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‘Star Hawks, Vol. 1: 1977-1978’ (review)

Star Hawks, Vol. 1: 1977-1978
Written by Ron Goulart
Illustrated by Gil Kane
Published by IDW Publishing / Hermes Press
Library of American Comics

ISBN-13: 978-1631403972
Released 4/25/17 / $49.99

 

When I started in junior high school in 1971, I was already a science fiction fan and I couldn’t wait to discover what new sci-fi/fantasy books were waiting in the new school library for me! But I was disappointed. Oh, there was some Verne and Wells, but I had already caught up on their best-known works. I craved something more modern. But there was not a Bradbury to be had. Nor Heinlein. No Sturgeon or McCaffrey. Not even Edgar Rice Burroughs!

In truth, my school library had exactly ONE relatively recent science fiction book and that was What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries, a then new anthology by a writer I had never heard of named Ron Goulart.

It wasn’t long before I recognized Goulart’s name on a history of the Pulps at a local bookstore, then on some comic strip and comic book history articles and books. By 1977, he one of my favorite authors.

Gil Kane was probably my first favorite comic book artist, even before Kirby and Wood! Kane’s Green Lantern and Atom stories for DC had gotten seven year old me to write my first (unpublished) letters to comics…or anybody else at that point for that matter! At Marvel, Kane’s Captain America and Hulk runs were early favorites, also.

I was also a major Trekkie and a pretty big Star Wars fan!

So yeah, I was the exact target audience for the Star Hawks newspaper strip that debuted in late 1977 by Ron Goulart and Gil Kane. Only neither of my local papers ever picked it up. I read about the strip in various fanzines and mags like Starlog, but outside of a few examples, I never saw it at all when it was running.

I believe the great comic strip paper, the Menomonee Falls Gazette ran it toward the end but distribution in my area was spotty by that point. In time, the Comic Reader picked it up but it was so long between issues I quickly lost interest. I grabbed the two cheap mass-market collections that were published but the strips were reproduced so small and poorly that I ended up just writing the whole thing off.

Until now.

As I’ve noted before, we are in a Golden Age of strip reprints. Wait long enough and it seems every worthy newspaper strip is popping up again in one form or another. Some time back Hermes Press put out a much-awaited complete single volume of Star Hawks but it unfortunately is said to suffer from small and often less than stellar reproduction.

Hermes Press has now teamed with IDW’s amazing Library of American Comics to give it another go, however. Not sure of their exact involvement overall but both publishers are credited in this first of three volumes and the results are impressive. The only thing I can see that one can complain about here is that the Sunday strips are in black and white rather than color. No mention of any reason anywhere that I can see.
immediately recognizable as unique is that unlike every other daily strip ever, it was double-tiered for most of its nearly four year run.

The story itself was traditional space opera, more Buck Rogers meets Robin Hood than Luke Skywalker. That said, it’s hard to deny roguish hero Rex Jaxon’s resemblance to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. He and his large, bald, mustachioed partner (think Alan Hale, Sr as sidekick to Errol Flynn) are essentially interplanetary cops but they come across like somewhat less moral versions of classic movie heroes. Their assignments seem just an excuse to go get involved in other people’s issues, on this case on alien planets.

Although an expert on comics, Ron Goulart hadn’t really written many himself by that point (or any that I can think of) but he does pretty well, undoubtedly aided by Kane’s natural visual storytelling genius. It’s all easy to follow and well told. It’s just…Well…I still don’t care for Star Hawks very much!

The format is good and the plots move along just the way they should but I never feel all that invested in any of the characters and Goulart’s signature light touch—so familiar from his prose—sometimes seems a little heavy here.

By this point in the ‘70s, Kane’s art had evolved past what I personally consider his best period. He was in one of his most prolific periods, though. While the layouts are smooth, his character anatomy is unquestionable, and good use is often made of the double tier effect, his Star Hawks work often seems too crowded, too over-feathered, too overinked, and most likely much of it reproduced with a muddy effect when it was done even smaller in the newspapers of the day.

So I’m left with mixed feelings about Star Hawks, Vol. 1. On the one hand, it’s a high quality collection of strips I’ve wanted to read for nearly four decades, by a writer and artist whose work I have long enjoyed, working in a genre I like, and reproduced about as well as you’re ever going to find.

Ultimately, though, I found this volume, no matter how attractive it is, rather disappointing. It just doesn’t come across to me as the creators’ best work. I guess I’d consider it an interesting experiment. In fact, my favorite parts of the book were the behind the scenes articles that include an extensive piece on Gil Kane by Daniel Herman and a behind the scenes Intro from Ron Goulart.

If you were ever a Star Hawks fan, this book is for you. If you’re coming to it cold, or nearly so, I can’t imagine you particularly getting into it at this late date. Sorry.

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