With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Paul Pelletier (#1-7), Brad Walker (#8-10), Wes Craig (#11-12)
Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-12
“This is your team?”
“Yeah, great aren’t they?”
“Is one of them a tree?”
“I hate cosmic stuff.”
If there’s a single Marvel thing I can point to that primarily motivated my resurgence back to comic books, look no further than the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film. I absolutely adored it, from its wacky world, amazing casting, and wonderful balance of action and humor. I was also completely lost on who these characters were.
Now I’d never paid close attention to the Avengers or Iron Man comics either, but I was at least aware of them. The Guardians were completely new to me, and strikingly highlighted the fact that I really hadn’t read a comic book in the last ten years.
Thus I was super stoked to dive into their very well-regarded run that spanned 25 issues between 2008-2010. Of course when I began reading comics in December of 2014, I started back in the era of 2004, so it’s taken me awhile to finally catch up. I’m very glad I did, as both major cosmic events Annihilation (’06-07) and Annihilation: Conquest (’07-08) are close to required reading to really get the most out of these characters and where they come from.
Guardians of the Galaxy begins with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (WHO??) having already assembled his titular team. The initial active roster is introduced with fun reality show-style talking heads, and include Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Adam Warlock, Drax the Destroyer, and Phyla-Vell as the new Quasar. Groot is still growing and recovering from his explosive events at the end of Annihilation: Conquest, a nice nod to continuity. The telepathic Mantis is also an important member of the team, though her role is more like Professor X – to hang back and provide mental support and information.
Although this 12 issue collected volume collects two six issue trades, the stories are actually much more segmented than that. The first three issues, for example, has our team exploring and battling against the Universal Church of Truth. They’re a powerful cult that believe Adam Warlock to be a false prophet, since they have their own Warlock-like cocoon that’s waiting to be reborn.
It mostly comes down to lots of fantastic battles against giant armored guys called Cardinals who use their faith as a power source. At the end, Gamora nearly sacrifices herself by exposing herself to a star to save the rest of the team. She heals slowly over the next few issues, even sporting shorter hair when she’s fully healed – another nice nod to continuity.
We’re also introduced to the Guardians’ home base of Knowhere. As seen in the film it’s the hollowed out skull of a long-dead celestial being, and considered neutral grounds by many alien races. Its head of security is one of my favorite characters ever – Cosmo the telepathic Russian space-dog. He’s the best, and his dialogue is written just like how Chekov from Star Trek speaks.
Knowhere becomes the focus over the next three issues, which are also technically Secret Invasion tie-ins. The tie-in portion just means it references the invasion of Earth and involves skrulls, but otherwise doesn’t have anything to do with those events. The storyline is all kinds of cool as we focus more on the team’s inner-drama, and drama with other staff at Knowhere. I was hoping we’d get into some The Thing territory as they all start accusing each other of being a skrull while trapped in a small area, but Drax manages to supersede that by temporarily killing everyone on the station with a brain damage bomb. Yeah, he’s Drax, he does that.
While I do love the writing and dialogue, the artwork was a huge reason I instantly fell in love with Guardians of the Galaxy. Paul Pelletier has a classically exaggerated, dare I say Jim Lee-esque quality about his characters that I just adored. Action scenes were bright and flashy while still being easy to follow, and every character just leapt off the page in memorable fashion. Even the random aliens were fun, like the gigantic, chameleon-eyed Delegate Gorani.
The Secret Invasion story leads to a surprising end, involving an underground railroad of pacifist skrulls just trying to escape. Unfortunately the seeds of distrust have been sown, and it’s soon revealed that Peter had Mantis “slightly brainwash” each member to get them to initially join the team. Everyone is understandably upset about this, and everyone parts ways.
Issues #7-10 take on an interesting multi-tiered arc as our separated teams go on their own various adventures. Peter Quill returns to Hala where he’s quickly arrested by Ronan the Accuser and thrown into the Negative Zone. Gamora accompanies Adam Warlock to continue their pursuit of the Universal Church. Phyla-Vell helps Drax on his search for the lost kid from back in Annihilation, which eventually leads them to Heather Douglass, Drax’s daughter and Phyla’s lover that was killed by Ultron during Annihilation: Conquest. See how happy I was that I read those events first? I mean you should read them because they’re awesome anyway.
Surprisingly Rocket Racoon keeps the Guardians going with his own team. Joined by a newly rebuilt Groot, he brings Mantis to active status and adds in former teammate Bug and new recruit Major Victory, a future Guardian of the Galaxy lost in time that wields Captain America’s shield. Wait what?
Major Victory’s discovery was actually made back in issue #2, though his ongoing plight always took a backseat to current events and situations. He and teammate Starhawk both end up in our time, and we get a cool dystopian view of the future where they’re part of the last team of resistance in the universe against a conquering race. Starhawk believes there’s an anomaly coming up that fractures the timeline and screws everything up. Can you say foreshadowing?
Peter Quill’s odyssey becomes the most interesting, as he runs into Blastaar, now self-appointed King Blastaar of the Negative Zone. Blastaar tasks Quill with helping him take Prison 42, the superhero prison that was built in the negative zone during the Civil War, and importantly includes a portal to Earth. Quill meets up with Jack Flagg, who’s wheelchair bound after his run-in with Bullseye and the Thunderbolts (yet another awesome nod to previous continuity) and a handful of random minor villains. There’s some fun desperate moments as they try to hold off the forces of Blastaar’s army before Quill can contact Mantis and Rocket’s team teleports in to bail them out.
All four stories happen intermittently over the course of four issues, but that method is dropped for the final two issues of the Volume. Issues #11-12 focus solely on Phyla-Vell and Drax, recently “killed” by Mentor and wandering a limbo-like world. They fight a dude named Maelstrom, meet up with the old Quasar Wendell Vaughn, and rescue Heather from inside a giant dragon. It’s kinda neat but very weird to focus two entire issues of the main trade on just their straightforward story.
Sadly Pelletier only worked on the first seven issues. Brad Walker’s work is close and a reasonable facsimile. I can’t say the same for Wes Craig’s work on the final two issues, where the characters looked too childish for my tastes. Anytime the artist changes so often is cause for cringing, but credit to the creative teams involved that everything still retained a very consistent tone and style to it.
By successfully crafting an Avengers-style cosmic team, Abnett and Lanning create a memorable and fun comic series. They were able to effectively plant the seeds for future conflicts like Starhawk and Major Victory’s future time-crisis and the Universal Church of Truth’s mystery cocoon, while still putting their new cosmic team through their own fun stories and adventures.
Splitting the team up halfway through seems crazy but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun, and a chance to see different characters interacting together. Guardians of the Galaxy also helps bridge together the next cosmic event – War of Kings, while the second Volume does the same with Realm of Kings, then finally to the Thanos Imperative. Basically the Guardians are Marvel Cosmic, and I couldn’t be happier about it.