12 January 2018

Review: Star Hunters by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, Rich Buckler, et al.

In addition to reprinting old material, DC Super-Stars was also a venue for launching new series. One of these was Star Hunters, which had its first (double-length) installment in Super-Stars before spinning off into its own series. Published 1977 to 1978, it was definitely riding the same space opera zeitgest that gave us IronWolf and Star Wars; the text feature in Super-Stars #16 explains that writer David Michelinie was inspired by Space: 1999 and Star Trek when he first pitched the concept in 1975, though it wasn't accepted until 1976, and the first part went on sale in June 1977, almost exactly one month after Star Wars appeared on screen, though the text feature doesn't mention Star Wars at all despite some obvious similarities.

The text page sort of waffles about whether it is a team book or not: Micheline pitched it as a team book called The Survivors because team books did better in the market at the time, but the text piece indicates that as ideas coalesced, it became a solo book: Donovan Flint, Starhunter. Obviously things changed between when the text piece was finalized and when the cover to Super-Stars #16 was printed! I'd say the book itself waffles about this. Donovan Flint is definitely the main character, but he's one of a group of adventurers on a spaceship together, and the title highlights all of them, yet the story rarely does.


The basic premise of the book is that the mysterious and nefarious Corporation infects a group of varied people with particular skills with a deadly illness that means they will die if they set foot on Earth. In exchange for the cure, the Star Hunters will have to travel into space on the C.S.V. Sunrider, to recover the second half of an alien artifact that contains the location of an ancient alien race that seeded life on Earth and other planets.

It's sort of a contrived premise, I feel. The death sentence aspect makes the nefarious nature of the Corporation too obvious from the beginning, and it's never adequately explained why they have to go to such lengths, why they can't  just pay some people to go find it instead, and get more loyalty that way. It's also a premise that's never really developed. You might think that finding the second half would be a challenge (otherwise why go to such lengths?), but the Star Hunters just go straight to the planet where the first half was and find the second half in the same cave! By the end of the second issue! (Star Hunters #1, that is.) From there the story swerves massively, with first some battles against terrorists, and then Donovan is killed and resurrected and becomes a messiah dedicated to taking down the Corporation with an army at his back all in time for a massive battle over Earth in Star Hunters #7, which turned out to be the final issue, even though the lettercol in #7 promises more to come with a new creative team.*

Obviously you can have series where the seeming premise turns out to not be the actual premise, but Michelinie doesn't really pull it off here, as the book rockets through both the old and the new premise unbelievably fast. Why is Donovan a space messiah? How does he recruit a resistance army with basically one speech? Someone was clearly watching Star Wars, but I don't think he was learning the right lessons. (Though, after Star Hunters, Michelinie wrote nineteen issues of Marvel's Star Wars comic from 1981 to 1983.)

I would say the book was influenced by Blake's 7 too: when the original Sunrider is destroyed, the crew find a mysterious advanced warship that they take for their own, completely with an obliging supercomputer in a box. It's basically the Liberator with ORAC/ZEN aboard. C'mon, it has to be a Blake's 7 rip-off! A band of rebels in an awesome but enigmatic spaceship fighting to liberate a dystopian Earth! Except, you know, Blake's 7 didn't premiere in the UK until January 1978, several months after the first installment of Star Hunters. And the lines of influence wouldn't make any sense going the other way, either. Convergent evolution, I guess. Like I said, something was in the air in the 1970s!


Donovan Flint is the main character: an Irish space rogue who spouts lines like, "'Twould seem someone's had a bit much o' the grape t'night" and "All right, bucko, ye've had yer fun." (See him front and center on the cover of issue #1 to the right.) He's a little obnoxious in a fun way-- brash and over-the-top, but the writer clearly knows it. Well, at first, because any enjoyment you might get from his antics is ruined by the way he acts toward...

Darcy Vale is originally set up as the leader of the Star Hunters and the captain of the Sunrider, even though Flint is clearly the main character. (She's in the foreground of the cover of #2 to the left; that's her best cover appearance, since she's usually unconscious or in the far background on the others.) Flint is condescending and obnoxious to her; in Super-Stars #16 he makes a pass, but she rejects it, and he thinks, "she was rather pretty-- in a computerish sort o' way..." Once she's placed in command, he constantly disregards her orders, and condescends to her, calling her "girly" even though she's a highly trained scientist who the Corporation recognizes for her leadership skills. I liked her a lot: attractive and intelligent and standoffish. But it all goes downhill because after Donovan dies and comes back to life, she's like, "Oh maybe you should be in command" and his sexism is validated. Like, why do I want to read about an obnoxious boor who turns out to be right?

Mindy Yano, the Sunrider's computer technician and electrician, seems to be the model of the ideal female character, meek and timid, and consistently left behind on the ship. She initially gets to show her stuff in Super-Stars #16, but she fades into the background after that, only becoming important when the crew realizes she has a spy device implanted in her, so they isolate her from the rest of the crew and you never hear from her again!

Some Other Guys also are part of the crew, but honestly I could never remember who they were because they were subsumed under the book's increasing focus on ALL DONOVAN FLINT ALL THE TIME.

Final Thoughts

Despite my initial misgivings about the premise, I think I would have enjoyed Star Hunters had it continued to be like the second half of the first issue, where the whole crew works together to overcome a crisis with their wits and ingenuity. But as the book goes on, everyone who's not Donovan Flint ceases to be important (I don't know why they didn't just go with Starhunter as the title, given that), and the book becomes increasingly battle-driven too. Making Donovan a space messiah didn't help, either-- the god-like "Entity" who reanimates him feels completely grafted on, ill-fitting with the tone of the rest of the book.

Michelinie's writing is okay; he's prone to melodrama in his captions, much like Denny O'Neil. Don Newton, the original artist, is pretty good (though he sometimes draws women's faces a bit weird); of Newton's various replacements, I thought Larry Hama was not great, Mike Nasser was strong, and Rich Buckler was decent. Inker Bob Layton is the only artistic contributor to work on more than half the series, and I suspect he brings some continuity to the rotating pencillers. Sometimes his lines are a bit too thick, but that might be down to technical limitations of the 1970s. (Layton is also credited with helping plot issue #7... one of two he actually didn't ink! I wonder what's going on there.)

If it had continued, Gerry Conway would have taken over as writer (with Rich Buckler and Tom Sutton continuing on art); I really liked Gerry Conway's work on Crisis on Multiple Earths, and I wonder what he could have done here, since Star Hunters seems suited to his talents (weird sci-fi stuff, space-time epics, large casts). Maybe he could have redeemed it, but we'll never know.

Star Hunters originally appeared in DC Super-Stars #16 (Sept./Oct. 1977) and Star Hunters #1-7 (Oct./Nov. 1977–Oct./Nov. 1978). The series was written by David Michelinie (S-S #16/SH #1-7) with plot assist by Bob Layton (#7); pencilled by Don Newton (S-S #16/SH #1), Larry Hama (#2), Mike Nasser (#3), and Rich Buckler (#4-7); inked by Bob Layton (S-S #16/SH #1-5) and Tom Sutton (#6-7); colored by Liz Berube (#1), Tatjana Wood (#2-3), and Jerry Serpe (#4-7); lettered by Ben Oda (#2), Shelly Leferman (#4, 7), Jean Simek (#5), and Milt Snapinn (#6); and edited by Joe Orlando (S-S #16/SH #1-6) and Allen Milgrom (#7).

* Star Hunters was a victim of the legendary "DC Implosion," when inflation and recession hit DC Comics hard, resulting in widespread lay-offs (including of Star Hunters editor Al Milgrom) and the cancellation of sixty-five ongoing series.

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