15 Best Superheroes Not Owned by Marvel or DC

While Marvel and DC own some of the most famous superheroes around, they’re not the only game in town. Since the debut of Superman in 1939, various creators and companies have tried to chase that huge success, and hundreds of superheroes have followed in the decades since.


Marvel and DC may own the most recognizable, iconic superheroes to the general public, but a few others have managed to break through to more mainstream success. Characters such as Hellboy, Invincible, and the cast of The Boys have broken out of the comic book page to find success with the greater public, but there is still a wealth of fantastic superheroes not as well-known to the general public. Sifting through the vastness of indie comic characters can be a daunting task, but not impossible. Here are the fifteen best superheroes not owned by Marvel or DC.

Related: 10 Indie Superhero Comics That Deserve The Boys Treatment

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15 Ghost

Ghost by Phil Noto

Taking inspiration from pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Phantom Detective, Dark Horse Comics’ Ghost is the alter ego of Elisa Cameron, a reporter who is killed and comes back as a spectral avenger of the night. At first believing herself to be a literal ghost, Cameron later learns that she was brought back by nanomites, which gave her the ability to turn invisible and become intangible. Part of Dark Horse’s “Comics Greatest World,” an imprint designed to create a new shared universe of superheroes, Ghost was easily the most successful of the bunch, with several comics starring the character released in the decades following her debut in 1993.

14 Jack-in-the-Box

Astro City's Jack in the Box

Astro City has a wealth of fan-favorite superheroes to choose from, but the most interesting of all just might be the clown trickster Jack-in-the-Box. Inspired by the acrobatic heroes of Steve Ditko, Jack-in-the-Box is actually toy inventor Zachary Johnson, who takes over from his father, the original Jack-in-the-Box. Using his own inventions like spring-loaded catapults in his gloves and boots, tangling confetti streamers and electric clown noses, Johnson keeps the denizens of Astro City safe from the street level. The second Jack-in-the-Box ultimately decides to retire from the superhero life once his wife announces that she’s pregnant, after which he passes the mantle on to this protégé, Roscoe James.

13 Nexus

Nexus by Steve Rude

Steve Rude and Mike Baron’s futuristic hero is one of the classic characters of 1980s indie comics. Horatio Hellpop was given his powers by the divine, god-like alien the Merk, who instructed him to kill a certain number of mass murderers every “cycle.” If he doesn’t, Nexus receives massive headaches and troubled dreams that could eventually kill him. Through the Merk, Nexus was able to draw his power from nearby stars in a process called “fusion-kasting,” which gave him increased strength, the power of flight and to manipulate energy into disintegrating blasts or force fields. The political situations and moral dilemmas Nexus faces make him one of the most intriguing superheroes out there, and his classic Alex Toth-inspired costume design is one of the all-time greats.

12 Homelander

the boys homelander the seven

He may be a “superhero” only in the loosest sense of the term, but there’s no question that The Boys’ Homelander is a fantastic character. An evil take on the classic Superman archetype, Homelander is presented not as the last survivor of a dying planet, but rather a shady lab experiment from the mega-corporation Vought-American in their quest to create an arm of superhumans. What is most effective about Homelander is just how terrifying he is: The Boys presents a cynical, more realistic take on what would happen if an ordinary human was suddenly given the powers of a demigod, and Homelander’s complete lack of morality makes him one of the most terrifying superheroes of all time.

11 Spawn

Comic book Spawn attacking with a sword

With his skulls, chains, and long-flowing cape, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn cuts a distinctive figure when paired against the more classic superheroes, but what really makes the character special is his origin story. Spawn has the secret ingredients of everything needed to make a classic superhero origin, simple enough for anyone to understand and given a powerful motivation to move him forward through the story. By striking a Faustian bargain with the Devil to see his wife Wanda again, covert assassin Al Simmons is brought back to life, but with a twist. Given the supernatural powers of a Hellspawn, he comes back five years later, only to find that Wanda has remarried and moved on with her life. Angry that he’s been duped, Simmons turns his hell-powers back on the forces who tricked him, eventually growing powerful enough to fight the forces of Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.

10 Stardust, the Super-Wizard

Stardust the Super Wizard

Fletcher Hanks’ bizarre hero made his debut in December 1930, nearly a year and a half after the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. Almost wholly forgotten in the decades thereafter, Stardust found a new lease on life after Hanks’ work was discovered by a new generation of fans, who couldn’t get enough of the avant-garde, almost Dadaist approach to superheroes. Stardust the Super-Wizard is a being of unimaginable power, who often meted out cruel punishments to the evil-doers unlucky enough to cross his path. Whether he was chopping the heads off his enemies and hurling them into space or turning them into rats to be tormented by a tomcat, Stardust the Super-Wizard’s memory is kept alive thanks to the singular vision of Fletcher Hanks.

9 Supreme

Supreme by Jerry Ordway

Starting off as little more than a violent, angry Superman, Supreme truly came into his own under the pen of Alan Moore, who refashioned the character into a modernized take on the Silver Age, Mort Wiesinger-era Superman. Under Moore’s direction, Supreme was refashioned into comic book artist Ethan Crane, who was granted powers as an infant after coming into contact with a meteor made of “supremium.” The hero eventually discovers he is a part of the “Supremacy,” the place all the previous Supremes of the past go when they are “revised” out of continuity. Both celebrating and commenting upon classic superheroes, Alan Moore’ Supreme is a vehicle to chronicle and comment comic book history.

8 Marshal Law

Marshal Law fights zombies in comic art by Kevin O'Neill.

Marshal Law would probably blanch at being referred to as a “superhero,” but considering he wears a mask and has specialized abilities, it’s hard to think of him as anything else. Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill’s indelible creation is a sharp satire of both superhero conventions and American politics, operating in a bleak futuristic landscape where superheroes are more interested in pushing U.S. foreign policy as opposed to fighting supervillains. The title character is a government-sanctioned “cape killer,” assigned to take out super-humans who have gone rogue. Marshal Law went on to cast a wide shadow on superhero comics going forward, as its influence can be felt most clearly in works like The Boys.

7 The Crow

James o'Barr's The Crow

James O’Barr’s outlaw hero is one of the biggest success stories in indie comics, an early favorite in the burgeoning bookstore market for graphic novels. Telling a tale of revenge in the guise of late-eighties, gritty superhero comics, the story sees musician Eric Draven resurrected after he and his girlfriend Shelly are murdered by a gang of killers, which he then summarily hunts down one by one after being given supernatural abilities by a mysterious crow spirit. O’Barr wrote and drew The Crow in response to losing his girlfriend to a drunk driver at a young age, and the pain of loss and grief is all over the original work, so deeply personal at times it almost feels as if the heavy ink lines were drawn in the creator’s own blood.

6 The Rocketeer

Acting as a love letter to the pulp magazines and movie serials of the early to mid-twentieth century, The Rocketeer is the singular vision of one the greatest artists to ever work in the medium. The love can be felt in every line creator Dave Stevens lays down on the page, the whole of his interests and obsessions coming together into a magnum opus that constitutes his life’s work. Daredevil pilot Cliff Secord, his girlfriend Betty, and the iconic jetpack and helmet have blazed a trail not only in comics history but also Hollywood – giving the Rocketeer an unforgettable legacy that has outlasted his late creator.

5 The Spirit

The Spirit by Will Eisner

When the Spirit made his debut in 1940, the last thing creator Will Eisner wanted to be working on was another yet masked do-gooder. Following the massive success of Superman, however, superheroes were the order of the day, so Eisner was obligated to deliver yet another costumed hero for publisher Quality Comics, and the results wound up changing the medium forever. There’s nothing on the surface of police detective Denny Colt/the Spirit that hadn’t been seen before, but Eisner’s ground-breaking approach was nothing short of medium-defining. Under Eisner’s pen, “The Spirit Section” newspaper inserts redefined what could be done in sequential storytelling, possessing a far greater level of sophistication than what was seen in most superhero comics of the day. The character also lent himself to various types of stories and genres, with the Spirit able to deftly tread the lines between adventure, humor, horror, mystery, and more, ultimately resulting in one of the most unforgettable superheroes of all time.

4 Invincible

Invincible flying in the comic series

Making a new superhero character with any sort of lasting impact in the modern era is a tall order, which is what makes the 144-issue-long run of Invincible all the more impressive. Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley’s superhero epic impressively creates its own universe of colorful characters, starting with teenaged Mark Grayson discovering his powers and following his trials and tribulations as he grows into young adulthood and beyond. Perhaps what makes the character so indelible is the way Kirkman and his artists play around with traditional superhero archetypes and use them to subvert expectations at every turn. From the moment Invincible’s dad Omniman is revealed to be an alien warlord intent on conquering Earth, all bets are off, and the rest of Mark Grayson’s journey is filled with shocking twists and turns that kept readers on their toes for years.

Related: Invincible Creator Names an Underrated Comic His Favorite of All Time

3 Savage Dragon

Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen

Out of all the Image Comics founders, only Erik Larsen still writes and draws every issue of his flagship character in the pages of Savage Dragon. After waking up in a burning field, the mysterious Dragon joins up with the Chicago P.D. to help stem the tide of rising supervillain crime in the streets. Celebrating his thirtieth anniversary this year, what makes the Dragon such a memorable character is Larsen’s distinct approach. Over the course of several violent, bizarre, and often irreverent adventures, readers never know what to expect next in the pages of Savage Dragon. The hero routinely gets put through the wringer, being broken, beaten and even killed on more than one occasion, yet what keeps everything grounded is the Dragon’s working-class attitude. Perhaps more than any other hero, the Dragon is the type of guy you’d want to grab a beer and hang out with, in between his beatings of violent supervillains.

2 Madman

Madman by Mike Allred

Madman is the perfect encapsulation of his creator, writer/artist Mike Allred. Reanimated from the corpse of a hardened killer, Frank Einstein finds a new lease on life as the costumed hero of Snap City. Allred’s infectious enthusiasm is evident on every page, a celebration of pop art ephemera, retro-design sensibilities, and classic superhero comics. Yet what makes Madman a truly lasting creation is the way Allred deftly balances the light-hearted Silver Age adventures with Frank’s existential quest to discover who he is and where he belongs in the universe, making for an unforgettable reading experience.

1 Hellboy

Hellboy

Like many of the heroes on this list, Hellboy is the product of one creator. Mike Mignola imbued his signature character with all of his obsessions. Monsters, Jack Kirby comics, H.P. Lovecraft, ancient mythology, and obscure folk tales all come together into an enticing blend of superhero action and moody atmosphere. Holding it all together is Big Red himself; the would-be Beast of the Apocalypse rejects his troubled heritage, instead fighting with humanity against the things that go bump in the night. Hellboy’s sense of humor and overall blue-collar attitude are really what set the character apart from the rest of the crowd. No matter how big the threat he faces, you can always count on Hellboy to dust himself off, crack a one-liner, and head right back into the fray without a second thought.

By achieving success in the comics medium and beyond, these 15 heroes show you don’t need to rely on Marvel and DC to provide fine superhero entertainment.

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