My Misspent Youth — Six from Sirius by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Although I was a dedicated Marvel Comics reader after giving myself over to the addictive exploits of superheroes, I was very intimidate by anything that flopped off the publisher’s printing presses that had a lowercase e in the upper lefthand corner. That emblem indicated the periodical in question was issued by Epic Comics, Marvel’s banner that was dedicated to more adult and wide-ranging genre fare. The line was an extension the magazine Epic Illustrated, Marvel’s answer to Heavy Metal. The comics didn’t have quite the same veneer of titillating risk, but they still felt daring to me, like I was sneaking them off a part of the spinner rack that wasn’t meant for kids. These comics were for more serious-minded fare, such as sagas of grand science-fiction imaginings.

Epic Comics was also a place where Marvel could offer a different opportunity to prized creators. During the nineteen-seventies, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy collaborated on the series Master of Kung Fu, which starred a master of martial arts named Shang Chi. During an era when Marvel was arguably at the height of its countercultural cool, Master of Kung Fu was a defining series. Marvel execs were understandably excited about the prospect of reuniting the two creators who carried Master of Kung Fu to its greatest heights. Given the chance to do whatever they wanted, Moench and Gulacy roared into outer space.

Six from Sirius bears the imprint of its time. It has the ragtag assemblage of space adventurers who fulfill missions together while skeptically sorting through the conflicting messages and morality of their employer. It employs the tropes of other genres — essentially opening the story with a jailbreak, for instance — and zings along with freewheeling imagination while enduring the necessity to occasionally stop dead for intricate exposition.

This is prime territory for Moench. One of Marvel’s go-to writers for licensed material, assignments that usually required dutiful adherence to a source more than reckless invention, Moench was prone to arcane myth-building when he was unbound. With Six from Sirius, he delves deep into the florid futurism of interstellar trade talks, humanoid alien species, and robotic fax-men. Combined with a spacefaring story’s typical default into quasi-scientific jargon, Moench’s language can sometimes become nearly impenetrable. That’s how science fiction works sometimes.

There might have been readers who immersed themselves deeply in understanding the psyches of the characters who make up the sextet of the title, hoping to glean the inner workings of Grod, Skreed, or Jakosa Lone. I suspect most were turning the pages for a fresh opportunity to stare agog at Gulacy’s artwork. A disciple of the great Jim Steranko, Gulacy was one of the few artists clocking hours in the Marvel bullpen in the decades that followed Steranko’s heyday who could rival the earlier master for sheer audacity in visual design.

According to an editorial introduction in the first issue of Six for Sirius, the story was originally intended to run in Epic Illustrated. By the time Moench and Gulacy had the project complete (it’s progress was slowed in part by Gulacy’s day job in the far more lucrative field of advertising), Marvel was having great success with limited series. The story was split into four issues, sometimes to its detriment. In particular, the first issue ends very abruptly, like a televised movie with a commercial break thrown in at random. If the means of delivery is a little shaky, the material itself is sound. In truth, I wasn’t ready for Six for Sirius when it was originally published. Now I can recognize it as one of the comics that was there to teach me that this sort of sequential-art storytelling could be more than clearcut heroes and villains trading punches every month. With the right creators, comics could go absolutely anywhere.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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