Reviews

A Cosmic Crescendo

An epic crossover involving cosmic power ends in a way that's satisfying without the specter of tragedy.


Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Omega #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 32 pages
Writer: Sam Humphries, Ed McGuinness
Price: $4.99
Publication Date: 2015-06
Amazon

There are certain games where the urge to cheat is just too great. Games like Contra are the best example where the temptation isn't just extreme. It's downright necessary to stand a chance of getting to the final boss. Cosmic power in comics are akin to cheat codes in video games. It does take away some of the fun. It does negate some of the satisfaction that might come from overcoming the odds. We all want to feel like Rocky Balboa after he just beat Ivan Drago. But there are times when we need to be Ivan Drago in order to stand a chance.

The threats faced by the X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy during the Black Vortex would make even Rocky reach for the extra dose of steroids. The scope and scale of this crossover story has already defied the odds, creating a cohesive narrative with a large cast of characters and finding ways to make every character feel relevant. Part of what has kept it cohesive is that despite the cosmic chaos surrounding the power of the Black Vortex, the source of the conflict is painfully simple. It all starts and ends with Mr. Knife, also known as Starlord's father. Like King Joffrey in Game of Thrones, he's the least likable person in the universe. He's also the unifying force that has driven the conflict throughout this story.

At this point, Mr. Knife has done everything possible to make the universe hate his guts. He's recruited Thanos' son, he's tried to kill his own son, and he encased an entire planet in amber and did it with a smile that rivals Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He's done so much to vilify himself that using cosmic power/cheat codes to beat him wouldn't make it less satisfying. Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Omega #1 finally puts the X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy in a position to finish him off and make this vast crossover story into a finished product. That product isn't a freshly cut diamond, but it's close and it has plenty of other gems to offer.

At this point in the story, there's no more teasing. There's no more subtlety. Like a toddler on an elevator pushing all the buttons, everything is pure spectacle. The X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy are battling the Slaughter Lords, trying to keep them from the Black Vortex. At the same time, Spartax is about to be turned into an oversized ant farm for the Brood. This led Kitty Pryde to submit to the Black Vortex in a last desperate effort to prevent her boyfriend's father from making her universe more miserable. Together, it creates a cosmic convergence of sorts that couldn't be more satisfying without fireworks and a barbecue.

The battle unfolds quickly, lacking the detail of earlier struggles. But at this point in the story where multiple characters have received cosmic upgrades, it can't be that slow. Between the events of Age of Ultron and the upcoming events of Secret Wars, the fabric of the Marvel universe just can't take it. But it still puts all the right pieces in place and has them clash in a way that doesn't feel forced or random. It's like the opposite of the last two Transformers movies and without any overly gratuitous shots of female characters' butts.

That's not to say a female character doesn't steal the show. While the battle against the Slaughter Lords, Mr. Knife, and Ronan provide the meat of the struggle, it's Kitty Pryde who provides both the steak sauce and the desert. She's the one who ends up saving Spartax. She's the one who ends up defeating the Brood and the rest of Mr. Knife's forces. It turns out a cosmic powered Kitty Pryde is basically the anti-Dark Phoenix. She saves worlds and terrifies those who would destroy them. And she does this all in the presence of her boyfriend, Starlord. It's probably the most romantic gesture a girl could do for her lover that doesn't involve lingerie.

This resolution has plenty of cosmic muscle, fitting the scope and scale of the story in all the right ways. However, some parts were still rushed. After the defeat of the Brood, Ronan and the Slaughter Lords essentially cut their losses and decide that they're woefully overmatched against a cosmic powered Kitty Pryde. They're not entirely wrong. Even with cosmic power of their own, they know they have no chance against a girl who is doing everything she can to impress her boyfriend. It's not entirely forced, but it does make the end result feel somewhat abrupt. That's not to say they were completely defeated. They still left with cosmic power. That's a way better consolation prize than anything on The Price is Right.

However, the resolution of the battle isn't what gives the story it's greatest impact. With Mr. Knife and the Slaughter Lords defeated, some of the X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy are given the chance to give up their cosmic power. Given their history of being corrupted by cosmic power, it's not an unreasonable chance to take. Some opt to take that chance. Others opt to keep their power, ensuring that this story will have some lasting effects. Some of those effects may still get retconned thanks to a convenient spell cast by the Scarlet Witch, but it still makes for a profound moment for certain characters. They got a taste of cosmic power and like vacation to Europe gone horribly wrong, it's bound to effect them in different ways.

But the biggest emotional impact of the Black Vortex comes from Kitty Pryde and Starlord. That's entirely fitting since this whole conflict began with the two of them dealing with Starlord's deranged father. After having dealt with him, they decide there's no use wasting their time with more dinner dates and cosmic bowling. Starlord decides to propose to Kitty Pryde on the spot. After a girl uses cosmic power to humiliate his tyrannical father, I think that seals it. Starlord would've been crazy if he didn't propose to her on the spot and the reactions from the X-men and the Guardians is entirely appropriate.

The entire Black Vortex crossover has been vast in terms of scope and scale, yet it never felt overly chaotic or contrived. Numerous characters had a chance to shine. And for once, a story that involved cosmic power didn't end in tragedy. Nobody died. Nobody came back to life. Instead, the biggest impact was a marriage proposal. In an era where too many great stories end with sacrifices that make the creators of Prozac even richer, Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Omega #1 offers something sweet, satisfying, and epic. Let's just hope that Peter Quill doesn't get marital advice from Peter Parker.

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