There’s a widespread opinion that some mainstream superhero titles can sometimes be written or conceived by corporate committee. An Avengers roster has to include the characters from the feature film that’s about to open, Batman has to be Bruce Wayne just in time for the release of the third feature film by Christopher Nolan, Spider-Man needs organic web shooters because we don’t want to confuse people, etc. This is viewed as a more common practice once your property becomes welcomed into the world of licensing. All in all, I’ve always witnessed this as a practice that was tolerated because of the fact that it affected details as opposed to the entire comic itself and rarely did it interfere to the point of having a comicbook created simply to meet the oncoming demand in such a way that the puppet strings were visible. That is, until Guardians of the Galaxy.
If you’re unaware, Marvel films is developing a Guardians of the Galaxy feature film that should go into production within the next year. It’s relevance to the overall tapestry of sequels leading up to Avengers 2 in 2015 isn’t yet known but there has been small casting tidbits and some production concept art that has been released to whet the appetite of an eager public. Marvel Comics put its top talent of Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven (Civil War) on the book.
Originally conceived as a group of alien freedom fighters out to avenge their individual homes’ conquest by an evil alien race known as the Badoon, the original Guardians of the Galaxy comic bears little resemblance to what the modern comic readers are used to. During Annihilation by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (otherwise known as DnA), Marvel launched a new version of the title with some links to the past but overall spinning out of the events of Annihilation. Leading the team of cosmic troubleshooters was Star Lord and his team consisted of an incredibly diverse cast including Drax the Destroyer, Moondragon, Mantis, Jack Flag, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Gamorra, Martyr, Adam Warlock, Vance Astro, and Cosmo the space dog. That series was fun, well written, and extremely entertaining while also respecting all of the backstories of the long list of characters involved. Now, Marvel would be hard-pressed to dig their heels in when a property goes cinematic and try to adapt the film directly from such a ragtag cast of unknowns. So when the film’s pared-down team of Star Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax and Groot was announced, fans understood. When Marvel announced the comic series to coincide containing the same cast as the film, fandom continued to understand. The problem lies in this comic being built around the film property as opposed to previous and beloved versions of the comic characters.
The issue’s story is brief and does little more than to set up the characters in their flattest possible descriptions. Iron Man joins the squad, Star Lord fights with his dad (a galactic bigwig), and there’s an attack on Earth. The team’s personalities are burned down to their essence with little backstory for a new reader but extremely two-dimensional for a fan. Gamora is a warrior woman who yells like Xena in battle and fights with a sword. Drax is big and green and destroys stuff. Rocket is a raccoon that carries lots of firepower. Groot is a giant tree.
The character that appears to suffer the most during all of this is Star Lord, who is ultimately the new reader’s gateway character. Unfortunately, Bendis does little to make him anything more than a Marvel version of Chris Pine from Star Trek films and doesn’t do much in opening up the existing version from the past series. Why they insist on having him be the same as the previous Star Lord and not a new Star Lord altogether is a question I raised. To top it off, Iron Man is on the Guardians of the Galaxy because, well, synergy. Whether that means Robert Downey Jr. will suit up for the feature film remains to be seen but again, the concept reeks of corporate dictating story beats.
McNiven’s art is solid, although he’s loosened his style since Civil War. The lines are thinner and his costume designs are, frankly, really generic and not well thought out. I’m sure the old Guardians’ “World War I”-style fatigues weren’t going to fly but there had to be more of a compromise than wholesale modern sci-fi bodypanel outfits. The look that he comes up with feels more influenced by Mass Effect than Jack Kirby.
In the end, I hoped that this title would be a fresh take on classic characters and there wouldn’t be the smell of heavy-handed committee-think all over a book that deserved to stand on its own as opposed to set up a summer blockbuster. No such luck.