While the licensed toy comics of the 1980s could technically qualify as “advertainment,” the mechanics of that marketing relationship ran inverse to the how such works are commonly understood. It wasn’t a matter of a popular medium promoting playthings as it was popular playthings being used to help prop up an industry suffering from structural weakness in terms of its demographic reach.
G.I. Joe and Transformers would have done just fine without tie-in comics, just as Masters of the Universe was able to despite some weak attempts to establish its own funnybook presence. How much of that was clear to the ad execs is another matter, as initial (and exceptional) successes all but guaranteed that comics were seen a essential component of any proper multimedia world-building blitz. The licensors got exposure and a possible flow of additional revenue, and comics publishers got to clutch at (typically vain) hopes for a circulation-boosting splashover effect.
“If only one in five kids who own a Megatron toy buy an issue, we will be able to afford name brand peanut butter this month!”
It can be a dicey enough proposition when dealing with “hot” or even “evergreen” properties (though it seems there can never be enough tangential Star Wars gruel to satiate fandom’s gaping maw), but it becomes truly tragic when employed in service of a struggling striver with little chance of locking down a slice of market share…
…like Gammarauders, for instance.
The Gammarauders funnybook was the product of a licensing deal between DC Comics and TSR, and the odd title out of the other Dungeons & Dragons affiliated fruits of that arrangement. While the D&D funnybooks had decades of brand recognition and established fanbases in their corner, Gammarauders attempted to showcase one of TSR’s more recent great dice-rolling hopes — a post-apocalyptic wargame involving battles between retro-future dudes riding giant hamsters and kangaroos and shit.
Though Gammarauders was heavily pushed via funnybook ads and shamelessly promoted in Dragon Magazine, my sole encounter with the game in the wild came when I spotted a copy collecting dust on a shelf at the local Toys ‘R’ Us and hoped that this meant that the store would start carrying D&D products again. (It didn’t.) Even the college sci-fi club — which had a vast and regrettable library of games purchased on a hype-drunk impulse — chose to pass on it.
If the Gammarauders game had a hard road to hoe in gaining an sustainable audience, the comic had an even tougher task…which it proceeded to botch at every opportunity.
The forced whimsy and complex ecologies of Gammarauders‘ fictional world were aspects which could be parsed (or ignored) by a bunch of gamers around a tabletop where stats and dice rolls took preeminence over some irritating bit of scene-setting background fluff. They narrative bits exist to set the scene, but aren’t necessarily germane to the overall experience.
The Gammarauders comic, on the other hand is nothing but that background stuff, aggressively frontloaded and impenetrably dense and used to pad out a thin Bildungsroman about some dude name “Jok” who rides a giant kangaroo and quotes Elvis as scripture and dresses like an extra from The Jetsons Go Rockabilly.
I have read a lot of terrible comics in my time, but few have been so resistant to my comprehension skills as Gammarauders is. It’s unrelenting infodump and barrage of nonsensical references ensure that the narrative slows with all the melodic elegance of a river barge scraping against a bridge abutment.
Even those rare times when I did get manage to past the self-consciously clever slang and irritating attempts at zany humor, I was subjected to just another in a long line of “diverse crew of misfits team up to challenge the status quo” boilerplate plots which pass for comicbook sci-fi.
It also didn’t help that the art in Gammarauders kept switching back and forth and back again between sub-Ninja High School pseudo-manga doodling to a semi-realistic illustration style that was equal parts Alan Weiss and David Lloyd. Neither style is particularly off-putting, but the lack of artistic consistency amplifies the confusion factor in an already bewildering mess.
The comic lasted a total of ten issues before low sales forced DC to pull the plug on the project, though not without providing its (purely theoretical) readers with an illustrated teaser about how things would have wrapped up…
…which made as much sense as anything else associated with the Gammarauders funnybook.
In hindsight, it’s now hard to see how this project came into being. The property was “fresh,” there for the taking, and not that far removed from a lot of the other high concept drek making waves in the indie scene at the time. Whatever meager potential Gammamarauders had as a comic, however, was scuttled by the decision to put too much faith in the dubious novelty of the game setting and not enough in the simple joys of false kaiju battles.
For that sin, among so many others, I have chosen to consign Gammamarauders to the lop-sided math trade known as Nobody’s Favorites.