Penciler: Herb Trimpe
Inker: Mike Esposito
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: John Costanza
Licensed properties at Marvel in the late 1970s had it good. No matter that the House of Ideas did not own the characters, these books still received top-notch talent. It’s no wonder that series like Rom and Micronauts are remembered long after the toys they promoted have been mostly forgotten. Though perhaps not as great a success, the twenty issues of Shogun Warriors still benefited from an editorial policy that would treat licensed properties with respect. Writer Doug Moench was a few years from his contributions to the Batman mythos, but had amassed quite a body of work via Werewolf By Night, Masters of Kung Fu and had recently created the character Moon Knight. Likewise artist Herb Trimpe who had distinguished himself with a stretch on The Incredible Hulk and would become a name associated with G.I. Joe comics (another license that saw success at Marvel). Moench and Trimpe took a line of giant robot toys and created sympathetic pilots and wild enemies to oppose them, offering something more than a marketing tie-in.
The first bulk of Shogun Warriors issues detailed the recruitment of three young people by a mysterious group called The Followers of Light. Genji, Ilongo and Richard were told that with the power of giant robots they could protect Earth from an alien invasion. Once that problem was wrapped up and the apparent reason for the for which the Shogun Warriors were created was seemingly vanquished, it became a little unclear as to why they continued to exist and fight threats like any other team. Sure, they could easily fight for the good of humankind and all that, but I suppose I expected some explanation why the denizens of Shogun Sanctuary had decided to expand their modus operandi.
That criticism aside, issue 14 continues a storyline in which the Warriors oppose the villain Doctor Demonicus. After recovering from some unusual predicaments (Dangard Ace was strapped to the surface of the moon like Gulliver when captured by the Lilliputians and his two fellows, Combatra and Raydeen, were hurtling uncontrollably through space), the prior issue had them gaining entry to the spaceship of Demonicus. While they are successful in getting in, they then find themselves confronted with the three creatures that had attacked and overwhelmed them each individually in the second half of the title’s first year.
In “Should Heroes Fall…,” the Shogun Warriors must figure out how to best the three creatures that had previously gotten the better of them: Cerebus, the Hand of Five, and Starchild. Ultimately, what allows them to succeed this time comes down to teamwork; whereas they were overcome in one-on-one battles with Demonicus’s minions, working together in a three-on-three encounter, the Warriors are triumphant, even besting their master as well.
As we finally reach the conclusion, this Demonicus storyline feels a little drawn out and the Doctor himself a little too one dimensional to seem satisfying as a villain. All that said, some of the elements that made this title enjoyable from the beginning are still in tact: namely Trimpe’s pencils and fun character and creature designs (Demonicus’s minions are particularly awesome). It’s interesting to note that a fan letter printed in the issue pretty much agrees with my assessment of the direction of the title and the editor’s response includes the statement: “… in the very near future — within the next issue or two — the Shogun Warriors book is slated for a major change in direction, mood, feel, style and overall continuity. We may be prejudiced, true, but the fact remains: We think it’ll usher in a vast improvement in quality and reader interest.” It sounds as if sales were not up to expectations on the title.
Knowing the series ended at issue 20 sort of answers whether or not this new direction was successful or not, but it’s worth noting that Moench and Trimpe see the series through to its end. Moench even brings the story of the three pilots to a conclusion in an issue of Fantastic Four (#226). While maybe not a major milestone in the history of Marvel comics, the twenty issues of Shogun Warriors certainly illustrate the kind of minor gems that are out there for the collector to track down and enjoy. It also shows what creative talent can do with licensed properties when given the opportunity.