Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Night Fracks: Starbuckin'

Battlestar Galactica #20It's true, folks: media tie-in comic books really do work as gateway comics, and I'm the little stuffed proof. No, I wasn't brought to the fandom of four-color adventure by Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter or Stephen King's The Dark Tower or even 30 Rock: The Comic Book, but you can blame my obsessive love for comic books on a licensed comic: my first non-kiddie comic was Marvel's Star Wars #21, which I picked up on the newsstand solely because a freakin' huge Darth Vader was on the cover, and by flipping through it I decided that it didn't look as lame as some of the previous Star Wars comics I'd briefly scanned. Before then I had taken once look at Star Wars #9 and scoffed at the silly and ridiculous green character on the cover. Wrong I was, of course (to quote a later green Star Wars character), Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit was not only not lame, he was, as I well know now, utterly totally awesome. But all of that was a false start easily rectified with Star Wars #21, and I was hooked on that comic, that story, and very soon, Marvel comics as a whole.

Star Wars #21 was cover-dated March 1979, so it's entirely possible that the second comic I ever bought was yet another space-media tie-in, Marvel's Battlestar Galactica #1, which was published the same month. For the next few years or so I bought both these comics regularly, eventually adding to my collection my first superhero comic (Avengers #197 the following summer). Back in those days I didn't bag or board or box my comics: my collection was slim enough that I kept them in a green paper envelope and pulled them out frequently to re-read 'em all. A couple years later I experienced my first of a long series of comics being cancelled out from under my nose when Marvel pulled the plug on Battlestar Galactica with issue #23—just when it was getting pretty good.

What? The 70s Marvel Battlestar Galactica...pretty good? Well, yeah, towards the end, really, it wasn't bad. After a lengthy and extended set of issues that were nothing but pre-series flashbacks (Adama was trapped in a "Memory Machine" replaying his past life as everyone around him pretty much just stood around, wrung their hands and worried for a half-dozen issues), the series kicked into high gear with the arrival of Walt Simsonson...yes, that Walt Simonson: pre-Thor but still plenty ass-kickin'. Unca Walt came on board as a penciller and co-plotter around about issue #11, and the next few issues featured a mild upswing in skill and excitement in what had been a fairly pedestrian series until then. Number 16, with Apollo battling an ultra-advanced super-Cylon on a desolate planet, was one of the standout issues and well-worth checking out.

But it wasn't until issue #19 that Walt took full reins, both writing and penciling Galactica (Klaus Janson did the inks) and suddenly the series became pretty cool. For the first time I realized that different creative teams on a comic book could mean an increase in quality of the story and art. It would take a few years (the post-Empire issues) for the Star Wars series to get to the point where I could point at 'em and say, "Yeah, those are pretty good comics," but Galactica got that way fast with Simonson's take-over, and although the series wouldn't' last much longer, it was still a fun final ride. And, you have to hand it to Walt: he brought back Starbuck.

What's that? "Brought back Starbuck? Where the heck was he?" you ask, amazed. Roger McKenzie wrote Starbuck out of the series in issue #14. Yes, you read that correctly: the most popular character did not appear in issues #14-18. Why...that's just insane! What kind of Galactica storyline doesn't have Starbuck front and center as much as possible? Why, they surely wouldn't write Starbuck out of the show if it was still on today, would they? Oh, I bet they wouldn't.

Battlestar Galactica #19"Not that you missed him but...Starbuck's back!!" crowed the lovely stylized Simonson cover to issue #19, and you can guess who crash-lands in the Galactica's landing bar a few pages into the story. We then catch up on what ABC's Top Sunday Night Colonial Warrior had been up to while Apollo and Boxey and the gang has been sitting around twiddling their space-thumbs since ish #14. It's a wonderful tale in and of itself which explains how Starbuck conned and blasted his way out of a deal to remain forever with the lovely but bat-crazy space pirate Eurayle (Empress of Scavenge World). One of these days I'll devote a column to this issue, which has a great four-page sequence where Starbuck narrates his adventure (while we see what really happened). But this is Friday, after all, and it's time for Friday Night Fights, isn't it? That's why I'm turning instead to look at the following ish, Battlestar Galactica #20, when Eurayle finally catches up with Starbuck.

And boy, is she ticked off.

Eurayle controls minds (did I mention that? No? Well, she controls minds.) Starbuck remaining behind with her on Scavenge World was the price she exacted for letting the Galactica and the ragtag human fleet free back in issue #14, so she's understandably a little peeved that the starbuckin' one broke that promise and escaped.
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel
All panels are from Battlestar Galactica #20 (October 1980), written and penciled by Walt Simonson, inks by Klaus Janson, coloring by Steve Oliff, lettering by Diana Albers

She attempts to mind-control Apollo (really, who doesn't try that trick?), but with the help of some handy space-rope, Starbuck's prepared for that emergency:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

It's a space-stalemate! In the show this would be a great moment for a commercial break and then that dramatic bum-bum-ba-bum ba-ba-bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum music accompanied by special effects we've seen one bazillion times since the pilot, but Simonson zips us right along to a parlay on one of the shuttles where Eurayle tries to play the same card as before: surrender or die:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

Apollo, of course, has a plan. He always does, doesn't he? It would be several years after Battlestar Galactica disappeared from the airwaves before British pop duo Pet Shop Boys made their first appearance on the charts, but the crackerjack team of Apollo and Starbuck neatly anticipate the lyrics of one of their most famous songs: I've got the brains, you've got the looks. Yes, Apollo and Starbuck are the Tennant and Lowe of the space lanes, and don't let anyone tell you any different. Oh, and that plan? Why, only a little eeny-weeny fight...
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel the death!

Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about.

So here at last is the fight portion of Friday Night, and if it helps you to get out your Stu Phillips LP of the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack and cue it up to the track "Cylon Freighter/The Trap," why, you're in a perfect mood to see Starbuck and Eurayle, in spacesuits, tied together, bashing each other's brains out with space-hammers:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

Just like a retired Musketeer, Starbuck draws first, air...
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

...while Apollo and Eurayle's hulking green henchman watch...
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

Oh, and then, Eurayle wins.
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

But Starbuck's okay, right? This isn't the end of the fight...?
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel


Starbuck dead and her honor satisfied, Eurayle prepares to leave, but not before pitchin' a little woo at Commander Adama's favorite (surviving) boy:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

So. That's a bummer, isn't it? Walt Simonson works hard to get Starbuck back, and inside 17 pages, he's dead and...
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

Ah ha! Starbuck and Apollo have been watching "Amok Time!" Clever, clever little leather-clad Colonial Warriors, ain't they? Walt leaves us with the suggestion that Eurayle was in on the con all the time, going along with the battle just to save face in front of her people:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

There's a lovely little funny moment just at the end that's pure Dirk Benedict/Richard Hatch:
Battlestar Galactica #20 panel

And then, cue the Stu Phillips orchestra, bring up the special effects, and Lorne Greene fruitily intones in the dulcet voice that sold a billion cans of Alpo: "Fleeing the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet Earth." (Bum bum bum BUM!)

Nowadays you kids have it so good: your Warriors with first names and your sexy, sexy Cylons: we had Jonathan Harris and socialators and comic-relief robot dogs daggits and Brit Ekland and we liked it that way. You know, it's true: it's sometimes hard to watch the original Galactica and not giggle or guffaw at it. I loved it a lot, but even back then I knew how silly and insubstantial it was, and I was sorry to see it go away after a single season (especially considering Galactica 1980 replaced it the following year). But as we now know, the basic concept of the ragtag fleet fleeing the Cylons is a solid one and has led to excellent and acclaimed entertainment over the past few years—and that's not even categorizing it as "one of the best sci-fi TV shows"...but rather one of the best TV shows, period. It all goes to show you: stripped of the seventies camp and velour, the basic concept was solid, sound, and full of excitement and energy. Walt Simonson saw that first, I think: transforming a pretty pedestrian tie-in comic into a half-dozen pretty cool comics by any standards. Battlestar Galactica oughta be fun. And in the hands of Unca Walt, it sure was.

(Bahlactus believes that that life here...began out there.)


The Fortress Keeper said...

Back in the day, I dropped that book after the first few issues. Little did I know that Walt Simonson took the reins later on! I'll have to hunt those down ...

On a somewhat related matter, though, I did like the Man From Atlantis comic. Bill Mantlo at his Mantlo-est!

Tom the Dog said...

30 Rock: The Comic. By Dan Slott and Kyle Baker. I would hella buy that comic. (I apologize for using the faux-word "hella." I don't know what came over me.)

Bret said...

AS would I.
As would we all.

Cinephile said...

Bully1 A brilliant post. Star Wars was the first comic I ever read, too (the adaptation of the first movie, which I read out of order because I could only find them in three-paks, where you'd get issue #3, then #2, then #6, and so on). And I totally agree that SW got much better post-Empire, when David Michelinie started writing it.

And Battlestar? I not only read it, I subscribed to it (sobs, covers head in shame at his six-year-old self). I really liked that comic, although I'd forgotten it was a Simonson effort.

Extra points for the Stu Phillips reference, too, although I think more of his Buck Rogers music-- beedle beedle beep!-- than his Battlestar stuff.

Jonathan Miller said...

I gotta admit, I gave up on the new series after the initial miniseries. Ugh. Give me the cheesy '70s series with heart any day; the dark, nihilistic, "sexy" mini just left me cold. (Except for the very end, which actually left me a little angry.)

Guess I'm just not a sophisticate. ;-)