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Comic Theme Time – Best Tie-In Comic Book Series

Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

I was thinking about this the other week when I was writing about how Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was, in effect, a gigantic tie-in film to sell candy (read more about it here). That made me contemplate a bit the concept of how art and commerce can intersect and sometimes actually result in a good piece of fiction. That though, in turn, made me think about comic books, which have had a long history of tying in with things like TV shows, movies and toy lines.

So here’s the theme – the BEST comic book that tied in with a movie, TV show or toy line. Is it G.I. Joe? Is it Transformers? Star Wars? ROM? What do you think?

41 Comments

Darn you, I’ve been working on a post like this for my own site for the past six months. You beat me again. I’d say the best I’ve found so far are: Micronauts, 2001 (by Jack Kirby–introduced Machine Man!), the old Marvel Star Wars book, the old DC Tarzan by Roy Thomas and Buscema (especially the “Jewels of Opar” story).

Derek Handley

July 1, 2013 at 5:32 am

My first response were Marvel’s The Micronauts and ROM Spaceknight because they went so far beyond their roots to produce some excellent and compelling stories – not to mention having some amazing art by the likes of Michael Golden, Jackson Guice, Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko.

That said, the toys they were supposed to promote seemed to have vanished from the market within months of the release of the books. Also, Bill Mantlo and the artists on each book effectively created completely new worlds just inspired by the toy lines.

For me, the best comic that tied in with a toy line that had a real market presence was Marvel’s GI Joe by Larry Hama.

The best comics that tied in with a movie or TV property were the Doctor Who comic strip and related backups that ran in the weekly and later monthly magazine published in the UK. It was consistently good right through the Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras thanks to the incredible talent working on it, including Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Steve Moore, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve Parkhouse, Grant Morrison and John Ridgway! It was an excellent complement to the TV show.

I have the fondest memories of Simon Furman’s original Transformers run (which culminated with the big battle against Unicron), though I haven’t read it since it was originally published… I started reading Transformers because the toys were among my favourites as a kid, but Furman kept me following the series years after I’d stopped playing with any toys.

Micronauts and ROM Spaceknight have always intrigued me, but they were never published here in Finland (except for the occasional crossover with the X-Men or something), so I never read them as a kid, and apparently they’ve never been reprinted because of licensing issues…? That’s sad, hopefully Marvel will one day find a way to reprint all that stuff. (Especially because of Mantlo’s health situation, it’d be nice if they’d find a way for him to get some royalties.)

GI Joe is one of the rare franchises to truly transcend being a toy tie-in; you can actually see how Hama just barely goes along with the random characters Hasbro throws at him while he’s trying to tell his own story. Take the Baroness for instance. She was introduced before her toy was even conceived, only one toy of her was ever released in the classic toyline, but she’s in probably 75% of the comic over its 155 issue span. Any other toy tie-in comic would’ve replaced her with whatever new character they were putting out (with the exception of Transformers, who got around this by having death be no big thing for giant robots to come back from).

Ooo, tough call. As much as I love ROM, I’d have to go with Micronauts. That was just an excellent series (or couple of series). I was also really fond of a lot of Marvel’s other licensed series: Star Wars, 2001, Logan’s Run, Godzilla… I also read the Masters of the Universe comics back in the day, but I can’t make much of a case for them. I’m just now getting into the old Doctor Who comics, and there’s some great stuff there for sure. Oh, and the recent Buffy comics have been good.

If you hadn’t specified toys/movies/TV, there are a LOT of other licensed properties I’d be torn between.

But yeah, I’m going to say Micronauts.

Hard to think of my top five on the fly, but I’m surprised nobody mentioned Conan yet, especially the Roy Thomas Marvel stuff. Also, although the run over all was pretty choppy, Marvel’s Star Wars stuff gets a nod just for the David Michelinie/Walt Simonson issues and Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson stuff (both comics and newspaper strips). Love Joe Kubert’s Tarzan work at DC. I enjoyed Larry Hama’s work on GI Joe, but lost interest around issue thirty or so so I can’t comment on that whole run. The only current licensed work that really interests me right now is Gabriel Hardmann’s run on Planet of the Apes, especially when he draws it. The Daryl Gregory/Carlos Magno stuff was good too, but setting it so far in the past and not tying it into movie continuity made it feel like it wasn’t really a POTA book and more like just a random story about talking apes. If you can get past that, it’s pretty good…

Goonie: Conan was one of the ones I was referring to that was a great comic but not a toy/TV/movie tie-in. There were eventually all of those things based on the character, of course, but certainly not before the comic. Actually more because of the comic.

I could also bring up some of the Shadow comics I loved because there had been some old movies of the character, but the comics weren’t toy/movie/TV tie-ins at all.

Another one I thought of that I figured was disqualified by the phrasing of the question was Master of Kung Fu. Great comic with a lot of licensed characters that really were from Sax Rohmer’s books, but of course there had been plenty of Fu Manchu movies as well. And of course Shang-Chi himself was created to cash in the popularity of Bruce Lee. The comic wasn’t really a tie-in, though.

Probably not “the BEST”, but 13-year-old me was astonished by the Topps adaptation of the Dracula movie, and the spin-off Vlad the Impaler series. Maroto rules.

art and commerce can intersect and sometimes actually result in a good piece of fiction

The idea that they would ever even be separate is a historically very recent one. Go a short few centuries back and EVERYTHING was done on commission by work-for-hire authors/playwrights/etc.

Larry Hama’s G.I,Joe is easily the best in my opinion. A genuinely really good comic that just happened to also be a toy/Tv tie-in.

Not sure if this counts, since they were all DC characters anyways, but the two Super Powers mini-series done by Jack Kirby to tie-in to the toy line (and I think TV show) are awesome. But it’s Kirby, so that’s no surprise.

The best are easily Marvel’s G.I. Joe, Marvel’s Transformers, Marvel’s Micronauts, Roy Thomas’ various Conan books, ROM: Spaceknight, the Dell/Gold Key Disney comics (especially Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge), a whole bunch of the old Tarzan comics (probably both the most underrated and best drawn title in comics history), the He-Man mini comics, and Four Color (for my money the greatest of all time ongoing).

Not to exclude Marvel’s Star Wars, Marvel’s Indiana Jones, Marvel’s Kull, Shogun Warriors, The Human Fly, Busiek’s Conan, etc. etc. etc.

GI JOE, Transformers, Thundercats(Star comics) star wars, Robotech

Easily Rom. I don’t even know what would go in second place. Perhaps Conan?

The DCAU comics are all technically tie-ins and they’re all awesome (well… most of them were at least).

And don’t forget Gumby Summer Fun Special, Gumby Winter Fun Special, the Gumby ongoing from a few years back, Godzilla Color Special, Universal Monsters – Creature From the Black Lagoon, Classics Illustrated, DC’s Movie Comics from 1939, or any of the excellent tie-ins that IDW and many publishers past have put out.

And if crossovers count then there’s Godzilla vs. Barkley, Spider-Man on Saturday Night Live, the Avengers on Letterman, Superman Meets the Nestle Quik Bunny, Superman and Bugs Bunny, Captain Marvel Meets the Good Humor Man, just to name a few.

I forgot all about Valiant’s Nintendo Comics System. The Mario and Zelda material were legitimately well done children’s stories, and the others (Captain N, et. al.) weren’t half bad either.

The current Transformer books, especially More Than Meets The Eye, are some great scifi reading and well worth a look. Unfortunately the Halo tue in comics are good but haven’t lived up to the books.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Season 8

It’s mostly forgotten now, but I’ll put in a good word for Comico’s Jonny Quest series from the late 1980s. It ran 30-odd issues, most of them written by Bill Messner-Loebs and drawn by Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. I don’t believe it’s ever been collected or reprinted.

Fall Out Toy Works by Brett Lewis and Sam Basri. Joe McCulloch did a great piece about it for the Comics Journal, which I mention only because I think it was more widely read than the series itself.

Another one that I haven’t read, but is probably awesome: Steve Ditko’s Gorgo comics.

Cap'n Calhoun

July 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Does Batman:TAS – Mad Love count?

Setting that aside, I’ve been pretty happy with most of the Star Trek comic incarnations from the eighties onward, but I’ve purchased Star Trek: Countdown (the quasi-sequel to Nemesis that tied in with the first Abrams movie) in three different formats and gone back to re-read it countless times.

The Farscape comics are definitely a worthy continuation of the show.

Star Wars: Tag and Bink is pretty awesome in its own way.

Larry Hama’s GI Joe (the main title and the spinoffs he wrote) is the gold standard.

I’ll also add that I really loved the TMNT books that Archie Comics put out. TMNT Adventures, the Mighty Mutanimals and some miniseries, one-shots and movie adaptations are solid comics. When I think of past creators who I wish were putting out new material I think of Stephen Murphy (Dean Clarrain), Ryan Brown, Chris Allan and Jim Lawson.

I don’t know if I can honestly call it the best, but what the hey, my vote is for the ALF series. It’s one of the comics that made me love comics.

No doubt that Transformers and GI Joe remain probably the most visible, and as a Transformers fan that’s read most of its incarnations, it’s hard to argue with the success of it in comic form. I’ve enjoyed the different incarnations, and I think each company that’s owned the license has added to it in some way.

But I would ask if it’s OK to expand the conversation and give a nod to Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s ran unstopped for over 20 years, including spinoffs and side-series. If nothing else, that merits a mention in a world where DC and Marvel can’t get some books to 6 months, especially for a video game license.

Oh, the Top Cow “Battle of the Planets” comics. They get second place.

Mike Loughlin

July 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Anything adapted by Alex Toth, especially the Hot Wheels and Zorro comics, ranks near the top.

I’m not a big G.I. Joe fan but I enjoyed the recent Cobra series that focused on Chuckles.

As one poster already mentioned, Joe Kubert’s Tarzan comics were astoundingly good. I’ve never cared for Tarzan, but Kubert did amazing work with the character.

As Dr Traveler points out “Transformers: more than meets the eye” is actually quite good. Also the other ongoing “Robots in disguise” is really enjoyable.

If it wasn’t for the fact that i know too well that i have a soft spot for transformers comics (I even tried to read the dreamwave’s ones. twice) i’d say that they are not just good transformers comics they are good comics.period.

As a kid i really liked Rom and i was quite surprised when i discovered that it was based on a toy line (here in Italy it was published on an anthology magazine and having missed the first issues i also missed that piece of info until someone else pointed it out in the letter column)

This kind of thing can go all over the place. I mean, Star Wars has led to a multitude of Star Wars comics, many of which tied into the movies, but many others of which (Legacy and KOTOR) were kind of their own thing, in the same universe as the movies but really far removed from them.

Having said that, I have a special place in my heart for the original STAR WARS: LEGACY. It’s identifiably Star Wars and captures all the great elements of the films, but it’s so far in the future that it’s really its own thing and a great story in its own right. The only movie characters in it are R2-D2 and Luke Skywalker, and even with the former, there’s an open-ended question of whether it’s really Luke or just a hallucination.

@Adam Farrar — The Archie TMNT series was a train wreck of propaganda, but it somehow was amusing nonetheless.

Stephen Conway

July 2, 2013 at 9:04 am

I think the Godzilla: Half Century War comic is one of the best comics I’ve read in the last 4-5 years.

Larry Hama’s GI Joe comics and Simon Furman’s Marvel UK Transformers and Marvel US Transformers. The distinction is worth making, since Furman wrote a lot of material for MUK which was awesome before he went to the US to do their’s. stuff like Target: 2006, Time Wars, Space Pirates, Aspects of Evil and the Legacy of Unicron are brilliant and almost independent of the US material.

@Anonymous (7/1 at 10:44pm), it was definitely a comic WITH A MESSAGE but it was always entertaining!

Definitely gotta second the “ALF” love. I was a huge fan as a kid, and when I got older and looked back at some of them I was able to get WAY more of the jokes. That’s the mark of a good all-ages work to me: enjoyable for kids, enjoyable for adults in a completely different way.

Hooray! Validation!

I have always really loved the Topps Comics X-FILES series that had artwork by Charlie Adlard.

As a block, the Dell/Gold Key line should rank high. From Uncle Scrooge and their Looney Tunes books, through Flash Gordon and The Black Hole, to anthologies like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Twilight Zone: I loved those books as a Kid. Atari Force by DC, Crystarr and Sectaurus by Marvel I’m mentioning for nostalgias sake.

I loved Crystar. I just didn’t think it counted because Marvel owned the characters and licensed them to the toy company rather than vice versa.

Which raises the question, why the hell hasn’t Marvel brought back Crystar? Surely it’s not a rights issue.

Bill and Ted, by Evan Dorkin et al

@Buttler:

There’s a guy making a tribute line of figures based on Crystar, in the “Marvel Legends” scale… REALLY nice stuff… lots of pics on his facebook page…

https://www.facebook.com/BackyardLegends1?v=wall

The current candidate for me on this is IDW’s The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, which is way better and has more depth than a story about robots fighting each other has any right to be. So friggin’ awesome.

The three other things I can think of are Carl Barks’ Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge stuff (no brainer) and DC;s Looney Tunes comic back when Sholly Fisch was doing the majority of the writing. I had s subscription to it back in the day. Boom’s Adventure Time comic is something I’m just getting into and it’s also pretty great.

I don’t know that things like Star Wars count to me, because I don’t think the comics are a blip on the machine that is Star Wars. So something like GI Joe where Hama was basically giving backstory to the characters for the toys as well as the comic, and doing it with above toy tie in storytelling is probably the best. (Look at how many misses there are for Transformer comics then and now; not nearly the success rate).

But one everyone has missed is Secret Wars, which is a historically significant and generally well regarded comic book created solely to be a tie to toys. (Pretty cool toys too). And that one had long lasting ramifications for characters for years, some even to this day.

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