Friday, October 16, 2015

Kid's Stuff, Part XI: Starriors #4



I’ve never met a giant robot series that was so overwhelmingly doomed to destruction



Japanese toy maker TOMY wanted a piece of the seemingly endless “toy robot” pie. Go Bots, Transformers and even TOMY’s previous Zoid toys had been generating decent sales. Zoids (under the name Mechabonica) had initially flopped when released in 1982, but after a re-release under the Zoids title in 1983 the line had taken off. Sales in the US flagged after the first year, so TOMY decided to try a new marketing direction the following year. Including a detailed storyline and character background for each of their new line of Zoid robots, the Starriors line was born.




If you’re as memory challenged as I am, you may find it hard to recall just what the Starriors line looked like and what made them different from other robots. I place full fault with TOMY’s marketing department, which clearly wouldn’t know how to sell extinguishers to people who were on fire. The Starriors line was broken up into different sections, the details of which would bore the average person to tears. If you want to have a go at it, bring plenty of tissue and head to the wiki. Otherwise you can get the short version HERE.

 


The name of that site above is www.starriors.com. It’s not owned by TOMY but by a private collector/enthusiast. Think about that for a minute.





For those of you without several hours to kill going over the various types of toy robots from a series you can’t recall, I’ll give you the short version. The Starriors set of robots were split into basically three groups of toys. The first set were very robot like, the second were more vehicular with wind-up motors, the last type were based around animals and were much larger than types one and two.







A real Starriors fan will start throwing around terms like “Wastors” or “Rammors” to describe various series and then demand that there are different models in each series based on whether they have say a drill instead of a laser cannon on their chest or something. They might also attempt to explain the class of each toy, with some being Protectors (good guys), Destructors (bad guys) or Guardians (good guys who don’t do much of anything). I’m not buying into any of that.





Besides needing an flowchart to figure out what you are playing with, the second and more damming feature about these toys was that they were designed to have interchangeable parts. So legs, arms, claws and guns could be yanked off and plastered back on in nigh-infinite combinations. In and of itself, interchangeable parts are not a bad thing. Trading a few guns back and forth might make for some pretty cool looking robots. The Micronauts line had proven this already. However the creators of the Starriors line didn’t put much effort into how the components looked and how they might be combined. There could be some goofy looking arrangements from a mixed bag of Starriors parts.







What TOMY and then Marvel got right was a very interesting background for the Starriors brand that lead into a very good comic book story. TOMY imagined a future Earth threatened with global catastrophe from solar flares. To prevent the total annihilation of all human life, the scientists of the future build giant robots and put the entire population of the planet into suspended animation deep underground. The robots or Starriors are sentient with AI based off human wisdom and reason. Yeah, that’s where the problem is going to come in.
 

The Protector Starriors are charged with rebuilding a scorched Earth in preparation for man’s return. The Destructors' task is to protect the planet from alien invasion. No, that’s not very likely is it? But hey, if you are going to put yourself to sleep for what’s possibly hundreds of millennia, you plan for every contingency. Lastly comes the Guardians, robots whose job it is to maintain the sleeping humans and to awaken them when the time is right. If you are going to skimp on government project funding, my recommendation is not to do it here.



Louise Simonson (wife of Walt) does the writing chores for the comic and she makes the most of the framework TOMY has built. Slaughter Steelgrave is the main bad guy and he guides the other Devastators to destroy the Guardians. Seems he’s a bit concerned that when man reawakens that there will be no need for them. Facing a very permanent deactivation, the Devastators toast all the Guardian robots but one. The Protector robots oppose what Steelgrave’s bots are doing, but have struggles overcoming their own “pacifistic” programming. The four issue limited series detailed their battles before man’s return and feature gorgeous Bill Sienkiewicz covers. Too bad the interiors are done by Michael Chen given what Sienkiewicz could have done with this:
  



We begin out final issue with the army of the good guys about to face off against the army of the bad guys outside the ancient abandoned fortress where the human race popsicles are stored. You know I may have been reading too many toy-based comic books lately but something about this whole setup seems familiar…





Exactly! This is the same place the eighth issue of Sectaurs starts. At least Starriors gets there in only four. While Marvel may be recycling script ideas, they are getting more efficient in their storytelling. As with Sectaurs, there is someone from the good guys inside the installation. Here we find Stinger, the last surviving robot Guardian speaking with the Citadel of Dreams main computer. It appears that both of them are unable to awaken the hibernating human race on their own.





Another person I should be peeved at is colorist J. Ferriter. I understand that back in the 80’s the color screening techniques were not as sophisticated as today’s digital printing, but I know they don’t have to make the backgrounds all one color. It looks like “Stinger Visits The Aquarium” in this panel because all the viewscreens look underwater. Let’s get out of this two-toned nightmare and turn to the Protector forces. Appears a devastated Hotshot is mourning the loss of Geo, his one true love.





Her? So the robots in Starriors have male and female sexes? How do they…um…make more little toaster ovens? Never mind, I really don’t want to think about it. Appears the Starriors do have all the emotions and feelings their creators have.





What Crank is trying to say here, Nipper, is that you’re just not his type. No, I don’t mean “because he’s a Wastor and you’re a Trashor”, I mean he’s looking for a different class of woman robot. No, not a Destructor or Guardian. Look: he likes women who are a bit taller. NO, I do not think getting 52-inch rims will make a difference!





And what of Nipper’s real true love? Tinker’s looking a bit down in the mouth or pincher or…uhm, speaker box. I personally don’t understand what Nipper sees in Crank. So he can walk upright, has two appendages that can hold things, and is equipped with a gianormus drill coming out of his chest. So what? Let’s see him scoot along at more than 30 MPH using those “legs” of his. Yeah, who’s Mr. Big Bit now?



Meanwhile, the leader of the Protectors, a robot by the handle of Hotshot, has just learned that one of Destructors is lying injured not far from their current position. The broken robot is Sawtooth, one of the few "just and friendly" Destructors. Think-Tank, the Protector’s wisest robot, cautions Hotshot about killing this particular Destructor needlessly. Hotshot is skeptical at first, but then speaks with Sawtooth and changes his mind. He calls for Crank.





Feels like that closing speech Bill Pullman gives in Independence Day. So the Destructor Sawtooth gets resurrected and claims allegiance with the remaining Protectors. It also appears that the Protectors have had a turn-coat robot in there midst as well. It’s a messenger robot named Motormouth. Motormouth gave information to the Destructors that somehow caused their current losses (Don’t ask me what he did exactly, the issue doesn’t say). Now Motormouth has been damaged and needs the same type of repairing that Sawtooth did. The Protectors put the matter to a vote.





It ends up being the freshly resurrected Destructor, Sawtooth, making the deciding vote. He’s a bit less forgiving than Hotshot.





Ok, more like he’s a LOT less forgiving than Hotshot. Heck, he’s a lot less forgiving than the Punisher. So the Protectors leave one of their own on the scrap heap to rust.



Meanwhile, the Destructors have come upon the Citadel of Dreams battlestation where the last guardian Stinger is hanging out. Bad guy Slaughter tells the blind robot Deadeye to destroy the place with his ultra-powerful “Demolishers”. Deadeye is a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex look-alike, so I’m thinking lame Grimlock rip-off as soon as I see him. Next it’s revealed that his Deadeye name is very descriptive: he can’t see. Deadeye uses a robot teradactyl to scout his surroundings. This troubles me so much. If a human goes blind, there’s only so much you can do, but these robots have replaceable parts. Why didn’t he just get his eyes fixed? Maybe his creators only put in an electronic brain the size of a walnut. Something the speed of an 8088. Either way, Slaughter’s plan causes lots of concern among the Destructors.



One Destructor knows what to do. Her name is Auntie Tank (arrgh, that’s a gawd-awful title) and she takes a few potshots at Slaughter. She’s about to be stripped down faster than a Mercedes in east LA, when suddenly Stinger and the battlestation lend her a hand. Half the Destructor forces find the ground beneath them being torn asunder.


The Protectors arrive before the Destructors can fully recover. Auntie Tank joins their ranks. Deadeye makes it out of the pit. And the two armies meet in what can only be described as a lame “toy commercial”/X-Men ripoff panel.






Let’s see, I have that one and that one and ooh, I want to get that one for Christmas! 

I’m making up a new category for art like this. I’m going to call it “Liefeldic”. Because, like a majority of Leifeld’s fight scenes, the characters here have no feet and are really just posing i.e. not actually doing anything. It’s egotistical mugging to look as cool as possible, sort of like what the wrestlers in WWE do before their opponents enter the ring. This panel ranks about a 10 out of 10 in Liefeldicness.



At least on the next page the battle starts cooking. Lazers and Demolishers and Vibrating weapons fly with abandon. Nameless Starriors die left and right. A battalion of Starfleet red shirts beam down and are instantly killed. Even Deadeye’s scout bird bites it, leading to his firing blindly in all directions seeking vengeance and stomping on any toy in his path. It is one of these wild shots that gives Tinker his heroic death scene.





Now Nipper feels like a real bitch or bitch-bot or whatever. 

As more nuts, bolts and gears fly, I found myself less and less interested. Even when Slaughter Steelgrave pulls out his main weapon, the Vibro-Chisel, I scarcely snickered. A book with such an underlying Freudian current as to have a male robot using a giant vibrator to kill other robots shouldn’t be this boring. But boring it is. Even when the giant snake-headed battlestation gets to rolling.


Speaking of cool toys, check out the playset that bad boy is based off of..






Only some of those pieces in the front are for the battlestation, but still that's a lot of play time there for an inventive 8-year old.

All this talk of programming and the uninteresting character design and slopped on colors exhausts the reader. By page 17, you’re wishing it was all over. No wonder the toys weren’t good sellers. I’m a giant-robot fanatic, so you know it has got to be pretty terrible if I’m not excited by it. Luckily the battlestation quickly kills off Deadeye and scatters the rest of the Destructors. Slaughter escapes, so he’ll be back to kill robots with his lethal vibrator in the future. Most of the good guys survive and even Tinker is brought back to life thanks to the battlestation’s advanced tech.



Then at last comes the moment we’ve all been waiting three and 3/4 issues for: the awakening of man. In particular, a Jesus bearded guy who’s first act is to order the Protectors to make him coffee and fetch his robe and slippers. Ok, so he doesn’t do that, but he really should.
  


It’s right after this speech by Crank that the race of man commits suicide because they forgot to freeze some women. Seriously, there wasn’t one picture of a woman in the entire last three pages. Maybe these ultra-bright male scientists were planning on making it with the robot women? Whatever humanity's collective fate, I’m glad this tale is over.



The Starriors story was straight foward and short lived, but the story of TOMY’s toy robot lines sure weren’t. A second series of Starriors robots was planned but never materialized. An animated series for them was hinted at, but not even production art can be found of it. What remained was the original Zoid line was retooled by TOMY as Robostrux in 1985-86. Lack of marketing and high prices caused it to flop. Undaunted, TOMY released larger scale Zoids in 1988 which ended up being discontinued after a year. They renamed the line to Zevle in 1990 to again meet with no success. As if desperately seeking a winning product, the Technozoids were released in 1995-1996 and lasted LESS than a year. And on and on they tried: Cyber-Drive Zoids, Panzer Tier Zoids, and finally a new release of the Zoids under Hasbro in 2001. While initially successful…you guessed it, the line was suspended in 2004. Amazingly enough, TOMY has tried four other times since then and met with failure each time. 

Somedays you just can’t sell a toy robot.

4 comments:

  1. Is that a Starriors napkin? I mean, at least they were getting as much product tie-in as possible out there!

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    1. Yup. I assume there were matching plates not shown. Pity the poor kid who wanted a Transformers themed birthday party and his mom bought those from a discount store instead.

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  2. thanks for posting this. i had Starriors #3 back in the day and in recent years found issue #1 in a dollar box so i figured what the Hell why not? it was boring as fuck it probably would have been better if Bill Mantlo (Rom spaceknight, The Micronauts and Transformers 1-2) had wrote it.

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    1. Those covers though? Totally agree that it needed a bit more storyboarding. Mantlo would have killed with this series.

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