– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
After the big events of Infinity War, we’re sticking with the theme of ‘Cosmic adventurers’, but after a bit of time off, are getting back to our normal approach. This week, we’re looking at a story from a saga that leads to some of the most popular movie characters on the scene at the moment, namely, the Guardians of the Galaxy, in their breakout series from 2008.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by: Paul Pelletier, Brad Walker & Wes Craig
Founding Members: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Adam Warlock, Quasar
Base of Operations: Knowhere Space-Station
First Appearance: Annihilation: Conquest #6 (April 2008)
In the wake of a universe-wide attack by the cosmic despot known as Annihilus, former Avengers foe and the robotic creation of Hank Pym, Ultron, stepped up to make his move. With the universe in chaos and the intergalactic police force known as the Nova Corp destroyed, the safety of the Galaxy was left in the hands of a band of criminals, led by the washed-up space-faring hero Peter Quill, better known as Star-Lord. He and his team of criminals managed to prevail against the robotic would-be conqueror, and in the wake of his attempted takeover, Quill decided to round up a band of ‘heroes’ to make sure a similar fate could never befall the galaxy again. But instead of heroes, Quill found himself united with the daughter of Thanos and deadliest woman in the Galaxy, Gamora, the brutish ‘destroyer’ Drax, trigger-happy mercenary Rocket Raccoon, a sapling of the monstrous Groot, the enigmatic spell-caster Adam Warlock, and the reluctant ‘protector of the Universe’ and daughter of the original Captain Marvel, Quasar. Though their number would change as the years went by, this crew of scoundrels time and again find themselves at the centre of intergalactic disasters, struggling to hold back the tide – at least, when they’re not up to no good.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
For the majority of its lifespan, the title ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ referred to a team of heroes who operated in the 31st that mostly hailed from the Solar System. Their number included Major Victory, a mutant from the present, who found himself in the future using his telekinetic powers in conjunction with Captain America‘s shield, Yondu, an alien archer, Charlie-27, a soldier gifted with extra muscle-mass to survive Jupiter’s gravity, Martinex, a crystalline man hailing from Pluto who could fire hot and cold blasts of energy and Starhawk, two adoptive siblings who were bonded together and empowered by a Hawk God. These heroes are far less prominent than they used to be, however, they did cameo, in a way, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Michael Rooker/Yondu’s former Ravager crew.
However, in the mid-2000s, Marvel began revamping their Cosmic line-up in a series of overarching stories that spanned several titles and years. It began with a solo comic-book focusing on the character of Thanos, and together, along with the events seen in a new Drax solo comic-book, these spiralled into Annihilation, a story-line that saw the entire universe go to war with the Fantastic Four villain Annihilus. This in turn, was followed by another crossover, Annihilation: Conquest, which saw another universe-spanning war, this time against the Avengers villain Ultron. It was during this latter crossover that the modern-day iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy was born.
After the events of Conquest, the Guardians got their own spin-off series (which is what we’ll be looking at today) that would, in turn, lead to a variety of other crossovers such as the Realm and War of Kings and later, The Thanos Imperative. Reading through the adventures of the Guardians, Nova, Thanos, Drax and these various crossovers, released between 2004 and 2010 would give you a complete (and very good) saga of stories, with epic adventures, great characters and real stakes – characters could die, and, were it not for the release of the first Guardians movie in 2014, and Marvel Comics attempts at revamping the characters as a means of synergy leading up to it – they’d probably still be dead.
It’s really a shame, because the Guardians comics that came after this saga were, in all honesty, pretty shit, and rather annoyingly mostly focused around Earth and filled with Earth heroes to the extent that it seemed a bit pointless them still being the Guardians OF THE GALAXY. But I digress, that’s an issue for another time (The current Guardians run is decent, but if you ever see anything with ‘Guardians’ and ‘Brian Bendis’ on the cover, I would recommend avoiding it).
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
Right, so, in the aftermath of the first two parts of that aforementioned saga, Annihilation and Conquest, Peter Quill, better known as Star-Lord, assembled a strike-team to take on any potential threats to the Galaxy.
Consisting of Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Adam Warlock and the brand-new Quasar, this disparate group of personalities is faced with the monumental task of saving a fundamentally broken universe, all the while having to deal with each other’s quirks and standoffish behaviour.
While keeping this team together would already be a rather difficult prospect for Star-Lord, he and his new gang also have to face the prospect of a homicidal space-church, a time-travelling amnesiac, a shape-shifter invasion of Earth, a parallel dimension prison breakout and an adventure to the afterlife.
It’s all going on for the Guardians of the Galaxy.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
This is a tricky one because there are a lot of concepts and characters involved in this comic who largely don’t make it into many other forms of Marvel media. Those assembled here are essentially the B and C-List characters dug up from Marvel’s archive, with the writers having essentially free reign to do what they wanted with them because a character like Mantis or Rocket Raccoon is seldom going to have any effect on the life of a character like Spider-Man or any other A-Listers. As such, it’s unlikely that general audiences would be familiar with these characters, who generally remain in their own corner of *ahem* Marvel space.
But, in a way, that is also a benefit. Pretty much everything relevant you need to know about these characters can either be found in these pages or in the Annihilation – Thanos Imperative saga as a whole, so if you’re willing to do some extra reading/spending, you can get a whole complete story without committing years upon years of your life to the various characters and franchises.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
With all that in mind, I have to say this is a pretty strong comic. Not the best, mind you, as without the extra reading it does falter somewhat, and some of the goings-on are strongly linked to knowledge of other characters and the context within which each story takes place.
However, as a means of reintroducing (or introducing, if you’ve never met these characters before) this team to audiences, this is a solid attempt. The writing is well done, with Abnett and Lanning being an extremely capable pair of writers. The characters are given a good amount of exposure that’s entertaining and informative, without you having to delve into their decades-long histories. Furthermore, several of the issues are broken up by a ‘video log’ of sorts, so even if you don’t really get what’s happening, you can be sure that the characters themselves will be along to explain it at some point.
Best of all, it’s different. While you do see some traditional superhero story set-ups and tropes, the locations ventured to and the problems that the Guardians face are pretty unique when compared to their peers in other team-books like Avengers, X-Men or the Fantastic Four. The stories are full to the brim with creativity, whether that’s in the language the characters use or the wonders they come across.
This is helped immensely by the art. Paul Pettelier, who illustrates the bulk of the issues seen here, has a very down-to-earth style, that, while able to capture the vast craziness of what’s going on, is also bold and simplistic enough that you’re not thrown off by things looking too weird or abnormal (unless the script calls for it, of course). Similarly, the final issues by Wes Craig seem a bit more stylistic but retain that bold, fun feel that really makes the pages pop. The mid-section by Brad Walker isn’t quite as good in comparison, but still pretty decent.