1984: Star*Reach Classics

Star*Reach Classics (1984) #1-6 edited by Mike Friedrich

It makes perfect sense for Eclipse Comics to reprint comics by Star*Reach. Eclipse, in many ways, feels like an extension of Star*Reach’s aesthetics (although with less SF & LSD).

Friedrich writes the introduction to each issue, and in the first one, we get the story behind Star*Reach: Friedrich wanted to have a place to publish genre works (excepting super-heroes, of course). (At least that’s how I interpret “heroic stories outside of the superhero form”.)

Star*Reach (the comic book) started off as a black-and-white publication, and gradually got a larger colour section, I think. Se many of the stories in this collection has artwork that was obviously intended for black-and-white publication, and the colourist here has to find was to add colour without muddying things up too much.

Jim Starlin needs the acid!

Yes, there’s a lot of very “cosmic” story here.

Like Dave Sim’s “Cosmix”.

There’s not much overtly political work here, which is a bit odd for work originally done in the mid-70s, but there’s the occasional nod towards “women’s lib”. That is, we get female characters that the male characters respond to with “bah! a woman can’t be a soldier/pilot/sorceror/secret agent” and then it turns out that they can. Unless I miscounted, I think there was about four stories with that theme, which would bring us to about 30%…

Statistics are us.

Amusingly enough, virtually all Star*Reach comics were still available at cover price at the time this series was published (which is 33% off). Perhaps Now and Then Books bought them by the pallet in the 70s.

This series has a thorough checklist of every issue Star*Reach published, which is very sympathetic: Friedrich really wants to take care of his creators, is the impression I’m getting.

And finally, the back covers feature a cover gallery.

All in all a nice package, but… are the comics any good?

In the second issue, Friedrich includes a story he wrote himself even if he doesn’t think it’s very good, because it features artwork from Dick Giordano, who’s more known as an inker.

And, yes, it’s quite interesting to see Giardano’s Neal Adams-influenced layouts. And Friedrich is right; the story isn’t very good otherwise: It seems to stall all the time with the incessant flashbacks.

Oh, did I mention that there’s a lot of (mostly female) semi-nudity in these comics? Well, it’s the 70s, after all…

About half the covers were made especially for this reprint series. Here we see a particularly snazzy one from P. Craig Russell.

Friedrich says that his attempts at finding the right way to print colour comics has “come to be recognized as the beginning of the so-called full-color comic-sized ‘Baxter Books'” thing. That may be true, but it’s a recognition that may have faded somewhat…

P. Craig Russell evens out the male-to-female semi-nude ratio, as he should.

Why is it that whenever comic book writers want to come up with a fictitious comic book genre, they use pirate comics? It wasn’t ever really a thing, was it? Alan Moore did so, too, in his later Watchmen comics. This one is by John Brunner (and Steve Leialoha).

Since we’re in the mid-70s, and these are “adult” comics, a common thing to do was to up the stakes by being “more real”, and “more real” seemed inevitable to mean “let’s have scenes of women being threatened with rape”.

That’s a very long schlong (courtesy of Howard Chaykin) along the same theme. Heavy Metal, of course, would take this way further a couple years later.

And speaking of Heavy Metal, this Lee Marrs story was originally printed there. It had been meant for Star*Reach, but they folded before it got a chance to run there. It’s not in Marrs’ usual style, and it’s one of the best things in this run.

Among other oddities, one of the oddest is this Paul Levitz/Steve Ditko thing about… er… I really can’t tell.

And one of the funniest bits is this Lee Marrs riff on Moebius’ Arzach.

Dave Sim reveals that his later obsession with religious matters was present at the start, too, in this not-very-blasphemous story about god/Norman.

And finally, the last issue is dedicated to reprinting P. Craig Russell and Patrick C. Mason’s adaptation of Parsifal, the Wagner opera. I think it’s their first collaboration? The later ones are very successful, but the only thing this one has going for it is Russell’s artwork. The text is redundant and overdone, and the storyline is pretty muddled, even as Wagner adaptations go.

And Mason reveals that he changed the plot a bit, because he’s a Christian, and he just can’t let Parsifal be the redeemer. That’s Jesus! Can’t have any blasphemy.

But what did the critics say? The only mention I can find in The Comics Journal is this editorial from #98 by Gary Groth:

But, so as to leave no doubt as to their role of censors, Eclipse has also altered the content of their comics for no apparent reason than to tone down the “adult” nature of the work. Star*Reach Classics #2 reprints a story by Mike Friedrich and Dick Giordano first published in Star* Reach 1975. In the original publication, the story’s heroine, Stephanie Starr (l trust Friedrich is more original as an agent than he was as a writer), is consistently drawn topless—and occasionally bottomless— throughout the strip. Eclipse saw fitto save its young readers the trauma of seeing too many bare breasts by drawing a top on her, deleting a shot of a pudendum, as well as the line ‘Fuck it!” (Most, but not all, of the tits are excised, and the selection as to which ones go and which ones remain is largely capricious.)

I think they had a feud going.

A Star*Reach Greatest Hits package had been published some years before, and the overlap between that and this series is very small, so I wonder whether Friedrich missed out on some of the better bits for this reprint series? While it’s a diverting read, very few of these pieces are that interesting. At least seen from 2018.

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