Welcome to the Dollar Box, where I look at classic comics with an original cover price of a dollar or less!
This month, my subject is the historic first teaming of the classic comics team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Tom Orzechowski.
Am I writing about Uncanny X-Men? Or maybe an issue of Iron Fist?
The very first time this team worked together on the same book was … Star-Lord?
Published in 1977 in the pages of Marvel Preview #11, Marvel’s black-and-white anthology magazine, “Windhoelme” was the second outing for Star-Lord, a science fiction adventure character who debuted in issue #4 of that same mag. The original Star-Lord, by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, was an ill-tempered, borderline-psychopath who stole his superpowers as part of his quest to avenge his mother’s death at the hands of space aliens.
This Star-Lord … was something different.
It was characteristic that Star-Lord’s second outing was a “reboot” — additional reboots would follow, seemingly every-other issue in the character’s brief career, culminating in a near-total rewrite that saw Star-Lord enter the Marvel Universe in the pages of Thanos #8-12 – and now, as the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord is fast-tracked for pop culture stardom in next month’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
the Star Lord you probably know
I like the new Star Lord, but he really has little to do with this Star-Lord, who headlined this little jewel of a science fiction adventure in Marvel Preview #11. What with all the space empires, swashbuckling sword-fights, and humanoid aliens running around this story, you could be forgiven for thinking Star-Lord was a fast-follower of Star Wars … but Marvel Preview #11 was conceived and created months before Star Wars hit the theaters. The similarity is down to common origins, with the Robert A. Heinlein “juveniles” that Claremont cited as his inspiration providing a rich portion of the pulp science fiction tradition that Lucas drew upon for Star Wars.
It’s also kismet, of the negative sort, in that Star-Lord was just … that … much ahead of its time. If release of this issue had been able to take better advantage of Star Wars mania, maybe Star-Lord would have gone on to become a superstar comic book character. As it was, Star-Lord came and went, and while the character would have additional outings under various creative teams prior to fading into obscurity for a decade or two, he would never be better than in this rollicking, two-fisted space opera.
Displaying the fast-paced, catch-you-up-while-we’re-on-the-run storytelling that would characterize his X-Men work, Claremont drops us in the deep end of his story, with a peaceful planet conquered by slavers, and a pair of young adventurers eager to fight back. Kip and Sandy are fairly stock supporting characters, but they’re not without spirit, and Sandy is sort of hot, in that square-jawed, big-eyed John Byrne kind of way …
With the population of a planet hanging in the balance, we’re introduced to Star-Lord, who makes a confident and understated entrance (despite the characteristic internal self-doubt Claremont’s script would display later in the issue). It’s never really made clear who our hero is, or where he came from, but that’s actually a strength of this story. It’s more entertaining to try to piece together the details of our hero’s powers and origin as we go along (and besides, it was all on display in the character’s inaugural appearance in Marvel Preview #4 for those who simply had to know).
In the pages that follow, we learn that Star-Lord can breathe in outer space, that he can handle himself in a fight, and that he takes a dim view of slavers. But freeing Kip, Sarah, and everyone else on the slave ship is just the start of our adventure.
In short order we are winging across the galaxy with our little crew, exactly in the fast-paced manner that we’d learn to love when Han Solo settled behind the controls of his Millennium Falcon.
Star-Lord’s spaceship isn’t quite so cool as Han’s legendary ride, but “Ship” has secrets of her own. For one thing, she can change shape. For another, she’s sentient … and she may also be in love with our hero. Certainly Star-Lord and “Ship” have a long and unexplained history between them — just another of a score of intriguing story hooks Claremont drops into this story.
So far we’ve checked off most of the compulsory boxes for a good space opera. A virtuous hero, young people in distress, spaceships and starfaring adventure, enigmas and mysteries at every turn.
But there are also hissable bad guys, who torment our innocent supporting characters …
… cruel lizardmen who get exactly what they deserve …
… and in the finest sword-and-planet tradition, our hero locks steel with a corrupt galactic nobleman to determine the fate of a stellar empire. Looking back on this sequence from a post-Star Wars perspective, it’s impossible not to hear lightsabers humming and crackling.
“Windhoelme” is a brilliant bit of comic book space pulp, fast-paced, imaginative, heartfelt, and fun. It (re)introduces a great science fiction hero in Star-Lord and follows him on an arc that sees him liberate the throne of a far-flung star empire, and then toss it all aside for a life of adventure roaming the stars …
Original copies of Marvel Preview #11 aren’t all that easy to find, but if you want to read this superior comic story, here’s a Dollar Box pro tip. If you’ll allow me to exceed my brief by recommending a book with an original cover price of more than a dollar (gasp!), then I’ve got just the thing for you …
Star-Lord The Special Edition #1 (the one and only issue in the line) reprinted Marvel Preview #11 in 1982. This is a standard-sized comic book, and the tale is slightly altered here (with a new introduction and a postscript by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden), but the meat of the tale is as Claremont, Byrne, and Austin created it in 1977 … with the added bonus of color! Purists will want the original tale, but I’ve grown fond of the colorized version as well, and it also has the advantage of being readily and cheaply available on the back-issue market.
Star-Lord in color!
But whether you experience this tale in color or glorious black & white, “Windhoelme” from Marvel Preview #11 is well worth tracking down. It is a relentlessly entertaining space opera comic that is presently lost to the mists of time, but may shortly loom large in our pop culture, pending Star-Lord’s big screen debut in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I strongly suggest you score your copy of this best of the early Star-Lord adventures before the Imperial scum start jacking up the prices on eBay!
This article was originally published at Stash My Comics.
NEXT MONTH: #135 All This And World War Too!
Mars sent birthday wishes via good ol’ fashioned snail mail:
The “Unholy Sarcophagus!” I like the sound of that.
And who wouldn’t want a jetpack alien to carry them away to adventure?
That girl is going to get windburn!
Thanks for the kind thoughts, Mars!
(And if you haven’t visited in awhile, be sure to mouse over to Mars Will Send No More for an eclectic mixture of comics, fine art, and surprises!)
Longbox Graveyard is firmly rooted in the past, but I do sometimes read current comics — even better, I have friends who are making current comics! My secret identity as a video game creator and comic book writer has brought me into contact with dozens of talented artists and writers through the years, and I am at loss to explain why I haven’t interviewed one before now!
To inaugurate my new, semi-irregular Longbox Graveyard “Interviews” category, I’m delighted to introduce artist Billy King. I’ve known Billy for a decade, and we worked together on video games like Darkwatch and The Bourne Conspiracy. More recently, Billy has been a frequent reader and supporter of Longbox Graveyard, and he and I have even been cooking up a special project for the blog, about which more at the end of Billy’s interview!
it’s Billy King!
LBG: Give us your thumbnail history, Billy!
BILLY: I have been a Visual Development/Concept Artist for the last fourteen years, working in the video game industry exclusively. I was the former Concept Lead for High Moon Studios under Activision on their last two projects: Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Marvel’s Deadpool.
Billy’s concept art for recent Deadpool video game
Currently, I am a freelance visual development artist, illustrator and graphic designer for several clients. Since this is a comics blog, I suppose it’s most interesting that I am the cover artist on Airwolf for Lion Forge Comics.
LBG: How did you first get into comics?
BILLY: My first comic I ever read was Web of Spiderman #8. I was eight years old and just moved to Boston from a small town in New York. On a bonding trip, my Step-Dad brought me to a comic store in Cambridge around 1988. He told me I could pick anything in the store and, of course, pointed to the 50 cent bin. I went straight for the black-suit Spiderman taped to the front of the longbox. I got bit by my own radioactive ‘comic bug’ that day. However, until I read Uncanny X-Men #234 (the brood story line with Marc Silvestri), I was all over the place with collecting. X-Men became my comic of choice and where I started collecting comics as a serious hobby. Thank goodness for lunch money … sorry Mom.
LBG: Did any of those comics influence your own development as an artist?
BILLY: I’m a product of late ‘80s-‘90s comics, so I was all about the art. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would go back and read Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc. to really appreciate the writers and the medium as a whole. Some artists that inspired me at the time were Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, John Byrne; during the Image days J. Scott Campbell, Joe Mad, Greg Capullo, and Todd McFarlane snuck in as influences. As I got older, though, Dave Cockrum and Neil Adams as well as Bernie Wrightson and countless other greats (Charles Vess and Frank Miller) moved to the top of the lists … but I’m still a huge fan of Marc Silvestri and Greg Capullo.
Airwolf by Billy King!
LBG: Let’s talk a bit about your comics work. How do you go about creating a cover?
BILLY: On Airwolf, I receive an email from my editor with what the story line is for that book or arc. Sometimes he gives me the whole comic, but even when that isn’t possible, I can usually break down from his synopsis what’s important for a cool cover. It’s usually Airwolf running away from or attacking a baddie aircraft, which is an awesome challenge. In recent issues, I have been looking at paintings of WWII planes and battles to get inspired. I’m now trying to get that kind of feel into the covers.
Next I will do some quick layouts (either on paper or right in Photoshop) and mail them off to my editor, Shannon Denton. Once they are approved, I’ll take the thumbnail and blow it up and start drawing/painting right over it using Photoshop.
I start differently on each cover though. Sometimes I draw the whole thing out — sometimes I just start painting with color and big strokes. Sometimes the foreground aircraft goes first, sometimes I start with the background. Shannon gives me a lot of room to explore, which I appreciate. I’m still perfecting the most productive and efficient process. It’s definitely different than the studio work I’ve done over the last ten-plus years.
LBG: Any special challenges in working on a digital-only comic?
BILLY: Airwolf is (at the moment) a Kindle only digital-comic. The challenge was making a Kindle spec’d composition also work with a standard comic size (for the Amazon thumbnail and potential print). I didn’t want to have key elements cropped out of the Kindle version (which was the important section of the cover).
A potential pitfall would be missiles and gun fire coming from off screen. Which is what happened on Airwolf #1 (below). The bottom half of the image looks like a solid composed piece but the top added looks like an after thought and disjointed. My Bad.
I decided to keep designing the covers to primarily work for the Kindle, of course. I’d use the Kindle section as the center for the full image and just extend the ‘plate’ up and down. To fill in the space, I’d add interesting yet superfluous extras to either the top or the bottom of the piece. They could be cropped to the Kindle specs without hurting the standard-comic composition. Easy, right? Took me four issues to figure it out! (See above).
LBG: What’s coming up for you next?
My time is pretty jammed packed at the moment with all sorts of work that I can’t get into right now (like some games concept work) — lots of cool stuff. I look forward to scratching my comic itch with Airwolf covers for the foreseeable future. Shannon Denton, my editor, is awesome and I enjoy working with him.
Speaking of Shannon, he also has his own imprint called Actionopolis, and I’ve done a couple covers for him over there as well. The most recent one is for a book named Battery: The Arrival. I had a lot of fun on this one and, of course, he gave me a lot of room to play.
I’m also working on an experimental web-comic called WarChief for … (drumroll) … Longbox Graveyard! The editor for that one though … huge pain. I take six months to paint nine panels and he’s supper supportive? How dare he. We thought it would be fun to start some creator-owned web comics under the Longbox Graveyard header. Apparently, I take forever … but it is coming! I have one panel finished and the rest laid out!
WarChief sneak preview, by Billy King and Paul O’Connor!
LBG: I’m sure it will be worth the wait, Billy! And I’d never expect you to work on our little experiment when paying work is demanding your time. That you’ve been too busy for WarChief is a happy problem to have!
Thanks to Billy for his candid answers and awesome art! For more of Billy’s work, be sure to check his site, and follow his Twitter and Instagram feeds, too … and in the fullness of time, you’ll see the fruit of his WarChief labors on this very blog!
Happy birthday to me — Longbox Graveyard is three years old!
Twice a year I indulge myself with a blog about blogging, where I look at the numbers for Longbox Graveyard, assess where I’ve been, and decide if I want to keep this thing going. If you’re looking for Superhero Spoonerisms or Thanos on the couch, then you will want to skip this entry.
Otherwise — forward!
To get the business out of the way first — Longbox Graveyard has been “renewed.” I’ll keep blogging for at least the rest of 2014. I will, however, be reducing my posting frequency. I will aim for one “numbered” article every thirty days, on the first Wednesday of the month, with various shorter posts on other Wednesdays. As the whim strikes me I may run multiple numbered articles in a thirty-day period, but my plan for the balance of the year is one big article per month (some of which may be reprints, like last week’s fill-in article).
the Winter Soldier delivered, both at the box office and for Longbox Graveyard!
Longbox Graveyard itself has never been healthier. Traffic was up a whopping 43% these past six months, fueled by the run-up to the release of Captain America: Winter Soldier, which drove crazy hits for my Top Ten Captain America Villains article. My article on superhero deck-building games has proven a strong performer, along with the usual assortment of Top Tens, which remain the most popular posts on the site. I am also pleased that the first half of 2014 saw varied voices on the blog, with guest articles about Shazam and The Punisher from Dean Compton; Peter Parker’s love life by Dan Gvozden (Part One, Part Two); and Daredevil/Kingpin by Mark Ginocchio. Also in the community spirit, I wrote about the All-Star Squadron and Thanos as part of Super-Blog Team-Up, a kind of blogging open house event that is always fun and (I suspect) helps bring new readers to Longbox Graveyard.
The image above shows hits by month for the lifetime of Longbox Graveyard, dramatically highlighting that Captain America-driven surge over the last three months. After the madness of April it was a little disappointing to come back down to earth in May … but that “disappointing” May still ranks as the third-best month in the blog’s history! I do think the good times are coming to an end, though, and I expect growth to slow substantially over the next six months, if only because I will be posting less … unless this summer sees my Guardians of the Galaxy articles catch some of the same Google mojo that my Cap article enjoyed!
So my metrics are healthy — traffic is strong, readers still favor me with comments here and on my Twitter stream, and the blog is even throwing off about twenty bucks a month in advertising revenue, which is pretty much the minimum threshold for keeping those obnoxious FIVE CELEBRITY BOOB JOBS YOU HAVE TO SEE TO BELIEVE ads running on my sidebar.
Elsewhere it was business as usual. My kids still don’t read comics, and I made incremental progress toward organizing the Accumulation (though I am just about done on that front). I achieved some small Pinterest fame and opened up an account at Lockerdome. I wrote an article for WhatCulture (but didn’t find it an especially rewarding experience).
Also, my house almost burned down.
That’s video I shot about a block from my house, during the devastating San Marcos wildfire last month. Later that day, I’d watch helicopters filling up their water baskets on live news reports on my TV, hear the rotors over my house, and then watch the water drops from my window. At various times during the event, flames were visible from my living room, and my family and I would be evacuated for several days. Thanks to genuinely superheroic measures by firefighters and first responders, our place was fine, but I did see a neighbor’s home across the canyon catch fire and burn to the ground.
It was a curiously remote feeling, watching those flames approach my house. I can even recommend it, in a strange way — it brought sharply into focus the things I could and could not live without, and forced me to genuinely confront many of the ideas I have examined in the abstract here at Longbox Graveyard about being possessed by your possessions. If the wind had shifted that afternoon there is a very real possibility that I could have lost my home, and everything in it … including the Longbox Graveyard comic book collection.
flame on! (almost)
I was OK with it. In a dark way, I even fantasized that it might not be such a bad thing (and I know this is a false and horrible thing to say, given that so many people suffered genuine loss in this fire). Standing there with a garden hose while the fire whipped through our canyon helped me understand that I could legitimately let my things go (though I was willing to fight for them, to a point). In the scheme of things, as much as I enjoy my comics collection and my game collection and all the other stuff packed into my house, I don’t really need any of it, and I shouldn’t let it pin me down.
The fire also helped solidify a choice my wife and I had made a couple days prior — we’re moving.
The reasons are tedious and outside the scope of this blog, but the impact will hit Longbox Graveyard where it lives. My comic book Man Cave may be going away, and with it a place to store my comics. I’ve already begun selling off my bulkier items — mostly games at this point, but comics will follow — and I’m not sure how much of the Collection I will retain, or how I feel about shoving things into a storage unit someplace. I’m also not sure what it will mean for this blog. Will Longbox Graveyard have a purpose if the comics that inspired it are no longer a part of my life?
I’m not sure.
Hulk is outta here … but I’m sticking around for a little while, at least!
I am sure that I’ve discovered a theme for the next six months of this blog, though!
That about does it for this season’s report … as has been the case with past Longbox Soapboxes, I hope you will check in with a comment — if you comment on just one entry here at Longbox Graveyard, let it be this one!
And what would a Longbox Soapbox be without a poll?
Thanks for reading Longbox Graveyard, whether you discovered me three years ago, or last week! Your comments and support have buoyed me up through the long and sometimes arduous process of taming my comics Accumulation, and coming to grips with my own brief career as a comics creator. It’s been a good ride — and it will continue for awhile yet — but it is beginning to wind down a bit, which I think is a happy thing.
NEXT MONTH: #134 Star Lord: Windhoelme!