Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Worlds Of Wonder: Rise of the Guardians

Smells like team spirit: The new, 'relevant' Guardians of the Galaxy storming into action with - say, is that Tony Stark with them?

Smells like team spirit: The new, 'relevant' Guardians of the Galaxy storming into action with - say, is that Tony Stark with them?

With the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie coming out next week, we look at what makes this team of misfits click.

With a name like the Guardians of the Galaxy, you would think that they would be a lot bigger than Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers. After all, you can’t get any bigger than being the self-appointed protectors of the galaxy! But no, although they’ve been around since 1969, and visited every sector of the galaxy, the Guardians have never quite gained the fame they deserved.

Back then, it was a completely different team that made its debut in Marvel Super Heroes #18. Co-created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the original space-faring protectors were from the 31st century in an alternate Marvel timeline (Earth 691). Led by Major Vance Astro (a 20th-century astronaut who survived through suspended animation), the team included Captain Charlie-27, Yondu Udonta, Martinex T’Naga, Starhawk and Nikki. In short, they resembled more of an “intergalactic version of the Village People” than a super strike force. The team’s motivations revolved around its fight against the Badoon, an alien race with plans to conquer Earth’s solar system.

The original Guardians came from a long time ahead and not so far away, but they looked quite far out.

Countless attempts to raise the profile of that team were made, including crossovers with Marvel’s big names, such as the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and even the Defenders. In 1990, after almost two decades of squatting in other titles, the Guardians finally got their big break via a regular series that lasted 62 issues.

Despite being inspired by Jim Valentino (who used this stint as a springboard to jointly start Image Comics), the Guardians never really reached the stars, largely because of the team’s deviation from the norm. You see, what made the Avengers, Fantastic Four and the X-Men exciting was their relevance and links to present times; whereas where the Guardians came off as a sort of C-grade Star Wars

Subsequent attempts to resurrect the team (including a Galactic Guardians four-parter in 1994) failed to ignite interest in the team – leaving them in comic limbo for the next 14 years. The turning point for the Guardians finally came in 2008, courtesy of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who initiated a bold restructuring move by introducing an entirely different roll call – Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, Drax The Destroyer, Groot, Quasar and Adam Warlock.

The pre-Bendis version of the 'updated' Guardians also included Cobra Commander. Oh, wait ...
The pre-Bendis version of the 'updated' Guardians also included Cobra Commander. Oh, wait ...

While the likes of Warlock, Quasar, Gamora and Drax offered some cosmic heritage, it was the team’s past and present affiliations with Thanos that spiced up their escapades. Unfortunately, even Thanos could only raise their popularity so much, which was evident by the minimal impact generated by story arcs like Annihilation, War Of Kings, Realm Of Kings and The Thanos Imperative.

The masterstroke eventually came thanks to a variety of creative injections by Brian Michael Bendis, whose 2011 Marvel Now relaunch of the Guardians Of The Galaxy series finally got them the recognition they deserved. The team has since been included in key Marvel mythos, including appearances in several Marvel animated series, and their rise to prominence will be capped next week with their very own live-action feature film!

Perfectly imperfect

Compared to the abundance of power, wealth and marketability of the X-Men, Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, the relatively unknown Guardians may seem to be completely out of their depth. This may actually work to their advantage; the Guardians are made up of average Joes (and Janes), but with immense potential to tap into.

They may seem like mismatched misfits at first, but their chaotic dynamic is what makes them so appealing in the first place. There’s Star-Lord, an Earthling who happens to be the son of J’son of Spartax, Emperor of the Spartoi Empire; Gamora, daughter of Thanos and widely known as the most dangerous woman in the galaxy; Drax the Destroyer, a former human who was placed in a powerful new body in order to fight Thanos; Groot, a talking tree who only says three words – “I am Groot”; and of course, the gun-toting Rocket Raccoon, who’s not really a raccoon – just an alien that happens to look like one. Rocket was actually created in the 1980s, and is finally getting his big break as Marvel’s coolest character!

Thanos, how  are you ever going to conquer the galaxy when you just sit on that throne and utter pronouncements all day long? 

In the Marvel Universe, you won’t go far without some solid endorsement. In the Guardians’ case, that endorsement came from none other than Iron Man himself, who tagged along as part of the team for almost a year’s worth of story arcs. After Stark’s departure, he was replaced by Agent Venom (Flash Thompson) and Captain Marvel, ensuring a steady link between the team and ongoing Marvel events.

Besides those big names, the Guardians also had the honour of rolling out the red carpet for another luminary, who originated at another comic publisher altogether: Angela, the avenging angel from the Image Universe. The character was created by the one and only Neil Gaiman, who had been awarded the rights to the character after a dispute with Todd McFarlane.

On her own, Gamora was already the perfect galactic eye-candy. But with Angela in the team as well... Let’s just say this is MUCH better than watching Power Girl and the Huntress together. There is even a remote chance that Angela could provide a connection to Image’s Spawn universe; though that would probably only happen when McFarlane and Gaiman are back on talking terms!

With the Guardians having little significant history or noteworthy contributions to the Marvel mythos in the past, Bendis has done a great job of consolidating their position for the future by getting them involved with some of the Marvel Universe’s most significant events. These include the ripped space-time continuum caused by the Age Of Ultron event (from which Angela emerged), and the recent Trial Of Jean Grey crossover with All-New X-Men (also written by Bendis).

The artistic output of the new Guardians series has also been a sight to behold (with the possible exception of Francesco Francavilla’s stint on issues #8 and #9). While Steve McNiven set a high benchmark (issues #0-#4), his successor, Sara Pichelli, breathed new life into the characters and mesmerised us with her neat and sharp illustrations. So memorable was her work that it outshone “veterans” like McNiven and even Kevin Maguire (issue #10). 

With the movie and the team’s connections to Thanos, here’s hoping that Star-Lord and gang will stand guard over Marvel’s galaxy for a long time to come!

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Reads , Worlds Of Wonder , book review , Guardians Of The Galaxy , Marvel


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