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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy #2

As we get ever closer to the start of Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, more attention is being paid to Guardians of the Galaxy in all of its forms.  The Point One issue of the new series by Brian Michael Bendis was excellent and the first issue did a good job of setting up this team.  Now we have the next chapter in Bendis' foray into the Guardians and, after technically two issues, we finally get a taste of how this comic is going to flow.  So does this new issue live up to the high bar set by the previous installments?  Or does our first taste of the tone and flow of this version of Guardians leave a sour taste in one's mouth?  Read on to find out!

It would seem London just cannot catch a break this year.  Not only have the films Star Trek Into Darkness and Thor: The Dark World shown the city under attack, but comic book London is also being made the victim in the latest issue of Guardians of the Galaxy.  As the Guardians work to stop the Badoon invasion of Earth, there is a foreboding sense among the team that there is something at work here beyond what is on the surface.  Meanwhile, in a flash back, we get a look at the meeting of alien races which determined that Earth is now off limits to the rest of the universe.

As mentioned, this issue begins to show more how this series will work under the writing of Bendis as the story really begins to unfold.  No stranger to team books, Bendis is just coming off a run on Avengers which was usually quite good.  Using what could perhaps be known as Bendis' trademark, Guardians  features quite a bit of witty banter between the teammates as they fight off an alien invasion.  In fact, there is a lot of banter in this issue.  From the very first page, this comic is filled to the brim with speech bubbles.  Bendis is seemingly fitting in as much exposition as possible here, but it never feels too tiring.  That being said, it does seem odd that Bendis would make such a move when this series is only truly beginning to get going.  Sure, this first arc may be only three issues, but does that really justify an issue that is so dialogue heavy?  The presence of so much dialogue would usually be a bit intimidating to some comic readers, but, fortunately, Bendis writes with a style which helps the dialogue to flow easily, with the story here never feeling too slow.

In a plot device that could best be described as an attempt to bring in new/unfamiliar readers, Iron Man continues his hopefully brief tenure as a member of the Guardians.  Such a decision is not entirely new territory for Marvel.  Often the comic company will shoe-horn certain heroes or villains into a book to make it more appealing to readers who are unfamiliar with the material and/or just came out of a movie theater and want to see more of the character they saw on the big screen.  Sometimes these moves are made effectively despite the fan-service, while sometimes they feel a bit too out of place.  This is more the case for Iron Man's presence in Guardians.  Now, Iron Man is a great character (even if his current on-going title is suffering from mediocrity) and can be even better when written by an able writer, but he ultimately feels like a waste in this issue.  Guardians already has a character to play the role of comic relief (more on this in a second), so Tony's presence is more and more beginning to feel like annoying fan-service.  Despite throwing out a few amusing lines here and there and the use of the beautiful new space armor, Iron Man does absolutely nothing in this issue to move the narrative forward, making his role obsolete.  Hopefully his time in this book will be short-lived as the Guardians are interesting enough without him.

With all of the team books he has written, Bendis always seems to be on the lookout for one character to be the voice of some of his trademark humor.  In Avengers that character was often Spider-man, and with Guardians the role of comic relief falls to Rocket Raccoon.  Rocket is a character who has drawn a lot of ire from non-Guardians fans of late.  As the space rodent is set to make his theatrical debut next year, many movie fans are worried about how a talking raccoon who shoots guns will be utilized.  In short, many see Rocket Raccoon as a threat to their suspension of disbelief.  Fortunately, for now, Rocket remains only a comic book character, where talking animals are not that strange for fans.  Throughout the previous issue of this series, Rocket was utilized just enough to show off how he could be a funny character while also being completely badass.  While he does have his awesome moments this issue, there are many times where his humor feels a bit forced.  As Rocket takes out various members of the Badoon, he continuously utters the line: "Blam! Murdered you."  This line gets a chuckle the first time, but was just annoying by the fifth use.  Hopefully Bendis tones down the use of a funny Rocket in future issues in favor of a more awesome warrior Rocket.

Out of the Guardians in the main plot thread of this issue, Drax the Destroyer and Gamora are the strongest this month.  Star Lord is used somewhat well, but he really only serves the role of leader and nothing more in this issue.  Being the heavy hitters of the Guardians, it is perhaps to be expected that Drax and Gamora would shine during an issue which features more action.  Drax comes off as incredibly intimidating when he takes out half of a Badoon ship with an ax, only to continue using the weapon to fight more Badoon.  Gamora also stands out in combat, utilizing both a sword and a gun of some sort.  There is also a very nice moment that Bendis adds at the beginning of this issue where Drax and Gamora's views on battle strategy are easily adopted by Star Lord.  Peter Quill may be the leader of this team, but he clearly seems to fear some of his fellow Guardians, or at least respects their views enough to go along with their input.  As both characters are more utilized as soldiers in this issue, it will be nice to see Drax and Gamora receive a bit more character development as Guardians continues.

Easily the best part of this entire issue is the meeting of this council of alien races in the Negative Zone.  Led by Star Lord's father J-Son, the topic of discussion laid forth is the planet Earth.  What makes this such an intriguing part of the issue is the splash page featuring an extremely long speech bubble wherein J-Son makes an argument for why Earth should be feared.  Essentially his argument boils down to this: the people of Earth have shown themselves to be very xenophobic as well as dangerous, facing the likes of Thanos, Galactus, and the Phoenix Force on multiple occasions and surviving.  If the universe is expected to thrive as it does now, J-Son is under the belief that something must be done about the Earth to keep its beings from becoming a threat in the future.  This entire discussion, which provides more of the framing narrative in this issue, raises a lot of interesting insights to how the rest of the universe sees Earth.  As is to be expected, the way the mutants and various superheroes of the Marvel Universe behave is not met with praise from everyone out in space.  Bendis does an excellent job of presenting J-Son's argument and the response he receives, with Steve McNiven helping out big time with facial expressions.  There is also a nice joke thrown in for the sake of being meta that involves the way superheroes in the Marvel Universe tend to take advantage of the space-time continuum.

Steve McNiven continues to do an amazing job on the artwork with this book.  His aforementioned facial expressions during this meeting of aliens are done well enough that Bendis does not need to add any words for the comic to convey what these creatures are really thinking.  Really, this is all you could ask for in an artist: someone who is so good at their job that the story would still be the same without the words.  While we may need Bendis' words this time around, particularly in the scenes with J-Son, there is still a lot which can easily be conveyed with just McNiven's art.  Hopefully this comic returns to space more next month.  As nice a job as McNiven does with action going on on Earth, his rendering of the rest of the universe is much more breath-taking.

Overall this is a pretty solid issue for Guardians.  While Bendis' meaningless inclusion of Iron Man and over-use of dumb jokes from Rocket Raccoon put a little bit of a strain on the story, it is still a narrative which flows quite nicely.  Enough elements to this issue are done so well that the more testing aspects can be (partly) ignored.  Many hopes for the future for this series are mentioned in this review, and that is ultimately the biggest take away from this issue: this series still shows a lot of promise.  It may not have been as great as the first two issues, but there is still enough here to keep this book on your pull list.

Rating: A-

Summary:  Despite some small annoyances popping up more frequently in this issue, Guardians of the Galaxy #2 is still a solid read all around.
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