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.
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).
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.
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?