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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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