It seems like three months can’t pass without the latest comic book-sourced blockbuster dominating the box office and our collective consciousness. But what about when the pendulum swings in the other direction? Over the years, there have been countless comic book adaptations of feature films. This initially began in the days before home video, perhaps as a way for audiences to revisit popular feature films for less than it would cost them to go to the movies again. Comic book adaptations were also a great way for movie studios to make some simple merchandise in the era before Star Wars forever changed the way movies were marketed upon its release in 1977.
Because of the lead time needed to get these comics onto newsstands and into stores in conjunction with the release of the films they are based on, though, these adaptations were often based on early drafts of screenplays — resulting in cut or just plain unfilmed scenes making their way onto the comic page. As a result, these books outlived their initial purpose and have become fascinating pop-culture relics. But the best comic adaptations tend to also be the strangest, ones that are based on films that might not immediately seem like a natural choice to translate to print. Here’s a look at eight of these weird movie tie-ins with some insight as to why they are so unforgettable.
Available as three separate issues or collected into one so-called “Super Special,” Marvel’s comic adaptation of David Lynch’s movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (everybody got that?) is no more coherent than its source material but is equally as lovely to look at. Featuring stunning art by Bill Sienkiewicz that remains the high-water mark for comic adaptations, the book vividly pays tribute to Lynch’s film and Herbert’s original work. No small task, that.
This list is intentionally limited to comics that were only available within the United States, which is why you won’t see the adaptation to, say, Beverly Hills Cop featured here. The oddest of these foreign movie comics is a manga adaptation of Jaws. Sadly this was never available domestically, but those looking to see a great white devour the residents of Amity Island got their wish in Marvel’s comic for Jaws 2. While surprisingly violent for a comic ostensibly for kids, the fact remained that — much like the movie it was based on — the offering was a bit of a dud.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Pre-Star Wars, the most heavily merchandised sci-fi flicks were the Planet of the Apes films. If it has been awhile since you checked out one of the original five Apes entries, you might be shocked to see how dark they are. This is especially true with the second installment, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. As you can see below, the comic adaptation does not change the film’s harsh ending one bit:
Oh hey kids, guess what? THE PLANET IS DOOMED.
What kid wouldn’t want to read a comic based on the Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly 1980 megaflop. Literally every single one of them. Still, you’ll never convince me that “Magic” is an absolute forever jam.
Killdozer was a 1974 made-for-TV movie that, for reasons best left to minutiae-obsessed comics historians, was adapted in an issue of Marvel’s Worlds Unknown anthology. This cover will be your new desktop image. You’re welcome.
Dark Horse Comics subsidiary Hit Comics released an adaptation of the Tom Hanks feel-good classic to tie-in with the flick’s home video debut. What is most noteworthy about this is the art of Paul Chadwick (of Concrete fame), who makes the adult world look like one where sinister figures are seemingly always lurking about. Gone is the warmth of Penny Marshall’s film, replaced by a skeevy Basket Case vibe. The moral is here is enjoy your youth while you have it because the real world isn’t all Elizabeth Perkins and piano-dancing bosses. In fact, it never is.
Little Shop of Horrors
Like Dune, this Little Shop of Horrors comic is another multiple adaptation and one that is a complete headscratcher. The characters only look like their onscreen counterparts if you squint or are drunk (preferably both), and it generally has none of the charm of the movie it is based on. Yet it is still vastly superior to Fox’s Little Shop spin-off cartoon
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Back in 1990, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was celebrating its 15th anniversary with its debut home video release, a new box set of music from the film and its stage show, and a three-part officially licensed comic book adaptation from Caliber comics. Since the small publisher didn’t have a Batman or Spider-Man-level title to worry about, they could focus all of their energy in crafting a book that captured all of the joy of the on-screen Rocky Horror experience. (It also doesn’t hurt that Rocky’s “Science Fiction Double Feature”-esque subject matter translates beautifully to the printed page). The songs can’t replicate the magic of Tim Curry, but as their own thing they are fine. Each issue also includes special features, like an audience participation guide, that make reading the comic an appetizer to any evening of watching Rocky Horror. Any fans of the flick who haven’t read this owe it to themselves to check it out — it’s available cheap online. (Insert “I see you shiver with antici…pation” joke here.)