Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman reviews IDW’s Jim Starlin’s Marvel Cosmic Artifact Edition, out now…
Jim Starlin’s Marvel Cosmic Artifact Edition
writer/ artist: Jim Starlin
Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel and Warlock series occupy a special place in fandom – the first truly cosmic storylines from Marvel, which may have at various points intersected with the company’s earthbound characters but for the most part were very distant and quite separate from the rest of the pantheon. Like many of his contemporaries at Marvel (and DC), Starlin was keen to be a maverick who could propel the medium forward, but initially had no clue how to do this (he admits this in his foreword). However, after half a dozen issues of Captain Marvel, Starlin had sufficiently developed his style, which encompassed John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Bernie Krigstein and Neal Adams, but was nevertheless his own.
Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel does begin with some rather more generic efforts, his protagonist battling the Skrulls and then later on (of course) Thanos, all the while symbiotically trapped with his alter ego, Rick Jones. Despite that his storytelling and page design was already fully formed, the artwork on show here dynamic and widescreen, the action repeatedly jumping off the page. It was remarkable just how much could be shoehorned into a twenty page comic book in that hothouse era, but Starlin understood economy as well as Sturm und Drang pyrotechnics. And even though the early issues were written by Mike Friedrich, Starlin’s concepts captured the zeitgeist as much as his cohorts Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart managed. Both sagas were psychedelic, off-kilter and, as Starlin gained confidence, more cerebral.
Having given us the proper version of Thanos (currently the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most bankable villain and one of the best ever created for the publisher) in Captain Marvel, Starlin was again given the reins on another title that had been ambitious yet had failed to garner a decent readership – Warlock. Beginning his tenure with the character in Strange Tales, he continued in the revived title before bringing the protagonist’s odyssey to a close in two annuals featuring the Avengers, the Thing and Spider-Man. Without question this is the project for which he will most be remembered – a beguiling masterwork that gave the character maturity while battling both Thanos and his alter ego from the future, the Magus. The themes here, (which would be reused in later titles like Dreadstar), such as the nature of tyranny and despotism, the duality of life and death, the inner turmoil of a homeless demigod adrift in the cosmos – are all here, laced with humour and irony to boot.
Although there are no complete stories here, the pages on show are mostly classics, with some key moments within – by the time Starlin took over on Warlock he was inking his own work (along with everything else) like his artistic heroes, Bernie Wrightson and Mike Kaluta, which enabled him to exercise total artistic control. Highlights within this tome include the introduction of the Magus in Strange Tales 178, the Matriarch in 179, the quite brilliant Judgement Day episode in Strange Tales 180 and the Magus / Thanos battle in Warlock 11. All containing beguilingly rendered art that is bizarre, bleak and kinetic at once. But then, when you’re talking about some of the greatest comics ever published, there are rarely going to be any disappointments. And yes, there’s a cover gallery at the end with nearly every issue represented, not to mention the splash page for Iron Man 55, the cover of the Death of Captain Marvel, amongst others.
Captain Marvel and Warlock in particular had story arcs that could easily make the transition to the big screen, especially considering that Marvel has begun to offer more challenging fare with Avengers: Infinity War. Even if it might be a little late for that, there’s still this superb album to remind us of what might have been. A definitive Bronze Age collection and another essential purchase.