Review by Frederick P. Kopetz
In the year 1987, Planet Earth was under heavy attack from the mundane in the way of the comic book. Ordinary comic books flooded the United States with something worse than radioactive pollution; the usual superhero stories. If there was not a respite in this flow of mediocrity, anime fans might have gone mad in just one Earth year. Few anime or manga-related comics existed in those dark days. American Star Blazers fans wondered if they would ever see new adventures of the Star Force in the pages of a comic book.
Then, a message of hope came in 1987. Comico (short for “The Comics Company”), which had already been publishing comic adaptations of the Robotech series, obtained the rights to produce the first original Star Blazers story in English. In those days, fans could obtain the W.C.C. Animation Comics. Those who were very resourceful could get Yamato manga by Leiji Matsumoto or Akira Hio. However, this was a first time for all-new Star Blazers comic stories, and in full color as well.
Star Blazers fans took to the first miniseries like flowers accepting rain in a parched desert. However, while these initial efforts were entertaining and a step ahead in their time, the artwork and storylines fall somewhat short of what fans might expect today. But these series provided some memorable moments and introduced the first original Star Blazers characters outside the pages of fan fiction.
The first mini-series went like this….
The Vengeance of Radnar
Writer, Co-Plotters & penciler: Phil Foglio & Doug Rice
Inker: Mike Chen
Letterer: Bon Pinaha
Colorist: Tom Reilly
Editors: Diana Scultz & Maggie Brenner
Introductions to each comic issue: Robert Fenelon
#1: S.O.S. Argo (April 1987)
After the defeat of Prince Zordar and the Comet Empire, Earth seeks to heal itself and its colony worlds with the help of the Star Force. A status report about Earth’s recovery is sent to a base on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. The aid of the Argo is promised, and the news is overheard by General Radnar, a former officer under Zordar (and a bit of a religious fanatic). Radnar has gathered the remnants of the Comet Empire into a new space fleet. After a rendezvous where many Star Force members leave the Argo, a skeleton crew of cadets and a few officers fly on to Callisto. There, the ship is captured by Radnar’s soldiers, who had already attacked and subdued the base. The Argo sends an S.O.S. to Earth and then ceases all contact.
#2: The Prisoner and the Power (May 1987)
As a strange force awakens in a dying star system at the edge of the Milky Way, Venture and Sandor are summoned to EDF Headquarters. They are assigned to lead a rescue mission on the new EDF space destroyer Hanley. On the beleaguered and outgunned Argo, Wildstar surrenders to Radnar, buying time for the cadets to sabotage the wave-motion engine. As he is dragged off the Argo, Wildstar is shocked when he hears a familiar voice from the ranks of the enemy. A cloaked figure tells him, “Give my love to Starsha.” Cast down to Callisto, Wildstar is left with Doctor Sane and the base commander while Radnar forces the remaining Argo crewmembers to repair her. His plan, as he tells Wildstar, is to attack Earth with the wave-motion gun and avenge the defeat of Zordar. The Argo leaves for Earth with Radnar’s fleet. On board, Nova plots with IQ-9 to continue the sabotage and she meets an unexpected fellow prisoner: Leader Desslok!
#3: Target: Argo (June 1987)
At Mars Base, the EDF plans a fighter attack against the incoming hijacked Argo. Aboard the ship, Nova defies Radnar and we learn that Desslok was captured on his way back to Gamilon. Desslok gives Radnar bogus “advice” while hoping that the EDF can intervene. The attack begins and the Argo takes damage before Radnar’s people figure out how to use the Asteroid Defense Ring System against the EDF fighters. Meanwhile, Wildstar has an interesting conversation with Talan from Callisto. He tells him that Desslok is alive on the Argo, and they establish an alliance to attempt a rescue. Nova’s campaign of sabotage continues when she almost gets hold of the controls, intending to crash-land the Argo on Mars. Radnar stops her, but she is defended by Desslok. The EDF Destroyer Hanley makes for Callisto to rescue Wildstar, but they meet Talan’s Gamilons on the way. Radnar tests the repaired Argo‘s wave-motion gun on the Mars Colony before heading on..to Earth!
#4: Sacrifice! (July 1987)
At the edge of the Milky Way, a mysterious dying star system finally collapses, leaving nothing in its wake. On the Hanley, Eager, Venture and Sandor find out that Wildstar is with Talan on the Gamilon flagship. The Gamilons and EDF troops join forces to attack the Argo. This frees Nova and Desslok. As Radnar is having a hard time against his enemies, Desslok arrives at the bridge to mock him. This diversion allows Nova and IQ-9 to shut down the Argo‘s scanners, and the ship is trapped by Desslok mines that warp in around them. The Gamilons attack Radnar’s fleet as the Hanley warps in close enough for Wildstar and the rest of the Star Force to board the ship. They try again to sabotage the wave-motion engine, but they are too late. Radnar fires the wave-motion gun at Earth…only to have the beam stopped by some mysterious force. This turns out to be the Comet Empire goddess Arishna, who answers for the acts of her children by refusing the “sacrifice” and saving Earth. She tells Radnar how sad she is that her children have turned corrupt and then summons all of them to her. They are entombed in the remnants of Earth’s moon, which she rebuilds around them to be their grave. With the battle over, Desslok and Talan give their good wishes to Wildstar and Nova then they depart. Now commanded by the reunited Star Force, the Argo heads for Callisto to rescue the people stranded there, and the story comes to an end.
Read all four issues online for free here
Good Points of Series One:
- The return of the Star Force in a new story
- The suspenseful storyline (which carried on well from the Comet Empire war)
- The new characters introduced
Shortcomings of Series One:
- An art style which was rather rough and primitive
The coloring especially needed work. The Comet Empire ships were strangely colored and General Talan came out green. Nova also had blue eyes in a few panels.
- A few unbelievable elements detracted from the story. The wave-motion gun, while a powerful weapon, was never shown as being able to destroy entire planets (even in Be Forever Yamato, the destruction of Planet Dezarium was a fluke because it was hollow and the wave-motion energy mingled violently with the Dark Nebulans’ beta energy). So Radnar would not have been able to destroy Earth. The destruction of Megalopolis City would have been more believable and accomplished much the same thing. Also, recon planes were sometimes drawn as fighters; fighter planes should have been drawn throughout when fighters were needed.
- One would think that even a band of space cadets would have fought a bit harder to keep the Argo from being captured. Radnar’s troops seemed to walk over them a little too easily.
- There was a goofy reference to “oil derricks” in the 23rd Century in issue #2. We know now that fossil fuels would have become outdated by then.
- The Moon was shown as totally destroyed when it was only partially melted in the TV series.
Memorable Original Characters:
- General Radnar: The mad priest of Arishna made a memorable, ruthless villain with a morbid sense of humor and typicially anime sense of style. Interestingly, his design was based on an early version of Zordar.
- The Comet Empire space goddess Arishna: Even though her appearance was limited to a Queen-of-Aquarius-like cameo at the end of the story, Arishna’s advent and her vengeance upon her followers was quite memorable and seemed to fit the spirit and feel of the series well.
Honorable Mentions for Existing Characters:
- Nova was very well-handled in this writer’s opinion. While she displayed skills in fisticuffs and sabotage that had never been seen before, it seemed fitting, particularly in the light of how she sabotaged the Double Nucleus Bomb in Be Forever Yamato.
- Desslok was generally well-handled. His talents in deviousness and diversion in the plan to help free the Argo were worthy of his character. However, a flashback sequence in which he tells Talan to “smile” seemed a bit out of character.
- Derek Wildstar was also quite well-written; he had some great one-liners that fit his character very well. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite see enough of him.
A discussion with Star Blazers superfan Rob Fenelon about the first miniseries
How did you become involved with the Comico Star Blazers comics?
I was at a wedding in New York where the best man was Phil Foglio, who ended up being the writer of the comic books. Phil and I go way back from when I was in Boston in 1981. He came up to me at the wedding and said, “Have you finished writing my introduction, yet?”
I said, “What introduction?”
He said, “For the Star Blazers comic book that’s coming out.”
“I guess no one told me that…”
Since Star Blazers had been off the air for so long, instead of editorials, Comico wanted to begin each issue with an introductory article reminding readers what Star Blazers was all about. They needed an expert, so Phil Foglio suggested me.
They had me write the introductions for the first four issues. The first one was all about the historical Yamato, and something about the TV show. The second one was about the Japanese concept of the “admirable adversary,” Leader Desslok. I don’t remember what the others were about, offhand…
You had something in the third one or fourth one about the setup of the Argo and the fighter squadrons and so forth and the historical parallel between that and how the original Yamato went out on her last mission without air cover.
Okay, yes, the Cosmo Tigers. The editor put little pithy lines at the end. That’s what editors do. Phil asked me how much do you want to get paid and I said, “I have no clue, how does a dime a word sound?” he said “sounds good to me.” Later I heard that the editor was extremely mad because she only got paid a penny a word for her editorials.
Can you comment on the artwork?
Doug Rice did the art for the first miniseries. I don’t remember who the colorist was, but it looks like the colorist didn’t have much time, all of the Comet Empire uniforms came out one color.
And the Comet Empire ships, which should have been green, white and orange, came out as bizarre psychedelic colors.
One thing Doug did that I thought was amusing was, there was a Japanese manga artist (Akira Hio) who did adaptations of Yamato. He’d draw a ship once and photocopy it forever, and he’d paste down dozens of photocopies of the same ship. Doug followed the same technique, reasoning that this is how the original comic was done, so he’d do it the same way. “It’ll save time and I’m not getting paid much…” I thought that was cute.
Another thing they did that I liked was, there were the “Perfect Memory” books for Yamato. They had a lot of character and mecha design sketches, including many that were never used.
If I remember, the design for General Radnar was actually an unused design for Zordar.
Precisely! And Radnar’s flagship was an unused earlier rough draft of Zordar’s superdreadnought. So that’s an extreme inside reference that very few fans would be able to pick up on.
How was the creative team chosen?
Doug was chosen because he and Foglio had worked on a prior comic called Dynamo Joe. It was about a giant robot. It had a lot of Japanese influence, which is why Comico fingered them. But Phil actually hadn’t seen Star Blazers when he wrote the Star Blazers comic
And that’s a truism in the American comic book industry, you’ll sometimes have a new author writing a comic book they’d never read. And there were a few…problems.
Would that explain the continuity gaffes?
Well, when General Radnar of the Comet Empire fleet shows up, and confronts a much smaller Gamilon fleet, Desslok SURRENDERS. It’s not in character for him at all. The rest of Desslok was written was fine, but, that one thing was a little bit different.
Even though Phil hadn’t watched Star Blazers, he picked up enough from folks like Doug and me. He portrayed Earth with a ring of asteroids left over from when Zordar destroyed the moon.
What else? Let’s see, General Radnar was a religious fanatic, who captured the Argo and was going to use the wave-motion gun to pulverize Earth…
But it never had that kind of firepower in the series, being able to destroy planets, except for Dezarium in Be Forever, and that was a fluke of physics.
Yeah, different energies interacting and that sort of thing. But still, like we saw at the end of the second series when Zordar was bombing Earth, you can’t do it all in one shot. This was written before it became fashionable to have religious fanatics as your enemies.
Which was another interesting concept for the time…
Yeah, like the “cosmic chick,” Mother Arishna, the goddess of the Comet Imperials, who, at the end, is apologizing…and the President of Earth says, “blah, blah, blah”, and she says “I WASN’T TALKING TO YOU!” She was talking to Earth’s cosmic chick. Desslok also referred to theirs, when he said “if there is a goddess on Gamilon, we’d better get back there because She is probably rather cross with us right now…”, which would segue perfectly into The New Voyage.
How did the series do for Comico?
The sales were unprecedently huge. A reality in the American comic book industry is that nothing sells as
well as a comic book with a cartoon tie-in; GI Joe, Transformers, etc, they sold like hotcakes. Robotech was on the air. The Macross comic book did better than the Mospeada or the Southern Cross one. I don’t remember the numbers precisely. The best-selling one of them was doing something like 80,000 copies. Star Blazers came out, hadn’t been on TV in seven years. They were expecting 30,000 in sales, they sold like 290,000 of the first issue, which for a comic book in the 1980s was absolutely spectacular.
Trouble is, I’m not too sure about the exact number. I can’t quote that as a fact. I remember it was triple the sales of the best-selling Robotech comic at the time, and it blew everyone away. It surprised everybody.
Is there a place I can find a complete pdf of these comics?
YES! I recently discovered all of the first series at this site: http://readallcomics.com/category/star-blazers/
They do not appear to have the second series, however.
I still have every issue in individual bags! This and the Harlock spinoffs kept the flame alive for me before the days of he web.