Mark Gruenwald was one of those wonderful, mad, quixotic people who actually wanted the Marvel Universe to make sense. Obviously, he was aware that there were limits to this dream; in the real world, people cannot turn into solid steel simply by willing themselves to do so, or stick to walls with their bare hands because they have “spider powers”. But he wanted the fiction of the Marvel Universe to operate according to an internally consistent set of rules that applied to all its stories. It’s an impossible dream, unfortunately; the laws of drama trump the laws of physics in a fictional universe, and Gruenwald’s explanations of time travel and the structure of the Multiverse held together only as long as he was around to hold other writers to them. But the explanations he came up with were more than just a set of rules. They were a set of stories.
‘Quasar’ was the series he came up with to tell those stories, and I loved both ‘Quasar’ the series and Quasar the character. I loved the series because Gruenwald looked at the Marvel Universe, the grand patchwork creation of hundreds if not thousands of hands, and saw infinite vistas to explore. Tiny little loose ends that most other fans forgot about, like the Chief Examiner in the ‘Questprobe’ video game tie-in comics, he saw as a chance to tell a story that was waiting for someone to do it justice. Forgotten characters like the Stranger or Maelstrom were interesting and compelling when seen through his eyes, and he couldn’t wait to show you why. The endless strangeness and vast complexities of the Marvel Universe, with its gods and gods-above-gods and gods-above-gods-above-gods, he used as the backdrop to tell stories that showed that universe in all its glory.
And Wendell Vaughn, the main character of the series, was exactly who was needed for it. He wasn’t the most interesting of protagonists; he was staid, solid, dependable and calm in a crisis. He wasn’t damaged or angry or broken inside. But he was nice. He was likable. He tried to do the right thing all the time, even when it hurt him–heck, even when it killed him, which was significantly more often than you might expect from a character who carried his own series. (I think he’s died at least four times, but I might be missing a couple. For Wendell Vaughn, death is like a coffee break from being Protector of the Universe.) He was a guy who had his shit together and acted like a hero, and that’s gotten to be rare enough in comics these days that I think it’s worth celebrating in and of itself.
And the stories were great. The Watchers fell victim to a devastating meme that killed them in their hundreds. Oblivion killed the embodiment of all life, leaving Quasar to protect its successor. Quasar slipped sideways out of our universe entirely, winding up in the New Universe and meeting the possessor of the Star Brand. All sorts of weird, crazy, goofy concepts that went to the forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe and brought back all sorts of treasures to share. Mark Gruenwald put his heart into this series, and it really showed. I’m still hoping for an ‘Essential’ collection, now that they’re finally getting up into the Eighties, because I really do think of this one as essential reading for anyone who wants to feel like being a comic fan is worth something. For all that pedantry can (and does) devolve into pointless point-scoring and petty bitching over “getting it wrong”, there’s a flipside to it. There’s a way of caring about these things that’s positive, that uses the questions of how the Marvel Universe works as a springboard to inspiration. Mark Gruenwald wrote from his passions as a fan his whole career, and ‘Quasar’ showed exactly why that was something to love.