Star*Reach #8 (1977)

Back in the 1970s, when gas was cheap and the world of comic books was mostly rotten, there were two types of comics. There were the mainstream books from Marvel, DC, Warren mags and their competitors, and there were underground comics. I know it’s a generalization to say this, but key topics for undergrounds were sex, drugs and general revolt against society’s norms. (I know there were undergrounds that explored more sophisticated issues, but they were the exception). Into that world in the mid ’70s emerged a third type of comic, a comic that, for want of a better phrase, was called a ground level comic. Ground level comics still featured sex and drugs, but debauchery wasn’t the sole or main focus of the comics. Instead, many of the ground-level books were philosophical in nature, exploring the nature of man in the universe, while others were clever artistic romps or space action series.

The leading ground-level comic was called Star*Reach, and yes, in the spirit of the ’70s, the little asterisk was officially part of the title. Star*Reach was created by Mike Freidrich, an ideal person to bridge the gap between mainstream and underground. Freidrich was one of the "second generation" of writers to emerge at DC Comics in the late ’60s along with Denny O’Neil and Len Wein. This second generation showed more real-world concerns in their comics of the day than their predecessors did, and were more free in their stories’ characterization and spirit. Freidrich also lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, still perhaps the most open and free-spirited part of the country at that time, and, not coincidentally, one of the homes of underground comics. He thus was at the crossroads of two movements when he released the first issue of Star*Reach in 1974.

Star*Reach (I love typing that name) featured some of the finest writers and cartoonists of the day, including such luminaries as Dick Giordano, Steve Englehart, Steve Leialoha, Dave Sim (before Cerebus), Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin and Walter Simonson. It’s pretty clear that Star*Reach filled a big need at the time, as creators needed a safety valve for their more unique pieces.

Star*Reach #8 is no exception. The feature story is the first of P. Craig Russell’s many opera adaptations, this one being of the Wagner opera "Parsifal" Russell obviously worked on this at the same time as he drew "War of the Worlds" for Marvel, and you can see his passion and energy on every page of the story.

Next we get a bizarre metaphysical comic by Canadian artist Ken Steacy. Steacy would do some fine work later in his career, but I honestly couldn’t figure this story out at all. Nice art, though.

A second featured Canadian artist is Gene Day, who draws a future horror piece, "Give Peace a Chance", which features an ironic ending that seems dated today. But Day’s art is as gorgeous as it would later be in Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu comic. Day died way before his time in the early ’80s. He was a brilliant cartoonist with a magnificent design sense, and I still miss his work.

Last we get the most underground piece in the comic, "Aphrodite" by John Workman, the longtime artist and letterer. The story retells a Greek legend, but the story is obviously all about drawing naked girls, which Workman does in abundance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Star*Reach was one of the few alternatives to Marvel and DC in the mid- and late-1970s. It was great for what it was but, as you might have gathered, it seems a bit dated now. Of course, in our era, the whole reason for a magazine like this has gone by the wayside. In a way, it’s a shame that we’ll never see the likes of this comic again. With the strange constraints of the industry, some interesting comics emerged.

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