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'80s Comics Redux, Part 1

CINESCAPE ponders what the next major '80s TV-comic-tie-in revival will be

By Tony Whitt     June 24, 2002


Marvel's old children's imprint, Star Comics, hosted the original THUNDERCATS series.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
For those of us who experienced the '80s the first time around, the recent successful returns of comic series such as TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE makes it feel like Christmas all year round. Following the recent news that THUNDERCATS will soon experience a similar renaissance as a comic series, we here at CINESCAPE began to wonder what other television series popular in the '80s made the crossing to the printed page, and which ones make the best candidates for a similar retro-revival. We soon discovered that, as much as we may have enjoyed those series as kids, many of those adapted to comics during the '80s haven't stood the test of time as well as the Autobots or the Joes, or even the Cats. For that matter, many of them weren't even adapted.

It's strange that, compared to other decades, the '80s simply didn't produce as many TV tie-in comics. Go look on the shelves of your favorite comic store right now, and you'll see comic versions of '90s TV series galore: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FARSCAPE, and the upcoming SMALLVILLE to name a few. Browse through the back issues boxes, and you'll find equally successful series from earlier in the '90s adapted into successful comic series (DC's BABYLON 5 series and Topps' THE X-FILES series, for instance). You might even find some that were less than successful (You did know there was a FIRST WAVE comic briefly, right?) Look back to the '50s, '60s, and '70s, and you'll be hard-pressed to list a publisher who didn't have at least two or three going strong. (Look at the output of the publishing juggernaut that was once Dell Comics, and you'll find almost nothing but such adaptations.) But what did the '80s offer us?

Art from the new THUNDERCATS

If the three-part A-TEAM miniseries published by Marvel in 1984 is anything to go by, not much. Or rather, not much in the way of comic adaptations of live-action series, anyway. Released at a time when G.I. JOE mania was at its height and the television series it was based on was scoring decent audience figures, A-TEAM should have been a runaway success. It wasn't. With Jim Salicrup handling the scripting chores and Marie Severin and Chic Stone working together on an artistic style that made even Mr. T look good, this series should easily have expanded beyond its initial three-issue run in the same way that the TRANSFORMERS miniseries did...but it didn't. Try thinking up another comic series adaptation of a live-action, non-genre series during the '80s, though, and you may wish it had. No KNIGHT RIDER series? Nope. No MACGYVER series? Uh-uh. When it comes to '80s TV-to-comic adaptations, the crown belongs to the animated series.

But there were plenty of those that weren't successful as comics, too - and even less so as comics. Even the megalithic triumvirate behind the Joes and the Bots - Marvel, Hasbro, and Sunbow Productions - couldn't be counted on to produce similarly successful shows consistently. Anyone remember VISIONARIES: KNIGHTS OF THE MAGICAL LIGHT? As it ran for only 13 episodes in 1987, you'd be forgiven if you didn't. You'd be equally forgiven for not remembering the adaptation under Marvel's Star Comics imprint that ran for six issues that year. Ditto for THE INHUMANOIDS, another one season wonder that rated only four issues under the Star imprint.

Megatron of the TRANSFORMERS

Popularity doesn't always ensure a long-running comic adaptation, either. Marvel's version of THE SMURFS lasted only three issues past its inception in December of 1982, despite its television counterpart going on long after we were all smurfing tired of the smurfing thing. And sometimes, an outright lack of popularity of the original series seems necessary for a comic book version's success. I'm still astounded and dismayed to see Alf's recent appearances in those awful long distance commercials. But it's even more disheartening to realize that Marvel's ALF tie-in series - whether based on the live-action show or the animated series, it doesn't matter, as they both sucked - went on for a whopping fifty issues. I doubt we want to see this brought back by Devil's Due, though.

Perhaps instead of looking at the series that tanked as comics in the '80s, we should consider those shows whose writers have gone on to the proverbial bigger and better. J. Michael Straczynski has become a household name because of BABYLON 5, RISING STARS, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN - could we expect him to do an updated version of CAPTAIN POWER AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE? You've got to remember that one - the interactive show in which you actually shot at the TV? JMS did story editing chores on that one, and it even had a two-issue run at Continuity Comics in 1988, with no less than Neal Adams doing the cover for the first issue. Surely Devil's Due or Joe's Comics could take a look at that one?

G.I. JOE's Snake Eyes as reimagined for a new era

Finally, what about all those shows from the '80s that really should have been adapted as comics and weren't? I have friends that still swear by the mid-eighties series ADVENTURES OF THE GALAXY RANGERS, but nary a comic version was seen, despite an impressive sixty-five episode run. (They say the same thing about DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH, which had a four-issue run as a Star Comic, so I doubt they're to be trusted, really.) A JEM series could have been fun, but amazingly there was no corresponding Star Comics adaptation for this Sunbow-produced series. Perhaps we shouldn't get carried away, though. Perhaps we should be grateful that such shows as THE BIONIC SIX, BRAVESTARR, and C.O.P.S. didn't make the cut. And does anyone really want a comics version of THE GO-BOTS at this late date, especially when these knockoffs-in-disguise never rated one before?

So the question really becomes: are there any other '80s series adapted into comics whose comic book versions didn't suck? And are any of them truly worth revisiting? The answers may surprise you - and they may provide a clue as to what the next major hit from a publisher like Devil's Due could (or should) be...

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