?From 1977 to 1986, the Marvel Comics Super Specials showcased rock stars, adapted films and featured original works from the House of M. Over the course of 41 issues, everyone from The Beatles to Conan the Barbarian to The Muppets were given their time in the spotlight. For the most part, these comics were a way to relive films in an era before home video had yet to become an entertainment juggernaut.
Often times, Marvel would first adapt a popular flick into three standard comic book issues before collecting the trio into one of their magazine-sized super specials that would sometimes include special features like interviews with filmmakers and behind-the-scenes photos. Because these comics were geared primarily at children and teens, the titles offered as Super Specials would be based on movies that were deemed “the next big thing” — with varying degrees of success. With that in mind, here’s a look at the best, the worst and the just plain baffling of all of the Marvel Comics Super Specials. Covering from Arrakis to Xanadu and beyond, it’s going to be a pretty strange trip back in time.
?The Kiss comic you see above has the distinction of being not only the first Marvel Super Special, but also one of the most notorious publicity stunts ever carried out. In order to drum up some serious press about the book, Marvel came up with the idea of using the blood of each band member in the printing of the book. The eternally media savvy group happily agreed and arranged to have vials of blood taken backstage during a New York City area tour stop. Kiss later reconvened and were joined by Stan Lee for a ceremony at Marvel’s publishing plant during which time their blood was removed from refrigeration and mixed with the red ink that was to be used in their comic (a notary was one hand to get the signatures of Gene Simmons, et al to make sure that everything was legitimate). The ploy was a huge success, resulting in huge sales — and the cementing of their reputation as makers of “devil music” amongst the unenlightened. The best part? It would be a fun read even without the gimmick.
4) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
?You either get Buckaroo Banzai or you don’t. Those who appreciate the oddness on display in the film have long lamented the fact that there isn’t too much merchandise featuring Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. One notable example is Marvel’s Super Special adaptation which proved that the movie’s esoteric charms are a natural fit for the comic book medium (further evidenced by Moonstone Books’ subsequent comics featuring the characters). If there’s a nitpick to be found here, it’s that Buckaroo’s comic doppelganger often looks more like Adam Ant than Peter Weller. Now that I think about it, that’s actually kind of awesome.
3) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
?Marvel released Super Specials for both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but the latter makes this list because it actually improves on its source material. I know, you are thinking that Temple of Doom is a perfect film that comes complete with a heart-ripping villain, the only kid sidekick in movie history who isn’t punch worthy, the exciting mine car sequence, the funny starved kid who begs “let me die,” etc. But the advantage here is that when you read the comic, you don’t have to hear Willie Scott’s endless screaming. Score one for the Super Special!
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And one of my favorite comic strip panels ever:
Wonderful. Copies can be scored pretty cheaply with some Googling, so if you are still wondering what the hell the Third Stage Navigator was going on about you should pick one up and find your own bit of Paul Maud’Dib-style enlightenment.
?David Lynch’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune is a flawed masterpiece that alternates wildly between being batshit crazy and visually stunning. The movie’s production and release woes have been well documented, but suffice to say that it is a divisive release that continues to inspire debate. When Dune was released into theaters, it was accompanied by a Star Wars-emulating merchandising blitz that failed as miserably as the movie did (you’ve probably read online about the insane coloring and activity books which faithfully recreate the violence and general strangeness of the film for kids). One spin-off project that was a rousing success however was Marvel’s comic adaptation. Written by Ralph Macchio — the longtime Marvel writer, not the Karate Kid — and featuring jaw-dropping art from Bill Sienkiewicz, the book is a textually dense work that does the impossible: it succeeds at clarifying the complex story in a way that Lynch could never quite convey on screen. Oh yeah, and it has plenty of Lynchian insanity of its own as well. For example:
1) The Empire Strikes Back
?Before home video was commonplace in the early 1980s, the best way to relive the first two Star Wars films outside of a movie theater was through Marvel’s comic book adaptations. Although the material here was originally presented in issues 39-44 of the company’s Star Wars comic, it was nice to have the entire story in one magazine. Writer Archie Goodwin and artists Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon did a perfect job of translating the complex plot of the flick to the printed page. Because they were working from information provided by Lucasfilm before the film was released, readers were left with tantalizing glimpses at material that hit the cutting room floor. Such as:
?As part of the special features on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set, fans will finally get a chance to see deleted scenes like Empire‘s cut Wampa sequence. As terrific as that may be, viewing the real thing cannot possibly compare to the visuals that readers’ imaginations had conjured up by the above panel. That is the true strength of this adaptation — it didn’t just retell the story, it made you a part of it.
Hit the jump for the worst Marvel Comics Super Specials ever made.
5) Jaws 2
?It’s going to be easy to get negative on this side of the list, so let me just start off by saying that while Jaws 2 is little more than a soulless cash-in on the original’s success it does feature a scene in which this happens:
?That’s right, a shark eats a helicopter. I repeat, a shark eats a helicopter. Unless you are really into watching a Great White devour non-descript teens, there’s no reason to check out Jaws 2… let alone read a comic based on it. Except for the helicopter eating part, which as I said, was quite badass.
4) Santa Claus: The Movie
?Funny: Dudley Moore as a bumbling drunk. Not funny: Dudley Moore as a bumbling, world-weary elf. I realize that Santa Claus: The Movie has a cult following. But realizing and understanding are two entirely different things. Moore did a lot of fantastic film work during his too-brief lifetime, but I just don’t count his saccharine turn as Patch amongst his CV highlights.
?No Patch, I really don’t. Trivia: Santa Claus: The Movie was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who also helmed Jaws 2. If you somehow read this Mr. Szwarc, I just want you to know that I’m not singling you out. It’s just that the comics based on your films are really exceptionally terrible. The only reason Moore got off easy is because A) he’s dead and B) I didn’t have to suffer through a Like Father, Like Son adaptation while researching this list.
?I’m sure the following question is heresy to those who worship at the altar of 007 but I really want to know, do little kids even give a shit about James Bond? In the U.K., probably, but in America? So other than causing pre-pubers — and, yes I admit it, me –to giggle, it seems like a comic of Octopussy serves absolutely no purpose at all. Shaken or stirred? The target audience for this book couldn’t give any less of a fuck.
?White hot after the success of Grease, Olivia Newton John’s next big project was the weirdo disco flick Xanadu. It crashed and burned at the box office before eventually becoming, as most high-profile failures do, a cult sensation. Because music, including some admittedly rocking numbers by ELO, is so integral to the film it seems weird to even attempt to adapt it to a comic. Yet Marvel did just that in their 17th Marvel Super Special. They really shouldn’t have bothered. By excising music from their comic, the company made the story somehow seem even sillier than it was initially. Which is really quite an achievement. The odd thing here is that there was actually a precedent for this kind of adaptation. In 1978, Marvel planned on issuing a comic version of the Bee Gees musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. But when the film tanked, the decision was made to shelf it (although it apparently was eventually released in Japan). Clearly the company learned no lesson from the Sgt. Pepper’s debacle, because two years later the Xanadu comic was thrust upon a world it never made. Speaking of things thrust upon a world they never made…
1) Howard the Duck
?Sigh. As a fan of both the Howard the Duck comic and its glorious mess of a movie, it always hurts me deeply when I have to criticize the little guy. But there is simply no reason for this comic to be the mess that it is. Danny Fingeroth wrote the adaptation based on Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz’s script, so there really is only so much he could have worked with. So on the surface the problem with this book seems to lie directly at the feet of Kyle Baker. His version of Howard looks nothing like the one featured in the movie or the one previously drawn by Gene Colan and Val Mayerik. For Marvel to hire a newbie as opposed to the two artists primarily associated with creating the look of the character is confounding, and it also shows a lack of respect for their own history (although cheapness on the company’s part to pay one of the veteran artists, the Disney-threatened lawsuit relating to Howard’s appearance and other industry-related issues could partially explain away some of the problems here). Baker has subsequently gone on to major comics success and has proven himself to be a major talent, so maybe he really isn’t too much to blame after all. Whatever the reasons behind the failure of this comic are, it is interesting to note that Howard the Duck was the last Marvel Comics Super Special ever released. Is this curse, coincidence or both? Regardless, the finished product is enough to make any Howard fan scream “Waugh!”