Title: Star Slammers: The Complete Collection
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Walter Simonson
Artist: Walter Simonson
Colorist: Leonard O’Grady
Letterer: John Workman
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
If the name “Walter Simonson” isn’t enough to convince you to buy this book, I’ll do my best to sell you on it, but you should probably brush up on your comics history a little. Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor is the stuff of legend, considered by many to be the definitive Thor. Star Slammers evolved from a few promotional comics that Simonson refined into a project in his junior year at the Rhode Island School of Design, and eventually developed into his senior thesis. It was also the portfolio he showed to DC Comics that got him his first work in the industry. Simonson shares all of this in a well-told introduction to the volume, which collects Marvel Graphic Novel #6, the Star Slammers miniseries from Malibu, and the Slammers work Simonson created at RISD, in that order.
I’m of the opinion that this book is worth the price just to have it and look at it. Simonson is a true master. Everything he draws has energy. Everything is dynamic. His landscapes are gorgeous. The fantastic nature of his mechanical design is comparable to that found in Kirby’s best work. His faces are expressive, his figures have weight. Explosions, smoke clouds, spaceship collisions are all rendered beautifully. He does perspective and design like few others in the field, with truly impressive layouts that sometimes can’t be contained by the page. Colorist Leonard O’Grady does justice to Simonson’s line work with excellent gradients and shadows. John Workman’s letters synthesize well with Simonson’s trademark bombast. I’m not sure whether Simonson or Workman drew the sound effects, but Star Slammers features plenty of worthy successors to the famous “KRAKADOOOOM!” of The Mighty Thor: GLOOOOONGG, RACHETTE, THROBOOM, and BHLANG are among my favorites. It’s hard to overstate the quality of Simonson’s art, and no amount of explanation I offer can scratch the surface. If you’re not familiar, please do yourself a favor and open a new browser tab to image search “Walter Simonson” right now; this review can wait.
Each “era” of the Star Slammers saga is distinct, and I believe the strongest story collected in this volume is the Star Slammers Marvel Graphic Novel. The Star Slammers are a mercenary force building an army to fight the Hunters of Orion, who have seen fit to pass the judgment of utterly destroying the Slammers’ home planet and their race of “savages.” The Slammers’ planet began as an exile colony for the Orions, eventually becoming a place where Orion’s elite could hunt its inhabitants for sport. With the help of the Grandfather, an Orion who disagrees with his people’s decision to exterminate the exiles, the Slammers seek to achieve the Silvermind, a collective consciousness shared by every Star Slammer. Only an entire race working in unison can stand against the overwhelming force of the Orions.
The three main characters, Sphere, Jalaia, and Ethon, feel developed and three-dimensional. They’re interesting people, and so is the Grandfather. The Orions come across as thoughtless and power-drunk, in contrast to the Grandfather’s empathy and wisdom. The Slammers’ armor has a Kirby flair that wouldn’t look far out-of-place either on New Genesis or in Asgard. The effects Simonson uses to depict shared consciousness are incredible. In one instance, faces overlap at an eye so that it seems they share one. Then there’s the Silvermind, which turns the pages into a massive grid that portrays the action. The grid’s size allows for more fluidity than, say, Watchmen’s 9-panel system, and Simonson really plays around with it. I felt most invested in this story.
The Dark Horse material follows a Slammer named Rojas, taking place in the same universe as the Marvel Graphic Novel, but many, many years afterwards, potentially millennia. After a mission to destroy a village for the interstellar Minoan Empire, Rojas is captured by Imperial agents. However, he escapes, and the early stages of the story feel somewhat like Alien in that dangerous live cargo is at large and rarely seen by either characters or readers. When Rojas reveals himself and his earlier mission turns out to be more than it seemed, the story shifts into a more standard high-adrenaline sci-fi action thrill ride, but naturally, it’s more exciting for Simonson drawing it. It’s very much in keeping with the style of mid-90s Malibu, with big guns and bigger explosions. That might sound pejorative, but the similarity doesn’t change Simonson’s rich worldbuilding or unparalleled composition. Still, I felt less attached to Rojas than I did to the protagonists of the Graphic Novel, and the Malibu story does end on a “To Be Continued…” stinger that, it seems, was never picked up.
I find the RISD material to be most interesting as an exercise in how Simonson’s style evolved. Here, it’s experimental, surreal, dreamlike. The layouts use negative space and unconventional panel shapes insofar as they even have panels. I found the story a bit more difficult to follow than the other two, but the basics are that a representative of a “large corporation” has hired the Star Slammers to destroy Washington, D.C. as a measure to prevent an upcoming “intra-galactic conference” to be held there. Like the rest of this volume, though, the story is a visual feast. Here, we see the first glimmers of themes that would eventually become central to Star Slammers stories: the Slammers as both respected and feared throughout space, and the grid interpretation of the Silvermind. Also in evidence is the beautifully poetic prose narration that would eventually accompany and accentuate Thor.
I must admit to not finding the stories as strong as Simonson’s work on Thor, but Simonson is still a talented writer, and the art is, of course, astounding. I’d recommend anything by Simonson to anyone interested in comics composition, and this is no exception. And if you like a little metaphysics in your sci-fi, this is definitely a book you should pick up.