Think of the 1987 anime-inspired American animated series Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs as an Avatar: The Last Airbender of the 80's. It is not a perfect comparison, as the latter is a completely original creation while Saber Rider is a loose adaptation of an anime series, but it is similar in that it is a western studio working with an aesthetic that is quite foreign to them. Avatar did this in the Internet Age. Saber Rider did not. It is no surprise then that the original series is a little rough around the edges in ways not entirely unlike Thundercats at its lowest. After almost thirty years, Lion Forge Comics has rebooted the Voltron-esque space western super robot series as an entertaining and sleek limited comic series.
Saber Rider #1 is visually striking immediately, courtesy of Sendol Arts. It very quickly reveals itself as a obviously-anime-but-somehow-not-completely style, but with, most of the time at least, artistic and computer-rendered sheen that is reminiscent of the work of Studio Bones, or even the aesthetically beautiful Gundam SEED. The production quality of the original show unwittingly emphasizes the western portion of space western, whereas the comic reinforces the futuristic aspects. We do not see much of the world of Saber Rider in this issue (though I would certainly bet money that this will change in later issues), as most of the action takes place in close quarters. It is in these close quarters that the art loses some of its appeal, as some panels don't quite come across as well as previous ones, and characters' faces seem a little strange. It's in these positions, however, that the writing excels.
Mairghread Scott has both an uphill and downhill battle at the same time with reimagining this already reimagined source material. The successes that come with the writing risk seeming inherent in the original work, and the flaws of the original work, despite no fault of the writer, risk seeming magnified compared to the nostalgia-protected 80's series. This is an issue with many post-Beast Wars Transformers releases, with which Scott has experience writing. The handling of these characters manages to improve on their initial depictions, especially with Rider and Colt. The balancing act between genuine character moments and tense mystery when Rider, by-the-books Star Sheriff, and Colt, Spike Spiegal reminiscent bounty hunter, investigate an empty train car in distress is remarkably compelling and impressive. Interplay between these two characters is what is going to have me eagerly awaiting the next issue. Well, that and the last frame of this issue.
April Eagle and Jesse Blue (regrettable names from the original series) are less impressive. April joins in very late and apart from some expository introductions doesn't have much to do, while the turncoat Jesse Blue is much more interesting through stories told about him than actual moments with him, though it will be interesting to see where both of these characters go.
Issue #1 of Saber Rider is out 03/16/16 and, despite some vestigial issues inherited from the source material, promises to be a series to keep on your radar.