Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Who's the Best... Licensed Comic Book?


Doug:  Bad grammar again today, kids -- of course, it would sound better if it read "What's the Best... Licensed Comic Book?"  Have at it -- any company, time period, genre, etc.  What is your favorite and why?





UPDATED @ 12:25 CT, USA
 
Doug:  This thread just became a 2-for-1 today, kids.  Whilst eating my lunch, I was perusing some ToyFair reports and came across this image.  If you click here, you will be taken to a gallery of Mattel's 2013 offerings.  For those of you so inclined, you'll not only find more Batman 1966-era figures, but it looks like there will be a Phantom Stranger figure coming to the main 6" inch line of DC figures.  I also saw on another site that DC is soliciting a new hardcover in their Legends of the Dark Knight/Tales of the Batman line of reprints, this one featuring the tales penned by Archie Goodwin.  Edo, you'll be happy to hear that the entire Manhunter line is included in it.

53 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, my brain's going to explode: three's too many to choose from. I think Conan, both the color book and the b&w magazine, is probably the best, at least over the long haul, but a personal favorite of mine is Micronauts - especially those first dozen or so issues (both Mantlo and Golden were firing on all cylinders with that one). Also really good: Rom and Battlestar Galactica (Marvel's, naturally).
I'll also say this: I think Marvel generally did better licensed books. In fact, since you pictured DC's Tarzan, I'm going to buck the trend to say that I liked Marvel's Tarzan much better.

david_b said...

Nice topic today.. I'll provide the following as my favs with explanation:

1) Gold Key Star Trek: Ah, they have a charm all their own, from the miscolored uniforms, to the errors in names and bad Enterprise drawings. But they've got COOL Silver Age covers (the picture ones are still awesome..), and they really seem like they 'actually try' sometimes. But they're still cool to read.

2) Phantom..: I'm glad Charlton had this instead of Marvel or DC (yes, I know DC had him for a short spell back in the late-80s, but the mainstay was Charlton) Don Newton did fabulous art and I'm always a sucker for an awesome Phantom cover (loved the movie as well..). Moonstone did a fine job later as well.

As for DC and Marvel, I never got much into their scifi or pulp titles. I liked the later Marvel Galactica issues (more out of love for the newly-cancelled favorite show than actually following plots..), but seeing 'em all on TV or movies first (SW, Logan, Trek) typically killed any excitement of collecting comic stories of franchises, plus adding in the question of 'non-canon', my brain was always saddled with 'So what's the point..?'-type attitude.

Anonymous said...

I guess from our era, it’s going to be hard to beat Conan, being created & written by RT and with art from the likes of Smith & Buscema.

All this licensed stuff really kicked off after I got out, so this is just theory to me but: Shogun Warriors, GI Joe, Godzilla & Transformers all looked dreadful whereas Micronauts looked more interesting. I think I had the Xmen/Micronauts mini series, but found it hard to get into.

Rom looked quite good to me. I only saw him in guest appearances in Xmen and Power Man, but I kind of had the feeling I was missing something.

Personally, though he doesn’t get a lot of attention on the BAB, I’m going for Shang Chi. Firstly, it was actually two licensed properties mashed together and secondly it was done purely to cash in on the Kung Fu craze. Either of those things should have been a recipe for disaster. I mean, it should have been TRULY awful, but Englehart and Starlin were better than that and he got off to a roaring start. Then, when they left, and you’d expect it to fall into being derivative crap, it actually moves up a gear in the hands of Moench & Gulacy.

On top of the licensed characters, it also has a whole riff of unlicensed characters which it parodies (Reston’s dad and great uncle are never referred to by name, but they are clearly James Bond and Sherlock Holmes) and under Gulacy there are also numerous visual references to other famous faces. In fact, much like playing spot the visual reference in a Tarantino movie, you can do the same with Gulacy’s supporting characters, who are clearly based on Dietrich, Brando, David Niven and many others.

I also got the impression that there were a lot of clever twists in the writing that I never got at the time. I remember that Leiko Wu was a complete bitch and Leiko is actually Chinese for arrogant. One of the characters is actually Sax Rohmer under his real name. It’s probably loaded with stuff that I didn’t get at the time.

Damn! I need to re-read Shang Chi, man !

Vote MOKF !!!!

Richard

Doug said...

Richard, you're exactly right about Shang chi and this blog. But if there's one thing our readers and their varied tastes and experiences have done for me over the years, it's make me wish I had a time machine and a bottomless well of cash to go back and check out all of the things I either did not try or thought I did not like when I was a kid.

Were that possible, there would probably be more Shang chi on this blog!

Doug

Anonymous said...

Just thought of two others. Kind of. Killraven really had little to do with Wells, but it was pretty innovative and had some legs of its own. Also, I was a big Buffy buff, and though I’ve never read them, I think the Buffy comics were actually written by Joss Whedon, so I guess they must have the Holy Grail of licensed spin offs: i.e. they are canonical, faithful and well written.

Richard

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,
Right there with you. You couldn’t possibly have everything, and you can only review what you can read. It’s kind of a shame with regard to Shang Chi and Iron Fist, because they are so quintessentially seventies that they actually much better represent the Bronze Age than, say, the Avengers or Superman. The other strange plus is that they were just surprisingly good. I guess they are kind of the Anti-Secret-Wars in that regard i.e. whereas the 80’s cash ins were just ‘yeah, that’ll do, get it out there,’ Shang Chi was way superior thanks to Englehart, Starlin, Moench & Gulacy and likewise Iron Fist (Thomas, Kane, Claremont, Byrne).

Having said that, given Karen’s relationship to Jim Starlin ( i.e. sitting in a tree), I’m sure she has the early ones.

Imagine a world where you could go onto eBay and buy complete collections of silver and bronze age runs for pennies the same way you can with modern age comics. We’d all need a bigger house. Of course, the reason you can do that is precisely because modern comics are rubbish and the whole reason you WOULD do it is that silver and bronze comics are not, so it’s a ridiculous statement, but I could cope with that kind of ridiculous.

Richard

Inkstained Wretch said...

The only licensed property that I read consistently was G.I. Joe and it was a pretty good read for the first few years. Looking back, I'm a little embarrassed about that now -- it was a little too gee-whiz & bloodless for an war comic -- but as story-telling it was well-done and lot of fun.

The problem came when Larry Hama kept introducing new characters to keep up with the toy line -- which made it impossible for any particular character to really develop. As soon as they did, they were shoved aside for the latest line of toys.

dbutler16 said...

david_b brings up a great one in Gold Key Star Trek. I used to love those comics. Thanks for the reminder, david!

The other licensed properties I avidly collected were the Micronauts (have every Marvel Micronauts issue) and Rom, but especially the Micronauts. Series 1 was a fairly typical, but rather fun, action/sci-fi type of comic. Series 2 had less action, but was more thought provoking. Rom was pretty cool as well.

I've enjoyed the handful of Master of Kung Fu and Conan issues I have, but was never a regular collector of either. I also have a couple issue of GI Joe, but was more into the cartoon than the comic.

I'll also give a brief shout-out to Shogun Warriors and Godzilla, lest nobody mention them.

Matt Celis said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Donald Duck, et al., by Carl Barks. Best licensed comics ever.

Karen said...

I enjoyed the early issues of Micronauts too. I thought Golden's art was perfect there, and never really took a shine to his work elsewhere.

I think Conan has to be considered the King of licensed books, just based on overall quality and longevity. Star Trek has popped up in many incarnations, Tarzan too, but never quite as good or long-lasting as the Cimmerian.

My uncle had a bunch of Gold Key and Dell comics and I loved those painted covers; just gorgeous. the inside art -not so much. The Star Treks, Twilight Zones, Voyage to the Bottom of the Seas, and other licensed properties were pretty much uniformly disappointing.

Master of Kung Fu -oh boy. I have been picking up early issues here and there, from my LCS, as they acquire them. I'm waiting though, until I get about ten or so in sequential order to sit down and read them all. So at some point, I'm sure we'll have some more Shang-Chi here at BAB, but I can't promise when. I really wish I had grabbed these as a kid. i think they probably seemed too adult for me way back when.

On the other hand, I have a ton of Iron Fist, so there's no reason we can't have some more of that on the blog!

J.A. Morris said...

I really can't defend their artistic integrity, but the first 30-odd issues of Marvel's Star Wars series are lots of fun.

The first original story featured Han Solo forming a "Magnificent Seven"-esque team to fight a bad guy. This team of course included Jaxxon, the 7-ft tall rabbit!

But it's nice to revisit these stories. They were written in a time when all there was was the one movie. Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin wrote some nice stories. One of the best was issue 16, which didn't feature any characters from the movie, but it's still great. It introduced the bounty hunter known as Valance, an interesting character.

I'm sure the Kubert Tarzan and Buscema/Smith Conan comics are "better", but I doubt they're as much fun as the early years of Marvel's Star Wars.

Matt Celis said...

I'd think the quality and longevity medals go to the Disney properties. They've been going 70 years and are always well done.

Doug said...

Matt --

I would definitely agree on the visual quality of the Disney comics, but I could just never get into funny animal comics.

Which perplexes me in regard to my enjoyment of "Bone" by Jeff Smith. I need to pick up that chunky omnibus someday.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen – on Mike Golden, where do you stand on Avengers Annual 10? We’ve talked often about the disappointment factor of great cover art concealing terrible interior art, that issue to me is the greatest example of not judging a comic book by its cover. It has a terrible Al Milgrom panel cover, and a promised guest appearance by Ms Marvel which, post #200, was enough to make anyone think twice.

What you then get is a superb story by Claremont, what amounts to an apology for Avengers #200 and absolutely sumptuous art by Mike Golden and Armando Gil.

Perversely, I think there’s a reprint which features a joyously smiling and flying Ms. Marvel by someone who clearly had not read the story.

Richard

dbutler16 said...

Karen, I, too have many a time wished I had bought MOKF back in the day, especially since they're not available in reprints!

Conan is indeed King of the Licensed Comics, though I never got into it myself.

Those Disney comics were great, but I hadn't really thought of them as licensed comics, for some reason.

Matt Celis said...

I used to have some of those digest-sized "Funny Stuff" specials from D.C. I get
Disney comics for my kids now and then. They like Mickey but Donald is much funnier.

You're missing out on some laughs!

Matt Celis said...

I never read MOKFand now I only see random nononsecutive issues in bargain bins. Would love to read it as I keep hearing praise.

If only licensor and Marvel would cash in on easy money reprints!

Anonymous said...

I'm going for DC's Tarzan & Marvel's John Carter of Mars. Both companies did right by ERB.

When I picture Tarzan in my head (which I don't actually do much, so don't worry), it's Kubert's interpretation that comes to mind. It's actually pretty amazing that Kubert rises to the top when you look at the artistic talent behind Tarzan in the comics since the inception of adventure strips in 1929. Foster, Hogarth, Manning, Buscema...that's an amazing roster of talent.

The thing that seals the deal is the Limited Collector's Edition reprint of The Return of Tarzan. It surely counts as the first graphic nove I'd ever encountered. An epic adaptation.

I read my stepmother's father's old copy of A Princess of Mars a few years before Marvel took it over. If I could have picked any two artists, Kane & Cockrum would've been at the top of the list. Marv Wolfman knocked it out of the park with his scripts. He really captured that breathless sense of adventure that at the heart of ERB's prose. I reread the series while gearing up for the film, and it really holds up.

Bonus points for Mike Kaluta's work on the Carson of Venus backup for DC.

James Chatterton

humanbelly said...

Something I read only a couple issues of (and own only one) was Dell's MONKEES series. I wish it wasn't so pricey to track down, 'cause it was flippin' hoot! Fun, silly, possibly-innocently-subversive, and it absolutely captured the chaotic, cartoony, improvisational style of the show-- which is saying something, since so much of the show revolved around the music. It reminded me of DC's JERRY LEWIS comic, in fact-- which we should certainly toss into this conversation. That book in particular carried a sense of lackadaisical editorial oversight (in a very great way), and was often a heck of a lot funnier than Mr. Lewis himself. (Lord, that lousy nephew, Renfrew. I think he may have been the inspiration for Danny Partridge. . . )

Say, was John Carter a licensed comic? I daresay it was ambitious, and I bought about the first dozen issues (and the annual), but it never entranced me. Good art, even, as I recall.

HB

mr. oyola said...

ROM.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Hmm, I gotta disagree with you, Richard. I bought Avengers Annual #10 precisely because of the cover, which intrigued me -- which is, after all, what a cover is supposed to do. I never thought it detracted from the story. And Ms. Marvel isn't teased on it, at least not specifically.

Anonymous said...

Western/Gold Key worked far in advance, and sometimes their comic book adaptations were done before the TV shows' details were completely worked out. That may account for things like miscolored Starfleet uniforms, the Enterprise (and the Seaview and Flying Sub) looking all wrong, and so on. I do think that the Barks and Gottfredson Disney comics are the best licensed comics of all time, although some would question their inclusion here. Not just because they were "funny animal" comics, but because they were really pre-Bronze Age (although they were still being reprinted in the 1970s). When I was a small child, I liked the Disney comics, but I don't remember liking them any better than other series. In fact, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters and Alvin and the Chipmunks were more familiar to me, since they were on TV regularly. Years later, as an adult, I read Gladstone and Gemstone reprints and finally appreciated their brilliance.

Mike said...

I want to vote for more MOKF and Iron Fist on the blog. MOTF is one of my "I will read eventually now that I'm older" titles. I was a big martial arts fan back in the day but for some reason I never read it.

And when he's done right, Iron Fist is my favorite Marvel superhero of all time, period.

Now, as for my experiences on topic: Conan is #1 for me, especially King Conan. I really liked that title. Second is Star Wars. I remember the day I convinced my mom to buy Star Wars #5 for me soon after seeing the movie. I collected that title all the way to just about the end. I still have all those books somewhere too.

At the end of the Bronze Age I was reading some Indies that had the licensed titles like Alien, Predator, and Terminator. I remember liking some of those stories too, although I really couldn't get too specific on which ones right now.

Doug said...

All that talk of ERB properties makes me think we could get some mileage around here out of a discussion of DC's "Family" books -- Batman Family, Tarzan Family (formerly Korak, Son of Tarzan), etc.

Doug

Doug said...

I believe the hang-up with Shang chi is the license on Fu Manchu. Does anyone know who presently owns that license? Dark Horse has done a great job reprinting the various incarnations of Tarzan, as well as the Savage Sword of Conan essentials and Chronicles of Conan color reprints. I agree that there's a market waiting to be tapped.

Doug

J.A. Morris said...

Doug, I'm not sure who currently owns the Fu Manchu license (besides Sax Rohmer's estate). But in addition to not owning him, Marvel also doesn't own Fu's nemesis Denis Nayland Smith or his daughter, Fah Lo Suee. So any comic that features or references them is currently impossible to reprint.
Of course if you look hard enough (like I did), you can track down b00tleg scans.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, thanks for the tip on that Goodwin Dectective book - it looks tempting, even though I already have a tpb collecting the Manhunter series.

Interesting that Shang Chi and the Disney Ducks came up - like a few others, I never really thought of those as licensed properties, but I'm glad they were mentioned. I loved both: I read tons of the Barks reprints in the '70s; I was late to the show with Shang Chi, as by the time I started reading Zeck was the artist, but even then it was still a strong series. And yes, I would love it to be reprinted in pretty much any form.

And James, last year I bought the John Carter Omnibus published by Marvel, but thus far I've only flipped through it to admire the art. You've got me really excited about reading it...

Matt Celis said...

The Phantom by Gold Key, King, and Charlton was pretty friggin' awesome. Great painted covers. I guess the King issues aren't licensed since king Features owns the Phantom. Plus he was the first real costumed crimefighter.

david_b said...

Aw, YEEEAH.

"Hey, Surf's Up, hip Bat-Daddio..."

With scaled '60s Barris Batmobile..?

Way Cool.

Bruce said...

The Conan books were a bit too "mature" for me as a Bronze Age baby. But having read them in recent years, they are a lot of fun (at least while Roy Thomas was writing them.)

Conan is decidedly pulp fiction, and not Tolkien-style "high fantasy." It's all about the three S's - swinging swords, scary monsters and scantily-clad wenches. But the comics are entertaining yarns, and the Buscema & BWS art is outstanding.

Matt Celis said...

That's why I'll take Conan over Frodo & Co. any day o the week: scary monsters, swinging swords, and scantily clad wenches!

Karen said...

Richard, I didn't care for Golden's art on Avengers Annual 10, or almost any other super-hero art by him. There was something about it -perhaps it all seemed too round, too...I don't know...oily? There was just something that put me off. But for some reason it was acceptable, even enjoyable, on Micronauts.

It's a shame we can't have TPBs of Master of Kung Fu.

david_b said...

Yeah.., we CERTAINLY don't get enough of the 'three S's in life.

("...at least not in my government job here..")

I was never into Tolkien/Hobbit stuff (still not..), but I'll have to take in classic Smith and Buscema Conan someday soon (not the repainted stuff..).

Garett said...

I'd say Conan has been the biggest for me over the years. Reading the main title lead me to the original novels, which I enjoyed, and then to Savage Sword later on. Great art and stories, and a world you can get lost in.

Kubert's Tarzan has had more influence on me over the last few years. Love his art, perfect roughness for Tarzan, jungle. His drawing style isn't wooden, but things have a firmness like wood. I couldn't get into the original novels. Like a couple of the early movies from the '30s. Can't get into Manning's Tarzan--bland.

Master of Kung Fu--loved it when it came out, and love it again now! I prefer the Zeck period. Not a Gulacy fan--his style seems awkward to me. Gene Day later, I used to like, but now he seems dull, not enough movement. A TPB would be welcome.

Some of my favorite Buscema art is the early movie adaptations, around 1960--Spartacus, Hercules, Sinbad. If he'd stayed in comics in the early '60s, it would've been a treat. Also he drew a couple good cowboy comics like Luke Short's Top Gun--not sure if this was adapted material. Any Luke Short fans out there??

I liked Micronauts when it came out, but tried to read it recently and it didn't have the same pull. I tried reading Star Wars comics, but didn't think they were anywhere near as good as the movies.

A Buscema Hercules comic would've been awesome--you can tell he enjoyed drawing the character, whether it was in 1960, or in the '80s in the Avengers. My fantasy is John Buscema working on Hercules for 100 issues through the 1960s!

Anonymous said...

Without question it has to be the licensed Conan properties Marvel got back in the 70s. I read somewhere that it was Gil Kane who recommended that Marvel get that character. Regardless, Marvel lucked out big time when they got the rights to use that character, and Roy Thomas was also inspired to create Red Sonja from another REH creation.

Many people forget MOKF involved licensed characters, specifically Fu Manchu and Denis Nayland Smith. I think it's primarily because the main character, Shang Chi, was an original Marvel character created from a licensed character (Fu Manchu).

I still have some of the original Star Wars licensed comics from the 70s. They were decent, but I think the early ones suffered from not knowing what the inevitable movie sequel would bring. Some early issues had Leia in missions still wearing that white gown and sporting that infamous double bun hairstyle!

Can't say much about the Tarzan stories 'cause I haven't read enough if them.


- Mike 'I ain't touchin' a Transformers or Twilight comic book with a 10 foot pole' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Matt Celis said...

I'd've bought Hercules by Buscema in a heartbeat!

Anonymous said...

Almost forgot: Doc Savage and The Shadow! Marvel and DC's adaptations introduced me to both of these characters, and led me to checking out the pulp novels they came from originally. I still think that Kaluta, Buscema and De Zuniga captured these properties perfectly (as for Frank Robbins on The Shadow, well you can imagine). Both series disappeared far too soon.

James Chatterton

Garett said...

I'd like to see more of the Phantom by Aparo, some compilation. I had one--not quite up to his Batman level, but still looked good. My favorite from Charlton. Appears he drew 7 issues, just right for a TPB.

Fred W. Hill said...

Since the character Shang Chi is original, although loosely based on David Carradine's Caine in the tv series Kung Fu, I wouldn't have thought of him as a "licensed character" although, of course, much of his supporting cast, including the predominant recurring villain, are very much licensed characters. Anyhow, on that basis Master of Kung Fu is very much my favorite licensed comic book although I didn't really get into it until around issue 57 when I started collecting it regularly (and eventually got all the back issues). I wasn't into martial arts at all but I loved the art & stories.
I also really liked the Micronauts; initially I thought the idea of comics based on toys was utterly ridiculous but I decided to give issue 7 (guest-starring the Man-Thing) a try, and whaddaya know, I liked it! Conan was another fave I got into late -- I liked Big John Buscema's art, but I really loved Barry Smith's run.

Rip Jagger said...

Conan!

When it comes to the Bronze Age, Conan is the license that rocked the world.

The success of the Cimmerian reshaped what comics were going to be for a very long time.

And to think, Roy wanted Thongor. Sheesh!

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Well, Roy got Thongor: there was that 8-issue run of Thongor stories in Creatures on the Loose. Didn't exactly set the world on fire, though...

Anonymous said...

The Sax Rohmer copyright thing is really odd. No one seems to know exactly what copyright they have, which, considering he appeared in books, films, film serials, TV shows, music, radio serials, comic strips and comic books for about 60 years is amazing. Also, no one knows who owns the rights now, for example, the original Republic serials from the 30’s can’t be broadcast. Paramount own all these and have perfect copies of them, but can’t release them (or it’s not worth it for the market demand). Perversely, the 60’s films with Christopher Lee are still available to buy now, but I haven’t seen them on TV since the 70’s. Rohmer is supposed to have sold all the rights in 1955 for $4m (imagine how much money that was in 1955!) but I don’t believe any trace of that transaction exists.

The first stories were published in the 20’s so it will actually start to come into the public domain soon, but given that it was considered unacceptably racist even in its own time (which is saying something) God knows how it will look to 21st century eyes.

Having been accused of racism to Asian people for 40 years, and having written of a sinister Asian mastermind who used disease, bacteria and germ warfare to further his ends, Rohmer died of Asian flu.....

Richard

William said...

I have never been a huge fan of licensed comics for some reason. I never even got into Star Wars or Conan. However, I do remember really liking the Micronauts. Probably because of the early artwork of Michael Golden. It was a really well done sci-fi adventure book. I didn't like it as much once they started crossing over with the rest of the Marvel U. I thought they worked best in their own little world. (No pun intended).

William said...

I'd also to like to mention that one of the world's great tragedies is that Marvel is unable to reprint trades of "Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu" because of the licensing issues related the Fu Man Chu characters. What a shame. I'm sure if they had it to over again, Marvel would have just made up their own Asian crime lord to be Shang's father. Hopefully one day that will get worked out somehow and we'll finally be able to get some collected volumes of this truly iconic Bronze Age series.

Matt Celis said...

Garett, check Amazon. The Charlton years are collected.

Garett said...

Wow, perfect! Thanks Matt!

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing Shang-Chi guest-star in a Captain America comic in the early 00s. Maybe that was before some lawyer sent a "cease and desist" letter to Marvel. Maybe the letter went because of it...

Inkstained Wretch said...

That last "anonymous" was me. I hit the publish button early...

Karen said...

Shang Chi is still appearing in Marvel books; I know he was in the Secret Avengers title a few years ago (before I quit reading new comics).

William Preston said...

Micronauts!!

Also, Rom was stunningly good, against all expectations.

Anonymous said...

Shang Chi is a pure Marvel creation based extremely, extremely loosely on Kwai Chang Caine from the Kung Fu TV series, although the only common ground was that they would both sit around talking for a long time about the importance of peace and then eventually be provoked into bitchslapping really a lot of people really hard. The legal problem is Smith, Reston and, of course, the Fu man himself.

Richard

humanbelly said...

Say, would GROO have been considered a licensed character? He was/is creator-owned, right?

HB

Ray Tomczak said...

I'm a big fan of the original Star Trek...though I can't seem to muster much love, even in an ironic sort of way, for the Gold Key comics. They were just awful. I do like the short lived Marvel series that followed the first movie and DC's two volumes of Trek have plenty of good moments.
DC's short-lived adaptation of the 70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter actually had a few suprisingly good and funny moments.
Finally, I've just picked up, for a quarter apiece at Half Price Books, a nearly complete run of Atari Force and have been enjoying the ones I've had a chance to read so far. (I've finished the Gerry Conway/Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez issues and I'm just starting the Mike Baron/Eduardo Barreto run)

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