Starr the Slayer #1

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks, Paul Brian McCoy
Jason Sacks:
Paul Brian McCoy:

Jason Sacks: I loved Starr the Slayer. The story in issue #1 is a great combination of an intriguing real-world story and amazing barbarian action.

Paul Brian McCoy: I wanted to love this comic, especially when I heard that it was going to have Richard Corben on art. Unfortunately, I found myself just hating it more and more as it went along. I mean, it's a great idea that looks amazing, but Daniel Way killed this project for me from the very first page.

Jason Sacks: In issue #1 we get two parallel stories. In one, we meet Len Carson, "in his youth, a best-selling hot-shot. But now he's old and bald and broke / once rich and famous; now he's so not," as Way has the story's narrator say.

Paul Brian McCoy: That narration is what nearly drove me out of my mind. Way essentially took a fantastic concept and decided that MAX meant gay jokes and excessive swearing. The writing here is an example of everything that can go wrong with a MAX title. It's as bad as Ennis' Punisher or Chaykin's Dominic Fortune are good.

Jason Sacks: Funny how we had completely different responses to the writing in this comic. The attitude in the writing is a lot of what I liked about this comic. It helps to give the comic the underground comix feel that I liked so much about Starr the Slayer; the profanity fit this story in a way that made me respond to it as more than just its surface story. In other words, the narration is a lot of what made me enjoy the story so much.

Paul Brian McCoy: I can see what you mean with the underground feel. I just got the feeling that Corben was working toward one goal, a graphically violent sword and sorcery adventure, while Way seemed to think that this was supposed to be crass parody of the genre.

Jason Sacks: The parallel story is of Starr the Slayer, the creation of Len Carson. We witness Starr and his family come from their small town to Kulmurud, the throne city of the Darklands. In that town, Starr and his family find themselves in a hellish situation where only the strongest survive.

On the last few pages there are signs of the two storylines colliding in fun ways, but I really enjoyed the parallel storylines this issue. Each story has a kind of energy and fun that separates them out from the normal story, which I just loved.

Paul Brian McCoy: I agree totally. If only there were no words.

Jason Sacks: This is definitely a MAX comic, full of bloody violence and lots of profanity. It was appropriate for a long-time underground comix legend like Richard Corben to be the one illustrating a story with such an underground feel to it.

Corben is obviously relishing the chance to draw a story like this one, with its pneumatic hero committing bloody violence almost anywhere he goes. At the same time, Corben gets to draw more realistic scenes, giving him a chance to really show his chops. There's a real feeling that Corben is thoroughly in his element in this comic, having a lot of fun playing with themes that he's thought about quite frequently.

Paul Brian McCoy: According to interviews, the creative team did this book in the classic Marvel Manner, where the editor (Axel Alonso) and the "writer" (Daniel Way) came up with a synopsis of the story, then gave it to the artist (the legendary Richard Corben) to establish the pacing, structure, and overall visual style of the work.

Corben's art really tells the story so completely that hardly any dialogue or narration is needed to understand what's going on and why. Which is part of what makes this sophomoric scripting so painful for me.

These aren't characters talking. They're more like a hack writer making stupid jokes that, at best, show no interest in the medium or genre, and at worst, are condescendingly dismissive of the whole project.

If it's supposed to be a satire mocking the sword and sorcery genre, then fine. Satirize it. To me, this is just foul mouthed, amateurish bullshit that actually damages the value of the product.

Jason Sacks: I didn't really feel the writing detracted from the story. The scenes towards the beginning of the story that show Carson's early success were fun to me; when we see "He blew it all on drugs! And booze! As well as a sweet f*ing ride!" it made me chuckle and enjoy the story more.

Can you point to specific places where you feel like the writing detracts from the story?

Paul Brian McCoy: Well the line you just mentioned didn't work for me at all. This narrator is, as Corben put it in an interview, a not-quite-human "sub-species" singer from another dimension – a dimension that is barbaric and alien. The "sweet f*ing ride!" line is only there to get a laugh rather than to be true to the character or the world, or even the genre. Every time a character from the other world spoke in American slang, I felt it was a distracting shortcut instead of real writing.

Having most of the book told in the forced verse was also off-putting, particularly when the meter was fudged to make a silly joke out of the rhyme. All in all, Way just didn't seem to be interested in writing a story that actually uses the characters and situations in a believable, adult manner, or he was just incapable of doing so and opted to take the piss instead.

But if you look at nearly every page of this comic, you find that the narration is irrelevant to the telling of the story. And without the narration we've got what could be a serious and impressive entry into the genre. Instead we get gay jokes and shock value cursing. The preview pages released online before the narration was added are fantastic.

Jason Sacks: I see your point about the narration throwing you out of the story, and I did think it strange how Way would use both modern slang and a rhyming narration. I guess I just enjoyed the quirky style of the book a lot, and felt that the weirdness of the writing helped lift the story to a different place than it would have been if it had been written more straight.

I think our narrator will turn out to be a bit of a shaman, with a foot in each world, and thus his narration might make a bit more sense as the series plays out.

Paul Brian McCoy: You're probably right. That's the only way to really make it work for me, but even then I'd really just rather see a serious, adult sword and sorcery story.

Jason Sacks: But I liked that the narration was kind of irrelevant to the storytelling in the comic. In fact, you could say that that's a tribute to the great talent that Richard Corben displays, for his storytelling to be so strong that it allowed the writing to proceed off in its own direction.

A comic like this shows the almost absurd depth of characters that Marvel owns, The original Starr the Slayer appeared in 1970 in a comic called Chamber of Darkness. Written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by a very young Barry Windsor-Smith, Starr was created as kind of a dry run at a Conan story.

As legend has it, Marvel Publisher Martin Goodman was resistant to licensing Conan to Marvel Comics as he feared that the license fees would be too high. Windsor-Smith had been reading Robert E. Howard's Conan stories for many years, and was desperately interested in drawing the character for comics. Thomas and Windsor-Smith created Starr partially to vent their frustrations and partially as a pilot story to tempt Goodman to license Conan. Goodman finally relented, of course, and the Conan was a major success for the company.

Paul Brian McCoy: That's what makes the original story so interesting, even if it was the only real appearance of the character for over 35 years, before Ellis began referencing him in newuinversal. It wasn't his ambition that made him want to kill off the character, it was the fact that the Starr the Slayer dreams that inspired his writing were making him crazy. He had ulcers and his doctor told him he needed to relax. He really felt like he was losing his mind.

So he decided to kill Starr in his final story, but on the way to the post office to mail it, Starr confronts him from an alleyway, accuses Carson of being a wizard, and kills him.

That's when Starr wakes up back in Zardath, where he's passed out after killing the evil wizard, Trull. The story leaves us wondering whether or not these were just dreams. It seems that Carson was actually dreaming of events that happened before history.

Jason Sacks: Way alludes to the original story by having Carson essentially kill off Starr through lack of interest, but Way's approach really makes the story much more interesting and compelling than the original.

Paul Brian McCoy: That's not a bad twist on the original version, and I agree that it worked well. I just don't think it's more interesting or compelling than the original. I think it sounds like a half-talented writer taking a half-assed swipe at the publishing industry.

I think Way's working out personal issues in the snarky, childish way a college freshman would in a Creative Writing class he snuck into without having the pre-requisites.

Jason Sacks: No, I agree that it's not better than the original. Way's take on the storyline is just different from Roy Thomas's take.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Starr. This story had it all for me: exciting action, mystery at the end, a tiny bit of nostalgia, and a whole bunch of wonderful art and story.

Paul Brian McCoy: I was surprised by how much I hated Starr. If they ever decided to publish a version of this with all of the captions and narration removed, then I'd highly recommend it. As it is, I thought Way's writing was utter, talentless garbage. This book puts me off of reading anything by him again.

For a well-written take on these same characters, check out the one-shot, newuniversal: Conqueror, by Si Spurrier and Eric Nguyen. That was a book that both looked good and read like it was written by an adult.

Jason Sacks: I've read a good amount of newuniversal comics, but missed that one. I'll have to check it out.

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