During our last visit with the Atari Force they finally explained what “Project: Multiverse” is, a spaceship called Scanner One (shaped like the Atari logo because branding is everything) that can traverse dimensions. The goal is to find resources needed to help their Earth recover after the civil war that tore the planet apart. Without any real training (though how you train someone for something that’s never been done before I admit I couldn’t answer) the team consisting of hero Marvin Champion, his best friend pacifist doctor Lucas Orion, the surprisingly aloof (given her past experience with Marvin) Lydia Perez as pilot, the heavily accented Li San O’Rourke (Chinese and Irish descent), and the engineer Mohandas Singh head out to save the world thanks to Atari. In this continuity Atari isn’t a great video game company that fell apart via mismanagement and is now a shell of its former self but has grown into the Atari Institute and is responsible for keeping what’s left of the United States in some level of functionality. Yeah, somehow THAT’S the part that’s hardest to believe in this paragraph.
Issue #3 was released with the game Star Raiders for the Atari 2600. I barely remember the name and I couldn’t tell you what actually happens in the game. Apparently this was a port of the version for Atari’s computers like the Atari 800, the computer I own, but I’ve never played it. So I’m once again going to the website Atari Age for the scans. You can read along with me on this one.
Atari Force #3
DC Comics/Atari (1982)
CREATORS/WRITERS: Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas
VISUAL CONCEPTS: Ross Andru
DESIGN: Neal Pozner
COLORIST: Adrienne Roy
LETTERER: John Costanza
EDITOR: Dick Giordano
We catch up with our heroes as they have entered the space between realities. The crew is rather in awe of the sights they see and there’s some witty banter before Scanner One is attacked by tentacles coming from a dark nebula with an eye in the center. And the more we see of this thing the more you come to think someone read some H.P. Lovecraft before writing this issue. Martin puts a plan to the ship’s Atari 8000 computer to activate the dimensional warp, using the power surge to shake off the monster and sending the ship to their first planet, which the nebula isn’t happy about.
This is also where we enter the first video game. The previous issues couldn’t take place in the games they were sold with (imagine the team facing the maze robots of Berzerk…that would have been an interesting story…hopefully the full-size on-the-shelf comics picked up that slack) but this one takes place in the Star Raiders universe, only as we’ll be seeing they didn’t quite get to play. The planet that the Atari Force finds is a dead world, with damaged satellites spinning around it and what appears to the computer to be impact craters of numerous meteorites. And with the ship damaged they’re forced to crash land on the surface. First mission and they already crashed the ship. Not exactly off to a good start. Lucas does a scan and learns there’s no life on the surface, but he didn’t check below ground because suddenly this guy pops up.
I’m not too far off with the Pokemon gag either. They are going to refer to his entire species as Hukka and at least in this issue that’s the only name they’ll give him. Suddenly Li-San notices a tower in the distance starting to glow and the group go to investigate, but Martin has Perez stay behind with the repair robots to oversee repairs. She doesn’t protest but she’s sure he’s doing it on purpose because she was short with him before. Look, I don’t expect Martin and Lydia becoming a couple after one mutual lifesaving mission where they almost died, and I do understand her wanting to be the military version of professional since time was short. Even Lucas in this story starts referring to Martin by his rank although they’ve been best friends for years. But she treated him like they never met and she didn’t like him, which still hasn’t been explained. And I don’t think he’s being an “overgrown Napoleon” for wanting the pilot and one of the people who worked on the ship to stay and fix the ship. They kind of need it to continue their mission and this planet doesn’t seem have any resources…except maybe one we’re about to be introduced to.
Meanwhile, the others have arrived at the ruins, which according to the computer is 15 billion years old. Then Hukka starts pointing to one particular spot and the team decides to split up. After a Let’s Make A Deal reference noting that they can check both “curtains” in teams of two. I only mention it because I’m seeing the reference come up quite a bit lately in my comic reviews. And I haven’t reviewed a comic created after the new series in quite a while. It’s an odd coincidence. Lucas and Martin will look into the tower while Mohandas and Li-San check out whatever it is that has Hukka all spazzing out. And he leads them right to…a wall. Fun fact: their lasers also act as flashlights on the right setting. Also, it’s actually a sealed door, so she uses her laser to burn through. Not to many sci-fi lasers have multiple settings, just various power levels. So this is something different. What do they find? We’ll have to wait on that because outside Martin and Lucas are being attacked by Cylon knockoffs. No, really, take a look.
They’re even called Zylons. Now on the box (at least for the original computer)…
…they look more like barely copyright friendly TIE Fighters. Now I looked up the box art for the Atari 2600 and the Sears licensed releases (Sears had their own branded Atari 2600 clone and I’m not sure why Atari went along with that) and the ships look nothing like that. But I learned something while reading those boxes. If you chose not to go to the links I’ll explain it when it’s time in the story. Research also shows that the villains in the game are indeed called Zylons. At least that’s what they’re called on the back of the 5200 port and according to Wikipedia in the original 8-bit computer game. This is I’m assuming based on the 2600 version since that’s what these comics came with, and they were renamed Krylons in that version, so that must have been confusing. Atari Age doesn’t have a section for the computers, just the gaming consoles so I can’t confirm what’s on their box. Apparently there were Cylon clones in the game but not in the screenshots I’ve seen. I still think the art team took a liberty or two for the sake of a cheap homage pun, which will be confirmed by the ship that comes to their rescue. The game is first-person (within the limits of 1970s/80s hardware) so we don’t see your ship. The artists however….
…clearly decided to have a Colonial Viper and the Atari symbol make a baby, and came up with the Star Raider. The box for the 2600/Sears version even says you’re flying with Atari Force members Champion and O’Rourke and later they will be flying the ship. I don’t know if the “Atari Force” were additions to the 2600 version or not, promoting the comics or at least tying them to the games. Since the previous comics weren’t tied to the games they came with I haven’t bothered to check if Berzerk and Defender were tied to the Atari Force as well. There wouldn’t be any reason to. The pilots turn out to be Li-San and Mohandas because this is what Hukka was leading them to.
Later Li-San shows Martin a “jewel” that you put to your forehead and he sees the planet’s history. The natives were green-skinned so I can only assume Hukka gravitated to Mohandas either because he could tell the man was smart or because he was the nearest one after he was done assessing them. The planet was quite peaceful until the Zylons attacked. Joining with Hukka’s people, a superintellegent race they met during an early mission, they created the Star Raider but the Zylons wiped them all out before they could launch. The Hukkas have been keeping the ship safe until someone could come along and get revenge for the “Earthlings”, which everyone is ready to do, except for Lucas. He finds their reaction odd. And it is Martin Champion and Li-San O’Rourke who end up flying the ship, just line the 2600 box says.
Using the Star Raider they begin hunting down the Zylons. Meanwhile, Lucas discovers that the pilot suits of the Zylons are empty, and further probing the memory jewel thing shows that the “dark nebula” the ships came from in the flashback resembled the Eldritch horror they escaped from at the beginning of the story, which they start calling the Dark Destroyer. Why it needed to use actual suits to fake alien ships I couldn’t tell you, but that’s what they decide happened, and that Martin and Li-San are being tricked into attacking them for…whatever his goal is. The three aboard the ship just write it off as it being evil, but even I’m not buying that.
As Champion and O’Rourke start playing the game (the Dark Destroyer’s game, but following the rules of the Star Raiders video game), they start off well but soon the numbers game begins to work against them. Scanner One heads back into the multiverse to deal with the Dark Destroyer. They set their probe pod to self-destruct (Hukka helping because the little plushy-template is that smart–if you’re going to have a cute mascot character then he or she better be useful, which is how I defend Godzooki and not Ferbus) and launch it straight into the Destroyer’s eye. This causes the Zylons to crash into each other, ending their threat. Oddly, Martin and Li-San’s sudden bloodlust, despite also going away when the Destroyer’s influence is lost, isn’t blamed on it or the jewel. They just snap out of it.
Back on the planet, everyone compares notes and Hukka joins the team. Meanwhile, a glowing light appears in the nebula like an angry eye. The Dark Destroyer isn’t done yet, but you’ll have to buy the game Phoenix to see where that goes. Or wait until I return to this series, or find the scans on Atari Age.
The comic is about 5o pages not counting ads and a profile on Commander Martin Champion, and has just enough room to make the traditional panel layout readable so it’s not surprising that you can get a good complete story out of this. If anything they better be able to make a full story at over double the average comic page count. And it is a good story. I haven’t played the game but going on my research it seems decently connected to the gameplay if not what little backstory the games back then had. It’s a good read and worth picking up.
In our next installment to the miniature longbox we’ll pull out the first issue of a story where Marvel’s top superheroes drive around in giant robots. Anyone remember the MegaMorphs?