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DEPLOY THE DEATH BLOSSOM – Marvel Super Special #31, “The Last Starfighter”

March 14, 2012

The Marvel Super Special March continues with a trip into the cosmos.

The Last Starfighter is one of the “classic” 1980s films that hasn’t aged well. That’s not to say that it has become a bad film. Far from it. Its heart, its adolescent wish-fulfiment — that the dopey video game you’re playing will one day pay off AND HOW — still resonates in the days of Wiis and Playstation3s. Perhaps your video game crap is really an SAT test from some alien race. KEEP DREAMING, DWEEBS.

There’s a time capsule element to it too, a reminder of the days when video games weren’t in front of your couch or in some handheld device, but were down at the corner store, right next to that hook thing that you used to pull the cap off a soda bottle.

“You see, junior, back in the day we had to go to these things called arcades with pockets filled like saddlebags with quarters to plop into the video games that were in these big box things with art on the sides.”

“What are saddlebags?”

“…”

It’s the effects that are the problem. TLS’s effects weren’t all that great at the time. You can look back at the space battles in the contemporary Return of the Jedi and not feel like you’re slumming it. They hold up, and were nigh unbelievable at the time. Not so with Starfighter, whose ships and graphics and lasers look even worse with several decades of FX evolution in between. (I’m not advocating a Special Edition. DEAR GOD I’M NOT ADVOCATING THAT.) In Starfighter the effects look horribly dated, which is a crippling failure in a film that’s supposed to transport you, alongside the young gamer hero, on a thrill-ride to the stars. They’re reminiscent of another cinematic peer’s, Disney’s Tron, though that movie has an excuse in that it took place within a 1980s computer mainframe. Starfighter is supposed to exist in a “real” world of highly advanced technology, but the ships look unreal, like they don’t even exist, like you couldn’t put your hand on one even if it was right in front of you.

This actually presents a unique opportunity for the comic adaptation: a chance to work better than the source material, a chance that’s increased with every passing year and every bit of FX decomposition. Adapted by Bill Mantlo, with art by Bret(t) Blevins and Tony Salmons (and a Jackson Guice cover), the adaptation has an opening not often presented by to the bastard-other-medium film adaptations.

Sounds good. In theory. But the space ships and lasers and odd alien broads with Larry Fine haircuts aren’t the takeaway feature of the Super Special. No, it’s the protagonist’s girlfriend’s Daisy Dukes-sheathed ass:

Who wouldn’t want to fire a suction cup gun at that thing? HOT TRAILER PARK ACTION.

Though this young, taught posterior takes the place of the spaceship, the Gunstar, as the takeaway image of the story, the comic presents a straightforward retelling of what found its way onscreen. Here’s our hero, Alex Rogan, with the pasty, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, utterly absorbed fervor known by so many video game addicts (or more likely, their long-suffering friends, families and significant others):

Does the outer space stuff work better in the book? Not really. It’s not all that exciting, and it’s perhaps foolish to think that static images could match even the lamest effects. Fool on me. It’s an uphill challenge in any event. Just for comparison’s sake, here’s the climax of the final one-against-hordes battle — when Alex deploys the devastating Death Blossom — in comic and movie forms:

I realize that the Star Alliance fleet was wiped out and Alex is fulfilling his video game training prophecy whatever blahblahblah, and this Death Blossom thing was some lethal prototype experimental doohickey, but did anyone else ever have the thought that maybe they should have equipped their whole armada with it, with a Manhattan Project intensity to its development? So that intergalactic recruitment wouldn’t have been all that necessary? Like the old Seinfeld  routine said: “Why don’t they just make the whole plane out of the black box?”

Anyway. Forget that. All the spaceships and all the Death Blossoms in all the universe can’t keep Alex away from his girl’s piping hot trailer park ass — ALL ROADS LEAD TO ASS:

Now they can go out into the galaxy, park Alex’s Gunstar on cement blocks and have about 10 kids. TO THE FARTHEST STAR.

I still have affection for The Last Starfighter. Though I prefer the lunacy of its 1980s genre co-traveller, Krull, and though it may have lost much of its appeal, its heart is still there all these years later. (It easily wipes the floor — and other, more disgusting things — with the atrocious Santa Claus: The Movie) The creature and alien work is certainly much better than the CGI crap rammed down our throats these days. Grig, the quirky alien navigator in the last panel above, who’s a less prickly version of Admiral Ackbar and Jeriba from Enemy Mine, remains a small treasure.

The comic, while not rescuing the film experience from its vanishing relevance (an impossible task), is worthy. It’s a decent nostalgia companion piece. And that does indeed count for something in these parts.

There’s much more — and much better — to come in this Marvel Super Special March. Stay tuned. AND KEEP WATCHING THE ARCADE GAMES…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. caietanus permalink
    March 15, 2012 4:37 am

    Reblogged this on La Statua senza Bussola and commented:
    Un gradevole articolo di nostalgia su un vecchio B-Movie dato in tv negli anni 80 se non erro su Italia 1 (o era TMC?) , e che era nel pacchetto dei film disponibili di Alice TV almeno lì è l’ultima volta che l’ho rivisto, non era poi da buttare, secondo me descrive un epoca quella dei vecchi videogiochi.

  2. Phil permalink
    March 19, 2012 2:05 am

    Doesn’t Robert Preston look like he’s about to start singing?

  3. July 19, 2012 1:17 am

    I think it does age well, provided that what you want is a 1980s experience, which I do.

    It’s no surprise that the ships look unreal—they were primitive computer animation, about one generation more advanced than in Tron.

    At the time, that, too, was part of the appeal—back in 1984, computer animation was a new, exciting thing, and its limitations actually made it more pleasurable, because the objects and worlds it depicted were so geometrical and perfect.

    These days, we’ve kept the unreality of computer-animated objects, but lost the smooth, geometrical perfection. Now it’s unconvincing and messy.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good comic adaptation of a good movie. The closest I can think of is the 1989 Batman adaptation with art by Jerry Ordway, and even then, I don’t really like the movie it’s adapting.

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