From 1988 through 2014, seven different comics publishers have attempted to expand the story of The Terminator and its sequels. Some have been a lot more fun than others. Some are just no good. Were any of them great? What is it about a time traveling cyborg that fascinates us so much we want more story about that world? How did a publisher ever decide that Skynet should be embodied as an evil ringmaster and expect the reader to take it seriously?
Let’s take a brief overview of each publisher, from NOW to Dark Horse to Marvel and more, and see what types of stories they told.
From 1988 through 1990, NOW Comics published 24 issues of The Terminator. NOW was started by Tony Caputo in Chicago in 1985 and primarily made licensed comics like Speed Racer and Ghostbusters. The Terminator was the first of three titles they made under that license. At this time it was based only on the first movie since that’s all that existed. It ran for 17 issues and was an anthology series that would focus on different Resistance fighters in John Connor’s army (primarily the Sarah Slammers in Miami, FL) battling the machines of Skynet in 2031. How could that be the date when in the movie Kyle Reese states that humanity beat Skynet in 2029 (and that Skynet sent the first Terminator back in time as a last-ditch effort)? The books never attempt to answer it. In fact, a fan letter asks about it and NOW’s response was that they weren’t making a history textbook. It was not a big hit and felt kind of like a Saturday morning cartoon version instead of the action/sci-fi/horror hybrid the film was. Skip it.
They next published a 2-issue story titled Terminator: All My Future’s Past, written by Chuck Dixon, a well-respected comics writer who’s worked on Batman and Punisher among others. It was a type of prequel to the events of the first movie. A pilot crashes in a remote village untouched by the war with the machines. The dying pilot reveals he has info for John Connor. Two men from the village brave their way through the war to get the info to John Connor, which reveals that Skynet has figured out how to time travel. Not bad.
Finally, NOW published a 5-issue story called Terminator: The Burning Earth. It was set exclusively in 2041 and John Connor’s Resistance is not doing well in the fight with Skynet. It’s been 4 decades of nuclear strikes and chemical warfare but ultimately John rallies his troops for an attack on Skynet’s mainframe at an old NORAD base in Nevada. Part of what made it special was the painted pages by Alex Ross, long before he became famous for his comics covers. He does a nice watercolor style here and the book is truly horrific. This is actually a good comic and totally worth reading.
NOW had to deal with bankruptcy and lost the license in 1990 to Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse was founded by Mike Richardson in Milwaukie, Oregon in 1986. Similar to NOW, it relied on licensed books early in its history (including Aliens and Godzilla), though it also published a number of well-received creator-owned books (such as Concrete and Dark Horse Presents, an anthology title). They have continued to publish Terminator comics as recently as 2014. However, there have been gaps. They did not publish any stories between 1993 through 1997 or 2001 through 2009. That may be because other publishers were publishing Terminator comics at those times. Those other Terminator comics were all based on either Terminator 2, 3 or Salvation but there’s a good chance the rights-holder may not have wanted competing Terminator books out at the same time. Dark Horse published all of their Terminator books in 3 or 4-issue arcs, each with a different subtitle, except for one 12-issue Salvation story.
The Tempest was their first, 4-issue story. Because it came before the T2 movie, it’s kind of what writer John Arcudi (The Mask) has as an idea for a Terminator sequel. For the first time in comics, they go back to the time travel idea and subverting our expectations with the time travelers. A squad of Resistance fighters led by Mary Randall travel to the 1990s to hunt down one of the creators of Skynet, an otherwise innocent man. And four Terminators, led by one with facial scars, is trying to protect him. But ultimately, we learn that the one with facial scars is a human/Terminator hybrid and he rebels against Skynet when he sees humanity has an actual chance to win. Not a bad story idea! The rest of the miniseries, from Secondary Objectives to The Enemy Within and finally End Game follow Mary, Dr. Astin (a scientist who works for Hollister, the man who ultimately creates Skynet), a detective named Sloane and Dudley (the “good” Terminator) and the last remaining bad Terminator, called C890.L. Catchy. C890.L moves on to his secondary objective, killing Sarah Connor. Dudley deals with the voices in his head telling him to kill. End Game features Hollister deciding to make the machines even though he knows what will happen because he’s old and now he’d be rich for his last years. It also adjusts the timing right at the end because now Sarah Connor is about to give birth and Mary has to protect her from a Terminator that travels back. While it has a definitive end to the story, it also intentionally changes something big about John Connor and so it’s sort of a cliffhanger but no story ever follows that up. Ultimately, it makes this story fit into an alternate timeline. Jackson Guice does the art for End Game so that looks really good and C890.L gets rebuilt by some bikers and looks like a badass. Pretty good stuff.
During this time, Dark Horse put out two other stories. One is a cool idea by James Robinson and Matt Wagner. In One Shot, a second, female Terminator travels to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. But the target she spends the issue hunting is Sarah Lang who married Michael Connor. It’s not the right Sarah Connor (but the Terminator doesn’t know that). It’s then further complicated by Sarah working to kill her husband so she can inherit his money. And all this time, a Resistance fighter who accidentally ended up in the 60s has had to wait to help her. He has a futuristic weapon that he smuggled through time in the unpleasant way you’re thinking. So it’s darkly humorous and a great side story.
But you can skip Hunters and Killers, which adds a Russian Resistance and also a Russian Skynet. It’s honestly just way too much new mythology and the story sags under its weight. Skip it.
Dark Horse ended its run for a while with a really fun book: RoboCop vs. The Terminator. It’s written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Walt Simonson. Great creators at the top of their game. The script is clever and funny. The plot is that RoboCop ends up being part of what leads to Skynet. A Resistance fighter is sent back to kill RoboCop who is protected by time travelling Terminators. Realizing what will happen, Murphy decides to be patient and stop Skynet in the post-apocalyptic future. He waits, hidden deep within Skynet and eventually builds himself a RoboCop body out of Terminator parts when Skynet is distracted. He joins up with the Resistance to take down Skynet. It’s fun. Highly recommended.
For some reason, Marvel got the rights to do the Terminator 2 movie adaptation in 1991, even though Dark Horse was still making Terminator comics. I can only assume this is because Terminator and T2 were sold as separate properties and that the thinking was Marvel had greater distribution potential. It’s a literal adaptation (but without the swearing or extreme violence) so it’s about what you would expect. Nothing too mind blowing. Some decent art thanks to Klaus Janson, an old pro, but nobody really looks like the actors. Maybe likeness rights are separate from the movie adaptation rights? The weird thing is it does add lots of thought balloons and extra expository dialog, which was just sort of the Marvel style at the time. It’s an easy pass.
After Dark Horse’s Robocop crossover but before they started with more comics in 1998, Malibu Comics published two Terminator stories. Technically, they’re all titled Terminator 2, which is what makes me think Terminator and Terminator 2 comics rights are separate. Malibu started in 1986 and mostly did black and white creator owned books at first. Men in Black is probably their most famous book. They also did a little bit of licensing, starting with Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. Eventually they did some superheroes in the early 90s that did well and Marvel bought them and after a few years, closed it all down, but they own their superheroes.
First up with Malibu was Terminator 2: Cybernetic Dawn. The painted covers make me think it’s supposed to be a softcore porn B-movie and the actual layout design with the logos and titles isn’t helping. It was set directly after the T2 movie and involved two T-800s and a T-1000 coming back in time. John Connor befriends Danny Dyson who comes up with a long-term plan to defeat Skynet which is paid off in the second story, Terminator 2: Nuclear Twilight, set in the Future War. I don’t want to spend much time reviewing these two stories because they’re not that great. Pretty average artwork. The most interesting thing is in Cybernetic Dawn when John talks about time travel paradoxes and points out that if they stopped Skynet, shouldn’t the Terminators have basically blinked out of existence? It isn’t really discussed in the films but that should be the case IF there is just a single timeline but it really shows that every time someone comes back in time it creates a new reality that they exist in. I guess this is very, very briefly mentioned in Terminator: Genisys, when a time traveler points out that the fact that he’s there in the past means he doesn’t have to worry about ensuring his future is created the same way. Anyway, skip these.
At this point Dark Horse resumed making Terminator comics. Writer Alan Grant handles three Terminator stories. One is a short story in Dark Horse Presents #138 called Suicide Run but it’s nothing special at all (except it does have art by Frank Teran that’s pretty good). Pass. But then he did a limited series called Terminator: Death Valley with art by Guy Davis and Steve Pugh. Good art, cool story. Skynet hears that for a time John Connor was brought up in Death Valley and sends two T-800s after him: a male and a female model. The male arrives a few seconds after the female and begins having glitches in his programming, questioning his mission more and more. There’s tons of other parties that get involved in the story: a former cop, a crazy prospector, a gang leader, a corrupt businessman. It involves all these characters circling one another. I won’t spoil it but it’s strongly recommended.
Unfortunately, Grant’s final story is not too great. Terminator: The Dark Years is set mostly in the future and deals with a Resistance member mad at John Connor, fear of a mole in the Resistance’s midst and Terminator rats. Yeah. Also, John Connor in the present deals with yet another Terminator. The art by Mel Rubi is too cartoony. It doesn’t work for this story. Skip it.
At this point, Dark Horse did two weird, weird crossovers. The first was Superman vs. The Terminator: Death to the Future. Terminator comes back in time, Superman stops it no problem. More Terminators come back and are stronger. Why? Cyborg Superman, an actual villain in Superman’s comics that is half cloned Superman and half robot is sending schematics into the future to help Skynet. Ultimately, Superman time travels to the future to stop Skynet. Which means he gets naked because of time travel. Oh, by the way, that’s a HUGE problem for all these comics. They constantly have to obscure nudity with awkward poses and smoke. If you read enough Terminator comics, it becomes hilarious. Superman wears an American flag diaper for a while. He takes out Skynet pretty easily. He also goes up against the Terminatrix, which predates the Terminator 3 version. Then Cyborg Superman absorbs her and there’s a big fight. It’s weird but because of that weirdness, I think I gotta give this one a light recommendation.
Next up was Alien versus Predator versus Terminator. That is a hilarious mashup idea. The title alone takes up a third of each cover. The plot is kind of messy because it has to incorporate so many elements. Call (Winona Ryder’s character from Alien Resurrection)… um, calls Ripley and asks for help. Her crew needs help on a mission to capture a scientist. The scientist ends up being a T-800 who is looking to create a xenomorph/Terminator hybrid. The Predators are there too and they respect Ripley just because she’s half xenomorph, too. So they all beat up the Terminator Aliens. I can’t really give it a recommendation because the art is not that great. But if you’re a huge fan of all three of these franchises, I guess it’s sort of fun. They missed the chance to say that the T-800 was based on Dutch from Predator.
Now the license goes to Beckett Comics briefly. Who? Beckett Publications used to make sports and collectibles guides. From 2002 to 2005 they got in the comics game. Terminator 3 was their only licensed title, published in 2003. They did six issues that each told a story across two issues. The first two issues are about the team in the future who reprogram the T-850 and it’s pretty good. I like the Goran Parlov art. The next two adapt the movie but do it differently than a literal adaptation by telling it from the point of view of the T-X. Good idea but the art is cartoony and super cheesecake so it distracts big time from the idea. The last two issues don’t seem to fit into continuity properly since it involves a T-800 protecting John Connor from another T-800 but seemingly after Terminator 3 which ended with Judgement Day. So it’s confusing. The best part is the Keiron Dwyer art and an awesomely bad pun. I don’t recommend these issues, though.
In 2007, Dynamite Entertainment got the rights, but seemingly to Terminator 2 since half of their titles featured that title. I don’t know how any of these rights work. Dynamite started in 2005 and does almost exclusively licensed books like Green Hornet, Battlestar Galactica, Army of Darkness and dozens more. Their first title was Terminator 2: Infinity. It went for 5 issues and then was retitled Terminator 2 and was a crossover where a female Terminator went up against Painkiller Jane, a NY cop who has healing powers. Infinity is weird. It kills off Kate Brewster right away which messes with the movie continuity but whatever. John Connor doesn’t really want to be a leader but future him sends back a T-800 to protect him and make him a better leader. He calls it Uncle Bob, which is a worse name than Pops from Genisys. There’s also a new Terminator called the T-Infinity which goes through time killing time travelers which means it kills the T-800s and T-100 but that doesn’t change the timeline. I guess it’s to show that it’s tough. That story picks up after the Painkiller Jane crossover with the title Terminator: Revolution. It’s bad. John Connor ends up raising a young Kyle Reese as his son. That’s messed up. That means John sends him to bang his grandmother. Nope. Then John goes back in time to watch over his young self. Sarah figures it out but young John thinks old John is a Terminator. It’s dumb. Definitely skip it.
For 2009, IDW published two Terminator books. A prequel to Terminator: Salvation and an adaptation. The prequel follows Resistance in Detroit and Niger. Whatever. Points for trying to get away from John Connor stuff which is definitely played out but it’s not too interesting either. The adaptation is pretty literal. I didn’t care much for Terminator: Salvation but no matter how you feel, the comic adaptation won’t really add anything. Pass.
But now the rights go back to Dark Horse for two stories published in 2010: The Terminator: 2029 and The Terminator: 1984. They’re two halves of the same story, written by Zack Whedon and with art by Andy McDonald. It’s really good. In the future, we meet Kyle Reese’s best friend, Ben. The world is horrible but Ben is able to deal because he has Paige, who he loves. Anyway, he ultimately comes across a really old prisoner who turns out to be Kyle Reese. The story is that Kyle did not die in the original movie and Skynet took him prisoner. Kyle begs Ben to save him and Ben does, so that’s why the subtitle changes. Does Kyle survive in the end and get saved? You know what? I won’t spoil it. It’s a story worth reading that has a bittersweet ending. It makes Ben and Kyle feel like real characters and it tells a cool story without focusing on John Connor.
In 2011 things went back to Dynamite and they published the atrocious book Terminator/RoboCop: Kill Human. Bad art and a story that makes NO sense. Okay, so RoboCop is awoken in the future and Skynet has won, even though this is following T2’s continuity where Skynet was destroyed. Gotta just get over that. RoboCop goes back in time (which he really shouldn’t be able to do since he’s metal) to stop Skynet. He meets John and Sarah Connor and Skynet is trying to kill John but that doesn’t make sense because RoboCop just came from a future where Skynet clearly won. So they don’t have to kill John Connor. In an ending that makes no plot or character sense, RoboCop allows John to get killed by the T-1000. Just… it’s so bad. This is the worst Terminator comic of them all.
Finally, Dark Horse published two more Terminator books in 2014. Terminator: Enemy of My Enemy is by Dan Jolley and Jamal Igle. It’s very cool. A bounty hunter named Farrow Greene is hired to find and protect a scientist named Elise Fong. A Terminator comes back in time to kill Fong because of something she will create. But then a third party abducts Fong. Ulatimately, Farrow and the Terminator agree to team up temporarily to find Fong. It’s dangerous but Farrow is a really tough lady. Great premise. Unique and cool. Strongly recommended.
The last title is the 12-issue series Terminator: Salvation – The Final Battle. It’s set in the future seen in the fourth movie. Basically, Dr. Kogan, the doctor who started the Marcus Wright hybrid project is revealed to be a Terminator now. She used Marcus as a prototype. And her new plan for Skynet is to convert the serial killer Thomas Parnell into a hybrid. Skynet figures it’s been losing due to being too logical so they create something more chaotic and ruthless. It’s a good story, written by J. Michael Straczynski with great art by Pete Woods. There’s no T-X, no T-1000, just some T-800s and the Resistance and John Connor reprogramming a T-800 to protect himself in 1995 (T2) that is emotional. It’s a good war story. It hits different emotional beats than the movies aim for because of that, but it works really well as a comic book.
So overall there are some really crappy books but slightly more good ones and a few excellent ones. I think Dark Horse easily has the best track record, thanks primarily to hiring good writers. I hope this list helps you if you’re looking for some good Terminator comics.