Marvel Knights was the breakout mature imprint of the House of Ideas led by would-be EIC Joe Quesada in 1998 when the company was in dire financial straits. Where sales were flagging after the ’90s boom and subsequent bubble burst, Marvel Knights was a largely popular experiment, with more “adult” creators and even indie darlings bringing classic characters to an entirely new audience. The resulting books were edgy and dark, and ultimately changed the face of Marvel forever. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Marvel Knights line and the upcoming reprints of the classic titles, we’ve looked back and picked the eight must-read arcs from this groundbreaking era of Marvel.
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear vol. 2, #1-81
One of the flagship launch titles of Marvel Knights, this Daredevil run is synonymous with the mindset Joe Quesada was trying to bring to the publisher. The first arc was drawn by Joey Q himself along with Jimmy Palmiotti, and was written by Kevin Smith, later to be taken on by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. Quesada’s commitment to bringing edgier creators to the pages of Marvel Comics is what made Knights stand out. This bleak tale saw the grisly death of Karen Page at the hands of a murderous Bullseye, and its the dark aesthetic has been a clear influence on the current Netflix show.
Black Panther vol. 3, #1-12
This reinvention of the King of Wakanda went on to become the main title Black Panther book, and has become one of the more seminal Black Panther stories of all time. Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira created a whole new roster of characters including many like the Dora Milaje and Everett Ross, who appeared in Ryan Coogler’s incredible record-breaking movie. Priest and Texeira created a stripped-down vision of T’Challa, one that upended the world of Black Panther as fans had known it, heavily influenced by Denny O’Neil’s work on Batman.
Elektra vol. 2, #1-22
Before he took on Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis teamed up with Chuck Austen to launch a series following “Marvel’s Sexiest Assassin.” That should give you an idea of what you’re getting with this book, but it’s an important one as it was definitely the most adult of Marvel Knights’ edge-fest with the third issue being recalled for including naked illustrations of Elektra. Hired by Nick Fury to head off to Iraq to retrieve “The Scorpio Key,” Elektra was newly fully aware and in control of the dark side of her soul after being resurrected by Stone.
The Punisher vol. 5, #1-37
Probably the most iconic and critically acclaimed of all of the Marvel Knights books, Quesada’s connections and eye for talent brought in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon fresh off the seminal Vertigo series Preacher. Beginning with the outlandishly violent Welcome Back Frank story arc, this series turned Frank Castle on his head, leaning into the brutal reality of the anti-hero in a way that no other Punisher comics really had. Dillon and Ennis’ vision would become the ultimate version of Castle, and after Marvel Knights came their seminal Punisher Max run.
Inhumans vol. 2, #1-12
Any comic drawn by Jae Lee is worth picking up, but this collaboration with Paul Jenkins gave an emotional depth and integrity to the Attilan Royal Family that they’d sorely been lacking. This miniseries was the first Inhumans book in 21 years, and centered on the political and personal lives of Blackagar Boltagon, his clan, and most radically the city of Attilan which took center stage for the first time in the Inhumans’ 30+ year history. The story would later be used for the basis of the much maligned and now cancelled ABC Inhumans television adaptation.
Marvel Knights 4 #1-27
Launching the Big Two careers of both artist Steve McNiven and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, this series ran concurrently alongside Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s main Fantastic Four title but swerved away from the sci-fi elements that the series was so well known for. Focusing on the more mundane realities of being a hero, this run aimed for more authentic and realistic storytelling with the Four bankrupt and homeless after being punished by the city. Aguirre-Sacasa also started showing his horror chops with stories that featured folkloric creatures like the Jersey Devil.
The Sentry #1-5
This meta-text on superheroes from The Inhumans‘ Jae Lee and Paul Jenkins is one of the more unique takes that Marvel Knights had to offer, focusing on a middle aged man named Bob Reynolds who one day remembers he is in fact a hero named Sentry. This miniseries follows Bob as he attempts to warn other Marvel characters about the return of his foe, whilst also figuring out why no one can remember his superhero alter-ego. If you’re not aware of the Sentry, then the big reveal here will be a real gut punch as Lee and Jenkins create a seminal Sentry story in just five issues.
Marvel Boy #1-6
This Grant Morrison-written miniseries with art by J.G. Jones introduced the world to Noh-Varr A.K.A. Marvel Boy. The hard sci-fi tale saw teen Noh-Varr as an ensign on a Kree ship which ends up drawn towards the Marvel Universe where it crashes, leaving him as the only survivor. Beloved scribe Morrison was a big get for Marvel and would go on to write the critically acclaimed New X-Men for the publisher. Noh-Varr also went on to star in multiple events such as Dark Reign, Civil War, and Dark Avengers.
Do you have a favorite Marvel Knights story? Excited to explore this mature Marvel imprint? Let us know below!
Images: Marvel Comics