Quasar: Cosmos in Collision collects an underappreciated gem from Marvel’s early ’90s slate.
Quasar, a/k/a Wendell Vaughan, carries out his duties as Protector of the Universe, on alert for the alien threat to his cosmic mentor Eon, while trying to build a meaningful personal life. He roots out various alien threats, tangles with a possessed Rachel Grey and visits the underwater city of the Deviants to help out new friend Makkari, the Eternal speedster. The arrival of the alternate Earth heroes the Squadron Supreme, who quickly fall under the control of an old enemy, sends Quasar and Makkari to the deep space laboratory world of the mysterious Stranger, where a mass breakout is brewing. Quasar discovers an alarming philosophical virus is causing the deaths of numerous of the Watchers, a malady that has a direct impact on the showdown on the Stranger’s world. After Makkari participates in a cosmic footrace, Wendell finds himself in his hometown, stripped of his heroic persona and memories, where he encounters the cosmic entities Origin and Unbeing. That launches Quasar into a conflict with a band of escapees from the Stranger’s world, gulling the hero into thinking he’s conquered the cosmic threat to his mentor, even as he elects to share his secret identity with his friends. A personal tragedy divides Quasar and Eon at the wrong moment, as the deadly Maelstrom makes his move, tangling with cosmic forces as part of a plan to collapse the entire universe in on itself. Quasar pays a brutal price for his missteps, forced to overcome impossible odds to have even a chance of saving reality.
Written by the great Mark Gruenwald, Quasar was a cult favorite in Marvel’s line that never quite broke into the mainstream. The late Gruenwald was one of Marvel’s more interesting writers and he did some daring things with this book. He allowed Wendell to be flawed and insecure, showing the ups and downs of a hero growing into a role he feared was above his abilities. Wendell’s relative normalcy, with relatable issues like family drama, an awkward flirtation with his secretary, and his ongoing self-doubt, grounded the cosmic action around him, giving readers a sympathetic entry point to the wilder concepts that Gruenwald incorporated into his saga. It was sterling character work that gave the superhero and cosmic dramas unfolding more impact; for all his power, Quasar might have been one of the most relatably human heroes in Marvel’s stable at the time.
Gruenwald also was a master of plotting, carefully weaving threads over the course of two years that came together in exciting fashion in the climactic saga. Maelstrom was a villain who had been somewhat one note in previous appearances, but Gruenwald transformed him into something operatic. A sequence where Quasar unwittingly led his friends into the villain’s trap was suspenseful and dramatic, with some consequences that were shocking for the time. That just meant that the eventual culmination of Quasar’s heroic arc felt earned, packed with emotional weight. Gruenwald also demonstrated his love for Marvel’s lengthy, colorful history, plucking a variety of characters from decades of oddball stories and using them to gild the edges of the story. But he also steeped the series in the mainstream of Marvel, tagging in a variety of Quasar’s fellow Avengers, as well as Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Excalibur and Thanos, among others. Gruenwald’s love for the characters and concepts involved in this saga was evident and was a sterling example of making use of the publisher’s past to push forward new concepts.
The first half of the Cosmos in Collision collection features the work of Mike Manley, collaborating with a variety of inkers. It’s fairly classic work, old school in many ways, but clean and direct, serving the storytelling effectively, even if things could feel a bit utilitarian at times. Of more interest to fans will be the second half, featuring the team of Greg Capullo and Keith Williams. This was Capullo’s first ongoing assignment, before the X-Office scooped him up and launched him to stardom. And the reasons why Capullo would become a star are on full display: his work was dynamic and expressive, his characters demonstrating a grace and fluidity that made the action on the page pulse with energy. He showed off sterling design chops, whether giving characters a fresh gloss or going all out on the wilder cosmic aspects of the book. That a splash page of a baroque dining room could be stunning won’t surprise fans of the artist’s work, and that’s just one example of the creativity and high impact visuals on display. Williams was a well-chosen collaborator for Capullo, his simpatico embellishment giving the images the weight they needed without overwhelming them. Paul Becton handled colors on most of the issues in this collection and was crucial in the success of the visual presentation. For fans of Capullo, this is a great opportunity to see the origins of his now well-known style.
While reading the previous Quasar Classic collection wouldn’t hurt, for the most part the issues collected here provide new readers with enough information to be able to follow the proceedings with little trouble. Fans looking to discover a high quality saga that never quite got the attention it deserved would do well to delve into Cosmos in Collision.