While Child’s Play was a major success in theaters, launching a long-running franchise, that first movie didn’t actually have a lot of tie-ins. Sure, there was no shortage of marketing surrounding it, but actual merchandising was few and far between, mostly limited to theater promotions. As soon as it became a franchise, though, it hit the ground running. As a series, Child’s Play was born out of that wonderful era in the early ‘90s where a movie would not just get a novelization or a comic book adaptation—it got both. That’s exactly what happened with Child’s Play 2 in 1990. It received a novelization written by Matthew J. Costello and a comic book adaptation written by Andy Mangels.
If anything, this speaks to what a rare character Chucky was in the horror world. It’s always said that you can’t make something a franchise, that it has to happen organically. And even in Child’s Play’s case, that’s definitely true. Tom Holland did not even want to leave the door open for a sequel, which is why the doll is so utterly destroyed in that first movie. But even still, as soon as it was successful enough for a sequel, hell even as soon as the first movie hit home video, there were ads announcing Chucky as the major new villain in horror. That, of course, was taken to heart immediately. Throughout almost the entirety of the ‘90s, you couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into Chucky, be it his face on a T-shirt, a poster in a video store, or in most cases, an actual doll.
The comic book adaptation of Child’s Play 2 was published by Innovation, a comics company that should be familiar to all fans of licensed horror properties and their various comic incarnations. Alongside Child’s Play, they published some major heavy hitters including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, Dark Shadows and a whole slew of Anne Rice adaptations ranging from Interview With the Vampire to Rice’s The Mummy. Split into three parts, Child’s Play 2 follows the story of the movie fairly faithfully. Unlike the novelization by Matthew J. Costello, there’s not a ton of room to embellish or add in many details, which that book did by diving into Chucky’s backstory and the fact that he was raised by an abusive mother who was also a dwarf, causing Chucky to have complicated feelings about size being related to power long before he was a doll.
The adaptation of Child’s Play 2 was naturally followed immediately by the adaptation of Child’s Play 3 (which, like the first sequel, also received a novelization by Matthew J. Costell0), because that movie was released nine months later. Again penned by Mangels, it also adhered faithfully to the film’s script and did the world the favor of bringing that colorful, carnival haunted house-set third act to the comic book page.
After that, though, things got really interesting. Innovation had covered all the Chucky movies it had the rights to cover at that time, but had no intention of letting Chucky go, so after the adaptation (really, almost concurrently) of Child’s Play 3 they launched right into Child’s Play: The Series. Once again, this was written by Mangels, but this time he was in the driver’s seat. And having gotten a feel for the mythology and the character’s voice having just written two back-to-back adaptations, he was definitely the guy for the job. Plus, it’s worth noting that Mangels was kind of a gift to most horror franchises on the comics page as he also wrote all of Innovations Elm Street comics including the Nightmares on Elm Street series, A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Beginning and the adaptation of Freddy’s Dead, over at Topps Comics, he also wrote the adaptation of Jason Goes to Hell.
The first issue of Child’s Play: The Series is relatively self-contained. Once again, Chucky finds himself reassembled at the Good Guy factory with a nice note saying “Prologue and Epilogue,” noting the series’ already cyclical nature in that Chucky is always destroyed and always comes back. While escaping, Chucky is noticed and taken in by a rabid horror fan, and a lot of meta stuff and general nerdy horror details are dropped fairly liberally. In fact, the opening page kind of beats Bride of Chucky’s opening to the punch. That scene in the film showcased a federal evidence locker including Michael Myers’ mask, Leatherface’s chainsaw, Jason’s hockey mask and Freddy’s glove. This page seven years earlier depicts all of the aforementioned things while also throwing in the Hellraiser puzzle box, a Phantasm sphere, a face hugger, the Gill Man’s claw and more.
Obviously, over the course of the issue, Chucky kills the horror fan and his occult-loving friends one-by-one, in some surprisingly gruesome ways. The highlight of the issue is definitely Chucky forcing them to host a séance to summon his former mentor, John, who he tries to beg information out of on how to get out of the doll body for good, and is shocked when John is unwilling to give his murderer any help.
From there, though, the series launched into a much more cohesive story centered on really the one character that the movies, for all of their attention to continuity, kind of forgot about: Karen Barclay. Despite Andy’s multiple returns, Karen was basically written out as having backed up the boy’s story and serving time in a mental hospital as a direct result. That’s definitely where Child’s Play: The Series finds her until a man attempting to investigate strange phenomena like evil killer dolls offers her a chance to help him catch Chucky and prove she’s telling the truth. Karen even gets to confront the first movie’s surviving cops, Mike Norris and Jack Santos, over why they refused to back her story even when they knew it was true. Even more interesting and surprising is that the comic series confirms Norris and Santos as romantic partners in addition to simply being partners within the department. The five-issue comic brings back and kills off old characters in equal doses, with tongue always planted firmly in cheek. After all, there’s an issue parodying M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) with “M.A.R.K.E.D.” (Mothers Against Rampant Kill-Happy Evil Dolls.)
After that immediate onslaught of three separate titles in an incredibly short amount of time, Chucky disappeared from comics for years. Part of that was due to the controversy—in addition to box office—that kept Chucky from moving onto another theatrical effort immediately after Child’s Play 3. The case in question was one of many instances in the ‘90s of a movie being blamed for an actual act of horrific violence, in this case two children murdering a toddler, who apparently claimed to be inspired by the film. With that happening in the UK, the franchise became a pariah there in a way it never really did in the US, where dolls and other sorts of merchandise continued to be readily available in the years between films. Even when Bride of Chucky hit, there was no real comic book tie-in.
We didn’t see Chucky again on the comic page until Hack/Slash vs. Chucky in 2007, over fifteen years after the end of Child’s Play: The Series at Innovation. Still, this was a big deal for horror fans. Not only was it the first Chucky comic in forever, but it was a match-up people could really get excited for. Hack/Slash was a hugely successful indie horror comic at the time, and this was right at the height of rumblings about a feature film adaptation. The comic centers on Cassie Hack, basically an ex-final girl who survived an encounter with a vengeful supernatural slasher and–alongside her bestie Vlad (a guy who looks like your typical slasher type but has a heart of gold)–goes across the country killing slashers wherever they might pop up.
In their comic book adventures, Cassie and Vlad have faced many, many original slashers but the very nature of the concept has allowed them to cross paths with several licensed horror characters, including Hatchet’s Victor Crowley, Re-Animator’s Herbert West, Evil Dead’s Ash and of course Chucky. What makes this encounter—which takes place over the course of a single 48-page issue—so interesting, though, is the fact that Cassie (well versed in slashers and knowing exactly who Chucky is) is forced to work with the doll to save Vlad after another killer who happens to be an expert in Voodoo has kidnapped him hoping to transfer her soul into his nearly indestructible body. This is not Chucky going good, and that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s an unlikely pairing that just makes both parties feel sick for participating in it, which allows for great character work for both Cassie and Chucky.
Hack/Slash vs. Chucky kicked off the Devil’s Due Publishing era of Chucky comics, which was also unfortunately the last era of Chucky comics. The timing felt perfect. Chucky’s appearance in Hack/Slash led directly into a self-titled solo miniseries written by Brian Pulido, who in addition to creating extreme, edgy ‘90s horror comic icons Evil Ernie and Lady Death, had also written Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre comics for Avatar. When Chucky hit, the comic premiered during a time when Freddy, Jason, Leatherface and Michael Myers were all making regular appearances on the comic page. Truly, we’ve never really seen anything like that for licensed horror comics before or since.
Set after both Seed of Chucky and the Hack/Slash crossover, Chucky is very similar to Child’s Play: The Series in that it’s also about Chucky coming back into contact with numerous survivors of the series over the years, with the added fact that this now includes characters like Jesse, Jade and Detective Preston from Bride, with Chucky’s obsessive focus returned and redirected toward Andy Barclay.
This series was followed with a second miniseries that was also bafflingly just titled Chucky, written by Jason Burns. Referred to as Chucky vol. 2, it was an attempt to launch a new ongoing series that was instead cancelled after just one issue. The second series—well, issue, as it were—is much more self-contained. It’s not tied to the overall continuity of the franchise, though it likely could have been revealed to be by the end. In general, it’s a much restrained idea, feeling perfect for a low-budget sequel, which is maybe the best approach. How well it turns out is hard to say because of how incomplete it is, of course. I hate to make this comparison, but at worst it’s a little along the lines of Halloween: Resurrection and at best it’s a bit like Wrong Turn 2. In fact, this was so soon after Wrong Turn 2 that I have to feel like that was at least an influence.
Basically, the plot of Chucky vol. 2 hinges on a cast of people who are contestants on a new reality TV series exploring the abandoned Good Guy doll factory, with of course the unexpected (to them, at least) reveal that they’re trapped in here with the actual Chucky doll and are being picked off one by one. The bonus this has over something like Halloween: Resurrection, however, is that Chucky is very self-aware of his situation and does not like being manipulated. Unfortunately, this issue remains pretty hard to judge because it never got the chance to grow. We’re really left with a pilot that could have gone in just about any direction, from an obvious secluded slasher to a more meta Cabin in the Woods styled approach.
Unfortunately, that canceled miniseries was the last comic book treatment that Child’s Play ever received. Hopefully, with both the TV series on the way and the reboot hitting theaters this weekend, that could lead to more tie-ins down the line, but time will tell on that one. Until that time, we’ve still got a fun, often weird and eclectic batch of stories outside the films to remind us why Chucky is and always will be our favorite friend till the end.