10 Criminally Underrated Marvel Comics You Must Read –
According to the Official Index To the Marvel Universe, since its time as Timely Comics, Marvel Comics has published over 32,000 titles, and there’s bound to be at least a thousand more in the past ten years since that’ve been published.
Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, Spider-man: Blue, the original Secret Wars, X-Men: God Loves Man Kills and the acclaimed work of Chris Claremont on the X-Men franchise overall are all universally agreed upon to be some of the finest stories to have come from the House of Ideas, but when those are spaced around hundreds of other issues and releases, stuff tends to get overlooked.
The point is that the numbers game is always working against readership. It is a hard truth, but one that means that everyone has their own “pet books”, the titles that, while not initially well-received, have developed something of a cult following in the years since they were originally published.
10. Damage Control
Damage Control is just awesome. Created by the the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, these three limited series were the equivalent of having The Office set in the Marvel Universe.
As a construction company that specialized in the collateral property damage of superhero activity, this concept was brilliantly lighthearted, without ever reaching that point of zaniness that would hinder the story being told. With controlling stocks being held by Tony Stark and Wilson Fisk, Hercules needing to work for them as community service after a drunken rampage and the hilarity of needing to confront Doctor Doom for unpaid bills, this slice of corporate life made for a unique look at the 616 universe. This also led to several guest appearances in other books, and even having a prominent role in massive events like Civil War and World War Hulk.
Damage Control is a special case when it comes to being underrated. Since its creation in 1988, the company has become a fixture of Marvel canon, even acting as an inciting factor for Vulture’s turn to evil in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as having a building in the Spider-man PS4 game. Yet, for one reason or another, the three limited series’ themselves are rarely – if ever – brought up in conversation.
9. John Byrne’s Alpha Flight
Of the many things Canada is known for, not many know that they had their own superteam for a time. Exploding from the pages of Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Alpha Flight was originally introduced as a government-run team sent to capture Wolverine, but became something more.
John Byrne pulls double-duty as both the writer and artist for the ongoing series, which actually starts by disbanding the team just to reform them without the government involvement. One of the greatest strengths of this book is that John Byrne knew the material. He’s a British-born American, but he was raised in Canada and that understanding of the setting brought about a unique feel to the characters, such as Shaman being from the First Nations or the dwarf acrobat, Puck.
Tack that all under an almost Lovecraftian overarching storyline about the Great Beasts, and the end result is one gripping read.
The title is known by enough people that there’s been numerous attempts at a relaunch, but the comic that started it all remains criminally underrated.
On average, titles aimed towards a teen demographic have a hard time hitting the target, especially relaunches of former comics in name only. When a 50-something writer tries to be young and hip, it usually comes off as that clip from 30 Rock of Steve Buscemi going “how do you do, fellow children.”, but with a veteran like Mark Waid, then it’s a safe bet it’ll be a bullseye.
Reeling from the major event Civil War II, Kamala Khan leaves the Avengers and founds a new team of heroes with Nova, Spider-man (Miles Morales) and a couple of Marvel’s other top-selling teens. The titular Champions are not just another Avengers clone either, as their mission statement is about living up to the ideals of superheroism and bringing justice to people, more-so than embarking on the grand heroics of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
When Champions launched, it got the standard positive reviews from major outlets, but audiences were fairly split by the context of teen heroes teaming up to tackle injustices, all while becoming a trending hashtag. It is the title’s divisive aspects that make it such an underrated read though, and one Marvel fans in particular should seek out.
7. All-New X-Men (2015)
One of the most divisive events since the Disney buyout of Marvel (or Maus-vel as some fans have dubbed it), was the Avengers Vs. X-Men event, which occurred in 2012. It pretty much started the downward spiral of Cyclops and seemed to be the means to justify an X-Men downgrade in order to push the Inhumans.
That same year, the original five X-Men were brought forward from their time in the 1960s to really hammer home that there didn’t seem to be forward movement with the X-books. Skipping a ten-page rant on the whole situation, evil X-Face Cyclops is killed off in the massive retcon event, Secret Wars, but now young and hip Cyclops exists in a world where people know him as the new Magneto.
While there was a solo Cyclops series that came out to try and rectify this character bit, it wasn’t until Dennis Hopeless’ All-New X-Men that it was properly handled. A mutant gang known as The Ghosts of Cyclops are causing mayhem while pretending to know all about Cyclops. This annoys young Scott Summers and it becomes a battle of ideologies, self-forgiveness and even some humor that it finally allowed for the storyline to reach a new stage, and for the character to move forward.
This first storyline for the book really focuses on Cyclops to overcome a built-in hurdle with the character before utilizing the full team dynamic – in the process creating a thoroughly underrated X-title.
6. Rick Remender’s Venom
Venom is one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, rivalling that of Spider-man himself. Rick Remender is one of comics’ most iconic creators, becoming a community-known name with both indie hits and solid runs in the mainstream. Combining the two, then, could only lead to good things.
Flash Thompson, yes that Flash Thompson, is an injured war hero who chooses to wear the alien symbiote to become a super-powered wetwork operative for the US government. Agent Venom, as this pairing is known, is as action-packed as the premise would dictate, even bringing in some old school Spidey villains like Jack O’Lantern and the Crime Master for good measure.
The real heart of this series isn’t the entertaining black ops bit, however. No, the real strength that comes from this book is Flash Thompson as Agent Venom. Flash is a Spidey fanboy, with that influence leading to heroic acts during the Iraq War that would eventually leave him a legless, and the symbiote is the same long-tongued, brain-eating Spider-hater which meshes onto this odd couple feeling.
The military industrial complex, Flash Thompson getting a spotlight, and even the symbiote having some special moments – all come together to create one of the most underrated Marvel stories of the last decade.
5. Alan Moore And Alan Davis’ Captain Britain
Alan Moore is one of the big names of comics who’s best known for being a bit eccentric. Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are considered literally the best that comic books has to offer, but something rarely talked about is the short time he worked for Marvel Comics.
The specific arc for the Captain Britain character that is really underrated is the Jasper’s Warp arc. Put simply, the plot revolves around Captain Britain needing to stop the Mad Jim Jaspers from remaking the universe in his own image.
Backed with brilliant artwork by Alan Davis, this universe-hopping insanity has all the hallmarks that would exemplify Moore’s storytelling acumen in his more popular later years.
4. Punisher: Born
The MAX Imprint was a way for Marvel to tell mature stories without having to worry about the overall intricacies of the publisher’s mainstream, 616 continuity. This imprint worked well to revitalize interest in characters such as Black Widow and Nick Fury, but no hero really stuck to the imprint as well as the gun-toting vigilante the Punisher.
Garth Ennis’ run with the character in the mid-2000s is considered one of the best runs for the character. It was during this time that a little miniseries called Born was released.
Born is a four-part miniseries that sets up Frank Castle’s last tour of service during the Vietnam War, but rather than seeing it from his perspective, it is from the eyes of Stevie Goodwin – a private under the command of the tough as nails Captain Castle. This book specifically chronicles the last four days before the Firebase Valley Forge Massacre.
The spectacular characterization of Frank Castle as a man who is in love with war carries this book to being a must read for both fans of military comics and of superheroes more generally. Perhaps more important, however, is how it reappraises the character of Frank Castle altogether, and poses a haunting question of whether or not he ever truly returned from Vietnam.
3. Scarlet Spider (Vol. 2)
There is an unwritten rule for Spider-man fans: never talk about the Clone Saga in a serious light.
A two-year story that saw Peter Parker replaced as Spider-man for a little bit, everyone’s a clone, Aunt May dies, and by the end, literally nothing is solved and readers just wasted money, The Clone Saga id considered one of the biggest flops of the nineties, and for Spidey more specifically. So, when a title named after the most popular clone and starring the original genetic clone was released, curiosity, and a hefty dose of mockery from the series’ most vocal detractors, was to be expected.
Kaine Parker, no longer looking as hideous as he had for most of his life, tries fleeing to Mexico but becomes the superhero of Houston, Texas, and ends up battling cartels, the Roxxon Energy Corporation, Kraven the Hunter’s daughters, werewolves, and even teaming up with a Mexican demigod called herself Hummingbird.
It was a weird book, to put it mildly, but Christopher Yost hit a home run as he was given a full creative license to tell the story he wanted to.
Why is this book so underrated? It came at a time when people were unsure of what was going on with the Spider-Man franchise, with Doctor Octopus taking control of Peter Parker’s mind for a long time. Still, that was no reason to write off this iteration of Scarlet Spider, which boasted a great new costume and a compelling reimagining of one of the nineties’ most derided story-arcs.
2. Squadron Supreme
The Squadron Supreme miniseries from 1985 is a fantastic example of how writing in the decade was as the Bronze Age hit its peak.
Squadron Supreme is about a group like the Justice League (who the Squadron Supreme are modelled after), deciding to brainwash the world and become the rulers of the planet, but some members disagree with this and a resistance forms. This was the eighties’ version of the awesome Injustice comics, except with not-Superman and not-Batman on opposing sides instead.
The miniseries sold well and did allow for the Squadro to really enter comic reader’s minds, but the same year the final issue of the comic came out, another book would launch that’d make everyone forget about it – Watchmen.
Similar to when Nirvana hit the music scene, Watchmen’s launch was a commercial and critical success that spelled certain doom for other titles of the era, including the now-neglected Squadron Supreme.
Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye was a mega-hit when it launched back in 2012, introducing new readers to the character and proving that he was so much more than his Avengers membership in doing so.
In 2014, Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto would do a similar thing with Black Widow, taking a look at her off-time as a mercenary who only targets bad guys to atone for her past sins. It too is underrated and overshadowed by the Mark Waid and Chris Samnee series that released two years later, but before all that, there was this wondrous story that ran between the Hawkeye & Mockingbird book and the then-ongoing Black Widow solo series between 2010 and 2011.
The story is almost a basic globe-trotting action-adventure, teaming up Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Dominic Fortune and Black Widow on a mission to stop an evil organization run by a new Ronin, one of the old monikers Hawkeye had, who also happens to be someone important from Black Widow’s past.
What makes the book so compelling is that it works both as a stand-alone feature and as a story that revels in previous continuity. It delves deep into the past of the series’ leads, has plenty of charm and, between Jim McCann and Duane Swierczynski handling writing duties, the story is superb.