A Star-Lord for His Time

Marvel Preview 15
Joe Jusko

Peter Quill, Star-Lord, cosmic adventurer. Once obscure 70s sci-fi hero, soon to be headlining a big-budget summer blockbuster hopeful. But, in essence, who is he?

If you are like me, you had never heard of him before picking up the first issue of Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2008 re-launch. At the time, I had only just recently returned to regular comics buying, so I had not yet read any of the Annihilation sagas which reintroduced Star-Lord to readers. One evening, though, I was at a massive recent back issue sale with a friend of mine (literally, the sale was “is it on the new release wall? No? Then, it’s a dollar.” Gotta love Forbidden Planet). So, as we were combing through seemingly endless long boxes, pulling out tons of comics, he handed me a copy of Guardians #1 and told me I really needed to read it. Now, I have fond memories of the Jim Valentino series from the 90s which dealt with the original 31st Century incarnation of the team. A Guardians comic that was set in contemporary times? I had no frame of reference for that. Still, he repeated that I should try it, and trusting his taste, I picked up the first few issues. (Hey, is that Vance and Starhawk on a cover? OK, I know who those guys are. What do you mean that lanky-looking emo guy is Adam Warlock?).

Needless to say, I was quickly hooked. DnA’s run was a fantastic mix of humor, character work and adventure that also hit a few of my nostalgia buttons for Jim Starlin’s cosmic greatness. The book featured a team line-up that shifted on a regular basis (one aspect of DnA’s run that does not get remarked upon as much is their willingness to kill off characters). Always at the center of the title, however, was Peter Quill, an earthman who rose to the challenge of, well, guarding the galaxy, when no one else wanted the job. At times, he might seem too laid-back or goofy, yet he always proved worthy of leadership. His final scene in The Thanos Imperative is one of my favorite comic book moments.  

gotg issue 2
Paul Pelletier

Star-Lord’s history prior to Annihilation is pretty sparse though. Scattered appearances in misc. Marvel anthologies in the late 70s/early 80s are all there is. Over the past year, Marvel has been releasing a series of low-priced reprints of this material. Recently I read the second of these collections, Star-Lord: Worlds on the Brink. I had no idea really what to expect from these stories. Would they be forgotten gems, or did the character fall into obscurity for very good reasons?     

The first thing I noticed before even starting these stories is the amount of talent that was devoted to them: Chris Clarement with Carmine Infantino on two tales, while Doug Moench and Gene Colan handled the third. Definitely no second-stringers involved. Also rapidly apparent was Quill’s different power set. He was in possession of an “element gun” which had the ability to fire any of the four elements; its power was limited only by Peter’s will. He also seemed to fly on a regular basis which is not something I recall him being able to do in the DnA stories. Most significantly, though, is his status as a loner.

Instead of leading a team like the Guardians, Star-Lord travels the universe in a sentient spacecraft called “Ship”. He and Ship display an informal relationship, such as Ship’s habit of calling Peter “boy-o”. Their easy going dynamic is quite appealing. Even without such plot devices as Ship temporarily inhabiting a female body to assist Peter, it is clear that Claremont and Moench were teasing out a romantic relationship between these two characters. This plot thread of man in love with an A.I. holds up pretty well, despite the many variations on it that have appeared since (Alex + Ada and Her are the two most recent examples which come to mind). Somewhere in the early 00s, Ship was destroyed, leaving Peter on his own until he found a new purpose in the aftermath of Annihilation. Now that I have met her, though, I miss her. One of the main reasons I want to read more of these early tales is for more Ship. (She also has a first rate, streamlined design).

Ship Byrne
John Byrne

The most striking difference between these earlier stories and Star-Lord’s current portrayals is his core personality. As I said above, the Star-Lord from DnA forward is a joking, playful type (from what little we have seen so far, Chris Pratt’s film version seems to indulge in a bit of full-out snark). The 70s Peter Quill is quite different. He is tougher, more stoical. Not really less talkative, yet definitely more serious. He is much more the traditional male action hero of the Clint Eastwood type. In fact, these stories do feel like the type of science-fiction which is essentially the standard tropes of the Western transferred to the stars. In place of a mysterious stranger riding into town to solve its troubles, Star-Lord charges in on his spacecraft. Each story features Peter finding himself suddenly embroiled in a confusing alien conflict, which mirrors some of the social issues of the day. Actually, these plots reminded me of the basic formula of a Star Trek episode, a franchise just beginning its big screen journey around this time. And now that I think of it, both takes on Peter Quill have a dash of Captain Kirk in them.

Star Lord Colan
Gene Colan

In the end, all this has me pondering how characters are reimagined for differing moments in popular culture. Star-Lord’s square-jawed, serious loner being as good a fit for the late 70s/early 80s, as the 00’s were the right time for something more quirky and ensemble-based. I do not intend to place one as superior to the other. I love the DnA style, yet also look forward to tracking down more of the original version. Neither invalidates the other, and can fit into one unified character arc. (Keith Giffen’s use of Star-Lord is a good transition from the one era to the next). Twenty years from now, cultural trends will have shifted again, and we’ll probably get another variation on Peter Quill, Star-Lord. You know, like every generation gets the Batman most meaningful to them.

Adam West vs. Christian Bale? Is there any reason we can’t have both?


8 thoughts on “A Star-Lord for His Time”

  1. Great article, Cosmo.

    Because of my love of the obscure characters I’ve always been a big fan of Star-Lord. My first introduction was some colour reprint deluxe baxter edition of the Claremont/Bryne/Austin tale from Marvel Preview (or something). I have since tracked down a copy of the original black and white magazine along with the other scattered appearances.

    I know that these days it’s all about the DnA Star-Lord and his appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and now the up-coming movie but it’s really the original character that I love.

    The original costume, the element gun, ship… Even the silly origin story. I think it’s a real shame that it all got ret-conned out of existance. I liked what Giffen did with the character and had him being pals with Nova in Annihilation but I didn’t like such a radical departure.

    Plus all the terrible costumes they’ve had him in…

    I really thought “my” Star-Lord was coming back in Bendis/Bagley’s 8 issues Avengers Assemble story with Quill back in his original costume but, alas, that wasn’t to be. A real shame. It makes him stand out and has that nostalgia but I guess Marvel want to try and distance themselves from all that. These days Star-Lord is a completely different character and not anywhere near as great and unique as he was. At least there’s still those handful of old 70’s/80’s tales to enjoy and imagine what might have been.

    1. Thanks, streethawk, glad that you liked it.

      Yeah, Star-Lord has not been served well recently in the costume department. Personally, I liked the one from the DnA years, but everything post-Thanos Imperative has been horrible. Especially what they’ve done with the helmet. Ick.

      I’d like to go back and read some of the Giffen Star-Lord material again. As I remember it, Peter’s pretty surly and stand-offish when we first encounter him on the prison planet in the Thanos series. The wound of losing Ship seems fresh and he has little interest in other people. Then Annihilation forces him into the forefront of events. His friendship with Nova forms, which opens him up a little. Then in Conquest he’s put in charge of a team, which looses him a more. So, yes, if you jump straight from the Claremont/Moench material to DnA it’s a bit of a 180. That’s why the Giffen stories make a good bridge between the two. Really, Giffen is the unsung architect of Marvel’s cosmic line; it really was him that transitioned it from the late Starlin period to the DnA years . . .

      I don’t judge any the Guardians by the current Bendis run, as it hasn’t worked that well for me . . .

  2. The only issues I read in the 70’s/80’s were the ones illustrated by John Bryne. The next time I read about him was in Annilation Series. I got the relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy series (because it was illustrated by Paul Pelletier) and really liked the series( it introduced Cosmo the dog) despite its eventually cancellation.

    I felt in the 80’s, they patterned Starlord’s personality to the Logan’s Run character which was all business like but the current version is much more jovial.

    I’m currently confused because Peter supposedly sacrificed himself in the cancer-verse along with Richard Rider but somehow he reappeared in Avengers Assembled along with the Guardians like nothing happen. I hope Marvel gets around to explain this anomaly.

    This was a nice trip down memory lane, Cosmo and very timely for those about to watch the movie.

    1. Thanks Jeremy.

      As you might have guessed, I am a huge fan of the DnA Guardians series; one of my favorite series of the last several years.

      You’re not the only one confused about the whole Cancer-verse thing post-Thanos Imperative. Unless it’s happened after I dropped Guardians, no one has said anything about how either Peter or Thanos got free. Peter has alluded to the experience so it hasn’t been ret-conned away. I did hear that this might be one of the plot threads that Starlin is planning to address in his upcoming Thanos graphic novel. Also, while we’re on the subject didn’t Thanos kill Drax in Thanos Imperative? I don’t think that Drax’s return has ever been explained either . . .

      Oh, and Cosmo hates to be a stickler, but Cosmo remembers first appearing in Nova’s title, though he spent more time hanging around with his Guardian pals afterwards. Earthman Peter always gave Cosmo good scratch behind the ear . . .

      1. I stand corrected, sir. It’s been awhile since I read that Nova series and quite frankly don’t even remember much about the series. But like you said, he appeared much more frequently in Guardians which is probably why I thought he was introduced there.

        It’s been awhile since I read Thanos Imperative too and had forgotten about Drax’s demise in it. I think the writers or editors are forgetting stuff too as they don’t seem to be keep tracking of the dead very well either

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