The Uncommon Comic: Uncommon Nasa on comic writer Jim Starlin
“Introspect, let the words infect.”
“It's about me, written about me, thinking about me, introspectively.”
The first and last line of the first song on my album Land of the Way It Is. The song is called “Starlin”, named after the person who I consider the best comic writer of all time, Jim Starlin. Underrated even in his genre, Starlin's collective work deserves to be recognized as some of the best American writing.
I knew that my album was going to be more about myself and my life more than anything else I'd ever done. That said, I needed a track that set that table, that introduced me to the listener and what they were going to be in for on the record. This song helped me do that, it let people into the fact that I was going to be introspective on this record and I used the influence of Starlin's writing style to create a metaphor for this. The key point of the song and of Starlin's writing is introspection. All of his characters share this trait, whether they did previously to his coming on board a book or whether he created the character. Even his crowning achievement, the mega villain Thanos, thinks deeply about the outcomes of his plans, mulling everything over and switching alliances. I feel like this is overlooked in comic history, but the writer is often over looked in comics.
At the end of the song, the chorus shouts out the un-costumed names of three of his main characters over the years, Norrin Radd (Silver Surfer), Rick Jones (Captain Marvel), Adam Warlock and Ray Stoner ('Breed). My connection to Jim Starlin's work started before I realized it. In the 1990's I was in Junior High School and I was pretty loyal to what later became known as Marvel Cosmic, or as I called them “Space Comics”. I was huge into Guardians of the Galaxy (which was re-booted by Jim Valentino at the time), Silver Surfer (under Jim Starlin's watch) and anything connected to The Infinity Series (Jim Starlin's space opera).
I remember reading pre-Starlin and post-Starlin Silver Surfer comics and not being into them at all. At first I thought it was the art since Ron Lim's Surfer is by far the best depiction, but as I got older I realized it was the writing. As I've reached a certain level of maturity in my own writing and grew to appreciate the work of one of my other heavy influences in Rod Serling, legendary television and film writer and creator of The Twlight Zone, I started to piece it together. Silver Surfer didn't think in any of these other books that I had. There were no moments of solace, no heavy reflection of right and wrong, no fear of the future or consequences. At this point, I knew it was Starlin. So I went back to another of my favorite characters, Adam Warlock, and read one of many defining moments for Starlin, his run on Adam Warlock in the mid to late 70's.
When Jim Starlin took over Adam Warlock he was wearing a totally different costume and was centered around a futuristic Adam and Eve-like mythology. He was created by the High Evolutionary and originally simply called HIM. While all that was interesting and trippy, Jim Starlin gave him a soul. More specifically he carved out the Soul Gem. Adam Warlock's weapon at that point was his Soul Gem, which when called upon could capture souls within it, thus automatically defeating his opponents. But with that came a great responsibility, when could he win a fight without an “auto-kill button” so to speak? The guilt that grew from using the Soul Gem grew within Warlock, it distracted him in future battles with Thanos and hurt relationships with his allies. Keep in mind, this is circa 1977 or 1978, nobody else was really doing this kind of shit. Some of the great enemies of Adam Warlock all fit an “anti-establishment theme”. For a brief time, I was so inspired that I changed my name to Adam Warlock in an attempt at a tribute. This kind of change became cumbersome over time, but I can't express the amount of influence reading his 70's Warlock work had on me.
My album title, Land of the Way It Is, stems from an older Warlock issue, of the same name, where he is kidnapped and sent to a world of conformists dressed as clowns. I've seen it written that this was a subliminal diss towards his Marvel overlords that were cracking down on him for his style of writing during that era. Jim Starlin, much like Rod Serling, had to fight to get his messages across in his work. He's spent time at Marvel and at DC writing for each of the conglomerates' most important characters. Some would say he's been kicked back and forth, getting by on talent and fan base. There was a time where it looked like he would never again write for Marvel, but in the next few months he's actually dropping a new Infinity story via Graphic Novel. Have I mentioned that he wrote Marvel's first Graphic Novel?
In the early 80's Jim Starlin set about killing off one of his finest works, Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel of course also fought Starlin's super villain, Thanos. But it wasn't Thanos that killed him off, as was the case (sort of) with Adam Warlock. Captain Marvel was to die of cancer. Wait, what? Yes, of cancer, the disease. The first ever graphic novel/trade paper back that Marvel released was a long drawn out battle against cancer where most of it is fought out on a death bed. Heroes from Marvel's universe gather by his side and watch him die a slow death. They ponder how even they can't find cures for the disease or save their friend and flashbacks move through Marvel's mind. For several decades, Captain Marvel remained off limits for any sort of typical comic style resurrection. He'd show up in visions once in a while and others would attain his powers without being himself, but pretty much he never came back. This is all unprecedented realism on Starlin's part in the medium he's involved in, which is mainstream super hero comics.
By the early 90's he'd moved on to writing an original series called 'Breed for indie publisher Malibu (later Image Comics). It was about a half man-half demon that was the spawn of a demon raping a human woman. 'Breed rolled with a machete and chopped the shit out of all manner of full bred demons. It was very much of its time in the 90's when comics were getting more gory with the advent of comics' own indie scene. But the unifier of it being the work of Starlin was the moral debate and self discovery journey of its main character Ray Stoner. I caught on to this series when he brought 'Breed back for the third part of the trilogy a full decade after the first two in the 90's. This shows the loyalty that he has to his characters as well.
I'd love to drone on about how fucked up it is that Starlin was only given 11 issues to dig current DC title, Stormwatch, out a sales ditch that he didn't create or about how he's made characters as dull as sandpaper as exciting as neon paint, but I won't beyond this one run on sentence. It's moot because DC has un-wisely cancelled the series as of issue #30.
As an artist and musician I live daily considering myself simply a writer. Nothing more and nothing less. Rod Serling and Jim Starlin are the two pillars of influence for me at this moment in time and as I sit back I can see the comparison. They both have had periods of their careers where they have had to resist pressure to back off of social messages by corporate overlords. They both made a career doing things their own way, even if in varied mediums. They both showed me that you can tell stories in very unconventional ways in mainstream forums and find success. And they both are very under-appreciated and misunderstood for what they've been able to achieve. In particular though, Starlin's introspective nature in his characters has brought that out of me in my music. From song to song, I can feel that influence in my work. It's in large part my own natural “next step” as an emerging solo artist, but we are all, as artists, the sums of our intake as fans.
Uncommon Nasa's Land of the Way It Is is out now on Uncommon Records.