Monday, November 3, 2008

Reprint This! Cobra

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is COBRA by Buichi Terizawa. It's true that the series is more than a little dated, but for crazy outer-space shoot-em-up action from a post-Star Wars mindset, this punchy seventies space opera perfectly blends escapist action with that decade's macho swagger and an eye for the ladies.

Cobra had been an infamous space pirate and fugitive, one of the galaxy's most wanted. In order to get out of everybody's sights and let the heat die down for a few years, he had face-changing surgery and bought a new set of memory implants. Some time later, the implants fail and he remembers his old life, and the powerful psycho-gun he wears on his right arm. As soon as he begins regaining his memories, he immediately gets into trouble, meeting, in short order, one of three sisters who has one-third of a treasure map tattooed on her back, and the criminal kingpin Crystal Bowie, a cyborg immune to Cobra's psycho-gun.

Sorry, inside joke.

Cobra first appeared in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1978, perfectly times to catch the attention of every ten year-old in Japan who was buying Star Wars toys. The original series ran until 1984 and was collected in a series of twenty digests. There was the requisite animated adaptation, which ran for one season in 1982-83, and a feature film, and then the character was retired for two decades, emerging in 2005 for a new series in the twice-monthly Super Jump. This serial ran for about two years and was compiled in eleven digest editions. Between the two, Terizawa apparently worked on several other series of limited interest, including Goku Midnight Eye and Gundragon, focusing on tough guys, technology and half-dressed women.

Cobra was briefly published in the US by Viz under their old strategy of releasing Japanese stories in the American comic format. Resized, the artwork flipped and relettered by somebody who didn't need to be in the business of lettering, the pricy books ($3.99 when the rest of the market was under $2) limped to a ninth issue before being cancelled. As far as I can tell, Cobra was not among those titles which made their way into the old, oddly-shaped $15 graphic novels that Viz used to publish, and certainly not in the proper-sized digests with which they've since found success.

But I honestly think Viz is missing out on not looking back at Cobra. The overwhelming bulk of the stuff they successfully publish in the US is, let's face it, disposable pop fun for younger readers. It's true that "space adventure" is currently not the most popular genre among kids - martial arts and "Twilight" are this year's models - but it's bound to be resurgent sooner rather than later, and a nice library of wild action, spaceships and silly science will certainly find its audience quickly. So how about it, Viz?

(Originally posted November 03, 2008, 08:05 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

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