It happens somewhere down the road in the life of any long running comic book series: the spin-off. Usually they’re disposable mini-series, or just another extension of the line (Awesome X-Men, Justice League Nights, etc.) But sometimes, they become something special, and occasionally even better than the original. Here are ten spin-offs that fit that bill, and then some:
That’s right: the Smurfs actually started as part of a comic book, a back-up story in the Belgian ongoing Johan and Peewit). A year later, the little blue guys were so popular they spun off into their own comic, and then promptly became really annoying for the next half a century.
9. Kevin Keller
Okay, a bit of a cheat, but starting in February 2012, Archie’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller, will be spinning off into his own ongoing series. Meanwhile, he’s also getting married (to a guy, of course) in the Life With Archie title. We have no idea how good (or bad) Keller’s ongoing adventures will be, but given that it’s an Archie title we’re guessing it will be about on quality-par with the rest of the line. Those guys know what they’re doing.
8. West Coast Avengers
Given that Marvel currently published, by rough count, eighty-three Avengers series right now, another spin-off doesn’t seem like a big deal. But in 1984, this series launched Iron Man, Hawkeye, and more onto the mild weather of California with spectacular results. And for those of us who grew up in the eighties, the series focus on mixing ongoing soap opera with epic storylines made this them OUR Avengers.
This is the first of several Vertigo spin-off series on this list, so it’s probably a good time to speculate why the DC imprint has so many spin-offs in the first place. The reason, beyond great character work and innovative creators is that they can do whatever they want. For example? A series picking up plot points from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, focusing on the Fallen Angel himself after he decides to abandon Hell and go on a road-trip.
Also spun out of Sandman (and we could probably do a separate list of “10 Best Spin-Offs From Sandman,” honestly) Neil Gaiman’s goth/emo version of Death most notably appeared in two limited series, “The High Cost of Living,” and “The Time of Your Life,” both written by Gaiman. They continued to explore the themes of – naturally – death and life that Gaiman began with the character in the main series, and are classics in their own right.
John Constantine has appeared all over the DC Universe, but this series most closely draws its DNA from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, where Constantine was a supporting character. And as Vertigo’s longest continuously running title (and perhaps the longest non-renumbered title in the comic book industry, period), Hellblazer has now had more issues than Swamp Thing in all its volumes combined.
An X-Men spin-off, Chris Claremont and Alan Davis’ series sent some fan favorites (Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde) to England to recover from grievous wounds, and created a cult classic. But unlike other X-Men titles, Exclaibur ran its own storylines and tone, with weird, quirky villains, crazy ongoing storylines, and barely any focus on Mutants being feared and hated. There, inclusion on list defended.
First published in Dark Horse Presents, Paul Chadwick’s superlative Concrete took a regular guy, stuck him in a rock body created by aliens, and then had him ask what role people have in the world. Philosophical, smart, and over multiple volumes one of the best comic book series ever released… And interestingly enough, Concrete has come full circle, as new stories are currently appearing new issues of Dark Horse Presents.
Art Spiegelman had already made a name for himself when he started serializing Maus, his story of how his Father survived the Holocaust, paralleled with the author’s own struggles with his patriarch, in the alternative comix mag RAW. Eventually, the work spun-out on its own, with Spiegelman finishing the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel in two volumes.
1. Jack of Fables
No, I’m not necessarily saying Jack of Fables – Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges laugh out loud funny spin-off from Willingham’s Vertigo series Fables – is better than Concrete or Maus. What I am saying is that it’s the best SPIN-OFF on the list. Parse that for a second. Anyway, Jack of Fables follows the title characters – the nearly invincible con-man from fairy tales – as he battles librarians trying to shut him down for good, has sex with people he definitely shouldn’t be having sex with, and eventually turns into a dragon before dying. Spoilers. The wickedest, funniest series we’ve ever read, and it’s shockingly even better than the series it came from. That qualifies it for a number one in our book.