All good things must come to an end. Sometimes, though, the inevitability of a demise is worse than the demise itself. Today’s case in point: the announcement that Dark Horse has lost the license to Star Wars comics effective next year. It’s been a looming threat since Disney purchased LucasFilm, and to the ire of many a Star Wars comics ubergeek, Marvel (also owned by Disney, duh), will (again) be the curators of George Lucas’s bastard children.
I never read too much of Dark Horse’s Star Wars books myself, mainly because I’m content to watch the original trilogy and feel fulfilled with that story in and of itself. I don’t need to know umpteen centuries of universe-building backstory to feel I know the “whole” story. However, there are plenty of fans who DO, and for them, twenty years of continuity is being chucked out the window violently and suddenly for the sake of… a boardroom deal.
From Disney’s perspective, it of course makes sense to bring the Star Wars comics to Marvel, and thus under its own umbrella. It’s a business move, plain and simple, one that will allow them to milk the golden calf that is Star Wars much more efficiently and effectively, with the added bonus being Marvel’s larger overall market share leading to a higher overall sales percentage.
But back to those forlorn Star Wars comics ubergeeks: for them, it’s the end of an era. And in a larger sense, it is for the entire comics industry.
If you’re an under-thirty fan, you grew up with Dark Horse’s Star Wars line. Period. And since they obtained the license, they have done a stellar job of curating Lucas’s mythos, and building on it with a respect and reverence for the original source material that was, frankly, unmatched up until that point. In other words, Dark Horse set the gold standard for licensed comics. Prior to that, licensed comics were fairly heartless affairs, often written and drawn by uninterested, uninspired creators who were clearly only in it for the paycheck.* Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics, on the other hand, were written and drawn by creators who were fans, and who understood the tone, character, and history of the tales they were attempting to augment.**
For over twenty years, Dark Horse has built upon all things Lucas in that manner. They expanded the mythology forwards and back, printed numerous character-focused miniseries, found ways to make characters from even Phantom Menace seem three-dimensional,*** and even had the balls to kill Chewbacca. And the fans LOVED THEM FOR IT.
Will Marvel’s iteration of the Star Wars line be as good? Worse? A straight-ahead continuation of Dark Horse’s line? It’s too early to tell. Although chances are good it won’t be a continuation of Dark Horse’s saga, since doing so would entail a certain amount of coordination with Dark Horse, which at this point is a non-starter. Surely it will be different, as Marvel will probably bring its own house style to the books. It also bears mentioning that old-school fans looking to Marvel’s original run probably won’t find much guidance; Jim Shooter-Marvel was a vastly different beast than Joe Quesada-Marvel. Marvel will also very likely bring its own brand of top-flight talent to the book, so expect something written by Brian Michael Bendis and/or drawn by Steve McNiven (actually, the latter would be pretty cool). One positive about this is that it IS giving big-name creators a chance to write a Star Wars yarn without the constraints of 20+ years of continuity. The downside is the potential for a Bendis-penned Star Wars comic.****
The other looming question is what the loss of the Star Wars license will do to Dark Horse’s overall market share. Surely it will hurt; the question is how much. I don’t foresee it threatening Dark Horse’s overall existence, as they have too many other strong properties to fall back on, but the loss of the entire Star Wars line will hurt and hurt BAD.
Dark Horse says it has big plans for its final year as stewards of George Lucas’s legacy. I certainly hope so, because their fans deserve it. It may have been inevitable that the Star Wars license would go to Marvel… but that doesn’t mean Dark Horse doesn’t have to cast so large a shadow, Marvel doesn’t have a hope in a Sarlacc pit of succeeding.
Or that it hasn’t already.
Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks,
*Yes, I’m aware that Alex Ross made his official debut in a Terminator comic. Sue me.
**Check out Dark Horse’s opening salvo, Dark Empire, if you don’t believe me. Boba Fett, represent!!
***All except for YOU, Jar-Jar. May you burn in the fiery pit of abortive supporting character hell for all eternity, along with Orko, H.E.R.B.I.E., Dobby, and any other annoying-sidekick types that have been foisted upon us over the years for cheap and immature laughs.
****Hey, I love the guy, but NO. His style would definitely not mesh with the tone of Star Wars.