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Good Read Column for September 13, 1998

Steve Conley's
Astounding Space Thrills

Main Feature:
"The Codex Reckoning"
By Steve Conley
Bonus Feature:
"The Victor Belt"
By Marty Baumann
Cover by Steranko and Conley

ongoing series, 40 pages
Day One Comics, $2.95

(of a possible five)


You can't go wrong with a cover by Steranko, even if it's just a collaboration between Steranko and the creator of the comic, Steve Conley. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Conley is adept at art himself, as the interior art clearly shows. I didn't even notice the art the first time around, though, because it is perfectly in service to a story that moves as quickly and entertainingly as an Indiana Jones movie.

The future ain't what it used to be. Once upon a time, science fiction writers and the illustrators of pulp magazines dazzled us with sleek spaceships and swashbuckling heroes. Plutonians and Martians, galaxy-spanning spaceships, anything at all seemed possible, and therefore fair game for speculation. Now that we know the other planets in our solar system are almost certainly as cold and lifeless as the Moon we've actually walked on (at least vicariously), the future seems less romantic, less adventurous. Less fun.

Enter Argosy Smith to the rescue. According to the splash page (actually page two, after a one-page prologue)"

"At the beginning of the 21st Century, almost before the millennium celebrations had died down, our corner of the Milky Way swept into another region of space, an event dubbed the shift! The previous laws of physics no longer applied. Space travel was possible, alien races came and went and a shaky sense of magic replaced our shakier beliefs in science."

In the back, Conley goes on to say that there is an internal logic to this "shifted" universe, but that he plans to "treat the physical laws of the universe the way the Fortune 500 treat tax laws - fast loose and with an eye for loopholes."

The purpose of all this, of course, is to bring back old-fashioned futurism, with larger-than-life heroes battling rampaging robots and bug-eyed monsters slavering over nubile young women.

OK, there aren't any bug-eyed monsters or nubile young women in the first issue, although there is an interesting female character who's a spaceship pilot and probably more than a match for Argosy Smith. The idea isn't just to mimic the old stories, after all, but produce stories for the 90's that bring the same freshness and fun to the material.

So our characters are developed in a little more depth than most of the old pulp space operas, and more attention is paid to economics and alien religions than you would have seen in all but the most thoughtful SF of the bygone era. But Conley doesn't let it get in the way of slam-bang action that hits the ground running and doesn't let up. The "End of Part One" leaves us almost gasping for breath, wishing for a time machine to take us to next month so we can read the next issue.

In case I haven't made myself perfectly clear, this isn't Cages or Maus. It's not great literature, and doesn't attempt to be. It's an attempt to do for science fiction comics what the "Adventures" series at DC do for superheroes - and no, I don't mean attract children. I mean make them fun again.

The Indiana Jones comparison is a good one, for not only is Argosy Smith a good match for Jones but the obvious motivations of Conley are similar to those of Spielberg and Lucas when they made "Raiders of the Lost Ark" - to recapture the nostalgic feeling of those old days, but to also go them one better, to make something that could really stand up today in a way those old Flash Gordon serials cannot.

First issue cover by Steranko, great art and story, a fine backup story in the same milieu, though a bit more serious (but in a perfectly old-fashioned, lump-in-the-throat corny kind of way) by Marty Baumann, and a promise of a cover next issue from the Brothers Hildebrandt. Plugs from Tony Isabella and Diamond Previews. Picked out as the book of the week at my local store, which is how I found out about it. Can't miss, right?

Wrong. I recently reviewed gutwallow, a promising comic fantasy comic (no, that's not a redundancy, the first "comic" means "humorous) from a protege of Turtles co-creator Peter Laird that was similarly plugged by Diamond but has since been dropped from their catalog.


Run, don't walk, to your nearest comic store and say "I want to have fun when I'm reading a comic. I want a copy of Astounding Space Thrills!

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