Mike Luoma's "Cosmic Crackle" - Who are the "Guardians of the Galaxy?"
Star-Lord: Part One - His Origin, with Insights from
writers Chris Claremont and Steve Englehart
With Marvel announcing Guardians of the Galaxy as their new big movie, many folks are wondering, "Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy?" I've spent the last few installments of my Cosmic Crackle looking at the team that originally bore the name. But that team isn't the one that will be featured in the movie. Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning - known to their fans by the combined nickname "DnA" - created a new team, a new Guardians of the Galaxy, about five years ago. That's the one we see in the new concept art released by Marvel Studios.
The current Guardians of the Galaxy teamgrew out of events in the Annhilation: Conquest miniseries. Post-Conquest, the new Guardians of the Galaxy series ran from 2008 through 2010, ending with issue #25. Since then, team members have appeared in some additional miniseries. The apparently reassembled Guardians of the Galaxy have re-appeared in the new Avengers Assemble title from Marvel. They've even been on TV of late, on the animated TV series The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episode "Michael Korvac" - written by DnA.
Closed my last column with the bold statement that the rebirth of Marvel Cosmic began with Thanos issue #7, as writer Keith Giffen started the "Samaritan" storyline. He reintroduced a character who would go on to lead the new Guardians of the Galaxy, a character I consider important enough that I date the rebirth of Marvel Cosmic to his re-introduction.
He's the human guy with the strange helmet and mask in the center of the picture above. Oh, and the two big guns. Peter Quill - half-human, half Spartoi (a humanoid alien race) - meets Thanos during the Samaritan storyline and says he used to be known as the Star-Lord. The new age of Marvel Cosmic had begun.
My original encounter with Peter Quill as a character was in the pages of the first Annihilation miniseries in 2006, written by Giffen and edited by Andy Schmidt - which is excellent, by the way. As written by Giffen, Quill was in a post-heroic funk after being responsible for unspecified death on a planetary scale. His sour attitude contrasted brilliantly with the more optimistic and upbeat NOVA - Richard Rider - throughout Annihilation.
Decided to try to find more stories with Star-Lord - also called "The" Star-Lord, or "Starlord" - the character had resonated with me. The worlds-weary intergalactic cowboy archetype is a favorite, Han Solo included. Found that Giffen had been planting the seeds for Annihilation in the Thanos series and discovered it was there that Star-Lord - Peter Quill had re-entered the Marvel Universe. There wasn't much recent before that, however. Turned out before the Thanos series, the character of Peter Quill/Star-Lord had disappeared for a while.
Well. That seemed kind of mysterious. Love a good mystery. Was enjoying Peter Quill's adventures so I began tracking down Star-Lord's earlier appearances, picking up back issues and black-and-white Marvel magazines from the 1970s. Was also able to interview some of the creators who had brought Star-Lord to life over the years. He's such a cool character, with a great backstory.
It's a fun story to tell, and with the character about to be in a Major Motion Picture, it's my pleasure to introduce you to the career of Peter Quill - the Star-Lord.
The first four appearance of Star-Lord were in Marvel's black and white magazines in the mid-seventies. The Introduction to Marvel Preview Presents #4 tells us of "The Star-Lord: Who He Is And How He Came To Be" - as writer Steve Englehart authors the debut of Peter Quill - The Star-Lord.
Englehart's introduction is kind of a trippy, new age-y read, as he writes that he based the character's origins, in part, on astrology. The Star-Lord story in the issue is even titled " First House: Earth!" Englehart writes that then-editor Marv Wolfman called him and said, "Steve, we're going to do a new black-and-white science fiction adventure. I want to call the lead feature Star-Lord, and I'd like you to come up with the concept and character. Got any ideas about outer space?"
Englehart writes in his introduction that he had just been immersing himself in astrology and decided to bring it to bear on this story of the stars. He cast charts for the character of Peter Quill, but admits he gave the character a worse childhood than his charts indicated! He does reassure those who might worry, "Let me also make it clear that you, the reader, need know or believe not a thing about astrology to enjoy Star-Lord," but goes on to note that "all the astronomical data herein is correct."
He gave Quill a date of birth of February 4th, 1962. Why? I got in touch with Steve Englehart to find out more. "I think it was simply to make him an Aquarius, who are more likely to stand back from the ebb and flow of life to gain a perspective on it," Englehart said. "In other words, he was a solitary figure. But that doesn't mean all Aquariuses are. In addition, Aquarius is the traditional 'sign' of astrology, for the reason just given. And finally, there was a planetary alignment on that day."
Another interesting note in the book's introduction - Englehart makes it clear he's not writing in regular Marvel continuity, as he finishes the introduction by writing that Quill's "future is entirely speculative. Furthermore, it's not related to any other speculative future in the Marvel Universe."
Englehart said Star-Lord wasn't envisioned as part of the Marvel Universe by intention. Marvel Preview Presents' more adult, black and white format allowed him to write a "more complex" character. "He was designed to be an asshole because I could never do a character like that in regular comics, Englehart said. "He wouldn't fit in the MU, where even the bad guys are somehow human - so I was taking advantage of the black and white possibilities. 'Peter' and 'Quill' both mean 'dick'."
Ah. And in this first issue, the character lived up to his name! As the first Star-Lord story begins, we're told Peter Quill was born at home somewhere in the Western United States on Sunday February 4th, 1962. His father doesn't think newborn Peter is his son and takes him out into the night to kill him! A heart attack fells the man and the newborn infant is left to lie alone under the stars abandoned until his poor mother crawls and retrieves him an hour later. His mother raises him alone, removed from the rest of society. Young Peter likes Star Trek and long walks in the woods. In the spring of '71 he finds a burnt clearing in the woods. His mother tells him people say it was a UFO landing site back in the '30s!
On August 11, 1973 Peter sees a ship land at the site. He gets his mother. Aliens emerge from the ship and, spotting the woman and boy, shoot at them. Peter's mother is killed by the aliens before they again take off... but nobody believes him when he tells the authorities what happened. He vows to avenge his mother's death! He's placed in an orphanage, runs away on his thirteenth birthday, and then we flash ahead to November 11, 1987, when twenty-five year old Peter Quill is in the astronaut training program. He isn't well liked because he can't relate to other people, only his pet owl. "I don't think his head's on just right," one character says about Quill. He's smart, he's brave, saves men's lives, but is emotionally stunted and socially inept.
Two years later in the summer of '89, Quill loses it, telling his superiors, "Screw You!" when he's passed over for the mission to Mars because, as he's told, "Men who live together in a cramped capsule for days and weeks on end must be compatible above all else... And Quill, you're compatible with no one!" He learns from this to fake a concern for his fellow man and gets a second chance to go to into space in the fall, up to the orbiting space station Eve. He finds peace among the stars, until two months later during a solar eclipse on January 26, 1990 when Everything Changes.
During the eclipse the image of the Star-Lord appears to the crew of the space station and a voice in their heads tells them, "You see before you the Star-Lord! As yet he is but a concept, visible only in your minds' silver eye." The voice tells them that in two weeks, when the Moon is eclipsed by the Sun, a Terran will be taken from the space station to "assume the Star-Lord's glorious destiny!"
Peter Quill, of course, volunteers, but is soundly rejected for lack of experience. He doesn't take it well, breaks things and is subdued, grounded and bounced from the space service. Quill doesn't let that stop him. The day of the lunar eclipse he clubs guards and threatens to kill people as he steals a ship from Canaveral and heads to the space station. Landing on the station, he shoots the guards there with his laser rifle. He blasts his way to where the Star-Lord had appeared. Cornered, about to be shot by five guards, Quill suddenly disappears! The cynical senator, guards and superiors left behind don't know if they've killed him or not. He's just gone.
Quill floats through space. He finds himself in a futuristic looking place in front of an old, gray-bearded man sitting on an ornate throne - who congratulates him on being chosen by his world to be the Star-Lord! The old man says he is the "Master of the Sun - - and thus, Master of the Solar System." Quill wonders if he's God. No, the Master of the Sun says he might look like people's concept of God, but "perhaps I... am not what I seem. And you?" Aware the "Master" sees through him, Quill confesses that he swore to avenge his mother's death, that's he's a "fraud - - maybe a madman, and maybe a murderer!" He asks the old man, "What are you going to do to me?"
"I shall make you a Star-Lord!" the old man proclaims. Quill is surprised to suddenly be in uniform, goggles on, helmet in hand. When he's surprised, the old man makes a cryptic reference to the outfit suddenly appearing, "as did you, nine months before your birth!" This may just be a reference to the miracle of life, or may mean something more. Chris Claremont certainly took this kernel of an idea and ran with it when he wrote the next Star-Lord story. More on that later.
Quill finds he can fly in the suit when he puts on the helmet. The helmet speaks to him and explains his "Element Gun." The Star-Lord's gun shoots the four elements: fire, water, air and earth - at his mental command! The Master of the Sun says, "the Weapon is invincible, Star-Lord. The one weakness in working your will is You." He asks Quill if he feels his vow to avenge the death of his Mother means the basis of his life is wrong.
When Quill says "No," Quill finds himself again in space, this time facing off against the reptilian aliens who killed his Mother! He lives out his revenge fantasy, killing them all, only to find himself again standing before the Master of the Sun, who tells Quill he's fulfilled his vow. But Quill isn't sure it actually happened! The Master of the Sun insists that Quill has experienced his vengeance. He's now "free" to start a new life, if he so wishes.
The story ends with the Master asking Peter to walk with him, "Come, Star-Lord, leave your madness behind..." and we are promised, "Peter Quill's strange destiny has only begun! Where it will lead lies in the future... vast and unknown as the horizon before him."
When Star-Lord next appears, in Marvel Preview Presents #11, his destiny has changed a bit, however. Englehart had left Marvel, so the creative team is entirely different. Chris Claremont took over writing duties, and Steve Gan was replaced on pencils by John Byrne. The astrological angle is gone. Editor John Warner explains in his forward: "unfortunately, no one but Steve Englehart... could have maintained it."
Warner also says the new story is set "some bit of time after Star-Lord's first appearance, so that we could make some alterations on Peter Quill's character... Chris and I felt uncomfortable with Quill being quite as twisted as he was in the first story. However, I don't think we have contradicted anything in the first issue." That may be true on the surface, but it's clear from reading Star-Lord's first issue that Englehart was setting up a much larger story that was then completely abandoned by the new team. Englehart said he'd planned for Quill to evolve, to become an "enlightened being".
"I envisioned it as a 12-part series, moving Quill from asshole to Star-Lord," Englehart explained. "Horoscopes have twelve houses, and it would have been a twelve-part series. But the real distinguishing feature between chapters would have been Quill moving outward through the solar system, having an episode on each planet in turn. Each episode would be keyed to the astrological meaning of the planet, so that on Mercury he would have a fast-action story involving twins, on Venus he would have a love story, on Mars a war story, etc.," Englehart said.
"As he passed through these different realities, he would discover his humanity, so that when he passed by Pluto he would have experienced all facets of life and be ready to take his place among the stars."
Englehart also had a unique vision when it came to the art for the series. "I probably couldn't have done it, but I'd have liked a different artist for each episode, so that each would be a sort of different reality, completely. What if the love story were drawn by Jay Scott Pike, a great DC romance artist, and the war story were drawn by Kubert or Severin, and so on?" One can only imagine! It all falls into the category of "What Might Have Been."
And so Claremont and Byrne take the character in a different direction in Marvel Preview Presents #11. This new Star-Lord story is "in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein" it states on the cover. Well, some early covers. After protests by Heinlein that cover blurb was removed on further printings. The story inside is heavily influenced by Heinlein's juvenile space adventures like Between Planets or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel! In an afterward at the end of the issue, Claremont even confesses to a fanboy moment when he first met the writer, tongue tied in Heinlein's presence.
"Part of the intent in Star-Lord was to capture the same sense of wonder and adventure in this comics story that I'd felt with (Robert A.) Heinlein's work," Claremont told me in an email interview. "Heinlein was one of the foundation inspirations of my own career as a writer. I'd been reading his work since I was a kid."
Claremont and Byrne weave a rollicking good space yarn for Star-Lord in Marvel Preview Presents #11, a radical shift away from the brooding vengeance that dominated the original story. Claremont remembered that decision came from editorial. "They liked the character and the fundamental concept - a young man from Earth who becomes a hero in space - there was simply a desire to try a different take on the concept," Claremont said, "as I recall - and bearing in mind that we're talking of events that occurred better than a quarter-century ago."
Claremont and Byrne were about to begin their legendary run on Uncanny X-Men (#108 - #143). According to Claremont, the Star-Lord story was their warm up. "It was essentially a sort of try-out piece for Uncanny X-Men, to see how he and Terry Austin and I meshed with story and readers. Off in our own little world we could hone our teamwork so that when we moved on to Uncanny we could hit the ground running full-tilt. Which is pretty much what happened. You could tell from the opening double-page spread that we were off on a fantastic and wonderful trip. It was almost a case of no matter what was asked of John, he delivered, creating a sequence of characters and events that were visually exciting and couldn't help but make the reader want to see what was coming next."
We don't see Star-Lord at first as the story opens. Claremont instead sets the stage with the enslavement of a planet by ruthless aliens. Once Star-Lord does appear, we're introduced to his new sentient transport - "Ship" - a vaguely feminine entity with whom Star-Lord shares a nebulously defined, empathic bond. She is his companion and his transportation, can change shape and size, and has small flying widgets that sometimes accompany Star-Lord - resembling a sort of female version of Booster Gold's Skeets (although Ship has more than one Widget). "I wanted to give Quill someone to talk to," Claremont said.
Star-Lord attacks the brutal slavers who are imprisoning the natives of the water world Windholme and frees the slaves they've taken from many different worlds. He befriends Windholmer Kip Holm, who's lost his family, and Sandy, another former slave. Looking for vengeance, Kip's telepathic gifts lead them to the planet Cinnibar and the home of the slave master Kyras Shakati, "whose power is said to rival that of the Emperor himself!"
Shakati catches, imprisons them, and subjects them to a "Telempathic Crystal's" mental attack. They break free, but through the crystal Shakati has discovered who Star-Lord really is - though Star-Lord himself does not know. This leads Shakati to exclaim, "that makes stopping you even more imperative, even if it costs my life. There's too much at stake!" To Star-Lord's disappointment, Sandy's thrown dagger kills Shakati before he can tell him anything else. She explains that Shakati was about to shoot Star-Lord at point blank range with a finger blaster.
Shakati has set his floating palace to self destruct. Star-Lord, Kip and Sandy are saved by Ship, who seems impervious to the blast around her. The blast makes Peter Quill wax eloquent. This is certainly a different character from the Peter Quill of the first issue: "It's beautiful isn't it? ...I look at this, at all the wonders... the universe has to offer... and I cry inside at how easily - - how casually - - we destroy them with our wars." Kip and Sandy don't understand, and Star-Lord admits he doesn't either, but that's "why I'm Star-Lord... because my need to know outweighs my desire to kill. I may never find the answers, but I'll never stop searching for them, either."
In Shakati's computers, Star-Lord had discovered that the slavers' profits were financing a coup d'etat to overthrow the Emperor and replace him with Gareth, his uncle. Ship takes the three of them to Sparta, fighting her way to the throneworld. Ship is knocked out, Star-Lord with her through his empathy. He recovers and sends Sandy and Kip down to the planet in a lifeboat before Ship crashes.
Star-Lord brings Ship down in a blizzard. They hide out until he can capture a searcher sent after him. He interrogates the man and discovers Kip and Sandy are prisoners. He takes the man's clothes. Armed with a sword by Ship, he heads into the imperial chalet where he frees Kip and Sandy... and runs right into Gareth! Gareth is accompanied by the reptilian alien Rruothk'ar "Sith Lord of the Ariguan Confedracy" (that Sith Lord reference is interesting, huh?) - and Quill recognizes him!
Rruothk'ar isthe lizard-like alien who shot his mother years earlier! Quill runs him through with his sword, impressing Gareth. Star-Lord offers to let Gareth surrender, but instead Gareth attacks, and the two clash in an epic swordfight "on a ledge a mile above the ground." And Gareth gets the best of Star-Lord.
When he takes Star-Lord's helmet off to see his face, Gareth's shock gives Star-Lord his opening. Star-Lord disarms Gareth and corners him with his own blade, but Star-Lord won't kill him. Gareth throws a hidden, poisoned blade at Star-Lord's back. The angry old Peter Quill resurfaces long enough to whirl around and impale Gareth on his own sword. Gareth topples over the edge to his death, still cackling that at least Star-Lord will die, too, from the poison in his knife.
But Star-Lord's body can handle the poison. Gareth's armed "Warhawks" are still ready to kill him, though, until Ship shows up at the edge of the ledge as Star-Lord's back up!
Sandy and Kip bring the The Emperor to Star-Lord. When the two meet, the men are nearly identical - the Emperor, Jason, looks like an older version of Quill - Peter is his son! Jason's interstellar scout ship crashed in the Colorado mountains years ago. He was nursed back to health by and fell in love with Quill's mother. Fearing that he wouldn't make the trip home alive, Jason wiped her memories and left her with her unborn son when he headed back to Sparta. He later asked Gareth to pick them up, but Gareth betrayed him, going to Shakati to set up Rruothk'ar's ambush that killed Peter's mother Meredith. Gareth then told Jason the woman and child had died in childbirth.
No sooner does Peter Quill discover his true birthright than he rejects it! He's a seeker and can't be "shackled to a throne"! He tells Jason if he wants an heir, a son, adopt Kip, and then he flies off, with Jason wishing he could go with him. As Star-Lord tells Ship, "My life's gone full circle. I avenged mom's murder, found my true father, and threw away an Empire... ...all in a day's work." Ship professes her love for Star-Lord, who asks her "what am I?" She tells him, "you are Star-Lord, of course." The issue ends with Star-Lord telling Ship, "C'mon, let's go carve ourselves a legend."
It's worth going into the details on this second Star-Lord story, as the Claremont/Byrne version of the character became the definitive version. Star-Lord's origin as half-Spartoi and heir to their Empire became his "canonical" history. And Claremont's version of Star-Lord was popular - he returned with back-to-back new Star-Lord stories in Marvel Preview Presents #14 & #15.
With Byrne off to work on Uncanny X-Men, Claremont's next two Star-Lord tales were illustrated by Carmine Infantino. "With Carmine, it was for me the opportunity to work with one of the foundation talents of the modern comics industry," Claremont said. "Totally different in concept and style from John but equally skilled, equally eloquent."
Marvel Preview Presents #14 presents an adventure where Ship makes herself into a hot woman - without letting Star-Lord know who she is! The plot about a bug-like alien Trinity seems thin - an excuse for Infantino to show Ship topless as she fights alongside Star-Lord and professes her... love? ...for her captain? There is some beautiful black and white art in this issue.
(click for uncensored - Mature Readers!)
In Marvel Preview Presents #15, Claremont and Infantino got back to telling Heinlein-esque tales, as Ship takes the initiative to confront a giant, democratically run ship bent on preemptively attacking a helpless planet it sees as potentially threatening. Seems "Ship" has demons from her past driving her. The current situation reminds her of early tragedy.
She was once a yellow star like our sun, forced to supernova and destroy her "children", her orbiting planets. The Master of the Sun then helped her transform into her current state. "It seemed logical to me that if you have a character named "Star-Lord" there should be some sort of tangible rationale for the name," Claremont said, "so why not 'partner' him with an actual, sentient star?"
Star-Lord talks Ship out of destroying the giant ship, thinking "I've enough blood on my hands; I want no more." They manage to burn out the giant ship's systems, then tow it to a world where the crew and population can settle, "quarantined," as Star-Lord describes it. Ship makes an appearance as Ship-Woman in the story's last couple of panels as she thanks Peter Quill for helping lay to rest her "private demons. For that, and more, I thank you," Ship says. "Hell, woman, what are friends for?" Quill responds, which seems to keep their "relationship" somewhat ambiguous - friend"Ship" or love?
These first four black and white Marvel Preview Presents - Star-Lord issues laid the foundation for an interesting and complex cosmic comic book character. Steve Englehart's early vision was fascinating. It would have been something to see his proposed twelve part series unfold! The bitter, wisecracking Star-Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy is based in part on that dickish young man Englehart named Peter Quill, but leans more heavily on the Chris Claremont version - filtered, of course, through the sensibilities of writers DnA, Keith Giffen, and those who came in between.
The Claremont and Byrne Star-Lord tale from Marvel Preview Presents #11 saw a second and a third life in subsequent reprintings. A colored reprint of the original story appeared in Star-Lord Special Edition in 1982, for which Claremont and artist Michael Golden created a new framing sequence. Glynis Wein provided the color. In late 1996, the Claremont and Byrne story was again reprinted, this time in Star-Lord Megazine, along with a preview of a new Star-Lord series that followed. That new Star-Lord wasn't Peter Quill... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
As I've said, Star-Lord has an interesting history. There's plenty more to tell. In my next Cosmic Crackle we'll see where the Star-Lord's next writer, Doug Moench, took the character, in a story with art by the great Gene Colan. Hope you'll be back!
Many thanks to writers Steve Englehart and Chris Claremont for taking the time to answer my questions about "Star-Lord".
Find the rest of Mike Luoma's Cosmic Crackle columns here.
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