Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Claremont, Byrne & Austin's Classic Take on Star-Lord

After his first appearance in Marvel Preview #4, what made Marvel decide to take a second shot at Star-Lord?  Were the sales good on that issue, or did the editors see the potential in the Berni Wrightson pinup?

Over a year later, we saw the sequel in Marvel Preview #11 (1977).  With Englehart no longer available to continue as writer, editor John Warner assembled the perfect creative team to revive the character: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin!  In his editorial, Warner called the creative team (with Tom Orzechowski on letters) magic"Five people forming a perfect and balanced synthesis of concept and execution, each one's contribution enriching the one before it." 

Starlord splash in Marvel Preview 11 1977 by John Byrne and Terry Austin

The splash page opened like an epic movie.  In this one page, we already know the Byrne has figured out the essence of the character that Wrightson pinup showed us.  Marvel Preview #11, like most Marvel magazines, was printed in glorious black and white.  I think the artwork by Byrne and Austin looks superior that way, but just for contrast, I'll show some panels from the 1981 Star-Lord Special Edition comic that reprinted this story in color.

Windholme opening splash in Star-Lord Marvel Preview 11

Like many great films or novels, the story doesn't open on the main character.  The reader is treated to a double page spread of a world called "Windholme" that has been invaded by an enslaving alien race.  We are introduced to two supporting characters: Kip, a native who has psychic abilities, and Sandy, a young woman with street smarts and good at hand to hand combat.  Take a look at the detail on the first half of this page--Byrne and Austin knocked themselves out drawing this scene as the humans are corralled into space-ships.  They are going to be "sealed within our slave-pens" as the Anubian lord says on top.

This story was written by Chris Claremont in his prime.  I hear people on various message boards and podcasts slamming Claremont and Byrne; I find it sickening.  It's hard for them to imagine that Claremont was once as popular as Bendis or Johns.  He wrote this issue of Star-Lord as his terrific Iron Fist run concluded, and as he was taking the X-Men to encounter the Shi'ar Empire.  In a text piece after the story, Claremont talks about his love for science fiction novels, especially his love for Robert Heinlein. "I grew up reading his so-called juveniles," Claremont wrote.  "Hell, I read every book of his I could get my hands on as soon as I could find them."

Star-Lord's reimagining as a swashbuckling anti-authority hero puts him square in the Heinlein mold.  George R.R. Martin may have been another influence: Windholme reminds me slightly of Windhaven, an early Martin story that appeared in Analog (1975).

Starlord in his invisible Ship

As the reader sees Star-Lord for the first time through the eyes of the alien starship's bridge--he appears to be just sitting in empty space!  If you see this bridge in other panels, there is a wink and a nod to classic Star Trek.  Star-Lord isn't merely sitting on his butt...he's sitting in a wondrous spaceship that is invisible.

Starlord's sentient Ship

Peter Quill's ally throughout this issue and all the ones following it was a sentient, morphing starship--simply called Ship--that shared a unique bond with him.  Ship had a female persona and was most definitely in love with Peter.  Her conversations with Peter were quite humorous at times.  If you remember the first Star-Lord story, Peter Quill was a jerk, but Ship's interaction with Peter---plus his heroic actions--make him an extremely likeable character in this tale.

I'm not really up on the latest take on Star-Lord in the Annihilation series and everything that followed.  From Wikipedia I see that Ship was destroyed in Annihilation: Starlord Conquest.  Sounds like Keith Giffen, blowing up things he doesn't care for!  While I like what I've seen so far in the new Guardians of the Galaxy, that Peter Quill seems like a watered down version of the one I fell in love with.  Who in their right mind would get rid of Ship?

Montage of Starlord in action

When Star-Lord invades the alien slaver ship, we are treated to a terrific montage of him battling the alien slavers.  From this point on, he hooks up with Kip and Sandy, and starts to track down the real masterminds behind this operation.

Splash of Cinnabar by Byrne and Austin

The concepts, planets, and alien races in this epic story just keep on coming.  We see another terrific splash page introducing us to Cinnabar, a hellish world with anti-gravity palaces built by the merchant lords of the galaxy.  Again, just great line and detail work here by Byrne and Austin.

To show you that Byrne invested a great deal of energy in this project, he also wrote a text piece in Marvel Preview #11, where he discussed the portrayal of aliens in the Marvel Universe and the aliens he designed for this story.  Byrne writes: "...STARLORD is a fantasy.  It's Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.  It's Star Trek.  And so we bend the truth a little, to allow for cross breeding, and romances between alien races."

Starlord swashbuckles with a sword

Eventually all trails lead to Prince Gareth and his band of aliens--the exact same aliens who came to Earth in Marvel Preview #4 and killed Peter's mother.  It's a great chance for Peter to pick up a sword and deal with them in typical swashbuckling style.  The dispatching of the villains isn't even the end of the story--there's more revelations about Peter's past, and hope for his future, that rounds out this tale.

This Star-Lord story is one of the best comics ever produced in the 1970s.  At 50 pages in length, with a self-contained narrative, it should really be called a graphic novel.  Everyone involved in the production recognized that they had captured lightning in a bottle.

Claremont and Byrne's epic story propelled Star-Lord into more stories, although this would be the only time that Byrne and Austin drew the character.  Star-Lord appeared in three more Marvel Preview magazines (14, 15, 18), the first two written by Claremont and drawn by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek.  There was the full color Marvel magazine, Marvel Super Special #10 by Doug Moench, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.  And in 1980, regular Marvel comic appearances in Marvel Spotlight by Moench and Tom Sutton.  None of these stories ever came close to the original magic captured in Preview #11...which is why the character faded away after a while.

If you are a classic Marvel fan and can find Marvel Preview #4 or the Star-Lord Special Edition color reprint for sale, by all means pick it up.  Nuff said!


  1. I have to agree with you, I read it when I was young, and whilst I like the fact Peter Quill is having a resurgence, I think the new version does miss so much of the original magic (and I do love Giffen's work..), but killing off Ship was the wrong move IMHO :(

    1. Exactly! What's cooler than a sentient ship? And the costume of Star-Lord as Byrne drew it was a classic. Not sure why they want to throw that away. He doesn't even fly in the new version, does he?

  2. I had that colored version. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin. Classic!!