Armagideon Time

Nobody’s Favorite: Null and zoid

September 30th, 2015

Armagideon Time’s 10th (?!?) Annual Halloween Countdown starts tomorrow, but I thought I’d take a break from my preparatory crypt-rummaging to squeak out a quick installment of this (sadly neglected as of late) litany of funnybookdom’s lost and the damned.

This week we’re returning to the bottomless advertainment abyss of 1980s toy tie-ins with Marvel’s 1984 Starriors miniseries….

The tale actually begins with the Zoids, a Tomy toy franchise which attempted to combine the interchangeability of Lego bricks and Micronaut figures with the motive power of wind-up mechanisms. The effort failed to gain traction among American tykes, though it did become an enduring franchise in the Japanese and (to a lesser extent) European markets.

That’s where the story would have ended, if not for the subsequent deregulatory boom which propelled properties like Masters of the Universe, Transformers, and G.I. Joe into massive multimedia phenomena. It was total information awareness in toyetic form, marketing not just a lumps of scuplted plastics but an entire mythos of sales-driving backmatter to buy into.

In a frantic effort to replicate or repeat those successes, toymakers unleashed a host of similarly structured franchises aimed at breaking off a piece of that sweet, multi-layered revenue stream. In such circumstances, it was only logical that Tomy would look at the earlier near miss of its Zoids line and decide to retool the concept according to the prevailing paradigm shift. Thus the Starriors were born.

Simpler and more eye-catchingly gaudy than their precursor products, the Starriors hit the mythocentric ground running with pack-in and tie-in funnybook backmatter courtesy of a deal with Marvel. In the grim darkness of the far future, humanity has been forced into subterranean hibernation by deadly solar flares! In their place stride a race of sentient robotic organisms who punch, drill and saw the shit out of each other! Each construct has a personality born of a marketing department’s focus testing and name chosen by a sugar-addled six year old!

Seriously. Every single one of the Starriors’ names evokes a suit with a clipboard standing over the shoulder of a distracted first grader.

“So, what do you think the one with the sawblade should be called?”

“Um, uh, ummmmmm. Saw Tooth Cut Guy. Can I have some more Capri Sun?”

As inane as it all was, it’s hard to fault the creative team of Starrior comics for taking a slow-pitch assignment. That anything semi-coherent could’ve emerged from a marketing bible and set of “must include” bullet points is a minor miracle. Granted, what did emerge came off as a unauthorized Golden Book version of some forgotten 2000 AD strip…

…which I apologize for making sound far more interesting than Starriors actually was. In truth, it’s a bunch of uninteresting (if well illustrated) robots getting expository about each others’ personalities and powers while constantly dropping each other’s names…which also happen to describe their personalities and powers.

“Stop, being so cranky, Crank!”

“I’d expect such hot shots from you, Hotshot!”

Though the hardcore brand evangelism may have come to naught, the painted Bill Sienkiewicz covers (standard Marvel practice for gilding its turdburgers at the time) have kept the series from falling entirely down the memory hole.

Well, that and the entrenched remnant fandom which clings to even the most excremental toy franchises of the 1980s. Even now, some dedicated soul is hard at work updating the “official” Starriors wiki while engaged in a high-stakes flamewar over the differences between Trashors and the Rammors. It’s also a given that this person will have used “edgy,” “ahead of its time,” and “mature” to discuss the epic advertainment battle between Slaughter Steelgrave and Hotshot.

If you are lucky, you will never meet this person in real life.

10 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorite: Null and zoid”

  1. Chris Gumprich

    Somewhere in the depths of my collection I have the entire run of this series, and I wouldn’t have remembered it at all except for the image of the cover above.

    I still don’t remember the series, just the logo, from times I flipped past it while trying to find my copy of STAR WARS #94.

  2. Jason

    Wow! I had totally forgotten about these. I don’t think I ever read the real comic, but I had a few of the toys and they came with mini-comics. I don’t think I have any of the toys or the mini-comics anymore.

  3. David

    The one thing this series was responsible for was the deep emotional scars my dad gave me when I asked him about solar flares.
    When did these come out? 84? 85? I would have been 9 or 10 years old.
    I asked my dad about solar flares. He was of the “over explain the hell out of it and hopefully it’ll confuse him so much he’ll leave me alone so I can get back to my paper” school of parenting.
    In his electrical engineer way he told me solar flares would do the things they do. I was just smart enough for it to scare the shit out of me but not smart enough to see how far-fetched it was.
    Between Starriors solar flares and the Day After Tomorrow I spent a good portion of the 80s freaking terrified we were all going to die at any second.
    I blame my dad, Tomy toy company, and Reagan for everything that came after.

  4. David

    On a side note you should have seen the look on dad’s face when I found some chart in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Handbook when I was roughly the same age.
    It was some chart for “women you meet in town” or something like that. But evidently the only women in 1980s D&D world were hookers.
    I was one of those kids who always had a book with him when the family went out to dinner. So we’re all sitting there waiting for the food and I started asking my dad,
    “What’s a doxy?”
    “What’s a concubine?”
    “What’s does courtesan mean?”
    “What’s a wanton woman?”

    Looking back it was priceless. I just remember after the second or third question him slamming his glasses on the table and asking, “Just the hell are you reading?”

  5. minkubus

    I love old D&D books, but I did not know this was a thing. I was more familiar with the 2nd edition, which was more circumspect. No demons, no assassins, no bare chested harpy artwork.

    I found the original chart on this blog:

    As always, early D&D books are wellsprings of unintentional hilarity.

    I like that the surrounding text is concerned primarily with the people you encounter as sources of information and/or mistaken identity.

    How does one distinguish a brazen strumpet from a wanton wench, exactly? Why are you 97% more likely to encounter a prostitute than a pimp?

  6. Oneminutemonkey

    I… admit that I have a certain lingering fondness for the comic and the toys of this particular line. Partly because they were rather fun in a weird way… especially since, if I recall correctly, they had interchangeable limbs and little cockpits for tiny little people, and other wacky gimmicks.

    I am a child of the ’80s so of course these hit me at my most vulnerable. 🙂

  7. David

    Oh my god. I’m so glad you found the chart. I’ve told people about it but no one ever believed me. Now I have actual proof.
    You just made my day.
    How hysterical would it have been if they had sketches for this chart in the DM’s guide? Can you imagine what the pimp would look like?

  8. Isaac

    This made my day. For the last 15 years I have had a couple of these toys on my desk at work. I’d found them in old boxes of childhood possessions, and dimly remembered playing with them as a kid but nothing about their backstory. I’ve stared at an almost completely intact Crank more than a few times wondering what the hell was up with him. I will gaze upon him today with new appreciation. I don’t know who the second one is, probably because it is composed of the remains of several other Starriors, but now I will have to reference some the images in this post and see just which dismembered sentient robots with inexplicably interchangeable limbs and superfluous cockpits went into this mini-Frankenstein.

  9. yrzhe

    Isaac: There were also a bunch of bad guy robots not pictured here, who were just the good guy robots repainted black and red.

    …and yes, I do feel sorta embarassed that I remember that.

  10. GeoX

    That title would be less grating if “star” rhymed with “war.”

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