Dark Horse Comics entered its second year more than quadrupling its output.
Dark Horse Comics’ flagship title Dark Horse Presents, nominated for a 1987 Kirby Award, continued to draw in more established creators like Paul Gulacy, who had been doing work for Marvel and DC for years, and had success with his own Six From Sirius mini-series. He was the first guest artist to provide covers, but no interior work. The anthology was also becoming a good venue for creators to stretch their wings when elsewhere they were typically pigeon-holed into one job. John Workman, who was working regularly as a letterer and occasionally as a colorist for DC and Marvel, and had already done some lettering work for Dark Horse’s first issues, wrote and illustrated Roma. Steve Mattson had done some work for Eclipse Comics before coloring Dark Horse’s earliest releases. He got to write and illustrate his own features, first Doc Abstruse and then the Vitruvian Man. Mark Badger of American Flagg fame returned after his collaboration with J.M. DeMatteis in Dark Horse Presents #2 from the previous year. In DHP #10, he contributed the first appearance of The Masque. Co-created with Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, the character would be altered two years later by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke into The Mask, and would later be adapted into a successful 1994 film starring Jim Carrey.
Dark Horse’s second comic (and first monthly series) Boris the Bear continued to satirize comics and pop culture with riffs on Batman, ElfQuest, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (again), G.I. Joe, Rambo, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Jim Bradrick’s Wacky Squirrel became a semi-regular back-up feature in the comic. But by early summer, new issues stopped coming out. Colorized versions of the first three issues were released, perhaps as a stop-gap. Several months passed before the twelfth issue was finally released, and then the series, which had been largely written or co-written with Mike Richardson, left Dark Horse and struck out on its own. A month later, Boris the Bear #13 was released by Nicotat Comics with Steve Mattson assisting Smith on script. The series continued under Nicotat until 1991 and then vanished into obscurity.
Despite the loss of Boris the Bear, a new comic’s arrival earlier in the year would eclipse Boris in both popularity and acclaim. Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, starring the character of the same name who had debuted in the very first issue of Dark Horse Presents, broke out in his own series while still showing up in DCP. The title was Dark Horse’s first milestone title and went on to win critical acclaim and numerous industry award nominations. The property continues to garner respectable sales in collected editions and new mini-series.
Ron Randall’s Trekker also graduated from the pages of Dark Horse Presents for a 6-issue limited series. A one-shot would follow in 1989 and then become all-but forgotten. This however was only the beginning of Randall’s collaboration with Dark Horse.
The American was a brand-new property from the mind of Mark Verheiden. Virtually unknown at the time, Verheiden would go on to be a successful Hollywood screenwriter and producer for the hit TV series “Smallville” and (the new) “Battlestar Galactica”. He would also write comics for DC Comics and return to Dark Horse on several occasions. While the 8-issue series did spawn a one-shot follow-up and a sequel mini-series in the 1990s, it has mostly faded away.
Mecha was one of Dark Horse’s earliest full-color comics. Visually reminiscent of cartoons such as “Robotech,” “Voltron” and “Battle of the Planets,” the comic could arguably claim the distinction of being Dark Horse’s first manga-esque comic. Dark Horse would eventually have great success in translating Japanese manga for North American audiences, essentially predicting the great manga influx of material beginning circa 2002.
The Book of Night was a 3-issue mini-series primarily consisting of reprinted short stories from Epic Illustrated by the fantasy and comic book illustrator Charles Vess. Each cover warned “Suggested for Mature Readers,” a first for the young publisher.
It was clear that Dark Horse was beginning to diversify their line-up. Another strong sign of the things to come for the publisher was the acquisition of the Godzilla license, which no doubt helped them land future high-profile and profitable licenses like Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more. A special one-shot was released with some of the most high-profile and acclaimed names in comics at the time, like Steve Bissette, Alan Moore, Keith Giffen, Rick Geary, Charles Vess and others.
Another expansion was a reprint one-shot of old sci-fi comics from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Basil Wolverton’s Planet of Terror contained stories by the influential illustrator from comics originally published by Marvel Comics and Key Publications. The comic included a cover by Alan Moore. Wolverton was a highly regarded artist whose work was later collected and celebrated by notable publishers such as Fantagraphics Books, but Dark Horse Comics was one of the first. Wolverton, who died in 1978, was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2000. Dark Horse followed up this reprint with several others reprint projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as a series of prestige busts modeled after Wolverton’s unique illustrations.
Dark Horse Comics appeared to be doing well enough, but a break-out hit was needed.