How Dark Horse Can Survive After Star Wars

Sledgehammer 44 #1

Dark Horse’s licensing contract for Star Wars comics seems to be ending in 2015. Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm and Marvel Comics, it only makes sense that Disney would want Marvel to publish Star Wars comic books. 2015 sounds like it’s going to be the year of Star Wars, with Episode 7 due in theaters, but what about Dark Horse Comics? Star Wars comics have been a Dark Horse staple for twenty years and now they’ll have to find another way to make up for the business they’ll be losing in two years. Thankfully, their March solicitations prove that they have the ability to survive.

1. Hellboy. People love Hellboy. I love Hellboy. You’ve seen Hellboy, but you should probably also read Hellboy too because it’s a lot of fun! Just this month alone has four issues from the Hellboy universe. Hellboy’s journey through hell continues in Hellboy in Hell, while the B.P.R.D. has two titles out that month. An agent fights vampires in B.P.R.D.: Vampire, as a follow up to the 1948 mini-series and the Hell on Earth saga continues with the now ongoing series B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #105. Sledgehammer 44 #1 introduces the Iron Man of the Hellboy universe, as a man in armor fights Nazis in France during World War II.

Hellboy in Hell #4

Dark Horse should also expand their Hellboy catalogue with more books for their other characters. Nothing that will go against Mike Mignola’s plans for the franchise, but they need to push into new territory. There have already been several Abe Sapien books with The Drowning, The Abyssal Plain, and The Devil Does Not Jest. I don’t know about you, but I could always use more Abe Sapien. It’s just been announced that Abe will star in The Dark and Terrible, which will focus on Abe’s adventures in the midst of the Hell on Earth saga. Lobster Johnson is another Hellboy character that could use more attention. The ghostly vigilante has already starred in Iron Prometheus and The Burning Hand. He has since  appeared in The Prayer of Neferu and Caput Mortuum One-Shots. Beside those two characters I would be interested to see books focusing on Johann Kraus, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, or maybe even a new character or two. The possibilities are endless.

2. Creator Owned Comics. Image Comics has become the crown jewel of creator owned comics in the last couple of years. Titles like Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, Saga, and Thief of Thieves are just a few of the titles Image has put out in the last year that have taken the industry by storm.   Dark Horse has already followed in their footsteps in a few instances, but to fill the space left by Star Wars they could use even more creative juice in the Dark Horse blender.

Colder #5

One of Dark Horse’s signature creative owned titles is Criminal Macabre, created by Steve Niles, and is in the middle of a crossover with IDW’s Final Night in Criminal Macabre: Final Night – The 30 Days of Night Crossover. Also solicited for March is the Criminal Macabre: No Peace for Dead Men collected edition, which includes a crossover with Eric Powell’s The Goon. Criminal Macabre is a big draw for Dark Horse and they should either figure out a way to bring in more stories, or get Steve Niles to do more work for them.

As seen in the most recent solicitation, Dark Horse has several titles going for them. After taking a short hiatus, Mind MGMT returns to regular publication for its second story arc starting in January. Matt Kindt (Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) writes and draws a story about a government conspiracy that leads to the discovery of an organization devoted to mind control. The Massive, from Brian Wood (Northlanders), is a comic set in a post-everything world where the planet has been destroyed. It follows the environmentalist crew of the Kapital as they try to track down the missing ship, known as The Massive, through a dangerous and ugly world. Colder, from Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra, the creative team from Falling Skies, follows Declan Thomas, an ex-inmate at an insane asylum, who has the ability to interact with and potentially cure the insanity of others. The Answer, brought to you by Mike Norton (It Girl! and the Atomics) and Dennis Hopeless (Cable and X-Force), brings together a vigilante and a librarian to fight a criminal organization. These titles bring a lot of fun ideas to the Dark Horse stable, which is hopefully only the beginning for creator owned comics here.

Buddy Cops

3. Spin-off Dark Horse Presents. You know what’s a lot of fun? Anthology books. You know what doesn’t make a lot of money? Anthology books. It’s great to see Dark Horse Presents on the shelves again and still going strong into 2013 with issue #22. Dark Horse is doing a great job at taking the different stories seen in DHP and collecting them separately into their own cheap issues. The best part is that these issues actually have brand new story content, so it’s not just republished content, but actually a new and now complete story. This is a great way to get people to double dip for the original issues and the collected edition, as well as the people who like to get a complete story.

Previous stories that have been collected include Frank Miller’s Xerxes and Number 13. In March Buddy Cops and Wild Rover featuring The Sacrifice are being published. Buddy Cop, from Nate Cosby (Pigs) and Evan Shaner, is a zany buddy cop tale in space, with a space cop and an android. Wild Rover featuring The Sacrifice, by Michael Avon Oeming (The Victories) and Victor Santos (Ghosts), is about a man’s attempts to overcome alcoholism… by trying to kill a liquor demon that has possessed him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #19

4. Licensed Properties. Comics based off of licensed properties is how third party comic book publishers survive in today’s market. Dynamite Entertainment exclusively publishes many licensed properties like Zorro, Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and others, Boom! Studios previously published titles based on Disney properties, like Darkwing Duck and Duck Tales, as well as The Muppet Show, before Disney bought Marvel. Dark Horse is no different. They have been publishing comics based on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, and written by Joss Whedon, for years. Season 8 was published as a continuation of the series and was in turn followed by Season Nine. March previews issue #19 of the flagship Buffy title, while also collecting the series into paperback with the season’s third volume, Guarded. The Buffy series has also seen many spin-offs as well. Angel & Faith and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow – Wonderland are other series that are part of the Buffyverse and follow other characters from the franchise. Dark Horse picked up on publishing Angel and Spike comics after the IDW series ended, so perhaps they publish more Spike titles after Spike: A Dark Place.

Another licensed property that has done well for Dark Horse is Conan. A multitude of series have been published over the last couple years, but now Conan has been taken in a new direction. Conan the Barbarian, by Brian Wood, reaches its second year of publication in 2013. Dark Horse is also continuing its collection of Marvel Comic’s King Conan series with their Chronicles of King Conan series. Thankfully, there are still many, many more Conan comics that need collecting. They have also published Kull comics in the past, so a return to Kull could be helpful. Dynamite Entertainment currently possesses the license for Red Sonja, a character developed for Marvel based off a character created by Robert E. Howard. However there are many other Howard creations that could be brought into comic book format, such as Solomon Kane. Howard is not the only author that could have his work adapted into comic books. Other pulp writers could be looked into, characters in the public domain, as well as tv series and movies could all be tapped. IDW publishes Star Trek comics, Boom! Studios published several Farscape comic book series, and Dark Horse itself has previously published Firefly comics. All properties have the potential to be lucrative comic book endeavors. Try, fail and try again.

Star Wars #3

5. Milk the Shit Out of Star Wars. Dark Horse might be losing Star Wars in 2015, but 2013 just started. You better believe they’ll milk the shit out of Star Wars for the next two years. Not only are they still releasing their many Star Wars mini-series, but they’re actually launching two new ongoing series and collecting everything they possibly can before it’s too late. I’m not exactly sure how the licensing rights work, so I don’t know if they can collect previously released comics into paperback after the rights are taken back. It might be a smart idea to empty out the vault and release as much material as possible. Disney can’t stop them from selling what’s already in print, can they?

March continues Brian Wood’s (so much Wood) and Carlos D’Anda’s Star Wars comic with issue three. After so many years of offshoot story lines and expanded universes it’s nice to see someone like Wood getting a chance to shape the core of the Star Wars franchise. This book is about Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the original cast as they fight Darth Vader and the Empire. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dark Horse is still continuing to expand on its already expanded Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Legacy – Prisoner of the Floating World is a continuation of John Ostrander’s acclaimed Legacy title, which was set 125 years after the fall of the Empire and starred Cade Skywalker, who is a cross between Luke and Han. This new comic stars Ania Solo, descendent of Han and Leia, as she is targeted for death.

Other titles continue many plot threads through various titles. Star Wars: Dark Times – Fire Carrier brings back the Dark Times series, which takes place between Episode III and Episode IV. This installment of the series follows Jedi Master K’Kruhk and a group of Padawans, survivors of the Purge, as their space ship crashes on an Empire-aligned planet. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – The Prisoner of Bogan is the second story arc in the Dawn of the Jedi series, which takes place thousands of years before the original trilogy. The series depicts the Jedi order in its early days, well before it was torn apart and rebuilt.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Prisoner of the Floating World #1

If it’s one thing Star Wars comics have produced, it’s a lot of individual issues. Collecting these issues is almost essential in order to keep track of every story throughout the years. Thankfully, Dark Horse is very good about this, and two new collections are out in March for our reading enjoyment. Star Wars: Darth Maul – Death Sentence is collected into paperback. In Death Sentence, it is discovered that Darth Maul survived the events of The Phantom Menace. He is made into a cyborg in order to survive his injuries and joins forces with his brother, Savage Opress, to cut a path of destruction throughout the universe. They fight a bounty hunter, a team of Jedi, and an entire army.

The latest edition to the Star Wars omnibus collection is a real bottom-of-the-barrel-scraper, but that’s ok! Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space Volume One promises “previously uncollected adventures” and that’s exactly what we are getting here. While the book collects UK tales from Alan Moore, it also collects stories from toy pack-ins, cereal boxes and other bizarre sources. The talent level here is surprising, as you wouldn’t expect names like Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore, John Wagner, Len Wein, Alan Davis, Carmine Infantino, Klaus Janson, Walt Simonson, Patrick Zircher and Laura Allred to appear in a book containing commercial tie-ins. I can only imagine what Dark Horse will scrape up for Volume Two.

Bonus: Bring Back Comics’ Greatest World. Even though this doesn’t show up in the March solicitation I wanted to bring it up anyway. Comics’ Greatest World was Dark Horse’s own superhero line from the 1990s. It was popular with readers, but never made the bucks that DC or Marvel made. The imprint shut down and the characters mostly disappeared outside some sporadic appearances over the years. Their flagship character, Ghost, had previously returned in the pages of Dark Horse Presents and is currently starring in the four-issue mini-series Ghost: In the Smoke and Din. However, that title will be over by the time March comes around, so Comic’s Greatest World will once again be off the table.

That would still leave characters like X and Barb Wire (yes, this Barb Wire) without anything going on. If Dark Horse wants to be really daring, they could even launch a second anthology series, named Comic’s Greatest World, so they can get more product out there. Obviously these characters aren’t exactly proven moneymakers, but if they can take an approach similar to the way Image relaunched old Rob Liefeld comics Prophet and Glory, than it would be a worthy endeavor to explore.

2015 might be the year of Star Wars, but it will have to come after the rise of Dark Horse Comics.

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