Graphic novels are ubiquitous these days but back in the early 1980s were a fairly new concept, and something you could only get at one of the few comic book stores that had begun popping up as the direct market began to take hold. Later in the decade and the early 1990s, stores like Waldenbooks would start carrying graphic novels and trade paperbacks, and by the time that particular decade ended they would be commonplace.
But when DC published Star Raiders in 1983, this was such a new concept that they literally numbered the graphic novels and started with a standard trade dress. The trade dress would last through the first five and the numbering would stop after the seventh graphic novel. And what’s also noteworthy is that while Marvel was doing numbered graphic novels that featured its superhero characters (The Death of Captain Marvel was #1, and early Marvel graphic novels featured The New Mutants, The Uncanny X-Men, Dazzler, and She-Hulk), DC’s attention was focused on other genres. Most famously, they published Jack Kirby’s conclusion to the Fourth World saga in The Hunger Dogs (a first printing of which I saw in my LCS for $50). But for the most part, it was sword and sorcery and science fiction.
For me, the jury’s out on whether or not this worked. I can imagine that the sales didn’t add up because they eventually did turn to publishing original graphic novels featuring superheroes, starting with Batman: Son of the Demon. But their response to Marvel’s The Death of Captain Marvel was … a licensed property?
Star Raiders is an Atari game from 1979 and this is a story meant to tie into an Atari-based universe that DC seemed to be trying to establish. They had promo comics inside Atari games (some of which were unfinished and one, Swordquest, which was drawn by George Perez) as well as the 20-issue Atari Force series that ran from 1983-1985 with a special in 1986. I have one issue of that book and might pick up others if I see them on the very cheap.
I got Star Raiders for $2.99 at my LCS and while it was never on my radar, I felt that I couldn’t pass it up. The book was written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (Praised Be His Name), and is about a duo of renegade outer space fighters who fight against an insect-like race called the Zylons who rule that portion of the galaxy with an iron fist or claw or whatever insects have.
It feels like a derivative piece of marketing in places, which is pretty much is. You’ve got a Star Wars riff as well as an effort to get you to be interested in space-based video games that Atari was putting out. Granted, this came out right around the time of the infamous video game crash of 1983, so I can’t tell you if it moved any units.
Really, that doesn’t matter. Maggin writes an engaging story, something difficult to do for someone who has read only his Superman stuff and is only familiar with those particular books. And the art by JLGL (PBHN) is utterly phenomenal. It’s painted instead of just colored and I want to say that he did that, as there isn’t any separate colorist listed. This was one to read slowly because I spent my time poring over each panel and page to absorb everything that was there.
I don’t know if this has ever been reprinted anywhere, and I don’t know how common it is in discount trade bins, but if you find it, I’d pick it up. The story is solidly engaging, the art is gorgeous, and it is a bit of an artifact.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?