Issue #24 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Science Fiction Comic Books

My last column asked the question, 'why do superhero comics dominate the comic book industry'? We looked at the cartoon and fantasy genres, but what about science fiction?

In every other medium (TV, movies, magazines and novels) science fiction is a popular and lucrative genre. Yet science fiction is a notoriously fickle genre for today's comic books.

Established science fiction has flubbed repeatedly. For example, "Star Trek", has been published by several different companies, using different settings (Classic, Next Gen, DS9, Voyager, Starfleet Academy), over the last 30 years. They often start well, then lose steam; No one "Star Trek" series has lasted much more than 7 years.

The fans seemed indifferent to DC's science fiction graphic novel series. Don't get me started on other established material, like "Battlestar Galactica" (Marvel or Malibu series'), or any of the Marvel "Star Wars" comic books.

What about original science fiction material? Back in 1990 Marvel attempted something new for comics; an anthology work featuring many big name science fiction authors. Unfortunately, "Open Space" failed. *Sigh*. Similarly, "Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor" (1994-5), had top authors and illustrators interpret Harlan Ellison's excellent short fiction. It too failed. Again, *sigh*.

"Alien Legion" has gone through several new beginnings and has failed to sustain the necessary readership. (Getting depressed yet?)

The various "Dreadstar" series have been moderately successful . . . but in all honesty, they were really just super heroes in the future, with a back drop of a galactic civil war. Don't get me started on such also-rans as "Primortals", "Seekers", or "Lost Universe".

Recently, Dark Horse has completely revitalized the "Star Wars" franchise. In addition, Dark Horse has produced excellent "Aliens", "Terminator" and "Predator" series. Original material, such as "Give Me Liberty" has also done well.

Dark Horse's secret is simple and effective; Release a mini-series only if and when you have something worth printing. Dark Horse has realized an important equation of science fiction comic books: continuous + long term + monthly comic production schedule = mediocrity.

The various successes and failings of the cartoon, fantasy and science fiction genres can be somewhat disheartening. Such instability makes publishers hesitant to stray from the tried and profitable publishing of superheroes.

Are we readers doomed to follow the chronicles of superheroes for the rest of our lives?

Not necessarily. DC's Vertigo line is "non-superheroic" in its general outlook. Nobody in tights has yet been seen in the excellent "House of Secrets" comic book (2nd series, 1996 - present). If heroes do appear, then the storylines are definitely genre busters, such as the ones in "Doom Patrol", "Enigma" or "The Invisibles".

The industry itself has noted this glut of superhero comic books. Once a year, "Previews", the largest trade magazines puts forth its 'Celebrating Diversity Month'. Here, they highlight the non-superhero comic books being published. Although not surefire in their suggestions, they have directed me towards good comic books I would have otherwise overlooked.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

Comic Book Conundrum Table of Contents

Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
Part of the original Sideroad.
Visit the new Sideroad: Your Road to Expert Advice