Justice League #29“One thing I never could stomach about space . . . all the damn vampires.”
All right, that misappropriation of the final line of The Lost Boys aside, it does seem that there’s a preponderance of cosmic vampires in genre fiction, does it not? Before we talk about DC’s own cosmic vampire, now making a comeback in a Justice League of America near you (that would be issue #29, out last week), I thought I’d take a look at some of the other twists on this concept.
Why Cosmic Vampires?: Well, good question. Writers of horror (and comics, and greeting cards, for that matter) will tell you that they’re always looking for a new twist. Occasionally, that twist is simply combining two disparate elements. Like a Dashiell Hammett novel and the samurai genre (Red Harvest plus samurai=Yojimbo) or chocolate and peanut butter. Vampires remain among the most popular horror topics, so it’s only sensible that people that enjoy both that character type and the science fiction aesthetic would attempt to merge the two.
Some examples include:
Planet of the Vampires: Italian horror legend Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath) directed this one in 1965. Though the subject of split critical opinion over the years, Vampires contains striking visuals and a unique interpretation of the vampiric ideal. Here, we mainly deal with the notion of possession, with the idea of vampirism communicated by the replacement of one lifeforce and intelligence with another.
The Space Vampires: This 1976 Colin Wilson novel served as the basis for Tobe Hopper’s 1985 film Lifeforce. Basically, the plot revolves around aliens that drain human, well, lifeforce. Said humans essentially become zombies. Wilson himself is an interesting figure, with a career split between psychology (The Outsider), science fiction, mysteries, and Cthulhu mythos tales (some suggested by August Derleth himself). Wilson’s worth checking out. As for his opinion of Lifeforce? Low.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Speaking of which, the fourteenth episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was titled simply “Space Vampire”. Originally airing in January of 1980, the episode recounted Buck’s efforts to get people to believe that murders committed on a space station were being done by the alien equivalent of a vampire (The Vorvon). This particular installment is one of the top rated episodes of the series by users of TV.com; you can even watch this one at Hulu.com.
Note of Awesomeness (from TV.com): The emblem that Buck uses to repel the vampire is the key that Adama wore around his neck in the original Battlestar Galactica.
Super Friends: Not that he was sci-fi, necessarily, but Dracula in the Super Friends episode “Attack of the Vampire” turned other people into vampires with magic dust and, I guess, vampire vision. Kind of makes you wonder why he needed the pointy teeth when he could just optic blast someone into vampirism.
Which brings us Starbreaker. Is the guy a big deal? Well, he can be. A look at his history.
Justice League of America #96-98 (1972): Created by Mike Friedrich and Dick Dillin, Starbreaker first confronts the JLA on Rann, adoptive planet of Adam Strange. The red-skinned menace doesn’t just feast on the energy of sentient beings; rather, he can consumer the energy of planets and stars (hence his name). After the JLA beats him back from Rann, Starbreaker attacks Earth . . . and takes out the League.
The bacon of the JLA is actually saved by the timely arrival of DCU bit player Sargon the Sorcerer. Sargon had a lengthy history in the DCU beginning in the ‘40s, and belonging to the All-Star Squadron when that team’s expanded roster was revealed in the early ‘80s. It turned out that Sargon’s Ruby of Life was a key instrument to the defeat of Starbreaker. The League had to gather two other components, and used it to stop him.
Sargon became an honorary JLA member out of this, and memorably assisted the team again in a battle with the Crime Champions in issues #219 and 220. Unfortunately, the original Sargon was killed during the battle with the Shadow Creature That Menaced Heaven in Swamp Thing #50 (July 1986).
Starbreaker Returns!: Years, and a few incarnations of the League, passed before Starbreaker was heard from again. Starbreaker conquered Almerac, home planet of Maxima, the beautiful warrior that wanted Superman for her king (Justice League America #62, July of ’92). The League, then in its post “Justice League Spectacular” configuration of Superman, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Fire, Ice, and Bloodwynd (a disguised Martian Manhunter), took on the menace. Starbreaker was eventually brought down by Blue Beetle and Booster Gold; Beetle figured out how to use Booster’s equipment to drain Starbreaker’s energy, and the cosmic vampire discorporated.
Starbreaker Surprise: The next appearance of the ruddy villain came in the Adam Strange mini-series of 2004 (available as Adam Strange: Planet Heist). The mini-series had big implications for the then-pending Infinite Crisis, but also featured a number of elements from DC’s cosmic family. The Omega Men, the Darkstars, and the Rann-Thanagar antipathy all came back to the fore. Sh'ri Valkyr, a Thanagarian death-cult fanatic, planned to use Rann’s Zeta beam technology to destroy the universe and funnel the energy to her disembodied master, Starbreaker himself. The three remaining Darkstars died to activate a master plan which trapped Starbreaker in another universe, this one absent the energy he would need to return. Or so they thought.
Justice League of America #29 (now): Starbreaker’s history gets a bit of a rewrite from Len Wein as the villain, back in his original body, returns again. This issue tells of previous confrontations with the JLA, all as a lead up to the last-page revelation. It turns out that Starbreaker has a new follower, perpetual Hawkman enemy and murderer of Firestorm (Ronnie Raymond), the Shadow Thief. And it looks as if the Thief wants to take a page out of the Sh'ri Valkyr playbook by sacrificing Earth for his new master.
So really, in the grand scheme of JLA history, Starbreaker presents as a minor villain that could actually do great damage. Really, though he doesn’t have many appearances, he represents a threat on a galactic scale that’s appropriate for a team like the League. And really, the idea of the “cosmic vampire” does have its recurring, albeit occasionally goofy, pop culture appeal. While the impact of the villain remains to be seen, it’s interesting that he would earn the distinction of being a DC “Face of Evil”.