Chip Zdarsky, Kris Anka, and Matthew Wilson’s Star-Lord comic, which released its third issue this week, is great so far. It’s telling a fun tale of Peter Quill making his way while stuck on Earth without his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy around. But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about abs.
One thing that has struck me the most reading Star-Lord so far, beyond its story or its brilliant visuals—Wilson is a sublime colorist, and Anka’s line work is crisp and beautiful—is how it treats its perspective of Peter Quill’s physical presence. Specifically, its sensual perspective of his presence.
Not an issue of Star-Lord has gone by without the reader witnessing at least one moment of Star-Lord shirtless. The first time we even see him in the entire series is splayed out on a couch in his temporary new home, shirtless and gleaming.
Star-Lord #2 even opens with a shot of Peter after a brawl, his clothing torn and chest brazenly exposed in that classic sort of “battle damage” style.
The most oblique of these moments came in this week’s third issue, which features a whole two-page scene of a post-workout Quill, in nothing but a pair of very snug gym shorts.
Chiseled, ripped male phsyiques are a dime a dozen in superhero comics. Practically every male hero around has got a body like Peter Quill’s, or better, and we see them in and out of skintight spandex every issue. But these moments in Star-Lord aren’t the atypical images of the male power fantasy that we’re used to seeing these physiques portayed in, though.
I mean for gods sake, look at that Star-Lord #3 page. That man’s goddamn abs are sparkling. It’s refreshingly sexy. It’s erotic. It’s very deliberately made from the perspective of a people-who-are-attracted-to-men gaze. And if you think I’m drawing too deep an interpretation from a couple pages of shirtless Star-Lord, well, it’s an interpretation that both Zdarsky and Anka believe in enough themselves to sell Star-Lord to their audience. A cursory scroll through the twitter accounts of both the writer and the artist easily provide evidence that the comic’s erotic portrayal of Star-Lord is a deliberate highlight of the comic, and so far a repeated selling point in their eyes.
The fan reaction they retweet and acknowledge inevitably further highlights the beefcake nature of Peter’s appearance in the book, too—and “Star-Abs” or “Abs-lord” is becoming as common a pseudonym for Quill among fans of the book as his actual superhero moniker is.
If that isn’t enough I’d also like to point out that Zdarsky and Anka even got a word bubble in the first issue altered, following its preview release, specifically so readers could see Star-Lord’s torso more clearly.
This isn’t subtext for either the audience of Star-Lord or the creative team. This is text. Very shirtless and very sexy text.
As we’ve pointed out before, there is a very distinct difference between the way male and female physiques are often portrayed in mainstream superhero comics. The muscular forms of Superman, Captain America, and many, many more male heroes are portrayed and illustrated in comics as displays of their strength—a form to be praised for its power, rather than a form that the audience is invited to appreciate in an erotic manner. On the other hand, female superheroes have been repeatedly sexualized and portrayed in sexually evocative manners pretty much since there have been female superheroes. Compare and contrast, say, this shot iconic shot of a shirtless Batman from “The Demon Lives!”—where he and an equally topless Ra’s al Ghul engage in a deadly swordfight in Batman #244—and the Star-Lord #3 panels of Quill.
One is a clear portrayal of strength and power. The other is more intimate, relaxed, and sensual. Both are focused on the exposed bodies of their male subjects, and yet, the implicit feeling behind both are very different—and we see much more of the former than we do the latter in superhero comics when it comes to male heroes. Instead, in these moments, Star-Lord’s provocative poses are much more in common from what we typically—and more often than not, controversially—see in sexualized depictions of female superheroes.
As a male, non-straight reader of comics, I can tell you it feels so, so rare to see something like we’re seeing in every issue of Star-Lord in a big-ticket mainstream superhero comic, especially from a publisher as prominent as Marvel. On top of that, Star-Lord doesn’t slap a giant neon sign on its sexualization and draw the audience towards it what it’s doing any more than it needs to (beyond, you know, the occasional sparkle). It just takes the view that sometimes a man with Peter Quill’s physique can be viewed erotically by people—it’s normalized in a way sexual portrayals of the male form rarely ever are in mainstream superhero comics. The only thing that I can think of that comes even close currently is the ongoing meme that is the fine, fine rear-end of DC’s Dick Grayson—but there’s something about the consistency of Star-Lord’s beefcake so far, and the fact it’s directly portraying Peter’s uncovered form, compared to Nightwing’s often tightly-clad butt, that makes it feel a bit racier and exciting.
Earlier this week, Star-Lord artist Kris Anka made an excellent point about the normalization of eroticism in comics art on Twitter, discussing the need for a better standard of sexiness in comics, regardless of character gender, and how widening the variety of interpretations of sexiness can lead to something better for reader and artist alike:
While it’s a wider point about the nature of drawing the larger concept of “sexiness”, he was literally making his point mid-inking abs on Star-Lord, so it’s clear that it’s a concept he also believes for the way he draws Peter Quill in the book. too
This latest version of Peter Quill is damn sexy, and he knows it—and clearly, so does the creative team behind him too. It’s a welcome and refreshing thing to see in superhero media, and I am all for something like Star-Lord leading the charge for a better standard of sexiness—for any character, and any physique—in comics.