2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #3 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #3

Guardians of the Galaxy #3

This is a pretty nice cover by Art Adams. It promises at intra-team rivalry, a Gamora not on the same page as the rest of the team. Maybe Drax has gone rogue once again, his desire to kill Thanos overriding his reasons for being on the team. Let's also take a look at the solicitation text for the issue:

Gamora is back, but things have changed! What has she been doing for the last eight months?

Between this text and the cover, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a Gamora-heavy issue. Which is why I was more than surprised to find that Gamora spends almost the whole issue unconscious. Again.

I'm trying not to go off on a long rant about the complete mis-selling of the contents of a comic by the cover and solicits, especially on books by Brian Michael Bendis (remember when the cover of a previous GotG issue showed Captain Marvel proudly taking up position on the team, only for her not to appear in the book at all?), but it's very difficult to avoid this. Especially when the element of the book I should be focusing on - The Thing -  is barely in this issue.

He's there in the background of a lot of panels, and he was about to punch someone when Gamora woke up and then got herself knocked out again a few panels later, but there was previous little for me to take away from this issue.

Heck, there was even a tease of a Cosmo appearance - the opening pages take place on Knowhere, and the threat of Cosmo turning up hangs over the scene - but for some reason, Cosmo can't be in a Bendis-written Guardians of the Galaxy book, and this makes me sad.

One of the very few things that we learn in this issue is that a Destroyer destroyer named Yotat The Destroyer is going to hunt down Drax The Destroyer and destroy him. Drax, naturally, knows nothing of this, which is problematic. I've written before how having everyone hang out on a spaceship with no individual motivation just doesn't work for me, and it feels like there's a missed opportunity here. Drax, knowing that he can't take Yotat in a fair fight, hangs around with the Guardians so that they are forced to jump in and help him, gives him agency and a reason to be hanging around beyond 'there's a movie coming next year'. Having him the unwitting prey does a disservice to a character repeatedly characterised as shrewd and cunning over the past decade.

The artwork in the book continues to impress. Again, the focus on big action over character means that Valerio Schiti's strengths are being played to, and this book looks great from cover to cover. It's just a shame that the plot barely moves anywhere.

Oh, and once again, Venom contributes nothing to this issue. He's told to provide cover, but we never see him do this. It's a very poorly-written 'stand over there and look pretty' moment, and the only focus he gets in the entire issue.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #3 was 37th on the sales charts for December 2015, a rise of 2 places.. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 53,627, a rise of approx. 1667, or 3%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

It's finally time to take a look at the second issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, the post-Secret Wars home of Ben Grimm. You can tell it's the home of Ben Grimm, as one of the four double-page splashes throughout this book is devoted to a pretty gorgeous shot of the Thing punching Hala, the mysterious female figure from the end of the previous issue, whilst shouting 'It's Clobberin' Time'. And, fair's fair, it's a very good double-page splash.

Also being fair, it's just about the only thing that Ben does in this issue, apart from accidentally wander into a poorly-written discussion about whether or not it's OK to refer to a super-powered Kree warrior as a 'broad'. He's probably the third most prominent member of the Guardians of the Galaxy in this issue, after Kitty and Star Lord. Gamora spends the entire issue unconscious, Rocket talks a lot but does very little, Groot gets one line (go on, guess what it is), Venom gets hurled around a bit, and Drax holds a staff.

This isn't a book that's interested in being a team book. One of the key elements of the success of the Abnett & Lanning version of the team was that every character had their own motivations and plots which brought them into the team; the idea of the team was secondary to the characters own desires. In this book, everyone's here present because the film makes you think that they have to be, and there's no attempt to do anything with any character other than have them get knocked about whilst the Hala plot develops.

Not that it develops all that much. We discover that she's a survivor of the destruction of the Kree Homeworld, and she's very powerful. She wants to destroy both Spartax and Earth to get revenge on the people who destroyed Hala - the Guardians themselves, under the leadership of Peter Quill. She beats up the Guardians a little, kidnaps Peter, and reveals her plans to him. That's it, nothing more. No subplots receive any mention at all - the Kitty/Peter tension from the first issue is not referred to all -  and nobody seems to be at all concerned for Gamora or Groot, ostensibly two of the most powerful people in the galaxy and close members of the team for a number of years now, are taken down by the big bad threat. And once again, you could remove Venom from this book and nobody would notice.

In the latter years of his Avengers run, Bendis became notorious for throwing characters onto the team then doing next-to-nothing with them. Storm, Daredevil, The Thing all turned up, took part in AvX, but contributed very little to the Avengers as a team. It's frustrating to see the same problems arise in this book so quickly, especially when the film did such a good job of getting the team in place without ever feeling contrived or lazy.

Despite the lack of plot in this issue, it looks great - Valerio Schiti has a great line in action, and effectively sells the scale of the devastation of the planet of Hala. With the script leaning into his strengths, rather than trying to tease subtle character humour, this issue works a lot better than the last on an artistic front. There is, however, an unusual structural decision which places 7 double-page spreads and splashes into the front of the book, followed by 6 single pages. It really throws off the rhythm of the book, and doesn't correspond with the pacing of the plot at all.

To conclude, this isn't a terrible issue, but I found it wanting on a number of levels, including plotting, pacing, and characterisation. Still, it looked good.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #2 was 39th on the sales charts for November 2015, a drop of 30 places.. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 51,960, a drop of approx. 66,000, or 58%. 

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) #1

Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) #1

Ah, comic reviews. We tried this a few years ago, back when the Matt Fraction Fantastic Four and FF series launched. They weren't particularly enjoyable to write, and they never seemed to fit too well with the focus the site had back then. A few years later, and the idea of checking in with a member of the Fantastic Four in the post-Secret Wars universe seemed to be a more attractive prospect. So, we put this new feature in as a Patreon milestone goal. Our supporters then backed us to that milestone, and here we are.

The conclusion to Secret Wars handily removed Reed, Sue and the Future Foundation from the Marvel Universe, setting them up to recreate the Multiverse. Johnny Storm joined the Inhumans books, as well as appearing in Uncanny Avengers, whilst Ben Grimm found himself in outer space, a member of Brian Michael Bendis's Guardians of the Galaxy.

As has been mentioned on the podcast, I really couldn't care about the ongoing efforts to make the Inhumans a central, viable concept in the Marvel Universe, which is why I'll be focusing these reviews on the Guardians of the Galaxy series. It's an uneasy compromise, as many years of reading Bendis's Avengers comics have left me exceedingly sceptical when it comes to his writing of team books. I'm also a huge fan of the Abnett and Lanning version of the book, especially the characters that never made it past the end of The Thanos Imperative into the Marvel NOW title, namely Mantis, Adam Warlock, Nova and Cosmo.

(I need to mention this at the top of the review, because I do have a bias against this title for these reasons. I'm open to being surprised by the book as it develops - I've only read the first issue - but I'm entering with low expectations.)

The basic plot of this issue has the Guardians - Kitty Pryde as Star Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Venom and The Thing - steal something from the Chitauri, realise that they don't know what they've stolen, then take it to Spartax to show off to former Star Lord-turned-reluctant-galactic-emperor Peter Quill. Before any questions can be answered, a badly beaten Gamora arrives, followed by a mysterious figure called Hala.

It probably won't surprise seasoned Bendis readers to discover that not a lot happens in this issue. Nominally, we're supposed to be concerned with the never-mentioned eight-month gap between the end of Secret Wars and the start of this issue, in which Ben has moved out to space, and Kitty had become Star Lord in the absence of her partner. Following a brief prologue with Annihilus, we open with Ben and his internal monologue, and the warning bells are ringing rather loudly at this point.

The Thing has an exceedingly recognisable voice. He is gruff, full of heart, prone to exaggeration and, most notably, he has an accent. It can be overplayed at times, but his is one of the most identifiable in comics. It's puzzling why Bendis, one mis-used everlovin' aside, never attempts to capture that voice and let Ben be Ben. The same can be said of Drax, whose most notable contribution to the comic is a ridiculous run-on sentence that is completely at odds with any portrayal of the character in comics or film prior to the Bendis era.

It's only Rocket Raccoon who gets to have any form of individual expression in the book, with written dialect, affectations and accents. (of course, there is Groot, but we all know his deal). Venom all-but disappears after the splash page introducing the team, and Kitty suffers from confused motivations - she seems positively enthusiastic at the thought of visiting Peter on Spartax, only to give him the cold shoulder as soon as they meet.

The page where Kitty persuades Rocket to go to Spartax is particularly troubling from an artistic perspective. The gimmick is that she nudges Rocket with her expressions, letting him come to the reluctant conclusion that she is right. It's really let down by Valerio Schiti's artwork, which chooses to have Kitty act out some elaborate, exaggerated pantomime. It's the kind of comedy that former GotG guest-artist Kevin Maguire would have excelled at, nuanced expressions playing out across the page as Rocket's realisation dawns. Instead, it's played far too broadly.

Elsewhere, Schiti's artwork, with colours from Richard Isanove, works much better. He's got a good line in space action, working well with the space-snakes from The Avengers movie. Some of the storytelling could be clearer - I'm not sure how Kitty went from some weird ballet moves in space to blasting through the Chitauri snake at high speed - but there are a lot of great visuals at play in this book.

I want to finish by returning to Ben's internal monologue at the start of the issue. A key point of his monologue, which is framed as his reasoning for joining the team in the aftermath of Secret Wars, is that he's finally made it out into space. I struggle with taking this angle with Ben. He's made it out into space many times, including four times in the first two years and an extended period in the Matt Fraction run. Maybe this is a hint that the new history of the Marvel Universe features a lot less of the Fantastic Four than before, but at the moment, it's a big sticking point.

This isn't a particularly bad issue, for all the time I've spent focusing on the things that didn't work for me. At the same time, this isn't a particularly engaging issue. The tease with Annihilus at the start of the issue works really well for me - I'm a huge, unapologetic Annihilus fan - whilst the rest of the issue chugs along without ever really getting me involved in what's going on. Hopefully things will pick up with the second issue, with the Chitauri artifact becoming more than the very obivous MacGuffin it currently is.

So, the Guardians of the Galaxy have arrived in the All-New, All-Different Marvel NOW era. I'll be coming back in a couple of weeks to look at issue 2, then we'll be running weekly reviews until we catch up with publication.

Until I catch-up to month of publication, I'll be able to refer to the sales charts to take a look at how well this book is performing. Guardians of the Galaxy #1 was 9th on the sales charts for November 2015, the 5th-highest ANAD launch. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 118,000. The credits page lists 7 different covers for this issue, which has a notable impact on the number of copies sold.

A final note about the comments. I have no idea if there will be any or not - this is the first original content being published on the new website outside of the podcast - but please try to keep the comments spoiler-free for future issues. I'd really like to be able to take each one on its own terms!