Our featured creator in this month’s Those Who Came Before column is one of the greats in comics, Jim Starlin. His name is synonymous with the term space opera. It’s pretty cool that a guy named Starlin ends up making his mark writing stories that take us to the stars. Not limited to traversing the depths of space, his stories also examine the deep inner workings of his characters. For as far as Starlin takes you out into the void, he can take you just as deeply inward.
Jim Starlin is from Detroit, Michigan, and was born in 1949. His comic influences as a kid included Kirby, Ditko, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, and Gil Kane. This was in the sixties, at a time when there was some really exciting work being published. Among his favorites were Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man, and several of Kirby’s works, including Galactus and Inhuman stories in Fantastic Four.
After school, he joined the Navy, where he served for a few years as a photographer, spending most of that time in planes, rather than on the water. It was during his time in the Navy that he got started in comics.
During his down time while in the service, he was busy creating. It was there that he began pursuing work in comics. He was sending in samples of his work, like Hulk stories, and not getting anything other than encouragement to keep on trying. Then came a break shortly after he left the Navy, with DC’s monster comics. A couple of short stories that he’d done and sent in to Joe Orlando, were actually bought. This was his first sale of any comic work. It had begun!
Making an Impact
Shortly thereafter, Starlin found himself working at Marvel, in 1972. He began on Amazing Spider-Man, then quickly moved on to Iron Man, which is where he created Thanos, in issue #55 in February of 1973. Perhaps his most well known creation, this was just the stellar beginning to a marvelous career.
Starlin has been in the comic business for over 30 years, and in that time he has created, or given new life to, some of our favorite characters. For example, whereas he didn’t create Adam Warlock, or Captain Mar-Vell, he definitely put them on the cosmic map. Often, Starlin would handle writing and penciling duties for these books. During the seventies, he took those two characters to new heights. Under Starlin’s guidance, Mar-Vell evolved from a warrior into a mystic. Conversely, he took Warlock from a mystical cosmic messiah, to a suicidal paranoid/schizophrenic. What’s more, he did a fantastic job of it, and those two characters soared under his pen.
Starlin also gave us Vanth Dreadstar, Shang-Chi, the death of Jason Todd (the 2nd Robin) in the “A Death in the Family” story arc in Batman, and lots more. He has plenty of well known, and award winning, works to his credit. I’m pretty sure that most of us have read some of his work over the years, and I’m sure we enjoyed it. I know I did.
My first encounter with Starlin’s work was in his Infinity Gauntlet series, which is what really got me interested in comics. I had read comics before, but this was different. Yes, there was some familiar territory in this series, such as when all the heroes massed together to take on the greatest threat the universe had ever faced. However, it was the implications of an individual actually becoming god, attaining that power, that really grabbed my attention. I thought about what it would be like. I don’t mean the raw power of it. Sure, Thanos (he basically became a god in this series) had the power to destroy every planet in every galaxy with but a thought. What got me thinking, however, were the questions that came along with such power and knowledge. Starlin hadn’t merely turned Thanos into a god-like being, but made him someone who possessed all the traits one would expect of an almighty creator of all existence. As Warlock said, Thanos truly commanded all there is.
How could one handle being able to experience all moments in time at once? Seeing time as a recurring loop? How could a mortal brain handle the knowledge of everything that ever was, and that will ever be? The fact that Thanos, and later Warlock, actually handled that incalculable burden of supremacy in such a believable manner astounded me. This was bigger than some hero having the strength to move a planet from its orbit. These thoughts went beyond the physical realm of existence, passed all tangible things. These are the questions one considers when they ponder the very nature of God. Does it get more grand in scale, more epic in consequence? As big as these concepts were, Starlin kept them real, never letting things degrade into absurdity. These are the issues that he brought to young minds, things that men have contemplated for centuries; and yet… it was still interesting to a 12 year old. This skill is something that Starlin has demonstrated throughout his career.
It should be no surprise that Thanos and Adam Warlock, both prominent in Infinity Gauntlet, went on to become my favorites.
Starlin has addressed death in his work several times. He has been involved with killing some of the most beloved and heroic characters. In Death of the New Gods, he shows us that even gods can fall. However, one of the greatest looks at death that comics has given us came by way of Starlin, in The Death of Captain Marvel. Aside from being one of the works which Starlin is most proud of, it’s awesome! If you haven’t read this one, go get it. You won’t be disappointed, well, aside from Mar-Vell dying.
As big as an elephant is, a whale is still larger. Everything’s relative. Even gods have their spot on the food chain.
— Jim Starlin, on Death of the New Gods
Some have called Jim Starlin the “Jack Kirby” of a new generation. While it’ll always be a great honor to be compared to Kirby, I feel that Starlin’s work can stand on its own merit. He has made his own mark on comics, and on many of us. If anyone is doubting about that statement, take a look at the current state of things in the Marvel Universe from a cosmic perspective. How much of that would be happening right now if not for his creation and/or development of many of the key characters involved in what is currently the very best cosmic storytelling one can find?
Whether in reprinted stories from his days on Warlock, or in the pages of his more current works, there are plenty of ways to get ahold of some of Jim Starlin’s great stories and art. A true giant in the industry, who is still going strong.
Here are some of Jim Starlin’s creations and co-creations. From hand to hand fighters to cosmic entities, he’s done it all. So, beginning with the purple worshiper of death himself….
- Drax the Destroyer
- Vanth Dreadstar
- Mongul the Elder
- The Weird
- Master Order & Lord Chaos
- The Death of Captain Marvel
- Cosmic Odyssey
- Thanos Quest
- Infinity Gauntlet
- Death of the New Gods
- Rann-Thanagar: Holy War
There are several other works of his that are worth a read, but this should get you started. So, what characters or stories of Starlin’s do you enjoy? Do you have any recommendations of your own?