Marvel is bringing back Marvel Knights for a new comic book 20 years after its debut. Originally a separate imprint of Marvel Comics featuring darker, more street-level characters, Marvel Knights helped the publisher through a rough patch and set a new standard of quality for many of its books.
It's hard to believe now, but in 1998 Marvel Comics faced bankruptcy. While they figured that out, they contracted Joe Quesada's Event Comics to take over several characters, including Daredevil and the Punisher. Quesada took the chance to reinvent their approach. He focused on hiring talent who would elevate the material rather than tie it into the increasingly opaque Marvel continuity. The move proved so popular that, after a couple years, Quesada moved on to become editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.
Now Venom writer Donny Cates aims to revive the title with a new one-shot titled MK20 (via Newsarama). The new incarnation draws characters from the original Marvel Knights lineup, although they haven't announced any specifics. Some have speculated whether this would lead to a new ongoing series or imprint, but, so far, Marvel has only announced the single issue.
To say Marvel Knights reinvented the characters under its banner would be an understatement. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon brought humor and ultra-violence back to The Punisher. Quesada rebooted Daredevil alongside filmmaker Kevin Smith. Then they handed that book over to writer/artist David Mack, whose unique style stood out from other superhero books of the day. The imprint quickly became fertile space for Marvel to experiment with that roster of characters. Even as Quesada moved up in Marvel's offices, the Marvel Knights line thrived. A few years later, the ongoing titles moved back to the main Marvel universe. The imprint continued as a creative space for limited series. But, by then, its influence had changed Marvel for the better. The better those became, the less Marvel Knights stood as a distinctive brand. Fewer series emerged, and eventually the imprint was discontinued in 2013.
Meanwhile, Cates is on hot streak. After a few successful indie titles, Marvel brought him on for well-received runs with Thanos and Cosmic Ghost Rider. In addition to his ongoing Venom series with Ryan Stegman, he's also working on The Death of the Inhumans. Venom especially is enjoying the spotlight being the 40th anniversary of the character and with a new Tom Hardy movie getting closer. There are big shoes to fill taking on the Marvel Knights name. While the comics landscape has changed, many of those initial runs became classics that are still being referenced. Several of the characters have a much higher profile than they did in the '90s, especially with Daredevil and The Punisher now doing quite well for Netflix. Meeting expectations will be a challenge, but then any worthwhile quest is.