Thursday, December 06, 2007

Marvel had so much success in the 80’s with toy tie-ins (Transformers and G.I. Joe as prime examples, but books like ROM and Micronauts as well) that it’s easy to forget they had a lot of dogs in there as well. Sectaurs, Air Raiders, Inhumanoids (with early Mark Bagley art, and I thought that one had potential, but it seemed a little too horrific for kids and not enough for anyone older), I don’t remember He-Man taking off for Marvel…Put politely, Marvel’s licensing policy seemed to be, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

Actually, dogs may be too harsh: these books weren’t as successful as G.I. Joe was back in the day, but what was? Some of these books were also based on toys that are long forgotten to the general public: I doubt we’ll see a Starriors revival anytime real soon. Which might almost be a shame. It started with an impressive pedigree: Louise Simonson writing, Bill Sienkiewicz covers. (I'd have a link, but GBD wasn't up, but you can find it yourself!)

The book does have a friendlier apocalypse than the usual nuclear nightmare so prevalent at the time: solar flares make earth’s surface uninhabitable for humans, so before settling in for hibernation underground, they build a bunch of robots for upkeep (the Protectors, which is a nice, positive sounding name) and to defend against aliens or mutants or what have you—the Destructors, which is just asking for them to go evil. Seems like kind of a vague mandate to me as well: “You guys, keep my house clean while I’m gone; and you, shoot anyone who messes with my stuff, ‘kay?”

Mankind is gone long enough to become only a vague legend to the robots, which probably means a geological age, but I like to think the Destructors went bad twenty minutes after the last human went into coldsleep. Apparently without much else to do, they enslaved the Protectors and put them to work. Work they were probably already doing, but it’s not as much fun when you’re forced to do it. Wait, they were probably ‘forced’ by their programming from the humans…man, being a Protector sounds rough.

So Starriors is a standard robot rumble, the classic “lets him and you fight” you’ve seen a million times before and since, right? Well, kind of. There are little oddities and interesting bits scattered in, like bits of candy strewn in vanilla ice cream:
As the only two with first and last names, Auntie and Slaughter had a special bond.1. I don’t know if this was Simonson’s doing, or some corporate toy-naming committee, or perhaps a translating issue; but while most of the individual Starriors had pretty standard fighting robot names like Hotshot or Gouge, there were a couple strange ones. “Auntie Tank” is probably my favorite, and would logically follow as a bastardization of ‘Anti-tank,’ except…she’s basically a tank. But the evil leader’s name was Slaughter Steelgrave, which again seems like asking for trouble. And like the Transformers, there are inexplicably male and female robots, although with the Starriors they don’t usually look the part, as it were.

If this was an Image comic, Slaughter's chisel would be mounted lower than his chest...2. For the toys, many were the same model but colored blue and white for Protectors or mostly red for Destructors. (It’s a fairly clever way for toymakers to get two characters out of a single mold.) Hotshot and Slaughter are basically the same robot, but oddly, Hotshot has ‘construction lasers,’ which seem like they would be effective as an offensive weapon. Slaughter has a ‘vibro-chisel.’ Yes, the feared, mightiest of the Destructors…reams his opponents to death. Hmm. Seems like an odd design choice, but if he’s hard enough to go into battle against other giant robots, with a chisel, and come out on top, I guess that just proves he’s hardcore.
By this rationale, the inside of my skull looks like...God?
3. I never even saw the toys for this. I would have been thirteen when this came out, and was on the verge of the dark period in my life when I gave a rat’s ass what people thought and wasn’t buying toys.¹ But an oddity in the Starriors design was that their ‘control circuits,’ were shaped like small humans, in chairs like drivers. I always suspected that was kind of a workaround: the toys were probably originally intended to be larger, and piloted, robots, like Robotech, not intelligent and autonomous. Great speech, but didn't I have a house?  What the hell have you guys been doing? So, I was surprised and disappointed in the last issue, where Hotshot is revealed to be about the same size as a normal human. There was no reason for me to think he was bigger, in fact there were lots of establishing shots that should’ve made it obvious that he’s not, but it still bugged me.

4. Like I said, a lot of the series is pretty standard: Robot on robot violence, check. Robots fighting their programming in order to do what they know is right, check. Robots leaving a traitor smashed and immobile but still aware, in a desert to suffer until he rusts…wait, that’s new. And from the good guys.
The metaphor ‘snitches get stitches’ doesn’t translate well for robots, but it still applies.
The art in all four issues was pencilled by Michael Chen and inked by Akin and Garvey, and it does a pretty good job for having a ton of characters with no facial expressions to work with. And we could make a snarky joke here about how Marvel used to be able put out a four issue limited series on time, with the same artist all the way through it. But, let's take the high road, eh?

5. So I had this as a kid, but lost or sold it at some point. The quarter box provides, though, and the new copies were bagged with three of the mini-comics that had come with the toys. Bonus, although it had the unintentional side effect of pissing me off that every toy doesn’t come with a comic. Giving a blind robot the biggest gun seems like another design flaw, Man. Cricket and Deadeye are an interesting pairing: Deadeye was the blind dinosaur robot with the Demolishors, the heavy cannon, and Cricket was his deaf guide. In fact, Cricket was made deaf by the Demolishors, but was addicted to the feeling of the sound. Pretty heady for a toy tie-in.

I think Sectaurs or C.O.P.S. get more love than Starriors.  Let's fix that. Enough. Time to hit up eBay, and see if they have a Starrior or two for me...


Siskoid said...

I HAVE seen the toys. The gimmick was that you'd press a button on the back and their tool in front would fire or spin or what-have-you.

I liked this little series at the time, and it's still kind of sweet in a Power Pack kind of way.

I even reviewed in on my faux-blog some time ago, with the covers presented no less. I offer it as a second opinion.

googum said...

Neat! I hit your regular blog all the time, particularly now that DS9 is in full swing there...

This series did hold up all right, didn't it? Still, I looked for the toys yesterday on eBay, and there was a bazillion entries for the comics, and few for the toys. Shoot.

Siskoid said...

My review has a link for the toys at least, but yeah, it's long forgotten.

Sadly, cuz they're not bad. (And thanks for the comments and support.)

Anonymous said...

Huh. Seems the toyline starriors is based on was Zoids.

I guess that's a reason to get zoids at garage sales.