Marvel Animation announced in 2014 at Comic-Con International that a Guardians of the Galaxy television series was in development. After several teases, the show at last premiered on Disney XD on Sept. 26. 2015, as part of the cable network’s Sunday-morning Marvel Universe block.
Of course, you’d be forgiven not for knowing it existed. Unless you watch Disney XD — an action-oriented spinoff of the main Disney Channel that reaches about 69 percent of American households — actively read Marvel Comics or follow them on social media, you may not even be aware of the Guardians cartoon. For the most part, Disney and Marvel do their level best to target these shows solely to people already tuned into the network, which is a shame because, while it’s not a transcendent show, it’s a highly watchable romp that combines the best of classic Saturday morning action with solid writing, great acting and appealing animation that informs so many great modern cartoons.
Like the recently-released Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the show starts at some point after the events of the first film. However, unlike the new film, the show takes a more comics-accurate route in regard to Peter Quill’s origins. The two-part pilot “Road To Knowhere/Knowhere To Run” revealed that Star-Lord (Will Friedle) is in fact half-Spartax, and sets the Guardians on a journey to find the all-powerful Cosmic Seed before Thanos (Issac C. Singleton Jr.) does. The Cosmic Seed is the backbone of a McGuffin hunt throughout the first season, allowing stopovers in places like Spartax, Asgard and Earth, as well as individual episodes focused on a single Guardian undergoing some sort of trial, like Gamora pretending to betray the Guardians in order to manipulate a power vacuum in Thanos’ ranks or Rocket getting seduced into the Collector’s reenactment of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. The currently airing second season sees more multi-episode arcs involving Asgard and the Symbiotes (Venom’s species), even slyly anticipating Vol. 2 by featuring a version of Adam Warlock.
This is all headlined by a cast of veteran voice actors who do their best to match the MCU Guardians’ portrayals while fleshing them out further and making them their own. As Star-Lord, Will Friedle (Batman Beyond, Transformers: Robots In Disguise) brings the same trademark wiseassery he once brought to Eric Matthews, while also showing some true vulnerability. Much more so than the two films — which James Gunn has explicitly said that the series is not connected to — the TV Star-Lord has excellent chemistry with Vanessa Marshall’s (Young Justice, Star Wars Rebels) Gamora, who has much more personality than Zoe Saldana’s version, and even gets more jokes.
Rounding out the main cast, Kevin Michael Richardson (The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show) and Trevor Devall (Mobile Suit Gundam 00, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) perfectly capture the double-act of Groot & Rocket Racoon, with Devall in particular making Rocket a very angry but sympathetic creature. David Sobolov (The Flash, Transformers Prime) nails the stoicism of Drax while not having to repeat the awful, bro-y jokes of the films.
The writing is handled by a team of seasoned animation and comics pros, led by supervising producer Marty Isenberg (of numerous Transformers and superhero cartoons) and including Mairghread Scott (IDW’s The Transformers: ‘Til All Are One). Perfectly structured to fit three acts in twenty-two minutes and hold the attention of both adult fans and the young kids who are the show’s target audience, the scripts do a decent job of condensing 40+ years of cosmic Marvel history into a digestible format.
The animation — done by Marvel Animation and supervised by directors Eric Radomski (Batman: The Animated Series), Leo Riley (Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United), Jeff Wamester (also the show’s character designer) and James Wang (Jackie Chan Adventures, Green Lantern: First Flight) — is a typically rock-solid example of Marvel’s modern day animation efforts. Gone are the low budgets of the 1960s Spider-Man; each episode plays brilliantly in HD. Of course, there are some issues here and there, most notably reused footage in certain spots, but by and large, it gets the job done.
The music is also a nice touch, combining a propulsive, Brian Tyler-esque score by Michael Tavara with Gunn’s penchant for classic rock radio chestnuts like Dobie Grey’s “Drift Away.” Every episode is either named after or a slight variation on an old AM radio hit, like “Wild World” or “Stuck In The Metal With You.” It’s a nice touch that helps keep the Guardians distinctive from their TV counterparts. All told, this is a solid show from top to bottom by people who know what they’re doing.
It’s a shame that, besides airing on a cable channel that not everyone gets, the show is only available digitally on platforms like iTunes and has no physical home-video releases to speak of. Ultimately, unless you can afford to spend $1.99 an episode or have cable, you have no legal recourse of keeping up with this show.
This bizarre maneuver is true of all current Marvel animated shows but it’s especially tragic in Guardians’ case. As I said above, this is a show that serves as a perfect primer on one of Marvel’s strangest corners. The cosmic side of the MU is particularly dense and layered, mostly because it’s set so far from Earth but also because that sector of the universe tends to be dictated by auteurs like Steve Englehart, Jack Kirby, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and, most especially, Jim Starlin. Those creators and others tend to lean on the more metaphysical side of SF which leads to a lot of esoteric musing on the nature of existence (see: Warlock, Adam or Truth, Universal Church of). That’s pretty heady stuff to throw at ten year-olds so a show like this is a good way to ease into one of the richest, most rewarding corners of the Marvel Universe.
It’s just a pity most fans don’t know about it.