Guardians of the Galaxy v1: Cosmic Avengers is the first tradepaperback of the third Guardians of the Galaxy series, and the one that will probably most resemble the upcoming movie (minus Iron Man). The first series came out in the 90s and bears almost no resemblance to either of the subsequent volumes, since it was set in the far future and had a completely different cast of characters (though some of them would make appearances in the second series). The second version is similar to the modern take, and spun out of the Annihilation sequence of stories which are, frankly, what the movie should be based on, because they are excellent.
I am often surprised these days when books actually do bear a resemblance to their previous editions since it is rather in vogue to do your own thing now, but this take on the Guardians does stick pretty close to the Annihilation-era team. Star-Lord has gotten something of a re-write, but the other characters are pretty much inline with older versions. Rocket Raccoon, the scene-stealing centerpiece of the team, is probably a bit more homicidal then he usually is portrayed, but it is not so far out of character that I would really argue the point. The rest of the team is likewise homicidal (aside from Iron Man), but as far as Drax and Gamora are concerned that’s part for the course. If there is a problem with the characterization in this book it is that there is not really enough of it.
Writer Brian Bendis seems more concerned with galactic politics, and his new favorite villain, than with the Guardians themselves. That’s more than a little disappointing. Also, there seems to be a sense about the book that it is a new and original idea that the rest of the powers in the galaxy are concerned about how many powerful beings call Earth home, and figure they need to do something about it. This is not a revolutionary idea, and is basically the entire plot of the Maximum Security crossover from the early 2000s. There is a lot of hemming and hawing by the galactic leaders in these issues — which, with Bendis’ usual flair for verbosity, means there are a lot of speech bubbles to read through — and most of it amounts to so much hot air. It is good to include galactic politics into the mix, but not at the expense of actual story.
To make things worse, though, is that the politics actually do not make much sense. Bendis is obviously pushing that King J-Son of the Spartax (father of Star-Lord) is some sort of big deal in galactic politics, but frankly that is hard to swallow. Some of the other choices are a bit suspect, too. Who in their right mind would invite a Brood Queen to a civil meeting? Why would the Brood even accept? Why is it not trying to eat everyone? What is Annihilus’ regent doing there? With either of those two alone you might as well hang a big sign on the meeting door saying “Do not Disturb! Evil plotting in progress!”. Dr. Evil is practically more subtle than these guys. The more I think about these meetings the less sense they make. When you add on that their great and glorious plan is to declare Earth off-limits to non-Earthers, which is somehow supposed to make everyone suddenly want to attack Earth, everything kind of falls apart. It all becomes something of an exercise in Marvel trying to push J-son as a Really Big Deal™ by making everyone else look stupid. I’m not buying it.
The logic just does not hold together throughout the issue. We are told that the great galactic powers will no longer protect Earth from threats from space, but it is pretty well established that no one has ever really protected Earth except Earth itself. Furthermore, the Earth does not need protection, for a whole host of reasons that the book itself dutifully lists off. But, if the Earth really is no longer under anyone’s protection why do the Spartax show up to arrest the Guardians for interfering? Is Earth supposed to be left to its own devices, or a no-fly zone? You cannot really have both, and the book needs to make up its mind which it is.
On the flipside, when the book does remember to actually include its protagonists the results are pretty good. The action flows, the banter is good (Bendis’ main strong-point as a writer) and the art is engaging. The Guardians themselves are interesting characters and fun to read. Even Groot, who is not particularly difficult to come up with lines for (all he ever says is “I am Groot”), is entertaining. The inclusion of Iron Man may seem a bit odd outside of a marketing stand point, but he does actually work as one of the few Earth characters who could conceivably stand toe-to-toe with the Guardians. The book is at its strongest when the Guardians are kicking tails and taking names.
I guess what bothers me most about the series thus far is that nothing really happens. It takes four issues (counting the .1 introductory issue) for the Guardians to do anything, and most of the time is spent with people talking at each other about stuff of increasingly trivial importance. It is just boring in a way that a good sci-fi romp should not be. Maybe with the setup done and out of the way we can expect better things from the next few collections, but this one on its own does not have the necessary flair to sustain itself. I am not filled with an overabundance of hope, though.
Guardians of the Galaxy v1: Cosmic Avengers is available now on Amazon or at your local comic store.