Back in 1978, when I was a kid, there was a sci-fi comic book called Starlord, and it was wonderful. Now scans of just about every page of this comic book are available to read on the Internet, at Starlordcomic.com, so I can read them all over again. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and I’m getting a twin jolt of fun, with sci-fi thrills combined with warm and fuzzy nostalgia.
I’m not the only one doing such a delve into childhood nostalgia, it turns out. Just today I was reading a post by Katharine Trendacosta who is reading all the books of the Star Wars EU, over at io9. This latest post in her readings of Star Wars books is about Crystal Star, and it is very funny. Re-reading nostalgic sci-fi is the sort of enjoyable little challenge that goes well with sci-fi blogging, and I’m all in. Anyway, enough about Star Wars books, what I’m reading is an ancient British sci-fi comic called Starlord.
I’ve already read ten issues and I’m still enjoying the experience every bit as much as I did when I started a couple of weeks ago with issue one, and here’s what I had to say about it.
The 22nd of July 1978 issue of Starlord, issue 11, is a strange one, and I vaguely remember thinking as much when it first came out. The cover is a very strange thing done with an airbrush. It is totally out of character with any of the previous covers. The female face amid all the sci-fi action is supposed to be the main character, Ardeni, of the strip called Mind Wars, but because the artist isn’t the same one who actually draws the story, she doesn’t look anything like she’s supposed to. I remember at the time thinking the art looked off, and now I think I know why. It looks like the airbrush artist wasn’t even bothering to follow the design of Ardeni from the comic, but was instead working from a photograph of Chrissie Hynde, including her late 70s ‘shag’ haircut.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Chrissie Hynde, but her look is nothing like what Jesus Redondo, the regular artist on Mind Wars, established Ardeni as looking like. Also, the airbrush art is so lacking in detail that everything just looks melted, which means it’s not a great looking cover, even on its own merits. That’s what I think now, but I’m not as sure I was so dismissive of it back then. I remember that, despite thinking it looked odd, I actually liked the airbrush look of this cover back in 1978. Back then airbrushing was strongly associated with sci-fi, and I was pleased to see it on the cover of my favourite sci-fi magazine.
The first story presented this issue is, as always, Mind Wars, the very story the cover art is about. Mind Wars a story about force-like mind powers and spaceships that is very obviously inspired by the Star Wars mania that was still echoing through the popular culture of the time. This is also an important episode of this particular strip, because this is the week where Ardeni is forced to kill her twin Arlen, and I remember being so shocked. It also turns out that this isn’t a comic book death that is going to be undone by time travel or some other plot device: it is permanent. Ardeni is faced with the choice between killing her brother or allowing him to destroy Earth, and she chooses the greater good. She uses her own mind powers to kill him, to stop him using his mind powers to drop a doomsday device into Earth’s sun.
Adding to the drama of the story, we have Jesus Redondo’s little touches of artistic genius. There is a spaceship, for example, that is rendered in just a few lines and a wash or two of ink that is beautiful. It is tall, with bays to launch units from all along its long flanks. I think it was Redondo that really started me drawing and designing spaceships, way back in 1978, and I have never stopped since.
After the beauty and space-opera of Mind Wars, we get something very different. It is a strip with a 70s office worker in a suit with brylcreamed hair called Sheldon, who is angry with his stereotypical housewife mate, even at one point smashing a plate of eggs in her face. He moves into an automated house to get away from her, and this house gives him the pampering he feels he deserves. The twist is that the house goes all Hal 9000, keeps him prisoner and pampers him to death. The whole thing is dull and predictable, and the sexism leaves a bad taste. The only futuristic parts are an AI house and a virtual reality entertainment system the man uses to watch football. I can’t even tell if we are meant to sympathise with Sheldon, or be glad he has received some kind of comeuppance, and that is not the mark of a good story.
After this waste of time, we get to what I bought the comic for back in those days, my favourite strip, Ro-Busters. In this episode we find a full-on robot rebellion in full, bloody swing. The very first image is a giant robot enthusiastically killing humans. We have been through a couple of weeks of build-up in previous issues of the comic to get to here, but now cones the pay-off, and it’s been worth it.
It’s nicely written stuff, including the catchphrase the robot uses while it is killing.
He beats… as he kills… as they scream.
It is bases on a 70s Hoover advertising slogan of the time.
It beats… as it sweeps… as it cleans.
There is plenty of mayhem, right from the start, and in a nice touch this bloodletting is intercut with a conference room full of robot manufacturers coming up with ways to reassure people that robots are safe. The very nicely written snippets of grisly violence, juxtaposed with smug industrialists smoking cigars, completely unaware of the chaos all around is enormously entertaining.
The story then turns on the emotions, right at the end, when the two robot heroes of this strip, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, are forced to turn on each other. Hammerstein has been reprogrammed by the leaders of the robot revolt to attack his friend, Ro-Jaws. Hammerstein is an army-surplus war droid, while Ro-Jaws is only a second-hand sewer cleaning droid, so the fight has an inevitable conclusion. Hammerstein kills Ro-Jaws, the second character death in this issue of Starlord. Unlike the death in Mind Wars, this time it turns out to be a typical comic book demise that can be quickly and easily recovered from, but I didn’t know that at the time. I loved Ro-Jaws, and seeing him killed was a gut-wrenching experience for a young boy.
The last strip in the comic is TimeQuake, which is my least favourite. It’s some batty stuff about Aztecs invading time and ascending to a new planet in flying saucers. It utterly fails as an engaging story and the art is only at the top end of mediocre.
On the back of the comic we get something called a Hardware Profile, the first of a series of them, and it is pretty cool. It is a model of a futuristic fighting vehicle photographed out in the woods, and it looks great. It has a format like the Top Trumps of the time, which had a set dedicated to tanks, but this is a future tank… so it’s even better. I remember just staring at this picture, drinking in every detail. It is imprinted on my mind and I recognized it instantly. The model was built by Martin Bower, who was doing special effects work on shows like Space 1999 at the time. There are more models coming in future issues, and they are all great.
This issue was a bit of a roller coaster ride, but the positives outweighed the negatives in my book, and I will certainly be reading the next one.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy) Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to the storefront you prefer to buy it now, or follow this link.
This is a universal book link (UBL) and you will be greeted with a page displaying all the places the book is available online. Just select the storefront you prefer and, if you want, also make this your default bookseller. From then on, every time you click a UBL you will be taken directly to the book you are interested in, on the storefront you prefer. The UBL even allows you to go to the Amazon store that matches your region.