Brief History of British Comics: Part 6 – Adaptable

Big Year for Reboots and Adaptations

So, a big year for Doctor Who and She-Ra, huh? And did you see that weird, uncanny valley version of Sonic? What about that new Bumblebee movie? Getting good reviews! Also Star Wars is um… always in the news. See? I can be super relevant! It also helps that we’re rapidly reaching a saturation point of remakes, reboots, and adaptation, I guess.

Speaking of which… Guys, I don’t know if it’s a good thing that pretty much everything is either a reboot, sequel, adaptation, or part of an ongoing franchise. All of the things I enjoyed this year on TV and at the cinema were either reboots, adaptations, or based on a comic book property (except Hereditary). Is this a sign of things getting a little bit worse in terms of wider culture being able to evolve?. I would love to see more original movies, but that’s a big ask now. The money is in stuff with brand recognition. I get that. I suppose, at least, I’m enjoying it all. There’s hard work and effort going into these things. Mostly.

New Stuff in Comics

At least there’s always comics! Comics provide a good place to see new stuff. They give us a place for expanded stories, characters, and iterations for established properties. If it was even mildly popular on TV or in the movies or in a game, it has a comic. This has been the case for a long time. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we see it coming full circle. The movie industry takes a lot of cues from comics and not just in what it adapts, but how. We’re looking at re-imaginings or continuations.

All of this is a long-winded way of getting to a period of British comics that is still alive and well today—the franchise tie-in comic. This is obviously not unique to British comics, but for a lot of the generation prior to mine, before even the proliferation of VHS, this was the only way to re-watch stuff. It kept fandoms alive before the internet was as ubiquitous as it is now. It especially helped a beloved British TV institution, an institution full of ideas but rarely got the budget to fully realize them.

Doctor Who

Hello Sweetie.

I love Doctor Who. I have to. It’s required by law if you’re a British nerd, even if you must acknowledge how goofy and silly it can get sometimes. I adore this ridiculous show. It’s comics are part of it. The expanded Doctor Who canon (comics and Big Finish audio dramas) filled in huge gaps the show left during its absence. It also gives past Doctors and companions more chances at interesting stories. Additionally, Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter, recently received her own story arc alongside the Twelfth Doctor.

There’s been tons of crossover events in which the Tenth Doctor gets to meet and chin-wag with the Second Doctor. There’s a series from Big Finish about The War Master and the Time War, or how Madame President Romana of Gallifrey handled difficult interdimensional political dramas. The best thing about comics and audio drama is that you can get back either the original actors or the likenesses of them without worrying about human faces changing with time. It’s a little more tasteful than recreating their face and voices with CG.

*stares in Star Wars* (We’ll get to Star Wars btw).

On top of that, the Doctor Who comics make the show look a lot less goofy because they avoid the pathetic BBC budget constraint. Plus, we have some top tier talent—Dave Gibbons worked on Doctor Who for quite a while! His cover art is just… ugh. Lovely.

The Thirteenth Doctor just got her own comic courtesy of an all-female creative team—including Rachel Stott providing some eye-poppingly lovely art.

These were published by Marvel in a title called Doctor Who Weekly. Prior to that, it was published by Polystyle’s TV Comic, and currently, it is published by Titan Comics.

Star Wars and Transformers

Marvel’s UK wing also published Star Wars Weekly, which ran from 1978 for twelve issues. It seems to be a straight adaptation of the first movie with some pretty solid art. It’s a reprint of the edition that was also released in the US on a monthly basis, and for the longest time, it was pretty much the only way to ‘re-watch’ Star Wars.There were also adaptations of the rest of the saga since then, not to mention the expanded canon (if you’re not reading the current Darth Vader run you really really should).

Transformers received the same treatment in the UK along with a separate G1 continuity that was, according to the dudes I know who read it at the time, really, really good. The run was 332 issues, mostly reprinting the original stories from the US editions, with new stories exclusive for UK audiences. The writers and artists who wrote these stories also worked for 2000AD because of course they did.

From the few issues I was able to acquire, I agree—they’re definitely good. Though, since I’m not a Transformers fan, I’m not sure if I appreciate them as much. The same could be said for the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra comics that came out.

He-Man and She-Ra

Oh yeah—there was a run of He-Man and She-Ra comics produced in the UK. They are… interesting.

I… got nothing. Good Lord. Friends assured me that these comics were pretty good, but I cannot say for certain because they are very difficult to get hold of. I was also told they were mining the talent of 2000AD, but I cannot say that for certain either; I couldn’t find any writers or artists who were willing to admit they wrote or drew for it! They certainly aren’t credited in the comic itself. Hard to imagine why.

They’re certainly interesting, but perhaps you had to be there to appreciate them. I was a little too young to enjoy either He-Man or She-Ra at the time. However, I did get into the reboot He-Man cartoon in 2001 (which was better than it had any right to be and might explain why I got into Thor later).

I also adore the new She-Ra so much. Again, it’s better than it had any right to be based on what I can ascertain of the original. That being said, whilst the She-Ra comics are… cheesy, they are WAY less cheesy than the show. The art is solid, and the stories are fun! I still enjoy the new She-Ra more obviously.

For the comics, I never really got into them or saw the appeal all that much, but perhaps others could say the same of the baffingly popular franchise I was obsessed with as a nipper. That also had a long running well remembered UK exclusive comic worked on by a bunch of British writers and artists who also carried their own at 2000AD.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Gotta go fast.

Sonic The Comic is how I remember Sonic the Hedgehog, in much the same way I’m sure the UK created Transformers stories are how a lot of British fans remember them. I played the games, obviously, but the cartoons seemed to be broadcast at random with no through story. Sonic Sat AM (aka the good cartoon) never seemed to be on either, so Sonic The Comic was the most consistent story that I could get into. Plus, my cousin had the collected volumes in his room, and I could sit up there and read them whenever I visited. These comics were so good. And they still stand up! The artwork is far better than you could expect from a Sonic The Hedgehog tie-in comic too.

The one story that really sticks out in my mind is the Knuckles story with art by Nigel Dobbyn, who may have had some hand in establishing Knuckles as my favourite Sonic character—along with the Sonic and Knuckles game. His art cropped up a lot in 2000AD at the time I was reading it, immediately after I started reading Sonic the Comic.

Much like my peers who were reading Transformers, Doctor Who and Star Wars, this was the only way to continue a burgeoning obsession when you didn’t have much of an internet connection. Or computers. Or like, wide access to TV. Because it was the 60s.

Supermarionation

Speaking of—I didn’t even get to a whole spate of comics based on the Supermarionation shows by Gerry Anderson in the sixties and seventies! Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet—the two arguably most popular shows—got their own tie-in comics with new stories expanding on characters who didn’t get as much exposure in the TV show—the female characters mostly. There was one comic, specifically called Lady Penelope Comic, based on the lone female presence from Thunderbirds. She was a total babe, living in the lap of luxury with a pink Rolls Royce and a butler, but who also was, y’know— probably super duper gay OMG a groovy superspy.

It was the sixties. They all were.

In Lady Penelope comics was a whole comic dedicated to the adventures of The Angels—an all-female fighter pilot squadron with gorgeous code names (Melody, Destiny, Rhapsody, Symphony) who were American, Chinese, French, and British. They were from Captain Scarlet, my favourite Supermarionation show, and they flew jump jets to the lilting tones of a harp and OMG I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. Their comic featured their continuing adventures—them kicking ass in jets and being groovy in mini skirts and impossibly hair. UGH. LOVE. Just watch this; it’s amazing. Given the frankly Lovecraftian nature of the bad guys in Captain Scarlet, it’s no mean feat to go against them in fighter jets.

Melody Angel was modelled after Eartha Kitt btw.

Underrepresented Characters

Here’s something that’s come up with Doctor Who comics, as well. It was a chance for a TV show that often struggled to realise it’s vision on a TV budget in the sixties. On top of that, it allowed otherwise forgotten characters a chance to shine elsewhere—and those characters were mostly women and people of colour. The Doctor got gay companions in the comics long before he got them in the TV show. Izzy Sinclair. Look her up.

First black companion? Outside the show? Not Martha Jones or Mickey, it’s Sharon Davies.

Not saying it was woke. It really wasn’t, but it was a step. Sharon was in the comics in the 80s, Izzy in the naughts. It’s actually pretty heartening to see someone, somewhere, thought it might be a good idea, even if it was only going to be seen by more dedicated fans. It is important to note that those fans were children, so for them—even white British children—seeing people who were at least different from them, seeing their stories, might have sparked something in them. Made them think.

Comics were then, and still now, a testing bed for what ideas can make it to wider audiences. It sucks that this is the case. It sucks so much more that people still think this is some radical SJW agenda and not, y’know, a common sense way to include more people that has been going on for literally decades.

*STARES IN MARVEL*

Continuing a Story

That’s what this keeps coming back to—how these comics continue a story. They were substitutes that also bolstered our own enjoyment and kept the ideas fresh. These are particular examples of how we did it in the UK, but this isn’t unique to us. We don’t need direct comic book adaptations any more since the internet basically makes it incredibly easy to watch the original ad-nauseam. Hell, wait long enough it will probably get remade/rebooted/adapted.

Comics are now, arguably, the starting point rather than a kind of re-viewing platform—at least where superhero TV and movies are concerned. It’s pretty obvious that any ideas coming out in recent Big Two storylines are least going to be glanced at for future movie material.

Extra Material

Comics provide extra material, giving fans a chance to explore expanded canon. Doctor Who did doing this during the ‘wilderness’ years and for Doctors who never really got a chance to be—the Eighth and Sixth Doctors were given a raw deal by the show and the one-off movie in which they were involved. Comics and the Big Finish canon give them a new lease on life. Sonic The Hedgehog ‘canon’ is so nebulous that most fans have their own idea of what Sonic is—Sonic The Comic is one canon and one fandom in many. The same could be said of the Transformers comics; it’s but one iteration that fans see as ‘theirs’, separate from the others.

We’re in a similar situation with movies and TV providing their own versions. It’s great seeing the things we love appreciated all over again, especially if we enjoy them too. The moral of Into the Spiderverse is that the person under the mask could be anyone, not just a singular dude. All these iterations ultimately sprang from somewhere. She-Ra was such a joy and, for me, it was a hundred times better than the original because it was made by people who actually wanted to make a good go of it.

I loved Sabrina, which caught me off-guard, but I do enjoy a horror-fantasy show with witches, family drama, folk tales, and Satanic iconography. That it is my jam. Sonic the Comic, at the time and now, feels like something written by people who wanted to explore something based on what scant lore was available to them. I’ve not really been able to get behind any ‘dark’ re-imagining of Sonic since then, and I’m sure as hell not going to enjoy whatever the crap that poster was showing.

Circle of Media Life

So, living in a constant world of reboots, re-imaginings, sequels, and adaptations isn’t terrible. It’s just a little worrying. At what point do we stop seeing anything new?

In all honesty, I don’t think that point will ever come. Sure, things might get worse. There will likely be less money for new things, but they will exist. Comics are proof of that—though there was a huge demand for comics that filled the gaps in the canons of various nebulous IP (Doctor Who, Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Wars), that will never stop original work breaking through somewhere.

Movies are the same. Somewhere, new stuff will break through. One of the most anticipated movies of next year is Us, an original horror by Jordon Peele. Maybe horror is actually doing better than the rest of pop culture—though it too has a ton of remakes in the works. I don’t know. If the pool of choice is narrowing, then I suppose the least we can hope for is stuff that is good.

Speaking of stuff that is good—DC VERTIGO NEXT. We’re finally on the home stretch! I’ve been waiting to talk about this about the same time I’ve been waiting to talk about the big two oh oh ay dee. Can not WAIT.

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you get everything you need and want!

Sources

The Angels comics

A look at the comic tie-ins for Captain Scarlet

A look at the various gay companions in Doctor Who comics

New Doctor’s all female creative team in the comics

An interesting look at British Star Wars comics from the seventies

I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink. Send help.

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

  Subscribe  
Notify of