What Happened to the Gold Key Universe?

Secret Origins

So, I don’t have a ton of past experience with this line before. I didn’t read any of the Gold Key stuff back when Valiant had the properties or before that, even. I only knew of Turok from the videogames before Dynamite Comics relaunched the titles in 2013. As of this writing, I haven’t read the Dark Horse stuff with Jim Shooter because I read digitally on ComiXology and it’s been pulled. I’ll have to find those physically someday.

My first foray into these characters in the comics is with the 2013 relaunch from Dynamite. I read Fred Van Lente’s Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 and loved it. I generally like Van Lente’s work so it was no surprise, I had loved his Hercules stuff up to that point too. So, I wasn’t too familiar with Solar, Turok, Samson, and Doctor Spektor, or any of their other properties up to that point. Of course, the situation got pretty confusing after a couple of years with all of the vying continuities.


Magnus: Robot Fighter

Back in 2014, Dynamite got the Gold Key properties and launched Magnus: Robot Fighter. It was cool. From what I know of the old stuff, it took all that stuff, spun it in a different direction, and created a really interesting world. I liked the characters and the setting, excited for more in the Magnus World. Unfortunately, the ending gets wrapped up pretty quickly and a little sloppily as the art starts to change hands.


Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

The other series to return immediately was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Written by Greg Pak, this was an awesome new take on the Turok property. A Native American witnessing the arrival of Europeans in North America… except they have dinosaurs! Loved the early issues. That first trade, Conquest, was awesome. The second one, West, wasn’t as good, it felt like it was starting to lose itself a bit. And then the third, Raptor Forest, totally lost the plot and went in a direction that sounds interesting on paper, but was horrible in execution. It ultimately ended with a whimper.


Solar and Spektor

Solar: Man of the Atom fared better than the other two. Even though it wrapped up fairly quickly in its third volume, Eclipse, it wasn’t bad. There was buildup to the conclusion, it just seemed more condensed than originally planned. Unlike the first two series, it actually holds up fairly well. Doctor Spektor though, I felt similar to Magnus and Turok: It fell apart in the second half. Considering it was a six-issue mini-series, we didn’t get much good stuff. Doctor Spektor has a great concept going in the first two issues, then a cooler concept in the next two, and then, takes a step too far in the last two issues.


Un-Conclusion

Ultimately, we’ve all seen the rushed wrap on a series before. You know, you’re reading a series you really like (let’s just go with Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, because it still doesn’t sit well with me to this day) and the company wants to go in a different direction. And, they don’t really want these creatives on the new chapter, so the current guard has to wrap it all up asap and get the hell out of the way. Except, the artist has been switched onto a high profile series because a great writer can write multiple books, but a great penciler can usually only handle one series at a time.

So, this series that you’ve been enjoying changes. You can immediately see their hearts aren’t into it anymore because they can’t be. They have to let this one go, just get it done and try to get us a sense of finality. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, Tim Seeley and Tom King’s Grayson, Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four/FF stuff. You see it all the time with the big two, not as much with the smaller publishers though. And that’s what happened here with Gold Key. My only question was why?


Gold Key Alliance

The answer, at least, I think, was Gold Key Alliance. A new mini-series featuring ALL of the Gold Key main characters in one book. Magnus, Turok, Solar, Doctor Spektor, and Samson. I like Phil Hester and Brent Peeples, I liked the concept. And I really liked the book too. But, this is where things get confusing…

In Gold Key Alliance, we have new versions of these characters. Magnus operates in present times, dinosaurs live on reservations and Turok protects them from poachers (and vice-versa), Solar is a girl in Africa discovering her powers, etc. It was cool to see new directions and different takes. The series concludes with all versions of these characters from across the Multiverse banding together to beat a villain. And they end up getting all the alternates killed except for a few leftovers, those are our Gold Key characters left.

So, my question is this: why did we have to wrap up the original 3 series quickly, and dispense with those worlds if this is one of ‘those out-of-continuity/all-continuities’? We’re all pretty familiar with this concept in superhero comics at this point. They don’t need to exist in the same realm, I can read Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and read Gold Key Alliance and keep in mind that they are separate entities, no need to cancel anything. Unless sales were the real factor here.


Boom Goes the Budget

Alright, so looking at the estimated sales for Magnus: Robot Fighter #1, I found the number at 27,497 for the month, coming in at 77. That doesn’t sound bad for a Dynamite title, they are far from the top of the food chain here. Cracking the Top 100 when Marvel puts out nearly a hundred titles monthly and at the time, DC was committed to having 52 ongoing series running at all times, not factoring minis, one-shots, and digital series. Then, we have Image, Dark Horse, IDW, BOOM!, etc.

Looking a couple of months ahead, Magnus: Robot Fighter #5 has already dropped to 7,205. We all know the decrease from a #1 issue is pretty steep in the comic world, that’s no surprise. But, looking at Dynamite’s other titles, a lot of their major properties like Red Sonja and Vampirella fall into these numbers around this time too, some fluctuate, but Dynamite is pretty low on the sales totem pole. I don’t know what their cancellation line is, perhaps I’m seeing Red Sonja and Vampirella at a time where they felt a new direction was needed and were getting ready to relaunch as well.

The alternative would’ve been to start with Gold Key Alliance, let it reboot the universe, and then we continue with all of these ongoing series’ and see how far we can take them. Let them breathe actually, I’m down for a handful of maxi-series, but the writing didn’t seem to fit the timeline. I never felt that Magnus was shooting for just 12 issues. Turok seemed to get pretty messy after the first arc, leading me to believe that the development was rushed and Greg Pak just pushed through future storylines he wanted to get through immediately, just to finish. Because, if you’ve read Greg Pak’s Hulk work, he can game plan for long stretches. So can Fred Van Lente (Hercules) and Frank Barbiere (Transformers).

A missed opportunity there, to create an in-universe explanation for the new rebooted universe since they planned on doing that story anyway. But don’t worry, Dynamite decided to capitalize on that idea anyway!


Sovereign State

We are treated to a reboot of the Gold Key Universe for a third time already! Now, it’s called The Sovereigns where the main characters are once again re-imagined in a new universe. Oh, and guess what’s happening this time? A huge threat that takes them out one-by-one until Magnus sacrifices himself to do what? Change time and create a new GOLD KEY UNIVERSE!

Now, I don’t want to scream and shout like this is terrible. I actually really liked The Sovereigns. It was cool to see Magnus, Turok, Spektor, and Solar at the end of their adventures, older, wiser, and having to face their demons. It was written pretty well*. And Samson had a really cool new direction.

*(Except for, I swear to God, Ray Fawkes only being able to write a vague, faceless thought for a villain every damn time so you’re never 100% sure what the threat is or how it can be defeated. I like that sometimes, but it seems to be his go-to in superhero stuff)*


The New World

That being said, it is frustrating to go through this again. I’m now on my fourth version of these characters just with Dynamite so far. We get a new version of Magnus, female this time. A new version of Turok, black and not actually Turok, but a guy who has lost his memories and remembers the title of his daughter’s comic book. A new version of Doctor Spektor, called Doc Spektor, who is now a hipster-magician (if this becomes a thing…) and more like Hellblazer if John Constantine was stuck in the Ugly Americans universe. There might’ve been one more that I’m currently forgetting, but there’s a very good reason why I might have a hard time remembering some of this stuff.

That would be because Dynamite decided that during The Sovereigns, you know, the comic book that reboots the universe at the end? Yeah, during that, they start doing back-ups in the back of the book for Magnus and Turok! It’s too early guys, we haven’t even seen what happens to The Sovereigns-version of Magnus and Turok. Well, spoiler, they don’t make it, right? Then, Turok and Doc Spektor are pushed around as back-ups all over multiple titles. Seriously, the reading order for Doc Spektor is a headache and a half.

I thought Magnus was really good. I usually like Kyle Higgins, so I can’t complain there. Turok, I liked in theory. And I even liked at times, but it isn’t all that great. I enjoy the idea of it, now that I’m not reading it and appreciate how far in the opposite direction it went of normal Turok stories. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Lost Valley is a wormhole dump, full of stuff from different planets, time periods, dimensions, and Turok has to find his daughter in this crazy world. Not a very engaging read, but an interesting concept worth exploring. It wrapped up a little too quickly, but whatever.

Doc Spektor, on the other hand, was not good. I think Aubrey Sitterson can be… immature. In the Sovereigns trade, there are interviews with the creative teams for the new upcoming books, and Sitterson just comes off as a know-it-all. He comes off as that guy that thinks he’s a lot smarter than you because he read a Wikipedia article about something five minutes before he came into the party. And the book reflects that. I guess I like Doc Spektor in theory? It’s Girls with Magic. Except it’s a guy. So Guys? Magic Guys? We’re pretty close to it just being Magic Mike at this point.


Return to the Abyss

And then poof! Those series were done as well. The grand Gold Key experiment failed. They designed these ones to be comprised of mini-series and back-ups rather than going all-in on an ongoing series, which seems to be Dynamite’s MO these days. And I dig it. If their sales are saying they aren’t making much past issue #5 or #6, why create any further than that? Obviously, we the fans would enjoy more content, but it’s a business, and Dynamite doesn’t have the positioning to let darlings ride longer despite sagging sales (Omega Men).

I think the Back-Ups were a huge mistake. I honestly hate reading back-ups because it’s hard to engage for just 8-pages, or however long, if it’s a serial story. I can get down with 8-page shorts, in a more anthology-style. That’d be cool. But, the 8-page serials that float between three different titles doesn’t work for me. Reading Doc Spektor was such a chore, for a story that wasn’t to my liking in the first place, that I’m not surprised that helped sink that last attempt at a Gold Key universe. But, it’s not like Dynamite has gained traction with the KING properties either. I don’t even think they have them anymore considering I can’t find any of them on ComiXology anymore. I’ll talk about my opinions on the KING stuff later though.


The New, NEW World

To add one last layer of an upside-down smiley face of a story, Turok had a new mini-series this past year. And you guessed it, all-new continuity. Once again, a pretty cool idea. Turok in the old west, fighting white soldiers come to kill him and his brother, but get trapped in the Lost Valley. Ron Marz writing, Roberto Castro on art. I enjoyed it. But, I’ll give you a prize if you can figure out what happens towards the end. If you guessed, multiversal interference, you win.

Yes, in the end, Turok teams up with all different versions of Turok. Which would be cool, if we hadn’t just done this in Gold Key Alliance a few years ago. How much more confusing can this get? We have had four different continuities at this point, two different multiverse/universe-shattering stories, and this mini-series adds one more to each column. Now, what would be cool, is if Dynamite just reimagines the Gold Key characters every so often. And I don’t mean keep doing a new initiative. It’s just that maybe in 2021, a Solar mini-series drops that is comedic. Maybe, a Doctor Spektor zombie comic, or a Samson book?


A Reboot Too Far

I’m done with giant relaunches and I think Dynamite realizes that they’ve missed the boat. They tried a first big push, but I think they gave up on it too fast. Perhaps they pulled the plug because they knew they were losing those creative teams or the expenses were higher than we realize and they couldn’t afford to keep them going. I haven’t run into any information like that online. They probably should’ve started with Gold Key Alliance to refresh everyone on the characters, then give us ongoings to follow along with.

Perhaps they rebooted too quickly with The Sovereigns. Seriously, it felt quicker than the jump from Spider-Man 3 to The Amazing Spider-Man, which felt like record time to reboot a franchise. And, they definitely messed up with the back-ups thing. I don’t think modern audiences necessarily love them in the first place, let alone considering the price adjustment to allot for them on books that already need to be budget books for a company with a tighter budget.


Remember Gold Key Comics? Me Neither

Which leads to my question now: What is Dynamite doing with Gold Key? We just don’t know. A new Turok mini came out. I liked it. When can I expect- Oh, no idea? I guess they’re still trying to figure it out. Seven years later. If the plan is to just do random, unaffiliated minis like this one? I’m really cool with that, these settings don’t necessarily mesh so it works perfectly to do something like this. But, it’s weird when we don’t really know what’s up, considering how many times Dynamite has tried to create a new superhero universe with these big-name titles.

Maybe they needed to release something to keep the licenses? Maybe Ron Marz just pitched something they actually liked and have no idea what to do with these titles and just tossed him a bone. Maybe all of these things, but I definitely don’t think Dynamite has any idea what they are doing with the Gold Key universe. And that’s disappointing.

Maybe Dark Horse could do better? Or someone else? Because, while Dynamite has put out some (resist the pun) stellar stuff with these titles, they haven’t figured out how to make it work. Or how to make it work to their advantage yet. Maybe someone else could do it better. I hope someone figures it out.


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