Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Starfire Comic Box Commentary

What do you do when your favorite character is misunderstood by the comic book company in charge of her stories?

What do you do when your favorite character isn't on the stands any more?

What do you do when you want to run a blog about a strong woman character, learning the ropes, and trying to do what's right and your favorite character no longer embodies that?

What do you do when you like blogging as a creative outlet and want to continue to do so?

Well, you change the focus of the site to a different character.

So welcome to Starfire Comic Box Commentary ... no not that Starfire.

Welcome to a blog dedicated to the 1970's sword and sorcery spitfire Starfire! Written by many writers but drawn exclusively by Mike Vosburg, this Starfire makes her way through a strange land,  and discovering her independence and inner strength.

I will miss Supergirl, But I can't say that I'll miss covering her exploits given how she was portrayed the last couple of years.

So instead, get ready to hear crossed swords and laser fire. It's a whole new world!

Starfire #1 was a great find from the dollar box and was worth the price for any number of reasons.

First off, writer David Michelinie (who I know mostly for Iron Man and Spiderman) casts a pretty unique star in the book, especially given the time it was published. Starfire is half-asian and a woman. Certainly that must have stood out in 1976.

Second, artist Mike Vosburg really shines here. Starfire is beautiful and attractive in her barely-there off unitard. But there isn't that much overt cheesecake in her renditions in the book. She comes across as athletic and strong more than anything else. And the theme within this story, of Starfire taking control of her life, realizing that slavery is utterly wrong, is nicely conveyed here.

Lastly, I am always into the explosive combination of science and sorcery whether it is Thundarr the Barbarian, Thundercats, Mento and the sorcerors in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #50, or here in Starfire. What could be a better cover than a sword-wielding warrior woman towering over an ogre, while spear wielding monsters and spaceships litter the background. Slick.

Lastly, you should notice that there is no Comics Code Authority seal on the book. While I have read that it was an oversight, the content of the book - especially the end - might have been a bit tough for the CCA to approve.

On to the story.

There are some interesting choices to this book right from the first page.

First off, we start out with an action splash page in which the lead character is both a small element and in peril. Who is this Starfire, cringing before a couple of monstrous thugs, being saved by someone in minstrel gear? Certainly not the strong sword wielding woman from the cover. Even her body language and expression says this is someone frightened, certainly not used to a situation like this, like she would be if she were a warrior.

But I also think it is interesting that the narrator isn't first person or third person. Instead it is in the second person perspective - "You are called Starfire." It is tough to pull off but if done right, it makes the reader become the main character. I don't think I have read a second-person narrator in comics in a long long time.

Starfire is rescued by this warrior/priest/bard named Dagan and whisked away on a hovercraft.

We then get a flashback of how she ended up in that desolate place. She was born 18yrs earlier on an Earth where the Mygorg, an alien race of reptilian looking humanoids, rule with an iron fist. Humans are slaves and the world has devolved to a more medieval place, filled with castles and courts and swords.

Because of her half-asian ancestry (described as being born from a 'yellow father and white mother' in 1970's politically incorrect parlance),  Starfire is chosen by the ruling Mygorg Sookaroth to live a courtly life. But even growing up in the lap of luxury, being educated and pampered, she wondered why the rest of her people were enslaved.

Well, on her 18th birthday, she finds out. Sookaroth will make her his bride that night. Disgusted by the thought of his slimy mitts on her, Starfire does something she has never done before. She rebels, and makes a run for it. And that is how she ended up alone and helpless on that opening splash.

But Starfire is confused with the very concepts of freedom, self-worth, and strength. She even calls Dagan master, unsure of any life but that of a slave.And so Dagan begins to re-educate her.

First, he teaches her the ways of combat and the skills of a ranger. And she is a most adept pupil,  becoming a tremendous fighter and hunter in mere weeks.

This is a nice montage panel for Vosburg.

And Dagan teaches Starfire the history of this Earth. The peoples of Earth were feuding. The Church (of which Dagan was a priest) was waging war, trying to gain control of the planet. They used not only science ... but counter-science (which I read as magic).

In an effort to crush their enemies, the Church summoned the Mygorg. Aided by the monstrous brutes, the Church seemed close to complete domination of the planet. But their enemies then summoned the Yorg, the enemies of the Mygorg to help their side.

Alas, it didn't take long for the Mygorg and the Yorg to realize that they really didn't have a dog in the Earth's fight. Instead, it would be easier for the two of them to simply take over the planet themselves. Thus mankind brought about their own slavery. Only small pockets of resistance exist on the fringes.

And worse, the Mygorg and Yorg continued their war except now on Earth with humans as their troops.

But a lifetime of believing that mankind exists to serve the Mygorg can't be expunged easily.

Despite these lessons, Starfire still calls Dagan 'Master' ... although now, at least, with a pause.

So now we as readers have an understanding of this Earth and it's problems.

Of course,the weeks drag on and the lessons continue. But with it, comes the stirrings of love.

After a rather intense confrontation with a dinosaur (man, this is a weird Earth), the emotions finally flood to the surface.

The caption reads "and the feeling in your heart is no longer strange ... but shared ..."

Again, lovely art her by Vosburg, slowly zooming in. It does feel a bit icky though looking at it through the lens of the present. It is almost Stockholm syndrome.

And suddenly the two are equals, partners in hiding.

But tragedy is around the corner. While Starfire was out hunting, the couple's camp is overrun. Starfire comes back to find the place in ruins and Dagan gone.

And it is obvious by the stench who masterminded this kidnapping, her old master Sookaroth.

Using her new abilities, Starfire sneaks her way back into the castle she was raised in only to find Dagan tortured and dying.

Boy ... quite the drama ... her love, the man who gave her an understanding of freedom, a feeling of self-purpose is killed by her old master. Nice.

And with his death Starfire decides that it is up to her to bring freedom to her people, to the world.

Storming the throne room, Starfire battles Sookaroth. While the majority of this issue runs at a feverish pace, Michelinie and Vosburg take their time here giving us 3 pages of this sword battle. That time and page count devoted to this fight cements how crucial an event this is for Starfire. It is an effective story-telling tool.

And moreover, Starfire shows that she is as deadly as she is beautiful. Despite Sookaroth being weaponless, helpless ... despite his asking Starfire for mercy, she buries her sword into his throat, killing Sookaroth. Could this have been too much for the CCA?

I love the panel progession on the right, normal panel, red outlined ... highlighting her rage, and then Sookaroth's dying face reflected in her eye. That is story and art perfectly meshed.

And yet, with the adrenaline worn off, we see a crying Starfire ... and that is in the very next panel! This isn't a one note character, simple rage with a sword. This is a woman who has grown ... become strong and free, learned of love and loss, and understanding that there was a certain catharsis in this killing of Sookaroth.

Look at the slaves cheering in the background, as if they have suddenly learned that there is something more to them than being slaves, if a leader could take them there.

She is a new hero looking for a new life. She will need to find herself and save her people. She's a hero!

Looking at the Starfire title,  it had some pretty amazing writers - Michelinie, Elliot S! Maggin, Steve Engelhart, and Tom Defalco. That is a pretty legendary run of writers and you'll see how each writer took the character in different directions!

Vosburg drew every issue and seems well suited for the book.

And so I have a new hero to cover!

Welcome to Starfire Comic Box Commentary!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Anj, but I haven't missed what day is today.

(Although I could have sworn you'd previously used Starfire for this joke. Weird)

I'll give you your running gag might have worked this year, what with DC cancelling Kara's book after her storyline ever, and not even acknowledging her 60th anniversary the last year.

Anyway, Happy Aprils' Fool and stay safe.

Martin Gray said...

‘You’re Martin, keyboard warrior, and you find Seventies Marvel-style second-person horribly embarrassing.’

Ah, the Seventies, when one-legged outfits were as normal in comics as clown eye make-up.

I’ve never read this series so I’m very excited that over the coming months we’ll get to know Starfire... it’s interesting that she’s an enslaved alien, like Kory. Maybe one day there’s be a Supergirl series worth following again, but for now... SOCKAMAGEE! Er, sorry, I mean SOOKAROTH!

Steve said...

I loved this series back when! Revisiting it will be great!

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Good idea to spotlight a somewhat forgotten character like Starfire (I was going to write "the ORIGINAL Starfire, but I remembered there were at least 2 Starfires before her).

But this blog covered Supergirl for 12 years. With just an eight issue run, is there enough Starfire material for another 12?

And why so many writers for such a short run? Was there something going on behind the scenes?

By the way, have you ever considered reviewing "The Night of March 31st!" from Superman # 145 (1961)? The "story" takes place on April 1st, although it begins the night before. Supergirl stands up to her cousin ("I'm sick and tired of playing second fiddle to you!"), and if you want to tie it in with today's comics, (Maybe I should add a SPOILER ALERT here)................................................

The bottle of Kandor gets smashed to smithereens long before Rogol Zaar makes the scene.

Martin Gray said...

If Anj does cover that story, Prof, I have an ENB anecdote that shows what a lovely fella he was!

Anj said...

Thanks everyone for great comments!

Hope everyone is having a great April Fool's Day!

As always, I love the characters I cover on 4/1. If I had the time I'd have a million blogs!

Anonymous said...

Happy April Fools' Day to everyone.

Sidenote: I looked up the spelling to figure out where to put the apostrophe, and was surprised.

It reminds me in a way of Daylight Saving Time, which most people incorrectly call Daylight Savings Time.

So - April Fools' Day takes place during Daylight Saving Time. I'll remember that for at least a full week.