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.