Last week, we noted that the great Marvel Hype Machine has kicked into full gear where the Guardians of the Galaxy are concerned. Let’s be honest: while there’s a lot of non-specific good will built up towards Marvel Studio Movies, this is a completely untested property. That means fans of the comics are going to have to be amazing ambassadors, and to move these five characters up to the forefront of our minds, Marvel has kicked off three new series: one of which was Rocket Raccoon — a high-profile release by a rock-star creator and featuring the prescribed breakout character from the movie. What about the other two?
Guardians of the Galaxy: Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Patrick: What kind of story can you tell about a foul-mouthed raccoon and his sentient tree-friend? True to both the individual characters and their relationship, writer Will Corona Pilgrim and artist Andrea Di Vito’s answer is: action, ACTION, ACTION! The issue opens on Rocket and Groot landing a bounty with a typical mix of brute strength and superior artillery. After collecting their prize, Rocket is treated to what must be a pretty familiar surprise at this point: his face on a wanted poster. Rocket blasts his way out of immediate danger, and even turns on Groot when he seemingly misunderstands “I am Groot!” for “I am Groot!” (and easy mistake to make). Turns out, the bounty was placed on Rocket’s head another bounty hunter jealous of all the sweet scores the furry/woody duo have landed over the years. Then, once more — this one not to be misunderstood…
It’s a cute story, even if the emotional stakes about as shallow as they could be. Notice how liberal I’m being with the pronouns — the dude who puts the bounty on Rocket’s head doesn’t have a name, or even much of a personality. His motivation is logical, his actions cause an appropriate amount of trouble for Rocket and (most crucially) the problem is easily solved, but there’s not really much we can learn about either the heroes or the villains in this issue.
Clearly, depth of character is not the point. One of the first things that caught my eye in this issue is the way Di Vito draws Groot, emphasizing his very-human muscular frame.
Every other appearance I’ve read since Brian Bendis’ series started up over a year ago puts more weight on his tree-ness than his man-ness. Rather than pitching what’s weird about Groot, Di Vito and Pilgrim seem to be pitching what’s generically “cool” about him. He’s not a weirdly sensitive, infinitely regenerative plant-man; he’s muscle. The same is true of Rocket — instead of getting a peak into his boundless pride, Pilgrim focuses on a trigger finger so itchy he blasts his own friend’s thumb off. That all makes for a story that cuts right to the chase — and by extension, the gunfight — but leaves someone like me wanting a more nuanced look at the characters.
I dunno Drew, I sorta see this issue as a proof of a concept that didn’t need proving. Can Rocket and Groot carry an action sequence? Sure, but like… why? Also, what a misleading title – “Galaxy’s Most Wanted?” Having a bounty on his head makes Rocket about has wanted as the purple dude they caught on page two (who — for the record — also doesn’t have a name).
Drew: I think you answered your own question in the intro, Patrick — these issues are all about hype. They’re introductions to these characters, serving more as a crash-course in Rocket and Groot than as any kind of in-depth exploration of their psyches. I’ve never associated Guardians of the Galaxy with particularly nuanced character work, and I think looking for it in what amounts to an extended promotional pamphlet is a little misguided. I mean, if you’re going to be nonplussed by seeing the Guardians just doing Guardian things, I suspect you’re going to be pretty bored by the entire first act of the movie.
But is “extended promotional pamphlet” selling this issue short? Actually, I think it might be the most charitable thing we can say about it. It doesn’t do much besides loosely sketching these characters and giving us a sense of their day-to-day lives, but it doesn’t aspire to do much more than that. As a standalone issue, I’d be pretty bored, but as a promotional item, designed to give us a taste of what the movie will be, I think it’s surprisingly effective. Or maybe I’m just grateful that Rocket can’t understand Groot in this iteration — I’ve been getting kind of tired of that Chewie routine where Rocket understands what he’s saying exactly.
Drew: Legendary Star-Lord 1 follows very much in the same vein of “extended promotional pamphlet,” giving us an overview of the character, but fares MUCH better in the arena of character development. The issue opens at the funeral of Meredith Quill, where a young Peter seems unconsolable. Jump to the present, where Quill finds himself in a Mexican standoff with a gang of Badoon thieves, apparently over a valuable gem that had been stashed away in a space orphanage. The thieves capture Quill (who has a significant bounty on his head) and the gem, and head off into space. Only, Quill was totally Jokering them — managing to escape with the gem. Quill returns to the space orphanage to assure us all that he’s a decent guy (replete with a reminder that he lived at an orphanage). The apparent kicker is that the money he donates to the orphanage aren’t the proceeds of fencing the gem, but his own personal savings. You see, he needs the gem to defeat Thanos. Oh, and there’s apparently another Quill kid bouncing around the universe.
Like I said, this issue definitely shares the character survey structure of Galaxy’s Most Wanted, but this does a better job of fleshing out its lead — there’s a clear sense of motivation, we get two flashbacks, a conversation with his crush, and even a surprise reveal about his family history. In short, this issue serves as a much more comprehensive introduction to Peter Quill. That sometimes means Sam Humphries’ dialogue is a little on-the-nose (attempting to console a grieving child by stating that he is now “captain of [his] own ship” strikes me a foreshadowing for the sake of foreshadowing, and ignores how clunky the sentiment is), but it gives Paco Medina free reign to be as emotionally transparent as possible. You need to show that Peter is emotionally intimate with Kitty? Why not have them both laying down together (even if they are separated by light-years?
Patrick: I think it’s befitting the character of Peter Quill. For as much as it looks like Rocket is the prescribed breakout character from the Guardians, it clear that Quill is the heart. So if Rocket and Groot are Han and Chewie — a comparison so perfect, I expect we’ll be reading it a lot in the next couple months — Star-Lord is some kind of less-obnoxious Luke Skywalker. When you think about it, we never fault Luke his feelings (unless they’re related to plans to procure power converters…) because his losses are the narrative of Star Wars. I think the same can be true of the ubernarrative Guardians of the Galaxy, which Humphries is smart to channel here.
I’m circling around how to answer your question because I might feel both ways simultaneously. Peter having a flirty conversation with Kitty Pryde may be too cheesy and too convenient, but damn it all if I don’t just love the moment regardless. There’s an emotional transparency to this series that is incredibly engaging, if nothing else. Like, I agree that “captain of your own ship” is on-the-nose to the point of being clunky, but it sure feels true two who Peter Quill is. I’m ready to believe that we’re not witnessing that moment as it actually happened, but as Star-Lord remembers it happening.
You can even see that kind of emotions-on-his-sleeves transparency in that beautiful splash page where Quill is simply recalling what he’s been up to that kept him so busy.
There are some pretty standard Adventuring Scoundrel images in here — gun slingin’, gamblin’, beautiful ladies — but Paco Medina also includes an image of Quill doing karaoke with Rocket and Groot (they must be singing “I Am Groot”). That’s the ultimate expression of what makes this character so special in this world: he’s a big softy that recognizes that the most important things in his life aren’t just treasure hunting and being a badass, but having a little innocent fun too.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?