Sunday, 24 August 2014

Star Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy

Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Carmine Infantino & others
Star Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy (2014)

Nostalgia does it again. Naturally Mrs. Pamphlets and I took Junior to see Guardians of the Galaxy, assuming it would probably be one of those films we could all enjoy to a greater or lesser extent, as indeed it was. I had relatively fond memories of the Guardians of the Galaxy strip as reprinted in the back pages of Star Wars Weekly when I was Junior's age, but of course neither Martinex nor the fat guy from Jupiter were anywhere to be seen in the big screen adaptation, and Yondu had somehow grown up to be the ornery neighbour from The Waltons; and more confusing still was the presence of Star Lord as portrayed by the lead singer of Mouse Rat. Apparently it's all something to do with Dan Abnett, a man whose work is probably not for me given the girth of his bibliography and the presence therein of a Torchwood novel, but anyway the point is that I had similarly fond memories of the Star Lord strip, also from the back pages of Star Wars Weekly; and so here we are.

Star Lord, as I hadn't realised because Marvel UK chose not to reprint the more ropey material, was Steve Englehart's vision of an astrologically based cosmic superhero. Thankfully the character was soon rescued from its creator by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, which was where both myself and Star Wars Weekly came in. Star Lord was supposedly an attempt to write a comic with the sophistication of a novel, but a comic by the standards of 1976 specifically with the sophistication of a novel by Robert Heinlein; so as a graphic novel I suppose the guys beat more or less everyone but Will Eisner to the term, albeit with a strip which nevertheless reads like something aimed at precocious twelve-year old boys who listen to Boston.

When your starship captain wears a cape, gauntlets, and something on his head resembling a tiny model of a supersonic aircraft, then you know you're still very much in the Marvel cosmos, as distinct from Jim Starlin's Warlock which inhabited a similar realm as seen through a ton of drugs. Claremont overwrites as always with text heavy pages of soul-searching rhetoric written in the portentous tones of Leonard Nimoy addressing the main character.

Did you seek to raise a wry smile with your dandy turn of phrase and casual sarcasm, Lawrence Burton? Was it that passing pleasure which you didst sought?

Additionally, the stories are kind of thin and generic, with a surprisingly high quota of large breasted women in bikinis with affiliations to rebel or revolutionary forces, and those talkative alien bartenders who happily describe the entire socio-economic history of their respective planets to the alien dude in the funky costume. Star Lord predated Star Wars by about a year, which is probably why it flopped, having taken its best shot before the audience was really there; but it's roughly the same ball game, even to the point of beating the Lucas series to one of its major punchlines a few years ahead of time. Neverthless, Claremont somehow gets away with it - as he so often did - and for all his laboured corn, he keeps things moving in a way which holds one's attention and never feels quite so stodgy as it probably should, doubtless aided by John Byrne's generally wonderful art and Carmine Infantino's striking, almost Vorticist linework in the later strips.

Following Chris Claremont, Doug Moench took over the caped typewriter and the saga reverts to generic Marvel landfill of a kind which may well do the job if you're about eight, but seems otherwise unremarkable. The strip returned yet again in the nineties resembling one of the more forgettable series you might have seen in issues of 2000AD from the same era, but beyond a neat explanation as to the working of Star Lord's otherwise preposterous element gun, it all feels a bit pointless with innocent planets menaced by bad guys for the sake of our hero having someone to save whilst agonising over whether or not he's doing the right thing. Sadly, more than half of the collection fulfils all the promise of its bloody awful cover, but fuck it - never mind the filler; anything reprinting Carmine Infantino's breathtaking run on this strip is justified in my book.

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