Timely (more by accident than design) with its “editor” making a reappearance in this year’s Christmas Prog’, Luke checks out “Starlord”, long lost sister title of 2000AD. Worthy stable mate or just an old nag?
Starlord : 2000AD’s Shortlived Sibling
By Luke Williams
Being a saddoe completist, I’ve spent the last few months scouring E Bay for old copies of the in house rival to 2000AD – Starlord. I’ve now got a complete collection, this includes the summer special (£20) and the 3 annuals (which has lots of ’60s filler). Productive? Good use of resources? Perhaps not, but I get an article out of it.
The brainchild of 2000AD editor Kelvin Gosnell, Starlord was originally conceived as a monthly with higher page count, better print quality and more colour than it’s stablemates. IPC management saw to that ambition, hence we had the cut back version that reached UK news stands late in early summer 1978 and lasted for all of 22 issues. But it’s legacy remains in today’s Prog’
The first thing that strikes you about Starlord is that the paper quality is far better than the contemporary Prog’. It’s slightly oversized than it’s contemporaries, more in line with the size of the Prog’ of 520 on. Despite the intervention of higher ups at IPC, there is more colour and most stories start with a 2 page colour spread. Many of the covers are painted and reminiscent of the images found on the cover of sci fi novels. Kelvin Gosnell is a big sci fi fan, and you can see this in the presentation and content of the package.
The editor, host and unifying concept is the titular Starlord, designed by Ian Gibson. Starlord explains that he is on the run from the Interstellar Federation and here to train troopers to repel an invasion.
Each of the stories in the issue is a “Starlord Survival Blueprint” designed to condition and train Star Troopers (us, the readers) to prepare for an invasion.
Inevitably, in creating its own competition meant that IPC needed to ditch one. We know how that worked out, and Tharg kept his job, and it was “Starlord” readers who had the “great news for all readers!” message that became a tradition in British comics and heralded the folding of your comic into a rival. On the up side the merger gave the Galaxy’s Greatest a bit of a shot in the arm donating some of its most enduring strips and consolidating its position on the newstand.
Of the strips that were published over the course of those 5 months of publication, some have dated quite a bit, whilst others still seem pretty fresh. Lets take a look.
Planet of the Damned
Written by R.E Wright (Pat Mills?)
Art by Lalia, Pena, Azpiri.
Ever wondered where the disappeared vehicles and peoples went when they disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle?
Well dear reader, wonder no more. Off the coast of Bermuda, an airliner is transported to a hostile and alien world. The passengers join other “disappeared” banding together to survive and find away home. As you’d expect, there is a lot of “fodder” from the passenger lists and the survivors are gradually, grisly, and gratifyingly whittled down to a small number, before the climax and the survivors finding sanctuary.
This has some some great work from the three artists, all of which are from IPCs pool of South American / Spanish artists with the late Azpiri a stand out ,lovely flowery flowing work. Lalia on the other hand, brings the grit. Storywise, it’s nothing new, but it is fun, suitably shclocky and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. You can’t fault a strip that has cannibals and Nazis can you?
Written by Jack Adrian (Chris Lowder) / Ian Mennel
Art by Ian Kennedy / John Cooper / Magallanes / Salinas
James Blocker skippers a transport ship carrying an illegal passenger. Reaching his destination that passenger commits and act that leads to World War III. IN order to prevent this happening, Blocker is kidnapped and recruited by Time Control, an organisation that works to prevent timequakes – disruption to the time continuum, going back in time to prevent the event that leads to armageddon. Against them are the alien Droon travelling up and down the time line to prevent human development, and to keep homo sapiens in the stone age.
As you’d expect, Blocker becomes their best operative, and has a series of adventures in various scenarios before the series ends in issue 13. It makes a brief reappearance in 2000AD, but hasn’t been seen since. The scripts are engaging and has some interesting ideas, even if some of the concepts seem unoriginal now (Nazis again). Art is occasionally stiff, but has contributions from greats like John Cooper and Ian Kennedy.
Written by Pat MIlls, V.Gross (Kelvin Gosnell), Jack Adrian (Chris Lowder), Bill Henry
Art by, Carlos Pino, Dave Gibbons, Ian Kennedy, Dave Gibbons, Jose Ferrer.
Recently reappearing in flashback sequences as part of ABC Warriors,these characters should be familiar with regular readers of the Prog’. Ro Busters is the tale of cyborg entrepreneur Howard Quartz’s robot disaster squad, comprised of surplus and therefore expendable robots. No one cares if a robot dies, except perhaps the robot of course.
Hammerstein (war droid) and Ro Jaws (sewer droid) are our heroic odd couple who when they aren’t risking themselves in rescuing ungrateful humes, have to contend with this fella:
Although it shares the same characters, this is quite different to the Ro Busters that was seen in 2000AD post merger. For one thing, it’s lighter in tone. The strip has always had humour, but it became more cynical on its move to the Galaxy’s Greatest, and although the mistreatment of robots by humans was well established it became more overt. It’s strange that despite tracing its genealology through “Nemesis the Warlock” and “ABC Warriors” that it seems so, “twee” in places. This isn’t helped by some of the art, particularly that contributed by Pino and Ferrer which hasn’t aged well. Stiff and anachronistic, though it tells the story well. It really comes together when drawn by Ian Kennedy and Dave Gibbons, fantastic work. It’s engaging, but less sophisticated than some of the other strips, notably the complexity of “Mind Wars” and the darkness and intensity of the early “Strontium Dog” strips. Fun enough though. Check out the Mega City Book Club Podcast on the Volume 1 of the Ro-Busters collection, covering the Starlord years here.
TB Grover (John Wagner)
Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Brendan McCarthy
Another character now considered a 2000AD mainstay. For those who don’t know, Johnny Alpha is a search destroy agent, a Strontium Dog. Johnny is a mutant, caught in radioactive fallout and given him the power to read minds, see through solid objects etc. With is norm’ partner Wulf Sternhammer he travels the galaxy earning a crust by capturing or offing bad guys stuff. These early strips are far grittier than the 2000AD stuff,more like a spaghetti western in space. Carlos’s art reflects this, tighter, with more detail, almost claustrophobic. if you imagine the art in this stage of the strip as a teenager with adolescent angst,a ball of anxiety, by the time of the merger it’s learned to relax a bit.
Particularly interesting are Ian Gibson and Brendan McCarthy’s contributions. Gibson’s scratchy art seems incongruous, but that might be the unfamiliarity of someone other than Ezquerra on art and the overbright colouring doesn’t help. McCarthy looks very stiff here, but this is at the beginning of his career. It’s interesting to compare this strip work with his double page spread from the 1988 special, which is a lovely image (“The Town That Died Of Shame”. Starting with the “Galaxy Killers” most of the these strips have been collected in the Search Destroy Agency Files Volume 1, discussed in the MC Book club, here. Sadly, that volume doesn’t include the non Ezquerra drawn stories.
Written by Alan Hebden
Drawn by Jesus Redondo
And this is where the hard edged sci-fi comes in.
Set in the far future, the human controlled Stellar Federation are at war with an aggressive alien race, the Jugla. The Jugla are a devious bunch and are intent on destroying the human race. They gift immense psychic powers to twins Arlen and Ardeni and frame them for the death of their parents. The Jugla then manipulate the siblingsinto disrupting the human controlled Stellar Federation.However, the twins begin to overthrow the control of the Jugla, but become loose cannons and a threat to both sides.
This is great stuff,old fashioned high concept plot driven science fiction, with a great script by Alan Hebden and glorious art by the overlooked (by me anyway) Redondo,with some of his best work. The strip appeared to reach a natural conclusion in the last issue of “Starlord”. Hopefully Rebellion will find someway of reprinting the strip even if it’s in a one of the Meg’ floppies, a minor treasure.
Written by Alan Hebden
Art by : Lalia / Luis
San Franciscan PI Carl Hunter is hired to find a client’s husband, but stumbles across a government conspiracy to cover up an alien invasion. They aliens are here and have infiltrated society.
Carl gathers allies and battles both the government and the alien invaders, while trying to alert the rest of the world to the threat. This is the one strip that falls a bit flat and fails to stand out. The art by Lalia and Luis is serviceable, and Hebden’s script is reasonable, but as a story it’s just a bit…meh. It was wrapped up in the last issue.
In the short time it was in existence, Starlord published a few one offs as fillers, were they to have appeared in 2000AD they would have been,and may even originally submitted as, “Future Shocks”.
“Good Morning Sheldon I love You” written by TB Grover (John Wagner), Jose Casanovas(I’m sure I’ve seen this somewhere else), : an automated house becomes overly protective of its resident. “The Snatch” by Alan Hebden and Lalia, where an alien abduction is not what it seems. “Skirmish “by Hebden and Pena how the soldiers on the galactic front line communicates with their families back home. And finally “”Earn Big Money While You Sleep” by Grover and Casanovas, a company seeks to utilise the underused parts of the human brain, with unfortunate side effects.
I had thought that Starlord would have aged worse than it had, but some of these strips still stand up today, particularly Strontium Dog and Mind Wars. Although Starlord and 2000AD were both science fiction comics, they had very different origins. My perception of Starlord is that was an out and out science fiction title whereas early 2000AD was essentially “Action” with a sci-fi bent. It is of comparable quality to the contemporary issues of 2000AD, and I can only assume that the tipping point was the extra production costs and higher cover price. This is discussed in greater detail in the pages of “Thrillpower Overload”.
Issues can be picked up relatively easily and if you have any interest in the development of the Prog’ you have in your hand (or on your tablet screen) or British comics as a whole, they are worth hunting out.
By the way – anyone want any spare copies of Starlord? I have doubles.