Defunct MARVEL Publishing Lines

Date: 21 May 2015 Time: 12:00 AM ET