LEAVING AN IMPRINT1 of 14
Last week Brian Michael Bendis announced that as part of his multi-year exclusive deal with DC he was taking his creator-owned titles away from Marvel's Icon imprint to DC. With that, it functionally put a "closed" sign over Icon - an imprint founded in 2004 by Marvel for Bendis and other "A-List" Marvel creators. While it might be premature to say Icon is dead, it hasn't had a new title since 2014's Men of Wrath, and Bendis' creator-owned work was its primary output.
With this happening, we thought back to other popular Marvel imprints that have come and gone in the publisher's storied history. Here's a look back at some of Marvel's now defunct (or dormant) publishing lines.
STAR COMICS2 of 14
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 Planet Terry, Wally The Wizard and, of course, Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. Whether or not that makes up for licensed titles The Get-Along Gang and Care Bears, is another question.
Signature Book:Spider-Ham was the greatest of the original titles, but quasi-Garfield Heathcliff was the longest-lived book of the line, surprisingly.
Lasting Legacy: It's tempting to speculate that the only book not to fill the dollar bins are the two Star Wars titles, Droids and Ewoks, but we're still holding out for a Royal Roy revival.
RAZORLINE3 of 14
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.
Signature Book:Ectokid 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 The Matrix.
Lasting Legacy: The line faded into obscurity, but Barker stole the name of one of the series, Saint Sinner, for a later project, saying that the series was "a waste of a good title."
MC24 of 14
The little imprint that could, MC2 started out as a one-off What If? that proved popular enough to carry not just one title (Spider-Girl), but a whole raft of books offering the look at a possible future Marvel Universe. Even when the line faded, Spider-Girl lived on in various incarnations for some time -- as well as in many fans' hearts to this day.
Signature Book: There's no competition: Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz' Spider-Girl, all the way.
Lasting Legacy:Spider-Girl'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...
MARVEL MANGAVERSE5 of 14
An ill-advised attempt at bandwagon jumping, the Mangaverse was Marvel's attempt to lure manga fans to its characters by... drawing them differently...?
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.
Signature Book: I'm going to go with Marvel Mangaverse: The Punisher, 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?
Lasting Legacy: The Spider-Man: Legends of The Spider-Clan mini-series brought both Kaare Andrews and Skottie Young to a wider audience.
TSUNAMI6 of 14
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 Runaways and Sentinel to the darker Venom and Mystique. That confusion seemed to doom the line, which ended within 18 months, although a couple of titles survived its shuttering.
Signature Book: Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's Runaways, which gave the line (and the publisher) a book with the kind of critical appeal that many wouldn't have expected.
Lasting Legacy: A new Runaways ongoing series recently hit shelves - just in time for a TV adaptation that hews closely to the comic books, bringing Tsunami’s biggest success to a new generation of fans.
ULTRAVERSE7 of 14
Less a Marvel imprint as an entirely separate publisher that ended up swallowed whole by Marvel thanks to a buy-out (a la 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.
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.
Signature Book: Gerard Jones and Norm Breyfogle's Prime 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.
Lasting Legacy: 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 fans' memories.
20998 of 14
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.
Signature Book: Undoubtedly Peter David and Rick Leonardi's Spider-Man 2099, the launch book of the line and the one that outlasted almost everything else published as part of the imprint.
Lasting Legacy: Spider-Man 2099 just ended another run at his own title and the X-Men of 2099 recently appeared in X-Men Blue.
EPIC COMICS9 of 14
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.
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.
Signature Book: There are so many to choose from, from Jim Starlin's Dreadstar (the first Epic series) through Marshall Law, Elektra Assassin or the first American editions of Akira or The Airtight Garage. One of the strengths of Epic was that it didn't have one core title.
Lasting Legacy: 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.
MARVEL KNIGHTS10 of 14
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.
Signature Book: Daredevil, which brought Brian Michael Bendis to Marvel and arguably built his reputation into what it is today.
Lasting Legacy: The Marvel Knights line has been dormant since a brief revival in 2013 with Hulk, Spider-Man, and X-Men titles, but it's never technically been cancelled.
NEW UNIVERSE11 of 14
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.
Signature Book: Star Brand, Shooter's reinvention of the Green Lantern concept, was intended to be the line's lead book, but sadly, The Pitt, 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.
Lasting Legacy: Mark Gruenwald brought the New Universe into Marvel continuity in 1994's Starblast event. An attempt to relaunch the concept as new universal 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 Avengers, with Starbrand and Nightmask later receiving their own joint title in the wake of Secret Wars.
ULTIMATE COMICS12 of 14
Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was designed to bring its most popular characters to a wider audience, piggybacking on the success of the burgeoning X-Men and Spider-Man film franchises. Launched in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man, the line aimed to present iconic versions of Marvel’s characters unfettered by decades of byzantine continuity.
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.
Finally, Marvel pulled the plug on the Ultimate Universe, incorporating several elements back into the mainstream Marvel Universe with Secret Wars.
Signature Book: Brian Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man 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.
Lasting Legacy: Again, Ultimate Spider-Man. Though the Ultimate Universe is no more in the wake of Secret Wars, Miles Morales and his family now inhabit the mainstream Marvel Universe, operating as Spider-Man alongside Peter Parker, and as part of the Champions. Numerous other elements from the series have made their way to the mainstream Marvel Universe as well.
ICON13 of 14
Marvel's Icon line was the publisher's latest attempt at cultivating a line of creator-owned releases for its top writing talents. Anchored by titles from Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis, the line launched favorites such as Bendis' Powers, Millar's Kick-Ass and Kingsman, Matt Fraction's Casanova, and Ed Brubaker's Criminal.
With the recent exodus of Bendis from Marvel, Icon is only technically still around with no ongoing or solicited titles under the umbrella.
Signature Book: Brian Michael Bendis' Powers, about ordinary cops in a world full of superheroes, launched the Icon line in 2004. It grew into a TV show, and lasted with the line until Bendis' recent jump to DC, where Powers will continue.
Lasting Legacy: Stories that originated with Icon are still making waves throughout the industry and being adapted to new media. And really, Icon could still continue. Considering it was still going up until a few months ago with work from Bendis, we're calling Icon "dormant" rather than "defunct" - for now.
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