By Gavin Rehfeldt. Gamora’s interrogation of Peter Quill continues in this month’s chapter of Brian Michael Bendis’s entertaining Guardians Of The Galaxy. This installment lands its microscope firmly on Quill’s eventful and nuanced past as all of his secrets concerning Thanos, Richard Rider, and the dubious events in the Cancerverse are laid out for examination.

The last time we saw Peter in the Cancerverse he was under great duress preparing to sacrifice himself to the energy of the Cosmic Cube as a means to end Thanos once and for all. This alternate universe is a complex place to sacrifice oneself for the greater good, as it turns out, and an easy place for a noble sacrifice to be perverted. The nature of the Cancerverse can be a confusing place, but the exploration of its rules – life has somehow conquered death, while good is replaced with absolute evil – are rich and engrossing. The action and tension continuously escalate in issue #19, building toward what should be an exciting conclusion in #20.

Gamora is ready to give up her trust in Peter Quill, suspecting that he’s pulling the wool over her eyes in fabricating a yarn, and she does not take his lack of tact kindly either. From her perspective, his story is pretty far-fetched: if he was such an innocent player in Thanos’s eventual escape from the Cancerverse, and the subsequent disappearance of Richard Ryder, why not come out with the full story from the start? Peter confesses he never wanted to revisit these events and this issue makes it plain as to why.

It’s revealed that the Cancerverse is a place attuned uniquely to life and existence. If one is not created within the Cancerverse, one does not abide by its rules. Bendis explores a scintillating concept that would make Peter’s story all the more difficult to believe: in a universe centered on death and great evil it is peculiar that only individuals that are born there can die in its space. Tourists like Thanos, Drax, Richard, and Peter will live forever if they remain in this existential nightmare. This proves an exciting twist with emotional weight, and a smart way to undercut the three Guardian’s goals to banish their enemy.

Bendis has been inconsistent of late with progressing his events and developing vital supporting characters, but this is an exciting issue nonetheless. While Rocket and Groot’s absence is felt, there is palpable change occurring through Peter recounting of this long, unresolved adventure teaming up with Richard Ryder to take down a great enemy of the Marvel Universe. Thanos makes threats to seize the Cube and claims to unwanted consequences for our heroes that end up being completely correct, giving him much needed nuance. While one might be unfamiliar with the events that occurred in Annihilation and the Thanos Imperative – two Marvel events that bore the questions Bendis seeks to resolve – there is real change occurring here between Peter and Gamora (remember, she’s Thanos’s daughter), and seeing the difficult sacrifice Peter was willing to make go unfulfilled is heartbreaking. It remains unclear, however, why Gamora is so gravely concerned about what happened to Richard: is there a reason for her concern beyond the mysterious absence of a great hero, or is there more to it? Is her crisis of faith in Peter shaking her to her core? She seems to be carrying a great burden, one that could separate her from her team in the end. Perhaps her expressiveness will be included in next month’s resolution.

Ed McGuinness’s art feels more energetic and colorful this issue compared to the last, but that might be the case only because the fighting he’s articulating in his layouts have a lot more to say. We spend less time with Gamora’s dark interrogation room which leads to his work being married more meaningfully to the content. Plus, he gets to depict some truly gruesome action including Thanos’s massive fist forced through flesh. (A new sight to my eyes.) Gamora is also more imposing this issue, with rage filled expressions (her eyes practically pop out of her head when Peter’s conviction erupts) replacing the baby-doll sweetness in the last issue.

Alliances shift and priorities alter as the issue continues headlong into a confrontation with a perverse alter-Avengers team, the Revengers. The Revengers appear perfectly demonic and scintillating in their ruthlessness. (In the Cancerverse, whatever one valued in the regular Marvel universe becomes a nightmare.) This is beautifully depicted in a Sisyphus-ian battle over the Cosmic Cube, a source of power desired by many, which climaxes into our good guys realizing, then actualizing, everything that could go wrong in a universe where a foreigner can never die but can be injured or mutilated. In a beautiful counterpoint, Drax is smiling widely as he acts out his aggression.

There was a sense last issue this would be the closing chapter to “What happened to Richard Rider?”, but it instead serves as a solid turning point to massive revelations awaiting fans of the title and these characters. Gamora and Peter feel less stagnant than they did in #19 with power shifts aplenty earning yet another chapter. Speaking of power shifts, there are huge ones between Richard, Peter, Drax, and Thanos, which make for some entertaining twists and bends.

Richard’s charm comes through effectively in some lovely back-and-forth banter between himself and Peter. Their shared snark feels like two army buddies who have survived a tremendous war, and can only find amusement and sanity in gallows humor. Their individual views of each of their sacrifices are also elegantly emphasized and serve as an overture to what may ultimately separate Peter and Richard, both physically and spiritually. The meaningfulness of his relationship with Richard is further underlined by the rare sincerity he shows Gamora when he starts getting to the meat of his tale.

Bendis and McGuinness deliver a crescendo with #19 where #18 was a bit more plateaued, and successfully build confidence in the reader that this story will pay off big and we will see each of the players in a new stasis at the end of these thunderously climactic discoveries. This storyline still depends a mite too heavily on foreknowledge of Richard and Peter, the Cancerverse, Drax’s assumed death, and Thanos’s attempted banishment, but still makes for an exciting evolution of recent cosmic happenings. Guardians Of The Galaxy #19 is a solid example of why cosmic Marvel is one of the most exciting and expansive corners in current comics reading!

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer, Mark Morales, John Livesay.

Colored by Jason Keith. 

8 out of 10