It should not come as any surprise that Disney decided not to renew Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars license when it came up for option this year, but somehow a fair portion of the internet was caught off guard. I never even thought that there was a chance Dark Horse would get to keep the license — not when Disney owns Marvel Comics — but it looks like a number of people thought that somehow the House of Mouse would give up the opportunity to control their own properties. Given that Disney is one of the most notorious companies out there when it comes to guarding their intellectual property I cannot imagine how this idea was even considered. Dark Horse clearly did not think there was any chance they would keep the Star Wars license since they have spent the last year bolstering their library of licensed material, with a good eye towards the sci-fi genre.
While Star Wars leaving their stable will certainly be a blow, Dark Horse is not particularly lacking in good science fiction material. Firefly, Halo and Mass Effect all call Dark Horse home these days (and Halo used to be under Marvel’s publication banner, at that), and some other fan favorites like Buffy and Avatar: The Last Airbender are getting some really good material from Dark Horse. They also publish Hellboy and Sin City, which both have had relatively successful films, and a number of other well received properties. Dark Horse still has cards up their sleeve, and they obviously have been planning for the loss of Star Wars for the past year. They will lose sales, certainly, but they have certainly survived worse.
The bigger question remains of what will happen to the current Star Wars comics. Almost certainly Marvel will not miss the opportunity to release a whole range of new #1 issues, so all of the series will be cancelled. But what of the creative teams? Haden Blackman, John Ostrander and Jan Duursema (as well as others) have been crafting Star Wars tales for more than a decade now and know the property inside and out. Brian Wood recently joined the Star Wars team with his well received book set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and he is relatively well known in comics circles so he may be given a new book to write under the Marvel banner. The others, despite their years of experience, I strongly suspect will be replaced by some of Marvel’s in-house crew. Which is disappointing, but that is just the way business works. John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, who have worked together for a long time now on Star Wars, may team up for a creator-owned book or be shifted over to one of the other Dark Horse properties. At least I hope so, since I love their combined talent. As for the others? I have no clue, but I believe they will find their feet on new books, either at Dark Horse or elsewhere.
The other remaining question is what will happen to the back catalog of books? Dark Horse has published a fairly extensive array of Star Wars comics since they acquired the license all those years ago, and it would be a shame to see them go out of print. I am sure there is something in their contract which accounts for this, but the details are unknown to us watching from the sidelines. I imagine most of the books will remain in print, but whether under the Dark Horse logo or the Marvel one is the underlying question. The old Marvel books from the 70s and 80s that Dark Horse gained the reprinting rights to a while back will probably revert back to Marvel, but the new catalog material is another matter. This is simply one of those “time will tell” situations, unfortunately.
Dark Horse losing the license at the end of 2014 will mark the end of an era for Star Wars, but that is not always a bad thing. With Disney having more direct control over the series we may see a much stronger focus on the comics with the heroes that we love, and less on random characters we have no connection with (which is both good and bad, I enjoyed the Knight Errant comics, but felt it lacked any weight since we did not know any of the characters). I expect we will see 2015 start with a massive push by Marvel and Disney with some big name comic creators taking the helm. That is a year off, though, and Dark Horse has until then to wow us with whatever they have left. We shall see what they have in store for Star Wars, and for us.