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Star Wars #1

Star Wars #1

With Solo: A Star Wars Story arriving in theaters this week, I thought I’d bump Star Wars #1 to the top of my reading pile for this special, mid-week entry of Marvel 1977. Alas, Han Solo himself doesn’t appear in this issue, ending as it does before Luke even gets to Mos Eisley, but if the rumors are to be believed, Han Solo is missing from his own movie, too! So there you go!

As a young super-geek, Star Wars was on my radar well before the movie debuted, and I bought the first four issues of the Marvel Comics series off the rack and set them aside without reading them, saving those spoilers for the movie theater. (I never even saw issues #5 and #6 … once the movie came out, anything with “Star Wars” on the cover sold out in seconds). This comics adaptation is wordy and a little rough to look at, but it is still classic Star Wars and that makes it fun. I remember being a little let down with the comics when I snuck a peek before seeing the movie (of course I snuck a peek!), but all these years later, with the story so familiar and the actor’s voices ringing in my ears, this comic is a nice nostalgic time machine for a galaxy far, far away.

The book is remarkably faithful to the film, especially when you consider it was written and drawn well before the movie took its final form. For dedicated fans, half the fun is in spotting the little inconsistencies — like Droids being referred to as “robots,” or that bizarre green Darth Vader helmet on the front cover. I particularly enjoyed Luke’s conversation with his planet-side pal Biggs, something hinted at in the movie but missing from the final cut.

  • Script: Roy Thomas
  • Art: Howard Chaykin

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Star Wars Card Trader

Longbox Graveyard #154

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled individual issue reviews of the All-New All-Different Marvel Now to bring you the latest installment of … Super-Blog Team-Up!

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As you can see from the logo above, this edition of Super-Blog Team-Up celebrates the return of Star Wars! Today, all across the Internet, a ragtag group of bloggers have joined together to blog and podcast about the greatest space opera of them all!

Star Wars The Force Awakens

It is impossible to overstate the impact Star Wars had on pop culture, kicking off a whole new era of cinematic spectaculars, and incidentally saving Marvel Comics and the whole comics industry along the way. The Original Trilogy came along at the turning of the tide for my adolescence — I saw Star Wars as kid, with my dad at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and six years later saw Return of the Jedi as a date film with the woman who would become my wife. Star Wars bracketed my transition from child to adult (or at least as adult as a fifty-odd-year-old guy with a comics blog can be!)

I loved the original pictures, but the years that followed would not be kind. I didn’t care for the prequels, and I resent that I can’t easily share the first films with my kids in unaltered form (not that they’ve shown much interest, frankly). Aside from dabbling in the surprisingly-good Clone Wars via Netflix, Star Wars has been in a long dry spell for me, but of course with a new movie on the horizon, my nostalgia has been reawakened for the series, so it was perhaps inevitable that I looked favorably upon an odd little app that debuted several months ago …

Star Wars Card Trader

Star Wars Card Trader is a free digital trading card application for iPhone and Android. It offers several hundred different virtual Star Wars trading cards that are distributed through a bewildering array of collectable packs within the app. The app uses a virtual currency scheme, but Topps is generous with free currency — my card collection numbers in the thousands, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than ten bucks all year (and needn’t have spent at all — basic currency rewards and advertising incentives can keep you going indefinitely with this thing).

I was never a trading card guy. Cards never appealed to me the way comics do — in my view, you can’t do much more with cards than to own them and organize them. At least comics offer reading value. So, too, have I always resisted products with built-in rarities, and card sets, with their blind packaging and chase cards, fall squarely into that category. Finally, I hate waste and I hate sprawl, and hauling around legions of card boxes filled with duplicate cards seems to me the worst kind of pursuit.

Star Wars cards

very cool, but too much for me

But there are people who love card collecting, obviously, and I say these things not to cast shade on my card collecting friends, but to set the stage for why I’ve come to so enjoy this digital trading card app. For me, it addresses every issue I had with collecting cards — it’s free, it’s compact, it’s organized, it’s filled with endless content, and it’s Star Wars.

The only problem is that it isn’t real.

The app is real, but the cards are not. At least, they aren’t real in the physical sense. While the cards may look real on your phone, they exist only as digital images on your screen, backstopped on a Topps server someplace. Digital comics, at least, are usually available somewhere as something you can hold in your hand. These Topps cards, for the most part, don’t exist in the real world at all. There’s no gold standard tethering these things to reality. There aren’t even Midi-chlorians!

thanks for nothing!

And yet the hunt to collect full sets of these things still drives a healthy daily user base of (by my estimation) about 70K players, enough of whom spend real money on this app to keep Topps busy releasing an endless and confusing string of core sets, inserts, and variants, with new releases coming every day! It is becoming too much of a good thing, to be honest.

But more about that later. First, the app.

Star Wars Card Trader is a free download for your smartphone, and there’s no harm in checking it out for yourself, but in a nutshell … the app gives you daily free currency awards, which are spent in a store to purchase packs of cards. Card packs vary by contents, quantity, and price, and are sorted by rarity. Base rarities are white, blue, red, yellow, and gold; on top of this there are variant colors and a storm of special inserts. The base cards are all photographs of characters and creatures from the six (and soon seven) Star Wars films and animated series, while the inserts cover everything under the sun, from concept art to weapons to locations to comic book covers that will be familiar to the Bronze Age comics fans that read this blog.

Star Wars!

The reverse of each card has a slug of text about the character, and a notice of how many copies of that card have been “printed,” running from the millions for base white cards, to 100 or fewer for some of the very rare inserts.

The most common way to get cards is to open packs, and Topps has done a good job here, with a little sound effect and flourish when you open a pack, and a burst of laser fire and device vibration when you uncover a card that is new-to-you … a fine digital approximation of ripping open a real pack of cards, sorting through them, and going “Got it … got it … got it … AH HA!”

There are also torturous achievement-based means of collecting certain rare cards, by assembling parts of other sets, or following blueprints, or melding or shredding the cards you’ve already got, but to be honest I can’t be bothered. I mean, look at these instructions, and tell me they make the vaguest sense:

are you kidding me?

No, I’ve stuck to basic goals, gradually filling out a complete set of White, Blue, Red, and Yellow cards (the most commonly available), and a few Golds, along with some keen inserts. One of may favorite sets, as you can well imagine, was the 1977 retro set, a reproduction of original physical cards of the day, some of which are just so damn cool:

Retro 1977 Digital Trading Card

I also chased down some so-bad-it’s-good art from an old Empire Strikes Back set …

is that you, Mr. Fett?

… along with some artsy original pieces that Topps has created just for their card sets.

Storm Trooper

Even the covers of the sets are cool. I never did get a single variant from this Women of Star Wars pack, but I loved the cover …

Women of Star Wars

Alas, not every card is a work of art. This Skiff Guards card belongs in the Photoshop Crime Hall of Shame …

Skiff Guards

… but for the most part, I’ve been well-pleased with the app, especially for the price. It gives me a Star Wars fix a couple times a day, and has even engaged me a bit with trading.

Ah, yes, trading … you can’t have trading cards without the trading part, and here the app also delivers, albeit awkwardly. There are various text feeds within the app where players will post their needs and offers, and there is a painfully slow and awkward interface where you can propose and counter-propose trade offers to each other. It is a laborious process, with far too many clicks, and trades are limited to nine cards on a side at a time, but it is better than nothing. Just.

And it was trading that led me down the rabbit hole with this thing.

It doesn’t take more than a couple months of dedicated use to put together a basic set of cards with this app. Chasing down every insert and variant is basically impossible, so when my core colors were complete, I figured that I was done with the app. This made me sad, because I still wanted my Star Wars fix … but I was unwilling to flush the major bucks and time into the app that collecting inserts would require.

And so … I went to the Dark Side. I became a Hoarder!

trading interface

We are getting into weird territory here, but stay with me.

When I first downloaded the app, the community seemed about split between those who Hoarded, and those who didn’t. It was the marvelous kind of nerd skirmish that our tribe does so well. On one side, the group who thought it was cool to compile lots (and I mean LOTS) of the same card through trade, and on the other, the group who felt this was contrary to the intent of the app (by artificially reducing the number of cards in circulation, and maybe by letting players pile up positive trade ratings through frivolous transactions). Nowadays, hoarding has been more-or-less legitimized by Topps through promotions that invite you to “shred” vast numbers of duplicate cards to qualify for rare variants, but you will still find a trader here and there with NO HOARDERS! in their trade offers.

Of course, this only encourages me.

I had hit the wall with casual collection, but I didn’t want to give up the app, so as I said, I became a Hoarder. Of digital cards. That don’t exist. A behavior that made me a pariah to some. This is awesome!

It was simple enough. I love Admiral Ackbar. I had a bunch of Admiral Ackbar cards. I thought … what if I had ALL of the Admiral Ackbars?

Must Have All The Ackbars!

one of these things is WAY MORE than the others …

Yeah, that’s never going to happen. There are millions of White Ackbars out there. But I decided to make a dent by getting as many as I could.

This is deeply stupid behavior. Like I said, the trading process is arduous, and is capped at exchanging nine cards at a time. Calculating the time I have invested in building my collection up to nearly three thousand Admiral Ackbars, nine cards at a time, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Here’s the crazy thing. I am not King of the Digital Ackbars. Not even close. I know this because the Hoarding market for Admiral Ackbar is very, very tight. In examining other players card collections for potential trades, I see stacks and stacks of Plo Koons and IG-88s and Padmes … but I see very few Ackbars. Other collectors — thousands of them, in my fevered imagination — have been getting to the Ackbars before me. I have nearly three thousand of these bastards, even if all they are is a little number on an image, but it is not enough.

It's A Trap!

Not.

Nearly.

Enough.

For awhile I hoped that I would be able to get an Ackbar Monument card when Topps inevitably announced shred time for the Mon Calamari, but I am seeing that weird dream recede in the distance. Based on past Hoarding challenges, it will take 5000 or more Ackbars just to get in the ballpark for that award, and I am never going to get there.

And so, with regret, I have been winding down my participation in Star Wars Card Trader, which is fine … it got me through the year and right up to the introduction of the movie. That’s great!

all things must end

one of my final Admiral Ackbar trades …

But there is possibly an epilogue to this saga.

I told you that I haven’t chased the rare cards, but one of the rare cards chased me.

Sitting on the can one day, I “bought” a package of non-existent rare “mint black press” embossed Star Wars trading cards, that were neither really pressed or embossed. And out of nowhere I Iucked into a black General Grievous.

General Grevious

I don’t give a bucket of warm Rancor piss about General Grievous, mint, pressed, black, or otherwise … but this is the rarest card in my collection. It is one of the rarest cards in the whole set, with only 100 in circulation. This particular card is one sixth of a complete mint set, and the crazy guy who gets one of each of the six will unlock another nonexistent virtual reward when the last of the cards has been released.

Grevious Back

For the effort and expense involved, you’d expect at least a handshake from C-3PO, but no … all that hunting for cards will just earn you another card!

(And did I mention that all the cards in this app, whether part of your collection or not, are always free to view via the trading interface?)

But I digress.

Here I am with this immensely sought-after card and no means or desire to collect the rest of the set. What am I do to with it? If I could trade it for 5000 Ackbars, I would … but the app doesn’t permit easy transactions on that scale. I could try to trade it for nine very rare inserts, but I’m really not that interested.

Or a clever fellow could truly turn to the Dark Side … at eBay.

The Dark Side

Now, I’m not saying I did it, because that would be a violation of the app’s terms and requirements, but I see that quite a few little Greedos have taken to listing their digital cards on eBay for sale outside of the app. I gather that payment is accepted via eBay, with a card trading transaction via the app to follow. And I see that mint black General Grievous cards are listing for around thirty bucks a pop, which is about what it will cost to buy a couple tickets to The Force Awakens.

Hmm. This is very tempting …

May The Force Be With You. Enjoy The Force Awakens … and before you go, be sure to check out these other great Star Wars Super Blog Team-Up articles!

NEXT MONTH: #155 Marvel Puzzle Quest

The Micronauts

A long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, there was a space opera adventure full of thrilling daring-do, with larger-than life villains and swashbuckling heroes battling across the cosmos to determine the fate of a stellar empire. In the bad old days of 1979, I went mad tracking down every film, book, and comic I could find about that fantastic new universe.

Micronauts … was not that universe, but it did help feed the hungry wolf of my under-served Star Wars obsession. Now, decades later, Star Wars is thoroughly over-served, and it is Micronauts that intrigues me. Micronauts was the Little Space Opera That Could, a licensed book that punched far above its weight and was a much better read that it had any reason to be.

Micronauts is the kind of book that’s right in my wheelhouse for Longbox Graveyard. I have fond memories of the book, I own a pile of issues, and they’re of no particular worth to anyone but me. But unlike many books in my Accumulation, something about this series fired my imagination — when I found them in the Longbox Graveyard, it was, “Oh, cool!” and not, “Oh, no!”

That nostalgia was amply rewarded, for the first dozen issues or so.

I admire Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden for bringing their A-game to what could have been a desultory, marketing-driven comic adaptation of an obscure Japanese toy series. The book had no shortage of enthusiasm, and while Micronauts wasn’t quite the minor space opera classic I remembered, it was still a fun read.

Micronauts followed the adventures of a rag-tag group of rebels fighting to free their homeworld from the villainous Baron Karza, who ruled through terror and evil science. The series had robots, aliens, spaceships, mysticism, a little romance, and a surprising amount of violence. The big reveal was when these heroes escaped to our world from the “microverse” and turned out to be the size of toys …

… and that’s where the series struggled. When Micronauts was two-fisted sci-fi pulp with Body Banks and Dog Soldiers, I was all in. But when our heroes were menaced, Land of the Giants-style, by giant puppies, well …

In 1979, though, I thought the book was awesome, dude! I was seventeen and buying comics with my own money. I had a job and would soon be dropping out of school. (Yeah, comics taught me well.) My mind was open and hungry for adventure. Star Wars was still cool and I was young enough to embrace space opera tropes.

I fell in love with Micronauts from the very first page.

I still love that page.

Pretty much everything I wanted was here. Ray guns, princesses, aliens, spaceships. And that juxtaposition of horses and science fiction! Micronauts promised a sword & planet adventure in the tradition of John Carter of Mars. Everything here had been done better by George Lucas (and Jack Kirby did it better than all of them), but starved as I was for space opera in those pre-home video days, this book didn’t have to be Mr. Right. It was enough to be Mr. Right Now.

And it got many things right.

That first issue, especially, was magic stuff, sweeping us up in a world of familiar surprises, peopled by unabashed Star Wars archetypes mixed up in a galactic rebellion tinged with undertones of eugenics and religious fundamentalism. The villains sneered, the heroes acted heroic, and everything moved at a breakneck pace. It was a breathless thrill ride that also marked the high point of the series.

(And you can read issue #1 in it’s entirety over at Mars Will Send No More!)

Marvel had a long tradition of mixing cosmic superheroes with mundane, earth-based adventure, but I thought Micronauts lost it’s mojo when hammered into the same world as the X-Men. It was the Microverse I wanted to explore — not Florida! But I gather “pure” science-fiction books were the kiss of death, sales-wise, in those pre-direct market days, and so Micronauts saw its sometimes-compelling space opera derailed, time and again, by weak “toys in peril” stories that only served to diminish the book.

Michael Golden’s career was just getting started with this book, but his unique style still set him apart from most everything else Marvel was publishing in 1979. His work was fresh, clean, and imaginative. Golden’s pencils could be primitive in places but were so full of joy and motion that they were impossible to resist, particularly when inked by pro’s pro Joe Rubinstein.

The writing was no better or worse than most Marvel comics of the era, and Bill Mantlo got extra points for godfathering the series — without him, we wouldn’t have Micronauts at all. But the series was very much a product of its age. Mantlo’s scripts were enthusiastic and his plots were imaginative, but his dialogue was expository and his grim-toned captions got tiresome. A few bravura flourishes stood out — like when our characters (and their word balloons) went tumbling and had to be be read upside-down — but for the most part, this was straight-forward Marvel-style storytelling.

The characters were a mixed bag. What at the time seemed inspired by Star Wars today reads as third-rate Star Wars (which by my math makes it twice as good as Phantom Menace).

Commander Rann was a stiff, make no mistake, a knock-off of Vance Astro from the original Guardians of the Galaxy (!), and Princess Mari and the robots were little better. All these years later I did still like Bug and Acroyear — they’re one-note characters, but it’s a good note. (Pretty much alone of this crew, Bug would escape the series to a continuing role in the Marvel Universe). Among the bad guys, Baron Karza was properly operatic, seeking to rule an entire universe (microverse!) through the promise of eternal life. Sure, Karza was a bargain basement Darth Vader … but it was weird and wonderful beyond measure when Karza changed shape and stomped around as black armored centaur. (Try to answer that, Anakin!)

In 1979, this book was my monthly ticket to a space opera world that excited my sensibilities. Reading Micronauts in 1979 felt like you were part of secret club. It was easy to imagine that regular comics readers were dismissive of Micronauts because of it’s toy license premise, and to feel like you had discovered some unique little jewel.

Maybe no one was watching closely. Maybe no one had any expectations at all. And maybe because of that, Micronauts felt like a book where anything could happen. That’s the paradox of Micronauts — with its stock characters and space opera cliches it managed to feel like one of the freshest books of its time. Imaginative, adventurous, and fun, it was the first book I took off my reading stack, and with every glimpse of the world and characters I wanted to know more, go there, be a part of this crazy thing (at least until those damn toys came to Earth). Micronauts may have been a joke … but no one told Micronauts. It pushed past parody, past pastiche. This book just went out and had fun each month and didn’t worry what might happen next.

Decades later, I can’t mount much defense for this book. From the imaginative explosion of that first issue, things spiraled down quickly. Our heroes came to Earth, discovered they were toy-sized, fought dogs and cats and Man-Thing (Man-Thing??). The series picked up a bit when it returned to the Microverse and the rebellion against Baron Karza got rolling, and the first year of the series did come to an appropriately apocalyptic conclusion, with space fleet battles, living planets, fratricide, and wholesale slaughter of prisoners. But really, this was a pretty ridiculous book, and if it wasn’t freighted with nostalgia I wouldn’t have made it through re-reading the first dozen issues.

It’s too bad I didn’t like these books more, but not every Longbox pulled from the Graveyard is filled with rubies. I doubt I’ll read Micronauts again, but I still rescued, bagged, and boarded the first dozen issues. That’s as far as Michael Golden went with the book, and that seemed a good place to step off.

Those issues are probably in their bags to stay.

But I’d regret selling off my Micronauts. So stay they will.

  • Title: The Micronauts
  • Published By: Marvel Comics, 1979-1986
  • Issues Rescued From The Longbox Graveyard: #1-12, January-December 1979
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C

NEXT WEEK: #3 The Accumulation

Longbox Graveyard #2: The Micronauts

Originally Published June 29, 2011

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