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Author Topic: Independent Superhero comics  (Read 314 times)

Offline SkeleTony

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Independent Superhero comics
« on: June 09, 2017, 04:30:41 AM »
Hello,

I am one of those oddballs who started out a mostly Marvel guy (back in 1981 or 82 when I really started collecting and reading comics) but upon discovering my local comic specialty shop became enthralled by the non-mainstream/independent superhero (and other genres) titles. I noticed that this forum, like most forums on the 'net, has plenty of threads about Marvel and DC (and probably Image and so forth for all I know) but no threads really about the indies. So I thought I would list and write a bit about my favorites and see what others had to say about the subject.


The Justice Machine - Originally published by Noble comics in the early 1980s -but almost published in a completely different form by Power comics in the late 1970s- this super team book was and remains sort of unique amongst superhero books. Originally the creation of artist Michael Gustovich (who drew the first few issues) but was later penciled by Bill Reinhold (re: the Badger, The Punisher, etc.) and inked by Jeff Dee (legendary artist for (A)D&D, and creator of Villains and Vigilantes RPG). The book told the story of a group of super powered enforcers from an other dimensional world known as Georwell. The Noble comics series lasted 5 issues before being cancelled but an outfit named Texas comics later published the famous Justice machine Annual which featured the first appearance of a group called The Elementals as a backup feature (by legendary author-artist Bill Willingham (Fables etc.) and also teamed up the JM with Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Within a few years Comico picked up and published The Elementals in its own series and soon after published a four issue mini-series of The Justice machine featuring the Elementals. Then of course the JM got their own series (again!) which lasted for like 29 or 30 issues plus an annual. It was when this first Comico regular series was published (written by Tony Isabella and drawn by Gustovich) that the title hit its peak. Later when the comic book market was starting to show signs of collapsing the JM was cancelled and picked up by Innovation comics where writer Mark Ellis tried to inject new life into the series but extremely bad coloring and production resulted in a short lived return that even the return of Tony Isabella could not save the series from (and in fact did more damage in terms of bad continuity that had to be explained away in later stories published by Ellis' Millennium Comics Publishing after he bought the title from creator Gustovich.).

Of note: Innovation actually published the old Noble Comics Justice Machine issue #6 which was completed, drawn by Bill Reinhold and Jeff Dee -possibly changing a few names/words to make it fit into more modern JM continuity as The Justice Machine Summer Spectacular.

Ellis' company (Millennium) was very successful for a few years, getting the comics publishing rights to such titles as Doc Savage (Where Ellis scripted award winning mini-series stories), The Wild Wild West. A few Anne Rice graphic novels/series (Which were very good for Anne Rice translations) and more. But sadly the Justice machine only lasted two more issues before cancellation. Ellis has writtten and published a new JM graphic novel called Justice machine: Object of Power a few years ago but it was not noticed by the broad comic book audience.

The original JM (including the Noble and Texas Comics run as well as the Justice machine Summer Spectacular by Innovation)was unique enough story-wise and with pretty good art that I give it a 7 on a scale of 1 - 10, for it's time.

The Comico run I give an overall 8.5. The stories were mostly very good to excellent, particularly through Isabella's run as writer but Peter Gillis did a nice story as well and Doug Murray (Re: The 'Nam) had an excellent run IMO (save for one story which is probably not his fault). The art by Gustovich -save for a few issues IIRC- was overall good and the coloring by Tom Vincent was excellent!

The Innovation run was not a total wreck. The initial 3 issue mini-series by Ellis and Gustovich was compelling to some degree but the coloring seemed a bit wonky and only got worse with the regular series. Then there was the mess with Isabella returning to try and save the series from it's poor sales and abrupt black and white final issue (#7)...overall I have to give it a 5.0 and it only gets that good because of what Ellis was trying to do and nostalgia really.

The Millennium until now run gets an 8.0 from me. The two Millennium issues (re: The Chimera Conspiracy) were pretty good with astoundingly good art by Daryl Banks IIRC, but the story was never finished. The Object of Power GN has very good art and a decent but slightly flawed script.

More later...

Tony

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2017, 03:46:58 PM »
I enjoyed The Justice Machine. Grenadier must have also, because he has done meshes for them (although I don't know here they are these days).

Somewhere in a box I have the RPG...

Offline Deaths Jester

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2017, 04:55:50 PM »
I enjoyed The Justice Machine. Grenadier must have also, because he has done meshes for them (although I don't know here they are these days).

Somewhere in a box I have the RPG...

The meshes Gren made are here:

http://forceofparadox.byethost31.com/grenadier_two.html
Avatar picture originally a Brom painting entitled Marionette.

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2017, 05:26:48 AM »
To be fair,even the thread about Marvel and DC comics kinda died.
Anyhow,Im still following a few Valiant titles,if it counts.
And if you count Airboy as a superhero,Im reading the Eclipse run by Truman and Dixon(and a few others).Great stuff.
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2017, 04:58:53 PM »
For awhile there, you could find all sorts of good stuff on the comics rack. Even if the output was uneven, a company like Comico, Innovation, or First would have a few comics that were really worth looking at.

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2017, 05:15:23 PM »
Speaking of which,wasn't First revived by/merged with Devil's Due?Also speaking of First,Grimjack is awesome.
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2017, 05:31:43 PM »
Trying to package up The Grinner for Alex. It has disappeared from the Yahoo Group it was in.

Was hoping that Dean might take a whack at Starslayer after the beautiful Warlord he did.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2017, 05:38:15 PM by daglob »

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2017, 12:19:30 AM »
Eclipse was a tremendous comic company, as was First. Both were not much for doing superheroes. First had the Badger, Arguably Nexus while Eclipse did a few like Black Terror revivals and more golden Age hero-types as well as That New Wave, Zot (Soctt McCloud) as well as more pulp-y heroes like Masked Man...and of course Moore's Miracleman. That may sound like Eclipse actually did put out a number of superhero titles but the above is a very slim fraction of their total catalog. Some of Eclipse's most notable titles were Tim Truman's Scout (Regular series, War Shaman and The Scout Handbook) and The Prowler (both mini series).

My next overview will be for some lesser known but very fun Eternity(Malibu)/Elite Comics heroes.


Dark Wolf

The character was visually conceived by F. Newton (aka "Butch" in the 1980s). An amateur artist who had originally done some decent fanzine stuff in the 1970s/early 1980s and may have inked someone else' pencil art on some title like Red Wolf or some such. Burcham was pretty limited as an artist but compared to a LOT of the artwork typically found in black and white comics in the 1980s his could range from 'acceptable' to 'Very nice'. The co-creatir of Dark Wolf was a local writer named R. A. Jones, who had previously written a regular review column for Amazing Heroes or one of those mags. Jones' writing was actually pretty decent overall.





The character Dark Wolf first appeared as "Night Wolf"(Which was a superhero title by Peter Krause (later would do art for Shazam) from Entropy Comics) in a full color story in the one shot Elite Presents (from Elite Comics Publishing) unlike the coloring on some of Elite's other titles the coloring on this story was pretty good overall and Burcham's art seldom looked as good as it did in this comic. Later when Elite folded (ending the titles Twilight Avenger, Epsilon Wave and Seadragon) Malibu picked up Dark Wolf and published a brand new 4 issue mini-series by Jones and Burcham (with assists from Mike Roberts), followed by a new regular series (both were black and white) by the same team. Aside from three guest cover art pieces by Dale Keown and Tim Vigil Burcham did all the penciling and probably a good deal of inking as well (he was an inker on several Elite Comics titles before this).

As for the character himself he is the combined spirits of two murdered lovers in Medieval Germany, one of which was some sort of Faerie queen or princess and the other a werewolf named 'Wulfgar'. And if you think that sounds a bit wonky Dark Wolf is a demonic spirit of vengeance who dwells within the body of Father Michael Tremaine (yes, a Catholic Priest) until released by the priest to save someone or exact justice upon some evil-doer. Visually the character looked (in it's Dark Wolf form) like a poor man's cross between Kirby's Demon (only with a purple cape and an overall darker color scheme with extremely lazy demonic ears (save for when Vigil did his cover for issue 13).
But what made the series work for me was that contrary to what one might think after my description the book was pure pulp-fiction era goodness most of the time. Two-fisted adventure with brief forays into Hammer Films-styled horror.

The Eternity series lasted 14 issues plus one Annual and had pretty well lost its way after about issue 10 or so by my recollection. Later on Burcham would publish two ash-can Dark Wolf comics and a Halloween special (all in black and white) by his company "Comax" but he tried to write them himself and threw away all of the continuity that R.A. Jones had established so Dark Wolf became a rather generic vigilante. He has recently published new "Darkwulf" (yes with that name change) stories both as short stories within anthology compilations and as new graphic novels via his Incarna Publishing.

My ratings/reccomendations:

The Elite one shot - A 7.75
The Malibu ltd. series (later collected in a single TPB) - A 6.5
The Eternity regular series - Overall a 7.75 - 8.0 Some very fun stories here and there and a brilliant character conception with Father Tremaine who is also a heart-hunting demonic spirit.
Comax and Incarna offerings - Overall a 5 and that is solely due to Burcham not being the worst artist to ever draw.


The Twilight Avenger

Created by John Wooley (writer) and Terry Tidwell (artist) this pulp superhero used a gas gun and magnesium light to battle foes ranging from mafia thugs to supernatural horrors.




Very much in the Doc Savage/Rocketeer model of hero and not any of the Shadow's dark vengeance or mystery really. The Twilight Avenger is actually Reece Chambers -a college football star with a commitment to his education- whose fiancee is put in a coma by criminal thugs. So naturally he turns to his fiancee's scientist father to develop the gas mask, gas and magnesium light gun and so forth and become the Twilight Avnger!

First published by Elite as a 3 issue mini series but the first issue was in color (not well colored), the second issue in black and white and the third issue would not be finished or published for almost ten years. It was inked by "Butch" Burcham but Tidwell's pencils were the real star here. Even back then -his first comic book work- you could tell he was an artist's artist.
Later on Eternity picked up the publishing rights and Wooley and Tidwell churned out 8 issues of a regular series that was tons of fun for us Pulp fans (though one can legitimately quibble about some of Wooley's scripting and a few of Tidwell's women look...not exactly like women from the era of pulp fiction.). At this time Apple comics published the first Miracle Squad mini-series by Wooley and Tidwell which I have come to like even better than TA (but that is another post) and then Eternity published the second Miracle Squad (both are a great homage to the 'B-movies' and serials of the first half of the twentieth century. But you have to actually know what the term 'B-movie' actually means and refers to...;)).

So of course the long awaited third chapter of the original TA mini-series was published by "Miracle Studios" (Tidwell and Wooley's new company) in the early to mid 1990s.
Lately http://pulp2ohpress.com/ has been publishing both Twilight Avenger and Miracle Squad TPB collections with tons of great extras for pretty cheap at Amazon.

My ratings/reccomendations:

The Elite 2 issues - I give this a 7.0 despite the bad coloring because I love pulp heroes and respect Wooley's knowledge and love for the genres he writes as well as Tidwell's art.

The Eternity regular series - I give an overall 8.5 because of the above reasons for the Elite run as well as the stories and art in this series were more enjoyable (Tidwell's art is especially impressive).

The Pulp2.0 collections - Two of them so far and they are HIGHLY reccommended. New cover art as well as interior pin-ups by various artists and a ton of great articles by John Wooley and Co. I give them a 9.25!
« Last Edit: June 11, 2017, 03:38:24 PM by SkeleTony »

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2017, 12:47:36 AM »
For awhile there, you could find all sorts of good stuff on the comics rack. Even if the output was uneven, a company like Comico, Innovation, or First would have a few comics that were really worth looking at.

Exactly. First comics I do not think ever published a bad book. Grim Jack(Ostrander and Truman), Nexus(Baron and Rude), Badger (Baron, Butler, Reinhold, and various others), John Sable: Freelance (Mike Grell), Chaykin's American Flagg..so much goodness.
Comico gave us a lot of really good stuff as well from The JM and Elementals to Matt Wagner's Grendel and Mage to a dozen others I am struggling to remember right now.

Innovation deserves a lot of credit for a handful of titles. The only attempted comic book adaptation of Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer (as the first of the Book of the New Sun series -widely considered the best speculative fiction written by an American) as well as publishing Hero Alliance and Power Factor (two books originally published by Wonder Color Comics and Pioneer Press that were VERY under-appreciated when first published).

Some other deserving companies who did not last more than a few years were Entropy (Peter Krause' Nightwolf and Tales from the Heart) and Power Comics (late 1970s - early 1980s) who gave us Nightwitch and Cobalt Blue (by Mike Gustovich. The series would later be published (as one shots?) by Innovation.

Aircel was another nice company (later bought by Malibu) who gave us legendary books like Samurai, Warlock 5, Dragonring (a pulp=y sci-fi adventure team book) and Dragonforce (The same characters from Dragonring but now with super powers and costumes. Written and drawn by Dale Keown).

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2017, 01:54:43 AM »
I enjoyed both Twilight Avenger and Miracle Squad. Power Factor and Hero Alliance deserve a lot more attention then they get, also.

I felt that the later books from First were not as good as the earlier ones. The original creators left, and, while the "new guys" might have been good, they lacked the passion of the first issues of Grimjack, American Flag, Jon Sable,  or Dynamo Joe (love to see him in Freedom Force).

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2017, 05:10:45 AM »
And I thought Im the only one here who read Grendel. :)
Also,good news everyone,Mage will be back this year.
Miracleman Silver age was also supposed to happen,but I guess things got complicated.
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2017, 03:32:22 PM »
I enjoyed both Twilight Avenger and Miracle Squad. Power Factor and Hero Alliance deserve a lot more attention then they get, also.

I felt that the later books from First were not as good as the earlier ones. The original creators left, and, while the "new guys" might have been good, they lacked the passion of the first issues of Grimjack, American Flag, Jon Sable,  or Dynamo Joe (love to see him in Freedom Force).

Yeah I kind of stopped reading First's books about the time when Marv Wolfman was writing "Sable". I was never a big fan of Wolfman's writing before that on numerous DC titles and Grell can certainly be criticized as a writer sometimes but his overall storytelling is hard to beat most of the time. John Ostrander was and is one of the best writers in comics. When he left First and went (back to?) DC to write Manhunter that was the only time I cared about that particular character.

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2017, 03:46:16 PM »
And I thought Im the only one here who read Grendel. :)
Also,good news everyone,Mage will be back this year.
Miracleman Silver age was also supposed to happen,but I guess things got complicated.

I have one issue (#3 I think) of the original Grendel series (black and white by Matt Wagner and featuring a different, male character) but I did not like it much. The later color series though was pretty good.

I am confused about the whole Miracleman thing now. Didn't Marvel buy up the rights and re-release some of Moore's stories as "Marvelman" GN? Of course Marvelman was the original name for the character which despite being around long before there was a Marvel comics they were forced to change to 'Miracleman' because of the whole legal mess Marvel created with the Captain Marvel/Shazam/Marvelman nonsense but I always worry when Marvel gets the rights to ANY good characters (see the Ultraverse line).

Back to rambling about indie superheroes...


The Badger

Created by Mike Baron and Jeff Butler and originally published by Capitol comics in the 1980s, the Badger was the story of a Viet Nam veteran who suffers from multiple personality disorder (having like 9+ personalities IIRC). One of those personalities is Norbert Sykes, a master of several martial arts styles who frequently dons a costume and mask and patrols the streets as 'The Badger' -a vigilante. In the first issue (IIRC) Sykes is locked up in a mental hospital after beating several street hoodlums severely where he meets Ham, a guy who is locked up because (as the authorities see it) he believes he is a Celtic druid with magic powers. Ham it turns out IS an ancient druid and uses his powers to get Badger and himself free and very wealthy.
From that point Badger and Ham have a long running (like 70 issues for First Comics) series of adventures. Drawn by Jeff Butler for the first 4 issues then by Bill Reinhold for the next 20-something issues (then by various artists ranging from Ron Lim for many issues to the Pander bros. (Grendel etc.) and Tim Vigil etc. Of note is Jeff Dee inking a few issues (5 and 6 IIRC) for reinhold as they had both also worked on Justice Machine.

Badger was an enormously funny series most of the time but was also really good for straight up action and occasional drama. If you are going to read one issue I would recommend the "What Are You A Lawyer?!" issue (#29?)by Baron and Eric Shanower (the Oz graphic novels for First).





Of note is that the Badger often changed the coloring of his costume depending on the mission. In artic weather he wore a white and light blue colored costume and in more sylvan environs he wore a camouflage suit.

After First quit publishing Dark Horse picked the Badger up for a limited series or two and  most recently IDW has published one or two limited series and a TPB IIRC. I still have not read the IDW stuff.
Overall I give the Badger (primarily the First comics run) a solid 9.0 because the scripting was excellent (contrary to what baron did on The Punisher which was horrible IMO) and the art mostly superb.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2017, 05:51:28 PM by SkeleTony »

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2017, 04:20:53 PM »
There have been several Grendel.That's kinda the whole point.I assume you have a Hunter Rose issue.
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2017, 05:49:11 PM »
There have been several Grendel.That's kinda the whole point.I assume you have a Hunter Rose issue.

I know. I was mentioning the Hunter Rose issue I have as more of a collector's/historical note. :D

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #15 on: June 12, 2017, 05:03:00 PM »
With the whole trend of R-rated comic book movies,I wonder if somebody will pick up Grendel in the future.Its incredibly film-able,actually.
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #16 on: June 12, 2017, 06:48:37 PM »
Yo, Larry.

Offline HarryTrotter

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #17 on: June 12, 2017, 07:09:23 PM »
Thats either a reference to Hunters assistant or to the story Grendel by Larry Niven.
Man,google doesnt get your references. :)
''Even our origin stories have gone sour.''
Jon Farmer

Offline daglob

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #18 on: June 12, 2017, 08:50:02 PM »
It's a reference to The Badger.

Offline SkeleTony

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Re: Independent Superhero comics
« Reply #19 on: June 13, 2017, 01:12:14 AM »
It's a reference to The Badger.

I got it (of course). :thumbup: