Comics to Check Out When You’re Sick of Marvel & DC

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hello world!
Rohan Elliott
| December 1, 2023
hello world!

Over the past two to three years, I’ve been reacquainting myself with my childhood love of comics. Having loved reading comics from my local library during my school days, I fell off the wagon during university. Life got really busy, and I found it harder to find some good-quality comic book stores around me that had something more than the typical Marvel and DC offerings. It’s not that I’m turning my nose up at the two big guys; it’s just that I feel that there’s a lot of repetition… I mean, how many times can you have a Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Wars before it all becomes white noise?

In the last year, I’ve been working on busting through the white noise with some nice cuddly (mostly) pulp fiction comics without a radioactive spider or trauma-ridden detective in sight. Here are a few of my favourites that I think everyone should give a chance, especially if superhero comic fatigue is setting in.    

The Phantom (Lee Falk, 1936)

Ah, the humble newspaper strip, the progenitor of the comic book, the birthplace of such characters as Charlie Brown, Flash Gordon, and the titular Phantom. A far cry from his French cousin that haunted operas at the turn of the 20th century, the American Phantom haunts the jungles of the fictional Bangalla, fighting crime and corruption year after year with the mantle passing from father to son much like the mythos of the Batman.

Wait… you guys don’t remember newspaper strips? You don’t remember the thrill of getting the weekend paper and flicking straight to the comics section to find out what happened to your favourite character? *sigh* Well, I’m not going to explain the history of newspapers and their rise and fall in popularity thanks largely to the impact of social media… that’s what Wikipedia is for (I can’t do everything for you).

Anyway, I had seen the comics every now and then in the newspaper, but it wasn’t until I saw the 1996 Billy Zane led film of the same name that I started to explore this interest in this man in purple tights… draw from that what you will. I also got the opportunity to meet Jeff Weigel at Perth Supanova 2019 and have him sign a Phantom comic strip for me. As cool as that was, meeting the current writer for the Phantom comics, Andrew Constant, was even better as we got to chat about the character and what we both enjoyed from a reader and writer perspective. It’s a great pulpy comic to read when you want to watch a heroic purveyor of justice dispense said justice for pages and pages.

The Rocketeer (Dave Stevens, 1982)

For those of you who missed my previous Rocketeer article, the long and short of it is that The Rocketeer is a guilty pleasure of mine. From the first time I saw the 1990 film, I fell in love with the late 1930s setting, the retro-futurism that comes from old-school sci-fi, and Timothy Dalton as the Nazi agent embedded in Hollywood high society (and because he’s Timothy Dalton).

Right after I wrote that article, I got curious and started looking into other Rocketeer merchandise. Forty-five minutes later, I was down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia learning about the history of Dave Stevens’ comic about the man with the rocket pack. I then ended up buying the complete collection of Dave Steven’s helmed comics before his death in 2008.

What struck me when I first opened up the comic was just how beautiful and stylish every page is. Steven has been lauded for his work over his storied career, and the love and care for his craft is evident in every line (especially for any scenes involving Betty). Having bought a couple of the comic collections done after Steven’s death, it’s apparent to me that his style had an elegance to it that can’t be replicated, although the other artists do a damn good job.

I mean, yes, Betty’s not used in the plot besides being eye candy and for Cliff to rescue, and yes, Cliff himself is your typical Tip Top white bread hero (Good on Ya Mum!). There’s also the predictable nature of the comics, with The Rocketeer triumphing over the dastardly Nazi menace. That being said, I still love seeing the Rocketeer take to the skies page after page. 

Footrot Flats (Murray Ball, 1976)

Moving on to one of my favourite comic strips from the neighbours across the ditch. Footrot Flats follows the life of a New Zealand sheep and cattle farmer, Wal Footrot, and the peculiar goings on from the perspective of his border collie sheepdog known as “the Dog”. These were the first comics I remember reading, having had them passed down from my dad to me, and it’s one of my most prized possessions.

Every panel of the comic is dripping with loveable New Zealand wit (which I loathe having to admit as an Aussie, but along with their rugby, Kiwis do humour excellently) and having the point of view character being a sheepdog lends light to the daily struggles that permeate farming life. There was even a full feature-length movie with beautiful animation, voice acting and a soundtrack that included the best love song ever conceived.

Having read the books over and over so many times. I can’t help but think that my own sense of humour was shaped by the Dog and his various philosophical musings. I’ve been working on expanding my collection of Footrot Flats; however, after the passing of Murray Ball, some of his books’ prices have… fluctuated in price a bit.

Regardless, if you get a chance to find these in an op shop or for a cheap price, I’d highly recommend getting a couple just to see what one of the funniest New Zealand cartoonists produced during his lifetime.    

The Transformers (IDW Publishing, 2005)

Now, this last entry is a little bit of cheating as, technically, the series started with Marvel comics back in 1984 with distinct US and UK comic lines, each handled by its own creative teams. However, if you’ve been reading my articles for any amount of time, you may pick up on the notion that the rules I set for myself when writing articles are quite… “flexible”. If this is the first article of mine you’ve read, well, first off, check out all my other work because internet traffic is the only way I measure my self-worth, and second off, the rules mean nothing.

With one of my first memories watching the 1984 Transformers cartoon on Boomerang, it’s fair to say I love me some cybertronian civil warfare. One night, while casting an eye over my Optimus Prime and Unicron figures on my shelf, I decided to see what sort of comics I’d been missing out on… whoo boy, what a fateful decision that was.

Sure, for the most part of the series early run, you know that the Autobots are going to win the day over the Decepticons. However, later series have been given free rein to run wild and delve into some side characters with surprising depth. There’s a series of comics for any type of fan, from those looking for a serious exploration of the meaning of war to a lovely romance story. There are even crossovers with G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Back to The Future and more! Truth be told, I just love me some robots in disguise!

Overall, the point of this article is to try and encourage people to explore new horizons and expand their comics palette besides the typical Marvel and DC dishes. Of course, there’s a bunch of comics I missed out on, which I’m sure you guys will let me know in a polite and rational manner, which has been the hallmark of internet discourse since its inception. 

Have you read any of these comics series? Are you going to check some of these out? Which series have I left out? Let me know in the comments down below.

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