Richard Isanove

Guardians of the Galaxy #7 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

It's been a few issues since I've talked about the covers to these comics. Art Adams is the primary cover artist, and his detailed art style really works with this cover. This cover does a fantastic job of getting me excited about this issue. The Thing, wielding a sword, riding a dinosaur, clutching a pretty girl. It promises a Conan-esque swords-and-sorcery romp, and the idea of putting the Thing in this genre, with his humour and ability to puncture the po-faced nature of the genre, really attracts me.

Of course, this is a Brian Michael Bendis Guardians of the Galaxy comic, so the contents of the book don't really bear much of a resemblance to the cover. We have a Rocket Raccoon/Thing solo adventure, with the two of them rescuing some people from the Badoon. As with the preceding issue, not much time is spent on why the two heroes are on the planet in the first place. We open with Rocket captured by the Badoon, but Bendis is far more interested in his take on Rocket's banter than he is in providing a reason for him to be in the situation that he's in.

When it comes to focusing on The Thing, I'm conflicted by this issue. He gets a great entrance, leaping from low orbit and landing with enough force to send the Badoon into disarray, and Bendis writes him with an easy relaxation, like a lot of the worries of his time on the Fantastic Four have been lifted and he can just enjoy messing around in space. I rather like this version of the Thing, it's a characterisation that works for me and one that syncs with his new situation.

I'm less enamoured by the story element that sees Ben fall for an alien and sort-of-get married. I think there's a good story to be had out of taking his relaxed attitude further, realising that a lot of his relationship hangups don't apply in space, but everything happens so quickly (literally, the entire scope of this comic doesn't cover more than about an hour, at most) that it feels really hollow. I struggle to believe that Ben would accept this situation without a moment of reflecting on what has come before, and it feels like deeper characterisation has been sacrificed for a not-particularly-interesting story.

Valerio Schiti's artwork continues in the same vein as before. His faces have a weird angular nature to them that definitely shouldn't be present for The Thing. His body acting is exaggerated and, at one point, completely at odds with the script. Rocket cries out 'Mazel too!' before admitting that he has no idea what it means, he only knows it from Kitty, whilst the art puts him in a pose like he's doing an impression of Larry David.

With The Thing taking the spotlight for the first time since the first issue, I was hoping for a good look at how Bendis feels that he fits in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. I can't help feel, however, that this is a huge missed opportunity.

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 #7 was 45th on the sales charts for March 2016, a fall of 16 places. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 40123, a fall of approx. 8207, or 20%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #6 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy 6.jpg

There is a huge disconnect between the end of the first arc and the start of of this new story, Galaxy's Most Wanted. We left off with the team reunited but on the run from the Spartax empire. We pick up here with Peter and Kitty off on their own, taking part in an infuriatingly undefined secret mission on a Badoon planet, and generally being very bad at keeping any sort of low profile.

The writing tries to frame the lack of subtlety as a result of Peter and Kitty trying to reconnect following their infuriatingly undefined post-Secret Wars breakup. Said reconnection focuses on how much Kitty thinks Peter has grown up by taking on responsibility (briefly) for Spartax, whilst Peter mocks Kitty's ability to choose her own outfits. Considering that Valerio Schiti decides to give Kitty 13 visible pouches in one panel, this criticism has a point, but mocking Kitty's outfits are fightin' words, and ones that would no go unanswered if this were a more focused X-Men blog.

Schiti continues to be problematic as an artist. A double-page reveal of the prison plant manages to only feature three defined prisoners, and shows some issues with perspective and distance when it comes to some featureless aliens hanging in cages in the distance. There's some very strange pacing on the penultimate page, where Star Lord is knocked out. Kitty turns around in concern, then there's a very small black panel, before Peter opens his eyes, having been transported to another planet and thrown in a gladiatorial arena. Because neither creator sticks with Peter as the POV character, it seems like he comes around after a few seconds, rather than what can be assumed to be several hours.

My biggest problem with this comic is that it just isn't the Guardians of the Galaxy story I was expecting off the back of the first arc. The team should be together, on the run, with half the galaxy trying to hunt them down. They should be trying to seek refuge, to shake their pursuers, not infiltrating prison planets with the subtlety of Captain Marvel's Civil War II characterisation.

Even worse, the concurrently-released issue of Star Lord also featured both he and Kitty trying to deal with their break-up, which begs the question: Just who thought there was a market for two separate, contradictory takes on this not-particularly-well-loved-match-up at the same time?

Much like the rest of this comic, this remains infuriatingly undefined.

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 #6 was 29th on the sales charts for March 2016, a rise of  places. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 48330, a rise of approx. 7749, or 16%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Review

I made a mistake last time I reviewed an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, assuming that it was the conclusion to the first story arc. I was wrong - this is the conclusion, such as it is. We get answers as to who Yotat is, we get a status quo reset for Star Lord, and we get Hala wrapped up and removed from the book.

It all feels a bit unsatisfying, mostly because this is issue is a prime example of Bendis-by-numbers. Nothing’s especially bad, but there’s very little that really stands out in this issue. Yotat, much like Hala, is taken down by lots of punching, not by any particular plan or combination of the unique skills of the Guardians. I guess having four bruisers on the team - Drax, Gamora, Venom and the Thing - means that there’ll be more brawling than previously seen in the book, but it’s the obvious way to resolve a conflict. Yotat also doesn’t have a particularly interesting reason to be the second villain in this arc. He’s billed as the Destroyer of Destroyers, but he’s revealed to actually be a crime lord on Knowhere, using his muscle to intimidate people into submission. He wants to kill Drax because Drax once kicked him in the back. This isn’t a particularly strong motivation, and keeps what could have been an interesting and major character as a minor annoyance.

Bendis continues to struggle with characterisation in the book. Peter and Kitty’s marital issues have been lost in the fighting, with the two of them interacting as if nothing had happened. In one scene, Drax shifts from declaring that the existence of street-vendor glark is proof that there is a higher being to the overly-literal characterisation from the movie. At least Venom finally gets to do something, contributing to one of the fight scenes in a way that impacts the narrative, rather than standing in the background of the panels.

A high point of the issue comes with the appearance of the Knowhere Corps, comprising former GotG team-members Moondragon, Mantis, Bug, Cosmo and… er… Considering the overuse of captions in the book (there’s a weak joke about Kitty’s reliability as a narrator that’s set up in the captions), the lack of notes introducing these characters to the reader is unforgiveable. It was very nice to see some of my favourite Guardians back on-panel, and there’s clearly some tension between the two teams that I hope will lead into future stories, but if you were reading this book based on your enjoyment of the film, you’d struggle to recognise anyone beyond Cosmo.

Valerio Schiti’s artwork continues to be Valerio Schiti’s artwork. It’s fine, but the lack of detail in the art is starting to become an issue. The opening double-page splash relies too much on the colorist to fill in the space, whilst any figure not in the forefront of the panel is sketched out with a surprising lack of detail. I really don’t like his Thing, who appears to have a lean and angular face, and his characters tend to pose in place rather than give the feeling that they’ve been caught in the middle of a moment of action. The choreography of the fights lacks the fluidity of earlier issues, and the moment where Drax and Thing take down Yotat seems particularly unlikely - Ben punches whilst Drax delivers a roundhouse kick, at the same time, to the same face.

This arc has not been a good read. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on consequences for the Guardians. They were involved in the destruction of Halaa, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother anyone. Peter Quill is deposed as Emperor of Spartax, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother him. Peter and Kitty have broken up, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother them. Ben’s lost his closest friends, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother him. Venom’s barely in the book, but this doesn’t seem to particularly bother Bendis. With the final page promising a larger role in the future for Annihilus and the Brood, perhaps the next arc will bring better things for the cosmic side of Marvel.

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 #5 was 37th on the sales charts for February 2016, a fall of 2 places. Sales in North America were estimated to be 40,581, a fall of 5645, or 12.2%.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

It’s hard to find something to say about a book that seems as disinterested in concluding its first story as this one, which is why this review is so damn late. In this issue, the Guardians take down Hala, and we find out their involvement in the destruction of the Kree Homeworld. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise that both of these key events feel rather underwhelming, thanks to a very singular plot having to be shared around a large cast of characters, most of who have no personal involvement other than association with Star Lord.

If you boil these first four issues down to the barest bones of plot, you have a quest for vengeance against Peter Quill, with only Gamora standing between him and death. There’s also someone seeking to destroy Drax, as well as the vaguest mentions of some relationship strife between Peter and Kitty. Oh, and there’s a mysterious artifact that needs opening, but no-one cares about that right now. Only half of the starring characters in thus book are actively involved in the ongoing storylines, the rest (including The Thing) only serve to clutter the book and slow down the storytelling.

This isn’t good. Rocket Raccoon and Groot were the breakout stars of superhero movies in 2014, finding an audience and a fanbase that, frankly, no-one expected. They should be, if not central to the book, absolutely embedded in storytelling. And yet, you could remove them from the story told so far without disturbing anything. The same goes for The Thing, and absolutely for Venom. Although, to be fair, Venom does break Hala’s staff in this issue, his first active contribution to the story.

Guardians of the Galaxy seems like the perfect summation of the state of whichever incarnation of Marvel NOW we’re on right now. Without a genuinely interested and interesting creator at the helm, what should be a flagship Marvel title cruises along without much of a direction or identity, relying on a horde of variant covers to keep it in the top 50.

Even the art from Valerio Schiti, supported by Richard Isanove, previously a reliable element of the book, feels off in this issue. During the argument scene on the spaceship, everyone is depicted as contorted, screaming their dialogue when the writing conveys a scene brimming with tension. I called out Schiti’s tendency to veer towards the extreme in the first issue, and it diminishes the first half of the book.

I find myself that Schiti would get into some detailed fight choreography. He resorts to big explosions sending people flying twice, and devotes an entire two-page spread to Hala and Gamora crashing through buildings. Yes, it’s big, widescreen action, but Gamora is the most dangerous woman in the galaxy. She’s a fierce and vicious hand-to-hand fighter. I’d have been over the moon if the double-page splash had been replaced by a series of panels showing the two of them fighting, with Hala being victorious. It would have sold her threat more, and shown that Gamora is no pushover. Which, given that she’s spent most of this volume being beaten up or being unconscious, is the way she’d be seen right now.

Four issues in, and I’m finding this book lacking focus and drive. Perhaps the shift in storytelling from Hala to the Destroyers will give this title a shot in the arm.

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 #4 was 35th on the sales charts for January 2016, a rise of 2 places. Sales in North America were estimated to be a little over 46,215, aof approx. 7412, or 14%.

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!