Today, Scott and Taylor are discussing Guardians of the Galaxy 15, originally released May 28th, 2014.
Tell my father that I’m in. I’ll be Star-Lord. If he lets the rest of the Guardians go free. I’ll be what he needs me to be. In return I promise the Guardians will disappear. They won’t give Spartax any more trouble. You have my word.
Scott: Not everyone is cut out for improvising. Believe me, as a twenty-something living in LA, I’ve been to enough improv shows to tell you it isn’t for everyone. Most people are better off sticking to a plan. I know I am. I have a writer’s mentality; my strength lies in my ability to think through a problem and come up with a creative solution. Put me on the spot in a room full of people, however, and I’m a bumbling mess. I’ll say just about anything to get through those awkward moments, whether I believe what I’m saying or not. When Quill says the passage above, it doesn’t ring true for a second. It’s one of those “say whatever you have to” moments, and no one within earshot is buying it. Quill can hardly make it through those words before moving onto an even more poorly though-out idea. In fact, all of the Guardians are operating without much of a plan in this issue, and they don’t seem to be cut out for improv.
Guardians 15 reveals where each member of the team has been sent after their recent capture. Rocket is in a Kree lab, where curious biologists are preparing to crack him open. Gamora is on Planet Moord with the Badoon, trying to fight her way out with little luck. Drax is with the Shi’ar, awaiting a “proper” trial. Groot is riding in a giant space-whale with the Brood, at least until they drop him into a desert. Quill, lastly, remains on Spartax, and says he’s willing to serve alongside his father as Star-Lord, so long as the other Guardians are freed. But really he doesn’t have much of a stomach for that idea, and he promptly makes a break for it. It’s unclear what his plan is exactly.
I prefer to avoid showing cliffhanger endings like this in my posts (not that this post is spoiler free anyway, it just feels wrong to show the very end of the issue), but this image is a particularly good representation of the despair each member of the Guardians is faced with in this issue. My first reaction to this issue was that it didn’t go anywhere. Splitting all of the main characters up means that none of them get more than about four pages of face time. Taking into account that this issue is establishing new circumstances for most of them, that leaves very little room for story building.
Reading through the issue again, however, I got a better sense of what I think Brian Michael Bendis is trying to do. Like I said, this issue is very much about establishing new circumstances for each character, and Bendis has ratcheted up the tension by putting the characters into situations where they can’t do what they do best. Rocket’s best tool is his wit, but he can’t communicate with his Kree captors, and he’s quickly reduced to pleading with Supreme Intelligence not to dissect him alive. We’re not used to seeing the little furry guy lose his cool like this, and it creates a sense of real urgency to see him so scared. Gamora’s skill as a fighter is no use when she’s so outnumbered by the Badoon, and the fact that they keep prodding her about her father’s whereabouts isn’t helping keep her calm. Drax’s brute strength won’t help him much in the courtroom, and frankly I don’t know what the hell to make of Groot’s situation. And Quill’s usual policy of “be openly defiant of my father and hope for the best” leads him to literally jump out of a window with nowhere to go but down. It takes an issue like this to show just how much these characters need each other, and Bendis doesn’t leave much light at the end of the tunnel to suggest how they might reunite.
I haven’t even mentioned the issue’s longest and bleakest section. Last issue left Agent Venom all alone in the middle of Knowhere, and we find him looking for someone who can understand him, until his Avengers team appears before him. They tell him there’s a mutant civil war afoot and he needs to return home to help his sister. But if there’s a mutant civil war on Earth, shouldn’t Beast be there?
The “Avengers” are really Skrulls in disguise, and they blast the hell out of a confused Venom. Speaking of no light at the end of the tunnel, Venom’s scene actually ends with a cut to complete blackness. It’s a particularly crushing vignette because of the way the Skrulls appeal to Venom’s emotions. There’s a quick transition from Venom’s excitement at seeing familiar faces to his fear and panic over his sister’s wellbeing. The rush of emotions is almost enough to make him look past the fact that nothing about these so-called Avengers — from their sudden appearance to their dramatic war story — makes any sense. All alone on an alien planet, Venom wants to believe he’s seeing his friends slightly more than he wants to believe in logic or reason, and it proves to be his downfall.
Taylor, what do you make of this issue? It’s thin on plot, but the systematic removal of hope for every character has me intrigued to see what will happen next. Is that enough for you?
Taylor: That’s a pretty great question, Scott, and it kind of gets to the heart of this issues and the very identity of monthly comics in general. We’ve talked about the medium of comics before but this brings up a new idea. Is it okay for an issue to not be all that compelling if we know the next will be amazing?
Indeed, I have to admit this issue left me wanting more. While I do like the motif of showing how all of the Guardians struggle without their comrades, I’m not sure that idea has enough gas to keep my rockets burning. Bendis opts for devoting a couple pages to each Guardian, which kind of gunked up the pace of the entire issue. At the conclusion of each section we’re left on a cliffhanger waiting to see what happens next. Now, I have no qualms with a friendly cliffhanger, but I believe it’s something that’s best used in moderation. The cliffhanger gets its power from being used sparingly and usually at the end of issue, just when the reader wants more.
Here, we get a cliffhanger six times and after each instead of fading to black we get more story. Only, it’s not the story we want. It reminds me of the sixth season of LOST, where instead of having our countless cliffhangers answered we were given a lot of pointless story. This issue isn’t nearly as egregious as that show, but the way it speeds things up only to slow them down again is enough to cause any reader some fatigue.
But I guess that’s what’s interesting about serialized stories generally and comics specifically. When telling a story sometimes all of the pieces — the characters, places, and plot points — all need to be arranged, much like a chess board. This allows the author to then unveil his or her strategy or story in a fun, interesting way. Because of that, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to judge this issue one way or the other before we see what comes after it. If all of this positioning pays off (which I think it will) then this issue is justified. If the positioning never is explained, or is explained too simply, then it would hard to view this issue as all that memorable.
That being said, there are some fun visuals to enjoy outright in this issue. Throughout, artists Nick Bradshaw and Cameron Stewart use interesting paneling — in particular, they enjoy employing a double page spread with surrounding panels.
This is a funky, neat device. Each time Stewart and Bradshaw use this layout they are introducing us to a new planet and new Guardian segment. These pages each center on one large panel with several smaller panels filling in the rest of the page. This creates a wide open feeling that helps establish a new scene — essential in an issue where the setting changes so frequently. It’s kind of a wonder that Bradshaw and Stewart didn’t use this layout for each and every scene, but it seems likely silly things like page counts prevented them from doing so. Still, I like seeing artists work the page horizontally while still telling their story with multiple panels.
So with the art and the potential for a killer issue next time I’m going to have to go ahead and put my stamp of approval on this issue. It has its problems, but they aren’t enough to keep it from being fun, which is kind of the hallmark of this series. Guardians is at its best when it’s giving us wacky space adventures and this issue delivers in kind on that front. I just can’t wait to find out how all six of these cliffhangers end up next month.
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