Note: RetroFix is a column here at P:R where writers and artists team up to redesign and re-imagine public domain heroes and villains from the Golden Age. In this edition, artist Dennis Culver and I take on the 1950s space adventurer Space Pirate – Chris Arrant
Who was the Star Pirate?
First Appearance: Planet Comics #12 (May 1954, Fiction House). Billed as “The Robin Hood of the Space Lanes,” Fiction House’s Star Pirate was created by a writer who went by the nom de plume of Leonardo Vinci, and originally illustrated by Al Gabriele. Set in a far-flung future, Star Pirate acted as a raygun-toting dissident against evil aliens, criminals, corrupt dictators and even the galaxy’s police force, the corrupt Space Patrol. Piloting a ship dubbed “Revenge,” Star Pirate had no powers per se, but was equipped with a variety of technological tools such as rocket boots and laser guns. He was joined by a rotating crew of sidekicks that ranged from a one-eyed alien, a Martian mistress, and a former rival named Blackbeard.
Why the Star Pirate?
Chris: Here’s my idea for Star Pirate — Adam Strange meeks Han Solo. The lonely pilot of a ship called “Revenge,” he’s living high off a big score but gets bored of the sheltered life and gets back into space. He’s bored with being rich, but also bored with people and has a quick succession of co-pilots. He’s in a future where space is explored pretty well, but he liked the “Wild West” unknown of it all back in his early years and is still trying to chase that down.
Dennis: Let’s do it. What’s the next step?
Chris: Next step is to talk about character design. What are you thinking for Star Pirate?
Note: Read on for the RetroFix and the final design! – Dean Trippe
RetroFix: Star Pirate, Round 1
Dennis: Here’s the visual direction I’m thinking. Just quick sketches.
Chris: I like it. I dig the star logo. I’ve been doodling trying to figure out a way for a star to also be a skull, but haven’t done it yet. I like how the kneepad looks like the shoulder pad, and I agree on the look of the robot and ship. I like the mask because I could see him not wanting people to recognize him from his military years.
Dennis: Yeah I messed with star as skull or stars as skull eyes but it all looks cheesy. I think the skull on Poly is enough. I think I am leaning towards the ankle boots. The knee pads matching the shoulder pads make weird triangle shapes that draw the eye away.
I like the basic shape of the ship, however I probably won’t keep it black. I think our guy in the black suit walking on the hull of a ship is a cool visual. You only really make him out because he blots out the stars.
I like our guy maskless most of the time. Figure he throws pants and trench over the spacesuit when he’s planetside / not in action.
I also figure he doesn’t call himself “Star Pirate.” People just call him that because they focus on the suit star. He is probably fairly infamous as a pirate. There’s probably a lot of people that want to take revenge on him since they perceive he’s weaker without his crew and ship. Then they look at his mean grizzled mug and change their mind.
RetroFix: Star Pirate, Round 2
Note: With some ideas bounced back and forth, I sat down to come up with a profile for the character while Dennis did his work with a pencil and sketchpad. – Chris
Chris: Neil Sterling was a decorated Admiral in the Space Patrol who retired after years of service. Stir-crazy after years of retirement, Sterling took to the spaceways as a grey market transporter (space trucker) but took up the wrong crew, who mutinied and took over his ship. Star Pirate escaped in a service vessel (think a tugboat) dubbed “Revenge,” which he’s retrofitted into his own one person vessel, albeit with a robot crew that won’t mutiny anymore. This turn of events has ironically enough revitalized Sterling at equal with his early military years. In many ways, he could be seen as an futuristic Teddy Roosevelt.
The moniker “Space Pirate” was given to him in recent years by the tabloid journalism of the day, after he was wrongly pegged with a particularly insidious theft which was actually done by his crew. After the mutiny though, he has taken up the name in an effort to raise fear in others.
Appearance-wise, Sterling is in his 60s and resembles Terrance Stamp somewhat. He has a missing left arm from a Space Patrol mission, which has been replaced with a robotic one. This unit has several attachments – think Swiss army knife. He wears a slimming black jumpsuit (think Diabolik), and throws on pants and a trenchcoat over it when going planetside or not in action. He has magnetic boots for zero-G operations, and carries a sawed-off shotgun type gun.
His primary liaison with his now robotic crew is a floating robot named Polly.
His renegade crew, now in command of his ship, are led by the three-person group of cyclopean being known at Togdelytte (“Tody), a green-skinned woman named Gura, and a human who calls himself Blackbeard. In addition to this, he is also known to have raised the ire of several prominent females on both sides of the law.
Dennis: Relooking over your write up my only thoughts was in my mind he’s a little meaner. Instead of a gray market trucker, he’s a pirate so mean his crew abandoned him in space and now he’s going after them for revenge even if he has to completely eradicate all piracy to do it.
I see the three aliens as only the tip of the iceberg, They were coerced into mutiny by a guy trying to unify all pirates in the system so our guy’s vengeance ultimately pits him against this “king pirate” and that conflict could put him on the same side as your prominent law enforcement female (or non pirate criminal females).
He’s sort of like Parker from the Richard Stark novels. Space Parker.
Chris: I like this. In any other story, he could be a villain. His military domineering skills kept up when he became a pirate, and he’s kind of taken it too far. We’ve got to figure out something to make the readers like him. Maybe it’s the 1 versus the millions kind of thing … he’s the underdog in a fucked-up sort of way.
I imagine him pretty acerbic, like Hugh Laurie in House M.D. or a more saucy Sherlock Holmes. But maybe people could like him due to him being willing to do anything to get by. And smart cracks that makes even his foes wince.
Dennis: Yeah House is sort of along the lines I am thinking but also think about Stacy Lawless in Criminal and again the Parker novels handle the bad guy as lead perfectly. Essentially he’s a PROFESSIONAL and these other pirates are not. He has a code, he’s a craftsman and he held his crew to rigid standards and they all profited from that. Except his crew got greedy and fucked our guy over and because they are not professionals and do not have a code they got sloppy and our guy survived . Now he’s angry.
I think we can use other characters he meets in his travels that can make him more likable but he’s always going to stick to his personal code and in that regard I think that consistency builds likability. I also think our guy tries to be loner and the robot crew might take away from that. he keeps Poly around as a tool (and maybe poly can be used to lighten the mood in a r2 sort of way) but a whole crew of even robots undermines the vengeance angle. Think Lone Wolf & Cub or Wolverine who works solo until he gets stuck with Kitty Pryde. We can always bring our own Kitty Pryde but eventually our guy goes back to being the loner with a mission (until the Pryde type gets thrown back into his life or whatever).
Chris: Ok, this is all really good. Let’s retreat to our corners and come out for the final round.
RetroFix: Star Pirate, Final
The man the tabloids named “Star Pirate” is an ex – an ex-husband, an ex-space cop and ex-leader. After years of service for Space Patrol on the outer fringe, Neil Sterling was the scapegoat of a political coup and found himself stranded on a spaceport with no money, no pension, and one less arm than when he joined the force. After seeing the failings of his former employer and the lawlessness he used to manage, Sterling decided to make his own way in his latter life as a freebooter on the outer fringe. Years in the outside hardened Sterling, and made him into one of the most infamous pirates in his time. Using his skill and professionalism in a largely unregulated and unorganized field, he excelled at the pirate’s life. However he eventually found the quality of men under his command as a pirate even more lacking than his former crew under Space Patrol, and after a forceful mutiny Neil Sterling found himself watching his pirate ship, the Revenge, recede from view while left stranded in a space suit in the vacuum of space.
With just a few inches of synthesized fabric separating between him and the deathly grip of open space, the so-called Star Pirate Neil Sterling does what any ex-military, ex-pirate captain would do: seek revenge. After getting to safety, Sterling methodically accumulates the resources to get his revenge. With no trust left for anyone with a pulse, the Star Pirate instead relies on an all-robot crew in a retro-fitted space tug with all the weapons and animosity it can carry.
Black-listed by his government and left for dead by his mutinous pirate crew, Star Pirate is taking on the galaxy.