When Disney acquired Marvel back in 2009, there was a lot of speculation as to what it would mean for both companies. Would superheroes be found at Disney parks? (Yes, though mostly at Disneyland.) Would Marvel movies now include musical numbers? (Probably not.) Was Mickey Mouse going to join the Avengers?!? (I would pay to see that.)
One really cool thing that has happened since the merger is the creation of the Disney Kingdoms line of comic books. Published by Marvel, these comics expand upon the stories of characters and attractions from within the Disney universe.
Each of the Disney Kingdoms stories are presented as mini-series, usually five issues released monthly. Generally, after the run is concluded, a book collecting all of the issues will be released. So if you don’t want to go hunting down individual back issues of a series after it’s done, waiting for the collection is (usually) an option.
The question is, are these comics any good? Here’s a look at the series that have happened so far, one that’s still happening now, and a glance at some of the other Disney-related comic books that are out there.
The Figment comic book series stars Dreamfinder and his companion–it’s an origin story of sorts. At its start, Dreamfinder is just an imaginative scientist with an overbearing boss and Figment hasn’t even been thought up yet, but not long into the first issue we finally get to meet the titular purple dragon, and the young scientist becomes the character we know and love from the EPCOT Center days. Over the course of the five issues, the duo meet other strange creatures on their adventures, and all sorts of hijinks ensue. Imagination, of course, is a prevalent theme throughout.
The setting has a sort of steampunk vibe, and the story is really weird but a lot of fun. It’s a bit of a stretch at first to mentally mesh the idea of the cheerful bearded gent from the old Journey Into Imagination ride and this adventurous young scientist, but it’s also cool to get a look into the backgrounds of beloved characters and expand upon their stories. There are, of course, some references to the ride tossed into the mix as well, but the series has less to do with anything EPCOT-related and is more just a romp through a fantasy world. With robots.
What’s exciting about this series, in addition to it just being a fun story, is the fact that it stars Dreamfinder and Figment. These characters still have a pretty faithful cult following, despite Dreamfinder not being a part of EPCOT for years (Figment was all but cut for a while too, but has been reincorporated into the newest iteration of Journey Into Imagination and some of the special festivals). Hopefully this means that there’s still interest in them on the Disney side of things, and maybe the popularity of the comics will prove that there’s still definitely still a lot of love for them from the fans.
As the name suggests, this five-issue series is a direct continuation of the original Figment comics. Dreamfinder and Figment now find themselves in a future version of Florida and at a scientific academy created in their legacy. Not long after arriving, they embark upon another adventure.
In all honesty, I liked this series a bit more than the first. It’s more focused on the power of imagination, and the fact that the academy looks suspiciously like the glass pyramids of Journey Into Imagination is another (very much appreciated) nod to the EPCOT Center roots of the characters. This series was darker, with our heroes going up against the Doubtfinder–essentially the opposite of Dreamfinder. The story focuses a bit more on Figment this time around, as well as introducing Dreamfinder’s niece and her own created-by-imagination companion. If Disney ever opted to push this Dreamfinder/Figment character “reboot” further I could see her being a big part of that.
Whereas the first Figment series was a big adventure through a strange realm and in a steampunk-inspired London (plus robots), the second run was in many ways smaller in scale and focused more on the characters and their emotions. Plus, there were brainwashed schoolchildren being used as mindless pawns by the villain, which is always a good time.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Old West, bandits, trains, and a mine full of gold. Hang on to your hats and glasses…
This five-issue series centers around a small frontier gold mine in the town of Rainbow Ridge (which, incidentally, is the name of the Frontierland town in Disneyland). Abigail Bullion, the headstrong daughter of the mine’s owner, gets tangled up in an adventure that includes bandits and gunfights and–of course–runaway mine trains. The story is more or less a straightforward Old West tale, with some mystical aspects thrown in as the mountain itself appears to create hazards for the miners as they dig deeper into the rock.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a pretty good Old-West tale. The lead characters are fun, the writing is entertaining, and the story is exciting. There are even a few good references to the attraction thrown in (including a brief appearance by everyone’s favorite T-rex skeleton).
Interestingly, when I first read the series I thought it was good but that it was only loosely associated with the ride. Take out the name “Big Thunder Mountain” and it seemed to me like just a Western yarn with some mystical stuff tossed in, with really nothing Disney-related about it. Then I did a bit of research and learned a lot more about the story that the comics tell and how much they really have to do with the roller coaster beyond just the name. In 2012, Disney created a new backstory for the Magic Kingdom version of the ride that unveiled the mine’s owner, Barnabas T. Bullion, who is Abigail’s father in the comic series. In the ride’s “plussed” story, Barnabas comes from a rich East Coast family but went West with the gold rush. However, the mountain appears to be very protective of its gold, and disasters (which locals claim are supernatural) plague the venture. All of this plays heavily into the comic, which makes the series essentially a telling of the ride’s updated story. That really upped my appreciation for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The Haunted Mansion
In The Haunted Mansion, a young man named Danny enters a haunted house to find his late grandfather’s spirit and save it from being trapped there forever. Along the way he meets a variety of grim grinning ghosts and some less-than-happy haunts.
OK, full disclosure: the Haunted Mansion is one of my all-time favorite Disney attractions. So going into this comic series I was very excited, but also knew I’d probably be more critical of it than any of the others simply because I wanted it done right. Fortunately, The Haunted Mansion was exceptional. From the very first page it not only sets up the story but makes it clear that the writers are fans of the attraction, and there are some clever nods that people who know their Haunted Mansion history will really appreciate. Many of the characters who inhabit the attraction–Madame Leota, Constance Hatchaway, the hitchhiking ghosts, and Pickwick–all play into the tale, as do familiar settings like the swinging wake and the attic.
The core of the story is about young Danny and him having courage and facing his fears, taking place in a haunted house with a pirate ghost, a bride with a penchant for beheadings, and a spirit in a crystal ball. I never felt like the story was too focused on just Danny or just the ghosts, and the fan service is great but never gets too over the top. Someone “in the know” on a lot of the Haunted Mansion lore will definitely find a lot of references peppered throughout the narrative, but they never derail things or cause any confusion. You don’t have to have ever been on the ride to follow and enjoy the story.
I think that The Haunted Mansion is my favorite of the Disney Kingdoms series thus far, and not just because it’s based on my favorite attraction. It really hits this great balance between the new tale they wanted to tell and being true to the ride’s story, with plenty of references to the ride rolled up into a pretty cool adventure.
The Enchanted Tiki Room
There’s an uncharted tropical island, inhabited by singing birds and Tiki gods. People are brought to the island to find what it is they truly seek. The comic series follows the stories of one particular group: an old Hollywood starlet trying to regain her lost glory days, a young man recently single hoping to sort out his feelings, and a rich family who believe that money is the answer to everything. A mysterious girl shows up, a selfish employee causes trouble, the birds sing words, the flowers croon, and Orange Bird randomly shows up now and again. Also, there’s a volcano.
The Enchanted Tiki Room is my least favorite of the current Disney Kingdoms offerings. I never connected with any of the characters, for starters. I found the humans annoying, and while that may be the point early on I never got invested enough in their story arcs to care about what happened to them as they developed. The birds themselves, the focus of the attraction, were just supporting characters and I wasn’t really enthused about their narrative either. Also, since the series tried to be an ensemble piece and bounced around between so many characters I didn’t feel like it was really able to highlight anybody’s journey well. Truth be told, I found Orange Bird’s appearances to be the best part of the series.
The Enchanted Tiki Room had its moments, and it was hardly terrible, but I didn’t get into it nearly as much as the other comics. Had it brought the birds and the Tiki gods into it more, maybe just focusing on a couple of the humans (like the rich family and the obnoxious employee, my fave of the story arcs) it could have felt more like it was a part of the attraction’s mythology. It was fun at times, but when comparing it to the other Disney Kingdoms comics I just can’t say it holds up as well.
Seekers of the Weird
A pair of siblings embark upon an adventure to save their kidnapped parents, a quest that takes them into the bizarre Museum of the Weird. Along the way, they team up with their uncle Roland (see what they did there?) and battle some supernatural foes.
Seekers of the Weird is based upon an attraction that never happened. Called the “Museum of the Weird” and designed largely by Imagineer Roland “Rolly” Crump, it was going to be a walking tour through some of the strangest things you could ever imagine. Now only concept art exists as well as some descriptions of what had been planned for the attraction, which was going to be a part of (what became) the Haunted Mansion. The comic series takes this concept art and brings it to life, as many pieces of Rolly’s art become a part of the story in some way. So just for that, just for the glimpse of what could have been and for incorporating this Disney history, Seekers of the Weird is pretty cool.
It’s also a fun adventure tale with entertaining characters and a plot that takes some neat twists and turns as it plays out. It moves pretty quickly, sometimes almost too fast as they try to cram as much into each issue as possible, but it’s never hard to follow. The main characters of the boy and the girl are a bit archetype-y in their personalities and their journeys in that you’ve got one really into books, one really into sports, and then they learn the value of each other’s pursuits along the way (with help from the gruff-but-well-meaning uncle who guides them), but it works in this setting. Their search through the Museum of the Weird is the real focus of the tale, and in that sense it’s a success and well worth reading.
As an addendum to all of this, there’s more Disney in the comic world than just what Marvel has been releasing. IDW Publishing releases a handful of different titles, generally focused on specific classic Disney characters. If you’re looking for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck stories, for example, you’d want to check out IDW’s offerings. They release semi-regular issues of the Mickey and Donald comics, and they also occasionally put out a mini-series like Donald Quest (which dropped the classic characters into a medieval adventure). You can also find some Disney comics published by Joe Books–they put out the (sadly short lived) Darkwing Duck series and they’ve been releasing a Pirates of the Caribbean line based on the movie franchise. They’ve also done a princess series, as well as one based on Frozen. Finally, Disney Comics released a Space Mountain graphic novel a few years back, a weird sci-fi adventure in which a group of school kids from the future travel through time on an adventure. When it came out in 2014, word was that it was intended as a trilogy, but I haven’t seen anything about subsequent releases.
Marvel has been doing some great things with the Disney Kingdoms line, and beyond that there are a bunch of other options out there if you’re a fan of both Disney and of comics. If you want the classic characters in funny situations, or if you want to discover more of Jack Sparrow’s adventures, there’s probably a book for you to check out. As for Disney Kingdoms in particular, I’m really looking forward to seeing how they’ll continue to expand upon attractions. Disney parks are full of great stories, and using comics to tell these tales (and new ones) is a great way to use the medium and engage fans in new ways. Plus, it’s been remarked by some powers-that-be that all of the Disney Kingdoms stories happen within the same universe, so who knows–maybe we’ll see some crazy crossovers in the future! I have to say, I’d be very interested in seeing the Tiki Birds take a tour of the Haunted Mansion…