Epic Anthology

Epic Comics

Epic Comics was a creator-owned imprint of Marvel Comics started in 1982, lasting through the mid-1990s, and being briefly revived on a small scale in the mid-2000s.


Launched by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter as a spin-off of the successful Epic Illustrated magazine, the Epic imprint allowed creators to retain control and ownership of their properties. Co-edited by Al Milgrom and Archie Goodwin, the imprint also allowed Marvel to publish a more mature line of comics oriented toward an older audience.

The first project was Dreadstar, a space opera by writer-artist Jim Starlin, published November 1982. Subsequent titles included Coyote by Steve Englehart, Alien Legion (a war series set in outer space, created by Carl Potts but written by others), Six from Sirius, a sci-fi title by writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy, Sisterhood of Steel, a saga of elite women-warriors by Christy Marx and Mike Vosburg and Void Indigo, a controversial title written by Steve Gerber.

The line branched out later with historical fiction (Black Dragon), social commentary (The One, Marshal Law), humor (Groo) and fantasy (Moonshadow, Elfquest). However, initial sales were disappointing, so in order to give the line a boost, popular Marvel writer-artist Frank Miller and artist Bill Sienkiewicz were commissioned to develop Elektra: Assassin, featuring the ninja assassin from the Daredevil comic book.

Although Epic was meant to be mainly a creator-owned line, Elektra: Assassin became only the first title featuring Marvel characters published by the imprint. Others included Meltdown, a painted mini-series featuring Havok and Wolverine from the X-Men; a resurrected Tomb of Dracula; and the miniseries Silver Surfer: Parable, dealing with messianic themes, written by Stan Lee with art by French comics storyteller Mœbius). Marvel then commissioned writer and Marvel editor Archie Goodwin to create original characters for a Mature Readers superhero line for Epic Comics. This took the form of The Shadowline Saga, a storyline spanning four different titles in 1987.

Epic was also notable as one of the first American comic publishers to release material originally produced in other countries, such as the Moebius graphic novels Airtight Garage, The Incal and Blueberry, published here in English translations by Jean-Marc Lofficier & Randy Lofficier. Epic also published Katsuhiro Otomo's manga classic Akira, with translations by Marvel staffer Mary Jo Duffy and colors by Steve Oliffe.

As well, Epic, now edited by Potts, licensed a variety of literary material, the best known of which were the Clive Barker novels and stories, including Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Weaveworld. Other adapted works included William Shatner's Tekworld, the Wild Cards anthologies, and William Gibson's Neuromancer.

Epic's cachet dimmed somewhat in the late 1980s and early '90s, partly as a consequence of the new breed of "grim and gritty" stories Epic had helped to pioneer but which had now become a staple of mainstream comics. Yet during a sales boom in comics around that time, Epic published the four-part graphic novel miniseries Atomic Age, a 1950s-style science fiction story reimagined from a contemporary perspective by writer Frank Lovece and artists Mike Okamoto and Al Williamson, and brought out the action-oriented Heavy Hitters line with material from Peter David (Sachs and Violens), Howard Chaykin (Midnight Men), Gerard Jones (The Trouble with Girls), Joe Kubert (Abraham Stone) and Steve Purcell (Sam & Max). The subsequent comic-book sales bust, however, prompted Marvel to end Epic in 1994. In late 1995, the line was temporarily brought back to complete the reprinting of the Akira manga. Epic was ended again when the series completed in early 1996.

Epic returns

In 2001, after recovering from bankruptcy, Marvel returned to publishing material suited for mature audiences, with a new imprint called MAX. In 2003, the Epic imprint was brought back, with two stated goals: to scout for new creator-owned projects, and to offer new talent a chance to work on lesser-known Marvel properties. Marvel Editors quietly contacted industry columnists, such as Cleveland Plain Dealer and Newsarama columnist Michael San Giacomo, Ryan Scott Ottney, Eric J. Moreels, and Sword of Dracula creator Jason Henderson, to ask for new comic pitches using existing Marvel properties. San Giacomo created his own character, Phantom Jack. Henderson created Strange Magic, a story about a hitherto-unknown daughter of Marvel's Doctor Strange. An open call for submissions was issued, which prompted a huge response, and resulted in months-long delays in reviewing submissions. The option of submitting creator-owned pitches was quickly downplayed and then discontinued.

The new Epic received considerable attention with Trouble, a mini-series by Mark Millar that supposedly would retcon the Spider-Man mythos by revealing details from the teenage years of May Parker and Peter's mother, but although all the main characters sported names any Spider-Man fan would recognize, there was no explicit revelation that they were in any way connected to their Marvel Universe namesakes. Other comics in the line, including a Crimson Dynamo title, were produced by lesser-known talents, and the line was cancelled before it could develop traction. A number of solicitations were cancelled. Titles that were in progress when Marvel's new management dumped the line were hastily thrown together under one cover with the title Epic Anthology Presents, which was cancelled after the first issue was published. San Giacomo requested that the rights to Phantom Jack be returned to him, and it was not included in the anthology. The story was published instead by Image Comics and returned in 2007 through Atomic Pop Art Enterprises.



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