RETRO REVIEW: Shogun Warriors #1 (February 1979)

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Or – “You Could Concievably Blame This ENTIRE Exercise On This Comic Book…”

Now, work with me here… The year is 1979, and I, an avid reader of science fiction and brainy books happen to be hanging out with my much-cooler cousin Elwood (more than likely under the auspices of my Aunt Sherry.) We end up at the Duckwalls, or possibly the S&S Drugstore, my memory isn’t quite clear, but I remember purchasing this 35 cent piece of history and being kind of interested in this whole “funnybook” thing. Now, cut forward to 1989 or so… Having expanded my collection, I fall into the orbit (or, indeed, vice versa, given relative masses) of one Stephen Schleicher, a man with a very spiky haircut and a fascination for my comic books. Leap forward to 2005 or thereabouts, when Stevarino launches a little website we like to call Major Spoilers. Were it not for my dime and a quarter back in the Carter administration, who KNOWS what Stephen would have been fixated enough upon to create his own website? Let’s all kick back, knock down a Hires root beer at the B. Dalton and be glad we’re not reading HotAsianCheerleadersEatingPorkRibs.org. (At least not in THIS browser window, anyway…)

Shogun Warriors #1
Written by Doug Moench
Pencils by Herb Trimpe
Inks by Mark Green
Colors by Jim Novak
Letters by Andy Yanchus

Previously, on Shogun Warriors: The Marvel Universe can be an all-encompassing kind of place. From the debut of the Fantastic Four in 1961 (or as we say now, “about 15 years ago”) many different characters and settings have existed within it. During the 1970′s, Marvel began licensing movies, television programs, and other items of pop culture, but most of these stories still took place within the shared universe. Though G.I. Joe and the Transformers were still yet to come, this book was preceded by The Micronauts (likewise based on a Japanese toy line that was becoming popular in the west) and was set firmly in the Marvel Universe of the ’70s. We open our festivities in media res (which is a fancy way of sayin’ “things is awready happ’nin”) with Shogun Warrior Raydeen facing down a giant monster in the center of (fittingly enough) downtown Tokyo…

“Back, servant of good,” cries the monster, apparently cobbled together from three Heathkits, a Nazi surplus War Wheel, and fifteen tons of bad fish. “Rok-Korr claims this day for evil!” Raydeen handles himself (itself?) quite ably, and it’s clear that more than one pilot is onboard. It’s also clear that they have NO idea what they’re doing, as they barely manage to find the controls to break free of Rok-Korr’s entrapping tentacles. The monster fires missiles, and Raydeen once again survives by the skin of it’s teeth, firing the anti-missile Screamerhawks (GREATEST. NAME. EVER.) to stay alive. “How did we ever get INTO this?” asks one of the pilots, and the story oblingingly decides to tell us…

Tambura’s prediction is, of course, correct as we watch the volcanic eruption free the aforementioned Rok-Korr, Monster Of The Universe, from his slumber. Fortunately, the Followers of the Light keep their feathers numbered for just such an emergency, having assembled a database of individuals around the world who would make suitable “Shogun Candidates.”  With their advanced technology, it’s a snap to bring the best of these targets to the Shogun Sanctuary to deal with Rok-Korr and his ilk…

Apparently, somebody has seen “Enter The Dragon,” and realizes that the ‘white dude/black dude/asian dude’ paradigm is a strong one (although, in this movie, Bruce Lee is played by a woman.) Richard, Genji and Ilongo are unhappy to have been stolen from their various pursuits, but Dr. T quickly convinces them that they are needed to save the world. Suddenly being teleported halfway across the planet with do that, I suppose. “Hey, Doctor Tambura, man, play a song for me,” says Richard Carson, and the doc tells of a legendary battle between good (The Followers Of The Light) and evil (a dictator named Maur-Kon, who is Rok-Korr’s boss) with the prize being control of Earth itself…

So far we have giant robots, ‘Enter The Dragon,’ a variation on ‘Chariots Of The Gods…’ You throw in a gas line and maybe some Nixon jokes, and this comic book will encompass the 1970′s as I remember them, at least in pop culture terms. Tambura shows them his giant robot, and explains that they are primed and ready to become the latest forces in the eternal battle…

That, by the way, is remarkably similar to the training I had when I became a call center manager for the first time… We time-shift back to the battle in Tokyo, as our trio of pilots knock Rok-Korr down and decapitate him with their “Breaker Blade.” Lava oozes out of the neck-stump, and begins to reform itself in monster form. “I TOLD you Rok-Korr could not be stopped,” bellows the monster as our heroes realize that it’s armor and gizmos weren’t the real threat. Ilongo Savage realizes that their inexperience is costing lives and creating property damage all across Tokyo, and suggests that they exercise the better part of valor…

Where one giant robot might have failed, THREE might prevail, or so goes the logic… Those of y’all who remember the podcast discussion of ‘The Black Hole’ may be aware of my theory that the entertainments of our childhood are often better in the memory than they were in practice, but this issue isn’t nearly as bad as I’d worried it might be. The wonderfully nuanced art of Herb Trimpe helps a lot (Doctor Tambura’s moustache, for instance, deserves it’s own series) especially in his dead-on rendition of the hardware that spends most of the book center-stage. The dialogue is exposition-heavy (something to be expected of the decade) but the plot is remarkably solid and even ambitious in it’s underpinnings. The Ancient Astronauts in an endless battle of good versus evil is kind of compelling, and has (I believe) shown up in Marvel’s comics even after the loss of the titular robots to the vicissitudes of licensing. Bottom line, it’s not exactly a perfect comic (it’s remarkably talky, for one thing, and glosses over a number of plot moments that could have been spaced a bit more dramatically, i.e. not having to train the pilots in a single afternoon while the monster was already on the prowl) but it is still a fun read, and has some neato giant monster/giant robot fights. Shogun Warriors #1 earns 3 out of 5 stars overall (adjusted for 30 years of inflation.) It’s a shame this book probably won’t ever get an “Essential” trade collection due to licensing issues…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What other beloved titles of the past are you sad cannot or will not get collected in TPB form?