This is the one-hundred and ninety-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and ninety-three.
COMIC LEGEND: Robert Heinlein threatened to sue Marvel for ripping his stories off for Star-Lord.
STATUS: False, as Presented.
It's interesting to see that just the other week, Greg Hatcher featured Marvel Preview #11 in his countdown of his favorite single issues (as an honorable mention), as around that same time, reader Geoffrey wrote in to ask about Star-Lord!
Is it true that Marvel had to change Steve Englehart's Star-Lord because Robert Heinlein threatened to sue Marvel over the similarities between the character and his novels?
I like these particular legends, as they go to show you how all of these things get sort of jumbled up with various half-truths so that a story that was originally passed around as X eventually gets sent to me years later as X*Y/Z+W-V.
Okay, first off, the Star-Lord at issue is not Englehart's Star-Lord, but Chris Claremont's.
Steve Englehart introduced the character in Marvel Preview #4.
Englehart's idea was (in his own words):
My hero would go from being an unpleasant, introverted jerk to the most cosmic being in the universe, and I would tie it into my then-new interest in astrology. After his earthbound beginning, his mind would be opened step by step, with a fast-action story on Mercury, a love story on Venus, a war story on Mars, and so on out to the edge of the solar system, and then beyond.
Of course, once Englehart established him as an unpleasant, introverted jerk on Earth named Peter Quill, Englehart left Marvel.
So that cosmic evolution never happened.
However, Marvel Preview editor John Warner liked the character, so in came Chris Claremont with Marvel Preview #11, who more or less re-created the character.
This is this version of Star-Lord that most fans of the character remember, with a young John Byrne doing the art for the first issue (with Terry Austin on inks, to boot!) and Carmine Infantino doing the next two parts of the story in Marvel Preview #14 and 15, respectively (Doug Moench eventually took over the character when he went to the "normal" Marvel comic book line, and after a long period of not being used, the character of Peter Quill was revived by Keith Giffen in the pages of the Thanos ongoing and later given a major role in the Annihilation crossover. Today, Quill is the main character in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy comic book).
Claremont's take on Star-Lord was to greatly reduce the sort of "mad dog" approach that Englehart had and make the character a great deal more sympathetic. He then turned the stories into, as Greg so nicely termed it, "a rollicking Heinlein-esque space adventure ranging across the galaxy."
The Heinlein part is important.
Claremont clearly was drawing a lot of inspiration from the so-called "Heinlein juveniles," the 12 novels for kids that Robert A. Heinlein wrote from the late 40s until the late 50s. These sci-fi books were also very adventure-driven, with a lot of themes that appealed to young readers of the time, but also appealed to pretty much any sci-fi adventure fan. Heck, there is a lot of Luke Skywalker in the teen heroes of Heinlein's juveniles.
Here are the twelve "Heinlein juveniles"...
So here's where the confusion comes in, and I'm sure where the people who told Geoffrey the story got their info from. While Claremont's stories were Heinlein-esque, they certainly were not close to direct rip-offs.
HOWEVER, on the original cover to Marvel Preview #11, it plainly says: A novel-length science fiction spectacular in the tradition of ROBERT A. HEINLEIN.
And there, Heinlein DID have a problem.
It's one thing to use a guy's books as the inspiration for your story, it's a whole other thing to use a guy's books as the inspiration for your story and then put his name in bold letters on the front of your magazine to help sell the inspired stories on the strength of Heinlein's name.
So Heinlein's lawyers contacted Marvel and a new printing was done and the text was removed.
In fact, relatively few copies of Marvel Preview #11 exist with the original text.
It took me quite awhile to find a scan of the original cover. I eventually came across it on John Byrne's forum, where helpful forum member Jason Czeskleba posted a scan of his personal copy of the issue. Here it is...
So there you go, a fun look at telephone, Comic Book Legend style!