So right of the top of my head, I can think of four great reads for anyone interested in alternatives to the big name publishers. The drawback to some is that certain companies (Wildstorm Comics) have since been absorbed into one of the two bigger ones (DC). This is sort of a double edged sword – on one hand, they get a wider circulation and are easier to get a hold of. On the other hand, the bigger publisher now has rights to the characters and can use them in future or possibly screw them up. Regardless, they are all great books in their own right, and deserve a good read!
- Planetary by Warren Ellis (Wildstorm Comics)
What could be more intriguing that a team of super powered supernatural archeologists? On the surface, that’s the subject of Planetary, but the comic also explores the superhero genre as a whole. The story follows the adventures of three main characters as they investigate supernatural and extraterrestrial phenomena: Jakita Wagner, who is super strong, super fast, and super tough; The Drummer, who can connect to and read machines, technology, and information, and Elijah Snow, a man born at the beginning of the century and who can control and create cold. They are pitted against a group known simply as the Four, who aim to exploit the very same supernatural wonders for their own benefit.
- Invincible by Robert Kirkman (Image Comics)
Invincible is a breath of fresh air. It follows the story of Mark Grayson, son of the hero Omni-Man. Mark, like his father, develops superpowers and becomes the title character Invincible. Throughout the story, Mark has to balance his final years of high school with his work as a superhero, and deal with a dramatic betrayal and the fallout that follows. As the story develops, so does Mark’s life – the reader actually gets to follow along as Mark attends college, gets married, and progresses into adulthood. The whole comic has an incredibly refreshing feel to it that makes it definitely worth the read.
- Irredeemable by Mark Waid (Boom! Studios)
Everyone knows Superman, right? The world’s greatest hero! Now imagine if Superman suffered a breakdown. Imagine if Superman decided one day that he didn’t want to stand for truth and justice anymore. Imagine if Superman started killing innocent people without so much as a warning. That’s Irredeemable. The series starts with the worlds greatest superhero, the Plutonian, lobotomizing his former sidekick and killing off a fellow hero and his whole family. And it’s only downhill from there. The dramatic shift from hero to villain leaves the world on it’s head, and void left by the change opens the world to a spinoff story (also by Mark Waid) called Incorruptible, about a villain stepping in to become the world’s new hero.
- The Authority by Warren Ellis (Wildstorm Comics)
The Authority is a team of extremely powerful superheroes who decide that they should not only be a reactionary team, but an active one as well. They appoint themselves the authority of what’s right and wrong, doing good on a global scale, but also making enemies along the way, as they refuse to play the political game. The team is made up of Jenny Sparks, the “spirit of the twentieth century” who is an electro-kinetic; Jack Hawksmoor, who is able to communicate and manipulate cities; the Doctor, known as the “Earth’s shaman” who has a connection to all living things on Earth; the Engineer, whose blood was replaced by microscopic robots which makes her partially a machine; Swift, who is part bird and has heightened senses; Apollo, who has a very similar power set to Superman and derives his power from the sun, and the Midnighter, a man who was genetically altered to be the ideal killer.