There are few months when Marvel isn’t the largest comic book producer and seller in the United States. No matter how many times the competition shifts creative teams, adjusts it marketing or gets synergistic with films or animation, the House of Ideas continues to reign. But instead of milking the same characters over multiple titles (which still occurs to a degree), editorial still knows how to foster new, intriguing ideas and nurture them all the way to the printing press.
Aside from Spider-Man, Avengers and the X-Families, readers can find dark little tales of machine men setting up camp in suburbia, vigilantes questioning their sanity and grown women dressed like squirrels…hanging out with squirrels. Paste editorial recently conversed about how the most interesting comics from Marvel often have the fewest connections to the movies and participate in fewer crossovers—the emphasis is simply on good stories articulated through amazing art. Here are ten of our favorite Marvel comics. (Also, we adore Black Panther thus far, but two issues was a hair too soon to make any ranking judgements.)
1 of 10
10. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Writers: Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder
Artists: Natacha Bustos, Marco Failla
Moon Girl just barely edged out perennial favorite Ms. Marvel, but the latter absolutely paved the way for this accessible, fun twist on a pair of cult-favorite Jack Kirby creations. Lunella Lafayette, nicknamed "Moon Girl" by her classmates, is a misunderstood tween genius going stir-crazy at a school leagues below her intellectual level. When the Terrigen Mists start swirling through Manhattan, Lunella does everything in her power to prevent herself from undergoing the metamorphosis spurred by the mysterious cloud—more out of a fear of change than anything else.
In her search for a cure, she accidentally opens a portal letting through Devil Dinosaur...and a rowdy band of humanoid apes.
If Ms. Marvel is Marvel's YA hit, then Moon Girl is its best Middle Grade offering, with a preteen protagonist bonded to a pup-like giant red dinosaur. The book is firmly situated in the Marvel U., but mirrors the tone and feel of many of KaBOOM!'s all-ages hits. Artist Natacha Bustos (with colorist Tamra Bonvillain) brings expert cartooning to Brandon Montclair and Amy Reeder's scripts, breathing vibrant life into Yancy Street and its colorful inhabitants. Few titles in Marvel's current roster are as inviting to new and younger readers than this adventure starring a girl and her dinosaur. Steve Foxe
2 of 10
9. Doctor Strange
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo are pulling off a feat the Marvel Universe has struggled with for decades: giving its magical community an identity. Whereas previous editors and creators dodged heroes and heroines of seemingly unlimited power, Aaron takes the least expected route: stripping Strange and his fellow casters of their powers.
In this thrilling run, the science inquisitors known as the Emperikul have stormed the good doctor's Sanctum, ransacking it of every spell, artifact and the very lifeblood of magic itself. Bachalo renders the chaos of stainless steel grating against arcane cloth and paper with hot-blooded devotion and an eye for texture. This pair is creating a definitive tale for an underused icon, stripping away the illusions and slight-of-hand to reveal the true hero underneath—quite the trick. Sean Edgar
3 of 10
Writers: Robbie Thompson, Jason Latour, Dennis Hopeless
Artists: Stacey Lee, Robbi Rodriguez, Javier Rodriguez, Vanesa R. Del Rey
We're totally cheating—while the Spider-Women crossover is great so far, we're recognizing the sum quality of the three books that make up its foundation: Silk by Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee, Spider-Woman from Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, and Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez' runaway hit Spider-Gwen. Launching three new lady-led Spider-titles out of the Spider-verse crossover seemed like market saturation, if only because Spider-Gwen and Silk were brand-new characters. Coupled with creative teams that featured only one woman (Silk's Lee) guiding the ship for three female characters, it would have been a shock not to see these books quietly swing into the horizon after one arc.
Instead, each quickly found its own identity and staked a claim on the Marvel landscape thanks to expert characterization and distinct visual styles. Spider-Woman saw long-suffering Jessica Drew strike out from the shadow of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers to return to her streetwise roots—and discover motherhood. Silk threw Cindy Moon into the deep end of life outside of the vault where she grew up, no longer defined by her connection to Peter Parker. Spider-Gwen, which could have scored easy points as a gender-swapped retelling of Parker's origins, instead built up a complex alternate Marvel U. with surprising character reiterations around every corner. Amazing Spider-Man and the Mile Morales-led Spider-Man are great, but the star arachnids at the moment are definitely these three women. Steve Foxe
4 of 10
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Jorge Zaffino, Roland Boschi
Anyone expecting the All-New, All-Different Marvel to abandon an ass-kicking anti-hero should be gravely disappointed by Karnak, a suitable successor to Warren Ellis' run on Moon Knight. No longer a court fixture of the Inhumans, this Karnak runs his own cult and consults government agencies for ruthless prices. Thus far, he's hunted down a fellow Inhuman teen kidnapped by a mysterious organization that sports guards suspended from umbilical cords. The character's words and fists cut with equal power; Karnak treats the rotating cast of players more as tools than colleagues, and he holds no qualms about reducing his opponents to mounds of bone-broken viscera. Despite belonging to the same species, Ms. Marvel Karnak is not.
This title adds a danger and Twilight Zone creepiness to the Marvel U., an otherworldliness more common in the days of original character creator Jack Kirby. Ellis' dialogue sings coldly, and though an artist shift led to a lengthy delay, Roland Boschi is catching up admirably while conveying the alien, monolithic architecture of Marvel's weirdest corner. Sean Edgar
5 of 10
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
There's a certain type of character piece that only comes along every so often in superhero comics. It includes Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye run, and the recently concluded Grayson over at DC Comics. Mockingbird is the latest to fill that spot, taking the oft-ignored and sidelined Bobbi Morse and portraying her as a complicated bundle of superhero meta. Each issue is almost a standalone story, a part of the puzzle that informs every personality quirk of one of Marvel's most layered heroines. Cain's unflinchingly honest dialogue pairs perfectly with Niemczyk and Rosenberg's art, just like a glass of chardonnay pairs with rescuing your ex from a sex dungeon. Tini Howard
6 of 10
5. Moon Knight
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Greg Smallwood
We're only three issues into Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood's radical take on the Fist of Khonsu, and it's truly a singular, disorienting sight to behold. Lemire—who's addressed mental illness in other comics like Bloodshot and The Underwater Welder—approaches a character who was once a mercenary saved by the Egyptian god of the moon. That man has since dressed up as a vigilante named Moon Knight, protecting those who travel by night (Khonsu also translates as traveler). Lemire asks what most reasonable readers might: is that normal behavior, even by superhero standards? Add the historical footnote that the term "lunatic" translates as "moon sick," and Lemire and Smallwood have the perfect character to dissect mental illness from a cape-and-cowl perspective.
Most importantly, the creative team is respectful. In these pages, MK alter ego Marc Spector escapes from a psychiatric hospital while tripping into an alternate dimension of crocodile gods and sand-bound pyramids. Lemire treats him and his compatriots as people dealing with profoundly serious issues, even while keeping the adventure thundering along at a furious pace.
Smallwood's illustrations are simply stunning. Shaded, polished and dynamic, the art reflects a grungy NYC metropolis warped into a psychedelic oasis burnt under a midnight sun. We'd honestly rank this higher if there were more issues, but it's still one of the bravest and most innovative books in Marvel's stable. Sean Edgar
7 of 10
4. New Avengers
Writer: Al Ewing
Artists: Gerardo Sandoval
In the wave of All-New, All-Different Marvel, most Avengers teams drafted a star player to bring fans to the team. And when the New Avengers got Clint Barton, the redheaded stepchild of the Avengers roster, it set the tone for one of the best sleeper hits on stands. Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval's New Avengers brought back underused fan favorites from all over the Marvel map including Squirrel Girl, Sunspot and the Young Avengers' Wiccan and Hulkling. The latter two are the focus of the series' first arc, in a star-crossed, galactic-cosmic tale bringing together the past, the future and the power of love. Tini Howard
8 of 10
3. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
Plenty of individuals more perceptive than I had already lauded Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by the time I showed up to the party in October, just in time for its Secret Wars-mandated relaunch. The subsequent zaney adventures of Doreen Green and her fellow ESU computer science (CS) majors happened to coincide with the promotional rollout of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and as lucky happenstances go, this was a humdinger. While BvS's advertising reminded us all that the cinematic meeting of the 20th century's most beloved, underoos-clad magical fighter men would be a depressing, self-important, joyless affair, Squirrel Girl wasn't the hero we deserved; she was the hero we needed.
Having served as the monkey wrench in Dr. Doom's botched scheme to rule the Earth through a timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly nature, Green embarked on a team-up alongside Howard the Duck, as well as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure issue that solidified her cred with nostalgia-junkie '90s kids. North and Henderson's ongoing love letter to the Marvel Universe abides with tongues firmly in cheeks, but as demonstrated by Green's "I don't believe in monsters…" speech to Von Doom in issue #4, Squirrel Girl gets serious when circumstances require it. Don't believe us? Go ask Thanos. Barry Thompson
9 of 10
2. The Mighty Thor
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Rafa Garres
For all the misogyny a female thunder-wielder ignited in 2014, few could have predicted her complete dominance as the coolest Marvel superperson a few years later. Shifting from the heavy-metal opus of his opening "God Butcher"/"Godbomb" arcs, Jason Aaron now weaves a meticulous tapestry of shifting allegiances and gender dynamics in a story that deserves every connotation of "epic." All of Asgard has accepted that a mysterious lady now tosses mjolnir save one man: Odin, the one-eyed king of the realm. Add in exploitive corporations, dark elves and branching fantasy worlds, and Mighty Thor remains a story built on sweat and blood with huge relevance outside of its fantasy trappings. And it also looks ridiculously good.
Russell Dauterman's illustrations are transportive. Whatever dark powers he made a deal with, the illustrator constructs sweeping action shots from grand perspectives. There's something undeniably gentle and ornate about his characters, too, no doubt enhanced by Matt Wilson's vibrant, proud colors. Sean Edgar
10 of 10
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh
Fact: The Vision is currently Marvel's most interesting character, thanks to this witty, startling, gorgeous series by writer Tom King, artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The premise is simple: the synthezoid Avenger literally makes himself a family and moves to the 'burbs. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue, but not the type of winky, not-quite-funny antics of most of Marvel's "quirky" titles: in this comic, the sci-fi horror plays out unflinchingly and tragically, like a lost Shakespeare play (The Visions of Verona?). This is a violent, over-the-top nightmare and a revealing look at domesticity. Mark Peters