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Branded A Hero: 15 Promotional Comics That Were Actually Good

by  in Lists, Comic News, Movie News Comment
Branded A Hero: 15 Promotional Comics That Were Actually Good

It’s a huge thrill to see the four-colored adventures of our favorite superheroes on the big and little screens, especially as today’s productions feature bigger budgets than those from past years, with top-notch directors and high-caliber actors — even a few Oscar winners! Modern comic-book films also boast first-rate production values, ever-improving stunts, peerless CGI and mind-blowing special effects. But what are comics fans to do when the credits have rolled and we’ve seen the post-credit tease for the next film?

RELATED: The 15 Oddest Corporate Comics

Well, the studios don’t want to leave us hanging, so over the years, they have provided some nice extras to tide us over. These special-edition comics often have new stories set in the cinematic universe, produced in collaboration with the comics companies. Unfortunately, these bonuses aren’t always widely available, and in some cases are little known. With that in mind, here are 15 of the best (and most obscure) comics with tie-ins to comic book movies and TV shows.

15. The Man of Steel Prequel (Wal-Mart, 2013)

wal-mart-man-of-steel

“Man of Steel,” the cinematic reboot of the Superman movies after a seven-year lapse, grossed $291 million domestically and $377 million in foreign markets, according to Box Office Mojo. To launch the film, Warner Bros. partnered with Wal-Mart, selling tickets a month before an advance screening. Ticket buyers also got a free download of “The Man of Steel Prequel,” an original comic written by Sterling Gates from a story by “Man of Steel” screenwriter David S. Goyer, Zack Snyder and Geoff Johns. It was penciled by Jerry Ordway with inks by Ordway, Bob McLeod, Joe Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek.

The story focuses on a Kryptonian named Kara who is captain of a ship of explorers sent to colonize and terraform other planets. But this Kara is not Kal-El’s cousin; she’s his ancestor! The comic reveals that her ship is the one Kal-El finds in the Arctic, and shows her escaping the doomed craft in a life pod, indicating that there may be a Supergirl in the DC Cinematic Universe after all.

14. The Dark Knight Rises: Prologue (Nokia, 2012)

nokia-the-dark-knight-rises

For 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” director Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight Trilogy, DC Comics produced a comic that fleshed out the events of the film. DC and Nokia teamed up to create “The Dark Knight Rises: Prologue,” an app available only for Nokia Windows Phone devices. The story, written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Jorge Jiminez, filled in some of the gaps in the eight-year span between events in “The Dark Knight” (when Harvey Dent became Two-Face and Batman took the blame for his death), and “The Dark Knight Rises” (in which Batman comes out of retirement to face Bane’s terror attacks on Gotham).

The motion comic featured a soundtrack and parallax scrolling, while also including links to other “Dark Knight Rises” companion apps. One of these was “Batman: Origins,” which offered origin stories of the movie’s characters, while another was “The Dark Knight Rises Nokia App,” which provided wallpapers, social media links and more.

13. From The World of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Dr Pepper, 2016)

dr-pepper-batman-v-superman

For “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Dr Pepper gave fans a tasty treat: comic books set in the world of the movie. Thirsty fans who bought 20-ounce bottles branded with the “BvS” logo could scan the bottle with the Blippar app and unlock one of five digital prequel comics featuring either Batman, Lois Lane, Senator Finch, Superman or Lex Luthor. All five chapters were written by Christos Gage, penciled by Joe Bennett and inked by Sean Parsons.

Each comic gave a bit of backstory fleshing out what viewers saw in the film: how Batman had become more violent and reckless; Lois Lane being a tough reporter; Senator Finch conferring with her colleagues about what actions to take against Superman; a political talk show in which Superman is shown saving a runaway train while the panelists debate the appropriateness of how he uses his power; and Lex Luthor, plotting against Superman while putting on a show to the public about how much he cares for the common man.

12. General Mills Presents Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (General Mills, 2016)

general-mills-batman-v-superman

Giveaways with breakfast cereal go together like corn flakes and milk. So, for 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” General Mills put mini-comics in, as they say, specially marked boxes of Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix and Golden Grahams. These comics were different from the Dr Pepper “BvS” books in that they were not digital downloads but the ink-on-paper variety, yet are half the size of old-fashioned floppies. Accordingly, they were drawn with fewer panels per page, the better for readers to see the art and follow the stories. Also, these were all-ages books with four stand-alone stories that leaned more toward showing Batman and Superman as heroes who inspire.

The four General Mills comics were “Playground Heroes,” written by Jeff Parker, penciled by R.B. Silva and inked by José Marzan Jr.; “Field Trip,” written by Christos Gage and drawn by Federico Dallocchio; “Picture Proof,” written by Marguerite Bennett and drawn by Marcus To; and “Lights Out,” written by Joshua Williamson, penciled by Eduardo Pansica and inked by Art Thibert. All covers are by Gary Frank and Rod Reis.

11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Upstairs/Downstairs (Doritos and Wal-Mart, 2016)

doritos-batman-v-superman

If you saw “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” — and of course you did — you may be wondering about that giant statue of Superman in downtown Metropolis. The “Upstairs/Downstairs” comic provides the answer, opening with the city preparing to unveil the statue, as Batman and his faithful butler Alfred ruminate on its appropriateness. The festivities frame a tale comparing Batman and Superman’s respective outlooks on the world and their differing approaches to being a superhero. The story also examines how Superman is regarded by the citizens of Metropolis — mostly — but not uniformly — in the positive. It also looks at whether Batman’s darkness can co-exist with Superman’s sunniness.

To get the download code for the comic, you had to buy a Doritos “Batman v Superman Family Fun Mix” multipack from Wal-Mart. The comic was written by Christos Gage, penciled by Joe Bennett and inked by Sean Parsons, the same art team that created the Dr Pepper comics.

10. Suicide Blonde: Suicide Squad (Splat Rebellious Colors hair dye, 2016)

splat-suicide-squad

The movie version of DC’s venerable “Suicide Squad” comic upped the ante on crazy by making Harley Quinn an integral part of the team. Doing so naturally meant bringing in Harley’s on-again, off-again paramour, The Joker. His presence only fouled things up all the more as he followed his own agenda, which of course had little to do with the attempts by the Squad to battle a demon bent on destroying all of existence.

The comic “Suicide Blonde,” written by Tony Bedard, penciled by Tom Derenick and inked by Juan Alberaan, was packaged in specially marked boxes of hair dye from Splat Rebellious Colors. It directly plays off a scene in the film with Harley in her cell, but has her remembering how she and The Joker committed the crime that put her there. To tie in with the movie, Splat created the “Suicide Squad” collection, limited to 350,000 kits in 11 colors. Ten were keyed to Harley, including two — Pink Fetish and Blue Envy — that were similar to Harley’s look in the film; the last, called Scream Green, matched The Joker.

9.  Iron Man: The Video Game Custom Comic (SEGA, 2008)

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It’s only natural that the film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2008’s “Iron Man,” which grossed $585 million worldwide, was associated with technology. SEGA released a video game to coincide with the launch of the film, featuring the voices of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Terrence Howard as James Rhodes and Shaun Toub as Professor Ho Yinsen. The game was available for multiple platforms, including Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Microsoft Windows, Mobile, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Wii and Nintendo DS.

The video game pitted Iron Man against the Ten Rings terrorist group, A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and the Maggia. Buyers who pre-ordered the game got the 16-page minicomic “Iron Man: The Video Game SEGA Custom Comic.” The story, “The Cost of Doing Business,” was written by Marc Sumerak and drawn by Albert Carres Guardia. Because the story differs from established plot points in the movie, it is not considered part of canon.

8. Iron Man Wal-Mart Custom Comic (Wal-Mart, 2008)

wal-mart-iron-man

This tie-in from the first “Iron Man” movie was available only from Wal-Mart in two different ways, depending on which DVD package buyers chose. The Wal-Mart Family Pack, billed as “the ultimate 2-disc edition,” gave buyers a digital stop-motion version of the comic, a preview episode of the animated series “Iron Man Armored Adventures,” and songs from the movie’s soundtrack album. The Wal-Mart Fun Pack included an ashcan-sized printed version and behind-the-scenes photos from the film, as well as interviews.

Written by Christos Gage, penciled by Hugo Petros, inked by Scott Hanna and Scott Koblish, the story “Iron Man: Security Measures” presents a moment from the film told from the perspective of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and Agent Phil Coulson. It also gives some background on how Fury had been monitoring Tony Stark well before they met. This comic is also not considered canon, but is “inspired by” the movie.

7. The Incredible Hulk: The Big Picture Motion Comic (Wal-Mart, 2008)

wal-mart-incredible-hulk

As the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “The Incredible Hulk” tries hard to put the memory of 2003’s “Hulk” in the past. There is a new production company: Marvel Studios, instead of Universal Pictures. There is a new director: Louis Leterrier, instead of Ang Lee. There is a new cast, with Edward Norton instead of Eric Bana as scientist Bruce Banner; William Hurt instead of Sam Elliott as Gen. Thunderbolt Ross; and Liv Tyler instead of Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross. There also is a different backstory for how Banner becomes the gamma-irradiated monster, with a lot of uncredited scriptwriting done by Norton. The results? A somewhat bigger box-office take, with “Hulk” making $245.4 million worldwide vs. “Incredible Hulk’s” $263.4 million.

The story in “The Incredible Hulk: The Big Picture” was written by Joe Quesada and drawn by Dave Ross. It was a digital comic provided with Wal-Mart’s two-disc DVD package. The comic went over the revised origin and spent some time covering Banner and Hulk’s time in South America.

6. The Last Airbender Prequel: Zuko’s Story (graphic novel, 2010)

last-airbender-zuko

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a popular animated series from Nickelodeon that ran for three seasons from 2005 to 2008. A melange of Asian influences and anime style, “Avatar” told the adventures of 12-year-old Aang, who had the ability to psychokinetically manipulate the air and wind. As the avatar of the Air Nomads, Aang is charged with trying to broker peace between rivals the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes and the Fire Nation, whose leader is waging war against them all in a bid to expand his power and territory.

“The Last Airbender,” the live-action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan based on the series, was less popular critically. Still, it made $319.7 million globally, even amid critical attacks over casting white actors over Asian actors in the lead roles. It also spawned a manga-styled graphic novel, “‘The Last Airbender’ Prequel: Zuko’s Story,” which was written by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus and drawn by Nina Matsumoto. It tells the story of Aang’s antagonist, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, being exiled by his father and seeking to redeem his honor by finding the Avatar.

5. Iron Man: Limited Edition (LG, 2010)

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Lovers of tech toys were offered something up their alley with the “Iron Man 2” tie-in sponsored by LG, even if it was limited to only 7,500 buyers of the LG Chocolate Touch, enV Touch, or Ally smartphones. Not only could they order a copy of “Iron Man: Limited Edition,” the comic, once it arrived in the mail, it also had a download code for an Augmented Reality app available at a promotional website for the movie.

With the app — which worked only on the Ally model — you could see a 3-D animation of Iron Man when you pointed the phone at the comic’s cover. There were also two computer downloads available. One was the “Sky Thruster” video game, which worked with the comic’s back cover and your computer’s web cam to steer the Iron Man image through the adventure. The other program was “Iron Man Yourself” — when you held the comic’s front cover to the web cam, the computer monitor would impose an image of Iron Man’s faceplate and armor over your likeness.

4. Captain America: Evil Lurks Everywhere (Norton Products, 2011)

norton-captain-america

“Captain America: The First Avenger” brought the star-spangled hero into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way, grossing  $370.5 million worldwide, actually doing better business overseas than domestically. It told the familiar tale of how, during World War II, determined Army reject Steve Rogers volunteered for an experiment that turned his scrawny body into the peak physique any Olympic athlete would envy — the better to win the war and battle the nascent shadowy terrorist outfit, Hydra.

As Captain America represents the virtues of security, strength and safety, the cybersecurity firm Symantec partnered with Marvel, plastering the movie Captain America on its products and creating a comic book called “Captain America: Evil Lurks Everywhere.” The comic had a story by no less than the venerable Stan Lee, with art by Jason Armstrong and a cover by Paul Renaud. But the only way to get it was to buy either Norton AntiVirus 2011 or Norton Internet Security 2011.

3. Thor, The Mighty Avenger (Burger King, 2011)

burger-king-thor

“Thor,” the fourth Marvel Cinematic Universe film, was a successful blend of mythology, grandeur and action. It gave significant screen time not just to the title character and his relationships with father Odin and villainous brother Loki, but also solidifying the importance of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Phil Coulson to viewers.

In its tie-in with the film, Burger King partnered with Marvel on a set of prequel comics that put Thor and Loki on a quest, accompanied by the Warriors Three: Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun. Each of the four 22-page comics — titled “Valor,” “Wisdom,” “Truth” and “Justice” — illustrated a different Asgardian virtue. All were written by Brian J.L. Glass, and drawn by Ig Guara. These comics were all-ages, and to see them, you had to buy a Burger King kid’s meal. The “Thor” toy that came with the meal provided an access code allowing you to view them on the ClubBK website for a limited time — about six weeks.

2. Marvel’s Jessica Jones #1 (Netflix Prequel, 2015)

netflix-jessica-jones

Marvel’s MAX imprint, which offered more hard-edged fare than the majority of the company’s lineup, launched in 2001 with “Alias,” written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos. The series introduced us to Jessica Jones, a lonely, morose, hard-drinking private investigator who trawls the seedier side of Marvel’s New York. Over 28 issues, it was slowly revealed why Jessica was so troubled. She suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Before becoming a P.I., Jessica had been the superhero Jewel, and even was a rookie member of the Avengers, but was mind-controlled and held hostage for months by Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man, who set her up to be attacked by the team when he was bored with her.

Netflix turned this into a series in 2015 starring Krysten Ritter. To help viewers get up to speed, Marvel produced “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” an eight-page one-shot adventure guest-starring Daredevil, written and drawn by original creative team Bendis and Gaydos.

1. Marvel’s Doctor Strange Prelude (Movie Prequel, 2016)

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The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, “Doctor Strange,” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Stephen Strange. It covers his origin, from his life as an arrogant surgeon to the car crash that ends his career, and his quest to regain the use of his hands — which instead leads him to the Ancient One and puts him on a path to become the Sorcerer Supreme.

To make the cinematic experience more robust, writer Will Corona Pilgrim and artist Jorge Fornés gave us a two-issue prequel to the movie. In the first issue, Wong leads a team of Masters of the Mystic Arts to recover a relic of power stolen from the British Museum. The second issue takes us to Kamar-Taj, the place where the Ancient One trains novice mystics. She also must contend with a band of thugs who have stolen the Arrow of Appolon and its Bow, an artifact with immense destructive power that they use only to extort protection money from a poor village in China.

What’s your favorite comic book tie-in? Be sure to tell us in the comments!

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