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Atari Comic Books

Posted: August 4th, 2015, 11:21 am
by scotland
According to AtariAge, there were 10 comics inserted into Atari 2600 cartridges in about 1983. Several of the space themed arcade ports had an "Atari Force" theme, which DC comics also continued for about 20 issues on its own. Another set had a Swordquest theme for Atari's famously incomplete in-house adventure series. Finally, the last two are Centipede and Yar's Revenge (the only non-DC one).

Let's start with Centipede (Scan available on Atariage)

Its actually a regular length comic. The story and artwork are by Howard Post. He ran a fairly long running newspaper strip called The Dropouts, whose art style is much like Johnny Hart's. The name might not be familiar, as his time with DC was limited, but he did go on to work for Marvel Comics doing younger reader fare like Heathcliff and CareBears later in the 1980s. The Centipede comic might have been something he brought in to those interviews as it is very much along those younger reader comics.

The comic reminds me most of a Smurfs television adventure, something very much in the American mind in 1983 as it was a successful Saturday Morning cartoon for NBC at the time. The artwork is vibrant and childlike, with toothy grins and happy bugs, big eyes and smiles, and lots of nonsensical physics.

The story is about a happy 'littlest elf' and his bug friends (the scorpion wears boxing gloves, a sweater, and has a comical devils tail, and the spider and scorpion do not have 8 appendages, only 6). The centipede wears sneakers and looks very Pac Man like.

The elf lives in a very smurfy village raising mushrooms. There is an evil wizard who must have been a classmate of Gargamel's (the art style really coincides with the NBC cartoon here) also with just a single tooth, large nose, big eyebrows, big eyes, frumpy clothes...okay, its Gargamel's cousin who can grow a decent beard. The wizard turns mushrooms to toadstools for the evulz, and later turns the villagers to toadstools too! Only the littlest elf is left behind (with an ax!) to save the day, chopping down toadstools (which begs the question of what would happen when he gets to the toadstools that were not formerlly mushrooms but actually his parents and neighbors? Oh my smurf!)

Interesting quote that caught my attention: "Such are the trials and tribulations of being the village's littlest elf" reminded me of "Such is the life of an elf" from Rankin Bass's Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, something most kids would know in 1983.

The littlest elf, along with one of the centipede's autonomous segments (crazy biology, man - and each segment looks even more like Pac Man now) do save the day by getting possession of the wizard's wand (and asserting authority over it) after the wizard grows wings and goes all Maleficient on you. Who knew playing Centipede you were a child Elf with a stolen evil wizard's wand? You blast your hypnotized bug friends with the wand turning them into mushrooms (this is a good idea?)

Finally the day is won by blasting the wizard into the air and threatening to transform him too. The wizard undoes all the harm he caused, but the little elf zaps him anyway...which gives him a cheery disposition and a full set of pearly white teeth.

Which all goes to show you that if only people had better teeth the world would be a happily place, or the best way to save the day is to give your youngest neighbor a big ax or something.

Re: Atari Comic Books

Posted: August 5th, 2015, 10:29 pm
by scotland
From one bug to the next, we move from Centipede on to Yars Revenge. While Warner owned both Atari and DC comics in 1982, the Yars Revenge comic is not a DC comic. None of the creators are familiar. However, prominent credit is given to Howard Scott Warshaw as the cartridge creator. Guess someone learned something in the Activision Revolt.

The cover is striking, the shining Yar like something from Heavy Metal magazine or an ELO LP album cover. The three listed artists did experiment with the panel designs making each page different. This mini comic is not a kiddie comic like Centipede, but a straight up sci fi adventure with passable bronze age visuals. The backgrounds are far too minimal, and the color palettealso limited, buts its bright and crisp, which probably was wise for its small dimensions.

The story is only 9 pages, and has two functions: a bit of backstory and a secondary instruction manual. The backstory is told through a flashback, where the Yars and the Earthlings all speak in dialogue rectangles. A crashed spaceship supposedly mutates Earth flies into Yar, but for a horror fan I see this more loke The Fly movie, where the Yar are really human fly composites. The Yar can somehow fly in space, and colonize a nearby planet. This planet is destroyed by an unseen, unheard, uncomprehending evil. The titular revenge is for this mass slaughter. In this way it is like an insect metaphor for a mysterious attack of Raid on a nest, something I will keep in mind when in the garden. The backstory ends with an elder sending a lone nameless young (and expendable) Yar into space, having been shown the way of the force cannon.

Not a whole lot here with Yars Revenge, and not sure why its not a DC comic. Its interesting that these few years were a sweet spot, with Atari and DC being owned jointly by Warner. Shame that it was Marvel that was more active in doing comics of outside IPs, like they were doing Star Wars, Star Trek and Indiana Jones at the time. They would go on to do GI Joe and Transformers too, with all of them (except Star Trek) being respectable comics for the day (GI Joe was going to be a SHIELD vs Hydra comic). DC picked up Star Trek after Wrath of Khan, but too late for Atari. Except for Sonic, comics and video games have yet to really help each other, although there more attempts like Turok un the 90s and Last of Us recently.