Thursday, January 26, 2023

Accept The Word Of One Who Knows


As a fan of the original Guardians of the Galaxy since their inception, I was bound to take an interest in Starhawk, the enigmatic individual who was folded into their ranks following the Earth's liberation from its conquerors, the Brotherhood of the Badoon. Created by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema and first appearing in The Defenders, this new character was appropriately given few details (if we can even use that word) to pique our interest. He described himself, for instance, as "the light, and the giver of light"... he has three young children, settled in an Earth-like environment on a dome-covered asteroid... he appears involved with a woman named Aleta, whom he communicates with via a computer console screen and describes in a way that implies more at work than a depth of feeling ("all that I am, all I can be, flows from her," a connection alluded to in Starhawk's later battle with Korvac)... and, perhaps most mysteriously, he often offers information and/or assurances to others on various matters of interest as "One Who Knows," a description which is often taken at face value though never accompanied by explanations regarding what or how.

Initially, we as readers are exposed to Starhawk when he appears on the Badoon homeworld to give aid to Maj. Vance Astro (one of the Guardians) and the Valkyrie (one of the Defenders) who have been transported there mistakenly. Yet once Starhawk has healed the Valkyrie of her injury suffered in this world's swamps on arrival, she and Astro find no sign of Earth's conquerors; instead, they discover their female progenitors, living separately in peace in an advanced civilization where they remain ignorant of the Brotherhood's activities of conquest throughout the galaxy.

Eventually, the Defenders are reunited, and set about their task of freeing the Earth from Badoon tyranny. But once Strange has mystically set free all of the imprisoned humans worldwide, Starhawk plays a crucial role in the Defenders cutting their mission short and returning to their own time period.

The "story for another time" that the narrative speaks of arrives a few months later in early 1976, where Gerber and artist Al Milgrom launch the Guardians in their own series of stories in Marvel Presents which, among other things, serve to further explore the character of Starhawk. In fact, we'd do well to keep in mind Maj. Astro's words* in that last panel, as they'll come to mean more than he and ourselves are, at present, aware of.

*Hint: Pay close attention to the verb.

Aboard the Guardians' starship, Starhawk and Astro unfortunately get off on the wrong foot at the beginning of their new mission to the center of the galaxy--partly because Gerber has decided the time has come to move Aleta from a computer display to a more demonstrative representation of the bond she shares with Starhawk (and vice versa).

We would come to learn the fate of their children when the series progresses to the point where the Guardians are attacked by the Reavers of Arcturus, well named for their aggressive and merciless stance against other races. Unfortunately, both Aleta and Starhawk become both separated and debilitated during the attack--leading one of the Guardians, Yondu, to establish a spiritual trance-state with Aleta in an effort to determine the means to help them. In the process, the Guardians as well as ourselves learn more of not only Aleta but of her adopted brother, Stakar, taken during one of the Reavers' raids and fated to become Starhawk.

At that point, Starhawk and Aleta merge once more, and Starhawk deserts his comrades to streak deeper into the Arcturan system. Nor is it difficult to decipher why, when we discover that it's Stakar's adoptive father, Ogord, who has abducted the children, as part of a plan to lure Starhawk back to Arcturus to his death.

By now, Gerber has handed the reins of this series to Roger Stern--a "versatile, talented newcomer," as the announcement put it. (Curiously, the same announcement also made the awkward point that "Seems to be Steve's last issue of everything lately, doesn't it?") Stern has come aboard at the point where we're asking in regard to Stakar, "What turned father against son? And what's Aleta's part in all this?" And though the Guardians are still receiving plenty of attention, our focus is turned to more of Starhawk's origin, as Stakar and Aleta further explore the forbidden ruins (this time with Milgrom getting an assist from Jim Starlin on breakdowns). But in a way, Ogord will be the catalyst for the chain of events which engulfs first Aleta and then Stakar, leading to the rift where it becomes clear that Ogord and his people have denied their true heritage.

"Bogey at eleven o'clock! Go get 'im, boys!" Now how are Arcturans familiar with U.S. slang for an unidentified aircraft, Mr. Stern?

Which brings us to the present, where Starhawk penetrates the Arcturan defense perimeter with ease and confronts Ogord. (Who raises a fair point about Starhawk being unaware of who and what would be unleashed against him. But more on that in a moment.) With the Guardians' arrival, it's a desperate scene that plays out well on the printed page under Stern and Milgrom, arriving at an ending which leaves everyone picking up the pieces of this tragedy.

To my knowledge, there's been little attention given to the one thing which has inadvertently led to this situation, though something easy to overlook: the asteroid settlement of Starhawk's children, which at a glance appears incredibly vulnerable to any aggressive party passing its way. Add to that the fact that their parents are absent for the most part, and you begin to wonder how that sort of arrangement is sustainable where very young children are involved. (Our computer-Aleta, for instance, was helpless to prevent their capture, yet later she was quick to blame Starhawk for abandoning them, when the blame is more rightly attributed to both of these people.) We would learn in the 1990-94 Guardians series that Starhawk had played an undetected, integral role in many events that we'd seen where the Guardians were concerned, including the formation of that group as well as what occurs when the Defenders traveled to the future Earth--which leaves us to assume that Starhawk/Aleta were obliged to spend a good deal of time away from their children in order to make sure that events pivotal to themselves occurred as they would later remember. All of which would eventually culminate at the point where Aleta would ascend to become the new Starhawk, and ensure that the infant Stakar was returned to the laboratory where he was originally discovered on Arcturus.

(How Aleta can be so joyful at making sure history repeats itself, in light of such a profound loss to herself and to Stakar as the deaths of their children, makes it clear that I must have missed details hopefully provided elsewhere.)

As for closure to the situation we've witnessed on Arcturus, the elite guard, being hard-trained Reavers, aren't initially inclined to let these intruders escape alive--but the Guardians, carrying the critically weakened Starhawk, are effective in fighting off their assault and successfully reaching their ship, and by then those opposing them have realistically assessed their losses and dropped any thoughts they might have had of pursuit. When they reach the relative safety of space, the Guardians send out a general distress call in the hopes of saving Starhawk--and in response, we get our first look at Drydock, a massive space station which (after its homicidal central computer is dealt with) would become the Guardians' base of operations.

Their series in Marvel Presents having reached its conclusion, the Guardians (along with a recovered Starhawk) would segue to an appearance in the 1977 Thor Annual. Since then, the history and background of Starhawk have had other tangents added to them, as we see in two efforts to document the character in versions of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (respectively, the original 1983 series and its A-Z incarnation from 2009).


In 1969, the tale starring Dr. Doom in issue #20 would be the last original story to be featured in the Marvel Super-Heroes book, which came to an abrupt end when publisher Martin Goodman objected to the content of issue #21, as Roy Thomas would later explain:

Martin Goodman "had no faith in science-fiction comics," especially three particular elements that were all included on artist Dan Adkins' cover. "Rockets, robots and ray-guns. By sheer accident, we hadn't missed a trick in including all three of the elements which [Mr.] Goodman considered deadly. So he cancelled the book."

At the time, the only inkling we had as to that issue's content was in a house ad placed at the tail end of issue 20, featuring the introduction of a brand new character:

With the exception of the name, the Thomas-Dan Adkins character was of course as different as night and day from Gerber's future Guardian (though Thomas saw to it that the Mandroid handle would begin to rack up mileage). The original Starhawk would finally show up in the pages of the Marvelmania fanzine--beginning with its Goodman-trounced cover and then, three issues later, pages from the actual story.

You can find a complete accounting of this story's pages in Rip Jagger's excellent Starhawk piece from late 2009.


Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of the original Guardians, having read of their exploits from the very beginning. (Through back issues. I ain't that old!)
But I'm no clearer on what Starhawk's deal was after reading this post than I was before, C.F.! And I never was very clear on it.
He wields the collective powers of a race, I take it.
Okay, but not exactly an original concept. To wit:
The Stranger
The Overmind
Null, the Living Darkness
Odin (on occasion)

...and probably a few others.
Still, when it comes to Gerber, I don't look at the details too hard. Might as well enjoy the chaos. The Guardians needed a cosmic guy on the team.


Comicsfan said...

Starhawk's concept is a bit different than being lumped in with those you mention, M.P. As Stakar tells us, the "power of Arcturus" (broadly speaking) is solely in the Arcturan Hawk-God, a form which both Aleta and then Stakar became a part of. I'm not up on the Hawk-God's history as stated in the MU Handbook, but we can assume that the influence of both individuals has tempered the former violent and cruel nature of the Hawk-God in favor of the new form of Starhawk. Ogord, of course, believed that Starhawk was nevertheless technically bound to the service of Arcturus, though I think even the Hawk-God would have been quick to dissuade him of that notion.

Anonymous said...

"Now how are Arcturans familiar with US slang for an unidentified aircraft...?"
I assume thats all a translation, Comicsfan. Otherwise, more generally, you might as well ask why Arcturans are speaking English...

Unlike young M.P., I did read some of these comics at the time - at 12 I was totally into all those short-lived second tier Marvels, especially the science-fictiony ones - and tend to agree with him that Steve Gerber didn't always follow his ideas through in the details.

Starhawk's powers not being clearly defined didn't really bother me too much though, as that was fairly normal for 'cosmic' characters. The precise nature of what they could or couldn't do didn't generally seem to be the point of a lot of stories - I mean, it was always pretty vague what Adam Warlock's powers were, but that never stopped Jim Starlin from producing one of the best series of the 70s.

What was interesting about Starhawk at the time - and perhaps even more striking in retrospect - was being both male and female. Thats what made the character distinctive, and wasn't developed properly (although no doubt there were a lot of limitations on how that could have been done back in the Comics Code days).


Comicsfan said...

You make a good point about Warlock, sean--frankly, given the number of times he was refitted in both appearance and powers, it was hard to pin down what his abilities were, with or without a soul gem. But I'll still call "foul" on our bogey-hunting airmen, since Stern could have had them exclaiming any other terran-specific words or names (e.g., "Jesus Christ!" or even "What in the Sam Hill is that?") and the same point could be made.

Anonymous said...

C.F., you live in Florida. Do you think that your peach of a Governor is gonna get around to banning comic books with Starhawk in 'em, given that character's non-binary identification?
Will somebody please think of the children who might read this?!


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I wouldn't hazard a guess!