The amazing thing about Marvel and DC comics is the shared universes they created that are filled with colorful characters. For better and for worse, these shared universes are so massive that it takes reading a lot of comics to get a full scope of what going on. It makes for a very fulfilling reading experience to see the actions of the Avengers have repercussions in comics about the X-Men. But even if you don’t read everything that’s coming out, knowing the interconnectedness of stories between characters makes the world within the comics feel more alive.
While Marvel and DC hold the blueprint for creating a shared universe in comics, that concept is not exclusive to them or the realm of superhero stories. Within the space of creator-owned comics are smaller shared universes with unique stories to tell.
Let’s explore some of the most exciting shared universes that are happening in comics today!
Published by Image Comics
Marvel and DC wrote the book on how to build a shared universe filled with colorful superheroes. Creator Kyle Higgins sought to create his brand of superheroes by doing something different from the “typical” capes. It all started with Radiant Black, the story of a young man who comes into contact with a cosmic energy source that transforms him into a sleekly costumed superhero with the power to control gravity. The series is brimming with flashy transformations and over-the-top battles more akin to what you can find in Tokusatsu series like Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Starting with a one-shot titled Supermassive, Higgins officially launched what’s now known as the MassiveVerse. The comic introduced readers to Rogue Sun and Inferno Red Girl, heroes with similar powers and aesthetics as Radiant Black. The two characters eventually got their solo series, effectively setting in motion the expanding story of the MassiveVerse. In the two years since Radiant Black first hit shelves, Higgins and a team of incredible creators have released spin-off titles as part of the MassiveVerse.
Published by BOOM! Studios
Over the last decade, James Tynion IV has solidified himself as one of the biggest and busiest creators in comics. While he has a long list of incredible Batman titles under his belt, the book that put Tynion on the map was his horror comic Something is Killing the Children from BOOM! Studios.
The story takes place in a world that’s infested with horrific monsters that have a taste for eating kids. While not many kids survive these monster attacks, the ones who do are left scarred for life. The only hope these kids have is in the hands of a mysterious monster hunter named Erica Slaughter. With her twin blades in hand, she’s made it her life’s mission to wipe every monster off the face of the earth.
SiKtC was originally supposed to be a miniseries but got upgraded into an ongoing series after universal demand from readers. Since its debut in 2019, the series has become fertile ground for bold stories to take place in its dark and twisted world. 2021 saw the release of its first spin-off series House of Slaughter, which explores the history of the Order that Erica Slaughter is a part of. Then later that same year, Netflix announced an adaptation is in the works with Dark and 1899 creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese leading the project. With how passionate Tynion is about his creator-owned projects, the world of SiKtC is only getting bigger from here.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Hellboy first debuted in 1993 from the creative mind of writer and artist Mike Mignola. The comic series opens with the titular demon being summoned by Rasputin and Nazi cultists in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of World War 2. But through the intervention of a secret American task force, the German plot was stopped dead in its tracks. Hellboy was taken in and raised by Professor Broom, who enlisted the demon as part of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. As a member of the BRPD, Hellboy investigates occult threats throughout the world. “Investigates” is putting things lightly, as Hellboy’s work often involves violently taking out mythical creatures using his indestructible Right Hand of Doom and his trusty pistol named The Good Samaritan. Since its debut, the Hellboy series has been a staple for lovers of horror fantasy and Lovecraftian-inspired fiction.
As Hellboy grew in popularity, so did Mike Mignola’s plans for growing the dark world he created. For over thirty years, Mignola has expanded the universe of Hellboy through miniseries, spin-offs, one-shots, and crossovers. The BPRD series is the most vital among the spin-offs because it explores more strange and paranormal cases throughout the Mignolaverse without the involvement of Big Red himself. But no matter how big the universe became, Mignola’s vision for what he created persisted as he wrote the vast majority of the books that have ever come out.
It’s a testament to Hellboy’s popularity that he has stayed relevant for over three decades despite not being a part of the Big Two. The movie series by Guillermo del Toro played a big role in solidifying Hellboy as one of the coolest heroes to come out of comics. Then with the new Hellboy video game, Web of Wyrd, on the way, there’s still no stopping the big guy.
Published by DC Black Label
Batman: White Knight was a 2017 limited series created by Sean Gordon Murphy that tells an alternate story of Gotham City where Batman inadvertently “cures” The Joker of his psychosis after force-feeding the villain a bottle of unknown medication in a fit of rage. With his mind cleared, The Joker takes on his real name, Jack Napier, and embarks on a crusade to be the hero Gotham City deserves. But even as Jack, he still holds onto an undying vendetta against Batman, the man he believes to be the true enemy of Gotham.
The series and its direct sequels, Curse of the White Knight and Beyond the White Knight, were universally acclaimed for their fresh take on the Batman mythos. DC has since given Murphy full reign over his own self-contained universe centered on the version of Gotham City he created. Unofficially dubbed the “Murphyverse,” each new title expands on the groundwork established in the original White Knight series.
The Murphyverse has continued to grow since its debut, with miniseries and one-shots focused on beloved characters like Harly Quinn, Red Hood, and Mr. Freeze. What makes the series such a unique case is the level of power and freedom DC has given Murphy for the pseudo imprint he created. As the mastermind now overseeing other creative teams, Murphy laid out specific ground rules that must be followed between books:
Murphy also expressed plans to expand his story to the Man of Steel himself. The creator has shown that he has the chops and more to do something special within the walls of DC.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Jeff Lemire and British artist Dean Ornston released the first Black Hammer series in 2016, but the origins of the series date back much further than that. Lemire successfully pitched the series to Dark Horse originally in 2008, but he was not able to pursue the project until many years later because of contract agreements and his growing work schedule. After a six-year stint at DC, Lemire felt it was time to return to Black Hammer with a new perspective on superhero comics. Black Hammer was created to comment on superhero comics, not just simply become another one. That mindset is what drew him to Dean Ornston because his art style looks nothing like what you’d typically find from superheroes.
The story of Black Hammer takes place in a small town called Rockwood where six superheroes are trapped inside as a result of defeating a celestial being known as the Anti-God. The series draws inspiration from the Silver Age of comics with his fantastical and weird stories. As the series progressed, Lemire create spin-offs focused on other heroes and eras within the world of Black Hammer. These substories solidified the world of Black Hammer as a bonified shared universe that was growing with every new and strange character. In seven years, Lemire has built a bustling universe of strange characters outside of the mainline story of Black Hammer.