The Darlings of Esmeralda

For those of you who missed it, Star Hawks was a daily newspaper strip in the late ’70s. Penned (mostly) by Ron Goulart, it was an outer space adventure series that was hoping to attract a little bit of Star Wars goodwill. The comic strip is remembered today (if at all) for the artwork of Gil Kane. Kane was a dynamic and distinctive cartoonist who had an appreciation for the golden age of adventure serials. It was a treat to see his work in the newspaper every day.

The strip eventually fizzled out back in 1981. But before it ended, Goulart was able to produce two breezy Star Hawks novels (each one inexplicably published by Playboy Press). Kane even supplied interstitial illustrations for both volumes. Empire 99 was the first of these novels and it further promoted the adventures of Interplan Law Service agents Rex Jaxan, the dashing daredevil, Chavez, the “amply mustached” lothario braggart, and Sniffer, the insufferable robodog with an IQ of one-ninety.

The comic strip was a pulpy space romp, and Goulart continued the sci-fi satirical slant in the first Star Hawks novel. The dialog is peppered with silly interjections like, “Zam!,” “Hoy!,” “Bouncin’ Blackholes!,” and the ever-popular, “Jumpin’ Jupiter!” And he never tires of inventing euphemisms for boobs. “Hangers” and “yonkers” seem to be his two (unfortunate) favorites.

The plot is mostly moot. Enjoyment comes from the heroes’ jovial banter and the zany characters they encounter during their mission to planet Esmeralda. Without a doubt, the novel’s apex is reached when Chavez is captured by the opportunistic Kwark clan. That’s when Star Hawks shifts into Star Wars/Andy Griffith Show overdrive. Hillbilly science fiction at its best!

[Star Hawks: Empire 99 / By Ron Goulart / First Printing: April 1980 / ISBN: 0872166376]

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