Comic books based on licensed characters or concepts from other media (like television shows, movies, cartoons, toys, etc.) or dormant comics creations (like T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents or Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory) are common. Licensed comic books offer fans of licensed properties new adventures and stories featuring their favorite characters, and can expose new readers to the broader comics medium (for example, the first comic book that I ever read was a licensed comics adaptation of the film King Kong, and many years later, here I am…)
There’s plenty of competition among comics publishers to secure the licenses of popular media franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who, but there are some underutilized properties that could be sensational comics. Below is a list of some media properties that I think would make great licensed comic books (as well as my suggestions for the creative teams that should work on these comics).
THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN
A Ruby-Spears cartoon conceived by legendary comics creator Steve Gerber (Howard the Duck, Omega the Unknown), with design work on the show provided by revered comics artists Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, Thundarr the Barbarian ran for two seasons on the ABC network, from 1980 to 1982. The cartoon showcased the adventures of the eponymous Thundarr and his friends, the sorceress Princess Ariel and the feline creature Ookla the Mok, as they journeyed across a post-apocalyptic Earth noted for its “savagery, super-science, and sorcery”.
The cartoon was clearly influenced by pulp adventurer Conan the Barbarian, DC Comics character Kamandi, and the Star Wars film franchise. As a kid, this was the cartoon that I had to watch every Saturday morning, and it surprises me – given the cartoon’s great science fiction/fantasy premise and the number of acclaimed comics creators involved in producing the show – that it has never been licensed as a comic book.
Writer/artist Tom Scioli (Transformers vs. G.I. Joe) has proven that he can bring off-beat creative energy to licensed comics, and I think that he would be perfect to chronicle Thundarr’s adventures on the comics page.
Created in 1965 by author Frank Herbert, the complex science fiction universe of the Dune franchise is set thousands of years in the future, where the universe is ruled by a feudalistic human empire, and great royal houses compete with one another for wealth and power. The first novel in the series, Dune, depicts the transformation of the noble Paul Atreides into the rebel and messiah known as “Muad’Dib”; the novel explores complex political and ecological themes centered around the most important planet in the universe – the harsh desert planet Arrakis, informally called “Dune”.
There are a total of 18 books (six written by Herbert, the remainder authorized by his estate) in the Dune series; the series remains a popular science fiction franchise. A movie adaptation of the original novel was made in 1984 by writer/director David Lynch, and the series has also inspired two television miniseries and multiple video games. Marvel Comics adapted the Dune movie to comics in 1984; the adaptation was written by Ralph Macchio and illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz.
The Dune universe is rich with intrigue, drama, and action, and my initial dream team to adapt Dune to the comics medium was writer Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four, East of West) and artist Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), but then I saw that writer/artist Paul Pope (Battling Boy) already created a one-page Dune strip in 2009; as the lawyers like to say in court, “Your honor, I rest my case!”:
THE VENTURE BROS.
The Venture Bros. is a comedic action cartoon inspired by the 1960s adventure cartoon Jonny Quest and whole lot of comic books. The cartoon showcases the adventures of the former child adventurer “Rusty” Venture (who has grown up to be a disappointed, failed scientist), his two kids Hank and Dean, and their bodyguard, the former secret agent Brock Samson. In their adventures, the Venture family encounters friends and foes that are a homage to many comics and cartoon characters.
The cartoon has a cult following, and I think that cartoonist Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) has the comedic writing/illustration skills to provide some zany action satire stories for a The Venture Bros. comic book series.
A stretchable action figure developed by the toy company Kenner in 1976, Stretch Armstrong is a blank slate. We all all know he can stretch, but unlike other toy action figures like Transformers, Masters of the Universe, or G.I. Joe, Stretch Armstrong has no mythology or backstory to impede a comic book creative team. Stretch can be a mutant, a superhero, a secret agent, a circus performer who solves mysteries, or all of the above, and the right creative team could do wonders for this iconic character.
I would love to see writer Chris Roberson (Codename: Action, iZOMBIE) and artist Steve Rude (Nexus) provide some Stretch Armstrong comic book adventures.
With the right creative teams, licensed comics can provide fun, thought-provoking entertainment, and the list above only scratches the surface. Let me know what you think about my suggestions in the comments, and feel free to make your own.