Avoiding the Big Three: 5 Great Comics Not By Marvel, DC, or Image

comics, marvel, DC, image, BPRD, Letter 44, Uber, The Black Hood, The Spire

There are plenty of comics out there, and even more from publishers you’ve probably never heard of. Why not give them a try?

If you’re tired of the same heroes and villains from Marvel, DC, and Image week after week, these series will spice up your comic-reader app or long box. From investigators to Nazis, here are five comics with plenty to keep you entertained.

B.P.R.D. (Dark horse comics)

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Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is considered one of the best comics around. Unfortunately, it overshadows its sister series B.P.R.D. Although it starts as side stories about an X Files-esque organisation, the book begins to focus on the personal toll that comes when your day job is stopping the apocalypse. Characters, even those who aren’t fishmen or pyrokinetic, feel real and are easy to sympathize with — sometimes detrimentally, considering the Game of Thrones-style body count. As events and casualties pile up, B.P.R.D. naturally evolves further to examine how humanity reacts as the world ends. As victories become fewer and the horrors of war are amplified, the series retains a sense of fun so often missing from comics covering the same subject matter. With a deep and engaging story, a large cast of interesting characters, actual consequences, and beautiful set pieces, it’s a wonder HBO, Netflix, or AMC hasn’t picked this one up yet.

If you want to start with the more recent stuff, try The Return of the Master, The Reign of the Black Flame, or Flesh and Stone. Otherwise, head back to the beginning and skip the first volume for Plague of Frogs.

Letter 44 (Oni Press)

comics, marvel, DC, image, BPRD, Letter 44, Uber, The Black Hood, The Spire

What if, upon taking office, Obama discovered that George W. Bush’s seemingly failed policies were a smokescreen to prepare the U.S. for a quickly approaching first encounter with extraterrestrials? Would he tell the world and incite mass panic, or stay the course to keep things under wraps until more was known about the aliens? These are just a few of the questions Charles Soule and Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque attempt to answer in their mashup of 2001: A Space Oddysey and House of Cards. With a focus on both the astronauts about to make contact and the people below, Letter 44 examines how our desire to do the right thing, especially when it comes to historical moments, can be tainted by our pride, prejudices, and feelings.

Start from the beginning with the first two trades. The third will release in early January 2016. Otherwise, back issues or Comixology are your best bet to catch up.

The Black Hood (Archie comics)

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Featuring the first use of “fuck” in publisher Archie Comics’ history, The Black Hood sets a very different tone. Instead of staying faithful to the original golden age series, this reboot chooses to do away with powers and mystical teachers, focusing on a Kickass-type story about what might bring an ordinary man to mask up and beat the shit out of drug dealers. While the premise might be more than a little Frank Miller-y in content, there’s a stylistic choice to confront the gritty darkness by setting the reader within the mind of the “hero.” This gives the opportunity to see for oneself how madness and addiction slowly take hold, despite the plot’s surprisingly breakneck speed. Although it’s completely devoid of anything related to the Riverdale crew, The Black Hood is a great addition to the publisher’s recent horror and reboot offerings.

The first trade will be out in January 2016. Until then, Comixology is your best bet to catch up to the just-beginning second arc.

Über (Avatar press)

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Told through history book narration, Über is a cold and clinical look at what could have happened in WWII had Germany achieved their dream of creating the superhuman “Übermensch.” With the war freshly ramped up to super-powered heights, the story becomes about the world-shattering choices people make. Unlike pretty much anything else out there, Über isn’t afraid to pull punches. While the book might follow a mix of historical and fictional characters on both sides of the conflict (yes, including Nazis), no one is glorified — a stark contrast to the notion that World War II could have been remotely glorious. Yet despite all the pain, misery, and reminders of the systematic prejudices of the era, Über is an engaging read, offering new twists without easy answers that so often come with the alternate history genre.

Über is currently on hiatus until sometime in 2016, so now is the perfect time to catch up on the first arc. Comixology has all the issues, although your wallet might breathe a sigh of relief if you choose to buy the currently up-to-date trades instead.

The Spire (Boom! Studios)

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The fact that The Spire is the spiritual successor to the 2014 masterpiece Six-Gun Gorilla is the only real reason you need to pick it up. Jeff Stockley’s absolutely gorgeous art, mixed with Simon Spurrier’s sharp witticisms, delivers a colorful steampunk noir that takes aim at some of humanity’s worst aspects. Set within the only remaining city after the end of the world, the story is a grown-up version of Adventure Time, featuring a grouchy long-lived lesbian genetically-constructed human-spider hybrid cop who’s investigating the murder of the royal family’s most treasured servant — and she’s not even the strangest character in the book. In fact, the entire world is populated by odd creations that not only freshen up the industrial fantasy genre, but also reveal lore solely through their design. In short, The Spire is odd, filthy, and easily worth following through its 8-issue run.

Due to its compressed nature, it’s best to read this one from the beginning. The first four issues are currently available on Comixology, and a trade paperback version will likely be coming out sometime in summer 2016.

Article by contributor Byron Letourneau-Duynstee.

2 thoughts on “Avoiding the Big Three: 5 Great Comics Not By Marvel, DC, or Image

  1. I can definitely get behind some Jeff Stokely working on the Spire. his tumblr is great! people are really loving this. So much that there are some tattoo photos circulating. X3 I’ve always been in love with BPRD side stories. They’re weirder, have more character, and are all around more fun than straight Hellboy adventures. is that blasphemous somehow? WHO CAAAAARESSS! they go on great adventures.

  2. Great article, I’ve been eyeing Uber for too long and I need to bite the bullet and get the trade. Also great summaries, you’ve really peaked my interest in Spire and Letter 44.

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