By Bill Mantlo & Jackson Guice; lettered by Ken Bruzenak & coloured by Alfred Ramirez (Marvel)
During the 1980s the American comics scene experienced a magical proliferation of new titles and companies following the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts.
In response Marvel developed its own line of creator-owned properties during the height of the creative explosion, generating a number of supremely impressive, idiosyncratic series on better quality paper in a variety of formats under the watchful, canny eye of Editor Archie Goodwin. The delightfully disparate line was called Epic Comics and the results reshaped the industry.
One of their earliest hits was a sparkling, rambunctious science fantasy serial with a delightfully familiar core concept: Pirates in Space.
Swords of the Swashbucklers debuted in a premiere Marvel Graphic Novel before graduating to an on-going Epic series in March 1985; created by the much missed Bill Mantlo and ‘Jackson “Butch” Guice, whose collaborative efforts had made the latter days of the Marvel Micronauts comicbook such a vibrant joy (and there’s another series simply gasping for an Essential Edition, should the arcane gods of Trademark and Licensing ever get their acts together…)
The oversized process-colour format had been a great success for the company: a venue for a variety of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm, similar to the standard European albums of the times) featuring not only proprietary characters such as Iron Man or the New Mutants, but also licensed assets like Conan, media tie-ins such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and creator-owned properties including Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, Cholly and Flytrap and many more.
Although little more than a prelude for the series that followed this scintillating romp is still a compelling rollercoaster adventure in its own right which begins on the South Carolina coastline the morning after a terrific storm had battered those isolated dunes.
Thirteen year old Domino Blackthorne Drake, descendent of a genuine buccaneer queen, is happily beach-combing with her cat Cap’n Kidd when they find an incredible alien device uncovered by the gales.
Although clearly centuries old, the thing is still active and, as her distracted parents discuss their marital problems, the bold little girl gets too close and the artefact unleashes a torrent of impossible energy into the helpless lass…
As the authorities take over and place the now comatose waif and bizarre device into government quarantine, across the universe a solar-sailed marauder attacks a colossal slave ship of the rapacious Colonizer Empire. In command of the freebooter “Starshadow” is charismatic, ruthless half-breed Raader – the scourge of intergalactic civilisation…
A merciless conglomeration of greedy knaves and pitiless cutthroats, the Swashbucklers are still more welcome on many worlds than the resource-plundering, slave-taking Colonizers and, after freeing the captives (whilst keeping all their treasures and possessions) the Starshadow heads for safe-harbour on the hidden world Haven.
Here, amidst fair-weather friends and openly hostile rivals, the pirate princess clashes and carouses before awakening in her mother’s house – a citadel the mysterious “Earthling” Bonnie Blackthorne has maintained for over two hundred years…
When the pirates intercept a signal from a long-lost Colonizer probe coming from beyond the cosmic phenomena dubbed the Cloudwall, the race is on to secure the riches of the new world hidden there…
Daring the intergalactic unknown and expansion-obsessed Colonizer ships, the Starshadow arrives on the legendary planet Earth only hours ahead of the Imperial survey forces. The primitive human forces swiftly fall between attacks from both pirates and invading alien conquerors, whilst the somnolent Domino slumbers on.
When the Surveyors seize the sleeper and her family, the girl snaps awake, filled with irresistible, uncanny energies and routs the raiding party, but not before her mother and father are taken aboard the Imperial flagship, which retreats back beyond the Cloudwall to report a new world to conquer.
Rescued by Raader Domino discovers an impossible shared heritage with the alien privateer and determines to join her on the other side of the sky, both to rescue her parents and possibly save her own unsuspecting world…
Straightforward, fast-paced adventure in the grand manner, supplemented by a ‘Saga of the Swashbucklers’ additional feature, this is a fine fun book well worthy of rediscovery, preferably with the entirety of the comicbook run that followed in one deluxe collection.
Until then, though all these items are readily available through many internet retailers, so dig deep, me thrill-starved Hearties…
© 1984 Bill Mantlo & Jackson Guice. All rights reserved. Swords of the Swashbucklers is ™ Bill Mantlo & Jackson Guice.