It's become increasingly common in the last few years for movies, especially blockbusters involving science fiction or superheroes, to come complete with a prequel comic book. These publications fill in missing backstory, offer easter eggs for fans and clear up obscure plot points in a way that allows you to sound much more knowledgeable than your friends. Here are some of the best we've seen, that might just answer a few questions along the way...
Writer: *Sterling Gates
Art: Jerry Ordway*
Our first entry, and we’re straight into the issue of canon. Are these things to be taken as gospel? Because if so, the mystery of the empty, open cryo-pod in Man of Steel’s crashed Kryptonian ship is no mystery at all: the sarcophagus’ missing incumbent is Kara Zor-El, known to Helen Slater fans as Supergirl.
The comic takes place at an unspecified point in Krypton’s pre-apocalypse past (we're guessing around 20,000 years ago, Earth-time, given the ice around the ship). Kara faces tragedy, battling Krypton’s first murderer in centuries, Dev-Em, and passing an “Explorer’s Council” exercise that allows her to go off terraforming in a Fortress of Solitude scout craft.
This last doesn’t go so well thanks to Dev-Em’s interference, leading to the accident that plants her ship under the ice on Ellesmere Island. A dream in cryo-sleep hints at the powers in store for her under the influence of Earth’s yellow sun, and while it’s unclear whether the figure seen leaving the ship is Kara or Dev-Em, some Inuit art depicting the “hope” glyph suggests Kara might have won the day, and is out there, somewhere. We finish with a “To be continued” over a panel of hobo-Clark on his way to Canada…
Writer: *Mike Johnson & Tim Jones
Art: David Messina*
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek surprised everyone by serving as Star Trek XI as well as the remake it seemed to be during production. To emphasise that, its prequel comic is essentially a Next Generation affair, taking place eight years after Star Trek: Nemesis. Picard is ambassador to Vulcan, Data has survived, Worf is now a Klingon general, and Geordi has retired to build his own crazy ships (it’s revealed that Spock’s “jellyfish” is a LaForge assembly). And picking up from the TNG double-episode Unification, we find (old) Spock still the ambassador to Romulus, allying with Decalithium miner Nero in a scheme to prevent the galaxy-threatening supernova of the Hobus star.
Romulan and Vulcan interference, however, lead to the tragedy that turns Nero into the tattooed madman we meet in the film. Upgrading his ship with Borg technology, he starts his campaign of revenge, targeting Spock in particular, leading to the sequence of events that gets them both flung back in time to when Kirk was still a youngster listening to the Beastie Boys.
The recent Countdown to Darkness, meanwhile, happens between the first and second Abrams Treks, and details the “Mudd incident” that’s mentioned in Into Darkness. You might have smirked at that and inferred that that concerned Original Series reprobate Harry Mudd, but it turns out the Mudd here is his daughter: shapely, blonde, and apparently Bajoran. Former Enterprise Captain Robert April (from The Animated Series) is also involved, and the Klingons show up towards the end, as does “John Harrison”.
Vastly more than meets the eye on screen, the Transformers franchise has allsparked tonnes of peripheral comic book robot vehicular nonsense.
For the 2007 film, we’ve got The Movie Prequel, with Bumblebee being tortured and going to Mars, and Captain Archibald Witwicky finding a frozen Megatron in the Arctic in 1897. This is followed by a sequel called The Reign of Starscream, in which the Decepticon plane finally achieves his ambition to sit on Megatron’s throne. Or whatever Megatron sat on.
After The Reign of Starscream comes more political wrangling in double-hitters Alliance and Defiance, which deal with Cybertron’s past and lead into the movie Revenge of the Fallen. And after the film itself comes Nefarious, a six-part series introducing human anti-Transformer fascists The Initiative, who are messing around with an unstable fake Allspark. There’s also Tales of the Fallen, a series of one-shots focusing on individual Transformers and taking place at various points on the timeline.
Dark of the Moon has no fewer than three prequels. Sector 7 is about the titular shadowy spy network (kind of Transformers: Torchwood). Rising Storm deals with the pre-Moon shenanigans of nutball Decepticon tank Shockwave. And Foundation is, we kid you not, about the beginnings of the rivalry between Optimus Prime and Megatron when they were students.
Transformers is really weird.
Writer:* Matt Smith
Art: Henry Flint*
This is the tale of Peach Tree Block's crime kingpin Ma-Ma, and how she reached that exulted position. It turns out the ex-prostitute only very recently arrived there, having taken charge of her dismal existence and survived a bloody reckoning with her ertswhile pimp Lester Grimes.
It was Grimes who gave Ma-Ma her striking facial scar; we also learn that that maternal-sounding moniker is short for Madelaine Madrigal. There's some stuff about the creation of the Slo-Mo drug too: an "LSD derivative", the effects of which are "like seeing God through the cracks of creation".
Art-wise, we're very much in the world of the film: that Lawmaster bike has slimmer tyres than we're used to. Language-wise too, the tone is a bit more Clint than 2000AD. Still, if you wondered how Lena Headey's character got where she was, here is your answer.
Writer:* Travis Beacham
Art: Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, Pericles Junior, Chris Batista & Geoff Shaw*
Pacific Rim drops us into its narrative at a point when the monstrous alien kaiju have already been on Earth for more than a decade and the robotic Jaegars have begun to win the fight back against them. The prequel graphic novel Tales From Year Zero fills in some of that back story.
Framed as the work of journalist Naomi Solkov (not a character in the movie), the five-issue series comprises interviews with key players (Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Clifton Collins’ Tendo Choi and Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket among them), detailing their experiences in the ten years before we meet them onscreen.
We get to see the fateful K-Day when the kaiju first attack, along with the development of the human’s enormous robot suits and the training of the first pilot. “You can watch the movie and totally see it as a complete work,” Travis Beacham told CraveOnline, “[but] the comic sets up the world of the movie in a really organic way.”
Writer:* Scott Tipton
Art: Diego Jourdan & Jorge Santillan*
Osamu Tezuka’s venerable and much-loved Astro Boy flew back into cinemas in 2009, courtesy of Imagi Animation. The film was updated and CGI-ified from the original mangas and animes (as well as featuring the immortal line, "I've got machine guns... in my butt?!"), and trailing in its wake came this slight expansion of Astro Boy’s new universe.
Really just another, different adventure, this doesn’t do a great deal to tie into or set up the film. The story has Metro City being shaken by a series of earthquakes, during one of which Astro sees the Ministry of Science disappearing into a chasm, taking his father with it. Knocked unconscious, Astro wakes up to find himself in an underworld populated by attractive Chiazzans and monstrous Lucertos. But looks can be deceiving, and the Chiazzans aren’t necessarily the good guys.
It’s pretty slight – y’know, it might be for kids – but this does a reasonable job of channelling Tezuka’s recurring themes (not judging by appearances being one of them) and it strips out 50 years of continuity to make for a decent jumping-on point for the Astro-curious.
The ill-fated Martin Campbell / Ryan Reynolds mega-movie of Green Lantern apparently had $100m spent on its marketing, part of which went on this series of five one-shots. Each homes in on a single character, giving us stories about Kilowog, Tomar-Re, Sinestro, Abin Sur and the Lantern himself, Hal Jordan.
Abin Sur’s book takes place a good twenty years before the film, and has him making first contact with the people of Earth, in particular Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett’s character onscreen). Kilowog gets to do little more than live up to his badass reputation among the Green Lantern Corps, while Tomar-Re’s tale seems him shoot back to his home planet to deal with a disaster.
Hal’s issue is barely a prequel at all, instead presenting Sinestro and Abin Sur discussing their newest recruit, and illustrating scenes from the movie as their respective arguments (although it does tease further potential Lantern Guy Gardner as part of the movie universe). Sinestro too, gets a story that’s part parallel to the film, and part much earlier, outlining his origin on his own planet as a lawman during a civil war. Not bad, but we can't imagine many people are going to actively seek these out after seeing the film.
Like Green Lantern and Astro Boy, Marvel’s pile of Phase One prequels are good examples of comics that are all about movie continuity rather than the established canon from the page. The eight-part Captain America: First Vengeance, for example, goes the one-issue-per-character route, setting up Rogers' and Bucky's childhood friendship. The two-part Thor prequel, meanwhile, gives us some youthful Thor/Loki rivalry, and a mission to Svartalfheim to rescue Fandral.
The Avengers Prelude – subtitled Fury’s Big Week – is an amusing eight-part runaround centred on Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, recapping what happened in the previous Phase One movies, and giving Hawkeye a bit more attention than Avengers Assemble really bothered with. The overarching plot has General Thunderbolt Ross (seen in the Hulk movies in various guises) trying to oust and replace Fury at S.H.I.E.L.D.
As Phase Two begins, we so far have two comics filling gaps after Avengers Assemble. The two-part Iron Man 3 Prelude explains War Machine’s Avengers absence, and the Thor: The Dark World Prelude (two instalments) tells us what the Asgardian was up to during Assemble’s first twenty minutes. Surprisingly, the answer is neither "conditioning his lovely hair" or "working those biceps".
Writer: *David Twohy
Art: Brian Murray*
A very elderly example of an online movie-tie-in web comic, this part-animated prequel to Pitch Black gives us our earliest – at the time – sighting of one Richard B. Riddick.
The Slam City of the title is a maximum-security stockade somewhere called Ursa Luna, which is not so maximum that it can hold Riddick. The interstellar sociopath gets himself free, but not before we learn that this is where he underwent the operation to have his eyes “shined” for nocturnal vision - and it only cost him a packet of menthols. Bargain! We also meet Johns (Cole Hauser’s character) for the first time here: he’s employed to take the recaptured Riddick onward to lockdown somewhere even more severe. Pitch Black picks them up on that route.
This whole story was later completely rejigged / contradicted by the rather good Escape From Butcher Bay videogame, making its canonicity dubious, but it's an interesting adjunct to the film.
Robert Rodriguez’ 2010 remake-boot-quel kicked off a new run of Dark Horse comics about Predator, which had previously died a death after their ‘90s heyday.
Two one-shot prequels gave us more time with Adrien Brody’s Royce and Laurence Fishburne’s Kurtz-like Noland. Noland’s appearance comes in Welcome to the Jungle, an adventure with a Navy Seal called Drake (it doesn’t go well for Drake: he’s the body they find in the film). Royce’s issue is called A Predatory Life, and shows us his most recent mission before being spacenapped. It turns out he was working for an African dictator trying to quell a rebellion. No conscience, you see.
There was also a sequel comic, Preserve the Game, set a few weeks after the film, with Royce and Isabelle reuniting to take on a four-armed super-Predator. Then there’s a brief motion comic on the DVD too, Crucified, which explains how the captive Predator Royce frees at the camp came to be there.
Writer:* Daryl Gregory
*Art: Damian Couceiro & Tony Parker
The prequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, published by the Apes franchise’s current home Boom Studios, follows the plight of two captive apes: Burke and Bright Eyes (named for her startling blue eyes, and as a nod to Taylor in the original Planet).
There are hints that their jungle compatriots are unusually smart to begin with, but once taken by hunters and subjected to regular doses of the experimental drug 112, Burke and Bright Eyes quickly gain supernormal ape intelligence. Burke gets himself sent to an outside reserve by pretending to be stupid, while Bright Eyes stays in the lab and manages a frightening temporary escape to the city. Caesar doesn’t make an appearance, but the scene is set for his arrival. Neither Burke nor Bright Eyes was quite The One, but he’s on his way.
Boom also do a great monthly line in Planet of the Apes titles set during the original timeline – chronologically somewhere between the fifth and first movies. Those, as here, are written by Daryl Gregory.
Writer:* John Moore
Art: Kyle Baker*
Way back in 1990, Warren Beatty’s primary-coloured Dick Tracy revival was accompanied by a set of three graphic novels. Part three was a straight adaptation of the movie, but parts one and two were separate adventures leading up to it.
Those two volumes were Big City Blues and Dick Tracy Vs. the Underworld. Both were later collected with the movie adaptation into a single volume as True Hearts and Tommy Guns. An affectionate homage to Tracy’s original creator Chester Gould, the books are stuffed with his mad rogues gallery of villains, and very pointedly use none of the characters created after his death.
Also very pointedly, while the bad guys are depicted faithfully to the original comics (albeit also to their heavily-prostheticised onscreen appearance), Tracy himself has Beatty’s likeness. Now what was it Carly Simon said about (possibly) him again?
Writer:* Steve Niles
Art: Patrick Reynolds*
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that any franchise can be exponentially improved by the addition of Vikings. Hence The Thing: The Northman Nightmare, which is set in Greenland in 1121. That’s rather more of a time gap than separates 2011’s The Thing from John Carpenter’s 1982 film. It also makes this comic, just so we’re clear, the prequel to a prequel to a remake.
The single issue short gives us a group of Nords heading across the snow and ice to a settlement, where they find no one left alive but five women who claim all the men massacred one another. Our guys are wise not to trust them, however, since they’re soon encountering a plethora of Things (is that the proper collective noun? Let’s go with “a Wilford of Things”) that reveal themselves at the burning of a supposed corpse.
Leader of our heroes is Rodmar, who has only one eye. It’d be nice to think he was Mads Mikkelsen’s character from Valhalla Rising, but the timing doesn’t quite work and it’s the wrong eye. Bugger. But in a pleasing bit of symmetry, the comic ends with the two surviving Vikings sitting conversing in the snow like MacReady and Childs…
Strange now to think of a time when Marvel movies weren’t considered surefire blockbusters, but Fox’s confidence in its 2000 X-Men movie still extended to a flurry of tie-in merchandise, of which three prequel comics were a part. The first centred on Wolverine: during his time wandering in snowy Canada he detours to Japan with a fellow amnesiac and crosses paths with The Silver Samurai. Magneto’s issue, meanwhile, expands on his time as a yoot in the concentration camps, and on his early friendship with Xavier and the building of Cerebro (which, hey! First Class has now covered in any case). And Rogue, in between running away from home and her meeting with Logan, gets herself imprisoned in a shady biotech facility.
X2 gave us Nightcrawler and another Wolverine one-shot. Nightcrawler finds love, runs away from the circus, and fends off William Stryker, Mutant 12 and Lady Deathstrike. Wolverine, en route to Alkali Lake, teams up with Sabretooth (unaware of their previous relationship) against HYDRA.
The rest of the series has missed the tie-in treatment – although Jason Aaron’s Wolverine: Weapon X comic series was created with X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s audience in mind. And in preparation for The Wolverine, you could do a lot worse than pick up the original mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, which isn't a movie tie-in but inspired the current plans.
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Jorge Jimenez
A curious exercise, The Dark Knight Rises’ motion comic prequel was made exclusively available on Nokia Windows phones, so practically nobody saw it. It was released along with another app, Batman Origins, giving Nokia users brief retellings of the origin stories for Catwoman, Bane and The Scarecrow.
You didn’t really miss anything. While early indications seemed to be that the Prologue would elaborate on the movie’s opening, setting up how Bane executed the plot to take Dr Pavel hostage, essentially all it did was recreate the film’s first few minutes as a Flash animation. We see a burning city in the background at one point, but nobody addresses what city it is or why it's burning (except, we suppose, as a nod to the League Of Shadows' self-proclaimed city-toppling mission).
So the best and pretty much only extra nugget of plot from in between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises can be found in Greg Cox’s novelisation. Want to know what happened to The Joker? According to Cox, he’s now the only resident of the otherwise abandoned Arkham Asylum, guarded like Rudolph Hess in Spandau, by a single guard. That, right there, is a movie in itself. Someone?
Writer: Todd DeZago
Artist: Stuart Immonen
This freebie was exclusive to corporate empire Wal-Mart. It’s an inconsequential bit of Spider-whimsy, in which Peter Parker does some friendly neighbourhooding while thinking about proposing marriage to Mary Jane.
Looking for signs from the universe that getting hitched is a good plan, Web-Head stops a truck crashing into a bakery with an enormous wedding cake in the window, and TIES A KNOT in a window cleaners’ safety line. Do you see what they did there? If that's not a sign, we don't know what is.
There’s no Eddie Brock, but we do encounter a certain Flint Marko on his way to a date with a particle accelerator. Since the plot of the film suggests that maybe the universe wasn't quite so set on Parker getting engaged immediately, the signs aspect falls a little flat, and there's little else here to make it a must-read, but it's still better than much of the film.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra kicked off a whole new rebooted GI Joe comics series at IDW, but it begins with the imaginatively titled “Movie Prequel”, which does the single-issue-single-character schtick across four instalments. Duke gets a bad parachute jump and a jungle mission; Destro goes to Paris for an illegal arms deal; Baroness plans a daring heist on the Italian Riviera; and Snake Eyes prevents Russian terrorists from blowing up a dam and kidnapping the US Vice President. Snake Eyes actor Ray Park was apparently so taken with the character that he collaborated in the writing of further issues.
The four-issue series leading into Retaliation, on the other hand, zooms right in on Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock, because we NEEDED to know where he came from. Turns out Snake Eyes was his Joe sponsor, and he earned his stripes following a prolonged battle with the Red Ninjas that spanned Eastern Europe and Egypt. We also learn about Roadblock’s early years on the streets of Washington DC.
The Rock has yet to start writing his own GI Joe comics, but when he does we're sure they will put boots to asses.
Writer: Dara Naraghi
Art: Alan Robinson
Like Aliens and Predator, Terminator had a credible comics run at Dark Horse in the ‘90s, but it was IDW that picked up the cyborg parts when Salvation hit in 2009. There was no saving the end of the film, but there was plenty of good stuff at the beginning.
Before all that, there was supposedly this story, told across four issues and titled, ahem, Sand In The Gears. It's set when John Connor was first putting together his nascent resistance, about a year before the events of the movie, but Connor appears in voice only via his radio broadcasts. The focus here takes in survivalists and Terminator factories in Detroit (resistance leader Elena Maric has a past with Connor, we learn) and a Skynet Uranium mine in Nigeria.
Dark Horse had told international stories before, but, as writer Naraghi explained, “The films are always set in and around LA. I wanted to show what other people were doing.”
A lot of the time they were dealing with their cultural differences. Mostly, they were blowing shit up.
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Tom Waltz, Erik Burnham, Joe Carnahan
In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit… But that was how it stood in the ‘80s. Joe Carnahan’s 2010 A-Team movie changed that back-story to “one year ago”, and Carnahan himself helped plot the comics that fleshed it out.
There were two four-issue mini series. The first, War Stories, each took a team member before the team existed. So we have Hannibal extracting a bio-weapons expert (Dr Skarfasis –no, really) from Iraq; Face trying to steal a Ducati during Operation Desert Storm (don’t ask); Murdock getting committed to a mental hospital and trying to escape with his invisible dog; and BA going from an army ranger to working in a Mexican chop shop.
Shotgun Wedding, meanwhile, chronicles the team’s first plan coming together (although to be honest it could happen at any point in their chronology as a unit). Specifically, it takes in Alaska, San Diego, and a chaotic wedding cruise during which Hannibal poses as the priest, Face the couple’s wedding planner, BA a chauffeur/bodyguard and Murdock the chef. The likenesses are from the film, but Shotgun Wedding could have come right from the TV series.
Writer: David Guy Levy
Art: Jeffrey Spokes
This isn’t really what we’ve been talking about at all, but we finish up with it because it’s cool. Titled Back to Back to the Future, this takes us on a journey through time to 1984, when Eric Stoltz was still top of Back to the Future’s cast as Marty McFly.
You know the story: Stoltz as McFly was “not working out”, leading to his firing and Michael J. Fox’s hiring. Due to Stoltz’s departure, actress Melora Hardin was also let go as Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer, since she was considered too tall to appear on screen alongside Fox.
This comic posits a scenario in which Back to the Future writer Bob Gale, reminded of the situation all these years later and feeling bad about it, meets Hardin for a coffee. They both get transported back to 1984 in Gale’s Tesla, and decide to work on keeping Stoltz in the film…
Part One is online for free now. The next two will also be given away gratis, and the final three will be $2 each, with all profits going to the Young Storytellers Foundation. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for future instalments.