Comics have long played host to stories and franchise from other media. Now, we present the best licensed comic series of 2012:
10. G.I. Joe: Cobra
If you’ve been reading or listening for iFanboy for awhile, you know the old song when it comes to G.I. Joe: Cobra: “too good to be true.” I don’t know if Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso can carry a tune, but they sure can carry a villains-centric story like few others seem to be able to do in comics. This year’s G.I. Joe: Cobra #13 put a head on that by breaking through the surface of their long-running storyline and providing an excellent entry point for new readers into this world of lies, subterfuge and subtlety. This is a G.I. Joe comic for hardcore G.I. Joe fans, but also an excellent military comic for someone with no real dispensation for the franchise itself. This is the kind of licensed comic that make ardent fans question if HASBRO is really letting IDW go this far, but loving it all the way to their bookshelf.
9. Adventure Time
Sometimes it’s hard to look so easy. But Boom!’s Kaboom imprint had threaded the needle and created a great companion to the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time. With a pure feeling as if ripped straight from the mind of Pendleton Ward, a great team of comic creators led by the left-field choice of Ryan North really gets this series like you wouldn’t believe.
8. Doctor Who
There have been Doctor Who comic series before with a whirlwind of greats, but this new series at IDW really hits a nerve that is hard to find outside the main stories from the television series. And much of that is due to Andy Diggle and Mark Buckingham. A dream team if there is one for a Doctor Who comic, Diggle and Buckingham really key in to the key ingredients of a great Doctor Who serial that mixes British-tinged humor, far-out fantasy and a core of science.
7. Exile on the Planet of the Apes
Gabriel Hardman’s proved himself as a well-honed artist with his work on various books at Marvel, but his work on Boom!’s Planet of The Apes comics showing his knack for storytelling isn’t just limited to drawing the story. In Exile On The Planet of the Apes, Hardman and co-writer Corinna Bechko follow up on their previous POTA miniseries and bring in artist Marc Laming to make this would-be future of Earth very real and very dangerous. Mixing race relations, politics and straight-up action, Exile On The Planet Of The Apes shows the nuanced characters in both the human and ape camps, especially that of Prisca. Prisca really is the stand-out star of this series, inhabiting a stranger world of sci-fi struggle with some real human emotion and interaction, Apes or not.
One of the key parts to making great licensed comics is getting the right storytellers. It isn’t about getting the biggest names, but finding writers and artists who have a passion for the material and now how to strike the right tone and style of the material. Roger Langridge is a bit of a wunderkind when it comes to finding the heart in other people’s creations, and with IDW’s Popeye he does just that. Working with artist Bruce Ozella, Langridge summons the spirit of E.C. Segar in these pages with reverence, humor and even some Popeye in-jokes. Langridge is well-known as a gag cartoonist, and this is well employed in this series without coming at the expense of the story. This great new series could easily fit alongside the Popeye classics or anywhere on the book shelf of a comics fan with a taste for comedy.
5. Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom
Have you been enjoying Mark Waid’s rollicking run on Daredevil? Then you’ll love what he and Chris Samnee did in their four-issue Rocketeer series, Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom. Style-wise it’s a great compliment to Waid’s Daredevil run but with a pulpy throwback feel. Borrowing from fellow pulp homage series Indiana Jones, the story centers on a big mystery (in this case, the titular “Cargo of Doom”) but the real meat of this story is the character moments and action pieces that surround that. Waid and Samnee really bring some whip-smart vibrancy to Cliff Secord and his girlfriend Betty’s relationship, making their sometimes dueling hijinx as exciting as the Rocketeer’s action sequences.
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise
This excellent three-part series may of not gained much traction with the Direct Market and comics websites, but Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise is an excellent piece of storytelling bridging the gap between the original Avatar: The Last Airbender and its animated sequel The Legend of Korra. This series by Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru captures the magic of the original animated series and deftly fits it into the comics world and takes full advantage of the medium’s unique storytelling techniques. In what could have been a throwaway piece of tie-in ephemera, Yang and Gurihiru really make this a key aspect of the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise and a great story full of action and politics in its own right.
3. Godzilla: The Half-Century War
The Godzilla franchise has a rather uneven history when it comes to comic adaptations, but Orc Stain cartoonist James Stokoe found the perfect plan of attack to take on this Kaiju story by approaching it as a fan with a deep reverence for not just the lizard itself but the entire scale and humanity of the Godzilla movies. By telling the series through the point-of-view of a young Japanese soldier as he grows old and has clashes with Godzilla over the years, it shows this decades-long war as one of attrition between humanity and Godzilla, and makes both better in the process. In many ways this is Stokoe’s Godzilla by way of Moby Dick, with AMF’s Ota trying to fight the odds and take down the beast while ultimately earning some unusual sense of respect for the titular character.
2. John Carter: The Gods of Mars
Beleaguered by it’s poorly performing sibling movie John Carter, Marvel’s John Carter: The Gods of Mars never quite got a fair shake when it comes to comic sales. But despite all that, Ramon Perez and Sam Humphries really showed how well comics can adapt and add flourish stories from other mediums that compliment the original story without overpowering it. Although it’s based on a sequel to the original John Carter of Mars novel, it’s a great standalone story thanks to Humphries’ adapting skills and Perez gives it a real swashbuckling, action punch that has a kind if Indiana Jones-esque tongue-in-cheek action that’s about personality and performance.
1. Conan the Barbarian
Although Conan first saw the light of day as prose stories in pulp magazines, it’s found a second home in comics that’s proved welcoming and practically revitalizing for the past few decades. In 2012, Brian Wood and artists like Becky Cloonan, James Harren, Vasilis Lolos and Declan Shalvey have pioneered a new age in Conan comics by delving into one of the more over-looked aspects of the Conan ouvre by Robert E. Howard: the romance with the pirate queen Belit. Wood has expertly taken the sparse words of REH’s original story and expanded it into a positively lush epic piece of storytelling, with his artists creating a modern-day roguish charm to Conan and Belit that marries the viciousness of Barry Windsor-Smith with more modern storytelling.