Glow-In-The-Dark, Holofoil, Chromium and Die-Cut – Comics In The Nineties Weren’t All Bad – Marvel Knights

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MKLogoThe nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches.

For as many reasons as there are to speak in hushed tones when referring to comics in that rather fateful decade, there are many more reasons to shout at the sky in praise. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.

The Marvel Knights imprint.

Marvel Knights explored more mature themes intended for teens and older readers, and was the place where creators had more freedom with Marvels characters, to think outside the box. Begun in 1998 when Marvel farmed out four titles to Joe Quesada’s Event Comics, where they would hire the creators, and Marvel would publish the end product, to varying degrees of success.

BlackPantherThe first four titles would be Daredevil, Black Panther, The Punisher, and The Inhumans.

The Black Panther series, written by Christopher Priest, with art by Mark Texeira, was a modernized take on the character. With an extended cast of characters, and an expanded Wakandan world, this series treated the Black Panther with the respect he deserved, and was revered by many fans. Priest and Texeira built a world never before seen in Black Panther, with a rich culture all its own, one that felt real and worked perfectly for the title and character.

This is the series that gave us the Black Panther we have today, the powerful king of Wakanda, a regal leader of millions, member of the Illuminati, able to go toe-to-toe with many of Marvel’s other heroes. This was a hero that nobody seemed to know what to do with, treated in a way that made him relevant, expanding the character’s scope and back-story, and brought up from the z-list to the b-list. This take on the character is still fondly remembered by many fans.

PunisherPurgatoryThis one? Not so much. The four issue Punisher: Purgatory series is mostly forgotten, and rightly so. Hell, I think the Punisher’s unlikely crossover with perpetual teen Archie Andrews is more well regarded. After the major success of the character throughout much of the 80s, the Punisher’s popularity had waned. So what did Marvel do? They changed pretty much everything about him that fans loved. Here’s the basic gist of this troubled storyline – after Frank Castle’s suicide, a possessed Punisher continues his works, against mostly supernatural elements. The only thing this series had going for it was the always gorgeous artwork of veteran horror comic artist Bernie Wrightson.

This series proved, once again, that the best Punisher stories are gritty street level vigilante tales, something that creators occasionally forget, but it always comes back to this, no matter what changes are made to the character. Luckily, there have been other, more grounded Marvel Knights Punisher stories in later years, most of them penned by Garth Ennis.

DDThe two biggest and best titles in that original launch were easily Daredevil and The Inhumans. Daredevil was, again, a lower tier character, one who hadn’t been relevant in many years. So, what do you do to get the armored Daredevil taste out of fandom’s mouth? Rinse with Kevin Smith, and repeat if necessary.

Kevin Smith, along with artist Joe Quesada, brought Matthew Murdoch and his alter-ego back to the streets, and rooftops, of the Miller era, and it was fantastic. The Guardian Devil arc put Daredevil back on the map. This was how you do a proper story with ole’ Horn Head. Smith brought Murdoch’s Catholicism to the fore, and dealt with the dark side of having an alter-ego, and what it truly means to put on a mask every night.

This series was a bonafide hit, and after Smith revitalized the Man Without Fear for a new generation, Brian Michael Bendis took over and brought the series to even greater heights, and Ed Brubaker continued in that greatness. Daredevil has been a fan-favorite ever since, with another hit series just starting up, but this storyline was the one that made it all possible. Even the polarizing 2003 film starring Mr. Batman himself, Ben Affleck, owes most of its themes and imagery to this story. Just watch the opening scene, with DD on the rooftop, ripped directly from Smith and Quesada’s Guardian Devil.

InhumansAnother series that changed the way we looked at familiar characters was The Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. This series took a whole cast of characters that hadn’t been used to their potential, and made them not only relevant, but really cool. Paul Jenkins’ script humanized them, making these strange men and women more relatable than they had ever been,and told a brilliant, sweeping epic at the same time!

These twelve issues were like a Shakespearean odyssey, or Mafia crime drama, but with superpowers! Jenkins brought in a family dynamic that hadn’t been seen before, and expanded on all aspects of the Inhumans’ culture and way of life, all while showing that no matter how they exile themselves problems will always find a way to them. This series did the same for Black Bolt that Priest’s did for T’Challa, legitimizing him, and making him a force to be reckoned with.

MarvelKnightsThese were not the only great Marvel Knights comics, as they continued for many years to try and bring lesser known or underused characters to the forefront, such as Cloak & Dagger, Dr. Strange, Man-Thing, and Black Widow amongst others. Not always successful, but the effort was great nonetheless, as many of these heroes do deserve the limelight, with the right creative team, and many have become fan-favorites due to these noble attempts.

According to Joe Quesada “Marvel Knights is the showcase for ‘evergreen events’ — self-contained limited series that think outside the box, that challenge readers to re-think their favorite Marvel characters and re-evaluate the legends that surround them. In other words, Marvel Knights will be a place for top talent to work without constraints, and deliver the kind of product fans deserve!”

The imprint has been a part of Marvel proper since being folded back in in 2006, and is now a place for mini-series exploring more mature themes aimed at teens and older readers. So not much has changed. The imprint is still occasionally putting out some fantastic limited series, mostly out of continuity tales, including Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic’s Loki, Kaare Andrews’ Spider-Man: Reign, and Fury: Peacemaker by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson. But it all started in 1998, and the first four titles to get the Marvel Knights treatment, and one more reason it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.

 

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