Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Guardians of Knowhere 1, originally released July 15th, 2015.
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl.
Drew: I’ve never seen any codified theories to this effect, but I strongly believe that every narrative has an ideal length. The Old Man and the Sea couldn’t be longer without losing its essence, just as War and Peace couldn’t be shorter. I can’t claim to understand all of the factors that determine the ideal length for a story, but it’s obvious enough when the length isn’t ideal. The epigraph may functionally describe a lot of stories we’re familiar with, but it’s too short to be a satisfying story — we have no empathetic connection to “boy,” no investment in his relationship to “girl,” no context for their eventual reunion. Conversely, Brian Michael Bendis is often criticized for making his stories too long to be satisfying, with each plot point dragged out for too many issues for us to be invested in the bigger picture. Of course, one of the big mitigating factors in the world of comics is the quality of the art — a dazzling action sequence may not require much of a plot, and indeed may be better off without many distractions. Nobody does “dazzling” better than Mike Deodato Jr., which makes him an ideal pairing for Bendis’ decompressed style. So does Guardians of Knowhere 1 live up to that “match made in heaven” expectation?
The answer is: “sort of,” but a qualified “sort of.” Each party brings exactly what you expect — Bendis keeps the plot light, but finds room for his signature verbose banter, while Deodato creates massive, moody worlds, rich in detail and inky shadows.
Bendis smartly leaves a lot of room for Deodato to simply do his thing, and the results are magical. Much of that opening scene between Angela and Drax works without any dialogue. The pair reverse that support system in the second half of the issue, as we get a bit more exposition about the exact situation the Guardians find themselves in. It’s a sign of a great collaboration (and a testament to the skills of this team) that they can handle both extremes so well.
So why was I so lukewarm on this issue? The problem lies in between those two extremes. The opening sequence offers some exposition about the mythical origins of Knowhere (at least as understood by the inhabitants of Battleworld) alongside some static, albeit breathtaking images of Knowhere.
It’s a gorgeous spread, but one that follows a full-pager setting the scene, meaning we burn three pages on what amounts to an establishing shot with some voiceover. Whether or not a sprawling Deodato cityscape makes up for that snails’ pacing will vary from person to person, but it left me feeling impatient.
The issue runs into similar problems when Bendis spins the narrative wheels around his dialogue. I’m particularly interested in moments where it brings the art to a complete halt.
Repeated panels are a gag we see Bendis’ collaborators pull on a regular basis, and Deodato resort to it a couple of times throughout the issue. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s called for explicitly in the script, a choice Deodato made, or if rewrites created two new panels after the art was finished, but whatever the case may be, it utterly fails to take advantage of any of the power of graphic storytelling. A one-shot panel like this can tell us a great deal about a character — their power, their position, their mood, and how they feel about the lines they’re speaking. Repeating that same panel accomplishes none of that, as it’s already been established, so is really just telling us who is speaking in that panel. At that point, just writing “Angela” in the third panel and “Gamora” in the second would accomplish all of the same storytelling.
For all of my nitpicking, there was still a lot to like about this issue, I’m just not sure the good outweighs the bad in any quantities to really love it. I’m curious if you were as underwhelmed by this issue as I was, Taylor. Like I said, there is plenty to like, and I suspect it wouldn’t take a radical shift in perspective to see those positives as far more important than my negatives. Are you able to enjoy this issue more than I do?
Taylor: Drew, I don’t think you’re being overly critical of this issue. When I finished reading I was also underwhelmed. I suppose the reason for this is that I just felt like not a whole lot happened. Really the only thing I learned from the issue is that the Guardians are being hunted, which for them is basically the status quo. True, the issue does give Deodato room to flex his pencils but I feel he often doesn’t make the most of this space.
A perfect example of this comes after Angela and Destroyer get into over the whereabouts of Gramora. They battle for a bit and eventually Rocket saves Destroyer leaving Angela frustrated. After the scene the panels cut away to a mysterious figure observing the action from the shadows.
Oh hey look! That mysterious guy is Thanos! The reveal here that Thanos is interested in Destoryer’s doings effectively makes his full reveal on the last page of the issue less effective. By the time I saw that last page I wasn’t surprised to see Thanos since I already knew he was lurking about. The four panels here suggest that Deodato was filling in some space to reach page quota. Easily this scene could have concluded with the second panel so long as the speech boxes from the fourth were moved appropriately. This would make Thanos’ reveal more dramatic later and really would have made the climax of the issue riveting.
Even though there seems to be a lot of redundancy in a lot of these pages, I still thought the art was great in this issue. Drew, you already highlighted the detail and shadow, but what I appreciate is the humor Deodato works into the story. One example of this is the dog in the spacesuit in the first panel you posted. Animal spacesuits will always be funny to me and I just love the juxtaposition of this space-hound against the backdrop of this space opera. While I got a good chuckle out of this, I laughed even more when Angela demands a crowd to tell her where Destoryer and Rocket escaped to to.
Okay, so a couple things here are funny to me. First, you’ll notice the same use of a repeated panel here as you mentioned earlier Drew. Here, however, instead of being a detraction from the issue, I think it adds a hilarious note. This crowd of aliens, stunned at seeing an incredible fight have no answer for Angela. They just saw two heroes kick the shit out of each other and then one of them vanish. What are they supposed to say? Also they are all rightfully terrified of Angela, almost afraid to move. In this case, the repetition of panels 2 and 4 create a wonderful gag and instead of seeming like a short-cut, they seem like a wonderfully funny aspect of the issue.
Second reason I find this sequence funny: is that the Rancor from Star Wars on the right hand side of the crowd? It could be a coincidence I suppose, but come on. Dude looks just like the Rancor. This cameo is a funny easter egg in itself but when you consider that the Rancor is shocked and scared by the violence here it’s even better. This is a thing that eats pig soldiers whole and now it can’t even move because Angela is yelling at it. This is weird and I love it.
So yeah, this issue is a bit of a mixed bag in a lot of ways. It’s funny but also thin on plot. The art is great in some parts but in others it leaves you wishing the space had been used better. I’ll be interested to see if the next issue fixes some of these problems and builds on its strengths. If it doesn’t, then perhaps one issue would be the appropriate length for this title.
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