George Lucas is a master storyteller. His creations have permeated every corner of the pop-culture landscape, and inspired countless other artists to fill Lucas’s creative cosmos with new stories, settings, and characters. Even before Disney took over Star Wars and created a new multi-media canon, the Star Wars Expanded Universe was an insanely popular well of content. But what about the Expanded Universe of Indiana Jones?
Though much smaller in scope than Star Wars, Indiana Jones is still a pretty epic property. The character has a timeless appeal, occupying a Lucasian adventure mythology that reaches far beyond the four movies most of us know and love. From comics and books to video games and television, the world of Indiana Jones is full of mystical artifacts, exotic locations, and daring cliffhangers that fans of the movies would be remiss not to explore. To get you off on the right foot, here are the 15 Best Indiana Jones Stories Outside The Movies.
15. Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
In addition to great gameplay, this 1999 LucasArts puzzle/adventure game offers everything you’d expect from an Indiana Jones adventure. Set in 1947, the game sees Indy recruited by the CIA to track down a Soviet excavation in the ruins of Babylon. At the dig site, Indy discovers a plot by a Russian physicist to discover an ancient machine that opens up alternate dimensions. From here, Indy races both the Soviets and the CIA across the globe to retrieve the missing pieces of the “Infernal Machine” and come face to face with the mysterious Babylonian god Marduk.
Like most video games, Infernal Machine prioritizes gameplay over seamless story execution, but that doesn’t stop the title from exploring previously uncharted territory in the Indiana Jones franchise. Not only are the game’s mystical explorations incredibly original, it’s third-act subversion of the villain role is highly provocative. If you like retro gameplay and want to experience a truly unique Indiana Jones story, getting your hands on Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine is definitely a worthwhile quest.
14. Mystery of the Blues
15 years before Harrison Ford dusted off the fedora and leather jacket for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he would briefly revisit Indiana Jones in George Lucas’s Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In the 5th episode of the series, Indy takes a quiet moment while on the run in Wyoming to recount an adventure from his past. In the year 1920, young Indy is at the University of Chicago, where he learns about Jazz from Sidney Bechet (as played by a young Jeffrey Wright), becomes involved in a murder investigation, and meets a young Al Capone. Naturally.
One of the great things about The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles is that the show had the freedom to tell both large and small-scale stories. Many of the adventures from Indy’s formative years were small in scope, but big in emotional resonance. “Mystery of the Blues” isn’t necessarily a hugely impactful story on Indy’s future, but it does offer a chance to see the character in a setting that’s creative as well as historical. Plus, the Harrison Ford cameo is just too fun to pass up.
13. Into the Great Unknown
It’s clearly apocryphal, but this 10-page one-off comic is a must-read for Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans alike. The comic starts us off in the Star Wars universe, where Han and Chewie pilot the Millennium Falcon into uncharted hyperspace in a desperate attempt to escape an Imperial attack. The jump crash-lands them on Earth, where Han is killed by a Native-American tribe. Over a century later, archaeologist Indiana Jones and his sidekick Short Round come across the ruins of the crashed Millennium Falcon while searching for Sasquatch (revealed to be Chewbacca). Upon boarding the Falcon, Dr. Jones finds the skeletal remains of Han Solo and finds it eerily familiar…
The genius of Into the Great Unknown is the uncanny way in which author W. Haden Blackman appeals to the widest possible fan base while staying true to the essential elements of both franchises. Han and Chewie’s story balances operatic space adventure with intimate character drama, and by the time Indiana Jones enters the scene, we are treated to an archaeological mystery with paranormal undertones. Yes, the story is more of an experiment than an authoritative tale, but that doesn’t make it any less essential for die-hard fans.
12. Indiana Jones and the Curse of Horror Island
In the first of the Indiana Jones “Find Your Fate” adventures, the reader takes on the role of Indy’s young cousin, accompanying the famed adventurer across the Coral Sea to retrieve an ebony idol. From the harbors of New York to the jungles of Horror Island, the reader must help Indy decide each vital move and discover their shared fate.
Like Star Wars, Indiana Jones is first and foremost a franchise for kids. The “Find Your Fate Adventure” books are essential to the Indy library because they capture the childlike spirit and sense of wonder that George Lucas’s stories always seek to encapsulate. The Curse of Horror Island may be skip-worthy for adults, but it’s an absolute must for young fans.
11. Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny
Dark Horse’s ’90s run of Indiana Jones comics is a treasure trove of exciting new terrain for the franchise. Not every entry is a winner, but the series as a whole adds new dimensions of mystery, mythology, and fun to the Indy mythos. Indiana Jones and the Spear of Destiny—the seventh comic in the series—re-teams Indy with Henry Jones Sr. on a quest for the spear that pierced the side of Christ. Once again, the Joneses find themselves in a race against the Nazis, who plan to use the spear’s powers for world domination, because of course they do.
Henry Jones Sr. has made a number of notable appearances outside The Last Crusade, from a long stint on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to brief spots in novels. The uneasy Jones father/son dynamic is the emotional anchor of the entire Indiana Jones franchise. Spear of Destiny acts as a cathartic coda to the shared history of the two characters, and its sprawling United Kingdom setting makes for an esoteric, poignant backdrop.
10. Masks of Evil
Perhaps the darkest and strangest Young Indiana Jones entry, “Masks of Evil” follows Indy from a mission of espionage with French Intelligence to an encounter with Vlad the Impaler and an undead army in Transylvania. The World War I-centric plot of “Masks of Evil,” combined with the espionage-meets-black-magic angle, makes for one of Young Indy’s most alluring adventures.
Some of the most exciting Indiana Jones stories are the ones that explore dark supernatural forces. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will never be the most beloved film in the original trilogy, for example, but it will always stand out for its willingness to incorporate darker territory into the Indy legend. “Masks of Evil” also stands out as a shining example of what can happen when Indy steps into the heart of darkness.
9. Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants
It’s 1925, and Indiana Jones is a new professor at London University. When Deirdre Campbell—the young Dr. Jones’s best student—presents him with a golden scroll that potentially proves the existence of the legendary wizard Merlin, the two adventurers set off to prevent a devious Parliament member from resurrecting the ancient Druid order to rule the world.
Bantam Books’ extensive series of Indiana Jones novels cover an enormous amount of ground in the expanded universe of our favorite archaeologist. Dance of the Giants is a riveting read for its approach to ancient Anglo mysticism and its excavation of Indy’s early adult years. If you’re new to the world of Indiana Jones books, Dance of the Giants is a great starting point.
8. Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils
The follow-up novel to Bantom Books’ Dance of the Giants, The Seven Veils puts Indy back in familiar territory on an archeological expedition in Guatemala. From there, Indy embarks on a search for the missing Colonel Percy Fawcett, whose writings tell of an ancient hidden city in Brazil where descendants of the Druids practice a dangerous sort of magic.
One of the defining characteristics of The Seven Veils is that it provides an origin for Indy’s frequent relationship troubles. It’s tragic, jarring twist ending may feel like a bit of a canonical cop-out to some fans, but the novel carries an emotional weight that adds to the apocalyptic severity of the adventure while giving a bit of insight into Indy’s troubled history with the opposite sex.
7. The Phantom Train of Doom
The World War I exploits of Indiana Jones are covered in riveting detail throughout the Young Indiana Jones TV series. One of the most exciting is “The Phantom Train of Doom,” which sees young Indy on a mission for the Belgian Army to track down an elusive piece of German artillery. Indy is joined by friend Remy Baudouin and a ragtag group of old soldiers as they face off against the German army through the African veld.
“The Phantom Train of Doom” is a high-spirited adventure that lives up to its campy title. Like all the best Young Indiana Jones episodes, it lays some groundwork for Indy’s particular brand of excitement, exploring formative moments for both the character and the world he inhabits.
6. Indiana Jones Adventures Volume 1
Another must-read for young fans, this 2008 Dark Horse comic offers a fresh approach to some pleasantly familiar territory. On an archaeological dig in Sweden, Dr. Jones is thrust into another harrowing adventure that pits him against his toughest competitors in a search for an ancient Norse scroll.
Indiana Jones Adventures Volume 1 is full of fun for old and new fans alike. The art is delightful, and the story brings in familiar characters like Marcus Brody and Raiders of the Lost Ark villain Rene’ Belloq. Raiders spends a lot of time discussing Indy’s past run-ins with his archaeological rivals, so it’s a great bit of fun to see some of that play out in comic book form. And for fans who may not have enjoyed the ’90s Dark Horse comics, Indiana Jones Adventures Volume 1 will be a refreshing treat from start to finish.
5. Daredevils of the Desert
Indiana Jones meets James Bond in this mesmerizing Young Indy adventure. Well, not really, but “Daredevils of the Desert” does feature a young Daniel Craig in a supporting role, as well as a young Catherine Zeta-Jones. How’s that for starpower? Joining forces with Zeta-Jones’ seductive undercover agent, young Indy helps the British infiltrate a coveted Middle Eastern town in Beersheba, gaining allies and meeting T.E. Lawrence along the way.
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles remain a hugely underappreciated section of the Indiana Jones lore. Its pure execution of Lucas’s vision makes it essential to the franchise. The series finds magic and beauty in the war-torn history of the early 20th Century, and no Young Indiana Jones adventure finds that magic more successfully than “Daredevils of the Desert.”
4. Indiana Jones: Thunder in the Orient
Thunder in the Orient is arguably Dark Horse’s most ambitious Indiana Jones story to date. Not only does it set Dr. Jones off on a roaring trek across greater Asia, but it also explores the complexity of Buddhist mythology. With the help of recurring ally Sophia Hapgood, Indiana embarks on a search for Buddha’s original writings, said to contain mystical powers with the potential to unify the entire Buddhist world. Indy and Sophia’s quest pits them against the Japanese Empire in a race from Afghanistan to Shangri-La in China.
The best Indiana Jones stories take an agnostic approach to world history and mythology, dissecting the supernatural stories of different cultures without losing sight of their unique confrontations with the unknown. In this sense, Thunder in the Orient is a shining monument to the franchise’s lasting appeal.
3. Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone
No, this isn’t a Harry Potter/Indiana Jones fanfic (as potentially awesome as that would be). Before J.K. Rowling’s Philosopher’s Stone novel, this Indiana Jones adventure featured the man with the bullwhip searching for an ancient letter containing the key to alchemy. Up against the followers of Mussolini, Indy discovers that the letter is a map leading to a crypt in the desert, where ancient secrets will be revealed.
As its title would suggest, Philosopher’s Stone is about as esoteric as Indiana Jones gets, but that doesn’t stop the story from moving at a brisk pace and providing plenty of thrills along the way. There’s always a balance in Indiana Jones between big ideas and swashbuckling action. Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone excels magnificently at both.
2. Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx
Of all Bantam’s Indiana Jones authors, Max McCoy writes stories that feel closest to the world of the original film trilogy. Secret of the Sphinx is by far McCoy’s most enjoyable novel, set not long before the events of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the Egyptian desert, Indiana Jones finds himself within grasp of the Omega Book, a mystical text containing the history and fate of every human being. More than ever before, Indy finds himself in desperate need to prevent the artifact he seeks from falling into the wrong hands.
Secret of the Sphinx is chalk full of high adventure and even higher stakes. From the iconic imagery of the Egyptian desert sphinx to the fatal action of an ocean shipwreck, the novel has everything that a true fan would ever hope for in an Indy adventure. At the end of the day, an Indiana Jones story is only as good as the McGuffin at its center, which makes Secret of the Sphinx one of the strongest stories in the series.
1. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
For a certain generation of fans, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was an adventure as vivid as the original trilogy—whether you played the popular computer game, or read the Dark Horse comic. The lost city of Atlantis is the perfect subject of mystery for an Indiana Jones story, and Fate of Atlantis approaches it with Indy’s typical brand of danger and mysticism. Long before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Fate of Atlantis was a more than adequate placeholder for the 4th Indiana Jones movie.
As long as there are devoted fans hungry for subsidiary Indiana Jones content, Fate of Atlantis will cast a large shadow over every other Indy comic, book, or video game. Disney may or may not etch out an “official canon” for the franchise like they did with Star Wars, but if they do, it’d be a crime not to include the excellent Fate of Atlantis.
What are your favorite Indiana Jones adventures? Join the conversation in the comments.