Thursday, September 3, 2009

Star-Lord's Black and White Origin in Marvel Preview #4

In September, we celebrate Marvel’s science fiction heroes and stories that originated in the 70s and 80s.  Some of these continue on in the current Marvel cosmic line, most notably Star-Lord!

Marvel Preview 4 1976, First appearance of StarLord

Star-Lord premiered in the black and white magazine, Marvel Preview #4.  It had a gorgeous cover, painted by Gray Morrow, showing the character gliding through an alien planet.  This cover and the costume design had me sold right away.  Here was a guy who looked like an intergalactic cop patrolling the galaxy with a fancy gun strapped to his waist.  Archie Goodwin’s editorial echoed my sentiments:  I Say It’s Space Opera And To Hell With It!

In his introduction to the story, writer Steve Englehart mentions that Marv Wolfman came up with the character name Star-Lord, leaving it to Steve to conceive and flesh out the details.  Englehart described his interest in astrology—and several astrological details are sprinkled throughout Star-Lord’s origin.  Surprisingly—despite Englehart’s interest in mysticism and philosophy—the lead character Peter Quill seems like a real dick in this first appearance!

StarLord splash page by Steve Gan Marvel Preview 4

The artwork in this first story was by Steve Gan.  Was he a Filipino artist?  You can see similarities to Tony DeZuniga, but also some inspiration from Joe Kubert.

Many science fiction stories have the same structure as Western stories.  Star-Lord’s origin is one of them.  The story opens with Peter Quill’s birth—he’s born into conflict immediately, as Meredith’s (his mother) husband believes that Peter isn’t his son.  Well, he’s not, and it’s a plot detail that Chris Claremont would develop later.  He takes baby Peter outside to kill him with an axe, but dies from a heart attack.  The baby boy goggles at the nighttime stars in a precursor of things to come.  Later, Meredith is murdered by aliens from another world.  Peter Quill swears an oath of vengeance and will do anything it takes to get it.  Which bears a similarity to countless Western tales about young cowboys whose families are slaughtered by Indians and swear vengeance!

Peter Quill receives the StarLord costume in Marvel Preview 4

Peter Quill acts like a jerk for the rest of the story, cheating his way into a space program, even killing other astronauts in order to become the Star-Lord.  He’s transported away before being killed by a firing squad by “the Master of the Solar System” (who looked too much like the wizard Shazam to me) who gives him the Star-Lord costume.  Peter Quill has the ability to fly in space and shoot an elemental gun.  The Master gives Peter his big chance to murder the dirty aliens who killed his Mom, and the story ends with the hope that now—with his hatred finally extinguished—Peter will become a true hero.

StarLord promo 1974

Truth being told, the origin story was a lot less than I had hoped for, after being hyped up from the promo ads and covers.  I loved Englehart, but I couldn’t believe he wrote such a flawed character.  I was expecting something more…Heinlein-esque…which Chris Claremont and John Byrne would deliver a year or so in the future.  Tune back into Giant-Size Marvel for the rebirth of Star-Lord!  Nuff said.

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