In-Shallow Profile: Marvel Super Specials

The Marvel Super Specials series was a collection of one-shot comics published from September 1977 to November 1986, most of them featuring adaptations of then-current movies.

I have no doubts that the series was inspired by the tremendous success of Marvel’s Star Wars specials: their six-issue comic-book adaptation of the movie was repackaged as a series of two Marvel Special Editions in July 1977, because why take only one bite of the cherry when you can take two, eh?

(In fact, they brazenly returned to the well a third time and took another bite because the Star Wars Special Edition series actually ran for three issues, with the third issue being an omnibus version of the first two. And that third issue cost $2.50 whereas each of the previous issues had only cost a dollar. Seriously, guys, that’s just rubbing lemon-juice-soaked sharpened nettles into the wound.)

In a similar manner to Marvel Premiere and other showcase titles, the Super Specials gave Marvel the opportunity to try out some material that didn’t have a natural home elsewhere, such as the aforementioned movie adaptations, and of course comics about rock groups…

It all kicks off with Kiss, in which the band of that name battles Doctor Doom and encounters lots of other Marvel characters. Infamously, the band members Gene, Paul, George and Ringo (I think I’ve got that right) each donated a vial of their blood which was allegedly then mixed into the printer’s inks before the comic was printed, as the comic’s cover boasts (or warns):

I don’t know whether that was all just a big publicity-grabbing fib or it genuinely happened, and I don’t know enough about Kiss or their fans to be able to judge whether this encouraged sales or put off potential readers because of the ick factor, but I do know that issue sold over half a million copies. I also know that you can bet the bottomest of your dollars that it wouldn’t happen today.

Over the following nine years Marvel published forty-one such Super Specials, none of them officially containing any rock-star blood. Three of the issues were adapted from books, and thirty-one were movie adaptations (including their own Howard the Duck, the first ever big-budget Marvel movie, which was executive produced by George Lucas and co-starred future Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins — by all that’s crikey, that one’s got success written all over it!).

Some (though not all) of the Super Specials were also published in the UK and Ireland, and advertised within the Marvel UK titles…

From the back cover of Rampage #26 (12 Apr 1978)

At first, the specials featured special features along with the comic-strips: behind the scenes reports, interviews, photo-spreads, pin-ups, and the like, but such extras mostly disappeared in the last couple of years of the series.

Here’s a complete list of the Super Specials (the dates should be taken as rough guidelines only: different sources have contradictory information!):

1. Kiss (Sep 1977)
Script: Steve Gerber & Alan Weiss
Pencils: Alan Weiss, Sal Buscema, John Buscema & Rich Buckler
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: John Costanza & Irv Watanabe

2. The Savage Sword of Conan: Revenge of the Barbarian (Mar 1978)
Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Alfredo Alcala
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: Joe Rosen

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Jun 1978)
Script: Archie Goodwin
Pencils: Walt Simonson
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: Gaspar Saladino

4. The Beatles Story (Aug 1978)
Script: Dave Kraft & Don McGregor
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Klaus Janson & Joe Rubinstein
Colours: Petra Goldberg
Letters: Tom Orzechowski

5. Kiss (Oct 1978)
Script: Ralph Macchio & Alan Weiss
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Tony DeZuñiga
Colours: Glynis Wein
Letters: Irv Watanabe

6. Jaws 2 (Dec 1978)
Script: Richard Marschall
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colours: Tom Palmer
Letters: Irv Watanabe

7. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (unpublished)
Script: David Anthony Kraft & D. Jon Zimmerman
Art: George Pérez & Jim Mooney
Note: The Bee Gee’s Sgt. Pepper movie enjoyed moderate success at the box-office but the critics didn’t care for it much, and Marvel cancelled their adaptation before it was published. However, the comic was released in France and Japan, though to the best of my knowledge no official English-language edition has ever surfaced.

8. Battlestar Galactica (Jan 1979)
Script: Roger McKenzie
Art: Ernie Colon
Letters: Jim Novak

9. The Savage Sword of Conan: The Trail of the Blood-Stained God (Feb 1979)
Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Tony DeZuñiga
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: Joe Rosen

10. Star-Lord (Jun 1979)
Script: Doug Moench
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colours: Tom Palmer
Letters: John Costanza

11. Warriors of the Shadow Realm (Sep 1979)
Script: Doug Moench
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Rudy Nebres
Colours: Peter Ledger
Letters: John Costanza, Herb Cooper, Tom Orzechowski & Mark Rogan

12. Warriors of the Shadow Realm, part II (Oct 1979)
Script: Doug Moench
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Rudy Nebres
Colours: Peter Ledger
Letters: John Costanza

13. Warriors of the Shadow Realm, part III (Oct 1979)
Script: Doug Moench
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Rudy Nebres
Colours: Peter Ledger
Letters: John Costanza, Herb Cooper, Tom Orzechowski & Mark Rogan

14. Meteor (Oct 1979)
Script: Ralph Macchio
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colours: Tom Palmer
Letters: John Costanza

15. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Dec 1979)
Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Dave Cockrum
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: John Costanza

16. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Aug 1980)
Script: Archie Goodwin
Pencils: Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon & Rick Veitch
Inks: Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon
Colours: Glynis Wein
Letters: Rick Veitch

17. Xanadu (Nov 1980)
Script: J. M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Rich Buckler, Jimmy Janes, Mike Nasser, Brent Anderson, Joe Brozowski, Al Milgrom & Bill Sienkiewicz
Colours: Glynis Wein, Kim McQuaite, George Roussos, Howard Chaykin, Peter Kuper, Mike Higgins & Eliot R. Brown
Letters: Michael Higgins

18. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Jun 1981)
Script: Walt Simonson
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colours: Michele Wolfman
Letters: Rick Parker

19. For Your Eyes Only (Jun 1981)
Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Howard Chaykin
Inks: Vince Colletta
Colours: Christie Scheele
Letters: Jean Simek, Diana Albers & Janice Chiang

20. Dragonslayer (Oct 1981)
Script: Denny O’Neil
Pencils: Marie Severin
Inks: John Tartaglione
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: Irv Watanabe

21. Conan the Barbarian (Aug 1982)
Script: John Buscema & Michael Fleisher
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: John Buscema
Colours: Deborah Pedler & Lynn Varley
Letters: Joe Rosen

22. Blade Runner (Sep 1982)
Script: Archie Goodwin
Pencils: Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon
Inks: Al Williamson, Dan Green & Ralph Reese
Colours: Marie Severin
Letters: Ed King

23. Annie (Sep 1982)
Script: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Win Mortimer
Inks: Vince Colletta
Colours: George Roussos & Marie Severin
Letters: Rick Parker

24. The Dark Crystal (Mar 1983)
Script: David Anthony Kraft
Pencils: Bret Blevins
Inks: Vince Colletta, Rick Bryant & Richard Howell
Colours: Steve Oliff, Louise Jones, Kim McQuaite, Deb Pedlar, Eliot R. Brown, John Morelli, Bret Blevins & Patricia Blevins
Letters: Janice Chiang

25. Rock & Rule (Aug 1983)
Script: Bill Mantlo
Art: Taken from the movie’s animation cels
Letters: Michael Higgins

26. Octopussy (Sep 1983)
Script: Steve Moore
Art: Paul Neary
Letters: Annie Halfacree

27. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Sep 1983)
Script: Archie Goodwin
Pencils: Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon
Inks: Al Williamson, Tom Palmer & Ron Frenz
Colours: Christie Scheele, Bob Sharen & Louise Simonson
Letters: Ed King

28. Krull (Oct 1983)
Script: David Michelinie
Pencils: Bret Blevins
Inks: Vince Colletta
Colours: Christie Scheele
Letters: Rick Parker

29. Tarzan of the Apes (Jul 1984)
Script: Sharman DiVono & Mark Evanier
Pencils: Dan Spiegle
Inks: Dan Spiegle
Colours: Jo Meugniot
Letters: Carrie McCarthy
Note: Although this issue was (according to some sources) published around the same time as Hugh Hudson’s movie Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, it was actually adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novel, not that movie.

30. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Aug 1984)
Script: David Michelinie
Pencils: Jackson Guice
Inks: Ian Akin, Brian Garvey & Bob Camp
Colours: Andy Yanchus
Letters: John Morelli

31. The Last Starfighter (Sep 1984)
Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Bret Blevins
Inks: Tony Salmons
Colours: Christie Scheele
Letters: Rick Parker

32. The Muppets Take Manhattan (Oct 1984)
Script: Stan Kay
Pencils: Dean Yeagle
Inks: Jacqueline Roettcher
Colours: Andy Yanchus
Letters: Jim Novak

33. Buckaroo Banzai (Nov 1984)
Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Mark Texeira
Inks: Armando Gil
Colours: Ken Feduniewicz
Letters: Rick Parker
Note: The movie is actually called The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension but this isn’t mentioned anywhere in the comic.

34. Sheena (Nov 1984)
Script: Cary Burkett
Art: Gray Morrow
Colours: Bob Sharen
Letters: Janice Chiang

35. Conan the Destroyer (Dec 1984)
Script: Michael Fleisher
Art: John Buscema
Colours: George Roussos
Letters: Rich Parker

36. Dune (Apr 1985)
Script: Ralph Macchio
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colours: Christie Scheele
Letters: Joe Rosen

37. 2010 (Apr 1985)
Script: J. M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Joe Barney & Larry Hama
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colours: Tom Palmer
Letters: Rick Parker
Note: As with the Buckaroo Banzai adaptation (above), this one shortens the movie title: it should be called 2010: The Year We Make Contact (the original novel is called 2010: Odyssey Two).

38. Red Sonja (Nov 1986)
Script: Louise Simonson & Mary Wilshire
Pencils: Mary Wilshire & Vince Colletta
Inks: Vince Colletta & Frank Giacoia
Colours: Julianna Ferriter
Letters: Janice Chiang

39. Santa Claus: The Movie (Mar 1986)
Script: Sid Jacobson
Art: Frank Springer
Colours: Petra Scotese
Letters: Janice Chiang

40. Labyrinth (Oct 1986)
Script: Sid Jacobson
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Romeo Tanghal
Colours: Bob Sharen
Letters: Joe Rosen

41. Howard the Duck (Nov 1986)
Script: Dan Fingeroth
Art: Kyle Baker
Colours: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Janice Chiang


Given my age, interests and movie-watching experience I was a little surprised to find that the series contains a lot of movies I probably ought to have seen, but I haven’t: Jaws 2, Sgt. Pepper (I’ve never been enough of a Beatles fan), Meteor (I know I started watching it a couple of years ago but I have no clear memories of it… I very likely just abandoned it), Xanadu (I do generally like Gene Kelly movies, but this one has just never popped up on TV), For Your Eyes Only (James Bond movies don’t do anything for me), Dragonslayer (no idea how I missed this one), Rock & Rule (never even heard of this one outside of this list), Octopussy (Bond again, so, meh), Krull (same as with Dragonslayer: I really ought to have seen this… but then I’ve still never watched all of Hawk the Slayer, either), The Muppets Take Manhattan, Sheena, Red Sonja (I might have seen this one, but if I did I don’t remember anything about it), Santa Clause: The Movie (started watching this and gave up within minutes — it’s not good).

As usual, this isn’t just a series overview: I’m going to take a closer look at a particular issue… this is of course a bit different this time because — with the exception of the three Warriors of the Shadow Realm issues — the stories are designed to stand alone, and they usually have different creative teams. I don’t have a full set, sadly, but I do own a good handful of issues, but which to choose?

Blade Runner? Nah. I know it’s considered a classic but I’m not really a fan (I enjoyed the sequel a lot more). Battlestar Galactica? No. I was a big fan of BsG the first time around, but I left my love for it back in the 80s. It’s a show that did not age well. Raiders of the Lost Ark? Maybe. It’s one of the few movies that’s pretty much always in my top-ten, and this is a good adaptation. Labyrinth is very tempting, but the adaptation is kinda bland and I don’t want to risk the possibility that someone might misinterpret any negative comments about the comic: the movie is held in extremely high esteem by Mrs Rusty and our sofa isn’t very comfortable.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Ooh, now, there’s a possibility. It’s another flawed but well-intentioned movie, and — like Blade Runner — is an excellent example of why it’s really not a good idea to start making a movie before its script has been finished. Conversely, this adaptation is a great example of how a story can work better in one medium than another. Plus it’s got this cracking Bob Larkin cover…

Yes, what the heck, let’s take a look at Marvel’s first ever Star Trek comic — prior to this 1979 publication, the licence had been held by Gold Key (Marvel would retain the licence for another two years before DC took over).

This is a 68-page comic, the bulk of which is the fifty-two-page adaptation of the movie crafted by some of the very best creators in the business: Marv Wolfman (even now, decades after first encountering this man’s name, I’m still not completely convinced it’s not a pseudonym), Dave Cockrum, Klaus Janson, Marie Severin and John Costanza.

By their nature comic-book adaptations of movies tend to trim away some of the fat from their source material, and Star Trek The Motionless Picture sure has a lot of fat begging to be trimmed. In the mid 1980s I heard a rumour that some canny movie students had created a version of STTMP that they had expertly edited down to the same length as an episode of the original TV show, and apparently it was great, with the story rocketing along and being all interesting and captivating and exciting instead of ponderous.

I don’t know whether there was any truth behind that rumour. Possibly not, because I’ve never heard about that version in the decades since. But the thing is, folks, this comic-book version of the movie has taken the same route as the mythical short edit…

Gone are the endless, eternal, infinitely-long tracking shots of the alien craft, as are those of Kirk and Scotty in a shuttle very, very slowly approaching the Enterprise in dry-dock: here, with all the dialogue still intact, the sequence takes a single page.

In the movie, when this scene begins you can nip out to the concession stand to get popcorn, realise you don’t have any cash to pay for it, hitch-hike back home, raid your younger sibling’s piggy-bank, hop on a bus back to the cinema, buy your popcorn and sit down again, only to discover that the movie has ended because, I mean, come on, what were you thinking? Obviously the docking sequence doesn’t take that long.

The point is, all the trimming necessitated by the comic-book format results in a much tighter and more captivating experience than the movie itself. There, I said it. The comic version is more fun than the movie on which it’s based.

The comic also gives us something else that the celluloid version lacked: a clearer look at the enormous V’ger craft as the Enterprise breaches the cloud around it. In the film we get a lot of close-ups of it, but we don’t truly get a good look at the thing, nor do we get a sense of its scale compared to the Enterprise. We don’t even see enough of V’ger to know what shape it is. But the comic gives us a couple of panels like this:

The Special also gives us several very nice publicity shots and stills from the movie and “Star Trek: The Phenomenon” (a text feature written by Tom Rogers), “Touching Base with Reality” (an interview with the movie’s science advisor Jesco von Puttkamer conducted by Marian Stensgard), “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Glossary” (another text feature by Tom Rogers), all of which add up to a product that is more than just an adaptation of the movie. This is Collector’s Edition stuff right here, folks!

It’s a shame that the Marvel Super Specials series didn’t continue on into the 90s and beyond. They weren’t all great, but the good ones more than made up for the mediocre. I guess the home video age sounded the death-knell of comic-book adaptations of movies just as it did with novelisations. Once video players became commonplace and the video rental stores started popping up, if a fan wanted to relive the experience of watching their favourite movie, they could just watch the movie instead of reading someone else’s interpretation of it.


Bonus: For readers who might have been hoping that the opening paragraphs of this article suggested we’d be focusing on Marvel’s Star Wars adaptations rather than Star Trek, here are the Star Wars Special Edition covers:

Bonus2: a pin-up from the back cover of the first issue:

3 thoughts on “In-Shallow Profile: Marvel Super Specials

  1. I believe I was first introduced to Starlord through the Special, I was in Hospital and one of my aunts and uncles brought it in for me to read, god knows where they got it from, although seeing the cover i do wonder what made them think “now that’s a comic for a five year old!” collecting and reprinting Star Wars I get but 2010 ? And I should know as I re read it a few years ago, made as much sense as the film but with less tension. Oh and as for Meteor consider it a blessing you can’t remember it.

    Like

  2. Great article. I have the first 2 Star Wars ones. They are very much oversize. The Rok&Rule one I have is normal US monthly comic size. I think the Close Encounters one I have must be a UK reprint as it UK magazine sized.

    Like

  3. Bladerunner, Krull, For Your Eyes Only all turned up in the Marvel UK edition of Return of the Jedi. Meteor featured in an article in one of the 2000ad Summer Special.
    Rock and Rule may have been a musical with Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop.

    Like

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