Established in 2001, Marvel’s MAX imprint was created so that Marvel could finally publish comics aimed squarely at adult readers, with strong language and profanity being heavily featured throughout most of the MAX comics.
Unfortunately, the MAX imprint is now largely defunct, because for almost a decade it has only been used to publish the occasional Punisher miniseries. But with demand for adult comics now being higher than ever, fans can only hope that Marvel will finally resurrect the MAX line to give fans the adult-themed stories they so rightly deserve.
The imprint offered fans some truly spectacular mature stories over the years, and the following list details some of the best Marvel MAX comics for adult readers to enjoy.
5. Howard the Duck
Written by Steve Gerber, illustrated by Glenn Fabry
Yes, Marvel’s most obscure animal superhero was given his own MAX series, and it was as weird as you’d expect.
Penned by Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber and illustrated by Glenn Fabry, this unashamedly offbeat comic found the disaster prone anthropomorphic duck being framed as a terrorist by his arch-nemesis, Doctor Bong, a character who probably won’t be joining the MCU anytime soon.
After having his home destroyed by a SWAT team and being transformed into a rat, Howard is forced to relocate to a shady hotel inhabited by parodies of characters from other publications, before having a farcical discussion with God himself about the nature of the universe.
As you’ve probably guessed, this book was primarily concerned with mocking cultural topics such as religion, our obsession with celebrities, and the comic industry as a whole. And while the 2002 humour does seem a little dated now, there are still some truly laugh out loud moments packed into this volume. This was also Gerber’s last Howard the Duck solo series before he passed away in 2008, making it essential reading for fans.
4. The Hood
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Kyle Hotz and Eric Powell
This six-part miniseries focuses on a small-time crook named Parker Robbins, who stumbled upon a magical cloak and pair of boots that allow him to fly and turn invisible.
Using his newfound powers for personal gain, Parker finds himself getting in too deep, as he becomes the target of a notorious mafia boss known as the Golem while also having to figure out a way to free his cousin, who was wrongly accused of murder. There is also some welcome humour sprinkled in throughout the book, but don’t ask about the lucky condom Parker always keeps in his pocket.
Despite living a life of crime, Parker is shown to ultimately be a decent man who cares about his family, and his willingness to help his loved ones at all costs made this series truly endearing. Although Parker, who would later dub himself ‘The Hood’, went on to become one of the most prominent crime bosses in the Marvel Universe (he also played a key role in the Dark Reign crossover event), he has always been depicted as someone who values his family above all else, making him a deeply relatable supervillain.
3. Thor: Vikings
Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Glenn Fabry
This brutal miniseries from writer Garth Ennis starts off in ancient Scandinavia, with a merciless viking chief named Harald Jaekelsson and the soldiers under his command being cursed to everlasting pain and torment by an elder after pillaging his village.
Fast forward one-thousand years, and Jaekelsson and the rest of his crew, who have now been transformed into unstoppable superpowered zombies as a result of the curse, decide to wreak havoc on New York City, with even the strongest superheroes being unable to stop them. Thor himself has his ass handed to him by Jaekelsson, before Doctor Strange explains that only direct descendants of the village elder who placed the curse can defeat the vile invaders.
What happens next is an incredibly gruesome and surprisingly humorous tale of a female viking warrior, a mediaeval knight, and a WW2 German fighter pilot (and yes, they really are as mismatched as they sound) being plucked from time so they can help Thor send Jaekelsson and his minions back to Hell.
This is a fun and gory read which shows that Marvel’s iteration of the Norse God of Thunder is certainly not someone you’d want to mess with.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Michael Gaydos
The first comic to be published under the MAX imprint introduced readers to Jessica Jones, a super-powered private detective who often tackled cases involving other powered individuals.
The series lasted for a total of twenty-eight issues and received praise from fans and critics for its strong characterisation of Jessica, its willingness to tackle controversial themes, and its unflinching portrayal of the darker side of the regular 616 Marvel Universe, where it takes place. Writer Brian Michael Bendis also has a natural gift when it comes to dialogue, and even if you’re not particularly into comics, Alias is worth reading for the conversations between Jessica and the supporting cast alone.
Jessica Jones is now an A-list Marvel character due to her eponymous Netflix show, and Alias is often fondly remembered for giving fans their first glimpse of the determined and persistently drunk investigator. The first issue of Alias also characteristically opened with the F-word (the first time it had ever been used uncensored in a Marvel publication), so you know right from the start that this comic won’t pull any punches.
5. The Punisher MAX
Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by various
In 2004, the MAX imprint began publishing an ongoing Punisher series which ran concurrently with the Marvel Universe Punisher comics published under the regular Marvel Comics imprint, although it took place in a more violent and realistic world without superheroes or any supernatural elements.
Written by Punisher veteran Garth Ennis, who had just completed his spectacular Marvel Knights run on the character, The Punisher MAX is almost unanimously cited as the greatest Punisher series of all time, and with good reason.
As the creator of Preacher and The Boys, Ennis is known for hard hitting adult comics, and his Punisher MAX books delve deeper into the tortured protagonist’s psyche than any other writers have ever dared to go. This series also pushes the boundaries of even the MAX line when it came to adult content, with a psychotic mob enforcer dubbed Pittsy (don’t ask) using interrogation methods which will likely make even hardcore readers wince.
Ennis presents Frank Castle as a relentless and almost sympathetic vigilante who’s clearly unable to leave the war behind him after he returns from Vietnam. The most haunting part of the series comes when Castle has recurring dreams about his family still being alive, which lead him to question if he would ever truly be able to adapt to civilian life had his wife and children not been killed.
In addition to the core Punisher MAX series, Ennis also authored various spinoff MAX books focused on Frank Castle’s exploits, including Born, The Platoon, and Soviet, so the MAX imprint truly has plenty to offer to Punisher fans. In recent years, the MAX line has become synonymous with Frank Castle, and Ennis used the mature creative freedom offered by the imprint to deliver some of the best Punisher comics ever to have been published.
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