This week saw the release of Chip Zdarsky, Kris Anka, and Matthew Wilson’s Star-Lord #6—which is, sadly, now the final issue of the series save for a one-shot annual arriving later this year. It’s such a shame, because this series has tackled Star-Lord in ways that few comics since the Guardians movie have even attempted to.
In the wake of Chris Pratt’s charmingly swaggering portrayal of Peter Quill in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the comics version quickly moved to match him. Hell, he even took the costume, while he was at it. It made sense to match the successful spin on the character, but at the same time, it meant more often than not that Star-Lord’s characterization was stuck in a weird rut of always being the quippy goof, cassette player in one hand and element blaster in the other. Even when he went through some major trials and tribulations—a rocky relationship with the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde, an even rockier time away from the Guardians as the ruler of his father’s homeworld, Spartax—he was still that sort of down-and-out goofball flying by the seat of his space-pants.
He’s still a goofball is in the now-concluded Star-Lord—set after the Guardians have disbanded after a testy fight in the midst of Civil War II got their ship and ticket off-planet blown to pieces—but this six-part series also went a long way in revealing that there’s much more to Peter Quill than a red leather duster and some snappy comebacks. By exploring the character at one of his lowest points, alone and trapped in the uncomfortable environs of his mom’s home planet, Star-Lord has seen Peter grow from one of the cosmos’ hottest messes into a surprisingly mature person.
Stuck on Earth and not legally allowed to go about as Star-Lord, Peter is forced to confront his problems (be they personal, financial, or social) as Peter Quill rather than from behind his high-tech mask or his fancy blaster pistols. He has uncomfortable attempts at reconciliation with Kitty, a hostile relationship with Alpha Flight’s Abigail Brand, and an uncaring friendship with many of the heroes on Earth, just familiar enough with his exploits as an intergalactic rogue to not care about him.
That forces Peter from being Star-Lord to being Bar-Lord, tending bar in a skeevy dive for supervillains to earn money to pay back Alpha Flight and buy his way back into space, while also having do community service as the forced-friend of an elderly man at a local retirement home. Although a wisecrack or a joke is never too far away (especially with a writer as consistently witty as Chip Zdarsky on the series), it roots Peter in such an unfamiliar sort of situation to him that it forces him to confront his issues, and his current lot in life, as a normal adult rather than a laser-spewing intergalactic thief.
That’s not to say Star-Lord doesn’t get into some wild shenanigans—part of the series’ arc is Peter getting himself roped into having to work for the Black Cat, who secretly owns the bar he works in, in order to get intel on the best places to steal from courtesy of her fellow villains—but it’s the grounded nature of Star-Lord’s setting that makes it so enjoyable to read. This mainly comes from Peter’s acquaintanceship-turned-friendship with the aforementioned curmudgeonly elderly partner, Edmund, assigned to Peter by Brand to try and set Quill out on the straight and narrow.
Edmund, it turns out, has a similar background to Peter, a life ultimately filled with regrets, strained familial relationships, and a checkered past that’s left him facing the last years of his life a lonely, often bitter man. Star-Lord contrasts Edmund’s own relationship with his son, Greg (Peter’s boss at the supervillain bar) to reflect the fraught relationship Peter has had with his father J’son in some really interesting ways. As the six issues progress, Peter begins to see himself as an unlikely mirror to Edmund, finding a way to at least acknowledge, if not fully solve, the problems that lead to the Guardians splitting up. At the very least, it allows Peter to take some sort of responsibility for the loose and often destructive manner he’s gone about treating his friends and family over the years.
This series has offered cathartic moments of reflection for storylines and events that have been bubbling up for the past few years for Peter Quill, and as a character piece rather than some cosmic slapstick adventure, it was deeply appreciated. And although I don’t want to spoil the reasons for it—it’s only six issues, you should go read it!—this week’s final issue has some deeply emotional resonances for Peter. They set him on a path for accepting a lot of the mess that’s gone on in his life recently, and make for a very interesting slate for future writers to develop the character with. It’s proof positive that Peter Quill can be so much more interesting, and human, when he’s not just a joke-a-minute space vagabond.
And, yes, I would be remiss to not note that sometimes Star-Lord was a series about Star-Lord’s abs as much as it was his emotional development. I’ve made my thoughts clear on why Kris Anka’s artwork (sublimely colored by Matthew Wilson) has an exceptional ability to highlight the bare, ripped torso of Peter Quill was a rare and appreciated slice of superhero beefcake—especially in a comics world where the male phsyique (superhuman or otherwise) is mostly displayed as a power fantasy rather than as something genuinely sexy yet intimate. But it’s just another aspect of this wonderfully charming series that I’ll miss, and one of the many things that this approach to Peter Quill did that was so refreshing and different.
Star-Lord may not have had much time to develop, but what it did in these six issues was some of the best work on Peter Quill as a character in recent memory. Without the fantasy of outer space to root it in, it became a series that reflected on whether or not it really was the stars that made the Star-Lord, and who Peter Quill is beyond the mask, the quips, and the spaceship. I hope going forward, it’s a take on the character that will influence Star-Lord’s adventures across the cosmos.