Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

13 March 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 1: Cosmic Avengers

Collects: Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 and 1-3 and Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers #1 (2013)

Released: April 2014 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785166078

What is this?: The opening arc of Bendis’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the Guardians have to deal with aliens wanting to interfere with Earth.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and pencilers Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli

I enjoyed the second volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, so I was worried when I heard Brian Michael Bendis was going to write the third volume.

Bendis’s style is vastly different from Abnett and Lanning’s. Abnett and Lanning rely on humor and action-filled plots, while Bendis is known for using naturalistic dialogue to fill his more leisurely paced stories. Unfortunately, Bendis’s dialogue causes many of his characters to sound alike, regardless of how they sounded before he started writing them. When Bendis writes solo titles, the singular Bendis voice is not a big problem, but it’s one of many concerns readers have raised on Bendis’s team books.

For some reason, despite no one particularly caring for Bendis’s work on team books, those books are still immensely popular. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, if anyone has the patience to unravel it.

Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 1: Cosmic Avengers coverBut I kept an open mind when I read Guardians of the Galaxy, v 1: Cosmic Avengers. In Cosmic Avengers, Bendis has chosen to make the central conflict between J’Son (occasionally spelled J-Son), the ruler of the alien Spartax, and his son, Peter Quill, who leads the Guardians under the name Star-Lord. J’Son wants Quill to quit adventuring with his scruffy friends and take his place as crown prince; Quill wants J’Son to butt the hell out of his life. J’Son also maneuvers members of the Galactic Council into putting Earth into quarantine, meaning J’Son is forbidding his son to go back to his home planet. Presumably, this is meant to pressure Quill to take J’Son’s offer.

The Badoon immediately take the quarantine of Earth as an invitation to invade the planet, hoping to conquer it before the other races can react and then presenting the conquest to the others as a fait accompli. (I think; it’s never spelled out why this new galactic policy on Earth makes the planet more vulnerable. The story does not say the Galactic Council has withdrawn longstanding protection of Earth or anything similar.) The Guardians — whose lineup mirrors that of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie: Quill, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer — and Iron Man react, and when the battle is over, the Guardians are the ones who are in trouble.

So Cosmic Avengers has a great deal of action, but it does not have much plot. Each of the three issues from Guardians of the Galaxy collected in the book has two threads: J’Son lecturing someone (Quill or the Galactic Council) and the Guardians fighting someone. In life as well as comics, lectures are generally boring, and Bendis’s trademark dialogue doesn’t help; the action sequences look pretty, but they are uncomplicated: the Guardians see evil, attack evil, quickly win.

Well, the art is pretty, but it’s sometimes confusing. I’m not sure Steve McNiven and Bendis were on the same wavelength at times. Iron Man is introduced in #1 floating in space, in front of a planet that looks like Mars while musing that it’s good that he decided to “go out into the universe.” Mars isn’t far out into the universe, but that’s where Iron Man must be, since he sees the Badoon show up to attack Earth. Mars isn’t always that close to Earth — 140 million miles, on average, 34 million at their closest approach, and 250 million miles away on their farthest — but perhaps it is much closer in the Marvel Universe.

The Guardians arrive soon after. How do the Guardians decide to launch a boarding raid on the Badoon ship? By floating through the vacuum. That suggests neither ship is going very fast, and it gives McNiven a chance to show off their stupid spacesuits, which consists of helmets for Quill and Gamora in addition to normal costumes. During the battle, Rocket laughs at something Groot does … but what is it? McNiven shows Groot tearing through Badoon, but that’s not remarkable. After the Badoon activiate the self-destruct button, Drax rushes back into the ship to rescue Gamora, but the next panel with the two of them show them aboard the Guardians’ ship, without even a suggestion that either was in danger. The disintegrating Badoon ship is then shown almost at Earth — which, again, isn’t that close to Mars.

(As an aside: More worrying is a scene in the next collection, Guardians of the Galaxy, v. 2: Angela. Quill refers to a distressing event that happened while the Guardians were “chasing Badoon,” a lightning-like flash that momentarily disoriented Drax but messed with Quill’s thinking. But Quill experiences nothing like that in any Guardians issue; however, Drax does seem off his game for a moment in #2 after an explosion that seems to be caused by a laser. Was this the incident Quill refers to? Quill doesn’t seem to notice the flash of light then. Or did it come in a crossover appearance?)

Bendis’s dialogue is also problematic. Iron Man, who joins up with the Guardians after the Badoon attack, sounds like a typical Bendis character, and Quill also speaks in that style. Quill is, on the face of it, someone who shouldn’t speak in a naturalistic style; as a charismatic leader of a bunch of ragtag rebels, he should be smooth and quick witted — more Indiana Jones than Woody Allen. Rocket doesn’t sound like a Bendis character, but he does try to make a truly awful catchphrase — “Blam! Murdered you!” — work, and it takes a while before his teammates object to its psychopathic tone.

Sometimes people say something completely out of character. Iron Man has no call to slag on Captain Britain, but when the Badoon attack London, Iron Man says he’s “not really” any good. If anyone should be suspicious of humanity’s potential to screw up the universe, it would be the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree, who awakened the supremely powerful “Destiny force” from Rick Jones, Captain America’s sidekick, during the Kree-Skrull War and Avengers Forever. However, the Supreme Intelligence says J’Son is “overstating [humanity’s] abilities and importance.” Another member of the Galactic Council would be a better choice to say this, unless the Supreme Intelligence is dissembling. Which he might be, although I don’t have enough faith in Bendis to believe that.

(As a second aside: The Galactic Council includes J’Son, the Supreme Intelligence, Emperor Gladiator of the Shi’ar, a Badoon, Freyja the All-Mother of Asgard, Annihilus … and the Brood. The Brood? As a galactic power? I know this lineup was set by Jonathan Hickman in Avengers, but the Marvel Universe must hold a more important race than the Brood. The remnants of the Skrulls? The Galadorians? And Rocket describes the Badoon as a “minor race” in Guardians v. 2 #7. What’s changed since then?)

However, I will say Bendis writes Groot’s dialogue properly. He and Black Bolt might be the only two characters Bendis can’t make sound like the rest of his characters. Bendis does give Groot the ridiculous regeneration ability, as he grows from a sprout to his normal, giant self over just a few pages in #3. I don’t know that it should be remarkable that Groot should return from almost complete dissolution so quickly, but it rankled.

The price of this book is outrageous. Cosmic Avengers is not worth $20. Three issues of the regular series is barely a taste of what’s to come, and the rest of the book is filler. Although it’s possible Bendis might follow up on some of the threads in the four short tales from Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers — he did write them — I wouldn’t bet on it. Star-Lord’s origin in #0.1 is a revamped version of Marvel Preview #4 from 1976, but Bendis’s story covers far less of Quill’s life, smoothing out the improbable elements of his birth while glossing over everything between his mother’s murder and the present in a couple of speech bubbles. The new version does have coherence on its side, but other than a brief scene showing Quill defending a bullied girl, the story could have been summed up by Quill in a few lines: “A space prince knocked up my mom, then Badoon killed her ten years after I was born.”

Done. I’ll take the prorated price of the book from anyone who wants to give it to me.

Price aside, though, Cosmic Avengers is a book for die-hards — Bendis fans, or those who must know what is happening to their favorite Guardians. If you don’t fit into either category, skip this book … and the next one too, since the only important event in that book is the appearance of Angela, which is hardly a universe-shaking happening, no matter what the Watcher tries to tell us.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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Blogger Kris Shaw said...

Bendis soured me on Avengers with his bloated, lazy writing and horrid dialogue. He has since been added to my DO NOT BUY list of writers. The only reason that he sells is that he is put on high-profile titles (Avengers, X-Men, etc.). If he is so big a draw then how come his Moon Knight series tanked? The only people who enjoy his writing are those who are unfamiliar with the characters and their respective voices.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Arion said...

I've only read the 0.1 issue of this new run. McNiven art is amazing!

By the way, I just read your post about Weapon X and it was great. You seem to be a bit of an expert in Barry Windsor-Smith. Anyway, I also wrote about Weapon X in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



7:31 PM  

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