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October 25, 2009

Space Ace #1: How Does it Compare to the 1984 Game and Cartoon?

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Written by: Josh
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Space Ace #1 by Arcana Comics

Space Ace #1 by Arcana Comics

I had no intent of reviewing Space Ace #1, but after reading this book, I decided to share my thoughts. I don’t usually buy new comics, but in this case, I made an exception. I’m a fan of the Space Ace properties, Don Bluth’s animations, and Robert Kirkman’s writing. There was no doubt in my mind that this comic would be an absolute slam dunk. Maybe I set my expectations too high, or maybe I’m just cheap. After spending $3.95 for a comic, I expect to be wowed. That was far from the case.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Space Ace, here’s a brief history. Don Bluth (Space Ace’s creator) developed a cult following after animating the Dragon’s Lair arcade game. It was released in 1983 and was the first laser-disc video game ever produced, instantly becoming a classic. The Space Ace game was released the following year, and was the second laser-disc video game of it’s kind, and it was also animated and produced by Bluth. The concept was ground-breaking, and it seemed simple enough. Basically, all you had to do was punch a button or tap a joystick every time you saw a bright blinking light on the screen. When you timed it just right, you would advance to the next level and see another scene from the animated story. After you lost your first quarter to this game, you quickly realized that the the timing was odd and the controls were a little clumsy. All of a sudden, hitting a button became very difficult. Most of the time, you were paying so much attention to the story that you didn’t notice the light that you were supposed to be reacting to. All of the blinking lights can be tricky because they appear in different parts of the scenery and at different times. Just the slightest hesitation, and you’re dust. These games were attractive to young children, but they were extremely challenging. The animated Space Ace scenes between interactive game-play were short, and it didn’t take long to die. As a hyper-active child, I found this absolutely nerve racking. The closest I’ve ever gotten to replicating this feeling was  repeatedly losing money to an unlucky slot machine. Ultimately, the game was an unforgiving quarter munching beast with an insatiable appetite for loose change. It ate quarters like I eat Hot Pockets.  There where three difficulty options, but the easier settings sacrificed part of the story. Don Bluth is an awesome animator, and his unique cartoonish style created an interesting juxtaposition to the psychedelic themes and dark humor in the Space Ace story.

Space Ace arcade game

Space Ace arcade game

The game’s success was largely based on the novelty of experiencing something completely different while at the arcade in the 1980’s. When I first played it, my mom gave me one dollar’s worth of quarters, which was barely enough to get a feel for the ridiculous timing needed to pass the game’s first stage. I still feel that this was a form of child abuse. At the time, I knew this little spoiled brat kid whose parents gave him unlimited quarters to play Space Ace. Not just once, but many times. This allowed him to develop a unique set of button-mashing skills. Soon he was an expert, but it still cost his parents dearly. To give you an idea of how hard this game was, one session usually cost this guy’s folks about thirty dollars. I’m still friends with him, and to this day, he still brags about beating Space Ace. Keep riding that wave, buddy. Childhood scars aside, it was a cool game. Don Bluth’s animations were absolutely amazing, and it really stood out for the time period in which it was produced. In 1984, the year Space Ace made it’s debut, Ms. Pac-Man was still getting top bill at most arcades across America. So, by comparison, it was steps above it’s competition.

The original Space Ace arcade game was released to DVD in October of 2000, and the game-play was similar to the arcade version. It had the same format and animations, and utilized the buttons on the DVD remote for controls. You would bash the navigation buttons to react to the blinking light, therefore advancing to the next level. Unlike the arcade game, however, there were no optional difficulty settings or continues. Space Ace was relentless. I bought the DVD game in my early 20’s and still never mastered the timing needed to beat that damn thing. Luckily, there was a feature where you could watch the entire story without the frustrations of game-play, and it was awesome! It was a fun game, but it was a lot more entertaining  just to lay back and watch the story without being all stressed out about pushing buttons.

Also, Space Ace was featured in a cartoon series called Saturday Supercade in the mid 198o’s. It was an hour long show that consisted of  stories revolving around characters from popular 80s video games such as: Q-Bert, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Pitfall. Regardless of the show’s poor production value and animation, the segments containing Don Bluth’s Space Ace were still a highlight of the show. In 2003, Space Ace got his first comic book treatment from Crossgen Press. I’ve never read it, and as of press time, I couldn’t find any information concerning the Crossgen series. I’m guessing it was a failure, but that’s merely speculation.

Flash forward to the Corporate Age of Comics (present day). Space Ace #1 was shipped to comic shops and put onto the shelves on October 20th, 2009.

When I first saw Arcana Comics Space Ace #1 on the shelf, I asked myself, how could this book be bad? It was written by Robert Kirkman, and the artwork appeared to be fairly true to Don Bluth’s original art at first glance. Now that I’ve read it, I can honestly say that this comic is awful. It’s an insult to Bluth’s legacy and to the Space Ace mythos.

The most misleading part of the book is in its title. On the cover, Space Ace is prefaced by the words “Don Bluth Presents.” When I saw the cover I instantly was taken away to my childhood, remembering all those wonderful sounds and colors from Bluth’s detailed animations. I didn’t even think twice. I snatched it right up. Later, I went home to read it, in hopes to return to the more innocent days of my youth. In a sense, I did revisit my childhood. Because after reading this, I felt the same disappointment that I did after blowing $1 on a few minutes of game-play. Space Ace #1 was a total let down, and it left me deflated.

Space Ace and Kiberly from the original arcade game

Space Ace and Kimberly from the original arcade game

The artwork is decent, but Space Ace looks much better as an animated character. I mostly blame Paulo Borges for this story’s lack of visual appeal. I personally know artists that can make a comic book page come to life with movement, and his drawings don’t create that illusion. In Borges’ defense, I’m not sure any artist could have transferred the Space Ace animation into the comic book medium successfully. Paulo Borges’ rendering of Don Bluth’s detailed animations makes the characters and backgrounds appear simplistic and stiff. The characters’ movement seems confined and restricted. Space Ace is mainly known for his popularity as an animated character. So it’s hard to envision the panels as anything more than a story board for a cartoon pitch. I just felt I was looking at an incomplete artistic work. Borges style lacks Buth’s charm and detail. Also, for a nostalgic property, it was off-putting to see all the digital coloring and computerized effects. It was a Space Ace story, but it sure as hell didn’t feel like it. When I was reading the book, I was distracted by all the digital backgrounds. All the pixelization is very disengaging, and gives it an inorganic feel. This works as a great disadvantage when recreating an animated world where every detail was originally hand painted. It’s like replacing puppets with CGI; It just doesn’t work. God, I hope George Lucas is reading this.

Ace and his alternate ego, Dexter, lack detail and are poorly drawn when compared to the original games and cartoons. Kimberly (Space Ace’s love interest) lacks the charisma and pin-up quality that made her so attractive in the games and cartoons. My first rush of male hormones raced through my blood when I saw Don Bluth’s voluptuous depiction of Kimberly with that ‘oops you caught me doing something bad, but I don’t mind’ look on her face. Yes, I realize the previous sentence was an extremely sad statement. My prepubescent hormones aside, Borges’ version of Kimberly pales in comparison to the original. Space Ace’s supporting characters and villains look like they belong in a forgotten Z-list cartoon, not an expanded tale of a beloved nostalgic property. Bottom line, the artwork looks rushed, and doesn’t do justice to the story or the characters.

Another thing working against this book is the writing. I’ll give Robert Kirkman props for the basic panel layout and story concept, but that’s where my kudos end. It’s basically a picture book, and reads like a Spidey’s Super Stories comic. Space Ace #1 has twenty-two pages of story, four splash pages, and twelve pages with little to no dialogue. I didn’t even get a chance to get comfortable before I was finished reading the issue.

One of four Splash pages in Space Ace #1

One of four splash pages in Space Ace #1

The basic concept of the story is simple, but it follows the continuity of the Space Ace game, so I appreciated that. Although, for the most part, it seemed the plot points were developed to set up one splash page after another, and Paulo Borges’ artwork simply doesn’t support this kind of story telling. If you’re a fan of the Space Ace cartoon and/or game, you probably won’t like this comic. There’s a good cliff hanger at the end, but I won’t be picking up another issue from this series to find out what happens next. I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone. It’s too simple for a child, but contains a character that is mostly remembered and followed by those in their late 20’s/early 30’s. I don’t know who the target audience is here, but it’s not me. Save the two or three minutes of your life (that I’ve lost and will never get back), and completely avoid Space Ace #1. On a more positive note, my grandmother just died, and my dog was hit by a car.

More Space Ace goodness: Space Ace arcade game trailer (video), Complete Space Ace arcade game-play animation (video), Saturday Supercade Space Ace opening sequence (video), Main intro and theme song for Saturday Supercade (video)Game’ (a review of the Space Ace arcade game), (a great fan site with scans from magazine’s containing articles about Space Ace), (Don Bluth’s biography)

Josh Jones



  1. billy

    Good article JJ. I remember that crappy Saturday morning show. lol

  2. You should meet The Angry Video Game nerd who reviewed another line of these games, Dragon’s Lair, and ripped it to shreds:

    Great closing sentence too, by the way. lol

  3. I was laughing though most of this article. I was to young to become a fan, but I will check out the cartoon for educational purpose. This one is probably one of best comic articles that I have read form you. Sorry to hear of the bad news on life it sucks.

  4. Wendy

    I had to be extra good to even get a quarter for the gumball machine. I remember those kids at the skating rink who had so much cash! Nice article! I can not believe how ugly new comic art is. Maybe next time on revisiting the fondness instead of frustration from childhood loves.

  5. Danadu

    You would think the publisher would realize that the only people who know the characters are now old enough to want a real story with a bit more complicated plots and art than say a child’s alphabet book or an episode of Teletubbies. At least after watching the “tubbies” you have a nice tranquilized feeling.

  6. Infinite Speech

    I was one of those guys that was pluggin’ away at Space Ace for a bit then just gave up because even at that young age I know a rip off when I see one lol You were SO right about those damn controls man just horrible. In regards to the book though from what you just described it just seems like these guys didn’t really put a lot of effort in the project…ah well there will probably be a Dragon’s Lair release soon to follow lol

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