Friday, February 26, 2016

Dark Horse Comics Year-by-Year: The Road to 1991

Dark Horse Presents #1 - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (July 1987)
1st Dark Horse comic
Mike Richardson used money he raised from his comic book store, Pegasus Books, to start Dark Horse Comics.  The first title from this fledgling publisher came out in July 1987 and is aptly named Dark Horse Presents which introduced several notable creations over its 162 issue run.  Creator owned properties like Paul Chadwick's Concrete and John Byrne's Next Men, Dark Horse's first character to be turned into a movie The Mask, and a teaming of the licensed movie properties Aliens and Predator were all introduced in the pages of this anthology title.  It is Dark Horse's success with licensed movie properties that led them to securing the license for Star Wars.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Special - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (August 1987)
1st Dark Horse Godzilla comic
Dark Horse's first foray into licensed movie properties began in August 1987 when they published an original black and white one-shot titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters Special.  This comic proved successful and Dark Horse followed up with a 6-issue mini-series simply titled Godzilla that began in May 1988 and concluded in January 1989.  This mini-series is a translation of a Japanese manga by Kazuhisa Iwata and is Dark Horse's first manga series.  Dark Horse would hold the license and publish comics for Godzilla for 12 years.  In 1998, the final year they held the Godzilla license, Dark Horse only published reprints of their previous Godzilla comics.

Aliens #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (July 1988)
1st Dark Horse Aliens comic
The next license Dark Horse obtained was for the franchise Aliens.  They published a 6-issue black and white mini-series starting in July 1988.  This original story was another success for Dark Horse and Aliens would prove to be the longest-lived movie license at Dark Horse, a license that they still hold and exercise.  Dark Horse would acquire another license from 20th Century Fox which they also still hold, Predator.  They published a 4-issue Predator mini-series beginning in June 1989, one month before the conclusion of their first Aliens mini-series.  In February 1990, one month before the conclusion of the first Predator mini-series, Dark Horse would pair the Aliens and Predator franchise for the first time in the 3rd part of a story concluding in Dark Horse Presents #36.  (Dark Horse celebrated this pairing by publishing two covers for Dark Horse Presents #36.)  The first part of the story in Dark Horse Presents #34 only contains Aliens and the second part in Dark Horse Presents #35 only contains Predator.  This 3-part short story titled Aliens vs. Predator was so successful, 20th Century Fox would take the concept and title when they release their first Alien vs. Predator movie in 2004.  Dark Horse quickly turned this pairing into a 4-part mini-series with a continuation of the short story Aliens vs. Predator in a title of the same name in June 1990.  Aliens vs Predator is arguably Dark Horse's greatest original contribution to pop culture.  Over the years since this comic was released, there have been many similar pairings between otherwise separate properties.

Dark Horse Presents #36a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (February 1990)
1st Aliens vs. Predator comic
Dark Horse Presents #36b - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (February 1990)
1st Aliens vs. Predator comic
Aliens vs. Predator #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (June 1990)
Another major movie franchise, Terminator, was brought to Dark Horse in 1990.  The license was briefly held by Now comics prior to Dark Horse acquiring it.  In August 1990, Dark Horse published a 4-issue mini-series titled The Terminator.  Dark Horse would publish Terminator titles on and off over the next 24 years.  During this time, Marvel, Malibu Comics, Beckett Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, and IDW would also publish Terminator comics.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (March 1991)
As hard as it is to believe, Dark Horse began publishing comics based on one more movie license before Star Wars.  Also from Lucasfilm, Dark Horse published the 4-issue mini-series Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis starting in March 1991.  Like Star Wars, Dark Horse would secure this license original held by Marvel Comics.  Marvel published a 3-issue adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.  They also published a 34 issue ongoing series title The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones from January 1983 through March 1986.  In 1989, they published a 4-issue adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, their final Indiana Jones title.  Dark Horse would actively publish Indiana Jones mini-series until 1996.  In 2008 when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released, Dark Horse released an adaptation.  Dark Horse published their last Indiana Jones mini-series with the 4-issue Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods which concluded in March 2009.  This license, like Star Wars, reverted to Marvel in 2015.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (December 1991)
1st Dark Horse Star Wars comic
It was the success of these other movie licenses and the languishing of the Star Wars property at Marvel that led to Dark Horse acquiring the license along with the Indiana Jones license in 1991.  Droids had ended with the eighth issue in June 1987 and the following month, Ewoks #14 was the last Star Wars comic Marvel published until they reacquired the license in 2015.  There were 3 Star Wars 3-D comics published in 1987 and 1988 by Blackthorne Publishing, but no more Star Wars comics were released in the U.S. until December 1991 when Dark Horse published Star Wars: Dark Empire #1.  The Dark Empire story actually originated at Marvel and appeared in an ad in Marvel Age Preview #1 in June 1990.  But Dark Horse had convinced Lucasfilm the property would be better off with them instead of Marvel.

Dark Horse saw success with movie licensed comics by making them an integral part of their publishing plans.  Because Dark Horse did not have any major properties of their own, they devoted a large amount of their resources to making the licensed comics the best they could be.  It is this care and respect for the properties that garnered them success and allowed them to acquire the Star Wars license.  For Marvel, Star Wars was just another low-selling licensed comic, not one of their core superhero titles.  In fact, it was the introduction of the New Universe imprint in 1986 that prompted Marvel to cease their main Star Wars title that same year.  For Dark Horse, Star Wars would prove to be their most successful property.  Dark Horse was able to become the third largest comic publisher in the U.S., in no small part to Star Wars, and during the 24 years that they released Star Wars comics, many comic collectors undoubtedly saw Dark Horse as the Star Wars comic publisher, ignorant of the other titles they published.

TitleIssueCover PriceDate
Star Wars: Dark Empire1$2.95December 1991

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