When you think of comic books and comic book characters, you generally think of heroes in the mould of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk. Thanks largely to the movies, the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye are also gaining popularity. But what all those characters have in common is that they come from one of the "big two" comic book companies - Marvel or DC.
The pair pretty much dominate the comic book market, vying with each other for the top position (it's pretty damn close between them) and totally blowing other companies out of the water. That's not to say there aren't any other companies though - there are several major comics published by companies other than Marvel and DC. And they're just as relevant as their giant counterparts (seriously, get out and read some!).
In fact, you'll probably be aware of a number of movies based on characters from non-Marvel or DC companies, which gives you an idea of how awesome and popular their characters can actually be. This article is going to list the best heroes from the lesser-known comic book companies out there - here are the ten most awesome non-Marvel or DC superheroes.
10 Tank Girl
Tank Girl - real name Rebecca Buck - isn't your typical heroic character, but she does have decent intentions, even if she does go about them in a violent way. She has attempted to save the world, but tended to focus on killing the people responsible for trying to destroy it, rather than helping those in need. That being said, she's an awesome character who first appeared in British comic magazine Deadline back in 1988.
An Australian character, Tank Girl actually lives in a tank as an outlaw, having fled from an organisation she was working for when they turned on her for her random acts of sex, violence and substance abuse.
To give you an idea of what she's like, her first words as a baby were "cauliflower penis", she dresses like a punk and her boyfriend is a mutated kangaroo named Booga.
She actually starred in her own film back in 1995. Tank Girl was played by Lori Petty and the cast included the likes of Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell and Ice T. However, from a $25 million budget it made just over $4 million at the box office, making it a massive flop - which is a real shame, as it wasn't that bad and the character deserved more.
Pitt might not look like a hero - in fact, his appearance is actually pretty terrifying - but the fact is that he definitely is one. An Image Comics creation, Pitt first appeared in the Youngblood series back in 1992 and was moved over to Full Bleed Studios three years later.
He is a human-alien hybrid, created as a weapon by the race known as the Creed, but he opted to fight against the aliens who created him and side with the humans - in particular his half-brother Timmy, who he protects from his creators with vicious stubbornness.
Pitt possesses super-strength that rivals the likes of more famous characters like the Hulk (in fact, the two fought to a draw in a crossover comic back in 1997), as well as incredible durability and stamina, a regenerative healing factor, limited psychic powers and extremely sharp retractable claws.
8 The Spirit
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that, while he did get a run in DC Comics, he is by no means a DC character, but The Spirit is certainly an awesome one. First appearing in 1940 in stories distributed to newspapers by the Register and Tribune Syndicate, The Spirit later went on to appear in Harvey Comics and DC Comics for a short run.
He is Denny Colt, a young man who, having been thought dead, was actually put into suspended animation by the villain known as Dr. Cobra. When he awakened, he used the new-found anonymity created by the situation to establish himself as a masked crime-fighter.
Also wearing a blue business suit, red necktie, fedora hat and gloves, he became known as "the only real middle-class crimefighter" and, by utilising his outstanding athleticism, great hand-to-hand combat abilities and master detective skills, he fought crime all around the world.
A film based on the character was released in 2008, starring Gabriel Macht in the titular role. The likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes also appeared and it was, sadly, awful.
7 The Crow
The Crow is a character who was conceived by creator James O'Barr, as a way for him to deal with the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver. The character was created before O'Barr had his stories published in Caliber Comics for the first time in 1989 (and later a number of others, such as IDW).
The original Crow was Eric Draven - a young man who was assaulted by a group of men, along with his girlfriend, after their car broke down. Eric was shot in the head and paralysed, while his girlfriend was raped and beaten as he was forced to watch on helplessly. After the attackers left, both of them died from their wounds.
A crow resurrected Eric and the undead victim made it his mission to hunt down his attackers and bring them to justice - with the crow acting as his guide and informant.
Several other Crow avatars followed - all with the same abilities, which included the likes of enhanced physical statistics, invulnerability, psychometry and clairvoyance.
The character was given his own film in 1994, with Bruce Lee's son Brandon starring in his last movie before his death in the lead role. It performed modestly at the box office but was a major critical success.
Vampirella is a vampire (as you can probably guess from her name) who, unlike most creatures of the night, is a superheroine. She first appeared back in 1969 in Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror comics magazine in a self-titled comic strip. She has since appeared in comics published by Harris Publications and Dynamite Entertainment.
Her origin has been changed several times (she's been the daughter of Lilith and has originated from Hell, for example), but her classic origin saw her as an inhabitant of the planet Drakulon and a member of the Vampiri species - all of which had classic vampire abilities and traits like being able to change into bats at will, possessing superhuman physical attributes and drinking blood.
When her planet was in a dire state - its inhabitants dying due to their blood reserves drying up - a spaceship from Earth crash-landed there. When Vampirella investigated, the crew attacked her, forcing her to fight back, killing them and regaining her strength by drinking their blood. She managed to pilot the ship back to Earth by herself, where she became a hero.
A direct-to-video movie was made in 1996, with Talisa Soto in the lead role and Roger Daltrey amongst the supporting cast. It was, however, utterly awful (but don't let that deter you from the very cool and sexy version in the comics).
5 The Mask
The Mask is one of a small number of non-Marvel or DC characters who really needs no introduction - thanks largely to the brilliant 1994 film based on the character, starring Jim Carrey.
He is, of course, Stanley Ipkiss (although several characters have actually worn the Mask - an item owned by the God of Mischief, Loki - it is Ipkiss who is the most well-known) - a meek, weak and neurotic man who purchased the Mask at an antiques store. Upon putting it on his face on his way home, he was transformed into a zany and cartoonish being with the ability to warp reality to his whim (conjuring items from nothing, giving himself super-abilities and making him nigh-invulnerable).
The Mask makes people lose their sanity and inhibitions and, initially, Ipkiss went on a rampage but, having learned to control it somewhat, he used it to become something of an anti-hero.
The comics are fun and often quite gory - unlike the movie - and the lead character has found himself in crossovers alongside the likes of The Joker, Lobo and Grifter.
Witchblade is a relatively new character, having only first been published in 1995 in Top Cow Comics - an imprint of Image Comics - in Cyblade/Shi: The Battle for Independents, before deservedly going on to get her own ongoing series.
The Witchblade itself is actually a sentient supernatural artifact - existing in the form of a gauntlet - which bonds to a (strictly) female host and provides that host with a variety of powers (super-strength, flight, a healing factor etc) that they can then use in order to fight supernatural evil.
The most famous and awesome wielder of the artifact is Sara Pezzini - an NYPD homicide detective - who initially struggles to control its power, but goes on to use it to both act as a superheroine and fend off those individuals and groups who want to acquire the Witchblade for malevolent purposes.
Witchblade has spawned a television series, an anime series, a manga series and a novel (although producers stopped short of making a Witchblade film, in spite of the fact that one was scheduled for a 2009 release).
Invincible is both the name of a comic book series and its lead character in the Image Comics universe. He is a hero whose first appearance was as recent as 2002.
His name is Markus Sebastian Grayson and he is the son of Nolan and Deborah Grayson - with Nolan being the alter-ego of the superhero (and sometimes supervillain) Omni-Man, who is a member of a race of traditionally peaceful alien explorers called Viltrumites who had come to Earth to aid mankind in their struggles.
As a result of his father's origins, Markus developed the same super powers as him when he reached his teenage years. Essentially an analogue of Superman, he became the heroic Invincible, possessing super-strength, durability and speed, as well as flight capabilities.
Invincible has operated within and alongside a number of teams - Guardians of the Globe, Teen Team and The Pact, for example - as well as on his own and, after having trouble getting used to his powers, he eventually become a worthy hero.
Spawn is another character that most people have heard of, whether they're fans of comic books or not, given his profile, popularity and the fact that a movie was made starring the character back in 1997. It starred Michael Jai White in the lead role and was pretty terrible - but don't let it make you think the comic book starring the character is equally bad, because it isn't.
Spawn is an awesome character who was first introduced in Image Comics back in 1992. He is Albert Francis "Al" Simmons - a highly-trained covert operative who, amongst other things, had saved the U.S. President from an assassination attempt. He was killed, however, by his friend Bruce Stinson in a paid hit. His soul went to hell due to the fact that he had killed innocents in the past.
He made a deal in hell with a being called "Malebolgia" which would allow him to return to Earth to see his wife again. However, he returned as a hellspawn and ultimately used the power for good - albeit as something of an anti-hero.
His powers include super-strength and durability, a healing factor, flight, teleportation and shape-shifting. At his most powerful, he is almost godlike and nigh-impossible to kill.
Without a doubt, the most awesome non-Marvel or DC superhero is Hellboy. The Dark Horse character was first introduced back in 1993. Formerly known as Anung Un Rama, Hellboy was born to a witch named Sarah Hughes in Hell. Shortly after his birth, his right hand was cut off by the demon Azazel and replaced with the powerful relic known as the Right Hand of Doom.
He was soon summoned to Earth by the Nazis during World War II in an attempt to sway the conflict in their favour, but he wasn't evil enough to help them and was taken in by the United States Armed Forces and raised by Professor Bruttenholm and the United States Army (in conjunction with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (or BPRD)).
He grew up and began to use his powers (super-strength and durability, healing powers etc) to fight the evil forces of the supernatural as an agent of the BPRD.
Two films starring the character have been made - in 2004 and 2008 respectively - with Ron Perlman in the lead role. Both films were great and rumours of a third instalment persist to this day.