So I think we established a long time ago that we love Jim Starlin’s 1970s work here on the nerd farm. All the Thanos-related stuff, from his earliest work on Captain Marvel through to Starlin’s early masterpiece Adam Warlock, blew my mind when I encountered it as a kid. They’re psychedelic and brooding, and reading them was like swallowing a whole acid tab with Michael Moorcock’s face on it. Drawn by Jack Kirby. With Ditko inks.
(And, good lord, I wish I had an illustration to insert here. But you’ll just have to imagine it. Or maybe go listen to a Hawkwind album or something…)
Now, I came across Warlock after it was done, in a few random back issues some kind soul had donated to my local library. I loved them, and was dying for more, but I never found any. And that’s because Starlin had been given the boot in a purge of all the more interesting stuff being done at Marvel Comics in the 70s. Archie Goodwin eventually brought him back to the fold in the pages of Epic Illustrated, with his Metamorphosis Odyssey strip, which introduced the character Vanth Dreadstar (and which probably deserves its own column someday). But in the meantime, Jim Starlin comics were hard to come by.
Unless, of course, you happened to be following the Warren horror magazines. Because in-between Warlock and Dreadstar, in the pages of Eerie, Starlin did the strip we’re concerned with today:
Darklon the Mystic continues developing the themes, obsessions, and general aesthetic of Starlin’s 70s Marvel work, but without the restrictions of the Comics Code (or, as was often the case at Warren, the need to make much sense). The result is both glorious and awful, with all of Starlin’s best and worst habits given full vent.
Darklon himself is an unstoppable magic bad-ass, the exiled son of dethroned king who’s made a deal with the Space-Devil for the power to seek revenge. That deal might be my favorite part of the story, in fact. At the end of part one of that story, it looks like Darklon’s been betrayed and murdered, his head unceremoniously lopped off while all the demons stand around and laugh at him. But it turns out that’s just part of his “Black Baptism,” a necessary first step to filling his head with BLASPHEMOUS EVIL.
Oh, yeah. That’s the stuff. Faintly ridiculous and over the top in all the best ways, Darklon is pulpy anti-hero space opera on the one hand, and a semi-autobiographical working-out of Starlin’s daddy issues on the other. It’s pretentious as all hell, and all the better for it. I rank it as one of the best bad comics of all time, a nonsensical tour de force that has to be seen to be believed.
And as I said, I never did see it, back when it was being done. I didn’t know it existed at all, in fact, until a recent dive into the dollar boxes uncovered it for me. Not in the original Warren magazines, mind you, but in a one-shot collection of the Warren strips reprinted at standard comics size by Pacific Comics in 1983.
The Pacific reprint is in color, and is probably the easiest way to find a copy at this point. But I must admit, it’s probably not the best way to read it. Starlin was working in black and white for Warren, playing with inks and textures and gray washes to good effect. And while the colors do add to the book’s psychedelic charm, they make the art muddy in a lot of places. Fine details get obscured, and the grays all but vanish. Here’s a page from the Warren originals, for instance…
…and that same page from the Pacific reprint:
So, yeah. The Pacific version is fine if you can get it, and has the benefit of putting the whole story under one cover. But the original black and white’s really the way to go. Luckily, then, every page of the original Warren printing is available to read over at Diversions of a Groovy Kind, where they did three posts covering the strip a few years ago.
So I’ll stop talking now and let you get to reading. I’m tired enough this week that I’m not really doing it justice, anyway…