Next month will mark the two year anniversary of Dynamite Entertainment acquiring the rights to the Chaos! Comics library of characters (with the notable exception of Lady Death). For two years now Dynamite has sat on these characters while churning out books based on numerous other properties, including Vampirella, The Green Hornet, Robocop, Zorro, various public domain superheroes (Project Superpowers), Jack Kirby’s creator owned properties (Kirby: Genesis), John Carter, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, the list goes on and on, more than I can honestly remember. Not that I’m begrudging Dynamite publishing these books, they’re obviously doing well enough to keep going, and I’ve enjoyed some of their titles.
However, I cannot believe that Dynamite would expend the time and money required to purchase the rights to what was at one time a top ten publisher and hot property (Chaos! was a leading runner in the “bad girl” craze of the 90’s and a forerunner in the popularity of zombie comics, Evil Ernie was zombie before zombies were cool. . .) only to sit on them. (for the same reasons, I cannot fathom why Todd Mcfarlane continues to sit on the Eclipse properties, Miracle/Marvelman is the only one that possesses legal entanglements.)
At it’s height, Chaos! employed a surprising (to some) mix of creators ranging from outlaws such as Hart Fisher, David Quinn, Philip Nutman, to more mainstream creators such as Peter David, Beau Smith, Steven Grant, Joe Jusko, to lesser knowns who would go on to make names for themselves such as Jerry Beck, Kyle Hotz, Marc Andreyko, Joshua Dysart, and others. One of the shining stars of Chaos! was co-founder and lead illustrator Steven Hughes. Hughes was present from the first Evil Ernie mini series in 1991-92 (originally published by Malibu), up until his last completed work for Chaos! in 1999. Hughes passed away from cancer in Feb. of 2000. Hughes was very much the Jack Kirby of Chaos!, taking writer/co-creator Brian Pulido’s rough character sketches and fleshing them out and bringing them to life in a unique manner. The artistic and personal loss of Hughes was something that the original Chaos! never quite recovered from.
A series of poor business decisions and declining quality of books caused Chaos! to declare bankruptcy and go out of business in 2002. Lady Death was sold to CrossGen (who would later also declare bankruptcy) and then later to creator Brian Pulido, who continues writing the character at Avatar, under their Boundless imprint. The rest of the Chaos! properties were sold to a company called Tales of Wonder, who licensed them out to Devil’s Due Publishing (also now bankrupt. . .hmm), before the sale to Dynamite.
The Chaos! characters in their original incarnations were vibrant and alive, and had an attitude in an era when a lot of mainstream characters were either going through the motions or being put through extreme makeovers in desperate attempts to boost sales. Chaos! books appealed to a crowd outside of the normative comics geek and closer to the heavy metal/punk/hardcore/etc. rock audience. They tapped into a crowd outside of the normal comics readership and that is something largely forgotten now. This is something that Dynamite needs to take into account when it decides to revive the brand. Chaos! had an attitude and was it’s best when it was a small family of books that connected to each other (similar to early Marvel in the 60’s). The secret to a successful Chaos! revival will be partly in having that attitude and the creators involved should share it and revel in it. True to their name, Chaos! broke the mold and reformed it in their own image. It can be done again. The gauntlet is thrown. Let’s see if Dynamite is up to the challenge.