The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Star Comics

By Chris Cummins in Cartoons, Comics, Daily Lists
Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8:05 am
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In an effort to break into the lucrative kids' comics market dominated by Archie and Harvey Comics, Marvel decided to start their own child-friendly imprint in 1984. With this dubious goal in their sights, Star Comics was born. For four years Star printed a mix of original works and licensed properties of the era -- including Silverhawks, Thundercats, Muppet Babies, Popples, and The Flintstone Kids. Following a huge marketing push, the Star Comics releases stuck around until the imprint folded in 1988. As for the remaining titles, they were either folded back into Marvel's main line of books or canceled outright.

Recently, there has been something of a renaissance for these underappreciated (and, in some cases, downright forgotten) works that has culminated in the release of three Star Comics: All Star Collection trade paperbacks. Legal issues resulted in the licensed properties not being included in these volumes, which is really a shame because many of the line's best offerings were spin-offs of popular properties. Today's Daily List pays tribute to the magic -- and mistakes -- of the imprint by checking out the five best (and five worst) Star Comics titles. For some of you this will be a trip down memory lane. For the rest, it's a look at a very strange period in Marvel's existence... a time filled with many awesome animal puns.

THE BEST:

5) Alf

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If you were a kid in 1988, there would be two things you would want from an Alf comic: cat-eating jokes and gags about what a jerk Willie Tanner is. In that respect, Alf was a huge success. It also outlasted the show it was based on and ran for 50 issues, making it one of the most popular Star titles. Sure, the comics don't hold up to scrutiny from a snark-loving 2012 standpoint, but it was never meant to be anything other than a fun diversion for those who worshipped at the altar of Gordon Shumway. If there's a complaint to be found here, it's that the writing staff never got around to crafting a meta-reality tale about Willie's love for crack and random homeless person sex.

4) Heathcliff
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At the risk of having this list devolve into some sort of low-rent Quentin Tarantino diatribe, I have to wonder if Heathcliff people and Garfield people despise each other. In the battle for pop culture supremacy amongst orange cartoon cats, Garfield is the clear victor. Yet off to the sidelines remains his silently superior rival, underappreciated and ignored by the same kinds of people who make Mike & Molly a hit while Bored to Death gets canceled for low ratings. The closest this feline from the funny papers came to grasping the brass ring away from his Monday-loathing contemporary came in the mid-1980s with the arrival of his syndicated cartoon series and its subsequent Star Comics title (which in turn inspired the spin-off Heathcliff's Funhouse). All of these entities allowed the character to break free from the confines of his newspaper strip to have the sort of big adventures that Marmaduke dreams of each night. When Star Comics finally gave up the ghost, the entertaining Heathcliff comic was incorporated into the main line of Marvel releases. Because even more than chilling with Iggy or stealing fish what Heathcliff does most is persevere. And he does so without having to rely on goofy memes that remove him from his own comic. So put that in your lasagna and choke on it, you Odie-torturing asshole.

3) Wally the Wizard
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In the pre-Harry Potter world of the 1980s, the best place for readers to get their adolescent wizard fix was in the pages of this short-lived comic. When we first meet Wally, he is a well-intentioned kid whose yearning for adventure is extinguished by such daily tasks as having to conjure up the king's gout medicine. That may not sound too thrilling, but what makes this worth revisiting is that Wally the Wizard was created and initially written/illustrated by Bob Bolling -- the man whose Little Archie output of the 1950s and '60s remains some of the most whimsical comics ever printed. Bolling' embedded the comic with a sense of wonder that was noticeably absent from the other Star Comics. Alas, this pursuit of excitement lasted 12 issues. This is unsurprising given that kids of the era would much rather play He-Man than read about some young peasant's attempts to master magic. And speaking of He-Man...

2) Masters of the Universe
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The history of He-Man's comic adventures is somewhat complex -- or, if you prefer, ridiculously convoluted --so for the purpose of this list, let's keep things simple by saying that the Star Comics' Masters of the Universe run is noteworthy for attempting to be more than just a rehash of the cartoon series. Readers who bought this found themselves with more ambitious He-Man stories in the vein of Paul Kupperberg's work on DC's previous Masters of the Universe comic. This is still Star Comics we are talking about here, so there was still plenty of kid appeal and stories never approached the heights of maturity that Marvel's Epic brand was releasing at the time (which frankly would have been amazing). After a shaky start, it began to really find its niche by creating elaborate stories that touched upon human nature more than simply rehashing the usual He-Man vs. Skeletor trope. Things got really interesting towards the end- especially the mindfucking last two issues which awesomely have the feel of what a Terry Gilliam-directed MOTU flick would have been like. Of course after that highpoint, the comic was cancelled. Even the power of Grayskull can't defeat shitty sales and audience disinterest.

1) Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham
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When John Cleese declared that his three rules for comedy are "no puns, no puns and no puns," clearly he had never read an issue of Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham. Even if the character's adventures were too lowbrow for the Fawlty Towers mastermind, Spider-Ham still found an audience amongst children and regular Marvel readers who just got a kick out of seeing their beloved wallcrawler given a porcine makeover. You can chalk up Spider-Ham's success to reasons ranging from how animal comics have been a staple of the industry since the early days to the -- sorry, Cleese -- undeniable appeal of a good pun (the King-Pig? C'mon, that's just good comedy). We may never figure out why Spider-Ham is so appealing, but it is comforting to know that Marvel still trots out the character out from time to time. So why doesn't he have an ongoing series? I suppose because with great Porker comes great responsibility.

Hit the jump for the worst Star Comics titles.

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