The following is a list of some of my favorite superhero comics (or close to superheroes with their familiar superhero trappings) that were done outside Marvel and DC.
#5. Vampirella Magazine #8-9, 11-26ish
by Archie Goodwin, Jose “Pepe” Gonzalez, Steve Englehart, T. Casey Brown, Various
What It Is: In an era of Comics Code Authority Vampirella Magazine was one of several illustrated magazines providing horror comics. Vampi was original the hostess until #8 put her in the lead. While born of horror comics and sticking to battling monsters, Vampirella still exhibits elements of superhero storytelling. Her original origin was a strange scifi piece with a wink to Superman as last of a dying planet who rockets to Earth. Part way through the series writer T. Casey Brown gave her an alias which has become a part of her mythology. Plus of course a supporting cast who helped her save the world time and time again. That and, you know, the crazy costume. Vampirella is a cult icon and one of the original horror superheroes.
What It Is To Me: Like a number of comic fans, I did not give much consideration to Vampirella being much of a character. Her costume, crossovers with numerous Bad Girls and the very little word of mouth I had seen but picking up a collection of older stories was a revelation. Amusing and corny briefly until Archie Goodwin started crafting his stories. Introducing the Crimson Chronicles, her supporting cast including Mordecai Pendragon, and other important elements that made up her mythology. I picked it up because of Jose Gonzalez artwork, which is amazing. Very much in the vein of Neal Adams or even Nick Cardy but was impressed with the stories. While nothing genre defining they were solid adventures that were a wonderful backdrop to show Vampirella was more than just a striking design. Her personality and interaction, her smile, I became a hardcore Vampi fan because of these.
#4. The Maxx
by Sam Keith, w/William Messner-Loebs (co-writer for some time)
What It Is: Sam Keith’s twisted fantasy about a vagrant in a purple superhero costume who believes he has to protect his social worker who in an alternate reality known as the Outback is a Jungle Queen. The dark series from Image comics ran in the 90s and inspired a cult TV series for Mtv. The series deals with abuse and trauma as well as capturing elements of teenage angst and the lost of childhood innocence. The Maxx looks like a superhero story on first viewing but quickly dissolves into what it really is-a contemporary fantasy.
What It Is To Me: Like a generation I discovered the Maxx through the short lived Mtv adaptation. A striking, dark, creepy and enjoyable show. The thing about the Maxx is that its crazy. The whole premise is weird enough but it gets deeper into trauma, coping mechanisms, and spirituality. The stories surrounding Julie Winters and the teenager Sara are gripping, just as the stories around Maxx and his enemy Mr. Gone. What really makes the Maxx so special is Sam Kieths art. There is something so childlike about it. Like a fairy tale dream on acid. Its brilliant. The Maxx is a book that when I finally got to read gave me goosebumps and even though I think the second half without co-writer William Messner-Loebs suffers, its still on a whole a cut above and beyond a lot of books.
#3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, original
by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, Various
What It Is: Its the fucking Ninja Turtles. You got to know about them. Their a franchise all (maybe not all) indy comic properties aspire to become. Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird its about four siblings who are mutated walking talking ninjas and their sensei, the rat Master Splinter, battling the Foot Clan and other evils. While the series has the series is usually presented as a straight up action series the Ninja Turtles were initially inspired by Frank Millers works at the time, specifically his work on Daredevil in which they tie the original origin to. The use of large scale scifi and fantasy as well as introduction of Casey Jones and recurring masked villains makes the Ninja Turtles very much a superhero series.
What It Is To Me: Despite growing up on the cartoons and movies I only read a couple issues as a kid. Thats why I jumped on the Ultimate Collections by IDW (that have been taking forever to come out). Kevin Eastman and Peter Lairds stories are just oozing with fun and inventiveness. Their amusing, excellently paced, well crafted action scenes and you can just seem why the series became the billion dollar franchise it became. Its just such a fun experience and its cool to watch it start as a one off and develop into a long running series with several narratives. Several of the issues feature scenes that would be adapted for the big screen in the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Its also interesting to see the various differences between the comic and the cartoon and movies. The Ultimate Collections get a high recommendation.
by Adam Warren, plus Guests
What It Is: On this list, the one that is most definitely a fully realized superheroes series just one that deals in sexy, comedy and satire. Empowered is a less than lucky costumed crime fighter whose superpowered outfit tears too easily which then renders her powerless and soon tied and gagged by the villains. A joke in the superhero community. Born out of superheroine-in-distress commissions Adam Warrens series has grown a dedicated fanbase that put it on their bets of lists whenever a new installment drops.
What It Is To Me: Its my favorite comic being published today. While the first two and 3/4’s volumes are mostly played for laughs and spend a lot of time developing Emps relationship with her man Thugboy or friendship with Ninjette. At the end of volume 3 saw Warren follow up on a scene in an earlier volume with Ninjette being a runaway Ninja princess. So with volume 4 Adam warren beefed up the drama and started pursuing scenes and plot details from earlier volumes, all while continuing his character development through out. Volume 4 Empowered showed its muscle, volume 5 and on Empowered has been leaving superhero comics in the dust in my opinion. The storylines about Sistah Spooky and Mindf*ck, the truth about dead heroes and the battle with Deathmonger, as well as Ninjettes past with her clan have all had me hooked. Of course, its the star Empowered I love the most and watching her put on a brave face when she’s scared, trying to do her best, and generally being a wonderful person makes Empowered so much for me. I can’t wait for volume 8, which that bastard Adm Warren has posted pix and dropped details about all this year.
#1. Dragon Ball
by Akira Toriyama
What It Is: Its Dragon Ball. One of the best selling manga (or any type of comic) in the world and inspired one of the most popular anime of all time. One of the most influential shonen series of all time the action/adventure/fantasy/scifi series follows a young Goku who teams with Bulma in search of the Dragon Balls. once gathered they grant one wish. Through their adventures they meet offbeat characters, martial arts masters, evil armies and emperors and much more. That’s the first part of Dragon Ball, when Goku gets older it evolved into what we in the US refer to as Dragonball Z in which Goku and his buddies battle alien invaders, cyborg threats and ancient evils. It does not fall into the traditional superhero trappings but there is no doubt that Goku is Manga’s answer to Superman and in Japan he is one of the most well known and beloved characters.
What It Is To Me: Its Dragon Ball. Its insane. It starts off as an adventure and builds steam into an over-the-top hero vs. villain narrative where good guys have to save the universe (or earth really) against the kinds of bad guys that would make the Avengers or Justice League tremble. I caught random episodes of Dragon Ball thanks to by uncle when I was kid and the series was only known by anime fans at the time. I watched DBZ on and off while it was on air including when it came on at 8 am for an hour before it caught fire and blew up. Several years ago, wanting to look into the original work I went out and started buying the manga. Goku and Bulma teaming up to find all the Dragon Balls and the crazy people they meet along the way. Then Goku heads to Master Roshi and him and Kurrin to train. The first part of Dragon Ball is a fun romp with lots of adventures and action. Its a smile inducing work and I wish it would have went longer. DBZ pushes the envelope in what can be done in fight sequences. Plus Vegeta shows up and all is well. Toriyama’s art is excellent. Most people only focus on the muscle men but he’s an excellent cartoonist with expressive characters and can create detail works. Dragon Ball is a work i was in and out of growing up and I lived through the era where it was the biggest thing and I still talk about it. Its Dragon Ball, and I find it awesome.