There’s more to superheroes than those residing at Marvel and DC Comics. Sure, they might dominate the market, but that doesn’t mean they’re by default the best.
Outside the realms of the Big Two, superheroes are thriving on the more independently minded scene. From a mixture of throwback superheroics to off-beat adventures, and even some superheroes who are willing to go where DC and Marvel wouldn’t let their own properties, there’s a cornucopia out there for readers. And now, we’re spotlighting six standouts in that superhero mix in this week’s “Six by 6.”
Archer & Armstrong (Valiant): This longtime Valiant duo just got a second lease on life in the hands of Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry. Created by the inspired trio of Jim Shooter, Bob Layton and Barry Windsor-Smith, this odd couple has found its ideal writer in Van Lente, who pushes up the angst between the beer-swilling demigod Armstrong and the more sheltered Archer. The series mixes fervent religious cults with finding your own way, soaked in the near-trademark humor that made Van Lente one of Marvel’s best Spider-Man scribes in decades.
Black Beetle (Dark Horse): Not satisfied with being one of the best cover artists of the year, Francesco Francavilla brought his self-published pulp hero the Black Beetle to the big time when he partnered with Dark Horse. First appearing in Dark Horse Presents, Black Beetle has since gone on to star in his own miniseries, subtitled No Way Out. Francavilla is mixing his love for murky crime drama with superheroes in the vein of the Shadow and the Phantom, bringing us a throwback story that’s less pastiche and more period piece inside Francavilla’s mythical Colt City.
Hellboy (Dark Horse): The prodigal son of Hell has become Dark Horse’s flagship character, but if you’d ask Hellboy about it he really couldn’t care less. Created in 1994 by Mike Mignola, Hellboy has spawned his own franchise, with one ongoing series (Hellboy in Hell) and a variety of spinoff titles from his former employer B.P.R.D. and friend Abe Sapien. With Mignola back writing and drawing a regular Hellboy title, 2013 is the best time in years to be a fan of the big man with the red right hand of doom.
Invincible (Image): He’s everything Marvel and DC wouldn’t do with their heroes, and everything comic readers wish they would. Created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker years before they’d become household names in comics, Invincible has taken the superhero ball and run with it — ably assisted by current series artist Ryan Ottley. From gut-exploding punches to rather frank talk about superheroes and sex, Kirkman and Co. have created the most authentic teen hero that comics have ever seen.
The Rocketeer (IDW): Dave Stevens struck gold when he created the helmeted aviation-inspired hero the Rocketeer. But after the artist’s death, fans worried we’d never see a new story of the Rocketeer and his alter-ego, stunt pilot Cliff Secord. But IDW Publishing and Scott Dunbier worked with the Stevens family and some of comics greats to produce two hit anthology series and are now doing series of miniseries featuring the likes of Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Roger Langridge and J. Bone. Channeling the pulpy goodness of Stevens’ run, these standalone stories are unburdened by concerns about the next crossover or some impending movie, but instead focus doing great comics for the sake of great comics.
Savage Dragon (Image): Erik Larsen’s childhood hero the Savage Dragon has become comics longest-running superhero series without a major creator shift or renumbering, but all that is marketing hoo-ha because the story inside is great — no matter what number is on the cover. Despite his alien-looking appearance, Larsen’s creation is a real blue-collar hero who gets mixed up in all manner of adventures ranging from subterranean sewer fights to space-based battles that gets those Kirby dots crackling. By truly taking advantage of the near-limitless story potential comics can afford, Larsen’s used his drawing hand and his storytelling mind to really create an unadulterated fun read month in and month out.