A year on from 2000 AD’s launch, the IPC overlords thought they’d have another crack at the sci-fi whip, this time producing a relatively plush publication (eight pages of full colour, if you can believe it) for the more discerning sciffy fan.
The result was Starlord an expensive (12p!) weekly that advised us to “watch the stars!” Very obviously marketed as a (slightly posher) companion to the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, the title even came with its own eponymous novelty alien editor. Not too dissimilar to a bequiffed Shakin’ Stevens who’d swapped his denims for a centurion’s outfit, he took to referring to the comic as a ‘starzine’, and, in that first issue, filled us in on his requisite back story.
He’d escaped “the satanic forces of the Interstellar Federation,” you see, and was here to bring us a “dire warning!” (he certainly liked emphasising his words, did old Starlord). A “cataclysmic catastrophe” was on the cards, but luckily help was at hand: Starlord is your paper… and your crash-course in Interstellar Survival!”
The first phase of Earth’s counter-attack took the form of a free badge that came with this issue. With a random selection on offer, the one you got indicated your role within the nascent ‘Star-Trooper’ squads and would allow you to recognise fellow cohorts on the street to form ‘Star-Squads’.
Those battalions broke down as follows: Pilot, Time Warden, Laser Specialist, member of the Robot Regiment, common-or-garden Trooper and – surely the best? – a Skateboard Strike Force bod.
But beware! “Do not place it on your skin, as the badge is made from a special metal mined on Axis 1A and you could develop a skin disorder, putting you out of combat.” Had anyone told Lynn Faulds Wood about this? So, there was the concept: keep buying the comic, or your planet gets it. Luckily, then, it was no small chore to stick with Starlord as, during its time, it pretty much eclipsed anything that was going on in 2000 AD.
Promising that “a new wild era of sci-fi starts here!” the premier issue led with the mediocre ‘Planet of the Damned’ (originally intended for 2000 AD’s launch issue), in which a jet airplane disappeared from the Bermuda Triangle to land on a generic hostile planet complete with nasty aliens which resembled – there’s no getting away from it – wrinkled phalluses. Luckily, a local barbarian was on hand to dispatch the nasties with a right-hook and some of the fruitiest dialogue ever seen in comics: “Squirm as I grind thy vile head and make ye pay for all your kind’s foul deeds!”
Next up, things turned full colour, as an exquisitely painted couple of pages ushered in ‘Timequake’. James Blocker, the skipper of a steamer who had given illegal passage to a terrorist, was flung across years by the members of Time Control when it became clear his actions had allowed said terrorist to assassinate diplomats involved in crucial peace talks. The end result was nuclear Armageddon and the end of all life on Earth. It was now Blocker’s task to travel back to the steamer and kill the bad guy – and himself – to stop the disaster ever occurring. But there were further complications. For one, Time Control had to watch out for attack from the evil Droon, aliens from the Rigel System, who were after their technology. That, plus, their HQ was situated 85 million years in the past in the Cretaceous era. Upon hearing this, Blocker reacted as any sane man would, by declaring, “Creta-what? I’m not stayin’ here with a buncha perishin’ loonies!”
The paper’s main event followed on. ‘Strontium Dog’ detailed the comings and goings of mutiny bounty hunter Johnny Alpha. Created by the same team who’d brought us ‘Judge Dredd’, this was familiar territory, with our hero bedecked in shoulder pads and huge boats, battling an array of wittily conceived baddies in a future world where justice was maintained by force. However, unlike Dredd, Johnny was accompanied by a loyal sidekick, a hammer-wielding Viking who mused, “a skull to crack mit der happy-stick, und old Wulf is fine! But no skulls can ve see!”
Bringing up the rear was an equally notable piece, ‘Ro-Busters’. Set in a future world where robot servants were prolific, two antiquated droids, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein (a bizarre play on Rodgers and Hammerstein – for some reason) faced being crushed to smithereens because ‘the punters don’t want second-hand ‘droids no more!’, until they were saved at the eleventh hour by a Mr Quartz, who put them into service as part of a mechanised Thunderbirds-like rescue team. The end of episode one surely featured the best ‘next week’ blurb ever: “And then my head came off…”
Much as 2000 AD had taken to actually crediting its artists and writers, so did Starlord revealing those all important names in little ‘Starlord Blueprinters’ inserts doted around the comic. It was therefore plain to see that the creative forces behind this comic – including Jack Adrian, the pseudonymous ‘TB Grover’, Carlos Ezquerra and Pat Mills – were the ones who’d been making its sister title so great.
With a further thrill, ‘Mind Wars’ (the story of twins imbued with “terrifying mind powers” being used as pawns in a space-age war) joining the ranks the following week, it looked like Starlord had it made. Indeed, sales were said to exceed even that of 2000 AD so it remains a subject of some conjecture even now why, just five months later, the publication was merged with Tharg’s own organ.
Starlord himself of course tried to talk up his fast approaching obscurity. “Earth is saved!” he claimed. “The Int. Stell. Fed. have abandoned their plan to attack and destroy us… But, do not despair… bright and wondrous events await you in the future and you can learn about them now in the pages of ’2000 AD and Starlord’. Yes, the best of both worlds!” Well, yes and no. ‘Strontium Dog’ and ‘Ro-Busters’ would go on to enjoy a long and illustrious run in their new home, but, with the green fella from Betelgeuse already calling the shots, there was no room for two outer-space editors in the one title. Thus, Starlord disappeared forever, telling us he was returning to “the spaceways, for the Gronks are calling and I cannot let them down…”
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