Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Comic Review: Guardians of the Galaxy #4

We're four issues into the new Brian Michael Bendis run on the Guardians of the Galaxy, and I still don't know what I think about it. The Bendis run seems designed to set up the movie next summer--it features the team that's gonna be in that movie, plus Iron Man, presumably to help draw more mainstream reader interest into a title that has traditionally occupied more of a niche-type market-space--but that doesn't mean that the new version of the book is better than the old ones. It merely means that it's being written to be more accessible to casual fans. Which is why Marvel gave the book to Bendis in the first place. He's their go-to guy on big projects these days.

tend to like Bendis's work, especially (oddly enough) his page layouts, but I like him more in smaller, one-on-one type books like Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, or Moon Knight. His strengths--snappy dialogue and deep character development--tend to get lost in team books, even in the really good ones like New Avengers. And I LOVED New Avengers, but it was definitely the exception that proved the rule; all the Bendis ticks were there, he just made them work against type because he likes Luke Cage so much.  That's cool; I like Cage, too. 

Anyway, the Guardians were basically a dead property at Marvel until the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning (DnA) relaunch in 2008.  I don't know much about Lanning, but Abnett made his name writing for 2000 AD and Warhammer 40K, and when I say that, I mean his Warhammer stuff is really, really good, and even amazing in spots, and that's incredible considering the source material from which Abnett was working. Which is why it's maybe not surprising that the DnA Guardians was amazing, too. But the DnA Guardians was a really super-cosmic book, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Earth, and in fact, I think  the only truly Earth-native character in the entire series was Cosmo, the Russian space dog, and that's maybe not the place you want to start if your trying to build towards an Earth-centric movie plot line. Even though Cosmo was an awesome character.

Enter Bendis.  First thing he does is make the Earth the center of the story, and while that's okay in theory, the tonal shift it creates is jarring, and I'm still not adjusted. And that change in tone resonates through the entire story in some unfortunate ways.  For example, where Drax the Destroyer (played by Dave Bautista in the movie) was previously a maudlin warrior without a war struggling to become a good father to the daughter he barely knows, now he's like an out of work Montana roughneck--a hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting guy without a purpose who nevertheless has a heart of gold. It's not a bad take, but I miss the sometimes introspective Drax, and I certainly miss his struggles at a being a father. Plus, what the Hell happened to his daughter Quasar, anyway?  I get that she's not in the new movie, so she's not in the new book, but can we at least get some throw-away dialogue to address it?  Geeks care about these details. 

Rocket Racoon's character has similar problems. In the previous series, he was Peter Quill's (played by Chris Pratt in the movie) best friend and primary lieutenant, and he played like one of Quill's old Army buddies. He killed, yes, but he wasn't one of the team's primary hitters; that was left to Drax and Gamora. Rocket was more like the team's Operations Officer; he came up with the plans, led half the team when they split up, and covered for Peter when folks were mad at him. Rocket was, bottom line, an idealist and a true believer.  In the new series, however, he's like the team's Wolverine--an under-powered borderline psychopath who seems to really like killing. Yuck!  I mean, I get that he's not supposed to be less powerful because he's smaller, but come on...  There's some room for subtlety here. Real soldiers don't shoot people in the face very often, they prefer ambush from cover with a high powered rifle. Not because they're not tough but because ambush is much more effective. 

So that's the bad. 

The good is Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana in the new movie).  Sexy but no longer hyper-sexualized. Deadly but now oddly vulnerable as well. If this new series plays more like "Peter Quill and the Guardians of the Galaxy" than it does just "The Guardians of the Galaxy", then Gamora is the other important character on the team. She's the emotional touchstone, the one who's got something going on besides just following Peter's orders. 

The other good thing about this book is the art. It's drawn by Sara Pichelli, and I like it because it's expressive, and also because the characters don't all look like they're on steroids. Drax is big, but everyone else is basically just fit and athletic, and it's quite a refreshing switch. And Gamora is fully clothed. That's practically a miracle. 

So. Guardians of the Galaxy hasn't sold me yet, but I'm definitely still reading, and if I'm not as in love with the new series as I was with the previous one, I am at least willing to give it some time. There is no doubt that the story is going somewhere, and that that somewhere is somewhere cool. The question is how well the journey will be executed. So far, well, here's hoping. And if all else fails, at least the book LOOKS really good. 

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