Thursday, September 10, 2015

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999: "Demon Star" (Charlton Comics)


For Breakaway Day 2015, I've decided to highlight Space:1999 Volume 2, Number 4, from May of 1976. 

The story is titled "Demon Star," written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by John Byrne.  The story presented in Charlton’s issue # 4 sees Earth’s errant moon approaching a planet in the binary star system of Algol. 

The unusual inhabitants of the planet are called "Jandians" and look like giant frogs. They ruthlessly attack the Alphans without provocation and kidnap Dr. Russell. But when Commander John Koenig leads a team to the surface to rescue her, the Jandians, led by Paceus in the City of Emera, are totally and completely peaceful. 

Koenig is at a loss to understand this change in character until Dr. Russell realizes the Alphans are seeing a "Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome on a planetary scale," one caused by the so-called "winking demon" of Jandian religion: the binary star of Algol. 

It seems that when one star is in the sky (the red one), the aliens are peaceful, but add the other (the blue one...) and the combination causes a "metabolic imbalance," one generating hostility and violence. 

What's really interesting is that the Jandians have built their culture around the notion of "denying" their dark halves. They pretend it doesn't exist, and have done so well with this emotional denial that they've convinced themselves of it. 

Visiting the ancient monuments and temples of the planet, Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell face the ascent of the blue star, and fight a pitched battle with the now hostile Jandians.


I appreciate this (admittedly kind-of-silly) story because it deals with the idea of schizophrenia on a global scale; and on a personal side shows that everybody has "two faces," even if it's a truth we'd rather suppress.

"Demon Star" also demonstrates with gusto the fact that the comic-book format can accomplish things that TV shows can’t. At the time it aired in 1976, Space:1999 was the most expensive TV production of all time, but even so, the TV series could not often create such gigantic space and sky battles like those featured in this issue. Koenig and Helena fly together in a kind of space car, their stun-guns blazing, and it’s a sprawling, awesome comic-book moment.

Of course, all is not sunshine and roses. Although there is a strong theme to this tale (schizophrenia/Jekyll and Hyde) "Demon Star" also forecasts the unfortunate Year Two changes by featuring hideous monsters and lots of action over deep philosophical ideas. Year One of Space:1999 was much more sophisticated, and this tale again proves that the comic-book was being marketed to kids, not grown-ups who grooved on the show.



The comic-book also features some notable mistakes. Dr. Russell’s name is misspelled consistently as "Dr. Russel" ). And Moonbase Alpha is equipped with Mark IX Hawk battle cruisers - ships the Alphans didn’t possess on the series. Hawks appeared as illusions in only one episode from Year One, "War Games."

It sure would be nice to have 'em, though...

All that said, I loved this well-illustrated, if somewhat simplistic book as a kid, and it was a treat to see new adventures for Koenig, Moonbase Alpha, the great Eagle spaceships and the like, especially as I waited for new episodes between seasons.

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