Talk about world domination: For the past 50 years, two comic book companies have commanded the world of super heroes. For Marvel and DC Comics, the focus has always been on superheroes and their spandex-clad adventures, with only occasional dalliances into more realistic territory. Both publishers have spent decades building their dedicated mainstream universes, and they usually stick to that established world.
For something outside of this multiverse, Marvel and DC have launched a series of “imprints,” a place where writers and artists can explore stories not normally seen within the more mainstream comic world. While not every such offshoot is successful, the increased freedom they offer will oftentimes lead to stories that are as good or better than their more traditional counterparts. All-time classics like The Sandman, Preacher, All-Star Superman, and more are the direct result of Marvel and DC letting creators run wild in a world outside the normal super hero tropes. Here are some Marvel and DC imprints that produced amazing comics.
Nothing can touch the sheer quality of comics produced by Vertigo. Some of the greatest talents in comic book history including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Ennis combined to create some of the most memorable graphic novels in history. Just a quick refresher on Vertigo titles is all one needs to see the almighty impact the imprint has had: The Sandman, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, Hellblazer, and Fables have all been produced under the Vertigo line.
Earth One sought to retell some of DC’s most famous stories in an updated and less continuity-bogged manner. The imprint, thus far, has consisted entirely of graphic novel releases, rather than the publication of individual issues. The first such novel was Superman: Earth One in 2010, and it has been followed up with reinventions of both Batman and Wonder Woman’s origins, with the Teen Titans also getting the Earth One treatment in 2014. This imprint is still very much active, with Aquaman and Flash books set to drop in 2017.
Elseworlds was a catch-all imprint that DC invented in the late 1980s to house its “out-of-continuity” tales, which were beginning to become more popular. Instead of housing such stories in “what if” one-shots, DC created an entire imprint, which allowed them to publish full graphic novels set in their own unique continuities. The much-beloved Gotham by Gaslight, where Batman stalks Jack the Ripper, was met with universal praise. Some of DC’s all-time greatest books have fallen under the Elseworlds imprint, such as Superman: Red Son and the epic Kingdom Come.
Rarely has a comic imprint had such a disparity in returns as DC’s All-Star line. The imprint was designed as a way to reward top-tier creative talent by giving them their own continuity with which to explore their favorite characters. On the one hand, Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman was widely renowned as potentially the greatest Superman story ever told. On the other hand, All-Star Batman and Robin was widely panned and featured Batman calling Robin “retarded,” which was just one of many steps Frank Miller has taken on the road to irrelevancy. They can’t all be winners.