READING LIST: Harlan Ellison’s Greatest (Comic Book) Hits
Harlan Ellison has written short stories, essays, teleplays, screenplays and books, but though he’s repeatedly talked about how influential the medium was for him as a boy, he has scripted relatively few comics. His enthusiasm and interest in the medium has never waned, however, and he’s taken time to praise the work of many books and creators over the years — in between winning almost every science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror and screenwriting award possible, that is.
This week saw the rare comic book publication of an Ellison story with the release of DC Comics‘ “Batman ’66: The Lost Episode.” When the Adam West-starring series was on the air in the mid-’60s, Ellison wrote an outline for an episode that would have introduced Two-Face to the hit show’s rogues gallery. The episode was never produced, but nearly 50 years later, the story has been brought to life in a comic scripted by Len Wein and penciled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. That Garcia-Lopez is drawing the book is fitting, considering that five years ago the legendary artist penciled a “Batman Confidential” story arc which introduced the character King Tut from the TV show into the DCU.
In celebration of Ellison’s latest contribution to comics, we’re taking a look back at his previous forays into the medium. While the following list does not include every comic Ellison worked on or appeared in, it does represent what is arguably his most significant and best remembered four-color work, though unfortunately not all of them remain in print.
Ellison suffered a stroke recently and his fans all hope he has a speedy recovery. And when he feels back to old self again — we can’t wait for the next story he’ll write.
“Avengers” #88, penciled by Sal Buscema, and “The Incredible Hulk” #140, penciled by Herb Trimpe
A two-part tale featuring a story from Ellison, adapted by Roy Thomas. The story starts with “The Summons of Psyklop,” where the Avengers capture the Hulk at the request of the army and end up fighting a villain who shrinks the Hulk to microscopic size, leading directly into the second chapter. The “Hulk” issue was titled “The Brute… That Shouted Love… At the Heart of the Atom,” a shout-out to one of Ellison’s most famous stories, and featured the first appearance of fan-favorite character Jarella. In a very unusual move, Ellison was actually credited on the cover of both issues — in a way most writers today would envy!
“The Night of Thanks But No Thanks”
A Batman story penciled by Gene Colan in “Detective Comics” #567 in 1986. Ellison had promised Julie Schwartz that he would write a Batman story, which Ellison admitted he’d made 15 years earlier. It was the last issue edited by Len Wein before Denny O’Neill took over the Bat-books, and it was the last issue before the Bat-books entered post-Crisis continuity.
“Demon with a Glass Hand”
Originally an episode of “The Outer Limits” (one of the series’ best, for which Ellison won a Writers Guild Award), this adaptation was illustrated by Marshall Rogers and published by DC as part of their short-lived Science Fiction Graphic Novel series, a line of books edited by the late Julie Schwartz, in the mid-’80s.
“Night and the Enemy”
The graphic novel collected a number of stories written by Ellison that appeared in “Epic Illustrated,” all in collaboration with artist Ken Steacy. The tales include including “Sleeping Dogs,” Life Hutch” and “Run for the Stars;” all stories that are set in the same universe as “Demon with a Glass Hand.”
“Phoenix Without Ashes”
IDW Publishing released this book in 2013, adapting Ellison’s original teleplay for the pilot of “The Starlost,” a short-lived television series. Ellison took his name off the production over the many changes made to his script and got the last laugh: The series lasted less than a season, and Ellison won a Writers Guild Award for the original draft of the movie, before it was changed during production.
“The City on the Edge of Forever”
Scott Tipton, David Tipton and JK Woodward have been adapting Ellison’s episode of the original “Star Trek” series into a miniseries at IDW. The Tiptons have won a lot of fans for their “Star Trek” comics, and here they retell Ellison’s story about a doomed love affair and the risk of changing the past. It’s one of the best episodes of a legendary TV show, winning both the Hugo Award and a Writers Guild Award and staying with tens of thousands of fans for years — decades — after they first watched it.
“7 Against Chaos”
A recent graphic novel with art by Paul Chadwick and Ken Steacy, the book is a crazy Ellison take on “Seven Samurai,” as seven individuals try to prevent the breakdown of reality. It owes something to classic science fiction stories and the classic science fiction comics, but it’s also a great tale about tolerance and possibility, presented by way of a group of hated outcasts who are the only hope for humanity’s survival.
“Vic and Blood”
One of Ellison’s most significant comics works, the comic, featuring artwork by Richard Corben — a sci-fi legend in his own right — was based on Ellison’s acclaimed short story “A Boy and His Dog,” which was made into a 1975 film. The story of a young boy and his telepathic dog surviving a post-apocalyptic world, the original short story has been expanded with two related tales, both of which are part of the graphic novel. Ellison has promised to expand the stories into a longer novel, but so far the graphic novel — featuring some of Corben’s best artwork — is the most complete edition of this story cycle available.
“Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor.”
An anthology series published by Dark Horse in the ’90s, “Dream Corridor” featured an all-star lineup of writers and artists adapting a variety of Ellison’s work, including classic tales and a number a number of stories Ellison wrote just for the series. If that doesn’t make the comic sound interesting enough, it also features artwork from Curt Swan, Gene Colan, Doug Wildey, Eric Shanower, Gene Ha, Steve Rude, Gary Gianni, Neal Adams, Richard Corben, Paul Chadwick, Michael T. Gilbert and Phil Foglio — to name just a few of the people who worked on the series.
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