Saturday, August 23, 2008

Showcase #91 (June, 1970)

"2070-- In the short space of one hundred years-- man has conquered space! Planted his colonies on the planets of his own solar system-- and with the invention of the Bridwell Space Drive has reached out to other galaxies... And soon fat-bellied freighters are plying back and forth between our solar system and others-- bringing the riches of other planets and cultures in their holds... But where there are riches-- there are those who covet them-- and soon the lifeless husks of burned out freighters float dead in space... Victims of pirates-- history repeating itself-- but the time is 2070 not 1670... And for every pirate caught by the space patrols or the private security police of the giant mining and freight corporations, a dozen take their place... Soon, as in the old American West, a new breed of free lance bounty hunter springs up, some are successful, and collect the huge rewards offered by the United Federation of Planets and private corporations... Others are not so lucky... or good enough... Their reward is death! But as with the pirates, the lure of wealth overcomes fear and there are always others to fill an empty spot in their ranks-- many others...

Such a man is Starker, Manhunter 2070! This is his story-- and it begins on the Olympus 7, a vacation and pleasure satellite orbiting around Jupiter..."

...and in that future, now even closer to our present, sentence structure is a thing of the past! Oy.

Surrounded by a pair of pretty Vince Colletta-inked ladies, Mike Sekowsky's Starker made a killing-- at the casino! Gathering his winnings, Starker passed his dealer a sizable tip, and credited the rest to his account. Starker needed to settle up, as a signal device on his ring finger had alerted him to pressing business. Hopping into his Jetsons space car, a.k.a. Flyer S-2424, Starker took the call and the job on his way to his luxurious house satellite, also in Jupiter orbit. The girls protested, as Starker had promised to take them to the Jovian Bowl, but "Business before pleasure, honey! ...I know I promised your father I'd chaperone* you on your vacation-- but Arky will take you!"

Arky was Starker's robotic personal assistant, without whom he would likely be lost. Arky detailed the job-- a break out of Deimos Maximum Security Prison by three convicts, involving the deaths of two guards. "Jamal Kry-- Jovian-- Frank Lester-- Earth-Man," and "Slymor-- Planet Donos, Andromedan Galaxy! All three are killers, many times over. Approach with extreme caution!" Starker's young charge asked why, even at 750,000 credits, he needed to take on more work. "You've got more money than you can ever spend!" Starker explained, "Thanks to the way your father has handled my investments... As to why I do it-- If you've ever seen a gutted freighter or a passenger liner... No survivors-- no witnesses! That's part of it-- If you'd ever met these killers or their like at close range as I did-- then you'd understand!"

Arky took out all the guess-work. The three fugitives had stolen a food and fuel delivery freighter and jettisoned the crew. Based on their profiles and other factors, Arky deduced that they would set down on the planet Pheidos, where they could hide out at a pirate stronghold. "I will recommend-- Disinto-Blaster-- Exposi*-Needle Gun-- Electro-Knife-- Rifle-- Cannon-- and Full Space Armor--" Starker was surprised by that last bit. "Sounds like it'll be rough out there! Okay, Arky-- you've always been right before-- Anything else?" Arky explained that the planet Pheidos itself would be a threat, "For it is a killer planet-- and so is everything on it-- mineral, vegetable, animal--" Starker chided, "You're a regular mechanical bundle of cheer, Arky! I'll be careful! And what do you recommend for transportation?" Why, "The TR-40 with the new 10-750 Space Drive-- I'll get it--"

In our modern era of the comic book √úbermenschen, it's refreshing to see the hero of our more likely future so utterly dependent on technology for every single thing. I'm surprised Starker didn't have arms come down from the ceiling to dress him. Suited up, Starker returned to say goodbye to the girls, as he would be gone for about a week. The daughter gave the "big boob" a kiss on the cheek for luck. "Don't you know knights in shining armor haven't been in for centuries?"

Three days later, Starker found the wreckage of the freighter on Pheidos. This was a lucky break, as it meant the escapees were on foot until they could reach the stronghold. "Looks peaceful as a grave yard. Arky may have slipped up this time!" Starker mounted his Jet-Rider. "They're somewhere in the jungle-- be easier to spot them from the air-- and less tiring--" Just as he was about to rev his sky cycle, he was beset by creatures and animated plants wishing to end his life! "Godfrey Daniel! Now I know what Arky meant by a killer planet!" Filling his hands with weapons, Starker slashed and blasted the monstrosities away from his body! Everywhere he turned, Starker faced a vile menagerie out for blood! "A poisonous thorn-snake! ...Hairy Harry! These things look like the piranhas on Earth-- but here they have wings! ...Move, feet... Chow call on Pheidos!" Also, Glider-Cuda! Python Vines!

"Meanwhile, in a hidden underground chamber, not too far away-- Three figures stop in the process of arming and refitting themselves from one of the pirate arms and food caches scattered around the planet..." Using an Eye-Spy, they watched our hero fight his way out of one attack after another. "It's Starker... Just about the best of the bloody bounty hunters! Too many a good lad's in jail-- or dead because o' 'im! Nothin' stops 'im-- Not until 'e gets 'is man-- or men!"

A dead "winged-crocodile-like creature" later, Starker finally managed to return to his Jet-Rider and make tracks on Ol' Hoss! Starker tried scanning for heat radiation, but the pirates' own space armor covered that trail, allowing them to lie in ambush. Lester managed to blast the scanner and Jet-Rider out from under Starker, sending him on a crash course near some rocks. The pirates lay on Atmo-Sleds and flew off in pursuit. Using shoulder rockets to enhance his agility, Starker dodged their continued fire. The bounty hunter took cover, only to find a wave of Spider Rocks coming up from behind! "Howling Hounds of Hades! Did I say safe?" Shoulder rockets carried Starker out of reach, but he had to hit the ground running to evade the Atmo-Sleds! "Better find a hidey-hole! Here's one-- but it's already got a tenant--" As Starker blasted its head to pieces, "--Here's your disposess* notice, pal!"

The escapees passed overhead in search of Starker, until Lester finally spotted him, only to have his Atmo-Sled take the same punishment he'd dealt Ol' Hoss! "Never could stand a tattle-tell!" Lester used his downed Atmo-Sled for cover while his sharp-shooting blew the rifle right out of Starker's hand. Temporarily blinded and disarmed, it looked like Manhunter 2070 wouldn't live to 2071! A tear in Lester's space armor proved otherwise...

"ARRR-- No! Cannibal Ants! No!" One of the problems with Sekowsky editing his own script is that there was no one to catch the spelling errors, or point out that he probably meant "flesh-eating ants" instead. "With a terrible shriek, Lester leaps to his feet and tries to race away from his doom... but to no avail-- and a moment later, a near empty suit topples to the ground..."

Starker utilized his shoulder rockets to find a new safe place to plot ambush, but of course, there was no such thing on the surface of this planet. Tiny dragons began to climb Starker's legs, which he smashed with the butt of his handgun. A giant flying dragon-lizard howled its disapproval. "Oh-oh! Momma! And roaring mad about her babies!" In her fury, the saurian swatted Kry and Slymor off their Atmo-Sleds. Low on the only ammo that could potentially pierce its hide, Starker decided on a risky gambit. Manhunter 2070 claimed a sword and Atmo-Sled from a fallen escapee, then charged the dragon, stabbing it through the eye!

"Towing two Atmo-Sleds, one carrying a skeleton-- the other-- two unconscious outlaws-- Starker... fights his way back toward his ship..." He hoped nothing had eaten it, and his prayers answered, blasted off the "Planet of Death!" A few days and a medical inspection of Lester's remains later, Starker was promised his reward was in the bank. The day after, the bounty hunter returned to the company of his lovely lady-friends. "We still have a week, Starker, and you're going to make up for that week you deserted us! Arky's cute-- but-- You're not going away again--"

"Except on business-- if any comes up?"

Starker appeared in five issues of "Showcase," most written and drawn in 1970 by Mike Sekowsky. Starker was clearly modelled on then-popular movie toughs like Lee Marvin and James Coburn. The tales were rough and tumble, with a potent origin story sandwiched right in the middle of the run. Starker starred in three issues, plus a short preview and an out-of-continuity appearance in Showcase #100.

(* sic)

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