Spencer: The best writers know when to step aside and let their artist tell as much of the story as possible — “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” right? Of course, to do this, a writer must have trust in their artist to properly convey their story, and in the chaotic world of mainstream superhero comics, where there are sometimes fill-in artists or multiple artists on a single title, that kind of trust can often be a rare commodity. In light of that point, Guardians Team-Up 8 is even more impressive — Ray Fawkes and Bengal tell their one-off story without any words (until the last page), putting Bengal in charge of all the issue’s storytelling. While this issue isn’t without its faults, I’d call it a largely successful gambit.
Of course, considering the dialogue-free nature of this issue, it’s kind of a shame that it starts out with a title-page exposition-dump explaining the plot:
It’s possible that this preamble wasn’t Fawkes and Bengal’s intention — I believe editorial handles the title pages — but I wish I could have experienced this issue without it. Not only does it seem to undermine Bengal’s ability to tell this story without dialogue, but it makes it harder to figure out how successful he actually is. Would the setting of this story be so clear without this introduction? I guess we may never know.
Even with the plot essentially laid out for us by that introduction, though, we can still look at Bengal’s panel-to-panel storytelling. For the most part, it’s absolutely on point — Groot’s actions are easy to follow and even the smallest details are accounted for, such as the gun Groot grabs and then uses a few pages later. Still, I did have trouble telling that the ships attacking Groot and Surfer were ships at first — they almost look like they could be pieces of shrapnel or debris — and there’s one sequence that I still find impossible to follow:
It’s that second and third panel that absolutely lose me. Without them, I’d just read this scene as the shots blowing the door open and Groot running through, but the addition of those middle panels changes the entire thing. For the life of me I can’t figure out what’s going on — is the door being blown open from the other side? Do more blasts from the outside blow it open in the third panel after it refuses to budge in the second? If so, not only is that poorly established, but it feels redundant. Honestly though, that’s only a guess at what’s happening; I can’t make heads nor tails of it.
Fortunately, those are the only real storytelling complaints I have about a story that’s otherwise surprisingly clear. Emotionally, the issue’s even easier to follow; Fawkes doesn’t give Bengal a lot of room to play around with different emotions (Groot and Surfer are mainly shocked and upset throughout the entire issue), but Bengal makes sure that each emotion Groot does feel comes across crystal clear. Bengal’s work especially shines when Groot finally finds the “treasure” he was seeking: an elder of his race being held on the ship. The surprise on Groot’s face when he finds the elder is profound enough, but Groot’s expression upon discovering that the elder is dead is particularly powerful.
Seriously, this panel gave me chills.
Fawkes and Bengal are just as good at establishing the softer side of Groot’s personality as well.
Again, Bengal does an excellent job of playing this moment out without words, but I’m just grateful that it was included in the story at all, because it says a lot about Groot as a person. Remember, while Groot doesn’t know that the elder is dead at this point, he is aware that the elder’s being held on the ship. Groot would have every justification to tear through these guys, but that’s not the kind of tree-man he is. He’s kind and compassionate almost to a fault, and he’s able to earn the respect of these guards (notice how they don’t hassle him anymore for the rest of the issue) just as he’s earned the respect of countless others.
Silver Surfer, though, doesn’t get treated quite as well. It’s not that he’s ever mischaracterized, it’s just that — outside of the issue’s poignant closing image — he’s more of a prop than a character, mostly functioning as Groot’s ride and cover-fire instead of a full-fledged partner. Considering that this is Guardians Team-Up of all books, that feels like a wasted opportunity.
I’ll admit that this wasn’t what I was expecting from this issue, especially after last month’s madcap entry. Groot is a character who excels at comedic adventures, but it is nice to see somebody use him in a more dramatic role as well. I wouldn’t want Groot to become typecast as a joke character after all, especially because he has so much heart beneath his barky exterior. All-in-all I’d say this is an uniquely told, appropriate showcase for that side of Groot, even if that makes it not quite an ideal fit for the “Team-Up” aspect of this title. Patrick, did poor Norrin Radd’s small role here bother you too? Did this story meet your expectations — and in the end, does that really even matter? Do you have any thoughts on the clarity of the art that I may have overlooked? Let’s hear ’em, old friend.
Spencer, I’ll have you know that I blew right past those paragraphs of set-up on the first page. It’s an issue of an anthology series starring characters whose solo series I absolutely love – what would be the point? Turns out, that text does a great job of establishing two things that I wasn’t able to properly process without reading it: 1) the very idea that there could be other Flora Colossi (let alone a giant, elder Colossi) and 2) that we were witnessing a battle between two warring armadas. I was under the impression that the ships in space and the soldiers in the ship were only interested in taking out Norrin and Groot — an assumption that’s reinforced by the near-constant laser battlin’.
Which I guess could be my dumb fault. I’m certain that the speed of my read increases when there aren’t words on the page. Spencer’s right to point out that it’s not always clear that the ships are ships and not just pieces of shrapnel floating around in space, and an accelerated reading rate doesn’t lend itself to me figuring it out. I’d argue that the wordlessness of this issue actually hampers the storytelling. Which is not to suggest that Bengal does a poor job of drawing this comic – he just might not be up to the burden of telling the story on his own. Muting Groot may not be much of a narrative handicap, but there are plenty of moments when it’s straight-up weird that the Silver Surfer isn’t talking.
I also think that pacing is a little bit of a problem in this issue. There’s a sequence just before Groot discovers the elder where a hole gets blown in the side of the ship and Groot struggles to pull himself back inside. There’s no sense of time to this sequence and no real sense of motion past the first panel.
The camera is almost too dynamic, so the reader also never has a sense of space. The danger here is that Groot will get sucked out into the vacuum of space and have nothing to latch on to, falling through space forever like Sandra Bullock. But there’s no effort made to make space seem big here: Groot takes up almost as much space as that hole ripped in the ship. Furthermore, whoever is doing the star fields for this issue went nuts with that nebula – that’s not an empty nothing that Groot’s going to tumble into, but an almost-inviting light show.
Actually, the star fields throughout this issue are out of control. That final page should be a potent image of out two heroes coming to terms with the fact that they failed in their mission. Adding to this sense of defeat is the fiery wreckage of spaceships lighting up the atmosphere. The only problem is that their light is being drowned out by the persistent glow of those whirling galaxies of stars.
Imagine how much sadder this moment would be if the only lights they could see were also reminders of their defeat. Here’s my 10-minutes-in-MS-Paint bad pitch for this scene.
Obviously, I’m an idiot and can’t actually undo those star fields, but you get the general idea. I think I could actually apply that criticism more generally to the kinds of details presented throughout the issue. A lot of detail is wasted on special effects and structural lines, but none of it adds any personality to the page. What can we infer about either side in this conflict from their ships? Nothing really – it’s all antiseptically designed.
And again, maybe that wouldn’t be such a big deal if there was some copy sprinkled throughout the issue. Spencer pointed out the two emotional moments (both Groot’s) that land, but for my money, everything else in this issue is a bunch of visual noise. Whenever one of these silent issues comes along, I want to believe there’s a reason the artist takes text away from us. Remember Batman and Robin 18? At the time, I wrote:
…[T]here’s no escaping the fact that it fundamentally feels unfair to live in a world without Damian Wayne. I can’t express that — certainly not to people who aren’t already feeling it — and if I tried, my words wouldn’t make any sense. I like to think that this is what’s going on here: words risk trivializing the emotion of the issue.
There was a reason for the story to be silent, and that silence said something about the story. That’s simply not the case here.
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?