To narrow things down, I am not going to include one off Movie adaptations or Celebrity novelty comics. I will also not include any of the Star line of comics which included Defenders of the Earth...
... because I plan to write an article on that line in the future. (Note: Fans of the old King Features characters should check out the new King's Watch series written by Jeff Parker from Dynamite comics. I got the first issue and was quite surprised how good it was.
During the 70's and 80's, Marvel was more inclined to publish Licensed comics than they are today. (Though one could argue that since Disney now owns all of Marvel, the entire line is one big licensed entity.)
I bought the first issue of Star Wars at an Eckerd's Drug Store several months before the movie came out IIRC. The words on the cover of issue 1 exclaimed that it was soon to be a Major Motion Picture! At the time, I figured it would be just another one of those cheesy sci-fi movies that no one would like, because there was no way anyone could make a movie that looked as cool as this comic book. When the movie opened, I went and saw it with my folks. I remember thinking, "Holy Smoke! They actually did it!"
Here's one that is probably in the top 10 list of everyone's favorite Liscensed character comics, ROM is a comic that actually outlived the toy that inspired it. To this day the character has a huge fan following and the Knights of Galador have recently returned in the pages of Marvel's Infinity.
The only thing that has held ROM back from making a reappearance all these years is the complicated matter of Toy rights ownership. With Toys, often a skilled toy designer may negotiate ownership rights with the manufacturing company. When that happens, if there is any doubt about clear secondary market rights, the ambiguity can hold up production in those areas. Many comic luminaries (such as Robert Kirkman) have pursued negotiations to produce a new ROM comic, but to no avail.
This Mego LP comic found inspiration in Star Wars but quickly found its own voice thanks to the fantastic team of Michael Golden and Bill Mantlo.
Most people probably don't remember Marvel's short lived Tarzan comic. A quick scan of the covers will explain why as it seems that Marvel was unable to think of any cover ideas other than Tarzan fighting some sort of jungle creature (which must've looked pretty lame compared to the rest of Marvel's lineup at the time.) They should have explored the Hidden/Lost City themes in the books more IMO.
This series didn't last very long. It was probably the one two punch of an expensive license coupled with a movie that didn't quite meet fans expectations. I think I only bought a few issues before I deemed it not really my thing. I'd be curious to review the series again to see if was as boring as my teenage self thought it was.
One of THREE Herb Trimpe pencilled books on this list. Why these guys have not reappeared in some form during this age of Transformers movies is a bit beyond me. Perhaps the Transformers so successfully stole the Big Robot thunder that Mattel never felt it was worth it to relaunch the property?
The four color adventures of Doc Savage didn't last very long, being about as successful as The Man of Bronze movie in 1975. Marvel also put out a black and white adventure magazine featuring Doc and his five compatriots, but that had even a shorter lifespan. Over the years, many companies have tried to turn the Man of Bronze into gold, but it seems to be a tough thing to do.
Partly, I blame the approach because I think the general tact is to do the stories as straight adventure stories, which totally makes senses except that like with Tarzan, the adventure stories that fit with Doc Savage all seem a bit tame by todays standards. I think it is no coincidence that Altus Press, the current publisher of Doc Savage stories, has begun taking a more exotic approach with the newer Doc Savage stories.
With that said, Dynamite seems to have successfully turned the Shadow into an ongoing franchise, so I would be interested in seeing how they would approach Doc Savage.
This series is unique in this list as it is the only one for which Marvel was able to publish an Essentials edition. (Click the image to see the Essential version on Amazon.)
Herb Trimpe's tenure on the Incredible Hulk made him the perfect artist to draw another big green skinned goliath who loved to smash things. It didn't hurt that Doug Monench came up with some creative kaiju for the king of monsters to wail on either.
Conan (and all of the other Robert E. Howard properties)
Without a doubt, easily the most successful of all LP comic series Marvel ever published lasting several decades and creating an entire new comics genre. Over the years we would see Kull, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane also get some time in the Marvel universe.
Despite having some fine artwork from Walt Simonson, this series tends to get forgotten by Bronze Age fans. That may be in part to the darker, horror theme stories which didn't really sync up with the grand space adventure ( Star Wars ) roots of the television series. All in all, the series ran for 23 issus before being cancelled, so it wasn't a total failure.
This incarnation of the property would actually see a comics revival by Dynamite in later decades thanks to the revamp sy-fy series.
Master of Kung Fu (Fu Manchu)
While the Master of Kung Fu himself is indeed a wholly Marvel creation, the reason we don't see any MoKF Marvel Masterworks of Essentials is because the series prominently features Shang Chi's father, Fu Manchu...
Created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, this series was created the comic book rights to Sax Rohmer's villainous Dr. Fu Manchu AND the rights to the Kung Fu television series. Instead of making two separate comics featuring each property, Marvel combined the concepts into one fully fleshed out world which would click with readers for a full 125 issues, making it the third most successful LP comic series on this list.
While creators Englehart and Starlin would leave the title early on, new writer Doug Monench and artist extraordinaire Paul Gulacy would bring the series to a new level of success with stories filled with foreign intrigue, superb art and old movie sensibilities and callbacks. So beloved is the series that in 2010, it was voted number 6 in the list of all time great 1970's Marvel series by the folks at www.ComicsBulletin.com
I'll be honest, this comic came during one of my "out of comics" phases so I know zilch about it, nor have I ever been that interested in any of the newer incarnations. So, with that said, here's what wikipedia as to say about GI Joe:
It was unique at the time in that it was a comic book series that was promoted on television commercials which also supported the toy line. This 155-issue series is considered to be one of the longest-running comic book tie-ins to a toy line. Much of its success is to be credited to Larry Hama, who wrote the entire series save for a few issues with guest writers. Rather than treating the stories as a mere promotion for the toys, Hama wrote the series with seriousness and infused it with doses of realism, humor, and drama. Other than Transformers, no other series was able to duplicate its success. Notable artists include Herb Trimpe, Ron Wagner, Rod Whigham and Marshall Rogers.
At 155 issues quite a number of spin offs and special issues, GI Joe is easily the second most successful LP comic.
John Carter of Mars
Our second Edgar Rice Burroughs entry in this list, this series ran for 28 issues and 3 annuals, all of which take place within the timeframe of the third and fourth paragraphs of chapter 27 of A Princess of Mars
Drawn by Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino and Larry Hama with stories by Marv Wolfman and Peter B. Gillis, this fine series has been collected in a hardcover omnibus (most likely to capitalize on the hoped for success of the JCM movie.)
Long time followers may remember I once posted a Golden Age version of the John Carter comic previously on this blog.
What began as a 4 issue limited series proved so successful that it lasted over 6 years, a point not missed by Marvel editorial as the last issue proudly proclaimed #80 IN A FOUR ISSUE LIMITED SERIES! Originally helmed by Bill Mantlo (who did such a fine job with the Micronauts) Jim Salicrup and Bob Budiansky saw the book through the first year with Bob taking over sole writing chores until issue 55 when UK Transformers writer Simon Furman took over. Furman would remain on the title until its final issue.
I'll wrap this up with two final LP Comics that started out as movie adaptations but grew into something more.
Logan's Run was more like a sprint as the series only managed last 7 issues. While the first five issues initially recapped the movie the book continued Logan's story with original content for a few issues after.
Art afficianados take now: The recap issues were pencilled by George Perez.
Also of interest is a Thanos solo back up story that appears later in the series.
2001 A Space Odyssey
2001, helped by the incredible Kirby artwork survived a bit longer thanks mostly to the introduction of a more interesting character who wasn't in the movie at all: Aaron Stack aka Machine Man. (Note: how many of your readers how there recognize Machine Man's alias as a pun on the early computer syntax warning Error On Stack?)
Two final notes:
In review of the post, I see I took a rather scattershot approach to my commentaries leaving out the creators and series length in many cases. I'll get around to fixing that in time.
Also, if I missed a series, please let me know in the comments section below!
UPDATE: Sharp eyed commenter ShadZ noticed I had left off Marvel's Indiana Jones series which apparently ran an impressive 34 issues.
In 1981, Marvel Comics published a three-issue adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In January 1983, they gave the character his own monthly series, named The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, which ran for 34 issues until March 1986. The series had Marcus Brody and Marion Ravenwood in regular supporting roles, and Sallah, Katanga and Short Round also appeared. A three-issue adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and a four-issue adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, were also published.
Thank you ShadZ!
More Updates from several new comments reveals quite a number of comics I forgot:
First, Jean-Paul Jennequin reminds me that Dr. Who had a short run in the pages of Marvel Premiere.
Jean-Paul also asks would I include comics like Kiss and Alice Cooper, but I think I will save those type of comics for another article.
DD Degg calls forth one I forgot that I'm both shocked and embarrassed to admit - Marvel's Planet of the Apes series!
This series also had a run in the B/W Magazine format (as did Doc Savage)
Degg also brings word that Thongor was a licensed comic featuring a Lin Carter creation, which up to now, I never knew.
I'll try to round up some details about this newly added comics soon. In the meantime, keep the suggestions coming!