Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Season 1, Episode 1
“Road to Knowhere”
Given the popularity of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie last year, and Marvel’s continued push for the franchise across all their media branches, it should come as no surprise that they decided to give an animated series a shot. The group has previously appeared in the other recent Marvel animated series — Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, and the dearly-departed Hulk and the Agents of SMASH (which is functionally being replaced by this show) — but any connections to this show and those appearances are largely superficial. Similarly, while this show shares a lot of elements in common with the movie of the same name, there is no actual connection between the two. It certainly leans heavily on the movie to act as an introduction to the characters (though they did produce a series of shorts for Youtube to flesh out their backstories a bit), and jumps straight into the action on the assumption you have some familiarity with the concept.
The story of the first episode is also similar to the early parts of the movie, although in this case the team is already assembled. They start the adventure off chasing a bounty, which puts them in direct contact with the Kree (among others) and Korath the Hunter (who died rather dramatically in the movie). This mostly serves as an introduction to our heroes and their capabilities, and for that purpose it works well enough. It also shows off the series’ animation, which is fluid enough for a kid’s show to be entertaining. We are not talking top of the line animation quality, even by television standards, but it is good for what it is. I am a bit less sold on the slightly exaggerated art style, which seems to borrow a bit from Avengers Assemble, but it is not distracting enough to detract from the show. There are a few secondary characters, such as Yondu and the Broker, who I find a bit hard to appreciate in terms of design, but the main team all look good. We have not seen the Nova Corps yet in the series (they do appear briefly in some of the Youtube shorts), and I will be interested to see how they come across when they do get a full appearance.
There are a few things worth looking at regarding the overarching plot of the series, too. First is that the writers have apparently decided to get Peter Quill’s lineage out of the way early on — something that was left as a deliberate dangling plot thread in the movie. They have opted to go the comics route on this one and cite that he is at least part Spartax in origin, who are essentially humans in the comics. How far they will go with the comic storylines regarding Spartax is yet to be seen, but I doubt that the movie writers will be following a similar path when they get around to Peter’s origin, unless they drastically re-write the Spartax empire’s place in the universe. Second on the list is the inclusion of Cosmo, the russian space dog seen briefly in the movie a few times, including in the post-credits scene, as a recurring secondary character in the series. For fans of the Abnett and Lanning run on Guardians of the Galaxy comic this is great news, since Cosmo was a certified badass. He is the head of security on Knowhere, and a high-level telepath who can go toe-to-paw with the best the galaxy has to offer. For fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars it is also worth noting that he shares voice actors with Obi-Wan Kenobi from that series.
When the series was first announced I was afraid that it would focus heavily on the infinity stones since the movie was focused on the power gem. Avengers Assemble tackled the infinity stone story earlier this year, and it is a major part of the cinematic universe now, so that plot would have risked over-exposing the concept. Fortunately that does not appear to be where the story is headed (yet), and instead the macguffin of the episode is a cosmic seed which only Peter Quill can access. As far as I know this is a new item in the Marvel galactic lore (unless it is just something else with a different name), so there are a large number of directions they can go with this. Whereas a hunt for the infinity gems would have been met by me with a ho-hum yawn, this genuinely has my attention.
This is only the first episode of the series, and it ends on a cliffhanger, so there is still a lot of setup ground to cover. Some major characters are still missing, most notably Ronan and Nebula, and little has been done to establish who our heroes are, instead relying on the popularity of the movie to fill in the blanks. It is not the most elegant first episode out there, but it does a decent job of hooking us right into the action. The animation is fluid enough for this type of series, but the design aesthetic is not always to my tastes. Still, it is inoffensive and each character is distinctive. The series also seems to have picked up the movie’s habit of dropping in popular classic rock songs into the mix, which will probably make fans of the movies happy (I’m not a big music junkie so it never made a difference to me, but for some people it was a major hook of the movie). All in all this is a solid start to the show, but nothing particularly stand-out to separate it from the crowd, and with room for improvement here and there. Coming into this cold, without knowledge of the movie or comics, probably wouldn’t be the best way to go, but I suspect most of the audience will have at least seen the movie. It is just a shame we have to wait all the way until September 26th to get the next episode.
This episode is available now on Amazon Instant Watch and iTunes.