Some of the best comics out there, you may never read.
It's a sad but true fact that in an industry where countless works of imagination have been created, some of the highest quality material will inevitably slip through the cracks. Not every comic can be Spider-Man or X-Men, but they're all somebody's favorite, and, sometimes, they end up becoming cult classics in their own right.
This week, we polled various Marvel creators to find out some of their favorite underappreciated diamonds in the rough.
It's Friday, so kick back, relax and enjoy.
FRED VAN LENTE (co-writer of INCREDIBLE HERCULES):
The ultimate cult classic would have to be Dwayne McDuffie's two DAMAGE CONTROL minis, which were pitch-perfect sitcoms set in the Marvel Universe.
KAARE ANDREWS (writer/artist of SPIDER-MAN: REIGN):
The original cult classic and most possibly [one of] the greatest stories Marvel has every published would be the original NICK FURY: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. written and illustrated by Jim Steranko in the 60s! Wow
! Stumbled across that stuff in a reprint when I was a kid and my head exploded. How does someone with so little output affect the world of comics and creators so much? Steranko is the man
. Nick Fury is the man
. Weird, funky, sexy, noir, cool, adult—ahead of it's time for sure.
MIKE CAREY (writer of X-MEN: LEGACY):
I'm a huge fan of STARSTRUCK—a very short-lived comic from Marvel's Epic line in the 80s. It was a really genre-defining science fiction title, with a cast of thousands and enough ideas to fill a dozen novels. It had a very uncompromising approach to storytelling, throwing the reader in at the deep end by showing characters interacting in a world that's initially very puzzling and disorienting. You had to piece the rules and the backstory together for yourself as the series went on. It also spanned a huge emotional range, from broad comedy to
high epic. Tragically, it only lasted for six issues, but it had a huge impact on me, to the point where I once wrote a novel called "Dazzle" which was nine-tenths ripped off from it. I still take those six issues out every once in a while, dust them off, and enjoy them all over again.
REGINALD HUDLIN (writer of BLACK PANTHER):
Adam Warlock, the Jim Starlin years. Loved it then, love it now.
SKOTTIE YOUNG (upcoming writer/artist of X-MEN: MANIFEST DESTINY):
NEXTWAVE is the first thing that comes to mind. I wish more books like that lasted longer. Strange and fun stories with the most beautiful art on the planet. It's a crime that titles like NEXTWAVE don't get the support they deserve and tend to get a little hidden under the big events.
And where the hell is my GENERATION X collection? I go to the shop and see Ultimate Super Deluxe Transforming Holographic Voice Activated Omnibus Hardcover editions of just about everything
yet I still can't buy a collected version of my favorite Marvel comic. I wonder if that's not a cult book. It was a huge seller at the beginning but I think the only the hardcore fans stayed around till the end. Give me my trade!!!
LARRY STROMAN (upcoming artist of X-FACTOR):
My cult classics are SUPER BOXERS by Ron Wilson, HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT [by Peter] David [and George] Perez and SILVER SURFER: PARABLE [by Stan] Lee [and] Moebius. I've looked at these books so many times I had to throw them away. There was so much lead, ink, and paint on them I had to throw them away. I'm going to buy them again. I still haven't figured out why I like these books so much. These images won't leave my head...like Paste Pot Pete, the Black Musketeers and Devil Dinosaur.
BOB GALE (writer of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN):
I always liked Steve Gerber's FOOLKILLER. It was absolutely warped! The idea that Marvel would put out a series where the title character was basically insane was totally refreshing, and I'll admit that the character did a few things that I would have liked to do myself. This is closely followed by Robert Kirkman's recent IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN series. These are
series where the motto is "with great power comes great irresponsibility." Normally, these characters would be villains in other series—as Foolkiller originally was—so hats off to Marvel for rolling the dice on these!
REILLY BROWN (artist of CABLE & DEADPOOL):
I think CABLE & DEADPOOL was clearly the greatest comic ever made. But I might be biased.
KEVIN GREVIOUX (writer of NEW WARRIORS):
For me it's a three-way tossup between IRON FIST, JUNGLE ACTION and NOVA as the best Marvel cult classic. I say IRON FIST because of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. One of the best writer/artist teams in Marvel history. They created a cool character that was much more than just a Kung Fu rip-off. JUNGLE ACTION because along with [artist] Billy Graham, [writer] Don McGregor wrote the absolute best Black Panther story I've ever
read. They were the first ones to really get inside of the Panther's head and make him cool. And lastly, Nova was one of the most intriguing young Marvel characters to come out of the 70s and he's still at it today.
ANDY SCHMIDT (writer of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS):
If the original X-MEN counts, I'd go with that. It was canceled at one point but those older stories are pretty great! And there's a lot of weird stuff in there too—like when Professor X had a thing for Jean Grey. Just weird and creepy. But aside from those strange bits, there's a lot of classic material in there, especially later in the run like when Neal Adams came on board. The first Sentinels story, the first Magneto story, and of course the Living Monolith, perhaps my favorite villain of all time!
JEFF PARKER (writer of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS):
Books that become cult hits are true indicators of the gestalt of readers, to me. They hook their readership without outside influence and sales pushes. And anything that's a cult can become a full-sized religion! Ones that leap to mind at the moment are HOWARD THE DUCK and
TOMB OF DRACULA, both places where you would see the creators indulging themselves and creating wildly entertaining art and stories.
TOM DEFALCO (writer of AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL):
I have the honor and privilege of working on a cult classic called [AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL]. The character was originally conceived for a one-shot story in WHAT IF? v2 #105, but the fans demanded more. She was given a title with the understanding that it would only run 12 issues, but the fans demanded more. Marvel decided to give it six more issues, and then six more, and so on and so on. Thanks to the support of the fans, I've already written over 120 issues of SPIDER-GIRL [and AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL]. And we're still chugging along.
CHRISTOS GAGE (co-writer of AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE):
Well, you know I'm going to say DEVIL DINOSAUR. So I won't even try to be clever.
ALEKSI BRICLOT (cover artist of NEW AVENGERS):
As an artist, and talking about cult Marvel comics, I would say that the NEW MUTANTS SPECIAL EDITION written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Art Adams had a big impact on me. The pages were filled with so [many] characters and details! The mix between the cool Asgard mythology and these young mutants made it immediately a hit for me. There was this epic and fantastic scope balanced with the usual adolescent problems which I could probably refer to at this time. The art was something I'd never seen before and I can easily remember spending hours and hours sketching these characters after.
WILLIAM MESSNER-LOEBS (former writer of THOR):
You know, the comic I really loved was LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE. Now every black fan I've ever mentioned this to has winced, just at the name, and I do understand why. He was nearly the only black hero at the time, and he lived in the ghetto, spoke with a thick—and not always consistent—accent, was an ex-con and only fought evil if you paid him. Fair enough, but if a poor man ever got super-powers, he would probably get them via a
government experiment in prison, given the rising percentage of the poor behind bars. And he would
have to charge to survive. It's a strange fact that in capitalist popular culture, no one can be a hero and charge for his services. And this in spite of the fact that the real
heroes in our culture, the police, fire-fighters, soldiers, doctors and teachers, oh, and cartoonists, are all on salary. However, if a hero even tries to be paid, like Spider-Man, he is relentlessly punished. But Luke Cage seemed to go through what a guy would go through if he had super powers and tried to set up shop, without a butler and a foundation to back him up.
KARL KESEL (upcoming writer of MARVEL APES):
I have always had an irrational fondness for SKULL THE SLAYER, an early 1970s book that had, like, five different creative teams in its seven issue run, with each team stubbornly taking the book in their own direction and ignoring or contradicting whatever came before them that they didn't like. This easily made it Marvel's most schizophrenic and inconsistent book of all time! But despite
that, I always loved the fact that its main character was intentionally unlikeable
! I was—and still am—fascinated by the idea that someone could do admirable things without being someone you would actually admire. Almost as interesting—and certainly more eerily freaky—is how, 30 years later, the basic premise of SKULL THE SLAYER is unnervingly similar to the premise of the hit TV show "LOST!" Makes you wonder what ["LOST" creator] J.J. [Abrams] was reading back in the day...
PAUL CORNELL (writer of CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI: 13):
My favorite run of underappreciated stuff, and this is coming from someone who regularly saw their favorite Marvel comics cancelled as a kid, might be either the Pat Broderick's CAPTAIN MARVEL, finished up in [MARVEL SPOTLIGHT], or maybe Tom DeFalco and Steve Ditko's run on MACHINE MAN. He fought fun, straightforward villains, had an engineer friend who was good fun, and the whole thing played to Ditko's simple mastery. And there was a sense of glee about the whole thing. The last issue had "Complete your collection special!" on the cover.
DAVID AJA (artist of IMMORTAL IRON FIST):
Definitively the 70s were the time when a bunch of amazing cult series came out.
Some great characters like Moon Knight or Iron Fist were created, but let's go with some of those comics were not so popular, here are my picks:
DEATHLOK by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench, Steve Gerber's OMEGA THE UNKNOWN and, of course, his HOWARD THE DUCK.
Honorable mention to The Human Fly—because he is real!—one of the most bizarre comics ever published.
TOM BREVOORT (Marvel Executive Editor):
The 90s were, overall, a terrible time for comics. While sales were way up across the boards, leading to more companies doing more books, and there were definitely some gems scattered throughout, overall it was a decade of crummy, crappy, miserable-looking comic books. People who were in no way ready to be producing professional work—myself included—were given titles to write and draw, simply because there wasn't enough talent to go around.
But among all this crap there was the occasional book that was so crappy that it was actually entertaining—far more so than the more typical mediocre material it was sharing the stands with. RAVAGE 2099 was one such title. Launched by Stan Lee and Paul Ryan as part of the 2099 "futureverse," Ravage was about Paul-Phillip Ravage, the ironically-named C.E.O. of a corporation dedicated to cleaning up the toxic environment of the future. But after he learned that, unbeknownst to him, his outfit was actually polluting the world, he put his desk job behind him, started speaking like Sgt. Fury for no discernable reason, and began a one-man two-fisted war to save the environment. With guns.
The most memorable scene in RAVAGE 2099, and one that completely sums up the unique appeal of the book for me, happened in issue #2. It starts with Ravage tooling down the road in his vintage twentieth century garbage truck—he found it abandoned in a junk yard, apparently in perfect working order, a full tank of gas and the keys in the ignition—and adopted it as his mobile base of operations because, "it's got more power than that plastic crap they make today!" So Ravage is tooling along at maybe 30, 35 miles an hour, eluding the cops who are scouring the city to find him—since he's been framed as a criminal—and
who can't seem to locate a big, hulking piece of green metal slowly wending its way through the city streets. As he drives, Ravage muses to himself that he's going to need an edge, something to level the playing field, since he's just one man against a whole army of guys with futuristic weapons. As luck would have it, at that very moment he happens to be passing by a gun shop, and in the window there's a display for "Ultimate Kevlar!" This one-of-a-kind item is so unique and valuable that the proprietor has chosen to put the only existing sample of the stuff in his shop window. "That's it!" says Ravage, who then makes quick work of the wrought-iron bars that are the window's only security system—this being the future and all—and makes off with the one-of-a kind Kevlar. As he makes his way back to his truck, Ravage muses that "This'll make me impervious to all of their lasers and guns and knives." The next panel shows Ravage sewing the Kevlar into the lining of his vest, with a simple needle and thread easily penetrating the stuff—so Ravage is completely bulletproof unless somebody comes at him with a needle...
Eventually, after seven or eight issues, the creative team changed, and in attempting to make the series more realistic and dramatic, every last inch of life was completely drained out of it—Ravage became a dull beast-man who fought other dull monsters in dreary adventures. But those initial seven issues are incredibly entertaining, if you're in the right frame of mind.