Contains a spoiler for the mid-credits scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, plus multiple ones for Infinity Gauntlet and its aftermath.
This past weekend Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 arrived, racking up the box office and leaving fans wondering what was next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cosmic heroes. The immediate answer is Avengers: Infinity War which will involve Thanos, Infinity Stones and some sort of existential threat to life throughout the universe. The question is what comes after all that. Guardians writer/director James Gunn has already confirmed that there will be a Guardians Vol. 3 for Phase 4 of the MCU and that he will be returning to helm it. In his statement, he reiterated Marvel Studio’s party line about Avengers 3 and 4 being a culmination of everything which came prior. He also dropped a hint that, like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Guardians will see some status quo shifting post-Infinity: “It will conclude the story of this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and help catapult both old and new Marvel characters into the next ten years and beyond.” This is a rather broad statement which covers a wide amount of ground. The universe is a vast place and, even with certain character rights tied up at Fox, still well-populated with assorted friends and foes. The following is not in any way a prediction of what Marvel and Gunn are planning but simply an imagining of what one possible avenue could be.
So far, Marvel Studios has had a bit of a sequel problem. Iron Man 2, 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultrondelivered various levels of enjoyment while containing flaws which prevented them from fully hitting the heights of their initial installments. Thor: The Dark World was able to improve on the first Thor outing (an admittedly low bar to clear) and provide an entertaining experience. Still, it is unlikely to make many fans’ favorite lists. Only Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War have been able to avoid the sequel curse. Both films were able to deliver bigger thrills while also deepening the characters driving the narrative. The movies, particularly Civil War, drew on the advantages of having a shared universe without getting bogged down in the negative aspects as did Age of Ultron. This pattern is odd, given how successfully Marvel Studios has cultivated their cinematic universe; after all, in a sense, even new properties such as Ant-Man or Doctor Strange are simply further chapters in the unfolding Avengers saga. Fans know sooner or later that all of this is going to tie together. Watching the pieces fall into place can be exciting, but it can also be tiresome when mismanaged (again all that foreshadowing in Ultron). Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 pulls back from some the first film’s more overt seeding (sorry, no surprise Thanos cameo) in order to focus on the Guardians themselves. The result is an entertaining film which delightfully extends the zany vibe of the original.
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 ofsolo 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.
As with much of the Marvel Universe, the seeds of its cosmic sphere can be traced back to the collaborations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, specifically the pages of Fantastic Four. While not the earliest of the First Family’s encounters with extra-terrestrials (that honor goes to #2’s tale of Skrulls), the most iconic is The Coming of Galactus. This three party story (#48-50, 1966) not only introduced many important characters (Galactus, Silver Surfer, The Watcher) it also laid a groundwork for the tone of Marvel sci-fi. Its narrative focused not simply on action, but, character, anchoring heroism in a sense of humanity. In the next decade Jim Starlin would build on these elements when crafting his philosophical, surreal journeys through the cosmic realm. This initial phase of Marvel’s cosmic story ended with Starlin’s original graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel (1982). In the 90s though, Starlin returned to Marvel’s cosmic characters, scripting Infinity Gauntlet which ushered in a higher level of visibility for this corner of the Marvel Universe. Starlin worked on multiple projects during this period, many revolving around a pair of characters who had come to be synonymous with his Marvel work: Adam Warlock and Thanos. The final comic Starlin wrote during this second phase of his Marvel career was a Thanos series. Starlin produced the first six issues before departing, replaced by writer Keith Giffen. After wrapping up the Thanos series, Giffen would proceed to inaugurate the third era of cosmic Marvel with a Drax the Destroyer limited series.
Two weeks ago, Marvel relaunched Guardians of the Galaxy with an All-New title to coincide with the team’s return to cinemas. Last week, it was team member Rocket Raccoon’s turn as he took the next step in his journey from that “black hole somewhere in Sirius Major.” Rocket’s evolution as a character has been a fascinating one from his unassuming debut in an incomplete science-fiction serial to a brilliant solo limited-series, followed by two decades of obscurity until gaining a prominent place on the post-AnnihilationGuardians of the Galaxy. With the imminent arrival of the first Guardians movie, Marvel gave Rocket another shot a solo series, which, give or take the standard marketing driven relaunching, Rocket has steadily maintained over the past three years. For most of this time, his exploits were delightfully scripted by Skottie Young. The post-Young issues have ranged from charming (Nick Kocher’s) to meh (Matthew Rosenberg’s). Last week Al Ewing assumed scripting duties, immediately breathing fresh air into the title once again.
By Dan Abnett, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Carlo Barberi, Juanan Ramirez, Israel Silva & Jesus Aburtov
A decade ago the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote a four issue Nova tie-in for Marvel’s cosmic event Annihilation. The limited series was a hit and was promoted to an on-going. It also raised Abnett and Lanning (or DnA to their growing body of fans referred to them) to high enough prominence that they were tasked with writing Annihilation’s sequel: Annihilation: Conquest. When the dust settled on that Event, DnA were the prime movers of Marvel’s cosmic corner and between Nova and their new Guardians of the Galaxy title they took it to new heights. Their influence stretched far beyond comics though, as their Guardians run was used as the basis for 2014’s blockbuster film of the same name. After Guardians and Nova ended, DnA pursued others projects before dissolving their partnership. Abnett returned to cosmic Marvel, however, scripting a couple different titles, the most recent of which, Guardians of Infinity, drew to a close last week.
Two years ago Marvel launched a new on-going series starring Rocket Raccoon. The title got off to a strong start with an arc written and illustrated by Skottie Young. Even after Young stepped back to let others pencil the book, the series remained delightfully inventive. Last month, Young turned in his final issue for the tittle, so that he could focus on his creator owned I Hate Fairyland. Stepping into his shoes for #7 is new writer Nick Kocher joined by artist Michael Walsh. Together they have added an entertaining chapter to Rocket’s cosmic misadventures.
By Dan Abnett, Jason Latour, Carlo Barberi, Jim Cheung, Israel Silver & Laura Martin
Marvel’s All-New All-Different initiative ventures into the cosmos this week with the release of Guardians of Infinity #1. A casual glance at the title suggests a cynical mash-up of arguably Marvel’s most profitable cosmic brands (they even handily included the 90s Infinity logo for those who might have missed the allusion). Comics have been in the midst of 90s nostalgia for a while now, and the recent revival of the 31st Century Guardians is part of that trend. The characters date back to the 70s, yet it was their first ongoing series from the 90s that introduced them to many readers for the first time. (It also helped launch the career of Image co-founder Jim Valentino). Of course the 90s title itself was a glance back at older stories, in the same way as the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider who also debuted as part of Marvel’s 1990 new series initiative. Part of the fun of The Big Two’s decades of storytelling is watching each new generation pay homage to what came before, while using it to build something fresh. The post-Annihilation rebirth of Marvel’s cosmic line is a perfect example of this trend at its best. Writers took a selection of mostly forgotten characters and revitalized them into acclaimed, cult series which ultimately spawned one of the highest grossing films of 2014. Continue reading Review of Guardians of Infinity #1→
The latest chapter in the Nova legacy opens with a clever gag. For the first page, readers believes they are witnessing the most recent cosmic adventure of young Nova Sam Alexander, only to find out that it is simply a sci-fi movie being watched by Sam and his friends. Based on their wisecracks it doesn’t even sound like it was that good of a film (“How did she not know that guy was evil [He] had at least two X’s in his name”). This good-natured jesting is fun to read but it also underscores what has always been one of Sam’s most appealing elements: his relatability. Continue reading Review of Nova #1→
Weaver and Duggan’s Secret Wars tie-in continues along its own idiosyncratic path. The first issue centered on the dynamics within a family unit trying to survive a ravaged world. There was plenty of action, though little linking the title to its 90s Event namesake. Weaver and Duggan seemed little concerned with retelling a familiar story, instead focusing on a batch of new characters. The second issue, broadened the scope, adding some familiar faces, yet still traveling in its own narrative direction. That trend continues with the release of #3 as Weaver and Duggan keep on delightfully subverting reader expectations.
Last month’s issue ended with the revelation that Thanos was currently in possession of the Time Gem. As expected of The Mad Titan, he is determined to gain the other five Stones as well, yet, each attempt ends in failure. Luckily (for him) he has the Time Gem, which allows him to rewind the clock after each defeat; it is essentially his own personal “do-over” button. However, after so many failed attempts, he has decided that a new approach is needed. The family at the center of the series has a mother who is a Nova, and she in turn possesses another of the Gems. Instead of direct confrontation, Thanos concludes that a more devious approach may be required. Continue reading Review of The Infinity Gauntlet #3→