The Top Comic Book Publishers and Companies
As comics—and superheroes in general—continue to find new audiences as more generations of fans get turned on to this superhero or that, it can be useful for fans to be able to differentiate between the major comic book publishers, as each company has different styles, characters, and audiences. The industry needs both the big-time publishers and the smaller ones willing to take risks and push the boundaries of the world of comic books.
Marvel Comics has been the top dog in comic book publishing recently, because of its well-received high-profile movies, strong sales, and popular characters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has helped bring in new readers and has kept the spotlight on superheroes as a medium. Its characters are down to earth, and people feel they can relate to them, a form of comic character that Marvel pioneered.
New comic book readers should take note of Marvel Unlimited, a digital library Marvel offers access to via a monthly subscription. It contains more than 20,000 of Marvel’s comics from throughout its history. It’s a great resource to gain familiarity with the publisher and read more of its characters such as Daredevil, The Avengers, and Jessica Jones, without having to purchase all the books individually.
Alongside Marvel, DC Comics is the other of the “Big Two” comic book publishers. It has a bevy of characters with near godlike powers that were some of the first that comics had to offer. Its trinity—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—are some of the most well-known and iconic superheroes out there today, making their first cinematic appearance together in 2015’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
DC also has some of the most well-known graphic novels and series of all time. “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” “Sandman,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Fables,” “Y: The Last Man,” and many more make up its more mature Vertigo imprint comics. “Watchmen” and “Sandman” are frequently listed as some of the best comics of all time.
Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse first became known for its licensed properties: “Star Wars,” “Aliens,” “Predator,” and others. Since then it has become well known for its creator-owned series: “Hellboy,” “The Goon,” “Sin City,” “Groo,” “The Umbrella Academy,” and more. Dark Horse has also been a place for creators to keep their properties going, with Joss Whedon keeping his “Buffy” and “Firefly” (“Serenity”) series alive through comics after the TV show was canceled.
Great Dark Horse comics include Matt Kindt’s “Mind MGMT,” and “Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense,” an extension of Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” universe.
Image Comics burst onto the scene in the 1990s with a group of hotshot artists tired of working for the man. They wanted to keep the profits from their own creations and launched their company as a place for creator-owned properties. They found quick success with the likes of “Spawn,” “Youngblood,” “Savage Dragon,” “Dark Hawk,” “Wild C.A.T.S.,” “Witchblade,” and others. Soon Image was rivaling sales of Marvel and DC and things were looking good.
The company eventually lost some of the steam it had because of comics not being put out on time, infighting, and other issues. Image weathered the storm and continued to bring in new blood such as Robert Kirkman, Jay Faerber, Matt Fraction, and Joe Casey.
Image is now known as the go-to for creator-owned comics and is a frequent publisher of many year-end best of comics. Image has some instant classics in “Saga,” “Sex Criminals,” and “Criminal.”
IDW has made its name by putting out top-quality creator-owned comics and smart licensing properties that have made its sales solid. The company has revitalized the “Transformers,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and “Star Trek” lines, with additions to the “GI Joe” and “Terminator” series as well. One of its top performers has been “30 Days of Night,” which put it on the map of the comic book world.
Valiant Comics launched in the early ’90s as a new superhero universe for the modern era. Valiant was started in part by former Marvel Comics editor in chief Jim Shooter and prided itself on characters having grounded superpowers and stories having airtight continuity, sometimes timing interactions down to the minute.
The ’90s launch success eventually faded, requiring Valiant to close its doors until a reboot in the summer of 2011. Valiant has come back strong since that time, with flagship books such as “X-O Manowar,” “Harbinger,” and “Unity” delivering some of the strongest superhero comics on the market.