HI FOLKS. Big Dave here filling in for Greg. That’s right, people, it’s time for me to blast your light receptacles with electronic words of TRUTH. Because the internet never lies, right?
It’s a long standing fact among seasoned comicbook veterans that licensed comics are just plain bad. Much like movie tie-in videogames, you train your eyes to just glance over them without a second thought when you do your weekly scan of the racks. But, just like videogames, for every 5 or 6 (or 20) Supeman Returns: The Game there is a Spider-Man 2: The Game. So, for this weeks Top 5 we’re going to do a rundown of my favourite licensed comics. In no particular order:
5. G.I. Joe: Cobra
When IDW got the Joe license, I can’t say I was paying attention to the franchise. I wasn’t a fan as a kid, it just seemed like a bunch of goofy gimmick-laden army dudes running about with guns bigger than their torso’s and neon glow-in-the-dark body armour. I’d heard IDW had apparently scaled the goofiness back a tad but I still wasn’t interested. But then I read G.I. Joe: Cobra. I’d barely heard of Chuckles before this series. If you’d asked a Joe fan who he was the most likely answer would have been “Oh, he’s the one in the Hawaiian shirt.” Now, any mention of Chuckles is immediately followed by “He was awesome in G.I. Joe: Cobra. You should read it.”
So IDW took one of the sillier Joes, put him in a book that’s more evocative of 24 or the Bourne movies than an 80s kids cartoon and it was a stroke of creative genius. The mini-series follows our hero going undercover to infiltrate the corporate structure of Extensive Enterprises, run by Tomax and Xamot, in an attempt to uncover more information surrounding the mysterious new terrorist organisation known only as “Cobra.” The series perfectly captures the loneliness, desperation and paranoia of being undercover, with his true allegiance being in constant threat of being found out. An absolute must for fans of Bond films. Written by Mike Costa and Christos Gage, art by Antonio Fuso.
4. Mass Effect: Evolutions
Ok, I’m a big fan of Mass Effect. It’s the most interesting Sci-Fi universe created since Star Wars, in my opinion. Deep and rich, with intriguing mysteries and fleshed out races; it’s ripe for mining for other media outside of the games. Clearly Dark Horse agree with me, because they’re launching a Mass Effect ongoing later this year. But let’s dial it back a bit and have a look at one of their earlier forays into the ME universe. Evolutions was launched a year after Mass Effect 2 was released and a year before the third game.
From the outset it deals with something the fans had been dying to read more about, the First Contact war with the Turians. Set during the middle of the war, we follow Jack Harper, a human mercenary and the first human to be exposed to one of the beacons that Shephard ultimately interacts with. It’s co-written by the lead writer of the games, so the continuity fits perfectly and everything seems like it’s lifted straight out of game world. The big bombshell here, and why I picked it instead of any of the other Mass Effect tie-ins, is that half way through the series we find out that we have actually been reading the origin story of one of the games main antagonists, The Illusive Man. I tells ya, when I worked out exactly what I was reading my jaw was on the floor. Co-written by Mac Walters and John-Jackson Miller, art by Omar Francia. Oh, and big thanks to Danny at A1 for slyly popping this one in my pull list file for me, he knows the crack I like!
Ahhh Dreamwave. Anyone who was keeping up with Transformers comics in the early-to-mid 2000s will remember what can only be described as “The Rise and Fall of Dreamwave Comics (or how Pat Lee stole a lot of money.)” Long story short, “super star” artist Pat Lee conned a lot of artists into drawing comics for his company – and then never payed them a penny. It can all be found online for those who want to know more. Now, to be fair to them, there were some good comics coming out of the self-proclaimed “dream engine.” Transformers/G.I. Joe deserves a mention on the list simply for the art. The series takes the two beloved Hasbro franchises and re-imagines them in World War 2, with the Autobots taking the form of allied vehicles and the ‘Cons taking the form of some gnarly axis artillery.
Drawn by Jae Lee(!) with designs by Transformers legend Don Figueroa the comic looked like no other Joe or Transformers comic had before it. Moody, bleak and atmospheric, it was unique for it’s time. The story is muddled, and I can’t say the story-telling of it’s art helps in any way but that doesn’t detract from the style of the whole thing. I’m a major fan of Transformers and the thing I enjoy most with my TF media is when a new piece of fiction does something that hasn’t been done before with the franchise and that is exactly what this series did. Plus, for all it’s faults, it’s hard to hate a series that has Superion and Bruticus smashing each other to smithereens. Words by John Ney Reiber, art by Jae Lee.
2. Buffy Season 8
Do you like Buffy? Do you want more Buffy? This is what you want to read. Dark Horse’s continuation of the show is spot-on. With Whedon steering the ship and writers of the show doing the script duties more often than not, it’s hard to imagine what more they could have done to get the comic closer to the feel of the show. Arguably this started the trend of continuing TV shows in the comicbook format and I’d dare say it’s yet to be bested on that front. The key here is that not only do the characters look, sound and act like they did on the screen, but everything feels like it matters. This doesn’t feel like a weird alternate reality to the program, it feels legitimately feels like it’s earned the right to call itself Season 8. A lot of TV tie-ins can feel like low-grade fan fiction (sorry fan-fic’ers!) but this comic hits the sweet spot.
Spanning 40 numbered issues and a number of one shots it’s a bit of an undertaking but if you loved the show I can’t recommend it highly enough. Whedon serves as “Executive Producer,” over-seeing the whole thing and writing three story arcs himself, the remainder written by the likes of Brian K. Vaughan, Drew Goddard, Jeph Loeb and a whole host of Buffy and Angel alumni, so the writers really know their stuff. Oh, and the big bad reveal? It’s a doozy. I’ll throw an honorable mention in here for Angel: After The Fall and Spike, both by IDW, because you really should be reading them too if you’re going to read Season 8 since it all ties together. Georges Jeanty pencils most of the series, with some fill-ins here and there, so you know the art is top-notch!
1. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye
Ask someone who reads More Than Meets The Eye why you should start reading it and without fail their answer will be “Because it’s not just an amazing Transformers comicbook, it’s an amazing COMICBOOK, full stop.” IDW’s run with the franchise has had it’s ups and downs, and for my money it’s been more hits than misses but the publisher didn’t hit it’s full stride until the twin ongoing series, More Than Meets The Eye and Robots In Disguise launched 18 or so months ago. The premise is simple: the war that lasted 4 million years is over, Megatron has been defeated and the Autobots have won – and now things get serious.
More Than Meets The Eye follows the crew of the cybertronian intersteller cruiser The Lost Light. Captained by Rodimus Prime and his ragtag group of Cybertronians, they set out on a quest to find the impossibly ancient and potentially mythical Knights of Cybertron, who will hopefully lead them to the legendary Cybertopia. And then everything goes horribly, irrevocably wrong. MTMTE is one of only two books, Young Avengers being the other, that I absolutely HAVE to read as soon as I can. I’m the sort of person who leaves the books they are most excited about at the bottom of the stack – but not MTMTE, it doesn’t even have time to go to the top of the stack, it just gets read. At times it’s a deeply personal an soulful read (trust me, YOU WILL CRY) and at other times it’s an intricately woven tapestry of plot threads intersecting and diverging and reconnecting. Then at other times the humour reaches the same heights that JLI did (I know, high praise, but it’s deserved.)
I’d be reluctant to suggest this to someone who isn’t at least a passing fan of the Transformers in some form, if you don’t like the initial concept then I doubt this would change your mind but if you have even a cursory intrest in the ‘Bots and ‘Cons then you simply MUST read this. It’s from the same writer as Last Stand of the Wreckers (in many ways a sequel to that series) and Alex Milne has carved out a name for himself as one of the greatest pencillers to work on the TF books. I feel bad for not putting Robots In Disguise on this list, it is a really fantastic book, and if political intrigue is more your thing than characterisation then you’ll probably dig it more, but for my money MTMTE is one of the best books on the stands right now and you’re really doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out.
So, that’s my list. Next week Greg’ll be back with your regularly scheduled programming but until then, sound-off in the comments! What do you think makes a good licensed comic? Are there any people should be checking out but aren’t? And for fun, what’s the WORST licensed comic you’ve ever read?
The writer of this piece was:
David McIntyre aka (Big Dave)
You can also find David on Facebook