Friday, 27 November 2015
Amberstar: An Illustrated Cosmic Odyssey
Just ticked this baby off the want list by finally scoring a copy, after years of seeing it advertised in the back of endless Warren mags. It's a sort of fotonovel / fumetti by Bruce Jones, one of comics' consistently great writers, with what seems to be an uncredited assist from Richard Corben, or in fact some of his assistants.
Like a lot of Byron Preiss' output, Amberstar isn't quite a comic book, nor quite a graphic novel, but one of those fascinating near misses the Bronze Age was full of, and which I'm a total sucker for.
Each 'panel' consists of a black & white photo, overlayed in colour at Corben's studio, in a similiar way to his Doomscult strip, seen in Heavy Metal ( and on this blog! ), which also starred one Bruce Jones.
Amberstar isn't wholly successful, looking in places like a colourized movie, and some of the spacescapes cry out for Corben's specific hand in the colouring, but these are minor quibbles really, and this is a space opera like no other.
The hero of Amberstar is space rogue Neville Scott, an increasingly bewildered Han Solo-alike who finds himself involved in a quest with no apparent meaning or purpose.
Haunted by a recurring dream of a man trudging through a snowdrift, Neville escapes an alien invasion on the planet he's currently 'resting' on, by stealing back his impounded spaceship ( the Amberstar of the title ) with the help of a mute lizardman he immediately names 'Ears'.
Unfortunately, Amberstar mysteriously no longer responds to Scott's controls, and lands he and 'Ears' on a fairytale world where, in short order, they meet wood nymph / witch Lehan, her centaur friend Charn...
And a big f**k off Cyclops:
Escaping that problem, our mismatched heroes navigate through a couple of Star Wars style dogfights, inside Jones' meticulously designed miniatures:
Indulge in a trippy, '60's style sex scene:
And nearly fall into a sun:
Before Amberstar, still not obeying Scott's commands, lands them on a deserted, smog covered world where they find an exact duplicate of Lehan:
And a bunch of floating, bug-eyed tentacle thingies clearly designed ( or at least inspired ) by Corben:
Only just escaping in the nick of time yet again, the gang reach their final stop. A planet full of toy dinosaurs created by intergalactic big-game hunter Henrich who, like everybody else, is not exactly what he first appears to be.
The final revelation as to who the man in the snow is, what's actually going on and what everybody's part in it is seems at first to be a bit of a cop-out, and you suspect Jones thought up the planets he wanted Scott to visit first, then tried to come up with a reason why.
But that reason actually gets cleverer the more you think about it, and you certainly won't see it coming.
Jones himself has said he wasn't happy with the way Amberstar turned out, wishing he'd stuck to the original black & white photography rather than colourization ( in fact, he tried a noir fumetti after this, that sadly didn't find a publisher ), but I absolutely love this book. Even if you don't like the visual experimentation ( and why wouldn't you? ) Jones is such a good writer you can't help but be sucked in by the mystery. It's a noble failure, and I can't get enough of those.
And remember, this wasn't assembled in five minutes on a laptop, this took months of painstaking paste-up work by a bunch of lunatics willing to sit there for hours with scalpel and Pritt-Stik.
Amberstar is a little bit Star Trek fotonovel, a little bit La Jetee, and a whole lotta fun. If you see a copy at a con, grab one. This is a trip worth taking.