BTFT: Starlord’s Non-Canonical Dung Gun (And Other Cheap Pleasures)

A column article, Bin There Found That by: Chris Wunderlich

Marvel, Starlord #2, 3, written by Timothy Zahn, drawn by Dan Lawlis, 1996

 

First, I must apologize. Cleary this isn’t fecal matter launching from Starlord’s pistol.

It’s “earth”, so like, dirt and rocks and stuff. Honestly though, that little immature bit of imagination doesn’t hurt, and you’ll certainly need it if you plan on making it through these Starlord issues. This is one dense, complicated, over-written, beautifully painted read.

So let’s start with the basics. Timothy Zahn wrote this three issue sci-fi mini and it’s the only thing I’ve ever read from him. Apparently he’s written a whole whack of novels but not much in the way of comics and it’s quite clear, judging by these pages. There isn’t much in the way of “let the pictures do the talking.” Characters have multiple thought bubbles each and every panel. There’s a constant dialogue going on throughout, and it gets quite tiresome. The name-dropping is also heavy and constant. For example, these are the exact words written in the second two panels on the first page of issue 3:

‘Rora: Here we are: Holmrig. Cultural hot spot of the Crynbur Pelago and home to General Viz Glazgon and his mercenary group.

Sinjin: I just hope we can get to Glazgon before Lawgiver Damyish does … and then find a way to persuade him not to help Damyish with whatever coup attempt he’s got planned back in the Carinan Cluster.

‘Rora: Or else we find a way to get our hands on the files Damyish is blackmailing him with. Don’t worry, Sinjin—one way or another we’ll manage it.

Alrighty, those are three speech bubbles in two small panels. It’s meant as a catch-me-up info dump, sure, but being thrown all those names, places and plans all at once doesn’t help. If you continue reading, things become clearer (thankfully), but not for a good while. The second issue is just as dense. I’m admittedly missing the first (and possibly most important) issue here so it makes sense that things start off in the dark and make sense later, but it takes a huge amount of patience and concentration. I can’t honestly say it’s worth it either.

The story is relatively bland, hiding amongst a plethora of kooky sci-fi names like Damyish and Glazgon. Names of places aren’t memorable, names of characters only click after a dozen mentions and sci-fi tech ideas are tossed around like glitter. Somewhere in this mess of narrating actions, constant dialogue and forgettable made-up words is the story of Sinjin, an everyman type character with minor telepathic abilities. He somehow (again I’m missing the first issue) inherits the legendary hero Starlord’s costume, ship and element gun. The ship has its own A.I. too (named ‘Rora) and the two head out to stop some bad guys from doing bad things. That’s right, Starlord (the character) doesn’t appear in these issues.

If there’s one really neat concept here, it’s Starlord’s element gun. It can shoot tornado-like bursts of air, squalls of water, immense blasts of heat or clods of dirt. This concept itself isn’t all that interesting, but there’s a twist. We learn the gun is actually more of a teleportation device and all the power that flows through it is actually coming from a far-off planet. When Sinjin fires out a stream of earth (not dung, let’s remember) it’s actually teleporting chunks of another planet through his gun. This ends of causing some grief too; with said earth being removed, a volcano erupts. There are consequences to this seemingly unlimited power and it’s a nice touch to an otherwise mundane weapon concept.

Of course, wading through these heavy sci-fi theories and dense explanations doesn’t sound all that fun. Dan Lawlis makes it fun. His painted art is very reminiscent of Dan Brereton, but much less reliant on oranges and reds. I don’t know exactly how the art was created, but it has on almost pencil-crayon-and-paint like feel to it at times. It’s consistently awe-inspiring and never diminishes in quality. If you like the looks of those covers, you’ll be beyond impressed with the interiors. Where is this guy these days anyway? Perhaps his style isn’t digital enough for modern audiences?

All in all, this is a series you need to be invested in to get the most out of it. If you find these issues cheap, try reading them. If they don’t work for you, sit back and look at the pretty pictures.

Valiant/Darkhorse, Magnus: Robot Fighter & Nexus #1, 2, written by Mike Baron, drawn by Steve Rude, 1994

 

Speaking of gorgeous art—Steve Rude. Right, so you already know you want these issues. Humour me as I going into further detail.

Magnus is a character I never really understood. I’ve written about him before. He’s a human who can smash robots, wears a skirt (or is it more of a tunic?) and likes tall white boots. In the hands of Mike Baron and Steve Rude, however, he’s quite neat. Or at least, written and drawn with a retro nostalgic charm that I simply can’t get enough of. Here, Magnus seems like he’s been ripped from the pages of a 1950s sci-fi fashion ad. I don’t know if those actually exist, but that’s the vibe I get.

Nexus, on the other hand, is an awesome character. Diving into a random Nexus issue can be intimidating (see above: sci-fi concept catch-up) so this is the perfect way to introduce yourself if you’re not already engulfed in his mythology. Nexus has dreams and must punish evil throughout the galaxy, that’s really all you need to know.

This crossover was a brilliant idea. Or, I should say, getting Mike Baron and Steve Rude to make this crossover was a brilliant idea. In lesser hands, I could see myself not caring. Fortunately, the writing is tight, easy to follow and engaging. The pictures are drawn by Steve Rude—you get it.

Our story follows an alien invader who, at first, seems to offer Magnus and his world life changing technologies and medicine. Does he bring utopia or trouble? Nexus figures the later and, surprise, surprise, he’s right. Our heroes team up and take him down. It’s a solid two issues of plot building and execution that modern writers could learn from. There’s enough here that the story feels complete, but it’s so good that you’ll want more.  This isn’t six issues that amount to a handful of conversations, this is a perfectly paced, beautifully drawn, expertly written two-issue tale.

Alright, you’ve humoured me, go buy this already.

Image, Superpatriot: War on Terror #2, 3, written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by E.J. Su, 2006

 

I’ve never been a Robert Kirkman fan. There, I said it. I don’t like The Walking Dead or Invincible. What’s wrong with me? I don’t know. That being said, I don’t think he’s a bad writer. This mini, for example, is pretty cool!

What did I know about Superpatriot before diving into these issues? Not much. Dave Johnson used to drawn him, which is neat, and he got around most corners of the Image Universe, but I didn’t catch much of him. He was created by Erik Larsen--that much I knew.

Kirkman writes our Superpatriot as a relatable, aging hero. He’s been through hard times, lost his kids, is going from old to really old and still maintains a relationship with his young girlfriend. Said relationship is actually written pretty well, but Kirkman focuses way too much on their love-making—something I think is played for laughs but comes off as creepy.

There’s the obligatory “misunderstanding fight” at the start of the second issue here, but the real treat is the villain that arises to steal the show. He’s the Nazi equivalent to Superpatriot and Kirkman plays it smart, having him start out small. He creates his minion army, but sets his sights on taking over a small town. He’s isn’t out to rule the world quite yet. He’s written as an evil monster, no doubt, but there’s a nice dose of dark humour in there too. Sure, kicking a small child into the sky is incredibly cruel, but kind of funny too, in a sick way.

E.J. Su’s pictures match the tone perfectly. His figures are cartoony, colourful and dynamic but still grounded and consistent. This isn’t 90s Image, with over bulging and ammo belts. This is nice, clear storytelling with just enough levity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the two issues of Superpatriot: War on Terror that I found, and I hope to find more. I’m still not sold on Kirkman’s signature titles, but he’s convinced me to look for more of his work.

Marvel (MAX), Doctor Spectrum #2, 4, 6, written by Sara Barnes, drawn by Travel Foreman and Greg Tocchini, 2005

 

Let me get this off my chest—here we have the tale of Colonel Joe Ledger, the man who, through military testing of an alien crystal, would become Doctor Spectrum. Colonel Joe Ledger is not a doctor—of anything. I understand why they called this book Doctor Spectrum (being the name of the older Squadron Supreme character this series is very loosely inspired by) but it’s stupid. Now if I missed something and he really is a doctor, please let me know. It’s bothering me, really!

So let’s backtrack a bit. I only managed to grab every other issue in this mini, but I think I’ve got all the bits of story I need. The military finds an alien crystal and tests on Colonel Joe Ledger. The crystal bonds to him and he becomes comatose. That’s the gist of it, and this story is mostly about what’s going on in Joe’s head. The other half of the plot comes from the doctors and military men who oversee Joe and argue about what’s to be done—secretive scheming and backstabbing generously included.

I can’t say I was too impressed with the story. The writing is competent, but I was never really sucked in. Some characters seemed nice and unique, but overall Joe didn’t interest me. He’s got baggage, what with being in the military and having some childhood trauma creep in, but still I wasn’t sold. This series ties to the greater Squadron Supreme universe that was building in the MAX books in and around 2005, but again it only touches on its connections lightly.

The art is worth talking about though, because it’s very inconsistent work from two of the most inconsistent artists around. We know Travel Foreman can draw a decent comic book. Read his Ares mini, it looks fantastic. His Iron Fist work, however—I already went into that. Here he’s a bit of both. Some panels look great, others seem incomplete. The general storytelling isn’t bad, but overall it’s another forgettable effort.

And then there’s Greg Tocchini. Here’s an artist who defines inconsistent. A quick Google search proves this man can draw. Just look at the beautiful covers he’s done! On the other hand, his brief stint on Uncanny X-Force nearly derailed the critically acclaimed series. Fortunately, his work in issue 6 is good. His characters remain consistent, his use of odd angles restrained and his sequencing fairly straightforward. I’m happy to report that yes, Greg Tocchini can draw a decent comic book. Why his results are so varied is beyond me.

Overall, this wasn’t the best pull from the bargain bin. It’s rather forgettable, actually, and unless you’re a diehard MAX Squadron Supreme enthusiast, you can probably afford to miss it.

Marvel, Supervillain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 #1, 2, 3, 4, written by Fred Van Lente, drawn by Francis Portela, 2007

 

Let’s end this week on a positive, shall we? With Fred Van Lente writing and Francis Portela drawing, how can we not!?

I’m going to start this one in a bit of a reverse fashion. I’ve talked about Francis Portela quite a bit in this column and that column. Why is it this guy’s work is almost exclusive to the bargain bin? I know it’s a bold statement, but he could follow a run by Steve McNiven and not miss a beat. I demand more Francis Portela! I want to see him drawing the books I read every month!

So you know the art is good, and it’s written by Fred Van Lente, so you know it’s written well. Just how well? This is an obvious Ocean’s 11 parody, using D-lister baddies. All your favourites, like Armadillo, Rocket Racer and Puma are here. I’m usually one to root for the lesser known characters, but the cast here is bottom of the barrel. Van Lente sells it, totally. I loved each and every one of these characters by the end of it.

The focal point of this series is fun. There isn’t much in the way of character development (though Van Lente fits that in too) and tying into the latest event is a non-issue. This is all about a twisty plot, a fun batch of characters with unique personalities and seeing what happens when nothing goes according to plan. Van Lente knows the perfect picture:word ratio and keeps things rolling well. I felt, even without having the entire mini (I’m missing issue 5) that this series could have been shorter, though. Despite keeping us on our toes and tickling funny bones left and right, there’s a still a sense that things are being stretched. Perhaps the plot takes a few too many turns—perhaps there’re just a few too many characters. It’s great, but not perfect.

This is a fun little inconsequential mini that certainly entertains, but unfortunately doesn’t ream in all that memorable. Had it been shorter and more focused I would have enjoyed it more, but as is it still makes a great read.

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