Friday, January 30, 2015

CBR Starstream #1 ("Who Goes There?" and other scifi classics)

Turns out one of the very first adaptations of the scifi classic "Who goes there?" (aka "The Thing") was in comic book form, long before John Carpenter's all-time gory cult adaptation!

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Comic title: Starstream #1
Art by various
Written by various

Published by Western Publishing/Whitman imprint
From 1976
Lineup Starstream anthology series/The Thing franchise
Format: Single issue #1 from the Starstream limited anthology series.

Long before John Carpenter's The Thing, there was another adaptations of the classic novella. And it was a comic book, no less!

For reminder, Who Goes There? is a 1938 classic science-fiction story by the great John W. Campbell, Jr. The man responsible himself for what is now considered the golden age of science-fiction (with his classic run of Astounding/Analog and this late 1930s classic Who Goes There?, one of the all-time cult classics of the genre). A story about an Arctic research team finding a mysterious alien being trapped beneath the ice they thought long deceased.. only to find out it actually is a shape-shifting creature and has now already spread through their facility.. Who is still, and who is actual The Thing..? It's a great huis clos about paranoia, making you doubt every single character.

The story had already been adapted once as a motion picture in 1951 under the title The Thing from Another World. And it would be again turned into a movie, for much better results, in 1982 (a prequel to that version was also released in 2011).

But before Carpenter got the chance to bring the story that much closer to the original book, there was another over overlooked adaptation, in Starstream #1.

Starstream was a science-fiction anthology series published by Whitman Comics, an imprint from Western Publishing.

The year was 1976, the science-fiction genre was at its peak thanks to the likes of 2001, Star Wars or even Logan's Run all entering part of pop culture at the time. Interest in the genre was renewed.

Since there weren't that many science-fiction anthology comic books on stands back then (due to Marvel just having stopped publishing a few of their titles such as Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction - just prior to the creation of Star-Lord actually), Western Publishing decided to jump on the occasion and produce a serialized anthology comic book. Adaptations of classic scifi world-renowned authors like Asimov, Anderson, Campbell, McCaffrey and many more!

Starstream only lasted for 4 issues, but it was a pretty good book while it lasted. Each issue were these thick floppies containing several short stories. Adaptations of classics of the genre, about 5 tales, for a pretty cheap price you would get about 68-page worth of classic stories illustrated!

This first issue alone featured comic adaptations Raymond Banks, Howard Goldsmith and the great John W. Campbell no less - with Campbell's Who Goes There? being the main feature and the focus of this review.

While I love the 1951 classic film, it's such a huge departure from the original book. It might be responsible for spawning the entire 1950s alien invasion genre, but it traded the claustrophobic setting and body horror for a more traditional Frankenstein-like creature feature.

As Whitman wrote in this comic, this is the original story "as it was meant to be", un-Hollywoodized and closer to the novella.

The script was adapted by veteran Arnold Drake and the art was drawn by Jack Abel.

It roughly follows exactly the text from the book, to the narration. With some obvious changes to the dialogues in order to fit the visual medium.

A team of researchers in the Arctic find a mysterious spaceship deep beneath the ice. They try to get it out with termite, but it destroys the alien metal, the heat melts the ship instantaneously. But the loss of this huge scientific discovery is quickly forgotten once the debris reveal some kind of figure trapped in the ice nearby. Fearing possible diseases carried by the mysterious alien figure, they quarantine it (a really realistic and intelligent move on the part of our protagonists). That's smart writing right there.

They get a glimpse at the creature's possible original form (or was it already the shape of some previous alien life form it encountered? who knows!). And let me tell you right here, it's hilariously silly. Going off the original description in the book ("it looks like pure evil!"), they somehow ended with a cheesy fury giant green chicken with white dreadlocks!

The dogs alert them, they rush in only to find the creature now grabbing and merging with the dogs! They realize this... Thing can become other creatures. It could just as well be hiding amongst the humans! MacReady suggests testing blood sample. If every part of The Thing works as separate living being entities, part of this alien blood would therefore try to escape from fire! The Thing disguised amongst the crew reveals itself and tries to escape...

As far as adaptations usually go... this is actually pretty okay.

For a comic book adaptation of a short story, it's pretty decent.

It's also kinda interesting to look back at this comic after Carpenter film - which ditched the aesthatic of Christian Nyby's 1951 film and took its cues directly from the original source. Both the comic and Carpenter's The Thing draw from the same material and each did a slightly different spin on it. While Carpenter really sold the tension thanks to a great direction and body horror imagery, the comic feels like a Twilight Zone episode. Since it's contained on so little pages, there's nothing much beside the main events of the plot. There's not much character development and it can't spend much time on setting the mood and the tone.

All in all, it's a bit rushed near the end, but it's a solid tale!

The rest of the issue contains several other classics - Never before seen in comics!

Since I really wanted to cover Starstream #1 for "Who Goes There?", let's at least have a quick summary of the other four features.

"Dominus" is written by Arnold Drake, with art by Alberto Giolitti. It's an adaptation of the story by the same name by Barrington J. Bayley. An expedition composed of two humans and several other "non-human" alien explorers set camp on this wild uncolonized planet. They discover that every creature living there appears to be truly unique, there is no two animals alike. How does evolution work on this planet? This might just disprove the universal central dogma, except if the species are somehow able to acquire characteristics spontenously... But suddenly they came to face with "a God" and things take a turn for the worse, as the humans find out not everyone share the same motivations and aspirations through the universe... This is certainly a pretty strange and scifi-esque story to start off the book. It's also the most colorful of the tales, and not only because of its unique diverse cast of alien protagonists.

"The Last Guinea-Pig" is scripted by Arnold Drake as well, with art by Frank Bolle. It was adapted from the story "The Proper Study" by Joan Hunter Holly. The future, all the animals have gone extinct. The few animals we didn't eat were used for genetic studies and vaccines development. And now we're being faced with the very last animal on Earth, a chimpanzee kept aside for its similarity to humans. But there's a new plague ravaging society, and the life of this last ape might just be sacrificed in order to save us... Such a captivating and almost frightening story due to its more realistic tone.

"Rabbits to the Moon" was written by Steve Skeates, with the art provided by Jack Sparling. It's adapted from a story under the same title by Raymond C. Banks. There is a race to the moon - literally! Investors are competing for the fastest means to travel to space! People are trying to build the best spaceships possible. But this rich guy has someone in his family currently working on teleportation prototypes - this just might beat any other conventional means to explore space! Only there is a problem on the other side, not everything arrives at the same speed.. It's easily the funniest of the stories in this anthology, thanks to the cheesy ending. It's also the closest to the tradition of the classic Twilight Zone series following a similar fashion - so it gets extra points just for that. Really fun short story.

"The Music of Minox" by Howard Goldsmith was adapted by Paul S. Newman, illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. An expedition just landed on this untamed new world. They hear some strange sounds at night, people seem to be disappearing in the local fauna. But who is predator here might not be who appears to be the villain... Nothing against Goldsmith or the authors on the comic, but this is probably the weakest of these stories and also the shortest feature. Nothing really unique or original, the twist ending falls kinda flat compared to the rest.

"Shaka" by writer Ed Summer and artist Adolfo Buylla; adapted from the story by Chad Oliver. The future (again), mankind's been exploring space and doing business with all kinds of different civilizations. To keep a deal with the locals they start manipulating this young aspiring alien culture. They still have no concept of space travel yet and mistake humans for Gods. The humans want to keep getting these sculptures made from firestone with them, but they also want to get rid of these rivals local tribes. They don't kill any alien specie though so instead they start missing with one tribe over the other... things turn for the worse. It's certainly an interesting story. I really feel this could have been much better had it been stretched out for a couple more pages, the ending is kind of rushed.

And that is all for this issue! All the stories are equally interesting, a few missteps aside. Who Goes There? is clearly the leading title getting top billing on the cover.

Speaking of, that is probably my only real complaint. It's a painting by Richard Powers. The cover looks a bit vague, bland and doesn't really give you any clue to the actual content. It looks nice but doesn't seem to fit the stories here. Some of Starstream's other issues had much better cover art in my eyes..

Overall, a pretty decent anthology for any fans of the genre!

It's really interesting to see everything John Carpenter got similar and straight from novel, or how people tried visualizing "Who Goes There?" from the book into a more visual medium before Carpenter's interpretation, in retrospective. They got a few pretty close direct similar shots (which make me wonder if Carpenter actually used the comic as part of the storyboards?).

The book itself is a pretty fun science-fiction anthology. The art is consistently good across all the tales. You might not appreciate all of the stories on the same level, depending on your own preference regarding scifi tales. But overall they're all pretty faithful adaptations, including The Thing which covers about 17 pages of this entire issue. By the legendary Arnold Drake - creator of the Doom Patrol and Deadman!

If you're a fan of The Thing or any of these other classic scifi stories, I consider this comic Well Worth a Look! And you might just discover something new to like! For fans of the original stories, science-fiction or good ol' vintage comics. The Starstream issues have never really been reprinted in a modern trade or something like that. Thankfully these have never been that rare, they're pretty easily found on sites like ebay.

This wouldn't be the last time The Thing was a comic book. The franchise would receive a few comic book minis following a direct continuation of John Carpenter's film, published by Dark Horse Comics starting in 1991. Published under the titles The Thing from Another World (to avoid any confusion with Marvel's The Thing), The Thing from Another World: Climate of Fear, The Thing from Another World: Eternal Vows and The Thing from Another World: Questionable Research.

I give it:
2 / 3 Aaylas!

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