Interview: Sam Humphries On ‘Legendary Star-Lord’ And The Weird History Of Marvel’s Next Movie Star
Of all the Marvel characters who have made it to the big screen over the past few years, none have seemed less likely than Peter Quill. An obscure sci-fi character who debuted in the ’70s and made a handful of appearances in his first three decades of existence, he rose to fame during the Annihilation crossover as the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a ragtag band of spacefaring heroes who battled evil across the stars.
Now, with a Guardians of the Galaxy movie set to debut this summer, Peter Quill is getting his first ever ongoing series as The Legendary Star-Lord, thanks to Sam Humphries (Avengers A.I., Sacrifice), artist Paco Medina (Nova, Ultimate Comics X-Men) and colorist David Curiel. To find out more, I spoke to Humphries about the history of Star-Lord, how his obscurity helped to propel him to fame, and why his hair has to stay gloriously uncovered.
ComicsAlliance: Star-Lord is a pretty interesting character, just from a standpoint of how he developed.
Sam Humphries: Yes, absolutely.
CA: He first appears in this all-but-forgotten one-shot story in Marvel Preview by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, and I remember when I was a teenager, there was a miniseries by Timothy Zahn, of Star Wars novel fame, that I don’t think anybody read.
SH: You skipped the one after his first appearance, which was a “Giant-Size”, or maybe two issues, that are one of the most minor works ever done by the legendary creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin. They were unable to take Star-Lord to the heights that they did with Wolverine. [Laughs]
CA: So essentially, for thirty years, he had three appearances.
SH: Yeah, pretty much. I think that including that miniseries, it’s a total of maybe twelve issues, but he was almost never explicitly connected to the main Marvel Universe, and he kind of came in on the tail end of Marvel’s “Crazy Cosmic Freakout” period. The Jim Starlin stuff, which you could say ended with The Death of Captain Marvel. He’s part of that, but he’s part of the sunset of that era, and thus never really took off.
CA: For thirty years, basically nothing. In the decade since, now the lead character in a big-budget Hollywood film.
SH: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. The lead character in a film, as portrayed by Chris Pratt. A movie that by some elaborate twist of fate, is a highly anticipated summer blockbuster.
CA: As someone writing about Star-Lord, do you go back and read the stuff that never really took off to inform your take, or do you start with 2006 and his rise to popularity with Annihilation?
SH: I went back and read it all. There’s a lot of stuff there that was kind of forgotten about or revamped, I think to the benefit of the character, but when you take over a character who has a lot of past publication history, it can be a little difficult to find the time to read every appearance they’ve ever made. With Star-Lord, it’s a lot easier, so it’d be kind of shameful for me to not do so.
You know, even though his first phase of appearances are not referenced so much anymore, and aren’t really near and dear to most of the Star-Lord fans out there, there are still things you can pick up that have been informing how I’ve been writing Peter Quill.
CA: What did you pick up from those?
SH: He had a much harder edge back then, which I thought was interesting. He was much more of this angry young man, angry at the world.
CA: Steve Englehart described him as “an unpleasant, introverted jerk.”
SH: [Laughs] Exactly! That’s what he was! And that’s not the Peter Quill that I’m writing in Legendary Star-Lord by any means, but it’s interesting to remember that he can have a temper, and that he’s a genial, charming guy who still has this core character within him that’s basically still this ten year-old kid whose mom died saving his life. That’s something that’s very difficult to get over, especially if you’ve spent the rest of your life trying to run away from that.
CA: Star-Lord’s return in Annihilation, which is what led directly to being in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, happened at a really interesting time at Marvel where it seemed like a lot of “forgotten” characters were making a comeback. It happened right around the same time as Nextwave, which brought back Elsa Bloodstone, Monica Rambeau and Machine Man. Guardians had Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon…
SH: And Groot, who has a history much more obscure than Peter Quill, which is saying a lot.
CA: Is there something about these characters who don’t have that long history that makes them inherently appealing to you as a creator, or as a fan?
SH: Just on a real practical level, it’s like, Wolverine has so many appearances and pages devoted to him over the years that he comes with a lot of baggage. In terms of a creator’s appeal with these much more obscure characters, you have much more of a blank slate, and you have a freedom to interpret them in a fresh new way. Wolverine has been constantly reinterpreted for the modern day, whatever the “modern day” happens to be on that particular date.
For fans, I think you can come to it with, I guess, less anxiety in your heart when that character gets revamped. When you revamp Wolverine, before it’s even announced, people are going to be up in arms about it. But for Star-Lord, pre-Annihilation, who didn’t have a huge fanbase, you didn’t have people second-guessing everything you’re doing, and readers can come to that reading experience with a much more open heart and less fear clouding their reading experience. I think there’s something that’s definitely attractive there.
And if we’re talking about how an obscure character like Star-Lord went from his humble origins to headlining this summer blockbuster, I think you have to give all the credit to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for the way that they took the character, reinterpreted him, and really executed him into this compelling, charming, adventurous, fun character. I think having an obscure character has its advantages, but with any character, it comes down to the talent of the creator behind him.
CA: So what you’re saying is that Star-Lord is definitely, 100% better than Wolverine.
SH: Yeah, absolutely. [Laughs] He’s absolutely better than Wolverine, but most people haven’t realized it yet.
CA: What was it about Star-Lord in particular that you think clicked with readers? I was really drawn to this idea that he’s this Earth-man out in space who, unlike a lot of Marvel’s cosmic characters, has no desire whatsoever to go home.
SH: That’s a storytelling tradition that goes all the way back to Adam Strange and Flash Gordon, and even Robinson Crusoe. But yeah, Peter Quill is a guy whose time on Earth is kind of defined by a crappy life. He never knew his father, his mom died saving him when he was ten, he grew up in a series of foster homes. On Earth, he’s this normal, woebegone Peter Quill, but in space, he’s the Legendary Star-Lord. In space, he found this blank slate on which he could recreate his life, not as this unlucky orphan, but as this fast-talking, fast-shooting adventurer.
SH: I think you can kind of draw a parallel to him with someone who spends all their time in junior high or high school hating the town they live in, and then they go off to college and reinvent themselves, and they never, ever go back. I think that’s Peter Quill’s relationship with space.
CA: Is that how your take with him starts?
SH: Absolutely. He’s a guy, and we say this right in the issue, who loves space. He’s not tortured about being in space. He has an affection for Earth as where he grew up, it’s where half his heritage is, but he loves being Star-Lord. He loves going out into space and drinking and fighting and adventuring. But we do give him a new connection to Earth, which is his long-distance flirtation with Kitty Pryde, which Bendis introduced in “The Trial of Jean Grey.” They have these holographic phones with which they can communicate with each other. It’s kind of like intergalactic Skype. They’ve met and they have chemistry and there’s a spark there, and now they’re going to find out across thousands of light years if there’s potential for a relationship there.
CA: So Legendary Star-Lord is based partially around Peter Quill’s long-distance relationship with Kitty Pryde.
SH: Yeah, exactly. Maybe there’s something inextricably human about the notion of a long-distance relationship. No matter where you are in the universe, you end up stumbling into one.
CA: I think I missed that story. Did they meet while she was part of a giant space bullet?
SH: No, they met just a couple months ago — it was a crossover between All-New X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, where the Shi’ar kidnapped young Jean Grey and took her into space. The X-Men and Guardians teamed up to rescue her, and that’s when they met.
CA: So what else is in store for the series?
SH: We’ve got Mr. Knife, who’s a new antagonist out in space –
CA: Mr. Knife?!
SH: Yeah, he’s put a Blood Bounty on Star-Lord, which is the créme de la créme of bounties. It’s the baller bounty, and everybody’s out to get him, so right off the bat, he’s shaken up a little bit. He’s pursued and has to stay one step ahead of everyone who wants to turn his head in for a big reward.
SH: In issue #1, Peter’s got an improbable heist that goes wrong. In issue #2, he tangles with a long lost family member that doesn’t think his high-flying style is “cool.” In issue #3, he gets a new ship from an unlikely source, and in issue #4 he comes face to face with some heavyweights of the Marvel Universe — on Earth.
CA: Are those cosmic aspects, the big sci fi stuff, something you’ve been wanting to do for a while? I know you did a John Carter miniseries.
SH: Yeah. John Carter’s another one of those guys who’s always trying to get home. I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone who’s read any of my stuff that I love sci-fi, so I feel very much at home in the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, especially as it’s getting more and more developed. I’m just loving everything that’s going on, the cosmic franchise that Marvel’s publishing, with Brian Bendis doing Guardians and Kelly Sue DeConnick doing Captain Marvel and Greg Rucka with Cyclops and Gerry Duggan on Nova and Skottie Young on Rocket Raccoon. We’ve got a very, very deep bench of great books and great characters and great creators. It’s a really interesting sandbox that we’ve all come to and that we’re all developing at the same time, and while Legendary Star-Lord is starting out focused on more human stories and less cosmic-spanning stories like Infinity, there are things we’re developing right off the bat, in #1, that will become big, large-scale threats to the Marvel Unvierse that we’ll see playing out in very rapid fashion.
CA: I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s mind when I say that Star-Lord, Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon are all happening because of interest in the movie, but is this built solely to be a Star-Lord solo series? Are any of the Guardians characters going to show up?
SH: I’d say both. The relationship between Legendary Star-Lord and Guardians of the Galaxy is no different from the relationship between Iron Man and Avengers. Iron Man is a part-time Avenger, but full-time Tony Stark and Iron Man. Same thing here. Peter Quill is a part-time Guardian of the Galaxy, but he’s full-time Legendary Star-Lord. The Guardians are such an important part of his life, not just as compatriots, but also as his closest friends, so we’ll see the influence they’ve had on his life and the way he thinks, and how he attacks problems and looks at the galaxy, even when the characters themselves don’t show up.
It’s definitely a solo book for Peter. It’s not just a spin-off, it’s not just a junior title to Guardians. That said, with so many things happening in the cosmic end of the Marvel Universe, I think, without spoiling anything, that we can say there’ll be a lot of cross-pollination between these books that’s going to lead to something big in the near future.
CA: Last question: What are the chances he’s going to get that helmet back, or is his hair out all the time?
SH: [Laughs] He’s hair-out. This is the mousse styling gel era of Star-Lord. The classic Star-Lord costume is awesome, and we may catch a glimpse of it again, but we’re going helmet-less with a full mask for the near future. It’s a great design with the jacket and the gun and boots, and it’s more in line with where Peter’s headed with the more Western outlaw scoundrel with a heart of gold vibe that we’re taking him to. If the sight of hair offends you, you may want to avert your eyes.
The Legendary Star-Lord #1 is available for pre-order now from finer comics shops. It goes on sale in July from Marvel.