Jim Starlin – Marvel Comics 1970s and Thanos of the Power Cosmic

Previous: Marvel 2000s

Allow me to take a moment to express my fondness for the works of Jim Starlin.

Since Guardians of the Galaxy – and yes the Avengers – has become mainstream, everybody knows Drax the Destroyer and Gamora and the Infinity Gems/Stones.

Most of all, now everyone knows Thanos.

Thanos_GOTG

 

But for it goes way back. When I was a precocious teen in the 90s, I couldn’t help but fall for the Infinity Gauntlet crossover. It was so epic, so cool. Thanos the all-powerful against a horde of superheroes and space beings. Followed by the exponentially-less cool Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, it was the epitome of overblown early 90s comicbook crossovers. What better to be introduced to the grand Marvel Universe?

The real story of Jim Starlin goes back much further that that. The cosmic escapades I am describing explore one of the great long-form stories of our time, with about forty years of history.

In the 1970s Marvel Comics was on top, having surpassed DC in the previous decade’s Silver Age quality. The medium was full of wonder, although it did get ridiculous as much as it got experimental. The Defenders, Howard the Duck, Jack Kirby’s Captain America. Comics hadn’t exactly grown up by then, no Claremont X-Men yet, but there was much fun to be had in the disco era.

 

Jim Starlin first got his break in 1972. He wrote and drew three issues of Iron Man, in which the metallic hero fought the Blood Brother aliens. And suddenly it was revealed they were working for the master villain of all time: Thanos.

The cosmic saga had begun.

29-7

It was in the pages of Captain Marvel that the saga truly unfolded. Starting with issue 25, the eponymous Marvel character finally found his own voice. The Kree alien (actually named “Mar-Vell”) was joined by the cosmic being Eon to become a protector of the universe, and was faced off against Thanos powered by a cosmic cube. The universe was just barely saved in the end.

I came across the trade paperback collection in my youth and I’m glad I did. The Infinity crossovers of the 90s made more sense with the backstory. That was the beauty of being into superheroes, to go back and endlessly collect and learn the whole story… Baroquean really…

There was also Tbe Death of Captain Marvel, the first official graphic novel of Marvel. A sort of proto-crossover, it was simply about the Captain getting cancer and retiring from the world of the living. In typical fashion, Starlin explored themes of the afterlife and the psychedelic depiction thereof.

That was back when characters stayed dead.

DeathofCaptainMarvel

 

Starlin is known just as well for Adam Warlock, a random character created by Kirby, who later became a sort of Christ-like figure. The artificial humanoid died and resurrected himself a number of times, just as often to fight against Thanos as he did ally with the mad Titan. An unlikely antihero.

The original build up of the Infinity Gems in comics was harder for me to find. I tracked down some rare reprints, an unsuccessful miniseries from the mid-90s. Weird stuff. Another villain was the Magus, who was Adam Warlock from the future and had started his own evil religion. Warlock had to erase the timeline to win. I think we can all relate to these kinds of psychological adventures.

Warlock original cover

 

It was a grand cosmic mythology, on par with Kirby’s Fourth World. The universe was a place of alien empires, tyrants with omnipotent power, and strange abstract beings overseeing the functions of all reality.

By the way, speaking of Kirby, Jim Starlin explained in interviews that Thanos wasn’t based on Darkseid — DC’s megavillain of similar stature — but rather  more based on Metron originally. What with the floating chair.

 

Starlin is mainly well-known for the space operas, but he also had a diverse career. Even wrote Batman in the 1980s during the Death in the Family arc with poor dead Robin II. Cosmic Odyssey for DC as well, and his own creation Dreadstar. In later years, Rann-Thanagar War comes to mind.

 

But Starlin’s greatness is really showcased with the cosmic stuff.

In 1989 he wrote Silver Surfer (no longer illustrating) in a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet. The anthropomorphic nature of Death had brought Thanos back from the grave, to harness his power and bring an evil balance the universe.

Much has been written of the ‘Infinity Wars’, the return of Adam Warlock and his multiple personas. It was Marvel of the 90s okay, and it was great. The followup series Infinity Watch wasn’t that great but it did further expand the mythos, as Warlock led his own ragtag team. Pip the Troll and Moondragon may not be top-tier franchises, but Drax and Gamora certainly grew in popularity in that series. And look that them today, full-fledged movie stars!

Continue reading

Advertisements

DC Comics – 1980s

Previous: DC Comics – 90s

I think we can all agree that the 80s was among the top decades ever. In the world of comics (at least, American mainstream superhero comics), it was the decade the medium finally matured into a respectable art form for adults.

I definitely grew up on Marvel, but in my later teens I chose to focus on DC, and from my early and mid-twenties I spent untold hours scouring for back issues to fill in the historical gaps.

The truth is, Marvel was revolutionary in the 1960s but DC — that stuffy old company famous for square-faced Superman and Adam West-era Batman — did catch up. Green Arrow/Green Lantern by Dennis O’Neil in the 70s comes to mind. By the 80s, there were plenty of literary books.

As for Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, it says a lot those seminal tomes were published by DC. But you’ll have to wait until my inevitable Alan Moore and Batman-themed posts for more on those. Same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Allow me to skip ahead in the timeline of the DC Universe, whereas the centerpiece would definitely be 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. The mega-crossover revitalized the entire multiverse, with a cosmic menace requiring the heroes of all the different earths and time periods and planets, and an ending that took all the realities and put them into one big universe. RIP Supergirl and Barry Allen Flash…

Superman_Earth-One_003

Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, it was a masterpiece.

Speaking of which, to go a bit further back on that creative team: Wolfman and Perez tother first came to prominence with the New Teen Titans. We forget now, but for a time they were the rivals to Marvel’s X-Men. That successful.

Sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl were joined by newcomers Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. Changeling/Beast Boy too. You may know the cartoon.

The-New-Teen-Titans-Omnibus_Vol1

Cyborg was futuristic-transhumanist science fiction, Starfire was space opera, and Raven was supernatural horror. All the neccesary genres for superhero adventures. Add that to character development and the occasional soap opera storylines, and the formula made for solid great comics. Too bad the Titans have never been able to live up to that pre-Crisis era since.

 

Pre-Crisis DC, that was back when there were all those numbered Earths. The Golden Age 1940s continuity was called Earth 2, with the Justice Society and the original Action Comes #1 Superman. Writer Roy Thomas, who might be the most knowledgeable man in all the field, wrote about the WWII-ea in All-Star Squadron. It was followed up Infinity, Inc., which wasn’t as good but interestingly showcased the sons and daughters of the Justice Society in modern times. I do like my superheroes generational, a sense of history.

All-Star_Squadron_02

 

Then Crisis happened. All those Earths were now one. History was rebooted. Earths 1 and 2 had the same timeline all along. It’s confusing, I know.

The first post-Crisis crossover to introduce this new streamlined universe was Legends, helmed by Marvel’s popular writer-artist John Byrne and John Ostrander. It pitted DC characters against Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which the ultimate epic villain of Darkseid.

Legends_1

 

Then, the Suicide Squad grew out of Legends. This ragtag team of supervillains employed by the government was, in a word, awesome. Very cool, very badass. Who knew corny DC villains could be written with such edge? Captain Boomerang, Deadshot. And a lot of the characters died in these suicide missions, some of them not even coming back to life. And who doesn’t love Amanda Waller?

Apparently there will be a movie of the squad soon enough.

Suicide_Squad_-1

 

Most important of all, the new Justice League evolved out of Legends. It was the latest incarnation, the Justice Leauge International, most often referred to as the “Bwahaha! era.

Justice_League_1_DC_1987

Believe it or not, it was a comedy comic. Cowritten by esteemed writer J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, it kind of showed what it was like to hang out as a superhero in the off time of saving the world. It had Guy Gardner as Green Lantern, who was refreshingly a dick for a superhero, Martian Manhunter as elder statesmen, best buds Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, girlfriends Fire and Ice, and of course Batman being super cool Batman.

I tracked down every single one of those issues. I still have the full run to this day, including Justice Leauge Europe. They did fight supervillains like Desparo and had crossovers with the extremely serious Suicide Squad, but mostly it was a return to comics being fun. Unfortunately, after Giffen and DeMatteis left the League became convoluted through the 90s until Grant Morrison revitalized the franchise with back-to-the-basics JLA. But that is a post for another day.

“One punch…”

Continue reading