Monday, June 15, 2015

Guest Review - Walter Simonson's Star Slammers

Doug: It's Monday so it's "review day" on the Bronze Age Babies. Today Edo Bosnar is back in the moderator's chair, fresh off his thoughts on Gil Kane's Blackmark, which we enjoyed just a week ago. Today's review features a creator and format especially associated with the 1980s -- a graphic novel, and by Walter Simonson.

Marvel Graphic Novel #6: Star Slammers (1983)
Story and art by Walter Simonson

Edo Bosnar: While I’ll readily acknowledge that the best in the Marvel Graphic Novel line is probably the excellent Death of Captain Marvel (reviewed by Karen and Doug a few years back), my personal favorite is probably Graphic Novel no. 6, Star Slammers, by Walt Simonson. I think it was this book, together with the wonderful X-men/New Teen Titans crossover that came out about a half-year earlier, that really cemented my view that Simonson is one of the best comic book artists around. I had obviously seen Simonson’s work on other books before, but the aforementioned crossover book, and this graphic novel in particular, really gave me an appreciation for what an outstanding visual storyteller he is.

Simonson apparently first put together Star Slammers as a college student, and then refined it, and had it colored, when Marvel agreed to publish it as a graphic novel. It was a real labor of love for him, and I think it shows.

The story unfolds very cinematically; the scene is a warring planet, on which one of the sides hired some mercenaries known as the Star Slammers to help them out. Initially, the narration is by one of the soldiers on the wrong side, who learns how formidable the Slammers are.

After finishing their assignment and collecting payment from their reluctant employers (who made the mistake of tying to double-cross them), the three Slammers, Sphere, Jalaia and Ethon, head for home. It's at this point that a conversation between the three and some flashbacks provide some background on the Star Slammers.

Readers learn that the Slammers are from a planet which was a once dumping ground for “undesirables” by an interstellar imperial civilization based on a world called Orion, and the rich and powerful Orions came to the planet to hunt the inhabitants, whom they considered dumb savages, for sport. The planet’s inhabitants kept a low profile and mainly stayed hidden, but, as told in a flashback, one fateful day when Ethon was a child, his family was caught in the open by a hunting party. His mother was killed instantly, while his father took down the hunters’ hovercraft and killed most of them before getting gunned down himself.

One of the members of that hunting party was an obnoxious senator who barely made it out alive (and was left crippled) and who swore vengeance. He calls on the Orion senate to build up an armada that will annihilate the entire planet, as its inhabitants are not the dumb brutes the Orions thought they were, but skilled and deadly fighters who could threaten their very existence.

A lone, aging Orion named Galarius opposes this idea, and goes to the planet to warn its inhabitants. He becomes a sort of guru to them, and receives the affectionate appellation “Grandfather.” Pointing out that it will take years for the Orions to put together an armada with enough firepower to destroy the entire planet, he tells them to go out into the stars, using their unparalleled fighting skills to work as mercenaries, and to amass weapons and ships of their own to meet the threat when it comes. And he tells them to call themselves Star Slammers – after the distinctive sling they all use, called a ‘power slammer.’

The Slammers also have certain telepathic abilities, and Galarius/Grandfather says they have the ability to create something he calls the “Silvermind,” which is a massive telepathic link between all of them, which would make them virtually unbeatable in combat. This comes into play near the end of the story and the confrontation with the Orion armada at the Slammers’ homeworld.

As I hope you can tell from the images I provided, there is a real dynamism to the way Simonson designs and lays out his pages. Again, cinematic is the best term I can think of, especially the pages featuring the battle with the armada.

By the way, tarbandu, whose PorPor Books Blog is linked on the BAB sidebar (‘Bloggers of a Similar Brain’), posted a review of this very same book in early May this 2015. He’s more critical than I am, so I think it’s only fair to link his piece for those who want a second opinion. I’ll just say in response, I obviously think he’s wrong about Simonson’s writing ability, both in this book and in general. First and foremost, I had no problems following the narrative here, either when I first read it in my early teens, or later.

Also, in the case of Star Slammers, I think Simonson created this incredibly rich storytelling device, one that was unfortunately never really to its fullest potential. (Basically, I think you can tell all kinds of great space-faring SF tales featuring the Slammers.) This book reads something like a pilot for an ongoing series, but that never happened. Simonson did revisit the Star Slammers in the early 1990s, with a five issue series published by Malibu (issues 1-4) and then Dark Horse (in a special one-shot that concluded the story). The newer series doesn’t pick up where the graphic novel left off, but rather takes place far into the future, so if the graphic novel was a sort of prologue to the whole Star Slammers saga, then the newer series was kind of an epilogue (leaving a massive epic in between that has yet to be told).

Quite recently, IDW published the complete Star Slammers in a nice (and pricey) HC edition. I’d love to have this, but probably won’t be getting it any time soon because: a) I already have almost all of the material in it already, i.e., the graphic novel and the five single issues of the early 1990s series (there were among my first purchases back at around 2005 when I started reading comics again), and b) my recent purchase of Simonson’s Orion Omnibus really kind of shot my disposable income budget for a while. Even so, I can warmly recommend it for anyone who’s interested in Simonson and the Star Slammers.


Garett said...

I remember liking Star Slammers when it came out-- another one I have to dig out and read again. Thanks for the review Edo!

I'm more of a fan of Simonson's DC work than Marvel. I loved his Manhunter, and liked Doctor Fate and Orion. His Thor for me was just ok, and I haven't gotten into his runs on FF or X-Factor. His style works so well with the otherworldly Doctor Fate, but with Thor I prefer the solid power of Kirby. I wish he'd done Manhunter for a few years, as it's a gem of a comic series.

It's great that Simonson did Star Slammers as a thesis project at school.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Edo, although I'm a touch more critical of Star Slammers than you. Was it Simonson's first major effort at writing and drawing a book? Because good as it is, it does seem like he was on a learning curve. (Which is fair enough, of course)
One of the things I find odd about US comics - especially since the end of the 70s - is the emphasis on established characters in one genre; I like Simonson's Thor and Orion as much as anyone, but it still seems like a pity that a creator of his calibre is best known for a development of Kirby's work. I suppose that was his choice, but still...

I thought the Marvel Graphic Novel format was more suited to the original, creator owned stuff, my favourite being Starstruck.



Anonymous said...

So good I signed my name twice!
(Sorry - don't now how that happened)


Doug said...

The second signature seemed more emphatic... Sean!!


Dr. Oyola said...

I've never read this, but for a long time thought it had something to do with the Starjammers from X-Men. I love Simonson's art and his plotting - his dialogue can be a little . . . meh. .. Still I am interested in this now. I'm gonna see if my comic shop has a copy of it I can flip through.

Thanks Edo!

Anonymous said...

I've heard a lot about this, but never actually read it. Maybe I should check it out sometime.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.
For those of you who expressed an interest in picking this up: it's easy enough to find the original MGN pretty cheaply, but if you've got the money and like Simonson's work enough, I'd really recommend the new IDW edition. That's because, as I said in the post, this story really reads like an introduction to a bigger epic - I know when I first read it way back when, and then later, I was clamoring for more once I got to the end. Of course, that's not to say you can't just flip through this one and simply savor the art, it is quite spectacular...

Anonymous said...

Looks like a good comic! Somehow, this book flew under my radar despite how much I like Simonson.

For my money, the best MGNs are Dr, Strange & Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. Death of Captain Marvel is up there, definitely, as well as Daredevil in Love and War. There are a good amount of gems buried in the line (Hulk & Thing: The Big Change, New Mutants, Hooky) even if a lot of it was merely longer super-hero stories.

- Mike Loughlin

Edo Bosnar said...

Mike L, yep, Triumph & Torment is truly outstanding, and I've always loved The Big Change - given the creative team (Starlin & Wrightson), it's unusually humorous and light-hearted.

Martinex1 said...

Sorry I am late to post Edo. Great review. Another forgotten gem. I never owned it but borrowed it years ago to read. It was fun to revisit. Never followed Simonson as much as some others. Read some Thor and FF, and I've always been curious about his Battlestar Galactica... The series had some nice covers and I wondered about his sci-fi take; I may have to look up some of those as well as the Malibu Star Slammers.

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