1981: The Price

The Price (1981) by Jim Starlin

Starlin worked for Marvel throughout the seventies, creating writing and drawing various stuff and creating a slew of characters. But he wasn’t quite the Marvel refugee the other people who created the earliest Eclipse books were (Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, etc): Marvel had already found a place for him at Epic Illustrated.

Where the first part of The Metamorphosis Odyssey was serialised.

This part of that Odyssey was published as a 48 page magazine on similar paper stock as the Eclipse magazine. So it’s a cheaper-feeling package than, say, the Sabre graphic novel that Eclipse published a few years earlier.

Why Starlin published this book with Eclipse instead of with Marvel/Epic is something I’ve been unable to google.

The artwork on some of these pages look quite like as if they’d been painted on canvas, but I guess that’s not the case, really. Instead it must be some kind of textured paper, I guess?

Starlin works from photo reference for his characters, I guess?

There’s isn’t all that much to this book storywise. You have the evil guy explaining to his henchman all his motivations for his actions…

… and our hero guesses those motivations (in the very next panel), so we get the reason for the eeevil guy’s actions once again. Then random stuff of not much importance happens, and our hero gains his super-powers. The end.

But I’ve gotta mention this demon. Yes, that’s a cat-headed demon. Isn’t he fearsome?

The drawing to the right there is a perfect rendering of a picture of a cat, but what is the monstrosity to the left? It’s a well-rendered torso of a guy, with a too-small puma head?

Starlin never finds the correct way to place a cat’s head on a man’s body, and the neck length and size ratio varies wildly.

After a few pages, the shifting head/body ratio derangement field starts to affect the other characters, too.

Oh, miaow.

Starlin went back to Marvel/Epic with his Odyssey and published a graphic novel and a standard-size comic book series that wrapped up the storyline. (I think I read it all as a teenager. It’s not that exciting, if I remember correctly.)

The entire Odyssey has been reprinted, but not in a single volume, for some reason or other.

5 thoughts on “1981: The Price”

  1. First off, I thought THE PRICE was a good story, regardless of any flaws you point out in the painted art or photo-reference used. It’s a straightforward and visceral tale of vengeance of bishop Syzygy Darklock, using his occult training to seek out his brother’s killer. I also like the aspect of the unspoken love between Darklock and his nun assistant. And his sacrifice of that most precious to him to gain power. And the corrupt politics and infighting of their pseudo-Catholic “Church of the Instrumentality” religion. And that a simple tale of vengeance expands to be one of galactic significance, that Darklock was motivated by vengeance to obtain the power needed to do what was necessary to carry out his mission and save his galaxy from going along the same path as what occurred with the Milky Way galaxy in “Metamorphosis Odyssey”.

    This story began as “Metamorphosis Odyssey” serialized in EPIC ILLUSTRATED 1-9 (Spring 1980-December 1981, the last issue having photos and an interview with Starlin about creating the series) the story running a total of 113 pages.

    Then THE PRICE came out from Eclipse in October 1981, that was in black and white but otherwise comparable in quality to the previous series work in EPIC ILLUSTRATED. And was 46 pages plus a wraparound cover. In my own conversation with Starlin at a convention in 1992 , he let on that Marvel was slow with payment checks, that later motivated him to take his series to First Comics. THE PRICE also has some nudity that Marvel might have been reluctant to publish (and altered the art to hide in the color reprint of it as DREADSTAR ANNUAL 1 when republished in color in 1983 by Marvel/Epic).
    Reason for Starlin taking THE PRICE to Eclipse to be initially published might also have been to support a small publisher, or to possibly put pressure on Marvel/Epic to pay him more competitive wages on future projects. Eclipse and Pacific comics were both pressuring Marvel and DC in 1981-1982 to offer more competitive wages and royalties. Grell’s STARSLAYER series was originally created for DC, but Grell took it to Pacific where he got far more generous royalties, and creator ownership, much better than the work-for-hire contract DC would have given at the time.

    Then came DREADSTAR in Marvel Graphic Novel 3, in October 1982, which was in full color and 46 pages. Each of these stories, “Metamorphosis Odyssey”, THE PRICE, and DREADSTAR graphic novel, had their flaws that I was resistant to at the time. But they have an overall sophisticated feel to them that has made me go back and re-read them many times.

    There was one last painted-art chapter in EPIC ILLUSTRATED 15, December 1982, (24 pages) that was not a complete story like the above three, and served more as a bridge to the DREADSTAR comics series for Epic Comics (later moving to First Comics with issue 27 in November 1986.
    With the DREADSTAR comic book series that began in November 1982, Starlin went back to doing pen-and-ink art instead of painted art. Most prefer Starlin’s line art over his painted art, but I love this period of Starlin’s work (along with some painted covers Starlin did for other Marvel magazines such as MARVEL PREVIEW. )

    And there are at least two collections of Starlin’s Dreadstar painted art series.
    The one I prefer is DREADSTAR: THE BEGINNING hardcover(published by Dynamite in 2010), all reprinted on glossy paper. “Metamorphosis Odyssey” and DREADSTAR graphic novel reprinted in full color, THE PRICE in its original black and white, and also includes the Dreadstar story from EPIC ILLUSTRATED 15, so this edition includes all of Starlin’s painted art on the series. Though unfortunately, doesn’t include the original covers.

    Another previous “Metamorphosis Odyssey”/THE PRICE/ DREADSTAR collected edition out several years earlier in 2000 (published by SLG) was god-awful, black and white on newsprint, horrible reproduction.

    But Starlin’s run on these stories is one I frequently pull off the shelf and re-read, so in contrast to your above comments, I highly recommend them. I think they’re among the best series of the last 50 years, along with the best works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, McGregor/Russell’s KILLRAVEN series, Dave Sim’s CEREBUS, and O’Neil/Adams’ work on BATMAN and DETECTIVE. Starlin’s pulling one chapter of the series over to Eclipse, for me, drew attention and made more appealing the Eclipse line of titles. Along with SABRE, DETECTIVES INC. , NIGHT MUSIC, and ECLIPSE magazine.


    1. His anatomy in the panels above featuring the feline humanoid was inexcusably bad, and placing this among the best series of the last half-century is extremely optimistic.


  2. Starlin was/is a plodding writer, and there’s no excuse for those anatomy problems from someone who already had the experience he had.


  3. Well… you’re entitled to your opinion, but a majority of comics fans over the last 50 years share my opinion of Starlin’s work, I think pretty much universally acclaimed. Starlin’s CAPTAIN MARVEL run (1973-1974), his WARLOCK run (1975-1977), his DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL graphic novel (1981), and his later “Metamorphosis Odyssey”, THE PRICE, and DREADSTAR graphic novels and DREADSTAR comics series, are all acclaimed classics, very popular, and frequently reprinted in a number of new editions.

    I’m also a fan of some of Starlin’s lesser-known work for DC, and for Warren magazines in that 1977-1981 period when he left Marvel, where Starlin did a number of nice covers for DC in that era, and series work on DETECTIVE COMICS 481-482, DC COMICS PRESENTS, LEGION OF SUPERHEROES and several other titles.

    The Warren material was collected as a 1983 one-shot DARKLON THE MYSTIC reprint from Pacific, and has similarities Starlin’s to THE PRICE . Not a great story, but still interesting to see, relative to Starlin’s other work. With some of the most God-awful coloring I’ve ever seen in comics.

    On the anatomy issue, Starlin was critical of his own work in an interview, and basically said toward the end of his painted art on “Metamorphosis Odyssey”, THE PRICE, and DREADSTAR graphic novels, and then the transitional story EPIC ILLUSTRATED 15 to the DREADSTAR comic series, that he was getting bored with doing painted art and photo-reference, and at that point went back to doing pen-and-ink art with the DREADSTAR comics series. In the beginning, the painted art was fantastic, in EPIC 1-9, particularly the early issues.

    And for whatever flaws, I still look back on that work fondly.
    As I do Howard Chaykin’s similar painted work on THE SWORDS OF HEAVEN THE FLOWERS OF HELL graphic novel (1979), THE STARS MY DESTINATION (1979), his story in EPIC ILLUSTRATED 2 (1980), several Solomon Kane and Red Sonja stories in SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, and his Dominic Fortune stories in BIZARRE ADVENTURES 20, and the HULK magazine issues 21-25. Plus many great Chaykin painted covers for Marvel’s magazine line, circa 1979-1981. Chaykin likewise excelled at painted art for several years, and then like Starlin abandoned it, to again do pen-and-ink work in comics. In Chaykin’s case, to do an acclaimed run in AMERICAN FLAGG, which while I enjoyed it, it was not one of my favorites, overly cynical, and just not as good and as labored over as his earlier work.


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