We’ve all seen the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer by now; the one where Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer asks Chris Pratt, the leading man hero of the film, who Star-Lord is. It’s a cheeky way for Marvel to acknowledge the fact that they’re leading a film with a superhero very few people outside of Bronze Age Marvel fans have ever even heard of. It’s a gamble, but the overall infrequent use of Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill) allows them somewhat of a clean slate in regards to what defines him.
Current Guardians of the Galaxy comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis has used that flexibility to add more humor to Star-Lord, building on the Guardians resurrection kick-started by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in 2008 (in which Star-Lord was assertive and bold, but not as recklessly cocksure as he’d become to mirror the film). A look back on the character as originally conceived by Steve Englehart and Gray Morrow in Marvel Preview #4 reveals a Starlord (no hyphen!) that seems to be a vastly different personality than the one being brought to the big screen by Chris Pratt.
Peter Quill’s story begins seconds after his birth, with his apparently mentally ill father unconvinced that Peter is his child. He carries the infant Quill out into the woods to kill him but dies of a heart attack before he can do the deed. This leaves Peter to be raised by his mother Meredith, and the young boy immerses himself in sci-fi fantasy (the third season of Star Trek to be precise. Not sure why Englehart picked the worst season, but it’s an unusually specific reference).
Meredith entertains Quill’s imagination concerning a circular burnt patch of grass close to their home with the story of an alien invasion. She dismisses it as a local urban legend, but it proves to be the truth when aliens return to that spot and murder her in front of Peter before returning to the skies. From that point on, Quill becomes obsessed with traveling to space to avenge his mother.
He immerses himself in astronomical studies. “He’s the coldest fish you’ll meet this side of a sardine tin!” confides one young woman after a failed date with Quill (he paid more attention to his pet owl, Al). Quill’s prickly and obsessive nature costs him his opportunity to join the crew of the first manned mission to Mars. Reticent to place Quill in close quarters with others on such a long space voyage, his instructor succinctly explains, “You’re compatible with no one!”
Quill has a total breakdown, realizing his antisocial behavior may have cost him everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, but instead of quitting, he attempts to open up and be more personable. With some renewed dedication, he works toward a second chance aboard a space station in orbit around Earth.
One of the more unusual events the astronauts aboard the station are there to witness is the aligning of the planets. Two weeks before this event happens, the astronauts all receive a psychic alien message that one of them should be selected amongst themselves to be the next Starlord (“What. The. Hell.” is one astronaut’s appropriate response). Quill volunteers, and when he’s turned down by his superiors for someone more experienced, he has another violent outburst and is sent packing back to Earth within a week.
Now a desperate man, Quill hijacks a ship back into space and ends up shooting (but not killing) the rival astronaut selected for the Starlord duties. Quill finds himself cornered by armed guards, and just as they fire their rifles at Quill, he’s whisked away to another world by a godlike otherworldly being (the Master of the Sun) and given the mantle of Starlord.
Peter tries to come clean at this point, but the Master of the Sun (who intimates that he’s actually the Biblical God) lets Peter know that he was selected to be Starlord before he was ever born (and implies that his conception may have been immaculate, which certainly explains how Peter’s story begins). He dons a consciousness-expanding helmet, holsters his psychically controlled elemental gun (it can literally do anything, including create life), and tries out some of his newfound abilities.
The Master of the Sun asks Quill what he’ll do next, whether or not he’ll exact vengeance as his first official move as Starlord. Quill ponders this for a moment, but isn’t given any real choice. He’s transported back out into space, where he handily finds and kills all of the aliens responsible for his mother’s death. And just like that he’s whisked back to the Master of the Sun. “And now you are free of your past life,” the Master explains. Even Starlord questions if this battle was a vision or reality, but its effect is the same. With his vengeance sated, it allows Starlord to determine what’s next for him as a hero without any emotional baggage.
Only a few months later in Marvel Preview #11, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne rewrote Starlord’s origin to remove the quasi-religious aspects. In this update, which hasn’t really been tampered with by Marvel in the proceeding years, Quill is not an immaculate conception from the Master of the Sun, but he’s actually the son of an interstellar royal named Jason of Sparta, who crashed on Earth and took up with Meredith while repairing his spacecraft. Jason and Meredith fall in love against their better judgment and Jason soon learns that Meredith is pregnant. Hoping to spare his son any danger from Spartan’s enemies, he flees Earth before Peter is born, erasing all memory of Sparta’s existence from Meredith’s mind (leaving her to marry a different, longtime suitor). Starlord also learns that Meredith’s death was a botched assassination attempt to eliminate Quill before he could ever take on the Starlord mantle.
Other than his sporadic appearances in Marvel Preview and Marvel Spotlight, the character faded away as a relic of late-'70s “space opera” mania. In 1996, Marvel made a dedicated stab at reviving him, by reprinting the Claremont/Byrne stories and launching an all-new Starlord miniseries from Star Wars scribe Timothy Zahn with painted art by Dan Lawlis. New character Sinjin Quarrel adopted the Starlord persona for a bit, but its uncertain where Quarrel’s time as Starlord takes place within Marvel’s continuity (likely in a far future). The modern revitalization of Peter Quill as Star-Lord occurred during Marvel’s cosmic event Annihilation, the same event that revitalized Guardians of the Galaxy.
These days, Star-Lord has been reverse-engineered to sound and behave more like the character Chris Pratt is playing in the upcoming film. Instead of a stoic and square-jawed obsessive, he’s a youthful and glib space outlaw. Riding the wave of anticipation for the film, he’s also starring in his first monthly solo series -- Legendary Star-Lord (the first issue is on stands now). The change in his characterization makes business sense, as there are more people looking forward to the film than looking backward at a couple of comics from 1977. It’s something old school Starlord fans will have to get used to while a whole new generation of Star-Lord fans is born.
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