Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers

Remember how Peter Jackson's last Lord of the Rings movie had, like, six different endings, just piled one on top of the next, each seemingly complete unto itself, and you found yourself about to get up from the theater seat repeatedly, just to realize that what seemed like the ending wasn't really the ending, and there was at least one more scene to go?

The first collection of the new volume of Guardians of the Galaxy is sort of like that, only it's all beginnings instead of endings. This volume, which collects the Brian Michael Bendis-written series that spun out of the first Brian Michael Bendis-written arc of the Avengers Assemble series, collects five different comic books, but it reads like a series of three different beginnings of the same series (Come to think of it, Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 was also basically a beginning for this series, too).

The first beginning is that from Guardians of the Galaxy #.1, penciled by Steve McNiven, who also draws all of the parts of the first three issues that Sara Pichelli does not (the credits on this book are kind of a mess, and I had a hard time matching them up with the art that I saw later on, which all looked a lot like a rather rough version of McNiven; in addition to Pichelli pencilling and inking parts of two of the issues, there are two other inkers involved in issues #1-3).

I've actually read and wrote about this beginning already (although not in any great detail). It is essentially the origin story of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, or at least of his childhood: How his Earthling mother met his marooned spaceman father and nursed him back to health, how his dad left her after he was conceived but before he was born, how the alien Badoon came to earth to kill he and his mom, how he survived and found a raygun.

It skips from that to a modern-day, adult Quill, finishing telling the story with "The second I could find a way off planet earth I took it...I got up here and here I am," before the camera pans out to show Quill standing in a spaceship, surrounded by the current Guardians line-up in their new, less-retro (and less cool) costumes, with Iron Man, also in a new costume, thanking him for telling him the story and saying that he has decided to take them up on their invitation to join them in outer space for a while (an invitation extended in the previously linked-to Avengers Assemble comic, and something he was considering doing at the end of Matt Fraction's run on Invincible Iron Man).

"Now we show them how it's done," Quill tells Stark, as their space ship zooms off to start the new series.

And then we get Beginning #2, which consists of the first three issues of the monthly series.

Quill is in a bar trying to talk a blue lady that looks like Gamora, the green lady on his team, into having sex with him (This isn't a plot point; McNiven just sorta draws them the same). Quill's dad, the king of Spartax, come in and has a long, Bendis-y conversation. Apparently Quill's dad and a Space Illuminati (The cosmic Marvel equivalent of all those scenes Bendis wrote of "The Illuminati" and Norman Osborn's "Dark Reign" cabal) have got together and talked about what they should do about the planet Earth, and they ultimately decide it is off-limits to all alien interference.
Meanwhile, Iron Man is apparently flying around solo in space in his new space-faring costume, which looks like his regular armor save with a higher red-to-yellow ratio, and a mask which somewhat resembles the one Star-Lord was wearing in the Keith Giffen-written StarLord miniseries.

The Badoon attack him, and the Guardians come to his rescue. Fight scene. Another check-in with Quill's dad's space meetings, in a two-page spread featuring a Bendis balloon chain.
It's the raised-hand posed that really annoys me, as it implies he's been in that position for the whole five-minute scene.
The Badoon attack London. Another fight scene (Weirdly, Rocket Raccoon seems kind of...Deadpool-like, shooting his foes in the face over and over and repeating, "Blam! Murdered you" to each as he does so. I don't think one needs to try so hard to make Rocket "funny;" the cognitive dissonance of his role in these stories vs. his appearance kind of does that all by itself).
The Spartax guys capture the Guardians. Another space meeting, where the space board of directors wonder if Quill's dad isn't being pretty manipulative. The Guardians escape, Quill making a speech to his people challenging his dad's authority, and setting the book's premise: This is going to be a book about a group of outsiders banded together to protect Earth from the sinister manipulations of the Galaxies various empires and invaders. It's the good guys from the original Star Wars trilogy versus the bad guys from the second Star Wars trilogy.

Or it's Bendis in space: Lots of chatter, clever repartee, plot-delineating exposition conversations, disregard for whatever was written about these characters by whoever was writing them previously, intimations of the importance of the conflicts to the entire Marvel Universe, better-than-average comics-making in general (Regarding Bendis' disregard, Quill was apparently dead before Bendis started writing him; there's a scene where his dad says "I get updates on you, you know...Heard you dragged yourself back from the dead," which is as much as an explanation as we're given in this whole volume. Gladiator appears in the space-meetings, and seems oddly disconnected from the character I just read in those Annihilators collections; one of which featured Gladiator battling to save Earth alongside a team that had taken over the Guardians of the Galaxy's role in the, um, galaxy. Also, his mohawk looks funny here).

This storyline will apparently continue in the next volume, and the rest of this volume contains Beginning #3, the one-shot special Guardians of The Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers #1, featuring a hodge-podge of solo-ish stories featuring the Guardians who are neither Quill nor Iron Man, each written by Bendis and drawn by different artists (Although a Yves Bigerel is credited with lay-outs on three of the four stories).
The first of these features nice (but, in two instances, surprisingly difficult to read) art by Bendis' frequent collaborator Michael Avon Oeming (and Rain Beredo, who I am guessing colored it, but it's unclear from the credits). This features Drax fighting some guys, and then Quill appearing to re-recruit him at the end, setting up expectations that maybe this is a getting-the-band-back-together series of shorts (I think it was the line "We need to get the Guardians back together" that gave me this impression).

But the second, by Michael Del Mundo, scuttles those expectations. It's an over-narrated story told from the perspective of an alien on an alien planet that's being harassed by other, meaner aliens, until Groot shows up and kicks their asses, and then Rocket and the Guardians arrive to pick up Groot in the last panel (So in story #2, the band is already back together, thanks).

The third, nicely drawn by Ming Doyle and either inked or colored (or both?) by Javier Rodriguez, Rocket is in a space-bar, bragging about his adventures and trying to hit on a lady that does not look at all attractive by human or raccoon standards. At some point, a mouthy guy says he saw "another one" like Rocket on Rigel Seven and leaves. Rocket interrogates him by gunpoint, but all he learns is that he once saw "one" just like Rocket, but it was a different color and it wasn't "up on both legs...walking and talkin'..."

Rocket seems to thing this is big, important news. But, um, a creature that looks like Rocket, but is a different color, and doesn't walk and talk? That's a fucking raccoon, and Earth is lousy with 'em. If this was meant to be the revelation that it's presented as (a mysterious assassin kills the mouthy guy before he can say too much, then disappears), then Bendis probably shoulda scripted it a little more carefully.

The final story, this one by Del Mundo again, is just Gamora fighting and killing some dude, with Quill showing up on the last page to pick her up.

So it's a series of beginnings, stopping and starting. I would guess Marvel published these two specials, the "#.1" issue and the Tomorrow's Avengers special, to introduce the characters a little better (though most of the shorts don't; all we learn of Drax and Gamora are that they are green-skinned violent bad-asses, all we learn of Groot is that he is a big tree that says "I am Groot," and all we learn of Rocket is that he is an obnoxious, violent drinker who has never heard of raccoons, despite having "Raccoon" as his surname). Well, that and to promote the series as a sort of big deal, what with the multiple #1s, and the word "Avengers" in the third #1, and so on.

And then I suppose when it came time to collect the first volume, they had little choice but to put them all between the same set of covers. Perhaps a different ordering would have helped, with Tomorrow's Avengers coming first, as it precedes the other two by story chronology, if not publication date? (Actually, the short stories in it seem to pre-date Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 as well).

Regardless of the decent quality of all three basic story units—GotG #.1, GotG #1-3 and Tomorrow's Avengers—they don't read smoothly as a complete whole, and the first collection of the new, higher-profile Guardians of the Galaxy series is a bunch of starts, which are presented in fits and starts.


One thing I noticed, when I linked to that review of Avengers Assemble was that in that particular story, Rocket Raccoon had his own, distinct style of dialogue bubble, most noticeable in that it was yellow, indicating that his voice sounds much different than all of the humans/humanoid voices, who had yellow dialogue balloons (How different, and in what ways, I can't imagine; I do hope he's not meant to have, like, an Alvin and The Chipmunks chipmunk voice, because good God will that make that movie intolerable).

Another thing I noticed? There were soooo many variant covers for these issues. Some of them are character-specific. You'll see lots of Rocket-only covers, by the likes of Joe Quesada. There's a really great Gamora, wearing her costume from the previous volume, by Milo Manara. There are a few Ed McGuinness covers and a Joe Madueira one. And there were so many for the first issue that the last few pages of the collection don't show the variants at full-size, but are divided into fourths, so they can show some sixteen variants in just four pages.

Many of these are retailer specific, indicating there was probably some weird ordering scheme I don't understand that triggered the production of a variant. Deadpool appears in a few of the retailer-specific ones—which is kinda weird, as he's not in the book at all—in addition to appearing in the "Deadpool Variant" and the "Hastings Variant." There's something called a "Phantom Variant" that kinda confuses the "Days of Future Past" cover with Wolvie and and Kitty in front of the poster image, showing villain Thanos in front of a poster with various Guardians' pictures and the words "fugitive" stamped/posted over them.

Of these 16 in the last few pages (and there are other full-size variants included throughout the book, like the aforementioned Quesadas and Manara), the only one I really liked was the Marcos Martin one:
He did a Guardians Pose image, but unlike many of them, he puts them all on there, and he does it in a way that is inventive, appealing and striking. I really love this Marcos Martin character.


Aki Alaraatikka said...

Wonder if Bendis should write novels...Because his style doesn`t, as mentioned by other peeps before, fit to comics at all.

Eric Lee said...

I thought that Bendis' dialogue tics were relatively restrained with Guardians of the Galaxy. But, you are right in that I feel they are trying too hard to make Rocket Raccoon funny.