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Top 10 Toy Franchises Adapted Into Comics

Written by Zechs on Friday, August 05 2011 and posted in Features
Toy Shed

Due to Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and the recently released Thundercats cartoon, Zechs takes a look at the best toy properties that were adapted into comics.

10.) Thundercats (Star Comics/Marvel)


 - For twenty four issues, readers in the United States saw the adventures of Lion-O and his Thundercats taking on Mumm-Ra and the mutants. I still have some of the issues and remember one adventure in particular, where Lion-O had to rescue his team-mates after a Thundera bounty hunter had been tricked into capturing them all for Mumm-Ra. I recall it ending in a massive fight, mutants vs. Thundercats vs. Mumm-ra, and it kind of makes me wish they had reprinted these old Star issues. The problem is that's all I can recall, the other issues were sort of meaningless and didn't have that same spark. I kind of wish more details of the further adventures had transfered over to Marvel UK along with the license, where the series ran for a healthy 140+ issues. Alas, Thundercats time in comics was short lived, though it was briefly revived in an infamous Wildstorm relaunch. It just didn't catch on like other properties on this list.

9.) Masters of the Universe (Marvel/DC)

 - I forgot how much this property jumped between both companies in the '80s until I looked it up. I remember the Marvel run more, so I'm focusing on that. They had some fun issues that incorporated a lot of the action figures. Skeletor was still a bone brain (he didn't become a favorite villain of mine until Frank Langella portrayed him in the live action movie), but this series had a version of Hordak that was far superior to the animated series. He was a dude you seriously didn't want to screw with and had so much more pull for me than the animated version (really nothing good ever came of the animated series of He-Man or She-Ra).

The series did try to make a kid hunger for the new toys, but in the most half-assed way possible. I recall that in the first issue, Skeletor's scheme was to dig a hole into Grayskull all by himself. Fortunately, he didn't get far before Hordak and his crew ganged up on him.  Great plan there, Skullhead. Obviously the writing was the main problem for me. It didn't really hold well compared to the other comics that involved toys on this list. Masters of the Universe belongs near the bottom compared to others on here.

8.) Marvel: Super Heroes: Secret Wars (Marvel)


- The first "big" event at Marvel was patterned after a toy line concept from Kenner, from the new costumes to the three-inch Captain America and Iron Man figures. It also released figures of characters who weren't even in the event, but introduced kids like me to their characters - none more so then Baron Zemo and the Hobgoblin. After my dad gave me an issue of Amazing Spider-Man #275 I became an even bigger fan of these characters, but I never would have discovered them if I didn't already have the toys. So in that regard, this series helped make me the Doom/Hobby savant that I am today.

Though I confess this series did have a lot of flaws. For one, a ton of figures who appeared in the comic never got a figure (Hulk, Thor, She-Hulk, Ultron, and numerous others) and a ton of characters who didn't appear in the comic did get figures (Daredevil, Zemo, Hobby, and Falcon). Also, dammit, where were the hell vehicles or fortress? I was always disappointed that we never saw a Fortress Doom with the way it looked in the comics, or the numerous vehicles the toy series had. So in that regard the comic did fail a bit. Plus in the end, the writing hasn't aged well for the most part (save for any scene involving Doom in #10).

7.) Micronauts (Marvel)


– Based on a late '70s toyline, this early '80s comic brought the toys to life and launched the careers of several characters who would later appear in Marvel Comics books (Bug). It featured art from various legendary comic artists (Pat Broderick, Michael Golden, Howard Chaykin, Butch Guice, and others). Bill Mantio, the writer behind this comic's first run (who'd go on to write another comic on this list), crafted quite a space opera wherein the heroes did battle with numerous villainous heavyweights in the Marvel Universe (Hydra, Psycho-Man, Molecule Man, and of course Doctor Doom). Like Godzilla and another soon-to-be stated property, Micronauts left an impression on the Marvel Universe that's still felt today. I do believe this was the series that helped polish my love for cyborgs (that and Mechagodzila). Need I say more why this series rules?

6.) Zoids (Marvel UK)


- What? Okay, even I didn't even know about this series until it was brought to my attention by another site. After much digging I found a website that had some actual issues to read, and set forth to take in this much-heralded series which contains the early works of many famous British comic writers/artists (including Grant Morrison).

What I found was a massive dramatic space opera, one that was very well written and drawn. The only problem I had is... this is Zoids, not Star Wars. I could care less about the pilots, and more about the actual vehicles. I can see why this series gets a lot of praise since it is a good series. But in the grand scheme of things, only a select few remember it at all. And against the other entries on this list, which are far more better remembered, it's easy to see how that happened. The other series did a far better job of creating memorable storylines and characters, while this one in the end seemed shackled by the restrains of actual Zoid toys.

5.) Superpowers (DC)


 - So why is Superpowers superior to the entries above? Art and covers of the first series were done by Jack Kirby. I have to confess I never read the first volume of this series; it's the second and third volumes that I remember more clearly. The plots are simple: Darkseid wants to conquer the Earth and the only people in his way are the Superpowers team. So it's Justice League heavy hitters (and Aquaman) vs. the forces of Apoklips. How can a kid not be amped up and enjoy this story, which is like a prep course in Kirby lore and art? Superpowers also showcased all the characters who where figures quite well (I was wide-eyed with excitement over cyborg-like Mantis just leeching the powers of Martian Manhunter). Sadly, in my opinion the third series wasn't good as that second. It had some interesting stuff, but this time it didn't have the wondrous Kirby art to back it up.

There's one reason Superpowers is a clear top five choice: the actual figures came with mini comics, giving the unknowning buyer a good history of the character . My two favprite mini comics, which I still possess, are about the Joker and Doctor Fate. I almost wonder who else this series conditioned into being a DC fan?

4.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Adventures (Archie)


- The comic series was originally spawned by adapting the episodes of the animated series, which in turn were generated from early issues of the grim dark Mirage series. However, this particular Archie run began to spin its own tale right after adapting several of the cartoon tales. Using the various figures released by Playmates, this 70+ issue run has a fanbase in its own right. Characters such as the Mighty Mutants or Ninjara weren't that heavily featured or not even on the show at all, but were in the toyline later thanks to the comics. Insane vehicles that were never featured on the show got their due here. The Shredder and Krang weren't the only baddies who plagued the Turtles in this series: Rat King, Slash, Verminator X, Armaggon, Adolf Hitler, Null, and Chien Khan were also present. Each of them had clear motivations as to why they where doing their evil deed.

The most surprising thing about this series was the dark turn it took in the later issues. Numerous characters got offed (heroes and villains alike), the Turtles punched Hitler and then forced him to commit suicide, and the fight to end all fights never happened. The Turtles were set for the greatest and final fight they would ever have with their arch foe the Shredder, who had control over the future technology - the Forever War. Unfortunately, the series never got its conclusion as publication was stopped due to differences between Archie and Mirage. There seemed to be some hope that the Turtles would get their war, until Mirage sold the rights to Nickelodeon. Though Nick has since sold the rights to IDW, some fans including myself await the day they also release info on finally publishing the lost final arc. And at long last this series would finally get the conclusion it so richly deserved.

3.) R.O.M. Spaceknight (Marvel)


- I wasn't a fan of this series myself, but I can plainly see the impact this series has had and the fanbase that surrounded it. The comic was based on a single figure, and what writer Bill Mantlo (he strikes again!) and artist Sal Buscema did with that blank canvas is the stuff of legends. The action figure crashed and burned, while the actual series outlasted it by seven years with over seventy-five issues. R.O.M. appeared in various other comics and many fans wish to see him return fully to Marvel, who has teased the ever living hell out of their fanbase most recently in Avengers #12.1.

It's this rare case of the actual comic not only surpasses the toyline, but impacts the universe as well. This is a series that had an actual beginning, middle, and finale. It was space opera at its finest. From the issues I pulled and looked at, I could see what hooked so many fans into this series.

2.) Transformers (Marvel)


- This series has more to it than meets the eye, thanks to simplistic art and the writing expertise of Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman (who ran the UK Transformers stories before becoming the lead writer on both in #57). It started out simple like the cartoon it was based on, but branched out in an entirely different direction. The best remembered plots of this first run were Shockwave defeating all the Autobots and establishing himself as leader of Decepticons, Grimlock being a totally different character then his cartoon counterpart, Unicron being an entity that was a threat to multi-verses (not just planets), and Optimus Prime dying before he got killed off in the movie (though not as a gut punch since Prime pretty much wasn't as bad ass as in the cartoon).

The American series lasted a mere 80 issues, while the UK's lasted an astounding 300+ (with various specials and annuals). The series' impact can be felt all over the Transformers media, with Furman still leading the helm on it even today. Currently he's done various stories for IDW, and will be relaunching the series ala G.I. Joe with this continuity in late 2011.

The issue I personally recall the most is  the Shockwave arc in #12, but also some issues afterward like the Autobot Civil War (with of course the Decepticons arriving as the battle is over) and the island paradise scheme of the Decepticons (why did the Decepticons think Ratbat was a great commander again, compared to Shockwave or Megatron?). I wish I knew the exact numerbing for these issues, but their covers have long since been torn.

1.) G.I. Joe (Marvel)


 – Really, what else can be #1? 150+ issues, spin-off comics (G.I. Joe: Special Missions and everything that has come from IDW or even Devil's Due), and the main series has all been under the writing of one man, Larry Hama. The comic has been drawn by numerous artists, but the story has all been Hama's vision, and what a vision it is. He's added so much depth to all the characters, from Snake-Eyes to the Baroness and, yes, Cobra Commander (proving one can live the American dream and then convert it into one of world domination).

Surprisingly, he's incorporated every toy that Hasbro shelled out to kids, and through most of it he's made it work. My favorite issue of the series, #34, promoted two toys, The Rattler and Skystriker, which resulted in an epic air battle between the two (like I spoil the outcome here. Go read the darn issue! It's the greatest aerial combat ever shown in comics). Of course he's also had to deal with the more extreme ideas, such as Serpentor, Ninja Force, the Eco Squad, and Headsman. He's used various methods to deal with them, some amusing and some not so (the Eco Squad/Headsman arc was just bad, thankfully Firefly saved it completely by returning right after and capturing/killing most of the Cobra forces who made up these concepts). Still, Hama used everything that Hasbro threw his way and continued with his story ideas while even paying homage to the original Joe (Joe Colston).

However, the most recognized part of this run was the silence issue. In #21, Snake-Eyes raids Cobra's headquarters fighting off Destro and Storm Shadow to free Scarlett. Not a single word is ever uttered in the issue, letting only the images tell the tale. This issue remained so popular that a sequel came out in #85, and the concept was so powerful, that in 2001 Marvel had a promotion called "Nuff Said" where its books went silent. A very nice idea, though given the timing of the events that happened during that year only a fraction were released on time, with the rest being scattered throughout 2002.

Sadly, like all comics marketed by toys, the run of new stories inevitably ended when production of the toys ceased, in this case with #155. Fortunately this wasn't the end of this universe that Hama created. In 2001, Devil's Due bought the rights to the series and began releasing new adventures. Then recently, IDW purchased the license and released trades of all the old Marvel issues. Unlike Devil's Due, at first IDW was going for an entirely original story. However, just last year they've restarted this very series (even continuing the old numbering!). Only one writer was brought back for the project, Larry Hama himself. Now almost thirty years later, and the legacy of this book spawned by a toy line continues how can this series not be #1?


So there you have it. My top ten favorite comics that were adapted from toys. Is the list pleasing to you? Or am I totally wrong and flawed in my reasoning? And now for your random amusement some comic and toy commercials!!!

Written or Contributed by: Zechs


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About the Author - Zechs

Zechs is the lord and master of The Toy Shed, Moment of the Week, and Durnkin Reveewz. He's also the official whuppin boy at the Outhouse. So he'll get stuck seeing stuff that no mere mortal should ever see. If there's any greater quality to Zechs, it's that he's an avid fan of comic book characters and would defend them to the bitter end against the companies that use them wrongly. He's also brutally honest. Zechs walks the lonely path in Chicagoland area.


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