In October of this year, Dark Horse comics will re-launch Turok: Son of Stone as part of their plan to modernize the best of the Gold Key properties, including Doctor Solar, Magnus: Robot Fighter, and even Mighty Samson (for some reason).
While I admit that I am a big fan of these characters (with the exception of Mighty Samson), and that I enjoy Jim Shooter’s scripts overall, I’m skeptical of the way the publisher is going about this re-launch. Perhaps it’s because what made these characters interesting twenty years ago isn’t necessarily what will interest readers today. So, either Dark Horse updates these characters and brings them into the anti-hero, spandex-clad comics world of today – and therefore changes the character to be something unrecognizable – or they stay true to the core of these characters and lose the majority of readers in the process.
I’ve had a look at the Doctor Solar and Magnus: Robot Fighter re-launch attempts thanks to the recent Free Comic Book Day preview flip book. The cover art on each is phenomenal, thanks to Raymond Swanland’s impeccable style, but the interior art on both is less than inspiring. Although the artist for Doctor Solar maintains a clean, simple style that feels more true to the classic Gold Key vibe, the Magnus art was just poorly executed – even amateurish at times. Although, to be fair, the Magnus script was the weaker of the two and stronger art wouldn’t have helped things all that much.
Here’s what I think the biggest challenge for Dark Horse is when it comes to re-launching these 3 classic characters: No one is looking for a re-launch of these characters. There. I said it.
For those of us who love the Gold Key comics, we scour the dollar bins (and save our money for the $60 back issues), or we purchase the gorgeous archive editions (thanks to Dark Horse for that). But what we love about these stories, and these characters isn’t something that you can update for today’s audience. They only work because they’re so unlike what’s on the shelves today. I love that Turok was a realistic looking Native American who used a simple bow and arrow and a spear to fight off giant dinosaurs and survive another day in an exotic jungle outside of space and time. No one in 2010 wants to read a comic that – every week – features another dinosaur battle, or yet another – “we almost escaped this jungle again, but maybe next week we’ll be successful” – storyline. And why should they? Those were simpler stories and simpler artists for a simpler time. I like the nostalgic quality of that artwork – especially Alberto Giolitti’s fine pencilwork in the later years. I like the self-contained stories of survival and the episodic nature of the overall series that built upon the hope of escape but consistently built the relationship between Turok and Andar.
The last time Shooter attempted to re-launch these characters with Valiant comics the result was horrific. Sure, the art by Bart Sears and Joe Quesada at the time was eye-popping, and the stories fit right in with the newly-launched Image brand of storytelling ala Rob Liefeld and Marc Silvestri, etc. But putting a machine gun into the hands of my Turok was something that no one should have ever done. Ever.
The question is, should Dark Horse tell the continuing story of these characters and pick up where the old Gold Key adventures left off? Should they pretend they never happened and start over from scratch? (This appears to be their plan). I don’t know, really. Frankly, I think either plan will fail miserably.
However, when I look at how other comic book publishers have handled their re-launch of classic characters I’m more encouraged. Dynamite has done an amazing job with The Lone Ranger with great story-telling, great covers by John Cassady and solid interior art. That one shines. I’m also fairly impressed with the Kevin Smith “Green Hornet” book and the upcoming “The Last Phantom” had my $4.99 as soon as I saw that bad ass cover by Alex Ross. (Not that I’m a huge Ross fan, mind you. But seeing the blood-drenched, two-gunned version of the Ghost Who Walks in the jungle surrounded by dead bodies made me want to know more).
Classic comic properties like these, including The Shadow, Doc Samson, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, etc., have their built-in audiences. Publishers need to know that their bread and butter is found in making those fans happy and giving them a product they’ll devour each and every month. Finding a new audience for these characters can be achieved, but not at the expense of loosing that core fan base. Maybe Dynamite got it right by publishing multiple versions of their Green Hornet property? They’ve got the cool as a cucumber Kevin Smith version, the classic retro version, and even the Green Hornet of the future version where the character can escape the constraints of the past but still riff on them as needed.
At any rate – I’m willing to give the Turok re-launch a shot, but I’m afraid they’ve already lost me on the Doctor Solar and the Magnus titles. Those characters deserve better. So do their fans.
Until they republish the old Dagar the Invincible archives (please, oh please), make mine Gold Key. ** Visit http://www.goldkeystories.com to get your Dagar, Magnus, Dr. Solar, Turok, Star Trek fix.