Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hello Cosmic Part 29: Darklon the Mystic

[Continuing my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic comics work. This time, I'll be discussing the short-lived serial he did for Eerie (issues 76, 79, 80, 84, and 100) and was, later, collected and coloured by Pacific Comics in 1983. That's the version of the work I have, but you can find some of it online here.]

Darklon the Mystic is a prefiguring work to The Metamorphosis Odyssey. It's hard to miss how ideas raised and presented in Darklon show up again in The Metamorphosis Odyssey and The Price (one chapter of Darklon is even named "The Price"). But, it's a simpler and less compelling work with Starlin not doing anything of great interest or import. Darklon is a powerful mystic, once the weak and artsy prince of a warrior culture who sought great power to avenge the coup that dethroned his father. In the process, he gives up his soul, his destiny, his life, and his ownership of himself to the Nameless One, a dark god, in exchange for the power to avenge his father and return him to the throne. From there, his father becomes his enemy, he kills his father, and then destroys his home planet when he must give it to the Nameless One. There isn't a lot of development of the ideas beyond that.

The desctruction of the planet has that 'destroy the village to save it' mentality that marks Aknaton's actions in The Metamorphosis Odyssey, Starlin's response to some of the actions taken in the Vietnam War, which he served in. The idea of weighing the value of millions (billions!) of lives against lives of enslavement and misery, and choosing death as the better option is a hard one to fully comprehend. Starlin never explores it with any real depth here, it coming at the very end of the story. But, the way that Darklon escapes in a magic bubble that eventually crashes on another planet is the exact visual of Aknaton and Dreadstar escaping the doomed Milky Way Galaxy before crashing on a planet millions of years later. In The Metamorphosis Odyssey, Starlin gives the idea more space and a little more discussion and debate. Here, it just happens out of nowhere.

Darklon's deal with the Nameless One is, similarly, a more simplistic version of Syzygy's sacrifices for power in The Price. Darklon's deal is one based on a very direct revenge desire with a being of pure evil. It's a basic, no-nonsense Faustian bargain, while Syzygy's deals for power are more complicated. He uses what power he has to gain more, manipulated by another person to fulfill a larger destiny. By the end of the story, he willingly sacrifices the life and soul of someone he loves for power. He pays with his own flesh, but also uses others. Darklon's sacrifice does have a bitter ring to it when he's finally impressed his father with his newfound power and skill, but must abandon his home because of the deal. There's a stronger "O Henry" vibe to Darklon's deal: he gets the power to make himself worthy of being the ruler of his home, but he must give up his home to gain the power. Syzygy gives up his home, but it's not to gain the power to save it.

Beyond those early versions of later Starlin stories, Darklon the Mystic's most interesting part is the middle story entitled "He Who Waits in Shadow!" where Starlin does an overwrought story that seems to be about him. He broods in the darkness of his apartment, stewing over murdering his love until he kills himself. There's an epilogue where Darklon bursts in, looking for him and the resolution of the plot with his father sending assassins after him. There's an obvious symbolism -- Starlin never killed anyone, he just killed his relationship with someone most likely. It's like Neil Young's song "Down by the River," which, if taken literally, seems like a song about Young killing his girlfriend/wife, but is really about ending a relationship. Starlin's story is pure angst and attempts to seem poetic and deep. The metafictional aspect spills over into the next story where the fight between Darklon and his father is reflected in a father and son on Earth, both in comas where, when Darklon wins, the father on Earth dies. An interesting way to approach the story, but not revealing in any meaningful way.

The art in the Pacific Comics collection of the stories is atrocious. Awful printing that makes the art look like some of Starlin's worst. Granted, the black and white art isn't his best work either, the garrish, slopping colours and blocky printing process give this book the look of some bad self-published comic made by a teenager. Figures look half-finished, backgrounds hastily drawn, and the colours just thrown on. Starlin does try to use some different techniques, like high contrast shading, and the more illustrative style that would show up in his painted work. Nothing coheres, though. I'd have to see the originals to really compare the quality.

Darklon is significant because he eventually appeared in some Marvel books as Darklore in Warlock Chronicles #1 and, then, at the end of Starlin's run on Warlock & The Infinity Watch. He's older, his look is the same, there are references to his home planet being destroyed, and the name is similar. Before I knew about Darklon, Darklore simply struck me as an interesting look at another hero-type to compare with Adam Warlock. Now, the way that the Soul Gem tries to take him over, but fails seems like an allusion to Starlin's brief work on the character before doing Dreadstar and, eventually, returning to Warlock.

Darklon the Mystic is definitely one for the Starlin fans only.