Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Breakaway Day 2016: "Demon Star" (Charlton)

For Breakaway Day 2016, 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.


  1. Although I had watched a couple episodes of Space:1999 during the initial run, I didn't start watching the show in earnest until March of 1976. By that time, the show was in reruns so I was seeing them out of order. Similarly, issue number 4 of the comic was the first issue I bought in March and I loved the John Byrne artwork. I bought issues 5 and 6 when they came out, then the comic series abruptly ended. It took me until spring of 1977 to track down issues 1 - 3. By that time, the second season had ended and I wasn't all that sorry to see it go given how the show had declined. Still, I read those Space:1999 comics over and over for years to come.

  2. You have amassed quite the collection, John. I bought a couple of the comics and the Barry Gray soundtrack album, and the "Making of Space: 1999" book, but I was in my early teens and my tastes were changing. The kid on the other side of the block drew such earmarked finances: the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Klingon Battle Cruiser, the Romulan Bird of Prey, and so on.

    I should state that Space: 1999 may have been the most expensive British-produced show, but compared to U.S. productions it was lower budget. However, making the show in the U.K. saved some money, a little more bang for the buck, even if the fine crews work a lot slower and do not go into overtime (as George Lucas and Roger Corman were to discover when they shot there).

    I was surprised to hear Brian Johnson say that there was a lot of pressure to shoot the effects on 16mm in order to save money. Thankfully they did not do that; the issue is image stability when doing multiple passes on the same length of film. I was also surprised to read that the production utilized "previously used" audio tape for the sound work.

    Your Space: 1999 posts are terrific as they remind me what I missed. I never did buy an Eagle, for some reason....

  3. John,
    Within the past two years, I acquired all of the Space:1999 comic books. I'm pretty sure I had most of them as a kid, and a couple of the magazines Charlton also released. I'm not sure why, but my favorite of these was No. 7, which was an adaptation of the opening episode of Season Two, "The Metamorph." I enjoyed the artwork by Pat Boyette, and seeing an episode I was familiar with captured in comic form. Included in the issue was a standard "aliens capture the Alphans" back-up, called "Escape from Vipon," as well as a two-page original story in prose form, "Primitive Planet." That's a lot of bang for your 30 cents!
    There was never an issue #8, as the series was canceled. It would have been interesting to see a couple more issues in this style, although the Byrne issues were clearly superior in scope and design.
    This issue, however, will always have a special place in my memories.