The Sad Saga of Star Lord:How Marvel has turned a solid concept into a mess of diluted characterization

 

Star Lord, the now famous character created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan in 1976 (The same year marvel unleashed Richard Rider) began his career as a non-marvel “regular” continuity Buck Rogers/ Flash Gordon pastiche ala Adam Strange. As it was, Englehart had larger plans for the character’s evolution, and wanted to develop Quill in a more complex approach.  Yet, sales struggled and the true vision for Star Lord’s character was largely unrealized.

In total, he had few forgettable volumes from the 70s to the 90s. None of them sold particular well, but most fans considered them a good read and worthy quarter bin fodder.

He was a bit generic, derivative and unoriginal, but Star-Lord was a neat platform for Marvel to do some Buck Rogers-esque tales and fill a vacuum the company was not really known for. In addition to Englehart, some sound talent like Chris Claremont worked on these proto versions.  Claremont even used the old Heinlein juvenile series of novels as his inspiration for the character’s direction. Thus, Peter Quill’s roots(and others who took the mantle) were always set in fairly hard sci fi, not the campy hoke that would come later.

Star-Lord’s identity and look were certainly tweaked a bit over the years, but essentially he remained that same Buck Rogers knock. Unfortunately, he never had much sales success. This was probably not helped by the fact these books were practically released in secret and rarely crossed over into mainline Marvel tales. To others, the old Star Lord was something of a hollow pastiche. The 1970s were a flood with derivative Sci Fi/ Star Wars inspired characters. Additionally, it must be said his origins and place within the Marvel Universe were convoluted. This guy wrote a solid article on the matter here.

For many years the property was mothballed, only occasionally sprouting up for a new low key re imagination. However, that all changed a bit when Keith Giffen came around in 2004.

Annihilation and Beyond: The Golden Period

Giffen, a student of Marvel lore (especially the stuff he created within it) remembered the notion of a Marvel 616 StarLord had been introduced in Marvel Knights line.

Within the pages of the 2004 arc of the Thanos ongoing entitled “Samaritan”, Giffen unleashed his new incarnation of Star Lord as a tortured and complex man.

The character was a bit brooding and lost, but clearly a talented and competent tactician. In this version, Quill was haunted by his decision to kill off a whole planet of 350,000 people just in order to stop the rogue former Herald of Galactus named “The Fallen One”. In line with Giffen’s masterful vision, the theme was set in a very hard sci fi setting, perhaps even more so than Marvel comics had ever attempted.

It was a gritty, dark and mysterious hook for the character. As a result, Quill vehemently shunned the notion he was “Star-Lord” and only used the simple name of “Peter Quill”. Giffen took away the characters past costumes and made him simply a man . Additionally, he also gave him a series of cybernetic implants and a bit of a darker look.

Coupled with the vibe of the arc, Giffin’s role expanded in the marvel cosmic circle and he was given much more work.

In 2006, during the story of Annihilation, one of the most well regarded Marvel tales of all time, this was the Peter Quill we got. He was much different and darker than what exists now. In the books, the Annihilation war was said to last nearly a year in Marvel time, and most of this time he was fighting in combat with his best friend, Richard Rider. So too, Rider had received a drastic reimagination, taking in the full Nova force and assuming an unprecedented leadership role. Nova Prime, as Rider was now known, was the head of the United Front, and an Army of presumably millions of soldiers.

All this time, Quill was shown as a competent and loyal teammate and friend. Yet, the man was still clearly haunted by the incident with the Fallen One and past demons. Yet, in some ways Quill was also reborn and reinvigorated with the war and his newfound friendship with Richard Rider.

Essentially, the Quill/Rider bond became a strong a reason for the character to be and exist. The “band of brothers” type-relationship with Rider was always a huge part of what made both characters work.

In turn, Quill became a popular character during this time. Though Rider was the main star, many fans like where Giffin had taken Quill’s tale and saw further potential within his characterization.

A year later, during the next cosmic event “Conquest” Giffen evolved the character further. In this tale, Giffen took Peter back to his roots and put him in the mantle and namesake of “Star-Lord” once more.

He gave Quill a new supporting cast, headlined by the forgotten Giffen/Mantlo creation Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, and a few other cast off cosmic properties.(what would become the GOTG) Superficial changes happened as well. Gradually, he lost the cybernetic parts, and was drawn more as a brunette than blonde.

Best of all, Giffen gave Quill a fantastically unique costume, a full helmet akin to something from the diesel punk era, a new outfit that harkened to the best of 1930s sci fi, noir, and dark space fantasy. Gone were the old motifs of “Ship” and the element gun, “in” were double-fisted machine guns and trails of bouncing brass ammunition. In short, the new look worked very well. Even though Quill was changing, the development felt organic and like a natural evolution. (Much like Rider’s change)

Yet still, this Star Lord was, like his former self, a competent and talented leader/tactician. Though he was not averse to jokes or dark comedy…he was certainly not a goofball.

For Marvel, the Giffen/DnA material was all more or less a secondary priority as well…”Work for Hire” as it was known. The cosmic stuff they developed rarely crossed over into the major events of the year, and was instead typically relegated to lesser events. Worse, like Rider, the GOTG with Quill hardly ever crossed over with anything in the realm of Fantastic Four, Bendis’ Avengers books or X-men (until Realm of Kings). For much of its time, it existed on an island without much in the way of promo, compartmentalized and viewed by only those who actively sought out the material.

During the course of the material, Quill maintained a very strong relationship with Nova Prime, Rich Rider. Although the two would part ways for a couple years after 2007’s Conquest, both were reunited for their greatest fight later on in DnA’s master stroke Thanos Imperative.

In the end, when Richard Rider volunteered to seal himself in the hell of the cancerverse on a guaranteed suicide mission, it was Peter Quill who would not leave his friend behind… even if it meant certain death. Thus, they went out like, men…and like brothers fighting side by side. During a real life era of war, this was a theme and story many folks could relate to.

To many fans, that was the last time we have seen the real Star Lord. Despite the fact the character had a near forty year history, like Richard Rider, the Annihilation version became the most coherent, refined and definitive of Star-Lord’s short history.

Frankly, it was such a cool way to go out, it only reinforced that both Rider and Quill were awesome characters who fans could relate with. Worse, the glorious death made fans want both characters back even more. Simply put; these characters were too solid to throw away.

Right?

Creating the Mess: Star Lord’s Return From Oblivion

By this time, fans of the Giffen / DnA material were already under the gun and feeling marginalized.

Why?

While Nova and GOTG were put on “hiatus” during the Thanos Imperative, fans were told solid sales of Thanos Imperative would give a solid chance of saving either series. So, when the book became a sales success, and Nova and GOTG were still axed, most fans of the material developed the feeling they had been burned.

So too, DnA went through some creative differences. Their follow up to the Thanos Imperative, two volumes of Annihilators, struggled to gain traction. (As did another independent series Hypernaturals)

Of course, this version of the team known as the Annihilators, introduced within the Thanos Imperative, were sans Rider and Star-Lord. Without the two main heroes, the series struggled.

Then… worse of all, suddenly, “DnA” were done. After writing together since the early 90s, the pair quietly broke up from writing together. To date, little has been disclosed about the split.

To many fans, a fantastic and definitive era was over.  (Link to great Bill Rosemann Article)

 

Yet, eventually fans had reason for some optimism.

In July of 2012, when the film for GOTG was announced, fans initially were provided with artwork that closely mirrored the DnA vision. (He even had the cool noir helmet) It should also be noted, at that time, Marvel did not have one actual cosmic book in publication save for Fantastic Four, which frankly had been doing its own thing for years. Most fans correctly speculated the announcement would be good news for Quill’s return to the paper comics. Little did we know what was to come.

Helmet airbrushed out version

Still, in those days, there was some hope we were going to see “our” Star Lord on the silver screen.

Over that time, information trickled out the film would be following the DnA comics storylines, and that Marvel would have a new GOTG ongoing. (Announced in October of 2012 at NYCC by an enthusiastic Brian Bendis)

In NYCC of 2012, Bendis stated of the prior series:

“The biggest difference between my book and DnA’s book is theirs was very hardcore sci-fi, and very plot and concept driven. I thought that was very, very cool especially during ‘Secret Invasion’ where they really came up with some fantastic stuff. I think what I’m more interested in as a fan and as a writer is getting to know more about the characters and their relationships. My sci-fi comes from the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, and shows like‘Firefly.’ That’s the kind of stuff I like. That’s the tone I’m angling for. These characters will have a lot of fun together but the stakes will be high.”

It should be noted that Brian Micahel Bendis also claimed:

“I had read a lot of the material already as a fan, but not as a writer. So I was rereading it, and I really started to dig Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord) and Gamora in particular. I liked who they were and what they were about — especially Peter Quill’s origin story and what it meant for him as a character. It’s not something a lot of people are familiar with.

Both Rider’s Nova and Quill’s book GOTG were to be edited by Stephen Whacker, the oft abrasive Spider Man editor who was known for “taking it” to fans on internet message boards. Whacker was also a guy who didn’t grow up with Marvel comics. In a 2012 interview he said, “But in my entire time at Marvel, I’ve had to cram decades worth of old comics down my throat since I missed most of the Marvel books growing up,”

Again, despite the concerns, optimism surged some, although, some fans were wary of who was pulling the strings.  Specifically, fans were unsure if James Gunn was a serious director (his prior notable work were the Scooby Doo films and the Dawn of the Dead remake).Yet, the quality of the Marvel movies was very solid and critically acclaimed. Thus, fans were mostly excited a lesser known property was getting a huge chance.

So too, fans were nervous about the writer of the paper comic. Bendis had a mixed history with his team-based books and many considered him to be limited to street level characters. Admittedly, sales were usually solid on his books, though critical reaction was sometimes mixed, especially in large cast volumes. Also, he had already established a track record for huge shake-ups with status quos and what some considered a disregard for past continuity. (such as 2004’s Avengers Dissembled)

My own personal opinion at the time was that a Bendis GOTG would really work. He was saying most of the right things and seemed a solid fit. In fact, DnA’s GOTG often used dark humor and faux interview debrief panels (See below) that were very similar to what Bendis was doing at the time in Dark Avengers.

Then, unfortunately, the concern proved justified.  Right away, Bendis disastrous and incoherent Avengers’ Assembled Arc hit the stands, and most hope was lost. In that dreadful work, Bendis inexplicably had Star Lord and Thanos back alive, offered no real explanation as to why they were back from the Cancerverse and active in the Marvel Universe once again. Worse, his grasp of the characters seemed marginal at best. In fact, most fans wondered if the tale even occurred in the Marvel 616 continuity. (Which was not cleared up till a year or so later)

Even the normally accommodating IGN gave the final Bendis issue of Assembled # 8 a 5.6 out of 10 and said, “If you were looking for a book to get you excited for the Avengers 2 movie, then look elsewhere”. Gregg Katzman from Comic vine stated in his 2/5 star review, “Sadly, this goes through the motions of the story without any real heart.”

Thus began a series of comical Star Lord interpretations leading up to the official screen shots of the film’s release. Even at the basic level, Marvel could not even get the look right. The first year prior to the film, Quill seemed to feature a new costume every other month…sometimes even multiple editions of books were produced with different Quill costumes.

Here is a sample of most of the first couple years of Bendis/ other versions of Quill’s look:

Assembled costume

“Mass Effect” helmet less

Play on original

Cartoon

I mean what the hell is that? ^

Movie

As the months wore on, it cannot be understated just how the simple act of neglect for the cancerverse storyline derailed fan acceptance of this series. Although seemingly minor, when coupled with the new character motivations, the topic just stood out as a “monkey on the back” of the series. Worse, the issue also derailed and plagued Jeph Loeb’s off the wall reboot of Nova. (that also seemed to throw away and retcon old continuity)

To make matters even more disjointed, when Bendis ongoing debuted, two of the members from the Assembled arc (Bug and Mantis) were missing from the roster with no explanation. As the series progressed, Bendis could not even bother to match up minor concepts like what “Knowhere” looked like with the alternate Gerry Duggan “Nova” comic.

For fans of the DnA/ Giffen material, under Bendis, Star Lord was a completely different person.

Instead of bridge the incarnations of the character, Bendis made Quill into a juvenile huckster, a scoundrel type who was a goof. In short, he reverted to his usual “square peg in a round hole”. Suddenly, Quill acted noticeably younger and much like Peter Parker. Many of the styles and actions were derivative of the movie version…albeit sans Chris Pratts real life (or on screen) charm.

Noticeably younger, if anything the new Star Lord came off more like a hipster version of Val Kilmer from Real Genius than Han Solo.

Essentially, the version was incompatible with folks who ever read or treasured the older material. Amoung GOTG and Starlord fans, differing camps formed. Just like Nova/ Richard Rider fans, GOTG and Star Lord’s fans split into opposed factions.

Unfortunately this was a big problem, because the film claimed to be based off the “old Stuff” and inevitable led some readers to that material for the first time. When they read THAT material….things didn’t jive.

In 2012 Dan ABnett, in a CBR interview said on the matter:

Abnett: These are Marvel’s characters, and they will develop them as they see fit. Like I said, it’s a huge compliment to us that they’re doing that, but I think it’s only fair to say that we haven’t really been consulted in any way, shape or form. We wrote this stuff essentially as work-for-hire, and if Marvel came to us and said, “Would you like to consult on the movie?” that would be lovely. But for now, our interpretation is there on the page.

The movie was a big hit, despite moments of potty humor and silly jokes that far exceeded the type of humor ever seen in Giffen’s or DnA’s versions. Chirs Pratt’s charisma sold the film and changed the perception of what Star Lord was or “needed to be” to potential new readers.

Unfortunately, Marvel’s version just could never carry Pratt’s charisma on to page.

Disaster in the Cancerverse

Finally, after nearly four years, Bendis and Marvel had no choice but to address what went on in the cancerverse. Yet, in many ways, the damage of letting the topic slide had already been done. As it hit in the summer of 2014, most fans found the explanation underwhelming, especially when Bendis had claimed he had a “great” and long planned story in mind from the moment he began to work on the characters.

Truthfully, many aspects of this tale did not even line up with the Avengers Assembled arc Bendis had already done. Further, the story did not even line up within itself either. Leaving aside the preposterous lazy notion that Richard Rider’s arm could just be sliced off when he had shielding capable of protecting him from near limitless damage at super luminal speeds, Richard Rider was shown to die in a place where Bendis already said (and showed) you couldn’t die. Personally, I didn’t need a miracle of writing, but something that made a lick of sense would have been nice.

Even more mind-baffling, the three issue comic was severely decompressed, featured numerous spelling and grammar mistakes (Including spelling Richard Rider’s name wrong and some cases two different ways in the same issue) Many fans felt like the book wasn’t even edited. Certainly the poor, disjointed quality of the arc contrasted with Bendis early claims that he had done “significant research” on the character prior to taking ahold of GOTG.

The worse part of this arc was that the years of friendship and partnership between Quill/Rider was just ended so abruptly and devoid of emotion. Richard Rider was dug up just to throw dirt on his three year old dead body. As the story went on, there was nothing lasting or mysterious about the reveals and answers….the arc was just bad, ill-researched and nonsensical.

Stuart Conover, in his 1.5/5 star review (Of issue 20) from Sciencefiction.com stated, “Honestly, if it wasn’t for McGuinesses art, the score would have been even lower. With the high hopes of finding out what really happened in The Cancerverse after all of this time, I feel that this was more of a letdown than even ‘Battle of the Atom.”

On the average, fans and critics panned the arc. In his 2/5 star review, CBR reviewer Doug Zawaisa stated of the issue:

“Guardians of the Galaxy” #20 is yet another example of this title not hitting its potential. I don’t know if this is because of the “Original Sin” tie-in or if Bendis is marching out beats between “Original Sin” and the next crossover, but this comic book treads water, reflecting on the past without enhancing it. Additionally, Bendis chips away at the relationships in the Guardians once more, but seems to be doing so more to generate a story than letting the story generate the emotional turmoil. “Guardians of the Galaxy” #20 perpetuates the need for this series to find its direction, and soon. As the feature film closes in on one billion dollars in worldwide revenue, there’s an expectation for the comic to explore new worlds and sew seeds for stories to come — not unlike what Marvel did with the “Star Wars” series back in the late 1970s. Everyone knows these characters now, and it’s time create some wild adventures for them. Otherwise, they may as well just be photos of action figures collecting dust on someone’s shelf.”

Yet, Bendis subsequent writing made matters worse. Not averse to showing thought bubbles in his comics, Bendis gave no lasting reason or noticeable imprint of Richard Rider’s death/ legacy in Peter Quill’s actions or thoughts. In fact, Quill hardly would even mention Rider, or think of him ever again.

To date, I don’t recall Quill ever approaching the new Nova, Sam Alexander.  Again, that makes little sense to most fans.

Instead, Bendis, known for making bold and herky-jerky (and formulaic) changes to characters and teams, added love interests like “Kitty Pryde” to Quill’s dossier. Next, he added the tired formulaic notion of a estranged father relationship to dive more into Quill’s relationship with his dad. (aka the dude with daddy issues)

Unfortunately, Bendis was also known for reverting characters to archetypes he is more comfortable writing as well. In this case, he went to the extreme, not only Peter Parker-izing Quill, but giving him the same relationship with the same woman Bendis had already explored with his Ultimate characters and storyline.

The romance was absurd.

With his deepest thoughts, he had old Star Lord pining away about his affection for his sweetheart “Kitty”.

Long gone was any sort of notion he was still troubled by the 350k people he had just killed a couple years back, the death and dismemberment of his best friend or perhaps even the months and hopeless months of of gritty intergalactic war.

Nope, this Quill was cool with all that shit.

Without the friendship of Rider or his old realistic motivations, the character became a silly gag character who more often made fun of the old model than embraced what had been mysterious and complex about the old Quill. Additionally, with his “daddy issues” as a newfound chief motivation, Quill seemed rather banal and off, especially considering where the character had been. Even worse, Bendis never constructed a logical bridge to show readers how any of the changes got from a point A to point B.

None of the new personality fit.

I’m not going to imply Rider “made” Star Lord…but frankly the strength of that relationship and friendship made both characters better. Bendis has not delivered anything nearly as genuine, and just throwing those past motivations in the dumpster has cheapened things even worse.

Capitalizing on the film success, Sam Humphries was charged to write a “Star Lord” ongoing. Although the comic had some initial promise, it soon broke down to “ooga shaka”, musings of Kitty Pryde nonsense and full on camp. Readers ditched the series in droves, and the comic was soon canceled.

But the Saga of Star Lord was not over. Worse, Marvel is still set on screwing him up more with the same Old (new) people.

 

Sam Humphries is getting into some “Year One” nonsense, no doubt set to screw the character further from what made him once work even more. Long gone was the mysterious, haunted, noir, rogue hero who was a talented soldier, friend and teammate. Right in line with the film, dark humor was sacrificed for potty humor and fart jokes. Long gone are the cool motivations that made the character work, IE guilt over his actions, friendship and bond with Rider and his teammates.

Instead, we have a hollow Han Solo pastiche once more. To be fair , it must be noted, sales on Bendis GOTG have been relatively decent. Though, Humphries Star-Lord solo title has mostly struggled. Typically, both books have had phenomenal artists and visual draws.

In fact, Marvel has (again) recently made a call for a radical change to Star Lord. For now, it seems like they are moving Peter Quill off to the sidelines while a female version of the character takes the mantle.

Star-Girl.

How original. I think the version may be Gamora or Kitty Pryde…as it unfolds, you’ll all have to fill me in, for I certainly won’t read that crap. (Newsarama already panned the new issue) 

Groan…

Star Lord was a great character that Marvel should be proud of. For all our sake, it’s high time we get someone working on him that has some fresh ideas.

I’ll be here, blogging angrily and waiting for Richard Rider and the real Peter Quill to come back…and when they do maybe I’ll check them out.

Long Live Richard Rider and bring back Star Lord.

TR

 

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4 thoughts on “The Sad Saga of Star Lord:How Marvel has turned a solid concept into a mess of diluted characterization

  1. Great article. I’d like to see a similar One about the regression of Thanos into a rote glowering space bully and jobber post-imperative.

    1. Yeah that sure is due. Its a nice idea to explore the stuff that’s been done with him post DnA….from Aaron, Bendis (yuck) to Starlin and Hickman. Aside from Starlin’s usage he’s been all over the place.

      I liked about half of what Starlin did…did not like how he used Anny as his main villain later on, and found that material lacking.

      1. ”The sad saga of Thanos: how Marvel Turned a neat philosophical villain into a one-note Cosmic potentate.”

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