My Misspent Youth — Marvel Premiere #32 by Howard Chaykin

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

The thing I appreciate most about Marvel Comics publications from the nineteen-seventies is the strong vibe that creators were up for anything and the powers that be were all too happy to give a thumbs up to the wildest rides. In that spirit, there were several titles that were landing pads for whatever zingy whim struck the mighty melders of words and pictures. When Marvel first opened their doors to an upstart writer-artist named Howard Chaykin, his main calling card was a character named Cody Starbuck, who appeared in the fanzine Star*Reach. An outer space swashbuckler swinging a sword and lasciviously pressing himself on scantily clad alien maidens, Cody Starbuck didn’t have many corollaries in the Marvel stable. So Chaykin went ahead and created one for the House of Ideas.

Launching in Marvel Premiere, the bimonthly periodical that was a showcase for some of the publisher’s loopier experiments, Monark Starstalker is an interstellar bounty hunter with an android falcon named Ulysses as a trusted companion. In the story that introduces him, Monark alights on the frozen planet Stormking. He’s diverted from tracking down his quarry, a cad named Kurt Hammer, by Robin Goodfriend, whose iffy level of characterization is represented by how often she’s referred to as simply “the girl.” To be fair, she’s a helpful reporter of cataclysmic happenings in the nearby frontier town that reminds Monark he’s got work to do.

Chaykin’s story is a amalgamation of tropes pulled from a myriad of two-fisted genres. There are dashes of Western, fantasy, detective stories, and marshmallow-soft science fiction. If it doesn’t really gel, the tangled tale does serve as an effective platform for Chaykin’s bold art and design. Drawing evident influence from the likes of Neal Adams and Jim Steranko, bold stylists who are both predecessors and rough contemporaries, Chaykin opts for creative layouts that dazzle the eye.

The dynamics crafted by Chaykin in the Monark Starstalker story forecast the even more striking art he’d deliver a few years later, when he incorporated an extra edge of satire into American Flagg, the series that is arguable his magnum opus. Even in its nascent state, Chaykin’s work was attention-getting. A couple years later, when George Lucas licensed his new film Star Wars to Marvel, he reportedly made the suggestion that Chaykin handle art chores. (Chaykin also suggested at times that Lucas was familiar with earlier work, drawing inspiration from Cody Starbuck for the character Han Solo.) When Star Wars exploded at the box office, the comic series flew off the spinner rack, by some accounts keeping Marvel solvent at a time other series were suffering sagging sales. Monark Starstalker might not have turned into a sensation (over thirty years passed before he appeared in another Marvel comic), but he helped prove, for at least one key reader, that Chaykin was adept at plying his pencil to adventures taking place in far, far away galaxies.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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