By Gavin Rehfeldt. Guardians of the Galaxy #17, the 100th Anniversary Special, and the film Guardians of the Galaxy all came out in the same week one month ago. I am interested in how the success of the movie has impacted the Marvel Comics title, and conversely what the newly-minted Guardians fans think of how their new favorite movie characters are depicted in the funny papers. The 100th Anniversary Special was a better entry point than #17, choosing to be a frothy and fun future fling (alliteration is fun). In a fashion after DC One Million, it leaped to a future where the ever evolving and shifting Guardians lineup is drastically different from the current roster, the highlight being Rocket and his mischievous little Raccoon sons. (I want the T-shirt.)

Guardians #17, on the other hand, is the conclusion to a convoluted arc and a story where all our characters are separated. This week, in issue #18, we only see two of the Guardians in full (well, 2.5… ok, possibly 3), Gamora and Star-Lord, AKA Peter Quill, AKA Got Some ‘Splaining To Do. That’s right, it’s the beginning of a new story arc, and we’re starting off during a Marvel Event crossover issue under the thumb of Original Sin. (I don’t really know the full scope of what’s going on in that event, but I know people across the Marvel U. are vomiting truth all over each other all because an eyeball exploded. I am reading about a scenario in Deadpool in the form of DeadPool’s newly discovered daughter coming out of the woodwork, and over in X-Men I’m reading about the drawn-out reading of Professor Xavier’s will. I wish Marvel would take a year off from line-wide crossovers and just let books have a solid year of their own uninterrupted stories.)

For Guardians’ Original Sin arc, it appears we’re getting an answer as to what happened to Richard Rider when he and Peter Quill went into the Cancerverse to face Thanos, in the hopes that they might take the big bad down once and for all. Remember that? No? This was a heroic suicide mission that ended with Thanos and Peter leaving the “disease of a universe” (as Drax calls it) unscathed, with Richard nowhere to be seen. (I guess this happened during the Guardians Of The Galaxy run from 2009. After looking it up on the internets, I was relieved it didn’t happen during Bendis’s run because I did not remember any of this.)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-18-Preview-1-90df0It was my hope that this issue would be a reasonable jumping on point for new readers, especially after the movie came out, but this is definitely not the case. The book boasts a slow-burn towards the grand reveal of Richard’s absence and  makes a fun issue filled with heightened atmosphere and cosmic clashes, however with only a partial Guardians team present and a throwback to an event that happened 5 years ago, this issue feels off and underdeveloped. Perhaps Bendis isn’t interested in being strategic in catching new readers at this particular moment. Fine. But this Original Sin tie-in is simply not remarkable. Bendis’s work is professional as always, but the story lacks in clearly landed moments. It’s a lot of chatter chatter/punch punch, which can only keep my attention for so long. I read that Bendis has had a plan for unveiling the mystery of the disappearance of Richard Rider in this fashion for a long time, the slowest of slow burns. I find myself not as invested in the mystery as, say, longtime devoted readers (I only started reading Guardians with this volume.), so it’s hard to imagine new readers being engaged either. This, to me, is a problem… I think an individual issue, especially this closely positioned to a pop phenom, should be more accessible than this. (This is, perhaps, a matter of taste.)

All that being said, the interaction between Gamora and Peter is written with sophistication. It’s subtly seductive storytelling where Gamora is trying to get the long withheld truth from Peter. She has given up on religion, but finds herself spiritually engaged with knowing the answer to a question that has been nagging her. Because the awesome Gamora is interested, and she is a hero who happens to be Thanos’s daughter, it helps gain the interest of readers unfamiliar with the stakes. Strange and cool how the reader is forced to identify with Gamora and not Peter for once!

As Peter gets into his confession – Original Sin style – we are transported to the Cancerverse to see the conflict between Richard, Peter, and Thanos first hand. It’s all a big “Give me the Cosmic Cube!” “No, the Cosmic Cube is mine!” back and forth with power blasts exchanged in somewhat confusing fashion. I couldn’t always tell who was blasting whom, or really why I should care. The buddy-cop quippage between Peter and Richard is cute, but also kind of standard. Bendis does this best with Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man, while here it seems a bit forced and phoned in at the same time. The argument about dying for the cause to end Thanos is interesting, though, and rises above the flat-lining melee. Thanos’s death would be the responsibility of Peter and Richard, but no one would know. There is an inequality in Peter and Richard’s mutual willingness to die for this cause, and that begins a wedge so small it’s barely noticeable. Peter and Richard believe the Cancerverse will kill them ultimately, but Thanos tries to coax them into believing it wouldn’t, it will only trap them, which we find is actually true because Drax – long thought dead – appears.  Thanos knows a way out, but it would require putting a significant amount of trust in him, and would probably allow him to escape, which is never a good idea.

The whole battle, being recounted to Gamora in tandem, is suspended by a cliffhanger. I’d be lying if I said I am not interested in knowing what happens next. This was not my favorite issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, but there is always enough good character development and humor to keep things interesting. (Plus, I care about Peter and Gamora! It’s hard not to.) However my hope next month is there will be less Gamora/Peter bondage fun, and instead we’ll have a kickoff to an adventure involving the whole team. Or, I’d be fine with Gamora and Peter doing something besides talking if Rocket and Groot are busy elsewhere. Something even MORE refreshing would be handling a Rocket/Groot adventure that went down during the timeline of #19. The book needs a new flavor besides cosmic dread, which has been all too prevalent. (I’m not reading Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel books for a reason.)

I miss the zany Saturday morning cartoon feelings the book gave me in the first 10 or so issues. Couldn’t this have had a Groot/Rocket backup story with some thrills and fun? Just one page? Hopefully new Guardians fans are patient enough to get through these recent inaccessible misfires to see what makes this book so special. The pendulum has to swing back to Awesome at some point, right? Please?

McGuinness is a fan favorite, but I found his interiors here to be serviceable. There are some dynamic and unconventional panel intersections when the scenes between Gamora/Peter and Peter/Richard alternate. Gamora’s kewpie doll expressions are weird, though. He does the job, but I am not blown away especially when compared to Sarah Pichelli’s mind-blowing art in previous arcs.

So, yeah, I’m mixed on the issue. On one hand it was not as accessible as it could have been, and is missing a big segment of the appeal of this title: its team. On the other hand, you can’t pass up or put down Bendis’s beautiful character work and easy wit. The template might be difficult to embrace, but the details are loveable enough.

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Art by Ed McGuinness and Mark Farmer.

Colored by Justin Ponsor.

6 out of 10