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.
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.