Planetary Bodies

The Guardians of the Galaxy: The Power of Starhawk: written by Steve Gerber, Roger Stern, and Stan Lee; illustrated by Al Milgrom, John Buscema, and others (1975-77; collected 2011): Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy hailed from the 31st century, something I’m pretty sure the movie is going to avoid in favour of the more contemporary version of the team. Oh, well. This volume collects some of the grooviest science fantasy comics of my youth, most of them written by the inimitable Steve Gerber and pencilled by Al Milgrom.

Chronologically, this is the second collection of the team, picking up the story after they’ve liberated the solar system from Marvel’s most underwhelming interstellar empire, the Brotherhood of the Badoon, with the help of the 20th century’s Defenders. After quickly winning the peace by striking a bargain with the Sisterhood of the Badoon (the lizard-like Badoon having split into two competing cosmic empires along gender lines; the women are a lot nicer), the Guardians find themselves out of place on Earth.

This anomie makes sense as the team comprises a genetically engineered pair of men who are the last survivors of the Jupiter and Pluto colonies; the mysterious space-faring Starhawk; Major Vance Astro, a thousand-year-old American astronaut condemned to life inside a metal shell so that he doesn’t disintegrate; the last survivor of the dominant species of the Alpha Centauri system; and, almost immediately, the last surviving genetically engineered woman from the Mercury colony.

Under the direction of Starhawk, they take to space in the starship Captain America to travel to the centre of the galaxy and confront a nihilistic super-planet shaped like a person and dubbed The Topographical Man. It’s several light years across and has suns about to go supernova at each wrist. Along the way, they fight one of the Topographical Man’s energy-gathering animalcules, a planet-sized, energy-eating space frog. And then things really get weird. Steve Gerber was fucking bananas in the best possible way.

Steve Gerber’s ability to write really, really weird stories seems even more remarkable given the context — this was the mid-1970’s, after all. A story arc that involves the giant astral projection of a woman having sex with the possessed body of the Topographical Man…well, it’s not something that would happen with any other writer. Roger Stern takes over for the last couple of issues collected here and does a pretty good job of following Gerber’s lead. All in all, this really is a weird and enjoyable comic book. Though I’m still not sure how people settled on Jupiter, genetic engineering or not. Gerber didn’t come up with that implausibility; he just has to deal with it. Recommended.

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