iFanboy’s Best of 2012: The Best Licensed Comic Series

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.


Doctor Who

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.


Exile on the Planet of the Apes

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.



6. Popeye

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.


John Carter Gods of Mars

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.


  1. Good list… those are some solid comics, licensed or otherwise. I would also like to sing the praises of Angel & Faith – Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs have a great thing going.

    • Yeah, I was just going to mention Angel & Faith, too. The main Buffy title is so-so, but Angel/Faith is quite good in both premise and execution.

    • Let a third voice ring out for Angel & Faith. Fantastic characterizations, nods to the show and a great slow burn central conceit, but Rebekah Issacs is the real star of the show. I can’t wait to see more work from her.

    • Fourthed, Angel & faith is currently my 3rd favorite ongoing series thanks to Gage and Isaacs and to the guest artists on every fifth issue. I would also drop some love to Willow: Wonderland because that’s also really good.

    • Agreed. Angel & Faith is hugely overlooked here. In my list it would only be beaten by Brian Wood’s Conan.

  2. I’m so happy to see so much attention paid to the John Carter mini, it really was a delight to read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I liked the earlier mini as well, although Ramon Perez wasn’t working his magic on that one.

  3. Just of out of curiosity is TMNT considered a licensed property? It started as a creator owned comic, grew into it’s own Franchise and is now being rebooted by IDW. I know Eastman’s name is attached to the new series but is he actually writing or drawing, and if he was would it not be considered a licensed property since the creator/owners name is attached?

  4. I’ve been curious to try the Planet of the Apes comics, but was wondering how much back-knowledge I need. I have seen the original film multiple times, but never any of the sequels or reboots (except for Burton’s). Would I be alright?

    Could we have an honorable mention for Matt Wagner’s Zorro? I’ll admit that the conclusion felt rushed, but until those final couple issues, the series had been one of the most enjoyable titles of the last few years . . .

    • The hardman/betchko Apes books are very new reader friendly.

    • –> No previous knowledge of Apes continuity is necessary to enjoy the Apes titles.

      Highest recommendations for:

      “Planet of the Apes” ongoing that ending at issue #16 I think.
      (This was “continued” after a time jump in the new “Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm” (awesome)

      “Exiles” was great as noted above, really really good.

      “Betrayal” was terribly, terribly enjoyable.

  5. Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison would be near the top of my list.

  6. Godzilla: HCW & Conan are both amazing books, some of my overall favourite titles from last year.

  7. Glad to see Cobra on this solid list but have to advocate for Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow as well, it does a great job of interweaving and connecting all 3 main G.I.Joe books while having a lead character that doesn’t talk. Transformers IDW books have been solid too.

  8. The Hardman stuff has been excellent, but BOOM’s ongoing Planet of the Apes title by Gregory and Magno has been one of the best books of the last two years. I picked up the first issue for a dollar and have been hooked ever since.
    I think the trades are $9.99 – you will not be disappointed.

    • I second that — the ongoing was a page turner. I bought the first trade and began bugging my LCS on a daily basis, asking when the next issue was out. True page-turner.

  9. I just started on this Conan series and I think the variant cover to #3 sold me along w a great creative team, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan with Dave Stewart who is the colorist of colorist’s.

  10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

  11. At the very top of my list of licensed comic books ahead of the awesome Adventure Time is IDW’s Transformers More Than Meets the Eye. Its a beautifully fun book. Filled with drama & action. Humor & pathos. A very under the radar read.

    • Yeah, MTMTE is a fun book. Both of the main TF books are packed with story, making them worth the $3.99 price to me. They both deserve a lot more hype.

      Cobra would be my number 1, but all of the Hasbro IDW books are pretty damn good. Okay, I don’t know about My Little Pony.

      I also enjoy the Buffy books and the occasional Star Wars.

    • Ive been told My Little Pony is pretty good. Funny even. I can see the pedigree is pretty solid. Katie Cook is pretty cool.

  12. @Chris

    Just for my own edification, what makes “The Rocketeer” a licensed property? I thought it was created by Dave Stevens in comic-book form. Even after his passing, it either belongs to his estate or maybe IDW now. But it started as a comic and still is a comic; it’s just being made by people other than Dave Stevens. If that’s a licensed property by your standards, wouldn’t “Prophet” and “Glory” count, too?

  13. If only Planet of the Apes was available digitally. Sigh.

  14. I don’t have the energy to argue with y’all – but as a long time Conan fan, I find the current series pretty weak.

    Also – is anyone else reading Godzilla Ongoing?

  15. Wow, if Adventure Time comes in at 9, then I may be missing out by not reading some of these other titles. Planet of the Apes has been tempting me. I may have to give Godzilla a try based on this recommendation. I read Kingdom of Monsters and Gangsters and Goliaths and didn’t love them enough to keep trying the later stuff. I’ve been enjoying Conan. I’m not sure it’s the best Conan I’ve read, but it’s good. Also the first 10 issues are on sale from Darkhorse Digital this weekend, so if someone’s curious, this is a good time to check it out. I will say that after picking up Adventure Time on a whim, I decided maybe giving a series a pre-emptive knock for being a TV-spin-off wasn’t fair. So I think some of these titles I am going to have to try out. I could always use more Doctor Who.