Debuting in 2001, Marvel’s MAX line was an attempt to draw a clear line between its vaguely older-teen comics and distinctly “adult” titles featuring some of the well, edgier, characters from its library. The imprint largely excelled at that, with the flagship Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, and Garth Ennis’ takes on Nick Fury and the Punisher. However, in recent years it’s become a shadow of its former self, existing solely to carry Ennis’ recent return to Fury, and the noble but ill-fitting Wolverine MAX. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a revival.
In today’s Six by 6, I look at six characters that straddle the fence separating “popular” from “popular enough to carry their own series in the long-term” that would do well to take a trip to the MAX line. Some are no-brainers, while others might surprise you.
He’s had two movies and almost a dozen attempts at an ongoing series, but the motorcycle-riding Spirit of Vengeance has had a bumpy ride when it comes maintaining a title. He’s popular enough, no doubt — everyone from ardent comic fans to tattoo-clad bikers know who this one-time Midnight Son is — but for one reason or another he’s seldom been able to translate that into long-term success. Maybe it’s the magical element to his story, or perhaps it’s because a Ghost Rider toy line could never be seen in the hands of a 6-year-old. Whatever thre reason, maybe Marvel should stop shoving a Ghost Rider-shaped peg into a X-Men-shaped hole and instead embrace the differences — and the possibilities — a Ghost Rider series would be in an “adults only” environment.
Imagine a Ghost Rider MAX book barreling down the road of biker bad-asses tread by the successful Sons of Anarchy, taking one of the various men or women who’ve been called Ghost Rider and casting their die squarely in the dark side. In recent years the best take on the Spirit of Vengeance has been by Jason Aaron, but even he was trapped by the superheroes around the character. This needs something fresh, by creators with an already well-known track record or a fresh new face with a killer pitch and something to prove.
Stephen Strange seems perpetually on the tongue of Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige in terms of characters he wants to see on the big screen, but there hasn’t been a modern definitive take on the character in decades. What this surgeon-turned-Sorcerer Supreme needs is an “Extremis”-style reboot a la Iron Man, taking the core of the character and updating it for the modern age. Magic’s a hard thing to adapt — be it in comics or movies — but if Harry Potter can do it, so can Marvel.
For many, Cable is the face of the excess of Marvel in the ’90s, but beneath that stereotyping lay an excellent character with an array of motivations. Although lately he’d played second fiddle to his adoptive daughter Hope and a reconstituted X-Force, a solo Cable MAX title could be a great place to do a smart, adult time-travel story a la Looper. Despite knowing his birth parents and where he is in his elder years, we’ve been privy to surprisingly little about Nathan Summers’ formative years. A Cable MAX book could potentially even be in-continuity to show him becoming the man he is today.
“If Brian Michael Bendis can’t make a Moon Knight series work, who can?” That’s the question my friend posed to me when I brought up my inclusion of him on this list, and I think that’s the wrong question. With no ill will toward Bendis, maybe he wasn’t the right guy for it? I love Alan Moore, but somehow I don’t see him delivering a great Spider-Man series. For Moon Knight, if you look back at his previous revivals and what spurred them on, you can see it’s not about finding the “best” creator, but the “right” creator. Much in the same way Mark Waid & Co. re-invented the way to tell a Daredevil story, someone needs to come along with the right idea to refresh Marc Spector without damaging his past, and doing it in the auspices of a Marvel MAX miniseries could be the perfect place. Hell, you could even dig out that old Universe X concept that Moon Knight was in fact inspired not by a mythological god named Khoshu but the moon-based Watcher, Uatu.
Unlike his Marvel counterparts on this list, the Hulk has been able to carry an ongoing series for most of his life — but of the top-tier characters his title’s been the one most frequently on life support. The recently revamped Indestructible Hulk series has played up the brainy side of Bruce Banner to great effect, but I could also see a Hulk MAX title co-existing with that and exploring his murkier Jekyll/Hyde dynamic as seen in his debut.
Has Reed Richards ever had his own series? Outside of a few minis and one-shots, no. But even though Fantastic Four seems primarily driven by his ideas dragging his friends and family along for the ride, I feel like Richards has a ton of untapped potential on his own. For too long Reed’s been type-cast in the role of “Dad” straight out of a 90s TGIF network comedy, but he can — and should — be much more than that. I’m not saying you necessarily have to turn him evil as in the Ultimate line, but there’s room in the framework laid out by Lee and Kirby on down to Fraction and Bagley to do some interesting storytelling of Reed Richards cutting loose on his own.