Star Wars saved funnybooks as a mass medium.
Landing the licensing rights to the franchise gave Marvel a leg up at a time when some suspected the publisher’s days were numbered. Its success was able to turn things around long enough for the rebooted X-Men (and its DC counterpart, the New Teen Titans) to gain industry-defining traction and for direct market retail to emerge as a sustainable alternative to ever-shrinking newsstand sales.
Star Wars also functioned as a cultural tentpole for geeky shit as a whole. Star Trek and Planet of the Apes may have had dedicated fandoms, but nothing on par with Star Wars’ demographic (and merchandising) magnitude. Ralph Bakshi had wanted to animate The Lord of the Rings since the late Fifties and the Salkinds had been trying to get a Superman movie off the ground since the early Seventies. Neither were made because of Star Wars, but that film’s success created a conducive environment for both.
Geekdom’s post-Star Wars penetration into the mainstream was modest by present day standards, but it was a high water mark nevertheless. A host of imitators flocked to grab a slice of the action, shelved pitches and pilots were dusted off and sped into production, and merchandise manufacturers shamelessly attempted to get their knock-off product racked beside the flood of Lucas-approved wares.
Star Wars paved the way for Star Blazers as a foundation of anime fandom for a generation of American kids. It also set in motion the action figure craze and emphasis on narrative-based marketing which led to (alongside Reagan Era deregulation) the licensed toy cartoon phenomenon. It’s difficult to find any aspect of today’s “geek mainstream” that doesn’t tie back in some fashion to “a galaxy, far, far away.”
The comics industry, too, tried to get in on the deal, though with less of a grand strategy than its mass media peers exhibited. The official Star Wars comic sold like gangbusters, but that had more to do with the public appetite for Star Wars stuff and a scarcity of ancillary media featuring the brand. It was off-model oddness or nothing, and the public chose the former.
With only a handful of exceptions (Howard the Duck, Tomb of Dracula, Conan, and The X-Men‘s emerging cult fandom), mass market comics didn’t have much to offer in terms of crossover appeal. The talent pool was there, but the effort was all but absent.
Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely adore Bronze Age superhero stuff, but its insularity and extreme swings in quality aren’t the stuff of ambassadorial evangelism. Instead of rising to the opportunity as the Eurocomics and manga scenes did, Marvel and DC responded to Star Wars by offering a string of third rate riffs on its general theme.
The trend was especially pronounced at DC. Marvel had secured the licensing rights to the real deal, and had no pressing impetus to whip up a homebrew imitation. DC, on the other hand, was left to its own devices in trying to come up with a compelling contender for a share of that sweet, sweet revenue stream.
That’s no easy feat when your competition is frickin’ STAR WARS. Wresting away even a tiny toe-hold would require a funnybook of epic proportions.
Unfortunately, what we got was Star Hunters.
The off-brand space opera made its debut in DC Super-Stars #16. The issue sported a September-October 1977 cover date, which suggests a frenzied rush to the post, the strategic advancement of a slush-pile project, or some combination of the two.
The concept was the brainchild of writer David Michelinie and illustrated by a roster of artists — including Don Newton, Bob Layton, Rich Buckler, and Larry Hama — across its brief run.
In the not-so-far-and-very-mid-Seventies future, corporations run everything! The totally-not-evil director of one hires a bunch of familiar archetypes to discover the extraterrestrial origins of humankind!
To ensure they stick to the job, they are shot up with a mutagen which will turn them into scaly green monsters if they stay on Earth too long!
The quest is actually part of a bigger battle being waged between the cosmic forces of good and evil! The series got shitcanned because of the DC Implosion and never received a proper ending!
There’s an unmistakable by-the-numbers quality that runs through the overwhelming majority of DC’s sci-fi and fantasy genre fare from the Seventies and Eighties, and Star Hunters is no exception.
The names, the situations, costume designs, and almost everything else evoke little surprise but oodles of deja vu.
You’ve got FLINT DONOVAN, the Irish-ism spouting font of Errol Flynn-like obnoxiousness, captaining an interstellar K-Car named the SUNRIDER (which blows up and gets replaced by the SUNRIDER II).
There are also the No-Nonsense Ice Princess/Love Interest in Embryo, the Burly Best Bud, Logical Scientist With Graying Temples, Asian Lady Who Knows Computers and Shit, and the Twitchy Guy Whose Inevitable Betrayal Can Be Timed to the Picosecond. They do have proper names, but there’s little point in learning them as the characters exist entirely to bask in their leader’s reflected glory.
It’s FLINT DONOVAN’S extremely derivative fictional world, baby. Everything else is just inhabiting it.
When I decided to return to the Nobody’s Favorites beat, I wanted to shift away from being too harsh on the subjects covered. This series has really put that to the test because familiarity breeds contempt — and familiarity is the core essence governing every aspect of Star Hunters. It is Bronze Age funnybook space opera at its most graspingly generic, a mercenary me-too effort capable of making Sun Devils feel like The Incal by comparison.