Graphic novel review – Starstruck
– by Shawn Conner
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
Forgive me for beginning this review for such a hoary cliche. But, in the case of Starstruck, it’s entirely appropriate.
This latest incarnation – the “ultimate Starstruck“, if you will; all the previously released material, plus some bells and whistles, in a deluxe hardcover edition from comics publisher IDW and retailing for $49.95 – has its origins in the late ’70s, post-Star Wars in, it seems, an alternate universe.
In that anything-goes, starved-for-space-adventure era, Starstruck was born as a stage play written by Elaine Lee, along with her sister Susan Norfleet Lee and Dale Place. Comic book artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, whose previous credits included the DC Comics version of The Shadow, signed on to help with posters, then set design, along with fellow fantasy illustrator Charles Vess.
This naturally led to a collaboration between Kaluta and Lee to turn Starstruck into a comic. Its first appearances were in European anthologies followed by North American sci-fi/fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, but first exposure for the mainstream comics audience to the Starstruck universe was a collection called The Luckless, the Abandoned and Forsaked, published by Marvel’s Epic imprint. Six issues of a comic book followed before cancellation.
In the early ’90s, Dark Horse reprinted the series, with additional material. Starstruck was again canceled, this time before Lee and Kaluta could finish a whole proposed epic storyline. Then, a few years ago, comics publisher IDW revived the series with newly packaged reprints, all leading up to this heavy tome.
So what is Starstruck? It’s fast-paced space adventure that is full of humour and in-jokes and meta-jokes and sly self-knowing characters that are riffs on science fiction cliches without ever being cliches themselves. There are spaceships, galactic girl guides, space nuns, unexplained android-type machines, erotic cyborg women and, somewhere beneath it all, a plot that is too complex to parse on first, and maybe second, reading. Something Starstruck is not: light reading.
A New York Times Magazine writer recently wrote a piece on “aspirational” viewing and reading – that is, reading books or watching movies more because you feel you should than because they are enjoyably entertaining. Halfway through this collected volume of Starstruck I couldn’t help feeling the same way. There’s just so much going on, with so many characters and out-of-context dialogue and ideas popping out of nowhere, that it does become confusing and even difficult; I recall reading some panels two or three times trying to understand just what Lee (and Kaluta) were trying to convey.
So there’s the reason it never quite caught on with the comics-buying public. Even with all the familiar trappings of aliens, scantily clad warrior women, robots and specious physics, Starstruck is a game that seems to change as you play. Kaluta’s art is big and bold and, especially in this hardcover edition, beautifully reproduced; it’s also as dense and filled with detail as Lee’s writing.
I love Starstruck – the idea of it, the look of it, the universe that’s been created. But at the same time I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. It will likely hold a place on my bookshelf for a long long while – it’s just too fantastic a piece of work not to have to pull out and look at every now and then. But will I read it again? That I’m not so sure of.