By Mike Carey and Lin Carey (A.J. Lake)
From the Starstruck Deluxe Edition…
There are some books that detonate inside your head like a ton of intra-cranial plastique the first time you read them: others oh-so-gradually get under your skin till they become, almost without you realizing it, a part of your life. Starstruck is both. To explain: We first came across Lee and Kaluta’s wondrous creation in the autumn of 1984. In those days, we were a couple of ex-English students trawling the comics shops around London’s Leicester Square in search of a fix for our shared SF/fantasy addiction: usually super-team stuff in those days, to be honest. And then one day… we were browsing the shelves in an idle way when the cover of a graphic novel caught our attention. Two female warriors leaping out of the frame, one armed and muscled, one scarred and lacking a breast. And a blue mechanical dildo on legs. Title: “The Luckless, The Abandoned And Forsaked.” Inside, it got weirder. A random perusal revealed a blank-eyed scion of the aristocracy in love with a headless pleasure-doll, a space attack with a payload of scrambled egg, and a troupe of larcenous Girl Guides. We wondered what the hell it was we’d got our paws on, but we knew that – whatever it was – we wanted it.So we got the instant high; oh yes. But we got the slowburn, too. Over the next year or so, as we snapped up and devoured all six issues of the tragically short-lived ongoing, we found ourselves increasingly expressing ourselves in the book’s unique and wondrous argot. “Nothing important in head,” one of us would say, if we whacked our skull on the underside of a cupboard door. Or, when caught out in a lie, “truth as far as it goes.” Or – one that was called into service a whole lot in those dark, Thatcherite days: “The mother is paradox – ever present, and never there when you need her.” We even composed our own stark verse (qv).
We’d actually hit the story rather late. Starstruck had been around as a stage play since 1980 and a comic strip since 1982 (in Heavy Metal magazine). So how cool is it that at the end of the first decade of the the 21st century, it still reads as being ahead of its time?
The truth is, there just never was another book out there that did what Starstruck did. We could ramble on about the epic scale, but there had been space operas with epic scale before. Asimov had epic scale. Heinlein had epic scale. Hell, even E.E. Smith had epic scale. But Starstruck… Starstruck wasn’t just epic, it was polyphonic. Accompanying the main narrative you had whole skeins of quotes, sometimes from outside sources, sometimes from the book’s own densely populated universe of imagined voices and cultures. You had the encyclopaedia entries which were part footnote, part set-up, part mini-essays on mind-bending concepts put in there just for the sheer joy of it. (Want to know how to win the coveted “Sign of the Nova” Guide badge? Or what to do with your Vercadian Protector Android, assuming you’re rich enough to own one? Or why so many planets are called Alias? It’s all there.) You had letters, vid-casts, recordings, official documents, telepathic playback from android consciousnesses; you had poetry, drama and song; you had switches of viewpoint, a cast of billions; in short, you had a whole – expanding – universe.
And at this point, let’s ditch the nostalgia and switch to the present tense: because we’re not just reliving the heady days of our youth, we’re talking about the book – the living, breathing, quivering, fawn-like thing – that you’re holding in your hands right now. Starstruck, the beacon that lit up our past with visions of an implausibly rich and phantasmagorical future, is actually very much a thing of the present. IDW have finally provided a stage big enough for Lee and Kaluta’s vision, and the result is this collection.
If this is your first exposure – if the present volume is your gateway drug – we can tell you a little about what to expect. Reading Starstruck is like reading sci-fi written and drawn by J.S. Bach in the middle of an acid trip: fugues and choruses and multi-part harmonies of narrative, playing off each other in unexpected ways to produce delayed reveals, sting-in-the-tail pay-offs, devastating, poignant and ironic juxtapositions.
And none of this does justice to the sheer breakneck, lunatic energy of the storytelling. This is a universe of unceasing political intrigue; it’s like a giant chess game, if you can imagine a chess game played at near-light speed by a couple of dozen players, some of them power-crazed, some simply crazed, and one or two just in it for the laughs. And out of this plethora of amazingly realised, amazingly varied characters, a bigger, all-inclusive story emerges: a story that pits two great dynasties against each other, across worlds and generations, and defines the stakes – with total conviction – as the soul, identity and destiny of an entire civilisation.
Meanwhile, around the feet of the great movers and shakers swarm the Galactic Girl Guides, a comic creation worthy of a Twain or a Waugh. Young girls need to be thoroughly trained and equipped to survive in the Starstruck universe, and the G.G.G. (slogan: “It’s a TOUGH GALAXY, but SOMEBODY’S gotta live in it, and it might as well be YOU!”) is an institution designed to fill that need – adding a wondrous comic operetta counterpoint to the grand space opera of the main narrative, and ultimately connecting with it through the character of Brucilla the Muscle, one half of the greatest comics partnership since Batman and Robin.
Which brings us to another kick-in-the-pants feature of Lee and Kaluta’s universe: most of it’s run by women. All the great characters in the book’s first run were female. This in the 1980s, mind you, when female characters in the comics cosmos tended to be token, big-breasted and desperately overshadowed by the men. Well, not here. Ronnie Lee Ellis, family saboteur and best-selling author, the revolutionary Mary Medea, the evil Verloona Ti, Galatia-9 and the sublime Brucilla – these women define the dimensions of the story space and make its many, many strands cohere into something truly unique. They’re people you have to keep watching.
We’ve kept watching ever since, like the adherents of some crazed sect, and the hour so long foretold is now at hand.
Lee. Kaluta. Vess. Moyer. Klein. Homage them. Praise the words they speak. Honor to the mind that replicates their pattern.
Mike Carey Lin Carey (A.J. Lake)
London, Dec 2010