December 22, 2013

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, issue 4 "Stellara's Choice"

The Royal Guard have caught up to our heroes, cornering them between the Perilous Cliffs and the Sea of Acid Rain. Mantor uses his "sorcery" to create a distraction while the others scale the cliffs, and our heroes get away.

At Castle Grimhold, the villains are gathered as Scorpia attempts to use a spell to spy on the Sectaurs. Mantor senses it and blocks it with a counter spell. Scorpia is dismissed, and with Devora aware that everyone under her command wants the power of the Hyves for themselves, she decides to leave General Spidrax in charge of the operation as he has the brute skill to make it happen. This doesn't sit well with Skuld, who pleads with Scorpia to give him a device with which he can trace the Sectaurs.

As our heroes camp on a mountainside, Zak is filled with doubts about Mantor being a Keeper, and Pinsor struggles with his feelings for Stellara, who sees him as a father figure. As the fog clears, they realize they're at the base of the High Place, the cliffs where Symbionians meet once a year with insectoids to perform their telebonding rituals. Stellara decides to climb, to see if there's a new insectoid she can bond with, and discovers a large beetle. They begin the ritual of dance and psychic connections.

Skuld and his forces suddenly surround our heroes and attack. Skuld is reckless, though, and quickly loses the upper hand, until Spidrax storms in with his own men and starts beating our heroes down. Stellara senses the peril of her friends and chooses to break the bonding ceremony so she can help them. The pain to her and the beetle is great, but before it leaves, it still helps her trigger an avalanche which sweeps Spidrax and his men away.

Stellara returns to the group, her sadness at losing a new bond comforted by the bond she's forged with her friends and fellow warriors.


Despite being titled “Stellara's Choice”, I would argue that this issue is actually as much about the internal-dynamics between our cast of villains. The plotting and scheming, the backstabbing and complex familial relationships. There are a lot of moving pieces in this G-rated game of thrones. It's all very Greek, and to this point, more interesting than the somewhat ham-fisted relationships between our heroes.

On the villainous side of things, I'm most intrigued by Scorpia. Though the specifics of her relationship with her half-brother Spidrax are still unclear, it's obvious that there's no love lost between the two of them. On the surface, this looks like your standard tug-o-war for power, with Spidrax using brute force, and Scopria craft and cunning. But look a little closer. Spidrax wants the Hyves so he can overthrow Devora, destroy the Shining Realm, and rule Symbion. They're nothing more than a means to an end for him. Scorpia claims to have no interest in ruling Symbion and seems to want the Hyves only for their magical enlightenment. Could her motivation really be that pure or are her ultimate plans even more sinister than we realize? Either way, Scorpia is currently the most interesting and potentially dangerous player in this game, in my opinion.

But make no mistake, Stellara does get her moments in this issue. While I remain a bit leery of the building unrequited love angle between she and Pinsor, and find the tele-bonding "Dance of the Warrior Maiden" scene more reminiscent of a hippy grasshopper's acid flashback, the rest of it works exceptionally well. There are still some unanswered issues regarding Stellara and tele-bonding that I hope are explored in future issues.

Fast-paced and filled with intrigue and ever deepening characterization, "Stellara's Choice" is another winner.

  • I'm sure the oversight of the "Comic Code Authority" had slacked off by the mid-80s, but I was still a bit surprised to see a full-on butt shot of Scorpia in her thong bikini bottom. Not displeased, mind you, but surprised.
  • We see the Sea of Acid Rain, proving that not all stupid ideas from the cartoon were abandoned.
  • Noel mentioned last week that there was a staff shakeup between issues #2 and #3, and that artist Mark Texeria had been replaced by Steve Geiger. I didn't notice it then, but after Noel called attention to it, I definitely noticed it in "Stellara's Choice". The art here is much less detailed than before - sometimes glaringly so - but it's far more dynamic. Whereas before the characters looked like statues, now they appear to be in motion, which in turn makes the story feel more propulsive. If it's a tradeoff, it's a good one in my opinion.
  • I'm curious to see where they go with the idea of Zak being suspicious of Mantor. This is the second issue in a row where he's harbored doubts about the old sage's motivations, and if the way Stellara has been handled is any indication, this is not a throw-away detail.


I've been enjoying the comics up to this point, so I hate to admit it, but this issue is a bit of a stinker.

The most interesting part of the issue is the title thread of Stellara attempting to telebond with a new insectoid. I love her internal debates, of what it would mean for her versus what she's gained through the support of her friends, and when she breaks the ritual to save her friends, it's a strong moment, as is the insectoid giving her aid before wandering off and still leaving her without a bond. Which in another rallying moment, doesn't lose her the admiration of her friends one bit as they celebrate her return. This all said, the thread still has problems. First, the entire page of Stellara's ritual sexy dance is just... strange and unnecessary, as well as the mention that it takes hours for the bond to form. Then she just walks up to the first insectoid she sees instead of seeing what else is around and going through a few speed dates to really find the best match. Hell, the last thing you want it to telebond to a fly only to find out he spends most his day jumping at your every approach and suckling on whatever piles of wild droppings he comes across.

The rest of the episode is a boring disappointment as, instead of building off the new kickstart of the last issue, and following our characters on each stage of their journey, we're largely just rehashing stuff we've already covered. Sure, Stellara's telebond trial is neat, and I get a kick out of the Perilous Cliffs and Sea of Acid Rain popping up just as randomly as they did in the show (but more as amusing background details than half-assed setpieces), but they're otherwise spinning their wheels in mud instead of making any forward progress. Sure, new details are uncovered about the characters - Stellara sees Pinsor as a father even though he'd like her to see him as something more, Zak internally fumes with distrust over Mantor being a keeper, Scorpia turns on her brother and instead plays the desperate Skuld - but none of it ultimately drives the story in a meaningful way. Skuld's ambush goes to shit pretty quick even before Stellara makes her choice to intervene, and it's crashed by Spidrax. Zak's doubts about Mantor make up just two panels worth of material when, if I can pitch an alternate "What If...?" scenario, wouldn't it have been interesting to actually keep him on the Royal Guard? Instead of making them disposable Redshirts, let him headline that faction with his doubts and sense of betrayal as he has to be the one to chase his best friend under the mistaken belief of Keeper corruption, which would even bring the romantic triangle with Belana more to the forefront. But that ship has sailed, and his distrust never actually contributes anything. And as for Pinsor having the hots for the woman he raised since she was a child... dude, just no.

The last issue of the book really revved the material up and had me excited for what would come next. This was the whiteout snow storm that suddenly rolled in, grinding traffic to a halt and leaving me squinting through a wall of dull fluff in the hopes of finding a path I can follow. It's not as brutally bad as the animated series, but it's a dud nonetheless.

Additional thoughts:
  • If the skimpy cut of her dress wasn't enough, I'm quite surprised by the detailing of Scorpia's pokey nipples in what's supposed to be an action figure tie-in for children.
  • As Igor pointed out in the comments a couple weeks back, it was editor-in-chief Jim Shooter's mandate that every issue had to, in some way, recap ongoing storylines for the benefit of any new readers. Which I fully understand, appreciate, and agree with, as every issue of any comic series is always going to be someone's first. That said, we didn't need SIX PAGES to hash it all out. I know it's a complicated story with a large cast, but it's hard to move a story forward when it needs a quarter of each issue just to catch up with itself. Granted, this is Bill Mantlo, and brevity was never one of his strong suits.
  • Speaking of the number SIX in capslock, why did it take SIX inkers to put together this issue? This is a lower-tier book being released on a bi-monthly basis, so if the production schedule is falling so far behind that they need this many inkers to catch up, it definitely speaks to some troubles going on behind the scenes.
  • Which isn't to say the art suffers. I still quite like the dynamic momentum of Geiger's pencils. Though the constantly shifting detail work of each inker is noticeable, it's not enough of a distraction to detract.

We'll be back next weekend with another Sectaurs adventure: "Fairy Tales Do Come True".

In the early 90s, writer Bill Mantlo was tragically struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with a debilitating brain injury and insurance woes, all of which are chronicled in this moving article. If you've enjoyed Mantlo's work and would like to contribute to his ongoing care, please consider a donation.


Tony Williams said...

Just when I think I've got you figured out...

Strannik said...

I don't know... I'm judging by the reap along, but the episode doesn't seem quite as bad as Noel suggesting. If this was a cartoon, it would make a decent episode. Nothing at all extraordinary, but decent.

Which I fully understand, appreciate, and agree with, as every issue of any comic series is always going to be someone's first. That said, we didn't need SIX PAGES to hash it all out. I know it's a complicated story with a large cast, but it's hard to move a story forward when it needs a quarter of each issue just to catch up with itself.

And that is why I think Shooter-era Marvel recaps get a bad rep. I think the recap pages that have become a norm at Marvel have been able to accomplish what Shooter was trying to do much better, bringing the readers up to speed without bogging down the plot.

Just when I think I've got you figured out...

If there's one thing I learned from Starhunter recaps, it's that Noel is predictable in a lot of ways - including the fact that, every once in a while, he will surprise us :)

Tony Williams said...

If there's one thing I learned from Starhunter recaps, it's that Noel is predictable in a lot of ways - including the fact that, every once in a while, he will surprise us :)

Lol! Ain't that the truth.