Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CBR Star-Lord


Here's a review to loosely tie into the Guadians of the Galaxy's film release - yeah, I know, I'm super late on this one.

Anyway, here's review...

Comic title: STAR-LORD: Guardian of the Galaxy
Art by Steve Gan, John Byrne, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Tom Sutton, Michael Golden & Dan Lawlis  
Written by Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, Doug Moench & Timothy Zahn

Published by Marvel Comics
From 2014
Lineup Marvel Universe/Guardian of the Galaxy series
Format: Trade paperback collecting Marvel Preview #4, 11, 14-15, 18; Marvel Super Special #10; Marvel Spotlight vol. 2 #6-7; Marvel Premiere #61; and Star-Lord #1-3.


Well, the character of Star-Lord is not an unknown anymore now. Thanks to a fairly successful fun movie directed by James Gunn, and released this summer to an unanimous good reception. But this wasn't the case only a few years ago, despite a fantastically received recent comic book take on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the 2000s.

But let's go back to Star-Lord himself for now.

A fairly recent addition to the Marvel Universe. Basically he was Marvel's answer to DC Comics' Adam Strange. A relatively recent character, inspired by 1960s classic science-fiction characters and old pulp serial characters.

Star-Lord was created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan. Inspired by the likes of Flash Gordon, John Carter or also Buck Rodgers, but mostly Adam Strange for the medium, with a dash of Green Lantern and Captain Marvel spread through his origin story. He first appeared in Marvel Preview #4 in 1976.

Star-Lord would sadly go on to be forgotten and disappearing from the funny books without a bang. Only getting a few sporadic appearances. He would be barely used anymore the next decades, ending forgotten in some prison in space in the story...

...That is, before Dan Abnett remembered him and decided to bring him back along several more forgotten Marvel heroes, brought together during the cosmic event "Annihilation".

This here above collection is a sort of Omnibus of sort, collecting all of Star-Lord's appearance prior to his return in Guardians. From his first appearance to his several mini-series during the 1980s to his last hurrah in 1997.

Marvel books have always been kind of anchored in science-fiction, sure. From the adventures of the Fantastic Four through time and space to the origins of Spider-man. But the publisher never produced proper "science-fiction" tales, pure tales of grand space opera.

And that's exactly what Steve Englehart wanted to explore. A real foray into pure science-ficton. Actually the closest they ever did to a pure scifi Marvel book had been the 1968 Arnold Drake and Gene Colan series "The Guardians of the Galaxy" in Marvel Super-Heroes. Those stories took place about 1000 years into the future, featuring plenty of alien races, spaceships, space-wars, exotic planets, etc.

This Star-Lord collection opens with Marvel Preview #4. It was a black & white one-shot story in Marvel Preview. We meet this young rebellious angsty teen, Peter Jason Quill. He was born "without a father". His step dad tried to kill him as a child (something that would never be mentioned anymore over the years, or simply forgotten on purpose). One day some aliens arrived on Earth looking for his mother, Meredith Quill, and killed her. Why? Well, that's the story for another time. Looking to get his revenge on those aliens, he would then join NASA and focus his entire life into getting to space. The best in the new space program, he was banned from the mission when proved too much trouble to join a team. After adjusting his temper, he tried again and this time was finally able to get on the mission. One day, aboard the satellite, everybody saw a strange projection calling for the crew to select their most reliable man to become... STAR-LORD! Peter lost his temper again, blasted his way into getting selected for the role... Met a strange strange man named "the Master of the Sun" and forced therefore his way into becoming the only candidate to be this "Star-Lord"! A sort of "space policeforce" this Master of the Sun was putting in place...

Part Captain Marvel/Shazam, part-Green Lantern tale, this story was mostly establishing the basis for Steve Englehart to explore other themes he really was interested in at the time. The whole cosmic-scene. But also astrology. Star-Lord embraces this bigger picture astrological aspect (which would e ditched over the years). And Steve Gan's is perfectly suited for this tale. Grand. Epic. Almost old timey, but on purpose.

Following this first appearance, Steve Englehart wouldn't return to the character, instead focusing on several other ideas he wanted to explore. The problem is Marvel Preview was an anthology series. Each new issue focusing on different tales and characters. For the time for Marvel to greenlight a proper Star-Lord continuation, several months had already passed since then. Englehart wasn't coming back, and without the same background or interest in the subject, nobody would ever keep that astrology tone.

The original plan was apparently to open Star-Lord to the whole cosmic astrology angle. Opening him to a larger universe in further adventures. The idea was to have next Star-Lord go from one planet to the next, having one action story on Mercury, to a love story onVenus, a war story on Mars, and so forth. 

Star-Lord was then changed slowly, as his background would be greatly explored and expanded. From rebelious vengeful figure to would be hero, and then to "Guardian of the Galaxy!" (as per Chris Claremont's own words, before Star-Lord ever got to join that team)

This collection then proceeds to reprint the next adventures following his debut, including a giant-size tale and a much later mini-series, his last appearance. About a dozen or so issues worth of material.

Never properly explicitly connect to the larger Marvel Universe. Star-Lord is a character that started with a much harder edge at first, always angry at the world, those aliens that killed his mother, before slowly changing into this much more charming guy he is nowadays. It would also be revealed over the next stories how he actually born the son of a human mother, as we know it, and an alien father!

Star-Lord was now in the hands of writer Chris Claremont and classic comic book artist John Byrne. Their first adventure was published in "Marvel Preview #11". Claremont greatly expanded upon the basis and basically established all the classic elements of the character that are still very much present to this day. Peter is now embarking on all sorts of adventures with his intelligence shape-shifting alien Ship, who is shown to care a lot about Peter, calling him even "Boyo!". Peter has this element gun that can channel all four elements. The character was slowly revamped for a much better gentler persona, doubting himself and having a lot of issues with how he come to be Star-Lord, regretting his sins of the past. We also discover Star-Lord apparently has had cybernetic implants allowing him to understand all these alien languages. His first epic tale is very much inspired by the likes of John Carter. He embarks on this quest against the slavers from the Spartoi Empire, he helps these two young kids escaping from a slaver ship only to find out a conspiracy between the local Emperor Jason and a Prince Gareth trying to usurp the throne... Only to find out this J'son of Spartax (how the character has since then been known) was actually his very own father! There's great action scenes, great banter between the character. Star-Lord is now a much more fun figure, Ship always has some sarcastic comments to make. Byrne's art is of course gorgeous. Very fitting for all these creatures and fascinating technology and worlds.

Next are "Marvel Preview #14-15", with artist Carmine Infantino taking over art duties. They're equally interesting, exploring now the "character" of Ship. Issue #14 revolves around Ship making up a human form in order to follow Peter on his adventures, and the next issue is about a war between words. Ship wants Peter to save a pacific specie on one of these worlds by destroying the larger armada from the local tyrants. But Peter has made a vow, he will never take a life anymore!

"Marvel Super Special #10" marked the first time Star-Lord was seen in color! With Claremont finally leaving the character after all this time. It's a very unusual almost-trippy story (it was that time..). Star-Lord is zapped to this very odd world where it appears humans now reside in the future.. But in fact it's just how things seem to appear to him..

Star-Lord then returned to black and white in "Marvel Preview 18". A kinda forgettable but interesting story by Doug Moench, with great art from Bill Sienkiewicz. Another world at war between different classes of citizens, the original inhabitants of the planet trying to regain the rights to their world from the new occupants. But what can Peter do when both parties appear to be innocent, and he swore to never kill anymore...

Those above were all published under the "Marvel Preview" banner. Apart from the usual regular Marvel comics on a much cheaper paper and aimed at children. Used to provide better deeper stories from great writers, for more adult readers actually. Then Star-Lord made the jump under the regular Marvel banner. And what followed were some less than stellar stories, his first foray under the Marvel Comics Group, in color, with classic Marvel cover design, under the comic code, Marvel logo and all. "Marvel Spotlight #6-7" featured more classic Marvel-styled art. I found it here prettybad to be honest (specially compared to what preceded it). These stories tried to unnecessary revamp and expand previous points of the character's history. Such as explaining who or what this "Master of the Sun" was (how it turns out to be an alien on the run, and neither a master nor on the sun). And tying it all into the reptilians alien that were hired to kill Meredith Quill. The second Spotlight issue is kinda better but it's a pretty cheesy story around this fictive religion of butterfly-like people, mixing a bit of Native American mythology in there. There's just so many threads and yet so little actual story... Those were followed by another similar story, in "Marvel Premiere #61". About this living planet trying to merge with living forms. My main issue with these stories are how they simply turned the original science-fiction of Star-Lord into plain regular "cassic Marvel comic", instead of the mucb better proper scifi tale the character was supposed to represent. With silly recap of his origin every first few pages and even a "Stan Lee present" at each beginning (it's so ridiculous, I mean I doubt "the Man" even knows Star-Lord existed, at least back then).

Finally the character was retired for the next decade, only to return in a limited mini-series that lasted from December 1996 to February 1997, "Star-Lord #1-3". It was written by (would be) longtime Star Wars comics writer Timothy Zahn, with art by Dan Lawlis.  This mini-series took Star-Lord's disappearance into account. It saw a new protagonist, the young telepath Sinjin Quarrel, finding Ship lost on this outer-rim planet. It has been 12 years since Peter Quill disappeared. Sinjin finds himself forced to take on the Star-Lord persona while facing the local thug who has been blackmailing everyone around him. Our new hero decides to slightly upgrade the Star-Lord costume (a new retractable helmet, like in the film) and Ship was given a new much required updated design courtesy from Dan Lawlis. It's a very fun story, bringing Star-Lord back on the frontscene, while kinda frustrating because it doesn't give us Peter Quill back, missing in this tale.

And that's it for Star-Lord's original adventures.

There's also some samples from "Star-Lord: The Special Edition" a special color reprint of Preview #11. Just the newly added framing pages, which take place years later, showing us Peter Quill would be back after a long disappearance, once more taking the name Star-Lord and reunited with Ship.

Also reprinted here in this book are several editorial notes from the various creative teams over the years, as well as a character bio from the Marvel Encyclopedia up to date, lots of pin-up art made around the various issues and minis and "A special Marvel Team-Up Starring... Star-Lord and Forbush-Man" bonus, silly, but really fun - taken from Marvel Age #46.

Overall, Recommended for fans of the character, the Guardians of the Galaxy or just good science-fiction in general.

Star-Lord's a pretty basic scifi hero when you come down to it. He wants to do good. He wants to be better. He has several flaws he has no problem admitting having. But he's a good guy at heart. He serves mostly as best as a proxy to these big epic colorful tales around space. And let's not forget how this character served as the first team up between Claremont and Byrne, who would go on to have a much bigger success on the X-Men years later.  

Not everything is on the same quality level in this book, to be honest. I consider the first half as well as the last mini well worth the price of the entire book, and Highly Recommended reads! Specially coming off such a great film as James Gunn's take on the Guardians of the Galaxy. But most of the rest of the content is a different story altogether, just average otherwise. Most of it simply doesn't read that great and just seems to be redoing the same narrative, again and again, always exploring the same ideas.

It's a shame for such a character supposed to open us our imagination, where space is but the only limit!

Still. For about  424 pages, it's a great book. With Star-Lord, reading through the entire history of the character is easy and possible since this book about covers it all.

This book collects all the main Star-Lord tales reprinted previously in three separate trade paperbacks under the titles: "Star-Lord: Hollow Crown", "Star-Lord: Worlds on the Brink" and "Star-Lord: Tears for Geaven".

I give it:
2 / 3 Howards!

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