The Continuing Story of Marvel’s Star-Lord
Author’s note: This is another in a series of adapted excerpts from Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy: An Unofficial Comic Book History (Glow-in-the-Dark Radio Books - 2018) now available in paperback and eBook.
In Part One of this series on Star-Lord, we saw how creator Steve Englehart used the Zodiac and the idea of a guy who starts out as a dick evolving into a greater being to put together his concept of Peter Quill for Star-Lord’s first appearance in Marvel Preview Presents #4. In Part Two we saw the character become a more Robert A. Heinlein-inspired hero as Chris Claremont and John Byrne took over for Marvel Preview Presents #11, with Byrne then replaced by artist Carmine Infantino for Star-Lord’s next two adventures in Marvel Preview Presents #14 & #15.
Doug Moench then became Marvel’s go-to writer for Star-Lord — the guiding force behind Peter Quill for his next five tales.
When Star-Lord returns in early 1979 it’s in full color in the Winter 1979 Issue of Marvel Super Special Magazine — # 10 — written by Moench and drawn by the legendary Gene Colan, with color by Tom Palmer.
Like Star-Lord’s earlier publications, Marvel Super Special was a larger format, more adult-oriented offering, allowing Moench to take stories places he couldn’t in the regular books. Editor Rick Marschall raved about his new writer in the book: “Doug Moench has transformed — enriched, deepened, stratified — the increasingly complex character of the Star-Lord, Peter Quill…”
The Frank Frazetta-style, Buck Rogers-esque cover by Earl Norem and Peter Ledger — complete with a scantily clad woman grabbing Quill’s leg — doesn’t really illustrate the story inside, but it probably sold some issues.
Moench opens the story in the Super Special with a rehash of Star-Lord’s origin from Marvel Preview #4, but he does so cleverly in the context of the plot. Star-Lord has been separated from an apparently schizophrenic Ship and pulled by a black-hole-fueled crimson vortex onto a light-year long generation ship whose militant commanders have designs on Earth.
They “blow” mental “smoke” at Quill. To get information on Earth they “siphon” his thoughts. They then try to make him think that their Ark came from Earth three million years ago — when the planet was destroyed! “Aletha”, a native of the space ark, takes Quill aside and tells him of the leader of the ark’s deception. “Noah” is a military leader, and hopes to steer the ark to Earth to take it over!
Aletha has her own agenda. She brought Quill on board to help her overthrow Noah. Aletha seduces Star-Lord. But she also shows Quill she’s not actually a hot blond. Behind the Ark’s mental “smokescreen” she’s actually a green skinned alien. Quill doesn’t know why he’s falling for her, but they still make love, as she asks him to remember both of her appearances.
Aletha wants Quill to lead the common people of the ark in revolt. He tells them they need a plan — but it’s too late. Noah’s forces come sweeping down on the assembled revolutionaries, and Quill is forced to turn and defend — and abandon his pledge of non-violence when Noah’s forces show no quarter. Moench writes,”…something precious snaps deep within the Star-Lord’s soul… he forgets his personal vows of peace. He rejects the pacifism that will not work. He scorns the non-violence that brings nothing but death. He fights! And he wins!”
Noah is overthrown. Aletha then tells Star-Lord he will be leaving. She passes out and Ship shows up. Although worried for her health, Ship reassures Star-Lord, reveals that she followed him to the Ark through the vortex, and she’s been working with Aletha telepathically… in fact it was Ship and Aletha who made love to Peter! And with that wild revelation, Star-Lord and Ship leave the ark and head back into space.
Star-Lord’s back in black… and white… in the Spring 1979 Marvel Preview #18. Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod tell the next tale of Peter Quill. The art’s style is early Sienkiewicz, a more traditional, restrained manner than his later personal, collage inspired, and impressionistic work. It is in black and white, but this time they attempt to provide depth and suggest tone with grayscale shading.
Marvel editorial as ever offers a hyperbolic introduction: Star-Lord “Enters… a new phase of his career and persona: Here he finally sheds his space-sissy image and becomes a true Lord of the Stars — but not without the wrenching emotional traumas one would expect in a truly human hero.”
Didn’t think Star-Lord was a space-sissy in those earlier issues, but evidently editorial felt the need to hype the story that way. It does say in bold, “The most epic turning point ever in the star-splashed saga of Peter Quill, known to the universe at large as Star-Lord!” Most Epic. Heh, love that Marvel hyperbole. Far as I can tell, the only turning point is that from here on out we rarely see Star-Lord’s helmet on his head.
Star-Lord decides to quietly check out what Ship describes as “an awesome but unknown power source” emanating from the planet Redstone. Despite the power source, the planet is primitive, peopled by humans living without electricity, a neo-Luddite community. Quill lands in a “walled” city — built in a crater. His gun is confiscated by the Police. He asks them where he can check out the local color and they direct him to a tavern.
Redstone is ruled by Quan-Zarr, a ruthless dictator who has managed to acquire a “power rod” — this is what Ship sensed. Ship is forced to scramble away when she’s detected, leaving Star-Lord alone, out of contact, in the tavern on the planet below.
Evidently, buxom women with swords wearing bikinis hang out in taverns on this planet. When two Beastmen bust into the tavern, he steals one such woman’s sword to battle back. The Beastmen try grabbing something from a courier they kill in the bar.
Quill knocks out the Beastmen, grabs the courier’s pouch for himself and runs. The woman follows, shouting after Quill to give her back her sword. Quill finds a computer tape in the pouch. With Ship out of range, Quill relies on her two widgets down on the planet with him to help decode the “mission report” on the tape.
Quill finds out about the power rod, discovers it’s now in the same place as the massive power source Ship identified, if not the source of the power itself. He tells the widgets to guide him there. The woman, whose name is Sylvana, demands to go along.
The Beastmen are intent on seeking out the power rod for their own vengeful ends. They catch up to Star-Lord and reveal that Quan-Zarr enslaved their planet! Their ancestors were humans — Quan-Zarr’s experiments turned them into the Beastmen! But Quan-Zarr’s son turned on his father, helped the Beastmen and invented the power rod for them. He was just killed by his father’s forces as they retrieved the power rod for Quan-Zarr.
Now, the Beastmen want the power rod back so they can destroy Quan-Zarr and his people. They take the information from Star-Lord and head for Quan-Zarr’s.
Sylvana tries to provoke Star-Lord to violence to stop the Beastmen, giving him a “You Must Kill Them!” speech, causing him to reflect on his own vengeful origin. He decides to take action after the Beastmen blast their way into Quan-Zarr’s and kill him. Star-Lord tries to stop the last Beastman left alive from using the power rod. A sword fight ensues and Star-Lord is forced to kill the last Beastman, the last of his race.
Ship, having evaded her pursuers, rejoins the shattered Star-Lord on the surface of Redstone. They break and bury the power rod with the last Beastman. Star-Lord is once again brooding, for he has killed, because he had to, “…And if the tragic being he has slain was less than human, and yet so much more, then perhaps he is the same. More… or… less.” It’s a bit heavy on the melodrama.
Star-Lord’s next appearance is his first in the more traditional comic book format, in Marvel Spotlight #6 (on Star-Lord) in late 1979. Moench writes. Sienkiewiecz provides cover art, but interiors are the work of the late Tom Sutton (this story was recently reprinted as part of the Annihilation Classic hardcover).
Marvel Spotlight #6 sees Moench retcon the origin of the Master of the Sun, the character that gave Peter Quill his powers, his uniform, his “Ship”… and his purpose. The Master of the Sun made Peter Quill the Star-Lord! Steve Englehart, Star-Lord’s creator, said he’d envisioned The Master of the Sun as “basically, God, though I wasn’t going to say so.” However, in Marvel Spotlight #6, The Master of the Sun is revealed to be… a lizard super scientist named Ragnar?
The Master of the Sun is through with running and now wishes only to see his creation Star-Lord one last time. This gives Moench the opportunity to tell Star-Lord’s origin once again, this time adding in some of the elements Claremont later introduced such as Shakati arranging for he and his mother’s deaths, and The Master of the Sun giving Peter Quill “Ship”. Moench also makes quick reference to his own earlier stories, and Star-Lord’s abandonment of his pacifist principles to slay the last Beastman.
But in the Claremont and Byrne story, Star-Lord kills Rruothk’ar, Sith-Lord of the Ariguan Confederacy, and recognizes the lizard man as the one who killed his mother. But in Marvel Spotlight #6, The Master of the Sun is tracked down by another group of lizard men, and we’re told these are the same aliens who killed Quill’s mother… hmm. Maybe they’re the rest of the crew.
They accuse The Master of the Sun of traitorous crimes, including the creation of the Star-Lord. The Master of the Sun insists he merely gave peace to a human monster of vengeance they had created.
Star-Lord appears and stops the aliens from taking The Master of the Sun away to face “justice”, but The Master of the Sun tells Star-Lord he shouldn’t have stopped the aliens, for he once lived by the alien’s rules and now he must die by them. He wanted to create an entire legion of Star-Lords, but only created Peter Quill as Star-Lord and neglected his other duties and responsibilities.
“Ragnar” surrenders to the aliens and transforms back into a lizard. Quill doesn’t fight the aliens this time, respecting the will of the old ma-, er, lizard, and goes off to find his destiny among the stars.
Star-Lord returns in Marvel Spotlight #7, again written by Moench and drawn by Sutton. Star-Lord and “Ship” find a world called Heaven. This two layered world has a race of winged immortals living in the clouds, and a population of Giri-worlders living on the ground below trying to grow their wings through acts of kindness and goodness called Giri which accumulate and open the way to Heaven.
These acts of Giri involve complex obligations, as Star-Lord discovers when he rescues a man being thrown down from the clouds. Star-Lord catches Thorn and then fights off Shreen the Huntress when she tries to kill Thorn.
Thorn was stripped of his wings and thrown from Heaven above because he proposed building a bridge from the world below to the clouds above, eliminating the need to grow wings to attain Heaven. But Heaven is an exclusive place, protected by lethal thunderclouds when Giri has not been met.
The ground population pool their energy, sacrificing their Giri to him to give Thorn back his wings. Star-Lord stand guards so Thorn can grow them back over the next three days without being attacked by Shreen. But the huntress arrives before Thorn’s wings are ready on the third day — as they are not yet ready, the thundercloud defense system still blocks his way to Heaven.
Star-Lord tries to buy Thorn time by stopping Shreen. He defeats her, but when he won’t kill her, she impales and kills herself — because of Giri! Thorn tells Star-Lord that Shreen’s Giri demands that he bury her and weep on her grave. Quill uses the element gun to “fire” earth and buries her, but cannot find it in him to weep for her. Without this step of Giri, the thundercloud defenses remain in place, and though Thorn now has his wings, when he flies up to Heaven he is struck repeatedly by raw lightning and killed.
Star-Lord finally cries on Shreen’s grave, repaying her Giri. Thanks to their efforts the clouds clear, and a rainbow appears, not quite the bridge Thorn wanted to build, but a sign of hope all the same. Star-Lord and “Ship” reflect on lessons learned as they head back among the stars.
Star-Lord next appears a year later in Marvel Premiere #61 (Featuring Star-Lord) in mid-1981. “Planet Story” is a masterpiece of storytelling by Moench and Sutton. Using a Rashomon style switch in point of view, they tell the story of Star-Lord landing on — and then being attacked by — a living planet!
We see Star-Lord’s point of view first as he fights the smothering attack of vegetation in the ruins he’s discovered on a habitable planet. The very ground opens up and tries to stop him as he investigates, but Quill manages to make it past and through the ruins even as quakes continue.
He ends up trapped in a root ball of a giant tree. He triggers some memory device and is shown the world’s history, the rise of a civilization and its mysterious downfall. When it ends, tendrils entrap Star-Lord, and he’s knocked unconscious, perhaps even dying…
Part Two begins with the arrival of Ship and Star-Lord as seen from the sentient planet’s point of view! The planet is lonely, and longs to “share” with beings who have “the choice” once again, and tries to “welcome” its new guest, Star-Lord. We see the same events as earlier from the opposite perspective, until Star-Lord is forced to “share” with the planet, wrapped in the tendrils of his new “lover”.
Then we get BOTH points of view, with two sets of captions, the planet’s and Quill’s, as he breaks out and blasts his way free! The planet reluctantly lets him go. We then find that Star-Lord has been telling his side of the story to Ship. The planet is a death trap. Quill is contemplating destroying the world below. The planet’s thoughts continue. It begs for death, to be spared its eternal loneliness. But Star-Lord spares the world, even as he feels it’s somehow the wrong thing to do. The planet is left to weep, and wait through eternity for another to come along to share with it.
Readers and fans of Star-Lord were also forced to wait for what seemed like an eternity for a new Star-Lord title. There was a reprint — Claremont and Byrne’s early story was reprinted with added color early in 1982’s Star-Lord Special Edition #1 — and there were new pages of story added, written by Claremont and drawn by Michael Golden.
The original Claremont and Byrne story looks great in color. The new framing material begins at the jubilee of Peter Quill’s biological father, Emperor Jason of Sparta, who has lead the Spartois for one hundred years. It is eighty years since the events in Marvel Preview Presents #11.
Jason misses Peter, his true son, although Kip is now his heir — he and Sandy have three children. The children ask their grandfather to tell them a story, and he tells the tale of the Star-Lord — and we then get the reprinted and now colored story.
At the end of the reprint come three more new framing pages of story. Kip refers to an abortive attempt to bring Peter back as Star-Lord. Jason surprises Kip, informs him he is abdicating and Kip will now be Emperor of the Spartois! The decision is done.
Jason then sleeps. He’s awoken by the arrival of Ship and Peter Quill, his son, The Star-Lord! Jason and Peter decide to get to know each other and take off in Ship, bound for the stars, leaving behind the imperial seal ring… and Star-Lord’s helmet.
And Star-Lord actually did disappear for a while. Peter Quill for even longer.
After that reprint, Star-Lord was absent for the next fourteen years, until yet another reprinting of the Claremont and Byrne story, with the newer framing material above, in Star-Lord Megazine #1 in 1996. That issue also contained a preview of a new Star-Lord miniseries that was about to begin… with a different Star-Lord!
Star-Lord Megazine #1 ends with seven preview pages from the upcoming Star-Lord miniseries. Ship is there, but her memory is damaged. Peter Quill is nowhere to be found.
Science fiction author Timothy Zahn was brought in to write the new miniseries. In my next installment, Zahn explains why he created a brand-new Star-Lord — Sinjin Quarrel — for his miniseries.
If you don’t want to wait for the next installment, you can pick up my book — Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy — and learn more there. These articles are excerpts from the book with some light re-editing for this presentation. Thank you for reading.