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Friday, August 13, 2021

‘The Suicide Squad’: Six Strange Tales of Starro the Conqueror from the World of Comics

If you’re not a comic book reader, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the climax of The Suicide Squad is just more James Gunn silliness. After all, the writer/director has been blending gore, goofiness, and genuine emotion since his early days at Troma. 

But Starro the Conqueror, the giant starfish who dispatches mind-controlling drones, isn’t just a weird project of the mad scientist The Thinker (Peter Capaldi). Rather, Starro has a long comic book history, one that predates Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), or any other member of the Suicide Squad. 

While Gunn makes Starro a slightly more sympathetic beast, he nails the character’s glorious mix of disturbing powers and unpretentiously whacky visuals. If The Suicide Squad whet your appetite for more intergalactic starfish action, then check out these six great Starro the Conqueror stories. 


The Brave & The Bold #28 (1960)

When Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman made their debut as the Justice League of America, there was only one threat big enough to bring those heroes together: Starro the Conqueror. Although retcons and secret stories would later attribute the League’s formation to some other threat, nothing can take away from the fact that we first saw the Justice League clutched in Starro’s tentacles. 

To modern readers, the first Justice League story feels less like a superhero spectacle and more like a 50s sci-fi story, which only adds to Starro’s menace. An alien invader who arrives from space to capture American weapons and scientists (and enslaves the idyllic town Happy Harbor), Starro doesn’t feel that different from The Thing from Another World or X the Unknown. Even as the standards of superhero storytelling have greatly evolved from this tale from writer Gardner Fox (pencils by Mike Sekowsky), the uncanny sci-fi vibe still remains. 


Justice League of America #189-190 (1981)

After its debut alongside the Justice League, Starro was largely relegated to cameos and flashbacks. Between 1960 and 1981, the villain only had one starring role, in a lackluster Aquaman story in Adventure Comics #451 (1977). When writer Gerry Conway decided to pit the villain against the satellite-era League of the late 70s and early 80s, he crafted an epic feeling two-part story, in which the once simplistic monster takes over Superman, Green Lantern, Firestorm, and more, forcing the League to fight against its own.

But beyond the hero-on-hero battles, the story stands out for a few chilling details from Conway and artist Rick Buckner. The first is the introduction of Starro replicants, tiny starfish who latch themselves onto victims’ faces, joining them to the creature’s hivemind. But on a more chilling note, the story includes interludes involving a child whose family become Starro drones, creating a suburban nightmare that recalls the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers


JLA #22 – 23 (1998)

For many comic book fans, Grant Morrison’s JLA is the definitive Justice League comic. Not only does Morrison bring together DC greats such as Batman and the Flash, alongside oddities like Plastic Man and the angel Zauriel, but he pits these over-powered heroes against hyper-crises. This two-parter is no different, in which Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman are summoned by the Dream King Daniel (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series) to rescue a boy whose town has been captured by Starro. 

Aside from a passing reference to Martian Manhunter fighting the creature with “the old league,” this story largely reboots Starro, with penciller Howard Porter, inker John Dell, and colorist Pat Garrahy making it a green creature that resembles the face-huggers from Alien, who has only recently encountered the League. But Morrison uses this lack of history to the story’s advantage, referring to the creature only as “It” and heightening the nightmares victims experience under the beast’s control. 


R.E.B.E.L.S. Annual #1 (2009)

There’s a lot to love in Tony Bedard’s run on the Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off R.E.B.E.L.S., a series following a modern-day alien team led by the arrogant Brainiac 2. But the series loses points for revealing the “true” Starro the Conqueror, an armored berserker with a giant ax who dispatches the starfish that we know and love to weaken planets before sending in his armies. 

But Bedard redeems this idea a bit with the series’ first annual, which tells the origin of this Conqueror. Bedard clarifies that mind-controlling starfish predate the berserker, who was born Cobi on the planet Hatorie. When Starro tried to overtake Cobi, he used his force of will to not only subjugate the starfish but to rip off the drone in a gnarly scene from artist Kalman Andrasofszky and colorist José Villarrubia. It’s such a shocking moment that one can almost get behind the idea of trading a mind-controlling starfish for a generic muscle-man. Almost. 


Justice League of America/The 99 (2010 -2011)

In a lot of ways, this collaboration between DC Comics and Teshkeel Comics is a standard crossover, bringing together the Justice League and The 99, a group of heroes who possess the 99 attributes of Allah. Written by Fabien Nicieza and Stuart Moore, with art by penciler Tom Derenick and inker Drew Geraci, the story has members of the two teams join forces and sometimes battle, as a Starro invasion coincides with an attack from the 99’s arch-enemy Rughal. 

But the story stands out for yet another variation on Starro. Instead of an overt invasion, this time Starro attacks in the form of a disease, infecting its victims with microscopic starfish. While nothing beats the image of starfish grafted onto the faces of its victims, there’s something uniquely chilling about seeing tiny starfish eject from a hero’s body. 


Justice League #24 (2019)

If any Justice League run can match Grant Morrison in terms of scale and audacity, it’s the current one from writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. Spinning out of the crossovers Dark Knights: Metal and No Justice, Snyder and Tynion’s Justice League deals with multiversal, reality-changing threats, so grand that even Starro the Conqueror joined the league to stop them, a decision that led to the monster’s death. 

But a tiny bit of Starro survived and was raised in a jar by Batman. This new variant, who calls itself Jarro and considers itself to be Batman’s son, has helped the League on numerous occasions, even as it tries to control its darker nature. An upbeat psychic starfish in a Robin costume, Jarro captures everything great about Starro the Conqueror – the absurdity, the potential for horror, and the sure thrill of superhero comics. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/comics/3678318/suicide-squad-six-strange-tales-starro-conqueror-world-comics/

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