Monday, December 17, 2018

Star Blazers, vol 2 #4

Christmas 2018

Kid’s Stuff – Saturday Morning Cartoon Edition

Star Blazers, vol 2 #4

We are off/to outer space…but not in a good way

"A Blast from the Past”

Plotters – Phil Foglio, Doug Rice, and Markalan Joplin

Writer – Phil Foglio

Artists – Harrison Fong and Bill Anderson

Letterer – Ken Holewczynski

Colorist – Julie Sczesny

Editor – Michael Eury

August 1989

This one is a cheat.

I’m honest enough to admit that. I don’t believe Star Blazers ever was shown on Saturday mornings.

For me, it wasn’t. Star Blazers was a weekday show. It appeared on American television in 1979, the series being an edited version of the Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato (1974) and its subsequent sequel series from (1978) and (1980). With each season clocking in at around 26 episodes, the show fit neatly into weekday afternoon television. You know – for kids!.

And that’s how I fell in love with Japanese anime. Oh sure, I sat through Speed Racer and Gigantor shows when I was younger. Loved that Mach-5 racecar and all the crazy stunts it could pull. Ditto for giant robot battles in Gigantor.

But Star Blazers was something different. The series epitomized for me how animation could tell an adult science-fiction story as well as or better than live action. It was mature. The series opened with the death of Derek Wildstar’s brother in the battle of Pluto, a battle that forced said brother to sacrifice himself and the members of his crew so that Captain Avatar's much larger ship is given the opportunity to escape. The horrors of space war are shown in mature, graphic detail.

That’s what I loved about the show, the unflinching way it told the story. The fact that it didn’t walk away from the concepts of death and desperation the way that American shows did. Had Star Blazers been manufactured by an American shop, no one would have died and every enemy ship would have been either robot controlled or have little space suited aliens with space parachutes dropping out as they exploded.

Star Blazers didn’t do that, because Star Blazers was REAL.

Or at least as real as a story could be about the Earth being bombed into a radioactive wasteland by aliens bent on planetary conquest, and a force of unique individuals talking off in a magically superior space battleship / flying blaster gun to get magic radioactive removal dust from a space genie half-way across the universe. In one year's time. Complete with a countdown clock each episode. For KIDs!

“Hurry Star Force! There are only 324 days remaining before Earth is doomed!”

There is so much to fall for in this series. The interplay between Derek and Captain Avatar is possibly the most emotional of any anime up to that time. How Derek’s contempt for the man who commanded his brother in his final battle slowly grows into respect and loyalty is so well handled. And ultimately how Derek is forced to take Avatar’s place as Captain, finding himself faced with the same hard choices that Avatar had to make.

Also the enemies were amazing. Leader Desslok of the Gamilons is played to perfection by Eddie Allen. The foppish Desslok, with his feminized mannerisms and domineering personality felt more like an English noble than an alien commander. He bullied his subordinates and chewed scenery like few others. Desslok’s presence was so powerful that they allowed him the sort of rehabilitation that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki received. Sure he killed thousands of people, but he’s not such a bad guy, right? 

And the Argo. One of the finest and best spaceships to ever cruise the universe. Made from the hollowed out shell of the Japanese battleship Yamato, the Argo contained so much great, impossible, unimaginable tech that it is like a sci-fi geek’s wet dream. The massive energy cannons that sit on deck, the tiny anti-aircraft guns, the hanger bay and rear flight deck for scrambling fighters, the space anchors (which I’m not even gonna argue physics because they are just too COOL not to have work the way they do), the ability to turn random asteroids into your own whirling circle of rock force shield and best of all: the mighty Wave Motion Gun. That last bit can peel the photosphere off a sun with one blast. The Wave Motion Gun turns the entire ship’s FTL engine into a massive firing chamber, erupting from the gaping hole in the bow of the ship with the sound of a demonic scream. There is no better build up or thrill in all of anime for me that matches the firing sequence of the Wave Motion Gun.

Notice how in all the “Enterprise” vs “Star Destroy” discussions no one ever brings up pitting either of them against the Argo? It’s because the forgone conclusion is that neither of those spaceships could so much as scratch the Argo’s hull before being obliterated.

This was MY favorite show as a late stage pre-teen. The bus dropped me off at 3:05 PM and Star Blazers started at 3:00 PM sharp. I would literally RUN home to catch each episode. And since the story was one long-form ongoing sequential journey, missing an episode was agony for me. 

I finished season 1 and somewhere along season 2 the show was dropped by my local syndicated station. I’ve since acquired the entire first season and watched the live-action 2010 movie, which was bunches of fun. It missed Leader Desslok though, and that was a glaring omission. I have to stop the playback on that or else I’ll get sucked into a rewatch.

Comico came out with a mini-series based on the end of the second season/Comet Empire war in 1987. The series was written by Phil Fogilo and Doug Rice, both of whom I admire. They allowed the Argo to be captured by Comet Empire forces and used against Earth. The entire thing played out over four issues and was generally well received. In my neck of the woods it was so well received that although I was collecting comics at the time my retailer sold completely out of these the instant they came in. (in the article I’m about to reference, Comico expected sales to be 30,000 of the first issue and they sold 290,000 copies.)

I never even saw one.

If you’d like a great synopsis, Frederick P. Kopetz does the honors over at Cosmo DNA. I highly recommend Star Blazers fans check it out and the site itself. Plenty of good stuff there.

Comico put out a second series in 1989 that I did snatch a few issues of, but quickly decided it wasn’t up to the high nostalgic bar I had placed Star Blazers above.

Fogilo and Rice are SUPER well known to me, as I championed their book Dynamo Joe from First publishing to anyone within earshot back in the late 80’s. I still think the book is a masterpiece, mainly because it combines very unique spacefaring races along with military spaceships, giant robots and an incomprehensible alien invasion yet still balances it all out in a story rooted in characters and personal emotions. That story is for another time, but note that the pair helmed something (really successfully, in my opinion) similar in the past. Getting a Star Blazers comic off the ground should have been easy-peezy.

But this second series is bland. There are a couple of emotionally charged moments, but none of these surround the crew of the Argo or their new ally, Leader Desslok. The book is short on action and big on…well, that’s the books fault: it doesn’t have a clear direction. 

I know, I KNOW. Coming in at issue four blind, there are a lot of gray areas to fill in, but even then some of the motivations and actions appear to come from “we need to do this because it moves the plot forward.”

And the less said about the art, the better. Much of this book looks rushed and the coloring looks atrocious in many panels. Rice and Fogilo should have handled the art chores themselves, in my opinion. The pair gave Dynamo Joe a crispness that is missing from Star Blazers vol 2, and it is something the art desperately needs.

But we are WAAAY behind here, so let’s jump in and see what the issue does have going for it. Mainly a mystery of how to stop a crazed earth general who has hooked up with a scattered remainder of the Comet Empire fleet. There are nefarious plots afoot, but none of it will make much sense I’m afraid, nor will the Argo crew’s involvement. They feel sidelined for most of this issue, a fact that also works against the plot.

Here we go, fans. “We’re off…to outer space…”

We open with a panel that feels like the beginning of a story and not one issue from its ending. Wildstar and the Argo are ready to space jump, having worked with the Gamilon Fleet to effect repairs sustained by the battle with Lotar’s planet crusher.

To fill in the backstory here, Lotar is the commander of the remainder of the Comet Empire’s fleet. He’s secured a ship called the Planet Crusher (that, you know, actually crushes planets) and he’s targeting Earth for invasion. Leader Desslok has escaped an assassination attempt and is helping the Space Force try to figure out why Lotar left the planet Eurythma so quickly. All will be made clear soon.

But first, note how kid-ish the art is in this panel. The Argo looks like it is rubbery, being bent at such an angle. Not to mention the weird stick lines used for some of the gun turrets. In all, the mess looks several levels cheaper than should be appearing in book that cost $2.50 in 1989 dollars.

And just as you are thinking “maybe it’s just the ships” check out these panels of figures. Jessica looks like Picasso rendered her face.

And as the Star Force warps away, Desslok and Masterson think about the traitor…and for a panel Desslok gets a pig nose. Seriously, Comico! The art in this is horrible.

Next, we deal with the one interesting plot the book has going for it. You see Lotar is working with a discredited human ex-general named Helms who has hidden atomic bombs in all of Earth’s major cities. Helms is in it for revenge on the superior officer named Todo. Seems Todo had him expelled from service and banned from the planet and possibly blocked his Netflix account too. Or something like that.

Anyway, right as Helms is demanding that Todo be the one who surrenders humanity to him, this happens… 

And while the art is still crap, at least that is an interesting plot development. Especially when we find out that Lotar is behind Helms’ plotting and he doesn’t care a bit about Helm’s obsession with General Todo. Also there’s a neat bit of gamesmanship by Todo, who faked the heart attack to gain time. 

Then we go into Helm’s backstory, which I might care more about if it had something to do with Wildstar and the Star Force, but it doesn’t - so I don't.

While Todo vows to leave the service after catching Helms, the President and the general are interrupted by the Earth fleet massing on Lotar’s planet crusher ship.

Lotar allows the Earth fleet to fire all their wave motion guns at him, knowing his shields will block the attack…

Which is silly because this is exactly how the attack against the Comet Empire went. Right down to the volley of return fire destroying every ship in the Earth's fleet. Again. Seems like the authors are ripping off Star Blazers plots directly from the anime at this point.

En route, the Star Force hears of the Earth fleet’s destruction, Sandor stating it came from the planet crusher having some form of advanced wave motion energy. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. Nova mentions how badly they are all being drawn. Er…sorry! She mentions about the atomic bombs in all the Earth cities. 

The ship intercepts a conversation between Helms and Lotar describing the bombs in detail and how the planet crusher may be vulnerable to wave motion technology. We then switch to Desslok finding out through telemetry data that the traitorous General Terminax found the lost homeworld of the Gamilons, planet Galvin. While Desslok works hard at taking credit for the mad General’s find instead of beating himself up for not looking for Galvin himself, a hand holding a laser gun draws down on the equivocating alien leader.

But enough about plots that make sense…here the Star Force has devised a plan to take out one cities bomb by warping into he middle of the city, causing irreparable damage to most of the buildings and shooting out all the radio towers so Helms can’t send a signal to his bombs.

I mean…It’s kind of a plan…I guess?

And ten seconds later, they warp away, to confront Helms on his ship near the dark side of the moon.

And in some really crummy battle scenes, the Argo takes out the command ship’s transmission array. This brings the rest of the mercenary fleet down on top of the Argo, which is weird because five pages ago the Earth fleet destroyed all of the mercenary fleet when they wave motioned the planet crusher. 

So, I guess these are mercenaries they JUST hired or something.

Meanwhile miles beneath the planet Eurythma’s surface, Jessica and IQ-9 (since when did the idiot robot get to be one of the major cast members with his own plotline?) have found out that the planet skipped by Lotar is the lost Iskandarian homeworld …

…and Iskandar was the people who developed wave motion technology, so it only follows that the mostly hollow planet is filled with…

…if you answered “custard,” report to the back of the line. If you said “planet crushers,” you get a gold star.

And thus ends the penultimate issue of Star Blazers, volume 2. I am disheartened. The art is awful and detracts from the story. The battle scenes are lame or over in one panel. They’ve rendered one of the key strengths of the anime, its space military combat sequences, in such a way that they fail to impress. Side characters like Helms and General Todo have character arcs yet the principals from the show barely register. There isn’t enough Star Blazers in this Star Blazers to warrant the license.

I bought the first few issues of this and found them just as unsatisfying.

West Cape had a Star Blazers comic prior to Comico that was screen rips of the anime retelling the story like the photostory books we’ve reviewed. That might have been better. Voyager got the license after Comico finished this volume 2 off, but they couldn’t sell the book beyond 12 issues. The title was cancelled due to poor sales. They ended up turning it into a webcomic was formerly featured on the official Star Blazers website. That story takes place when Wildstar is an old man.

It sounds like Star Blazers comics couldn’t catch a lucky break. That’s sad. I’ll always remember the last step off the school bus humming the Star Blazers theme song and looking forward to flying with the Star Force on a grand adventure.

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