Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Comics Page: Lightrunner

Lightrunner cover and Amazon link

The boom in original graphic novels in the 1980s gave us a lot of material that's since sunken into obscurity, be it through low print runs, poor distribution, or simple physical decay. I found Lightrunner in an antiques store some years ago, hardbound with some nice foil embroidery. It was  a labor of love for its creators, a full color science fiction epic, and if it's not exactly original, the enthusiasm of it is charming.

The story takes place in an interstellar civilization known as the Empyrean Alliance,  a group of corpro-states who depend on transport on the Star Stream, an FTL network connecting all member worlds and powered by generators on both ends. Burne Garrett is an Empyrforce officer and frustrated would-be pilot taking a look at an experimental Stream Breaker, capable of even more incredible speeds than anything in the Star Stream itself. He's sitting in the pilot's seat dreaming when the ship suddenly launches itself halfway across the galaxy, in what seems to be a remote theft by pirates. Now, Garnett- son of a commander, no less- is the chief suspect in the theft of an experimental spacecraft, and falls in with a gang of space bandits, including the gruff captain Scarn, a hissing snake-man, a telepathic furry creature, and the lovely and deadly Lanie. In Lanie's own ship, the Lightrunner, the group end up finding out more about the conspiracy to steal the Stream Breaker and derail the project, a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of the Alliance.

So, nothing terribly unpredictable here. It's plain that the creators are big sci-fi nuts who enjoy indulging the popular tropes of the time, and aren't out to redefine the post-Star Wars space opera. This is just fine by me. Reviews of Avatar to the contrary, originality isn't that important, not if things are executed right. Lightrunner's story works; it's comprehensible, told with clarity, and holds together under the pressure to keep exciting and visually appealing things happening.

The art, by Rod Whigham, is a colorful exercise in 70s/80s sci-fi aesthetics. The characters sometimes look a little more like action figures than people, but it still captures a nice and bygone mood. I honestly miss the shiny, perky optimism of space opera of the period, and even if the future portrayed isn't quite utopian, the visuals give a sense that it can be really fun. Good art and color work ensure that even some of the slow, talky passages (and there are a few, given the intrigues at hand) are at least nice to look at.

Lightrunner ends on an inconclusive but hopeful note, and what went before was good enough to make me regret we never got any follow-ups out of it. Not every pet project can succeed, but there's an accomplishment just in getting something good and entertaining out there, and over a quarter-century later it can still reach someone. For lovers of space opera this is definitely worth hunting down, and as a piece of comics history it's kind of fascinating too.

Written by Lamar Waldron and Rod Whigham
Art by Rod Whigham
Lettering by Susan Barrows

Grade: B+


The Malum said...

I was wondering if anyone else remembered this! As the first graphic novel I ever bought, this holds a special place for me and probably had something to do with turning me into the Sci-Fi fan I am today.

I agree wholeheartedly with this review. The story is marvelously bereft of excessively grim or visually uninteresting characters. There's a simplicity to the setting details, but the plot has the necessary complexity and no more. The technology is the standard charming mix of weirdly-low and bizarrely-high that we got used to after Star Wars made swords cool for Sci-Fi.

Overall, I give this 4 of 5 stars. It gets 3 of 5 (Mr. Whigham eventually made a career of comics and this book shows that it's an early piece of his) but 5 of 5 for enthusiasm.

Susan Barrows said...

Evan, why are you so snarky that I got a lettering credit? I was a member of the LIGHTRUNNER team from its very beginnings in VISIONS. I was also the editor, proofreader, and art assistant, as well as serving as the inspiration for the character Lanie. And hand lettering 111 pages of densely packed dialogue certainly was a huge task--I wore out several Rapidograph points on that project. So yeah, it was a big enough deal that I got a small mention on the title page. I'm very glad you enjoyed LIGHTRUNNER despite my involvement in its production--so I'll just stop right here before I suggest that you bite me.

Evan Waters said...

My sincere apologies. Looking back that was out of line. I have deleted said snark.