Later this month, The Predator is heading back to the big screen for the first time since Predators in 2010. But this franchise is no stranger to long stints between movies. There was even a time when it looked like there wouldn't even be any Predator sequels at all. That's where Dark Horse Comics came in.
Since 1989, Dark Horse has revisited the Predators and expanded their mythos. Because of the universe's long comics history, almost any idea the movies have "introduced" was usually done in the comics first. That includes Predator vs. Predator fights.
Before The Predator strikes theaters on Friday, SYFY WIRE is taking a look back at how the comics kept the Predators from fading into obscurity.
The original Predator was an unexpected hit when it debuted in 1987, but Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to reprise his role as Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer for a sequel. In 1989, writer Mark Verheiden and artists Chris Warner and Ron Randall came up with a solution for Schwarzenegger's absence by introducing a new lead character: Detective Schaefer of the NYPD. Schaefer was Dutch's brother, and he became entangled with the Predators after Dutch disappeared in the jungles of Columbia.
Dutch's final fate was kept intentionally vague, presumably so any future films would be able to determine why he didn't reappear after the first movie. In the meantime, Detective Schaefer filled that Dutch-shaped void and established a personal vendetta of his own with the hunters from another world.
It's striking how similar Predator 2 is to the first Dark Horse Predator comic, Predator: Concrete Jungle (1989). Along with Schaefer, the comic transplanted the action to New York City in the middle of a gang war. Predator 2 was set in Los Angeles with Danny Glover's Mike Harrigan in the lead. The film doesn't follow the comic's exact storyline, but the influence is apparent.
Concrete Jungle was essentially the first opportunity anyone had to establish the Predators' history. It introduced other ideas that were subsequently picked up by the movies, too, including the fact that the Predators had been visiting Earth for centuries. The Predators of the comics didn't quite have the code of honor that Predator 2 gave them, but they did have rules of engagement. For the most part, they didn't attack civilians until Schaefer goaded them into an all-out confrontation in the streets of New York.
Verheiden and Randall reunited in 1991 for Predator: Cold War, which added an international flavor by sending Schaefer to a remote Soviet outpost where he was forced to team up with a CIA team and Lt. Ligacheva, a female Russian officer, against another Predator pack.
Cold War established the idea that the Predators need heat and really don't like the cold.
By the end of that series, the Predators were an open secret among the U.S. and Soviet governments. The comics had even suggested that the Predators wiped out the dinosaurs before eventually returning to hunt humanity centuries later. Predators rarely left survivors, but there was a growing number of people outside of the government who knew about their existence.
Detective Schaefer's story continued in Predator: Dark River (1996), as Verheiden and Randall cruelly teased Dutch's return, though they never showed Dutch's face in this flashback sequence.
Schaefer was convinced that his brother had been left to die in the jungle, so he went rogue. We soon learned the intelligence he'd received about his brother was a lie and merely a ploy to get Schaefer to face a rogue Predator, one that didn't follow any of the rules set by his brethren. This was one of the Predators that Schaefer face in his earlier stories, which had been driven crazy after narrowly surviving their encounter.
Dark Horse never revisited Schaefer after that story, although there were enough interesting players to fill out an expanded universe.
John Arcudi and Evan Dorkin's Predator: Big Game (1991) introduced U.S. Army Corporal Enoch Nakai, a Navajo fighter who survived a brutal battle with a Predator that killed nearly everyone else around him. In a later story, Nakai learned that his ancestor had also encountered a Predator, and he was approached by an enigmatic figure about potentially fighting them again.
Writers Andrew Vachss and Randy Stradley teamed with artists Jordan Raskin and Lauchland Pelle in Predator: Race War (1993), which introduced a rogue anti-Predator task force. That story also functioned as a prison drama, as the inmates at a correctional facility realized there was only one race that mattered in the fight against the Predators: the human race. Most of the leading characters survived, which suggested they could be revisited.
One of the other ways Dark Horse kept the Predators alive in the public consciousness was by sending them up against heroes they would never meet in movies.
Batman, Superman, Judge Dredd, Tarzan, the Terminator, and more, all got their chance to take on the universe's greatest hunters. It didn't matter that the Predators rarely made it out of those encounters alive. The fact that they could challenge those icons only further enhanced their legends.
However, the biggest crossover was the Aliens vs. Predator comic in 1991, which proved to be wildly popular. Maybe you've heard of it.
Randy Stradley, Chris Warner, and Phill Norwood's original Aliens vs. Predator story was later adapted as a feature film in 2004, but it played off of the Xenomorph skull that was glimpsed in Predator 2. Prometheus' subsequent revelations about the origins of the Xenomorphs don't entirely fit with the skull's appearance in Predator 2, but that suggested a cinematic universe decades before we knew what to call it.
Aliens vs. Predator eventually became so synonymous with both franchises that Dark Horse continued to pair their up in subsequent miniseries and storylines. The intergalactic rivalry has gone on for so long that Aliens vs. Predator is essentially its own sub-franchise, with additional novels, video games, and more branching off from the original concept, though the two subsequent movies never quite captured the qualities that made the original Aliens vs. Predator so unique.
Dark Horse still publishes Predator comics and 2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Concrete Jungle storyline that started it all. The movies have only scratched the surface of where future stories can go.
But we'll have to see how audiences respond to Shane Black's The Predator before we know if a full revival is at hand — or if we'll have to wait another decade or so before another movie. At least we'll always have the comics!
What are your favorite Predator comics? Let us know in the comment section below!