The archetype of the mad scientist or diabolical genius is central to modern comic books. Even in the Golden Age, writers seemed to sense how much readers loved to follow the exploits of the evil scientist. For example, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced Superman readers to Lex Luther in 1940, they seemed fairly confident that great stories would emerge by tapping into this modern archetype. The results were unanimous: Luther quickly became a mainstay of the Superman comics and today can easily be considered Superman’s greatest foe.
What makes these mad scientist characters so appealing? Perhaps the sheer hubris they display reminds us of corresponding real world horrors, capturing some of the ongoing anxiety of living in a post-atomic age. Whatever it is, the appeal of the mad scientist does not seem to be going away.
After the Bronze Age, which witnessed the rise of the anti-hero in comics (Wolverine, the Punisher, etc.) a new trend began. Namely, the trend of making the figure of the arrogant or evil/mad genius a central focus of the comic.
In this article I want to take a look at some comics featuring mad science from recent years. There are surprisingly many of these titles, in what follows I’ll list just list four stand out comics that are worth checking out and may even be investment worthy.
The Manhattan Projects was one of my favorite comics a few years ago until it stopped appearing in 2016 (that was after a limited series of four issues, The Sun Beyond the Stars was released). Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra created this alternate history tale set just after World War Two. Published by Image Comics, the series featured a conspiratorial take on the military industrial complex. Imagine if famous scientists like Richard Feynman, Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein had been working secretly with the army at the behest of some US Presidents to develop special weapons and fight battles that no one else on earth even knew about. The Manhattan Projects is as dark and dystopian a take on science and politics as you’ll ever find, with many of the featured scientists portrayed as literally insane. Currently quite affordable with 324 copies on the CGC census and 9.8 graded copies trending at a fair market value of around $44.00, this comic has dropped by -58.2% in 9.8 grade but risen in 9.6 grade by + 24.7% over the last five years. These mixed returns are most likely due to the fact that it disappeared abruptly. If a movie or streaming series is ever made, I can see this one taking off. In any case, if you love science comics, now is the time to buy it in 9.8.
Created by Rick Remender with help from artist Matteo Scalera this is a comic about a team of scientists who are inter-dimensional travelers led by a physicist called Grant McKay. McKay discovers something called the Pillar that allows him to puncture through the barriers of reality. Featuring an organization called the ‘Anarchistic Order of Scientists’, this is mad science done right. Currently trending at $55.00 for graded 9.8 copies, as in the case of The Manhattan Projects the returns currently negative -33.9% on 9.8 grades (over the last four years). Positive returns are recorded for 9.4 but with only 3 sales over the last four years, it’s hard to gauge the future returns on this series. Appreciation in its value may depend on a movie announcement.
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense founded in the 1940s is an organization stemming from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe. The B.P.R.D, as its name suggests, is both a research and paramilitary organization. Its purpose: to defend the Earth from occult and paranormal or supernatural threats. To this end, its founder, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (a member of the British Paranormal Society), originally used the resources of the US Air Force. Incorporating all kinds of recruits, including Hellboy himself for many years, the B.P.R.D will most certainly be featured in the upcoming reboot of the Hellboy film. If that film does well, this comic could very well continue to rise in value. I blogged about this comic three week ago, and noted then how 9.8 grades were selling for $200.00. This has maintained its value, and returns are up + 34% over the last four years. Just wait for the trailer of the next Hellboy film to drop, prices should spike at that point.
Two scientific geniuses, Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly, have invented time travel technology. Being unorthodox scientists, they decide to use their invention for undertaking some highly wacky adventures and they also decide to turn their exploits into a reality show. This fun comic by Mark Millar has a movie deal lined up (see here), but the film adaptation is currently stuck in pre-production. With only 34 CGC copies on the census, and with 9.8’s currently selling for an affordable $55.00, keep an eye on this one.