Animals in Space

If I told the average person to come up with a game that features a fox, falcon, rabbit, and a frog, what sort of scenario would they create?  Perhaps they would describe a cartoon platformer where these animals would come to play, or a survival-type game in which players could choose an animal and compete for resources.  For anyone who grew up during the SNES or N64 era however, I imagine they couldn’t help but picture a science fiction world where these random animals make up a team of ace fighter pilots.

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Star Fox started from an attempt to render a single object as a polygon to turn in real-time, as opposed to drawing lots of images to display objects from different angles.  Thanks to the efforts of Dylan Cuthbert and the best brains at Nintendo, the Super FX chip was made and with it came the triangular Arwing spacecraft that impressed so many players in 1993.  After getting the tech established, the developers had to come up with a story that would match this flashy new game.  Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t want to follow the trend of superheroes flying around in giant robots, so he pitched the idea of using animal characters to inhabit this new world.  From this suggestion, Takaya Imamura came up with the Star Fox crew and its supporting characters; pulling plenty of inspiration from Japanese folk tales for the chosen animals.  Of course, these characters only set the framework within Star Fox for the actual gameplay.  Outside of some minor dialogue and the content featured in the instruction manual, there wasn’t much back story for Fox McCloud and his ragtag crew until they showed up in a certain gaming magazine…

StarFox1Star Fox made its comic debut in February 1993 as a feature in issue 45 of Nintendo Power.  Illustrated by Benimaru Itoh, the story ran for 11 issues, concluding in December of the same year.  Mr. Itoh has produced an impressive body of work for Nintendo: drawing comics for both Star Fox and Super Metroid, designing characters for classic games like Earthbound and Pokémon, and performing on guitar at “Mario & Zelda Big Band Live” in Tokyo in 2003.  These days he works at HAL Laboratory, where he continues to dedicate himself to the Kirby franchise.  For the Star Fox comics, Itoh expanded the story beyond the scope of the game, offering readers a glimpse into Fox’s life before Corneria.

StarFox2Our story begins with a two-page spread of Fox McCloud piloting some sort of speeder bike instead of his usual ride.  The vulpine hero is making off with goods from an imperial ship in order to redistribute the spoils to those in need on the planet of Papetoon.  He and his merry men regularly commit these sorts of crimes, following the “Golden Rule” (“Make the guy with the gold pay,” according to Peppy Hare).  After another successful heist, the crew receives a holographic message from General Pepper of Corneria’s Planetary Defense Council.  General Pepper has reached out to Fox and his gang in search of ace pilots to man the newly developed Arwing spacecraft in the fight against imperial lizard troops.  The Star Fox Team accepts and makes their way to Corneria as stowaways on a large star freighter.

StarFox3Once the crew arrives on Corneria and they are properly trained on the new Arwings, the story reverts to the plot of the Super Nintendo game, albeit with plenty of back story in-between the action-packed space battles.  The reader is introduced to Fara Phoenix, Fox’s love interest who only showed up outside of the comic in the unreleased Star Fox 2.  After the sequel was cancelled, Fara was pretty much removed from the series and Krystal the blue fox took over as McCloud’s romantic partner.  The comic also delves into how Fox met the delinquent Falco while he was enrolled at flight academy.  After becoming fast friends, Falco cleaned up his act and enrolled at the academy with Fox, where the two of them graduated as top pilots.  The greatest conflict within the story revolves around Andross, the villain who killed Fox’s father many years ago and who now sends his armies of lizard troops across the galaxy.  As the Star Fox Team make their way to Venom, the planet where Andross resides, there are battles with enemy spacecraft and creatures lifted directly from the video game, which makes for a nice touch.  Ultimately, Fox and his crew succeed at destroying the base on Venom and even though Andross escapes into a black hole, Fox believes that thanks to the efforts of his father, the citizens of Corneria have seen the last of the evil ape.

StarFox4Benimaru Itoh’s artwork is impressive throughout the Star Fox comic.  Heavy shading and complex line work make every character highly emotive and very animated.  The facial expressions on Fox are particularly fun to look at, fluctuating between lighthearted and angered moods that would look right at home on a real fox.  Interior backgrounds are richly detailed, with little bits and baubles to flesh out each area, while outdoor backgrounds are sparse to focus the action on the characters and ships.  The spacecrafts are well-drawn, along with all of the weapon and explosion effects in every battle.  The most notable detail is the wide range of colors used to illustrate action scenes.  Instead of relying on a palette of red, orange, and black to color explosions and battles, Itoh utilized varying shades of blue and purple which gives the comic a more fantasy sense of story.

Looking back, it is so strange for a game that is an on-rails space shooter at its core to have such a vibrant and detailed story about furry and feathered fighter pilots.  When I first played Star Fox, I had already encountered this wonderful comic in the pages of Nintendo Power, so I felt a distinct attachment to the characters upon my television.  Even though most of my time was spent dodging asteroids and firing off nova bombs, I imagined the Star Fox Team from the comic cracking wise and encouraging each other over their radios the entire time.  Shigeru Miyamoto may have taken the first step in distinguishing Star Fox by casting animals as the main characters, but it was Itoh’s comic that truly endeared this epic space story to so many players at the time.  That is the mark of a great comic adaptation: a story that is fun to read and enhances the experience of playing a video game.

Unlike the Super Mario Adventures and A Link to the Past, the Star Fox comic was never printed as a standalone product here in America.  But thanks to the efforts of the Arwing Landing Gallery, the entire comic is available to read online.  A big thank you to the folks behind the gallery for these fantastic scans!

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