Comics are booming in popularity, variety and just generally being fantastic these days – and on the international scale it’s never been bigger and closer to mainstream than it is right now. One element of that which doesn’t get covered a lot by itself is the licensed properties, i.e, comics about things that weren’t originally comics but now have comic versions of themselves – this has included movies, TV shows, cartoons and even musicians (like KISS and Slayer) and TV wrestling that have been adapted to the comic page.
Why? It’s simple: Comics have no budget restrictions and are faster. You can build a universe, blow up planets, slaughter a city full of zombies, have a global event, recreate performers and actors the way they used to be and so much more in a fraction of the money it would take to make it in live-action or animation. This is something that in recent years many of us have embraced because it gives us more of things we love that could not survive in other mediums OR allowed for continuation of things we love that had to end like TV shows. So today, I’m taking a brief run through the many (many, many, many) comics I’ve sampled in the past two years of comics based on licensed properties – so let’s get to it!
Before I get to the ones I’ve really enjoyed and would recommend to everyone, I’m going to quickly blurb-review the rest, the good, the bad, the ugly or the-just-popular:
IDW Publishing is one off the two biggest licensors, who for their part has done a bang-up job and tied up with Hasbro to bring us all the goodness from childhood – both major and obscure. They’ve got the Transformers which has about three ongoing series (Lost Light, The Transformers & Optimus Prime), two G.I.Joe series and of course ROM the Space Knight, Micronauts and M.A.S.K (anyone remember these last three?) all these universes now being merged into one shared one with a recent event called Revolutions which was actually surprisingly fun to read. In addition they’ve got three Star Trek series, The X-Files (which is pretty good writing and solidly true to the series but I dislike the art!), Back to the Future (yeah, I was surprised at that one too…) and strangely enough this month, a new series based on the board game Clue, that here in India we’d all remember as Cluedo – don’t read Clue, it is a really stupid comic, really…
For the most part, I have to admit, the brunt of the IDW licensed comics are highly entertaining but most are well, decent. Nothing great, nothing fantastic, but an entertaining ride down nostalgia lane and some interesting interpretations and revamps of these old franchises. There are some standouts like G.I.Joe: Real American Hero which is in fact the continuation of the amazing Marvel series from the 80’s and is still being written by Larry Hama who is the master of Joe-storytelling – but the main G.I.Joe series which is part of their shared universe is also fun in its own way, but less like classic Joe so take your pick. For fans of the recent Star Trek movies, the series Star Trek: Boldly Go is a direct continuation of the movies post Beyond and is pretty well done, in fact I preferred it to the movies in many ways – for older Trek stuff, you can check out Star Trek: New Visions by John Byrne which is quite a unique continuation of The Original Series.
The other big-daddy licensor and the most varied by far in the licensing comics game has to be Dynamite – they literally cover everything and every type. The unfortunate part is that like anything where you have a huge volume, quality can suffer – though don’t get me wrong, they’ve got some great stuff here too. Their comics of the animated series Bobs Burgers (a personal fave!) with its random little segments is hilarious and their many Army of Darkness titles are always entertaining but only some are really great – mainly the more recent ones and their crossover with their Xena: Warrior Princess comic (which itself is quite good!). The many mini-series’s of the book series The Dresden Files by author Jim Butcher are fantastic for fans of magical dark-fantasy that is more mature (note: mature doesn’t mean gore-filled) stuff than Harry Potter. For fans of Game of Thrones (a.k.a Songs of Ice and Fire) Dynamite has been doing a most excellent job adapting the books and fans can get a much fuller, richer experience of the series which draws from so much more of the world that the author created – including potential spin-off mini-series in the future.
Most recently their pulp-comic library that carries the likes of The Shadow, Red Sonja and The Green Hornet have been consistently decent if not amazing – The Shadow benefits from having legend Matt Wagner on board and Red Sonja enjoyed a huge revival under Gail Simone. In fact under Simone’s leadership, they had the first of its kind all-female hero multi-universe crossover called The Swords of Sorrow which was actually quite unique and entertaining and tied up all their franchise females plus their original comic heroines as well. The Lone Ranger however has not managed to be as successful in his solo outings.
The ones I didn’t care for however but definitely have their serious fanbase and are doing well enough are series like James Bond which started alright but lost me and retro revivals of cartoon icon Betty Boop, the original Battlestar Galactic and the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman – they’re fun enough I suppose but couldn’t hold my interest and seemed to cater more to nostalgia than anything else. I’ve also been meaning to try out their new Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew crossover comic but honestly I hesitate because it could be really good or really, really sad.
Boom Studios is the another big non-comic licensed property publisher, but they cater to a much more mixed market and quite different from the nostalgia focussed lineup that is IDW. Primarily the market is spit into two lines: Current and old-school. The current market is frankly not for me really, it’s nice but it’s… kinda kiddish.. including stuff like Steven Universe, Adventure Time and a few others – most of this stuff is entertaining enough and I daresay they seem to be very much like the cartoons they are adapted from so hardcore fans (the number of which surprises me till now) should be excited and happy to read them. What I really do enjoy is the more old-school stuff that’s adapted, perhaps because that’s from my younger days but also because I find it well done – prime example is the Power Rangers series, it adapts what I watched waaaay back on VHS tapes (remember those?!) and today makes me laugh a little at the goofiness though I enjoy the nostalgia, but the new comic tries to utilise the new medium and space to flex creative and has actually crafted a pretty good comic out of it all.
There’s also the WWE comic which is written by Dennis Hopeless whose work I’ve enjoyed quite a bit – but again like the kiddie stuff before, this dramatisation of the story-lines of the WWE shows and characters/wrestlers is only mildly entertaining to anyone who is not a wrestling fan. There’s also a Peanuts comic that was launched a while back but frankly I’ve not tried it so not gonna comment.
Next we have a presence from the biggest dog in this play-ground: Marvel Comics. I’m putting there here because it qualifies though just about by pure logic AND has had some surprisingly good entries even in this limited scope. Ever since Disney bought out Star Wars, all the comics in the franchise have come under Marvels banner. Largely that has been a mixed bag for me – comics like the adaptations of the most recent two movies were… well comics of the movies… so if you love Star Wars and liked the movies, enjoy, but I didn’t care much for them. The Darth Maul and Poe Dameron series are hot with hardcore fans but again, I found them passable at best and the main Star Wars ongoing also was entertaining but not enough to keep me reading it. HOWEVER, the first mini-series Princess Leia by Mark Waid was absolutely fantastic and every fan should read it. In addition, Kieron Gillen who had been writing the ongoing Darth Vader series made Vader awesome again and in many ways I feel, more awesome than he was even in movies because he got so much space to develop and show us who and what he is and what he can do – Charles Soule has now taken over so hopefully the series stays good.
Next up we have the relatively new (as far as I know) house of Titan Comics who have been much like Marvel – super niched – in their franchise comics. Mainly they have the whole gamut of Doctor Who in all his multi-incarnational glory. They’re now on year two and three of the most recent/popular Doctors, i.e, Ten, Eleven and Twelve, and have even got an ongoing for Christopher Ecclestons ninth Doctor who has a solid following of his own – plus many mini’s and one-shots starring several of the older versions of our Galifreyan gadabout. So yes, Doctor Who fans have plenty to be happy about.
Apart from the many, many comics of Doctor Who, they seem to have chosen to follow the same flood-of-titles formula with their other franchise – Assassins Creed. Honestly I’ve not read the majority of these and can’t speak to their overall quality but Assassins Creed: Reflections was pretty decent and the quality of art and production is definitely good. Plus the two friends I have who are hardcore fans of the series, they enjoy the comics more than a fair bit – they don’t sing their praises but clearly these comics will work for fans and maybe, just maybe for non-fans or part-timers who want something to wipe the shitty taste of the terrible movie from their palate. Oh yeah and they’ve also got plans to do horror-ish comics for the Hammer-horror stuff that just had its first super-fail at the movies with The Mummy and the new “Dark Universe” launch and the comic was funnily enough, actually kind of better which doesn’t say much.
That brings us to Dark Horse Comics. Now I love the comics that these guys do, you should know that right from the start – though they lost the rights and had to stop making the best Star Wars comics, the franchises they have comics off now are mainly Joss Whedon-verse stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly/Serenity + Aliens/Predator comics. The Buffy-verse comics have followed on from the TV shows and after what some considered a slightly over-the-top but still decent Season 8, they’ve been absolutely fantastic with the main Buffy series being wonderfully done with great artwork – but the surprise was the Angel & Faith series which brought together my two favourites from the Buffy-verse but sadly ended, only to be replaced recently but Angel starring old grumpy-vamp himself and Illyria/Fred which was super exciting. And for fans of other aspects of this franchise, there have been mini-series starring Spike and Willow and the whole scooby gang gets plenty of love.
On the other side, they’ve got a huge expanded set of mini-series entitled and starring characters and whole new aspects of the Aliens franchise. I’ve read some but not all and overall I found it to be a mixed bag. The Predator comics were more interesting to me but not always truly memorable, the Aliens comics were fun enough but were a little boiler-plate-standard horror comics I suppose – with the Prometheus titled comics being the least interesting to me.
If you REALLY want a hell of a ride and enjoy the Aliens and Predators franchises, then check out this kickass mini-series that somehow these guys managed to pull together that stars these two interstellar races of death-dealing monsters and brings them to Mega City One where they have to face off with none other than the man himself – Judge Dredd. Seriously, Predator vs. Judge Dredd vs. Aliens is one hell of an entertaining comic that you should read if this type of thing gets you excited!
And last (phew…) but not least is the house of Oni Press, a small-publisher who does some pretty interesting and solid comics though their output is much smaller than pretty much all the others you’ve heard of above. However I think they struck a nice niche with their two licensed titles with weirdos like me – namely comic adaptations of the darkly twisted cartoon Invader Zim by series creator Jhonen Vasquez and the almost equally bizarre yet somehow totally different Rick and Morty based on the super-popular series animated series that is currently on the air. If you had any interest in these two series, you will not be disappointed with these comics!
And with that folks… I sign off… I think my hands and my brain are totally wiped collecting all this together and reading all these comics – but it was totally worth it and I hope you guys enjoyed it and found many new roads to explore down. I’ll be back soon with a list of my top 5 comics that are based on licensed properties right now – I’ve not even mentioned any of them in this post so if you think you know which ones I mean, give me a shout on twitter or my blog, otherwise I’ll see you shortly and till then folks: Cheers and have a good one.
Writer: Akshay Dhar
A writer when life permits, a music and nature lover, (attempted) humourist, nerd, scribbler, day-dreamer, arm-chair philosopher and random road-tripper… A strangely hopeful cynic first and foremost from all accounts.
Once a young geek-ling who migrated and “matured” from comics to literature and more esoteric reading and ideas – eventually found his way back to the wonderful worlds that come from putting a dreamers’ pen to paper!
Loves to let his mind wander and at times it takes forever to find its way home. Loves all comics so long as they are not just pretty pictures – but will make exceptions for masters like Geof Darrow and J.H.Williams III.
His own blog can be found HERE.