Maxing Out Marvel’s MAX Line

At the turn of the century, Marvel was in a far different place than it is now. On the verge of bankruptcy, with a disorganized editorial structure and no creative vision for the company as a whole. When Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas took over, they quickly brought new initiatives into place like the Marvel Knights line, the Ultimates line, and heavy recruitment of risky newcomers. And now look at them, it worked out pretty well. One of the other things launched and flourished during the early years of the 21st century was  the ‘adults only’ MAX line. But now it’s a shadow of its former self, with its lone ongoing title Punisher MAX reaching its end earlier this year and a uncertain future ahead. But things could change.

Back when Marvel’s MAX line begain, the publisher explained in a press release from back in 2001 that books with the MAX label would be “what you’d experience in an R rated movie,” noting potential “harsh language, intense violence, perhaps even some partial nudity.” Sold strictly to comic shops in its serial format and not to general public newstands, it wouldn’t carry a Marvel logo at all. It launched in 2001 with standouts like Alias and Fury, and followed up with what would become the line’s landmark title: Garth Ennis’ Punisher. In the intervening eleven years, it’s done on average five titles per year; mostly limited series, with a few one-shots and stray short-term ongoings like Punisher and Alias. This month the MAX line has no titles, neither ongoing or limited. The lone spark for the imprint is Garth Ennis’ return with a new FuryMAX series which is planned for later this year, but face it tiger: there could be more. And here’s some  unsolicited advice for the gang at the House of Ideas for how they could turn the ship around.

#1 A Strong (& Different) Editorial Voice: Charting out the successful moments of the Marvel MAX line, I’ve found it tends to happen when there’s a editor with only minimal times to the mainstream 616 Marvel continuity. They’re generally wanting to show off their skills, and the unique parameters of the MAX line allows them to do that. Quesada did it early on before he was pulled away to other corners of the Marvel U, and likewise Axel Alonso’s  been pulled away from focusing on the MAX line for dealing with the juicy center of the Marvel comics line. Some might argue to bring in an outside voice like Vertigo Senior Editor Will Dennis, but for my money I’d opt for Marvel’s Jeanine Schaefer. She seems to be finely attuned to top-notch creators and really seems to be able grasp all sorts of situations.

#2 Think Disney frowns on ‘adult’ stories? Think again: Although Disney might be best known for its kid-friendly fare, the company has no qualms with more adult-oriented stories if done right. It’s subsidary Touchstone Pictures has released rated R pictures like Fright Night, Apocalypto and The Royal Tenenbaums. The MAX line may not be able to veer too “adult,” but there’s a lot of room there to go without going too far.

#3 Make MAX Titles A Premium In Cover, Content & Cost: It’s important to make these books feel special, both in story but also in format. A different design aesthetic is needed for the outside, and on the inside I’d consider borrowing a page (or three) from how some if the Icon books like Criminal and Powers treat the single issues with supplementary material. Make the argument why these books should be priced at $3.99, with interesting creators doing interesting things with supplementary material.

#4 Reuniting the Preacher duo for Punisher was great; Consider more: The initial PunisherMAX series had many reasons for being as popular as it did, and I’d argue one of those was because not only the creators, Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, being inspired choices to do the book but also that they had a history together. Imagine if Marvel put some thought into it and attempted to reconvene some great team-ups from adult-oriented books of the past in a new MAX title. What would Transmetropolitan‘s Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson do when given free reign on a Marvel character in the MAX line? What about Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith of 30 Days Of Night fame coming back together for one last run? Andy Diggle and Jock, given the  keys to say, Ghost Rider? One last one… Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan do Wolverine. It’s about unique creators doing unique books, but seeing two familiar creators reunite can make it one better.

#5 The MAX Line As An Incubator For Would-Be Marvel Talent: My previous point talked about bringing in veterans, but the MAX line would also be the ideal spot for Marvel to recruit promising creators for their first major Marvel work. There’s a enormous number of talented writers that Marvel could try out in these outside continuity books, with the added benefit of that the sizzle of “adults only” could bring. Imagine them bringing in Phil Hester, Ivan Brandon or Nathan Edmondson, or even some outside comics transplants like World War Z‘s Max Brooks. Also, it could be a line to let some of your best storytelling artists get a chance to write in a controlled, small setting.

What do you think  Marvel could do to revitalize the MAX line without getting dirty looks from the Mouse upstairs?


  1. Good points for a title that deserves to be more of a Marvel Vertigo line. I’m interested in what character people think could be given the treatment that haven’t already been MAX’d.

  2. Three words: Reed Richards Max.

    I don’t know how such a title would work or what it would entail, but I would read the hell out of it.

  3. Diggle and Jock on Ghost Rider. Hmmm. Not bad.

  4. This is where Moon Knight needs to go!

  5. Thunderbolts MAX would be alot of fun

    • Yes it would. As long as it wasn’t the Osborn style Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers route. I like the idea of villains being molded into heroes whether they like it or not. That and the new take of villains doing what the hell they like for as long as they can get away with it.

  6. BladeMAX

    Three successful movies to his name but no notable comics to speak of.

    And vampires are still in, yes?

  7. D-Man?

    Set in Central Africa where he has retired as a ‘hero’ and does charity work building schools?

    Now he has to face the effects of a Kony style video to out M’Baku.

    Just came to me. If I may be so bold…I’d read that

  8. Wolverine MAX is the obvious choice, but the Mouse may be hesitant to let such a high profile character loose in that environment…kiddies might see it…

    • I think that book would have to be sheer amazingness. Think about doing it with Wolverine is many people would have the attitude of ‘seen it’.

      I’m not sure Disney would really come into it but for me I’d have no real urge to pick up a Wolvie solo book of him hack/slashing unless it was by a master creative team. (I guess if all the points mentioned above were taken on board for example.)

      Same goes for Deadpool or the X-Factor crew. It feels a tad…obvious sounds wrong but it would be nice for new muscles to be flexed.

      Unless it was sheer brilliance that is.

    • NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Less Wolverine, please.

  9. They already have Wolverine Max, it is titled Wolverine the best there is and the first couple story lines were awful

    • WOLVERINE: THE BEST THERE IS was cancelled after twelve issues, and didn’t quite live up to the possibilities of a WolverineMAX book. The closest in recent memory was Vaughn/Risso’s LOGAN book.

  10. My understanding is the MAX line wasn’t just more mature but also supposed to be more grounded in reality. Punisher fits the mold perfectly but most of Marvel’s other properties would feel forced and lose their charm when adapted to MAX. Plus several of Marvel’s regular books are already on the mature side.

    I could see the MAX line as a place to try other genres but unfortunately those don’t do too well when Marvel tries them.

  11. Unfortunately, I think it’s all too late for the MAX line. It started off as kind of a daring, more adult look at Marvel heroes (remember Cap and Ant-Man were in ALIAS) but soon all the A-list characters apart from The Punisher (who, let’s face it, is barely scarping A-List status) were soon off limits leaving only C-List characters that creators could really go to town with because they were not in danger of being in a mega blockbuster anytime soon (Foolkiller, Wisdom, Rawhide Kid etc). What is needed is for Marvel to use MAX to take chances and create new characters like The Hood, Destroyer etc which would dip into areas that established Marvel properties just cannot go.

  12. First of all, I get the point you are making, but Max Punisher was not launched by Ennis and Dillon.
    Also while extra pages would be cool and all, the reason Icon books can do that is they are run closer to Image books; there is no (or less) company overhead dollars being devoted to those books. More pages in a Marvel-owned, edited, and produced book will mean more cost for Marvel.

    My answer, put simply, is I have no answer. But I do hope Marvel is actively seeking ideas from their stable of creators as well as outside ones. I believe the line was launched for Alias to exist, so it would take creators like Bendis/Gaydos to say, “Hey I’ve got the perfect new property for the MAX line.” I can’t argue with Marvel’s long-standing philosophy of not having characters that might appeal to kids in MAX books. In other words, there should never be a SpideyMAX.

  13. How has there not been a Wolverine MAX ongoing? They’ll do a billion spinoffs or ongoings for the guy but no MAX title? I call laziness!

    Destroyer was a hell of a lot of fun; the only Kirkman book I can honestly say I enjoy during his stint on Marvel. Strange Tales is a MAX series too and hopefully we’ll get more of that in the future. Finally, there was a Richard Corben mini-series called ‘Haunt of Horror’ that had him draw/adapt Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft stories. Them, along with the obvious Punisher series, is what I would recommend for this line.


    Dystopian Future by Max Brooks and Risso.

    I still want a Punisher Max title set in the late 70s and early 80s. Follow Frank as he deals with the rise of Crack in the streets, Iran Contras, not to mention you could an entire arc where Frank tracks down Noreiga and Escobar

    Also I would love to see MAX titles about more villains. Taskmaster would work well.

  15. The idea of Wood and Cloonan doing WOLVERINE??? CHILLS UP MY SPINE. Must add that you forgot that Marvel has forgotten Joe Kasey and Nathan Fox from their dynamite and should have been a MAX series to Dark Reign: Zodiac. The art was fantastic and highly detailed, yet not so detailed you would get lost in the panel and never return. (see Humberto Ramos’ latest work)

  16. Cyclops MAX

  17. Why not Spidey max ? But then in the black suit off course.

  18. I think that Fury returning to MAX is a great idea. I would like to see an edgy version of the howling commandos. Maybe done in the style of the TV show The Unit…but of course more graphic.

    The above mentioned Punisher Prequel sounds like a wicked possibility. The 80s setting would be ideal for a guy like me in my 30s who grew up in the 80s. To me, that would be totally sick.

    Hawkeye or Black Widow are great candidates. You could take advantage of the whole black ops/spy angle or whatever.


  19. Isn’t everyone over the whole ‘Disney Own Marvel’ thing by now?

    Honestly… what has been so negative and horrible since Disney gobbled up Marvel?

    We got some really decent and grandiose Marvel films? Oh, the horror of Disney! Damn them! Damn then all!

    And all the MAX lines at the time continued until now… they aren’t whittled because of Disney, there’s little to nothing now in the way of MAX titles because of MARVEL.

    Stupid people need to kill the anti-Disney sentiment. Until I see Wolverine replacing his claws with knock-out poison darts and a 12-issue Maxi series staring Spider-Man and Donald Duck, then its needs to be accepted that they’ve only been good for Marvel so far.

  20. Taskmaster MAX, anyone?

  21. Speedball Max?

  22. MAX should be like Vertigo at DC. Most of the ICON line could easily fall under MAX.

  23. Does anyone know if there’s just ONE editor for Marvel MAX titles, or are there individual editors per title?