In the grand tradition of radio countdowns, we bring you the Top 13 Beatles Moments in Comics History, running all through BEATLES WEEK:
By JOHN DiBELLO
It was fifty years ago today (more or less) that, on his long-running variety show, Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to an audience of 73 million viewers. With the kickoff of Ringo’s drumbeat, American Beatlemania swung into full fever, and the rollicking, tumultuous, history-changing careers of the Fab Four were off to a roaring start.
The Beatles would go on to conquer not only America and the world but virtually every type of media: radio, television, movies, books, and licensed and bootleg merchandise from the silly to the sublime.
But what about our favorite kind of media here at 13th Dimension? What about … comic books? To paraphrase Lucy Van Pelt, “How can you say someone is great who’s never had his own comic book?”
Fact is, the Beatles have not only had their own comic more than once, they’ve also made cameo appearances in dozens of comic books and graphic novels.
Starting today and running all BEATLES WEEK, we’ll present 13 of the most diverse, most fun, most important Beatles comic books and comics appearances, published all throughout the 50 years between their first American appearance and now.
It’s a Magical Mystery Tour hoping to take you away!
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
13. “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story,” Dark Horse, 2013. Brian Epstein, the original manager of the Fab Four, died in 1967. He never inspired pin-ups in fan magazines or received cheering crowds, but without him, there’d be no Beatles. George Harrison once said of the MBEs awarded the Beatles by Queen Elizabeth in 1965 that the real MBE was “Mister Brian Epstein.”
Brian’s life with the Beatles is retold in an impressively touching and beautiful graphic novel published last year, scripted by Broadway producer Vivek Tiwary (see his BEATLES WEEK intro here). This biography tells a story that’s tragic, spotlighting Brian’s most hidden self: his homosexuality in a country and era where being gay was a crime punishable by imprisonment or worse (consider the chemical castration of mathematician Alan Turing).
“The Fifth Beatle” mixes strong portrayals of its historical figures and serious subject with gorgeous painted art by Andrew Robinson, capturing the energy of Brian’s young charges, scenes that feature muted pastels or brilliant kaleidoscopes of color, and Brian’s reflective hallucinations and imaginings.
Robinson’s deft sense of design turns this into more than simply an illustrated biography: His innovative panel designs across a page spread sweep the reader’s eye along. Despite portraying real personalities, his character design is distinctive, original and fresh, as seen in this hysterically savage portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager:
It would be perhaps too obvious to begin this article with “The Fifth Beatle” because it’s the most recently published book on the list. But more important, it has at its very heart a summation and a synthesis of the Beatles in comic books: comedy, tragedy, real life, fantasy, music and love. It grounds itself in history and opens our eyes to a new side of a worldwide phenomenon; it entertains and affects us at the same time. That’s what the best Beatles comics seem to touch upon, our love for them and their stories, both real and told in song. That’s not too different than being a fan of Spider-Man or Superman.
“Across the Universe”
12. The Skrull Beatles, Marvel, 2007-08. Perhaps the oddest appearance of the Beatles in comic books — certainly the most tied into Marvel continuity — was the appearance of Skrull John Lennon, created by Paul Cornell as an agent of MI-13, the British government’s agency for investigating weird happenings and shutting down superhuman and alien threats.
John the Skrull answered an obvious question about the alien shape-shifter invasion of Marvel-Earth that came to a head in Secret Invasion: Were only Marvel heroes and supporting cast members replaced by Skrull duplicates? Well, no! A quartet of Skrulls were sent to Earth in the 1960s, intended to replace the Beatles, but instead assimilated themselves into the population. Being a Beatle was, even for an alien, just too much fun.
To battle a true British invasion — Martian tripods from “War of the Worlds” — John the Skrull “gets the band back together,” reuniting the Skrull Beatles, all together now.
You can hear the Scouse voices of the real Beatles in Cornell’s clever, quipping dialogue for the Skrulls.
In the end, it’s not a Skrull Yoko that breaks up these Beatles but a company-wide crossover event: A Skrull commander shoots and kills John the Skrull during the events of Secret Invasion.
Other Marvel comics like Runaways and Young Avengers have featured sympathetic, heroic Skrulls as cast members, but John the Skrull is my favorite. He’s an innovative creation: a logical conclusion to the Beatles’ appearance in a Strange Tales comic from Marvel (more on that this week!), and a loving parable that not only fits neatly into continuity but elicits a tear on the passing of a fictional character. Was it just a dream? It seemed so real to me.
“Our friends are all aboard”
11. Yellow Submarine, Western/Gold Key, 1968. Gold Key, the comics imprint of Western Printing and Lithography that followed their split with Dell, published much the same menu of licensed TV and movie characters adapted to comics form. An exception: There has never been a comic based on the 1960s ABC-TV Beatles cartoon show. In 1968, though, The Beatles appeared in animated form in Gold Key’s adaptation of their colorful, psychedelic “Yellow Submarine” animated movie.
Even if you’ve memorized the Yellow Submarine movie from “Once upon a time” to “There’s only one way to go out … singing!” and back again, this comic is quite a surprise. The adaptation’s art deftly mimicked the mod design style of the film’s creative director Heinz Edelmann, but the story was based on a quite early draft of the film script. Many scenes in the comic do not appear in the movie, and, while they display a similar charm, aren’t as polished and witty as the final product.
The comic even includes characters and Beatles musical numbers that didn’t make it into the finished film.
The “Yellow Submarine” movie and comic have a curious modern-day epilogue: Both were scheduled to be remade … and both were cancelled. Director Robert Zemeckis announced a motion-capture remake of the movie in 2009, but three years later Disney cancelled the project (that sigh of relief you heard from millions of Beatlemaniacs around the world included mine).
Less well-known is a proposed new comic adaptation by Bill Morrison for Dark Horse. After completing almost half of the comic, Apple Records’ merchandising department cancelled the remake comic — a potential Beatles comic book swallowed up into the Sea of Holes.
Tomorrow: The countdown continues, with 10 through 8, including some comics from the ’60s … and the ’90s!
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