By Gerry Duggan, Aaron Kuder & Ive Svorcina
Three years ago Marvel Studios released Guardians of the Galaxy which rapidly rocketed to being one of the biggest domestic films of the year and, in the process, transformed the team into one of Marvel Comic’s most bankable brands. Such success might raise fans’ expectations for Marvel to publish some stellar Guardians yarns; such expectations proved to be misguided. Fans did get a great Rocket Raccoon solo book (or more precisely a string of solo titles, only the last of which disappointed). Unfortunately when the film came out, the main Guardians title was already in the throes of a run by Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis’ time on the title suffered from all of his flaws while benefiting from none of his strengths. Poorly plotted and overly quipy, his Guardians represented the writer in full autopilot mode. After a four year stretch, Bendis’ last issue on the series arrived last month, making way this week for a new relaunch and, most importantly, a new creative team. Right off the bat, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder inject the title with a delightful energy.
The story opens on Citopia, a sprawling city which functions as an urban-sized vault. The proprietors pride themselves on the fact that their defenses have never been breached and set their rates accordingly high. This introductory page could have been dense with background info, yet, Duggan keeps the dialogue flowing smoothly. He is greatly aided in this task by Kuder’s art. Kuder fills the page with imaginative details; the more the reader studies Kuder’s work, the more pleasures they notice. Such varied activity breathes life into the cityscape of Citiopia, lending it a bustling, lived-in vibe. In such a way, Duggan and Kuder effectively set the scene.
Naturally, as soon as a place is referred to as impenetrable, someone, or ones, shows up to prove otherwise. In this case, that party happens to be the Guardians of the Galaxy, sneaking in through Rocket’s variation on the Trojan Horse. Once inside, they enact their plan with (for them) a minimum of fuss through (again for them) well-oiled teamwork. Ever since Keith Giffen decided that a talking tree and raccoon would make great buddies, there has been a flavoring of dysfunction about the Guardians. They bicker, disappoint and sometimes lie to each other. Duggan evokes this dynamic with his handling of the team. One great gag involves how each member assumes that Star-Lord got wrong a set of rendezvous coordinates.
In addition, there is the suggestion that recent difficulties have placed new stresses on the unit’s cohesion. The most drastic of these is Drax’s decision to adopt pacifism along with a pantheistic outlook on life. On the surface, the statement “Destroying even a simple thing like a wall may have untold consequences” is pretty amusing coming from Drax the Destroyer, yet, knowing this group’s luck, there’s a fair chance it will be proven accurate before the arc’s finished. Meanwhile, there appears to be something wrong with Groot’s rejuvenation process, as he has remained in baby form for longer than usual. These circumstances spark new tensions within the group, though Duggan also conveys a sense of connection amidst them. They might be disgruntled with each other, but what family isn’t? Also they get the job done. The Guardians’ raid on Citopia is rendered by Kuder as a fluid, high-octane romp which is the best action sequence in comics this week.
Prior to Guardians, Duggan had an enjoyable run on Nova which demonstrated that he possesses a good feel for the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. Duggan understands that Marvel’s best cosmic tales have an element of fantastical to them, whether it is the hallucinogenic musings of Jim Starlin or the absurdist adventures of Rocket Raccoon. Duggan leans in the latter direction, especially in the second half of the comic where the Guardians’ ship is swallowed by a gigantic space fish. Inside the creature’s inners, they come face-to-face with their buyer, an Elder of the Universe, the Grandmaster. Cosmic beings like the Grandmaster have often granted creators a license to indulge in their trippier tendencies. Kuder’s art shines even stronger during this section. The splash page depicting the fish about to eat the ship is a fabulous image. The ship appears tiny in proportion to this giant creature whose head barely fits the frame, the remainder of its body remaining a complete mystery. Ive Svorcina places emphases on the beast’s unsettling nature by coloring its skin with gradations of blue. This naturalistic touch, contrasted with the empty expanse of space, only heightens the unease of the moment. Two pages later, the introduction of the Grandmaster evokes a different kind of wonder. In this splash page, the Elder hovers in the air surrounded by the variety of his collection. (It would seem he has a bit of a rivalry going with fellow Elder, the Collector). Kuder portrays the Grandmaster as a lanky, almost ethereal presence. Around him laws of nature seem to simply evaporate. Svorcina lightens the hues, bringing out brighter colors which relay the intense energy swirling around the Grandmaster. It is a striking sequence which reminds readers of science-fiction’s promise to bend perspectives when encountering new worlds.
Peter Quill is a tricky character. It is easy to default to the clownish aspects of his personality while forgetting that he is a natural leader with a deep seated concern for the safety of the universe. By casting an actor equally at home in films as different as The Five-Year Engagement and Zero Dark Thirty, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was able to believably channel both aspects of his personality. In All-New Guardians, Duggan leans hard on the zany with a couple wistful hints at Peter’s concern for his flailing team. Hopefully as the series continues, Duggan will build on these beats for a richer portrait. All in all, this is a strong debut for the new creative team. If they can deepen the characterization, while maintaining the right mix of humor, action and wonder, Guardians fans will have a title worthy of their devotion.