When it comes to comic books, two company names have completely dominated both the attention of fans and the sales charts for the past half-century. Within those companies, Marvel and DC, the majority of the focus has always been on superheroes and their spandex-clad adventures, with only occasional dalliances into more “realistic” territory. Both publishers have their dedicated “mainstream universes,” and they usually stick to that established continuity.
However, the average fan may not be aware of the practice of creating “imprints” within or outside of the main company branch. Both Marvel and DC have a long history of using such imprints to explore content not normally seen within their pages. While not every such offshoot is a major success, the increased freedom they offer will oftentimes lead to stories that are every bit 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 various imprints within Marvel and DC, and each publisher has made several unique imprints in an attempt to reinvent their story-telling formula. Here are some Marvel and DC imprints that produced amazing comics.
When it comes to Marvel and DC imprints, nothing can touch the sheer quality and volume of comics produced by the Vertigo line. Key figures like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Ennis have 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 is an imprint that is very much in the vein of Marvel’s Ultimate comics. It seeks 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.
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 a panel during which Batman called Robin “retarded,” which was just one of many steps Frank Miller has taken on the road to irrelevancy. They can’t all be winners!
To ring in the new millennium, Marvel Comics sought to clean up their convoluted continuity with a rebooted imprint, dubbed Ultimate Comics. This line ran parallel to the mainstream Marvel universe and provided a fresh and updated start for their most popular characters, similar to what DC does with their Earth One graphic novels. Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man kicked things off and was an immediate success. In fact, Ultimate Spidey was so popular that the character’s continuity was folded into the mainstream Marvel universe when the imprint finally ended in 2015. Not every Ultimate comic was a hit, but most were well-received, and Marvel had the luxury of running two concurrent universes for a decade and a half.