Starlord Annual 1981

Brian Bolland draws the cover for this annual, featuring Starlord revealing Ro-Jaws, the Gronk, Johnny Alpha, Hammerstein, Ardenia Lakam, Na-Rutha, James Blocker, Suzie Cho and two more figures from under his purple and gold cloak. Both Ardeni and the Gronk are doing the ‘hands held up to the head denoting psychic powers being used’ that Anderson is well-known for. Is Gronk secretly a powerful psychic?

After the specially commissioned cover by Bolland, we’re on to what look like library pictures of generic space and science fiction themes for the background to the contents page, which also leads in to Revealed At Last! – a history of the circumstances by which the IntStellFed took over the Galactic Republic (by killing all but one of the Galactic Republic’s Ruling Council – Starlord was the one who survived). There’s no credits (on this or any other story, apart from when artists have managed to sneak their signatures in, which I’ll mention if I spot them), but I think I recognise Chris Foss’s style on some of the paintings.

Ro-Busters has an untitled story where Ro-Jaws reveals his racist tendencies towards Sicilians. The Mafia are threatening to kill Mr 10% unless he allows their robot – the stereotypical waiter droid Strada Milano – to infiltrate Ro-Busters in order to steal plutonium from a sabotaged nuclear power station so that they can construct a bomb to hold New York to ransom (or ‘ranson’ as the text says). As well as the criminal endeavours, the droid is dangerous when trying to perform its cover job. Despite this, Ro-Jaws main objections to working with Strada Milano are because it’s a “garlic-eating wop” and an “opera-singing Sicilian droid”. Enough about the racism in this story and on with the cross-overs. Ro-Jaws it the Ro-Busters representative of the Amalgamated Androids Union (yes, the one recently seen in Sam Slade, Robo-Hunter) and the Mafia get taken away by a judge in the last panels.

Starlord Hardware Profile: Earth Station One! has stock art (probably concept art released by NASA, which they did a lot of in the 1970s) showing a proposed space station repurposed from discarded Apollo modules.

Strange Lights in the Sky has a run-down of some UFO reports, including a few diagrams of the traditional UFO shapes.

Orbital Injury is a half-page ‘story’ about a journalist using a typewriter in zero gravity and getting writer’s cramp. It fills pages (two, with the stock art).

The Strontium Dog story has two signatures by Keith Page and, like the Stront text story in the 2000AD Special a few weeks earlier, is clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now. This story’s version of Colonel Kurtz (called Colonel Krulgor) knows that the war on planet Volva Four is over, but enjoys killing, and leadership, so much that he’s leading his men to slaughter undefended towns and villages in jungles across the planet. Krulgor really likes using the word ‘stonk’, as in “Stonk ’em hard!” – this is about a decade before Comic Relief released a charity single called The Stonk. Despite being a war-hardened veteran, Krulgor caves in once Johnny Alpha beats him in hand-to-hand combat, crawling on hands and knees and begging for mercy in front of his men. Hmmm. Alpha states that there is good and bad in both mutant and norm, and that we must learn to understand and forgive people like the colonel (who has carried out multiple massacres in peacetime). Though he then executes a fellow bounty hunter who joined Krulgor’s men as he wasn’t ostracised for being a mutant by Krulgor, as he had for the rest of his life up to that point (and would probably have been killed like five other bounty hunters who had been sent previously). Oh, and Johnny’s name is spelled ‘Johnnie’ throughout. If I put that down to a mistake on the anonymous author’s part (which should have been picked up by the editor) then the person who did the lettering is the only one who came out of this story looking good.

Starlord Hardware Profile is back, with Harrier-Carrier – some sort of hovercraft design called the Semi-Submerged Air Cushion Vehicle (SSACV) modified to carry Harrier Jump Jets. Apparently a full-scale prototype had been built in the USA, though seeing as the Harrier is a UK I’m not sure where they came up with the title for this version. Never having heard of it before, I did a quick internet search and found papers from four and two years before this annual was published, and not much else. By this point the idea appears to have been – wait for it, wait for it – dead in the water.

It’s back – I thought the ending of Phantom Patrol in the 2000AD Annual this year meant we wouldn’t have to read through any more of this reprint, but I was wrong. There’s another Starlord Annual next year as well. I’ve got a bad feeling about this… Having gone as far back as they could, they’ve now turned the dial as far in the other direction to head into the far future. The first line of dialogue is the response to a clumsily-covered up question, obscured by the title of the series. The question must have been along the lines of “Sarge, what is that massive thing up in the sky that looks exactly like the sky but that is significantly bigger than we’re used to?” and the answer is: “It looks like the moon, Paddy! We’re so far forward in time that the moon is a lot nearer the Earth than in the twentieth century, where we come from!” It’s lucky the Sarge is there to tell Paddy which century he was born and lived in before getting caught up in time travel shennanigans. So, the dialogue isn’t going to win any awards (not any you’d want to display, anyway) but at least it’s got a robot dog (shush, K-9 haters). The robot is activated, valianty tries to defend the Patrol against some giant wasps, fails, is saved by the Patrol and rewards them with a recap of future history – Earth is a Utopia but is old and dying so everybody moved to another planet, destroying all the robots before they left (why?) but Fergus the robo-dog (don’t ask) was merely deactivated, ready to be turned on by Paddy. Got that? This little future excursion is pointless, as having picked up Fergus they scoot off into the past again. The date hasn’t been established in this installment, but therye’s a thick forest, a log hut and church bells. The Patrol burst into the hut to discover a christmas feast and get mistaken for the Baron’s men. No, I don’t know why they thought bursting through the door of a hut in an unknown time period was a good idea either.

Arthur C. Clarke: Take a Deep Breath (Starlord Fiction). I seriously doubt that this was commissioned for this annual, so perhaps a more accurate feature title would be ‘Starlord republished short story from somebody everybody’s heard of, even if they’re not into sci-fi). The short is about exposure to the vacuum of space without a suit, with the most realistic depiction we could have guessed at at the time (and seeing as it’s never happened to this date, we have yet to know exactly what would happen, I guess). No exploding bodies due to decompression in this story, merely the theory that you’d have up to 30 seconds or two minutes to get to an airlock if you want to stay alive.

Are You a Starlord Superbrain? I found four of the stars in the Star-Filled Sky and couldn’t get my head around the Weighty Problem (to be fair, if I’d tried to work it out on paper I may have been successful, but I read it while on a train and just wanted to get to the next comic pages). On the What Am I? puzzle I got as far as ‘space’ (my first is in Hercules and also in Mars, etc), though it turns out my suspcion of ‘spacesuit’ was correct, but I misunderstood two of the lines and discounted it. Sprocket’s Rocket is another mathematical puzzle, as is Moonomania. Space Filler is a blank crossword with answers given but have to be put in the correct places while Galactic Cluster is a pattern matching exercise (which I got right). Rescue from the Aliens! is a maze puzzle which I succeeded at, All Change for Battle! is a tile movement in the least moves puzzle (I got that one right too) and Sabotage! is a ‘follow lines acround a piece of paper to see what they connect to’ puzzle which I reckon I could have succeeded at, if I’d felt inclined to spend the time and effort to do so. So in answer to the question “Am I a Starlord Superbrain?” I’d have to say no as success is “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration”.

Flying Wigs! – in this case WIGS stands for Wings In Ground Effect and seems to be one of those Starlord Hardware Profiles which hasn’t had the logo applied.

Reprint time with The War-Torn Planet. The planet is Mirka and is being explored by Space-Cruiser X 4. Bill and Pete blunder into the midst of a war between the Etarkans who look like ‘normal’ humans and are good guys and the Lukans who look like dwarfs and are led by a guy with an unconvincing moustache – do I need to tell you they’re the bad guys? The Lukans imprison Bill and Pete in caves under the domed city of Luka for not using Earth science to grind the Etarkans “into the dust!” The Etarkans lead a rescue mission and escapes Luka. The moustachioed leader of the Lukans uses weapons in the air plant, against the advice of one of his men. The vibrations from the ray gun (do rays produce vibrations?) cause the air plant to blow up, destroying all sorts of stuff. The artwork is primitive but not as offensive as some of the scrappy artwork that’s appeared in annuals and specials previously. In fact, I actually quite like one or two of the panels. Well, one. You might actively like this if you’re a fan of Jack Kirby’s style. Personally I’m not, so would welcome other opinions.

Hail Star-Troopers! is a multiple-choice quiz with 6 questions. What did I score? Technically, five, because the answers to the quiz think that the multi-role rescue craft from Ro-Busters is ‘Silver Locust’ instead of ‘Preying Matnis’.

Hydrogen Power – Light Than Air, Cheaper Than Oil! is a feature on a hypothetical passenger aircraft (with British Airways livery). It’s a very optimistic point, assuming that by the year 2000 we’ll stop polluting the world, saving money into the bargain, because we’d have spent the money up-front to develop the technology. Twenty years after the ‘deadline’ we’re still not there.

Mind Wars by an unknown writer but with art by Keith Page (instead of Redondo, as it should be). If you remember, the original run of Mind Wars had a rush ending in the last issue of Starlord. I was not convinced that leaving two war-monger rulers in power – albeit now commanding disarmed armies – would lead to long-term stability. Na-Rutha is re-introduced as an ‘unemployed cosmic lord’ on a holiday planet who suddenly gets a bright idea and leaves the planet. Ardeni Lakam (with Yosay Tilman in tow) have relocated to a hospital planet where she takes up space, refusing to use her powers to help people and then getting upset when they die. Na Rutha then attacks all of humanity by activating the nueral irradiation projector using Klee-Fang’s broodmother. There’s no reason given for it having to have been Klee-Fang’s broodmother – later on in the story other broodmother’s are used instead. As this story has never been reprinted, I’d better point out that while Klee-Fang was shoulder-dragon sized, the broodmothers are space-ship sized. Ardeni manages to fend off the psychic attack, but every other human is still affected, including Yosay who stabs her just after she’s stopped Klee-Fang’s broodmother. Yosay comes around just a second too late and takes Ardeni’s prone body to Earth where Doctor Varn orders her life to be saved. While unconscious, Na-Rutha has put all the other broodmothers under his control (how they’re put under his control isn’t clear – i.e. they just say they’re “under our control” and that’s all that’s written). The concentrated feral-mindedness is projected on to the human race, snapping Ardeni back to consciousness where she follows a psychic trail, turns all the broodmothers into butterflies and declares that she has sworn never to kill with her powers (which isn’t what she was saying at the beginning, when she was letting people die when she wasn’t using them “for any reason”). Instead she puts Na-Rutha on to a seal ship where it’s heading out of the galaxy. Ardeni heads back to the hospital planet where she’s going to actually use her powers for good. There’s a few germs of good ideas in this story, but the rushed pace and, frankly, bad storytelling ruin it – though the end state of the story is more satisfying than the rushed ending of the original series. Let’s talk about the artwork for a bit. Keith Page’s art is reminiscent of so-so fan art. Pretty much any half-decent picture in this story is copied from better versions by Redondo from the pages of Starlord. When I say copied I mean directly copied – Ardeni leaning up in bed, one hand clutched on the bedsheet with her psychic eyes emanations. The artist is also not leaving enough space for the lettering to be placed, with word balloons sometimes appearing over a panel in the next panel down so that when I was reading I eventually came across a word balloon two panels after I’d finished the panel it was supposed to be placed in! This happened twice on one page. There’s also an instance of using arrows to let the reader know which panel they were supposed to be reading next – I’ve said before that if you have to put an arrow in too guide the eye then you should have placed the panels in a different order in the first place. In all, this story isn’t completely awful, but it does detract heavily from the real Mind Wars series.

Feathered Friend is another text story by Arthur C. Clarke. I tried finding out where it was originally published but was unsuccessful, though did find there were a few study notes pages, and it has been adapted into a comic a number of times (well, at least one looked professional and the other looked very home-made). I’m not going to do a protracted run-down or review of this story, as it is simply a reprint of a short story from an external source – it’s not an adaptation like Stainless Steel Rat or even a reprint of an IPC comic. A canary has been smuggled on to a space station and when it’s found unconscious it signals to the crew that there’s something wrong with the air. Which is what canaries are famous for. As you’d expect from Clarke, this short gives an impression of what life would really be like on a space station.

Starlord Hardware Profile: Pigship – The Big Lifter. Supposedly an IntStellFed heavy transport though the art looks like library art of a proposed airship/airplane hybrid rather than a sci-fi spaceship.

The artwork on one-offs based on Starlord stories seem to be handled by two artists – one is Keith Page and my guess is that the other un-named artist did the Ro-Busters story earlier but also the next story – another un-named Time Quake story. Having said that, the Droons have a plan called ‘Eve of Destruction’ so let’s call it that. Eve of Destruction involves the ability to interfere with Time Control operative’s time jumps and engineer their deaths. All of them. You’d wonder why they come up with convoluted schemes if they can do this as it’s foiled by Suzi Cho’s ability to shape change (an ability she’s used in every story I can think of).

The Death of the Sun is a text piece on the life-cycle of the sun (and is probably partially out-dated by current thinking).

Starlord Hardware Profile: Blackbird – Your Pocket Rocket. This is a real aircraft, unlike some of the other proposed pieces of hardwave that have been covered so far. The Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ was in operation from 1964 to 1988 so I wonder how much of the text in this piece on a top secret spy plane has been made up by the author.

Phantom Patrol, continued. Looks like it’s at some point between the Norman conquest and the Elizabethan era. Sergeant Joe reassures the fearful residents of the log hut that they’re not the baron’s men, and furthermore that they will fight off the baron’s men should they appear. Three panels later he completely ignores Fergus the robo-dog’s warning that the baron’s men have arrived and the hut gets burned down. As Corporal Jock swings a rifle-butt at the mounted leader he exclaims “We don’t even need to waste bullets” – which for me just raises the question of where they’ve been getting bullets since they’ve started hopping around time – bearing in mind that there are probably additional stories in between the ones that have been reprinted in the various annuals they’ve appeared in. Despite the Patrol being trained and seasoned soldiers they get easily ambushed by the baron’s men and captured. Fergus manages to get a wishing ball to them (did I mention those earlier? They’re balls from the far future that grant wishes, through technology) but at the cost of his battery. Paddy grabs the ball and uses it to wish for modern weaponry, forgetting they’re in whatever century they’re in. Despite not being trained in use of axes and swords, they manage to overpower the baron’s men and the baron himself, who almost certainly would have been trained from childhood in use of a sword. Paddy goes back to get Fergus but is captured (again). The rest go forward in time to get a tank, coincidentally landing right next to a German firing range with rockets, armoured cars and tanks. I’m not going to waste time and space talking about the to and fro, but they end up abandoning the landing craft, going back to the exact time and place they need to be to rescue Paddy and Fergus and end up with the Sarge unconscious and what looks like a 1980 addition putting the tank and Patrol heading randomly through time.

Starlord Hardware Profile: The train now landing on Platform Three… is a one pager about anti-grav trains, featuring a picture with some Japanese writing on the top of the train. Though the writing is back-to-front, so who knows where they got this image from, before flipping it?

Colonising the Moon – a few bits of concept art on space stations and moon colonies accompanied by a few paragraphs of optimistic text which imagines we’d be further along in 1990 than we are in 2020.

Telephone Lines in Space is about communications satellites. This is a bit more accurate as it’s mainly about what was already in geostationery orbit at the time, with the exception of one prediction – that of video-telephone linking Britain and the USA – we do indeed have international video conferencing now, and I know somebody who was installed it for companies back in the 1990s. This is accompanied by a cutaway diagram of Intelsat IV.

Starlord Hardware Profile: Scatter-Craft Instellfed Striker! (yes it really does say InStellFed and not IntStellFed). This craft appears to be a large and slow freighter but splits in to five smaller and faster craft. As seen in Ro-Busters (Preying Mantis, anyone?) or Mind Wars (all of the ships of the Human Federation and Jugla Empire in the year 3000).

So far this annual has been printed on the equivalent of the bog paper of the weeklies. You know I wouldn’t be mentioning this if the following eight pages weren’t higher quality. When it was new, pages 105 to 112 would have been positively glowing with whiteness, and with high quality properly colour-printed full-colour artwork as well. Considering the scrappy quality of the original content so far, I assume that The Return of the Sludge is reprinted from elsewhere. One internet search later: Yup. Drawn by Bill Lacey it has been reprinted from the pages of Lion (and was the sequel to The Sludge). It’s sometimes said that what 2000AD fit into 6 pages would take a comic in the USA 24 pages (or whatever the standard strip page count of a monthly is). This one is positively speedy by comparison, with the alien (?) creature not-at-all inspired by The Blog taking over a coach, then a cable car, trees, a train and boat in quick succession. It proves immune to the effects of formic acid (which apparently had almost vanquished it in a previous story) but happenstance reveals that it is succeptable to the venom of Portuguese men-of-war – so the humans manage to herd the sludge towards a convenient nearby plague of the ‘giant jellyfish’ (they’re not actually jellyfish – though just maybe they were in the same subphylum at the time this story was written – they’re considered to be in the siphonophore now, anyway.

Starlord Hardware Profile: Q-Ship! is a repurposed freighter starship which has been repurposed for Starlord’s battles against the IntStellFed.

Starlord Special: Ghost Hunter. This is a three-page text story starting in extreme detail about the geography of the streets around Queen Victoria Street, Cannon Street and King William Street. I thought it a little strange just how often the exact street names were mentioned, along with a building – turns out it was because it’s based on the Temple of Mythras beneath Bucklersbury House (knocked down in 2010 to make way for a new building – the house, not the temple). This is the tale of a ghost hunter who, with the full knowledge of a Chief Inspector, engineers a head-on collision in the middle of rush hour on London Bridge. The person who the ghost hunter actually hits is an acquaintance, but the plentiful number of cars around aren’t. This is all in aid of allowing a Roman soldier and follower of Mythras to pass their endurance test (which they failed in the 4th century).

Starlord Hardware Profile: Death of the Purple Twilight – it’s not really a hardware profile, more like that bit at the beginning of the annual detailing the IntStellFed takeoever – this was the first major act of resistance, taking out thousands of warships.

Even more reprint with the return of Guinea Pig – when is Mike Lane going to rebel against the psychopathic scientist sending him on dangerous missions? The prof is pretty nice to Mike this time around. There’s an element of whodunnit about this story, though as the only person we’re introduced to at the beginning is Tom the co-driver there’s not exactly a long list of suspects. So, someone knocks out Mike as he’s ready to leave Britain to test-drive a car that can pass the sound barrier, leaves a bribe in Mike’s flat (for some reason) and sabotages the car a couple of times. Once Mike realises it’s the co-driver Tom takes off, leaving Mike to do the final test runs. Then Tom tries bombing the area from a plane but Mike manages to use the ejector seat from the car as a missile…

The end of that test car story was on half a page, leaving space for Starlord’s X-Word – which has been filled in by a previous owner of my copy of this annual. This one’s pretty ropey as they go – “Our planet (5) and a backward animal, possibly a spy, that digs into it (4).” Answer: “Earth elom”

Starlord Hardware Profile: ‘Shuttle is at Battle Stations’ is another speculative piece on what the Space Shuttle might get up to the 1980s (including a pre-Reagan Star Wars initiative sentence about charged particle beam weapons).

Grailpage: an annual with a cover by Brian Bolland but filled with decades-old reprint, text stories and cheaply thrown-together original comic strip content was never going to be much contest. And it isn’t.

Grailquote: there are no quotes showing intelligence, wit or humour, so I’ll fall back on corny instead: unknown author, Phantom Patrol: “It looks like the moon, Paddy! We’re so far forward in time that the moon is a lot nearer the Earth than in the twentieth century, where we come from!”

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