Saturday, 6 July 2019

First step into a larger world with Star Wars Weekly



For many UK Star Wars fans (myself included) the gateway into George Lucas' space opera was via Marvel's weekly comic strip adaptation and making-of magazine. One of my earliest memories was starting at a new primary school, wheelchair-bound in the wake of a life-changing trauma, and making a new friend, Jeremy, who enthusiastically showed me his copy of Star Wars Weekly prior to seeing the movie in early 1978.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based roving reporter, goes on a galactic odyssey in the pages of a revived Marvel Star Wars. Is the Force still strong over 40 years later?

Guest post by Nick Smith

In February 1978 Star Wars was everywhere. In movie theatres. In toy stores. And in a five-year-old’s bedroom in the city of Bristol, England.

The bedroom belonged to my neighbour and best friend Stuart Barrett, who proudly showed me the first issue of a brand-new large-format comic called Star Wars Weekly. Stuart always had cool toys to show me like his Six Million Dollar Man figure [Steve Austin stood sentry whilst I was in children's hospital - Ed] and his inflatable light-up lightsaber [I had one of those too - Ed] but this was something different and within my boyhood budget. It didn’t matter that the comic’s cover had a blue-green Death Star, or that the innards were black and white. We were two little kids who loved the movie and this comic book introduced us to a brash new form of storytelling.

Being an impressionable lad, I went looking for my own copy. #1 was sold out but on my sixth birthday I was able to find #2 with a bright yellow cover depicting a “sand creature.” I was mesmerized by Roy Thomas’ dramatic prose and Howard Chaykin’s intentionally scribbled space art [Dark Horse printed my admiration for those fine folks in Classic Star Wars whilst we were at university together in the mid-nineties - Ed].

The flimsy periodical sparked a lifelong love of comics. Instead of an allowance, I asked my folks for Star Wars Weekly once a week. It was something I could count on in an uncertain world of house moves (we switched homes every year or two), fairweather friendships and school burdens. For three years, apart from a few novels, it was my go-to for original Star Wars material. My young brain was imprinted with themes of loyalty, compassion and determination against great galactic odds.

I wasn’t alone, of course. Stuart picked up the occasional issue and thanks to CYRIL (the fictional editor droid of the weekly) and the letters he printed, I got my first sense of a nationwide community – a group of people who shared my passion for Star Wars and sci-fi. I was part of something bigger than my own little world. Thousands of kids, adults, families were enjoying the same adventures as me, reading the same behind-the-scenes articles and discovering more of the Marvel universe through an eclectic mix of back-up strips.

Beyond its vivid covers and new Star Wars content (“At last! Beyond the movie! Beyond the galaxy!”) I was introduced to great stories and characters in the back-ups. Since the source comic was monthly, the main stories had to be spread across four or five weeks. That meant my heroes would spend a seeming eternity on Drexel the water world or the gambling-addled Death Wheel. The rest of the weekly was filled with science fiction of all stripes.

In the rear of the mag, I met the Guardians of the Galaxy, the original Star-Lord, the fatal femme Gamora and Rocket Racoon with an upper-crust British accent. I had my little mind blown by Jim Starlin’s mythical Warlock; was entertained by the big bald baby head of the Watcher, who introduced older Marvel cautionary tales; avidly read the shrinky dink adventures of Micronauts [a treasured toy line - Ed] and the Dirty Harry tactics of Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok and some of the one-off stories showed me that comics weren’t just for six-year-olds, that they could explore dark and mature themes. They could be gritty as a carbon-scored vaporator.

To create my own collection, I cut out the main story pages, taped them together and made a new cover. Without knowing it, I’d created my own omnibus many years before Dark Horse and Marvel published their own. When I proudly showed my Uncle Alan, he gave me that disparaging look non-fans give you when they don’t understand why you’re getting so passionate about pop culture. After that, reading the comic was never quite the same.

I cancelled the weekly when I heard a new Empire Strikes Back version was coming in 1980, only to find that it was a continuation of the same comic, missing an exceptional issue with Michael Golden art. I caught up with the series when it went monthly, with photo covers, and as US exports became more prevalent, I was able to collect the real deal – Marvel’s American edition of Star Wars [US imports were rarer than hen's teeth in my part of the UK. However, there was a gas station, near to where my Canadian grandmother lived, that had Marvel and DC Comics on the newsstand - Ed].

So why this uninvited trip down Nick’s nostalgia lane?

Last time I popped into TBS Comics, my local comic book store, I saw a little Star Wars Legends book with a Carmine Infantino-style cover. I thought it was yet another reprint and passed it by. Then I realized the truth.

As part of its 80th-anniversary hullabaloo, Marvel has published a continuation of its US comic, cancelled in 1986 when the publisher felt the proverbial fat lady had sung her last space opera. I was not happy at the time [I openly cried when it ended - Ed]! Little did I know that a staggering 33 years later, the next issue would come out. If fandom has taught me one thing, it’s patience.

#108’s “Forever Crimson” is an exercise in reminiscence, a sequel to the US #50 epic “The Crimson Forever.” That story featured killer crystals that turn Luke Skywalker red. The follow-up is fun to read, full of nods to the old comics, retaining the continuity of US #107’s “All Together Now.” Jaxxon the giant green rabbit and Amaiza from Marvel’s first original story cycle bump into Han Solo, following their own mercenary agenda. Domina Tagge, matriarch of the evil House Tagge, has a taste in jewels that tends towards the deadly.

The main character of this story – and a big draw for me – is Valance the Hunter, a cyborg who has spent years hating droids because he’s lost his own humanity, thought lost in an epic battle with Darth Vader over the ruby flame lava of Centares. Not only is Valance short some skin and bone, but he’s also missing some marbles. His character development is what really makes this book worth reading. In an earlier, classic issue, C-3PO risked sacrificing his existence to save Luke and this informs the former droid-hater’s actions. His moral choices are an echo of the original comic’s most powerful stories, wrapped up in an issue that child-me would have loved.

As an adult, I’m delighted by the cameos and the way that “Forever Crimson” works as a respectful continuation, rather than a clueless rip-off of those Star Wars Weekly stories. The comic has multiple writers and artists, including Cam Smith, Luke Ross and Leonard Kirk but the whole shebang flows well. Different covers are available from the likes of Infantino, Walter Simonson and Michael Golden and there are two short, tight articles, “Celebrating Marvel’s First Star Wars Comics” by Senior Editor Mark Paniccia and “The Stars of Marvel’s Original Star Wars,” featuring interviews with some of the key creators.

The legend of Valance the Hunter lives on. To a long-time fan like me, he is a bona fide part of the Star Wars universe, as much as C-3PO and R2-D2, Thomas’ Jaxxon, David Michelinie’s Shira Brie or Jo Duffy’s Plif the hoojib. #108 does justice to the characters who brightened my mind in the halcyon black and white days of the late ‘70s when paper-thin space tales opened the door to a world of imaginative possibilities... Beyond the movie. Beyond the galaxy. [Amen - Ed]

What are your memories of reading Star Wars comics? Let me know in the comments below.

6 comments:

  1. During the 'fallow' years (early 90s) the comics were great for a Star Wars fan. I remember the excitement of picking up Tales of the Jedi at the Forbidden Planet in Bristol

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    1. I'll never forget stumbling across Star Wars: Dark Empire in a local defunct comic book store. Good times!

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  2. Enjoyed reading that. Always enjoy a trip back to the 70's and 80's and hearing about someone's Star Wars memories. Thank you for posting.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. It's always appreciated.

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  3. Wow, I'm genuinely astounded by how well you recall all these details from across four decades! I can't even remember the events of Tuesday last with that sort of level of clarity.

    I know I bought and read the comic book adaptation at the time, and if I squeeze my eyes real tight I can even picture some of the individual panels of artwork. But after that, the memories grow dim.

    I do remember being irked by the differences between the comic and the film itself - just as I had been with the official novel. I couldn't understand why they'd change things! Of course this was before I understood they were working from early script treatments and that late changes happened in the movie business and that such differences are to be lapped up as 'Easter eggs' rather than grumbled about.

    But I have to confess that I quickly stopped reading once the adaptation was finished. I never took to the follow-up stories, either in the comics or as novels. I guess I'm just a 'movie-only' fan of Star Wars, which in many eyes barely qualifies me as a fan at all...

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    1. Yes, I always wondered what happened to Jabba the Hutt in the original Star Wars? George Lucas was wise to keep him back for Return of the Jedi. Well, until the divisive special edition.

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