Saturday, February 25, 2006

Friday at the License Bureau

Last week I said I was going to talk about the new stuff in my comic-shop box, but honestly, most of it was 'meh' -- just the contractual obligation stuff until my pull request expires at the shop. And I already did the column about pruning the 'meh' stuff off my list.

As usual, the comics acquisitions that really got me excited were the older items arriving in the mail. In particular, the Showcase Presents Jonah Hex and the Essential Moon Knight. These books rocked my world and I recommend them unreservedly. Especially if you get them online discounted thirty to fifty percent with free shipping.

But I already talked about Moon Knight, too, and lots of people talked about Hex when it came out. What struck me, this week, was all the great stuff that probably will NEVER get an Essential or a Showcase or a trade collection of any kind, because of rights issues. Now, traditionally, fans have always sneered at licensed books, and honestly I've never really understood that. Licensed books tying in to some kind of TV show or movie have very often put out some really amazing stuff, and sometimes, as with Carl Barks' duck books or DC's The Batman Adventures, far surpassed the original material. So I thought I'd call your attention to a few more obscure examples of those. Well worth it if you are surfing eBay or Mile High, or snooping through back issue bins, or wherever you get hooked up with the good old stuff, because the chances are vanishingly small they'll ever show up collected in paperback.

What brought it up was a message board discussion I was having with some folks about the comics version of the Six Million Dollar Man. Now, I admit up front that I am a huge ol' geek for Steve Austin's adventures -- the bionic one, that is, not the wrestler -- and his distaff counterpart, The Bionic Woman. Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin were the Buffy and Angel for my generation of nerds. There were all sorts of licensing tie-ins, books, action figures, lunchboxes, and of course, comics.

The comics were published by Charlton, who frankly were not known for putting out good stuff. But a great deal of the bionic comics were jobbed out to Neal Adams' Continuity Studios, and the black-and-white magazine books were enormous fun. The stories were just okay -- about on a level with the show -- but the art was breathtaking. At the time Continuity had on its roster in addition to Adams: Terry Austin, Joe Barney, Joe Brozowski, Rick Bryant, Karin Daugherty, Dick Giordano, Klaus Janson, Bruce Patterson, Carl Potts, Mark Rice, and Josef Rubinstein. Any or all of whom worked on these books at one time or another. The credits are simply "Continuity Associates," so it's an interesting exercise for the scholar, figuring out who did what. It's an art showcase book really. But also fun for those that, like me, remember the show fondly. The nine color comics Charlton put out were pretty forgettable; though if you are a Joe Staton completist, he did do work on them, though not his best by a long shot. The magazine is the one you want -- ran seven issues in all and the first five are the good ones, from Continuity.

Looks like Giordano to me.
But this is clearly Adams.

Another licensed book I remember fondly was Gold Key's Dark Shadows. The books Gold Key put out were almost all licensed properties, based on some cartoon or TV show, but often the book would catch on and outlast the TV show by a fair margin. Gold Key's Twilight Zone and Dark Shadows books both went years longer than their TV counterparts, and in Dark Shadows' case, it was vastly more entertaining than the show. The comic had an unlimited special-effects budget, and though Gold Key's policy kept it from getting too nasty or gory, with Arnold Drake and John Warner doing the scripting there was no rule against weird, and weird was what Dark Shadows the comic was all about.

This book was trippy enough that Barnabas and his girl might actually have been shrunk to fit into that crystal as part of the story.

It already incorporated vampires and werewolves and ghosts from the TV show, but under Drake and Warner we got otherdimensional travel, parallel worlds, and all kinds of other psychedelia. Imagine my disappointment decades later when I finally got to see the original show and saw that it was basically a soap opera. I wanted the hell-for-leather, acid-trip madness I got from the comics; aficionados will no doubt disagree, but for my money, the show was pale, drab, and glacially slow in comparison to the comic. The art by Joe Certa was just okay, though the painted covers were always exquisite on the Gold Key books. Sadly, neither I nor the GCD have any idea who did them.

Star Trek, of course, was a huge success story in comics; there were nice runs at DC, Gold Key, and Wildstorm, and you can find trades collecting many of those. But, you know, there were some very cool Trek books put out in the 1990's from Marvel as well and sadly, I don't think those are getting an Essential any time soon. They didn't last long, which is a pity, because I think they were easily the most innovative approach anyone ever took to a comics adaptation. The mandate was, "Let's not give them what they can get already." So instead of just doing straight adaptations, you got interesting forays into previously-unexplored territory like Starfleet Academy or my favorite, pictured below:

Yes, I'm a geek, and yes, I'm old and retro. But I heart this book SO MUCH.

Since I am the resident geezer here, this should come as no surprise to anyone. But "The Menagerie" was one of my favorite episodes of the original Trek and here was a comic spun completely out of that episode. Plus my inner continuity nerd thrilled to the idea of finding out the 'history' of the original show. The book itself was a hoot, though as with all licensed books, to enjoy it you really have to have some affection for the original material. Since I fell in love with the 'first' version of the Enterprise from the moment I saw it, I swooned over Early Voyages, they had me at hello. Your mileage may vary. But I will say the art was an amazing tour-de-force from Patrick Zircher, managing to look both futuristic and 90's tough while at the same time evoking the retro look of the original. This only ran 17 issues and you'll probably find it in the three-for-a-dollar bin. I imagine you could have the whole run for under cover price. Worth checking out.

Another geezer property close to my heart was Marvel's black and white magazine book, Planet of the Apes. This was another one of those books where Doug Moench proved to be the MVP go-to writer of the 70's Marvel Bullpen -- he did some great work on this book, ably assisted by Herb Trimpe, Alfredo Alcala, and Mike Ploog on the art chores.

In the 70's, we all went a little Ape.

The format for the book was very cool: one story would be an installment adapting the films (they eventually got through all five) and then the other story would be an original, and the original stuff was the fun part. Moench pulled out all the stops here, and, really, if you had already seen the movies and the TV show then this was the only new stuff going. Marvel reprinted the movie adaptations as a standard color comic under the title "Adventures on the Planet of the Apes" a couple of years later, but screw that -- you want the magazines with the original material, the new stories. That's where the fun is. This ran 29 issues, which was pretty respectable for the 70's, and though it's damnably hard to find and very expensive when you do find it, it's worth your time.

For now that's about enough... this is getting so long that I think I'm going to split it into two parts. I didn't even get to the Millennium Publishing stuff or The Shadow Strikes! or any of the other half-dozen on my list. So I will leave it here until next Friday. Feel free to add any I missed down in Comments, though: the rule is that 1) it must be licensed, not original to comics; and 2) even if it's not, there is very little possibility that it will get a Showcase or an Essential.

See you next week!

P.S. Yes, I know it's really Saturday, but I WROTE it yesterday; I was looking up reference to illustrate it and making sure I had my credits right. Now that I know people actually READ this stuff I am trying to be more careful.

Read More


Anonymous thekamisama said...

I used to think that I would never see the British Transformers comics, then all of the sudden a few years ago they reprinted those and some later Marvel issues in TPB. There will always be hope, so long as new license holders can reprint earlier material (like Dark Horse has done on a limited basis with Star Wars and Conan)

2/25/2006 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Steven Rowe said...

around the time of the Dark Shadows comics, George Wilson was Gold Key's main cover painter. He did most of the Space Family Robinson covers, for example.

2/25/2006 07:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I missed all of DC's run on TARZAN. I would kill, perhaps literally, to get my hands on Joe Kubert's run on the books based on that property; Big John B's run at Marvel, too.

2/25/2006 10:21:00 PM  
Anonymous jingyang said...

Some of the DC Tarzan has been collected very Dark Horse I believe.
Which reminds me that I would love to see a collection of Marvel's John Carter Warlord of Mars, simply so I can just take it off the shelf anytime.
Titan Books in the UK began reprinting the 80s DC Star Trek TOS stuff, which I enjoyed because it fitted in between the 2nd 3rd and 4th films, and was set on the Excelsior for a while. That series also had the best Mirror Universe story ever. Unfortunately Titan started their collections with the first 5 issues of DC's first TOS series then skipped in the second collection to the second DC TOS series. IMHO the first series was far superior to the second.

2/25/2006 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

DC's first Trek series had a weird, funky energy to it, thanks to writers' attempts to write stories that could fit in between the most recently-released movie and the next, in-progress movie -- which gave us stuff like Kirk commanding the Excelsior and the new, junior crewmembers. By the second series, Paramount was paying more attention to things and the movies themselves had reached a "further adventures" sort of status quo, alas. There are a few trades of this series out -- The Best of Star Trek, The Mirror Universe Saga, and Peter David's Who Killed Captain Kirk? storyline. But it would be great to see more of this run somehow.

2/26/2006 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

I tend to avoid licensed comics, but that's mainly because I don't have much interest in the Transformers, GI Joe, the Micronauts, et al, even though I am one of a legion of comics fans in their 20s who got hooked on the form at least partially by Larry Hama's GI Joe. The only 80s toy comic I've considered buying was that GI Joes/Transformers WWII team up Jae Lee drew, because it's so damn bizarre sounding and, hey, Jae Lee!

I do have to say that I've been tempted to check out some of the Buffy and Angel comics (they're Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman of my generation of nerds?). If nothing else, there's one that's become a running joke between Stony and I, and I really should own it given how much milage I've gotten out of making fun of it. I almost picked up a Bond comic strip adaptation a few years ago. Really nice oversized package. I would buy a wrestler Steve Austin comic, too, if it was an earnest autobiographical number about what he's doing now that he doesn't wrestle anymore. From what I've heard, that's way more heatbreaking than Jimmy Fucking Corrigan. Also, he could put on his underwear and beat someone up to break the monotony. Jimmy Fucking Corrigan couldn't do that. Fucking Jimmy Fucking Corrigan.

2/26/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Scott M. said...

There were two trade paperbacks of the first 12 (I think) issues of THE BATMAN ADVENTURES.. I bought them at the time. And they are indeed quite good. Since Warner owns DC and the WB animation, I don't see any reason why they would not reprint the comics if the demand was there.. it's probably more likely a matter of not wanting to "confuse the fans" away from the current Bat-toon. I think I read on Evan Dorkin's blog that they are releasing a new Superman Adventures collection.

Re: Brad's comment, my girlfriend is very much into Joss Whedon so I have been ordering his comics for her (Fray, Astonishing X-men, etc). and I do recommend the collection called TALES OF THE SLAYERS. Whedon and many other Buffy TV series writers wrote the scripts and the artists range from the likes of Tim Sale to P. Craig Russell, and there is a particularly good one by Gene Colan.

"bpktie"- what Arte Johnson was unwilling to bet on Laugh-in.

2/27/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Blanchard said...

You guys are forgetting about the REALLY good licensed stuff that'll probably never see the light of TPB-collected day: BOB HOPE and JERRY LEWIS comics drawn by the great Bob Oksner. That was good stuff!

2/28/2006 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

"Some of the DC Tarzan has been collected very Dark Horse I believe."

Yup, the first volume of it (of three) is on its way to me right now.

Dark Horse seems to be increasingly bent on rescuing these odd old books to help beef up their catalogue. They supposedly have reprints of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser coming, too.

2/28/2006 01:07:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home