General Jumbo, The Smasher and Supercats are just some of the classic British heroes back in print right now, thanks to a team of Scottish comic creators, DC Thomson and Comic Heroes magazine.
As we previously reported, The Glasgow League of Writers has teamed up with publisher DC Thomson to create new versions of some of their most beloved characters, hoping these modern incarnations will appeal to modern comic book readers. For most on the roster of updated characters it will be the first time they’ve been in print in decades when the series debuts on 14th March, in Comic Heroes’ digital magazine Comic Review.
One of the characters revived is Red Star – and we’re grateful to writer Sam Read for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk a little more about his approach to reviving the character, re-named the Scarlet Star and drawn by Leonie Moore…
When given the opportunity to revive a dormant DC Thomson comic character, initially I was stumped. Despite a passing familiarity with the works of Dundee publisher, their heyday was somewhat before my time, and though I was aware of those staple characters from the Beano and Dandy, I wasn’t well versed in their older work.
To find character I felt my collaborator, artist Leonie O’Moore, and myself could bring back I had to do my research. And looking over those available I came upon a figure I found immediately fascinating; The Red Star. One of the aspects that made this character interesting was that he had two wildly different incarnations from appearances separated by many years.
The first, Red Star Roberts: Gangbuster, featured in text stories published The Wizard during the 1930s, and subsequently comic strips in the 1960s. A fairground worker, inventor and ace marksman; Bill Roberts operated at behest of a secret Citizen Council, aiming to rid his home town, the mid-western US Paragon City, of crime and graft. Donning a suit and domino mask, he fought both crime and corruption alike, used a gun of his own design that fired a non-lethal red star onto criminals’ foreheads, branding and shaming them for all to see.
The second Red Star appeared during the 1970s in the pages of The Hotspur. Tommy Robinson was a 17-year-old lad in fictional North County, UK. Though still a crime fighter, this Red Star was far less hard-edged and significantly more humorous and playful. After foiling a bank robbery, Tommy was contacted by the mysterious Watcher, a seemingly extra-terrestrial mentor, who gave him a flying car, ray-gun for marks criminals with a red star, and a robot sidekick, the brilliantly named Syrius Thrice. Nearly completely divergent from the previous Red Star, Tommy wore spandex and a cape, and often required Mr Thrice to help him out in times of real trouble.
With such radically different approaches having been taken to the character over the years, the Red Star being shaped to fit the feel of the time (from the hard-nose, depression-era gangbuster and the disco-dancing, technology-drenched 1970s school boy) in reinvigorating the property we felt it important not only acknowledge this heritage, but also have our new manifestation stand as a reflection on the current day in the way the character had been previously.
So, in line with this approach, Leonie and myself merged elements from both incarnations, while also making significant changes, straight out of our own imaginations.
The name Scarlet Star was our contribution, used to differentiate the character from the DC Comics’ character Red Star, who had appeared and surpassed the original in notoriety since his last appearance in Hotspur. To match this, his home town was changed to Scarlet City, USA, both in order to avoid using Paragon City, which had become associate with a video game franchise, and as homage to the original Red Star Roberts mid-west roots.
From there, we grounded the story in modern times; giving the character struggles to overcome that reflect the world we live in, while make sure to root it firmly in the philosophy of social justice seen in the original. Now an unemployed former Marine, Thomas Roberts is a man who looks out for others above himself, and even understands the hardships that drive those he faces to crime.
The first full arc would have seen Roberts’ citizen heroics seen in Leonie and I’s six-page first part published in Comics Review lead in to his recruitment into a shadowy Citizen Council by their strange interlocutor, Mr Thrice. Taking on the mantle of Scarlet City’s protector, the Star would strike at the enemies of the people, be they operating beyond the reach of law enforcement, or within its ranks.
I hope both old fans of the character and new readers will enjoy the tale Leonie and myself have created; we certainly had fun with it. Though more a tale inspired by than directly reliving the originals, we feel that is captures the spirit of the character, and hope it provides as much inspiration for those in the future as the two originals did for us.
Sam Read, March 2014
• Scarlet Star featured in Comic Review issue 9 available now