Comics based on toys are not a new thing, but they do seem to be enjoying a moment right now, with the likes of Skybound's Energon Universe line and the upcoming NacelleVerse titles from Oni Press generating both buzz and sales.
The latest comic spawned from a toyline is the new ThunderCats book, which launched this week from Dynamite and is currently flying high on the back of strong pre-order numbers. Written by Declan Shalvey, drawn by Drew Moss, with lettering from Jeff Eckleberry, it retells the origins of '80s animated icons the ThunderCats as the feline warriors of planet Thundera flee their dying home world and make a new base of operations on the mysterious Third Earth. Let's dig into what's new and different about this version of the tale...
Spoilers for ThunderCats #1
On the surface at least, the first issue is an adaptation of the animated series' first two episodes, 'Exodus' and 'The Unholy Alliance', albeit in a remixed form.
Shalvey's script speeds some things up considerably, condenses some key moments, and throws in a few brand new scenes. The original 'Exodus' episode, for example, is almost entirely set on the ThunderCats' ship as they flee Thundera and are attacked by the mutants of Plun-Darr. Lion-O grows from a youngster to the self-proclaimed Lord of the ThunderCats, while also learning about the powers of the Sword of Omens before the ship finally lands on Third Earth.
In the comic, much of that action takes place on the very first page! An opening spread reveals the line-up of characters as they exit the ship, and Lion-O is very much already an adult, a product of a malfunction in his "Stasis Pod".
That's an interesting wrinkle in the lore. In the animated show, the Stasis Pods are Suspension Capsules, and it's a known fact that while they slow ageing considerably, they don't entirely prevent it. In the comic, however, it's a problem with the Pods that causes the ageing, forcing Lion-O to have to get to grips with the fact that he's been suddenly and permanently Big-d.
The rest of the issue takes place on Third Earth as this more troubled Lion-O begins training in the hope that he will prove worthy to wield the Sword of Omens (in the animated series it is simply presented to him by the previous ThunderCats leader, Jaga). He takes it out into the field and when some of the mutants who have followed them to Third Earth attack, he knows exactly what he needs to do...
You didn't think the first issue would go without a big, "Thunder. Thunder! Thunder! ThunderCats Hooooooo!" moment did ya?
Meanwhile, in the Desert of the Sinking Sands, an ancient evil is awakening, seemingly activated by the power of the Sword of Omens. Yes, it's everyone's favorite wrinkly boy Mumm-ra, though he doesn't, in this issue at least, make an alliance with the mutants as in the cartoon's second episode. That will likely come later in the run.
Another interesting change here is that Mumm-ra clearly has some past connection to Thundera and specifically to Jaga, who appears to him as a phantom towards the end of the issue.
These changes make it clear that while the new ThunderCats is sticking close to the spirit of the original animated series, it's also prioritising personal moments and hopefully a slightly deeper characterization for its leads. The idea that Lion-O is, emotionally at least, still young and untested is occasionally touched on in the cartoon, but there's the potential to really dig into and explore what that actually means here.
Drew Moss's art, meanwhile, strikes a fine balance between the comicy and the cartoony. The characters are all instantly recognizable, the necessary updates to their costumes sensibly handled. This feels like the original ThunderCats but through a slightly more modern lens. It's not a ground-up reinvention then - it didn't need to be one - but it's a promising start to a comic that could turn out to be a whole lot of fun.
ThunderCats #1 is out now from Dynamite.
After more comics based on toys? Check out our interview with Daniel Warren Johnson about Skybound's Transformers.