Friday, March 5, 2010

STARJAMMERS #1-#4, October 1995 - January 1996

Cepheid Variable

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

The Starjammers occasionally show up in their own miniseries, usually with an X-Men branding on the cover. I believe one of the more ridiculous moments of the Jemas era was a Starjammers miniseries that was not only disconnected from the X-Men, but also disconnected from the existing Starjammers. (Remember Marvel’s sad attempts at launching new properties under old names?)

This is written by Warren Ellis, and not surprisingly, it has some connection with his work on Excalibur. The story has the Starjammers acting as rebels against the Shi’ar once again, ferrying Kree refugees to a neutral planet. I was disappointed to see the Shi’ar played as straight villains in the opening of the issue, but Ellis pulls back towards the end. Corsair (who wants to drop the name because it doesn’t suit him anymore) chides Hepzibah for destroying a Shi’ar ship when she didn’t have to, leading her to remind him of the Shi’ar slave camp where they first met. Corsair claims that Lilandra isn’t as bad as her mad brother D’Ken, which Hepzibah finds laughable. If you’re familiar with X-continuity, you know she’s wrong, but it’s true to Hepzibah’s character not to trust any Shi’ar after they conquered her race.

Why exactly the Shi’ar are occupying the Kree is attributed to their religion, which has two gods forced into an uncomfortable marriage that they eventually realize is beneficial. Religion comes up again as planets with religious systems are destroyed by the Uncreated. So, we’ve got Ellis working on his science fiction and religious themes, with Carlos Pacheco on art. There’s a little too much sci-fi babble for my tastes, but this does set up the conflicts well and there’s at least some variation on the ‘90s “Shi’ar-as-bullies” status quo.

Nebulae

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

After losing a Shi’ar ship in battle, Lilandra declares war on the Uncreated. Soon, the Starjammers are caught in-between a Shi’ar battleship and an Uncreated vessel. The Uncreated fires on the Starjammers, forcing the Starjammers to respond, which announces their presence to the Shi’ar. Most of this issue consists of Carlos Pacheco drawing giant spaceships in combat, which suits his style very well. Ellis adds a bit of humanity, as the Starjammers spend a few pages fraternizing before going off on their mission. Corsair is upset that an alien beat him in a drinking contest because he has multiple bladders, and Raza gets angry at a coffee machine. There’s also more talk of religion, as Raza explains his people consider dying in combat the highest honor. Shi’ar experimentation has left him essentially immortal, which he considers a great insult.

Collapsar

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors)

The last issue’s cliffhanger is dismissed quickly, as the Starjammers escape from the Shi’ar. There’s more character work, as Corsair and Hepzibah debate the merits of living as pirates. Corsair is beginning to suspect that Hepzibah just wants the lifestyle and isn’t concerned about any specific causes. She’s also just as interested in killing the Uncreated as the Shi’ar, as she disobeys Corsair’s orders and drops bombs on both races as the Starjammers escape. Elsewhere, Ellis shows Lilandra’s reluctance to act against the Starjammers, making her more sympathetic than Hepzibah at least. Later, there’s some more techno-babble that leads to Ch’od uncovering the origin of the Uncreated by examining the wreckage of their vessel. The Uncreated are on a “reverse crusade,” killing all religious cultures because they feel faith in deities is “dangerously backward.” Ch’od wonders if they should save the Shi’ar from the Uncreated with this information, which is a smart way to tie the conflict back to the first issue.

I should point out that the art, colors, and production values are very impressive this issue. This was a “Marvel Select” miniseries, costing twice the normal price of a standard Marvel book during this era. I always thought the format was a rip-off, but this does at least look contemporary with something published today.

Nova

Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Cam Smith (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors)

The Starjammers never get a chance to educate the Shi’ar on the Uncreated, as the team discovers the Shi’ar and Uncreated are headed for a battle right above the neutral planet that serves as their base. Fearing a battle that would destroy the planet, Corsair and the Starjammers intercept the fight and generate a hologram of the Uncreated’s god, which they believed destroyed. The Uncreated commit suicide in horror, thus ending their threat to the cosmos. This might come across as a cheap ending, but Ellis has spent the past two issues setting up the Starjammers’ ability to create holograms, and putting a few obstacles in their path, so it doesn’t feel too contrived. Lilandra resumes Shi’ar protection over the Starjammers, and is blackmailed into avoiding any future imperialistic activities by a representative of the neutral planets (since the Shi’ar shouldn’t have traveled to this sector in the first place).

The main conflicts are resolved, but there is an ominous ending with the Phalanx threatening the cosmos. The origin of the Phalanx continuity confusion from the later Lobdell UXM issues begins here. Ellis seems to have mixed the Phalanx up with the Technarcy. The Phalanx were humans who infected themselves with the transmode virus, which they stole from the body of Technarcy refugee Warlock. Basically, Phalanx = human, Technarcy = alien. I’m guessing now that Lobdell’s later use of the Phalanx as aliens was intended as a follow-up to this dangling subplot.

Aside from the science fiction elements, which Ellis keep interesting for most of the run and are flawlessly rendered by Pacheco, the story also has its fair share of character moments. Corsair is humanized in a way we don’t normally see, as his desire to have a normal life is contrasted with Hepzibah’s violent nature. Corsair de-arms her command of her ship without her knowledge, and watches her disobey his orders and attempt to fire on the Shi’ar. At the end Corsair tries to convince himself that Hepzibah now realizes that she’s become an extremist and can be saved, which Ellis paints as slightly delusional. I also like some of the political intrigue within the Shi’ar. Lilandra’s ministry of peace, T’Cahr, turns out to be a self-serving, imperialist thug who has to be arrested at the story’s end. This is a stock plot element, but T’Cahr stands out because he’s a friend of Lilandra’s late brother D’Ken. Realistically, the Shi’ar Empire couldn’t go from fascist to magnanimous overnight, so it’s reasonable that elements loyal to D’Ken (who are shown secretly plotting against Lilandra on the final page) would still exist. The idea that Lilandra is dealing with rogue elements within her empire, and the pressures of her own religious beliefs, makes her a more believable character. This interpretation of the Shi’ar Empire is much preferable to the bullies who occasionally showed up in the ‘90s.

5 comments:

TomO. said...

I remember really liking this when it came out, but haven't gone back and reread it since then. I keep waiting for it to randomly show up on my blog, but not yet.

Pacheco and Ellis have since turned into some of my favorite creators, so I always wondered if that shaded my memory a little bit.

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

The whole Phalanx / Technarchy confusion was addressed during Annihilation: Conquest. They were able to turn the whole thing into a nice plot point. That book also reintroduced Warlock (the New Mutant Warlock) after many years of being sort of dead.

James Figueiredo said...

Great review! I loved Warren Elli's run on Excalibur, and remember really enjoying this mini-series when it came out.

After many years, you can see that Pacheco's work evolved a lot, but even at this point it was already way above the art on most of the books Marvel was publishing. His art was the main reason I bought the book, but I remember being really surprised at the political and religious aspects of the story.

Marvel's starting to collect Ellis' run on Excalibur under the "Vsionnaires" banner, and I hope they include this series in the package.

Matt said...

This, along with his Excalibur work, is one of the few things Warren Ellis wrote that I recall enjoying. Probably becuase they were both pretty mainstream, so he had to "play by the rules", so to speak.

But it was Carlos Pacheco's art that really impressed me on this series. I think this was the only the second thing I ever saw him draw (the first being the Bishop mini), and I was floored. At that time, when I all I really cared about was following characters, he was one of the few creators that I made a point of checking in with wherever he went.

I was disappointed, however, with the changing of Corsair's costume. It didn't look as "cool" and flashy as the original. I've since decided, though, that few artists besides Dave Cockrum can make that particular look work. (though Jim Lee did a pretty good job, circa Uncanny 275-ish).

wwk5d said...

This seems like a forgotten...well, not sure I'd call it a gem, but from your review and the comments here, it seems like it was one of the better mini-series of the 90s from the X-offices. Looks like it's worth tracking down...

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