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Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy: What Worked, What Didn’t

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy: What Worked, What Didn’t

On Tuesday, Brian Michael Bendis announced that his current arc of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” illustrated by Valerio Schiti, would be his last. Bendis’ four year run will end in time to allow a new (as-yet unnamed) creative team to take advantage of the bump provided when “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” hits theaters on May 5, 2017.

Bendis’ run started off quite strong, both in terms of sales and story. He built on the humor and ragtag team dynamic established during the immediate classic 2008-2010 run by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. With the exception of a short-lived catchphrase for Rocket (“Blam! Murdered you!”), Bendis understood and gave fresh life to the five core team members, especially Peter Quill, a/k/a Star-Lord.

Bendis shined when it came to character moments, such as Quill’s interactions with his father, J’son of Spartax; Gamora’s mourning for Nova, and Captain Marvel missing her friends back on Earth, to name a few. Any time Bendis was focused on the team members and their interactions with each other, the book was a lot of fun.

RELATED: Bendis Bids Farewell to Guardians of the Galaxy in 2017

But while he did a really good job of fleshing out his central cast, the book rarely felt like the stakes were particularly high. One of the hallmarks of the fondly-remembered Abnett/Lanning run (as well as Keith Giffen’s lead-in work on “Annihilation” and “Annihilation: Conquest”) was the cosmic-level stakes the team faced. The Annihilation wave, the “War of Kings,” the latest manifestation of the Universal Church of Truth, and the conflict with the Cancerverse — these were stories where it genuinely felt like the fate of the universe was on the line, and if the Guardians faltered, everything could be lost.

There were cosmic-level threats to the Marvel Universe during Bendis’ run; they just didn’t really involve his Guardians team. They helped to liberate The Peak during “Infinity,” but were lightyears from the real action battling the Builder fleet. They were similarly absent through the entire build-up to “Secret Wars.”

guardians-iron-man

Iron Man’s much-hyped membership was more of a fleeting moment than epic element of Bendis’ run

The team did get one major cosmic storyline during Bendis’ tenure, “The Black Vortex,” but that focused far more on the team’s philosophical differences about the use of power than on their efforts to defeat an external threat. Like most of his run, Bendis’ script played up the tension between the team members — and among the X-Men and other other heroes included in the crossover — at the expense of cosmic adventure and space opera.

Much of the reason for this was that the team spent far too much time either on or worrying about Earth. Instead of the Guardians of the Galaxy, they often felt more like Avengers in Space, especially when joined by what felt like an endless string of Avengers on secondment. Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) both joined the team briefly, but are more notable in their absences than anything they did with the Guardians. (There’s some irony in the fact that the cover of “Guardians of the Galaxy” #15 proclaims “And now… CAPTAIN MARVEL,” only for her not to appear at all in the issue.)

Oddly, the Earth heroes who had the most lasting effects on the team were those with the least cosmic connection: Flash Thompson, aka Agent Venom, and Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, who eventually took on the role of Star-Lord when Peter Quill was otherwise occupied. Both worked well on the team largely because Bendis seemed to enjoy writing them.

Perhaps the least successful fit as a temporary team member was Angela, a recent immigrant to the Marvel universe from the pages of Image Comics’ “Spawn.” There was initially no compelling explanation for why she was there, and as the book seemed to have little idea what to do with her, she had practically no impact on the team. It was ultimately for the best, though, as her leaving the Guardians made room for Angela’s critically-acclaimed solo books.

RELATED: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Needs to Adapt this Classic Jim Starlin Comic

While the inclusion of Earth heroes is not necessarily a fatal flaw in the run, when combined with the lack of cosmic-level threats it helped to create a sense that nothing particularly important was happening, that the real action was going on elsewhere. This was a real contrast from the Giffen/Abnett/Lanning unabashedly cosmic run that came before it. One of the highlights of Abnett and Lanning’s “Nova” was a post-“Annihilation” scene when Richard Rider returned home to Earth, only to learn of the superhero Civil War that went down in his absence. When Iron Man approaches him to register, Nova gets in an epic takedown, criticizing Tony and Earth’s heroes for getting caught up in something so stupid while the Annihilation Wave destroyed entire galactic empires. Disgusted, Nova left Earth in order to protect the universe. It’s hard to read Bendis’ run and not long for the Guardians to mimic Nova and leave Earth to find the real threats out in space.

If there is one thing we want from a new creative team on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it’s this: less focus on Earth, and more focus on the cosmic-level threats. It is probably asking too much to hope for something as far-reaching and sprawling as “Annihilation” in this era of every series being tied together, but even a step in that direction could make for a truly epic series.

It would also be amazing to once again see some of the cosmic characters who have been largely missing under Bendis’ watch. Mantis is almost certain to return, given her appearance in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” but it would be great to see some more of the extended cast, including Cosmo the dog, Moondragon, Phylla Vell and — my personal favorite — Adam Warlock. A crossover with the new Richard Rider “Nova” series also seems like a no-brainer.

Bendis’ work on “Guardians of the Galaxy” undeniably helped to popularize the franchise, and to codify the humorous, ragtag tone of the team. But now the series is ready for a new crew, one that can truly knock it out of this world.

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