NYCC: Bendis, McNiven & Wacker Relaunch the “Guardians of the Galaxy”

by  in Comic News Comment
NYCC: Bendis, McNiven & Wacker Relaunch the “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Marvel Comics is famous for its very human heroes, but that doesn’t mean heroism is a quality found only in its humans. Many of the Marvel Universe’s bravest champions hail from or have connections to interplanetary cultures and empires. Of course, those cultures have also given birth to some of the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous villains. The battle between good and evil constantly rages in the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe, and very often the scope and scale of that battle is as vast as the space it’s unfolding in.

Naturally, it takes a special band of heroes to police and protect an area many times the size of the Earth, and for several years that responsibility fell upon the shoulders of a group of heroes known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians disbanded at the end of the 2010 “Thanos Imperative” miniseries after saving the Universe from the threat of the Cancerverse, an alternate universe where death is extinct, but in the current storyline of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ “Avengers Assemble” series, they’ve reunited to align with the title characters in order to save the universe from the threat of the villainous alien known as Thanos.

Once the “Avengers Assemble” storyline concludes in mid-October, Bendis says fareweell to this motley band of intergalactic do-gooders — until February, when the writer debuts an all new “Guardians of the Galaxy” ongoing series featuring art by Steve McNiven. CBR News spoke with Bendis, McNiven and editor Steve Wacker about the project which was announced by Marvel yesterday at their “Marvel NOW!: Cup o’ Joe Panel” at New York Comic Con and kicks off in February with a special #0.1 issue before moving into March’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” #1.

Over the years, Bendis has enjoyed reading about the adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy, especially the stories by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (collectively known to their fans as DnA), who established the most recent incarnation of the group. The writer never really had the urge to pen any of his own adventures featuring the team but thanks to his work as part of the Marvel Creative Committee, Bendis soon found himself in the perfect position to finally write the Guardians himself.

“A lot of people know they’re making a ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie, and one of my part time jobs is to work with the Marvel Creative Committee. That work involves projects that everyone knows are in development, plus a bunch of stuff people don’t know about, where Marvel is deciding if it’s something they want to do,” Bendis told CBR News. “One of our first projects was ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ and we were doing a lot of research and really thinking about this book and these characters. I had read a lot of the material already as a fan, but not as a writer. So I was rereading it, and I really started to dig Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord) and Gamora in particular. I liked who they were and what they were about — especially Peter Quill’s origin story and what it meant for him as a character. It’s not something a lot of people are familiar with.

“I would get all hyped while we were talking about these characters during the movie meetings and how cool it was that Peter had this very little known origin story that is up there with Spider-Man’s origin story if you really lay it out,” Bendis continued. “I knew they wanted to get the book going again, and when I was wrapping up ‘Avengers’ about a year ago, [Marvel Comics Publisher] Dan Buckley said to me, ‘You should do the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ comic. You’ve already done all the research, and you really love the characters.’ So I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ He replied, ‘What if we got someone like Steve McNiven to do the book?’ And I said, ‘Yeah — if you get Steve McNiven, I’ll do it.’

The chance to work with McNiven sealed the deal for Bendis because the writer had been waiting patiently for another chance to collaborate with the acclaimed artist. “Steve was an artist that everybody kept stealing from other writers. I stole him from the ‘Ultimate Galactus’ trilogy years ago to do ‘New Avengers,’ then Mark Millar stole him from me to do ‘Civil War.’ Then, Ed Brubaker stole him to do ‘Captain America!’ So everyone kept stealing him and I was waiting for my turn at the dance. I was thrilled he said yes to this.”

Similarly, McNiven was delighted to be offered the chance to work with Bendis on “Guardians of the Galaxy.” In recent years, the artist has become famous for his depiction of costumed heroes and villains in books like “Civil War,” but his early comics work included many science fiction-oriented titles and the artist was eager to tackle another sci-fi book.

“I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction for most of my life. You can blame my dad for that. He always had a sci-fi book or three around the house,” McNiven explained. “We both still read and pass each other books we’ve read. It’s a bit of a family tradition now. So when the opportunity to explore the sci-fi areas of the Marvel Universe came my way I jumped at the chance.”

The responsibility of editing Bendis and McNiven’s collaboration was given to Senior Marvel editor Steve Wacker, who will also oversee Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’ upcoming cosmic series “Nova,” which also begins in February. During his days as an editor at DC Comics, Wacker worked on several science fiction and cosmic oriented titles, but since coming to Marvel, much of his work has been on stories featuring more grounded, street-level heroes. Given his background, Wacker is excited for the chance to resurrect and revitalize two books from Marvel’s fan-favorite franchise of cosmic titles.

“It’s been a learning experience for sure. But in my entire time at Marvel, I’ve had to cram decades worth of old comics down my throat since I missed most of the Marvel books growing up. It’s exciting as hell — both ‘GotG’ and ‘Nova’ are a major part of our plans for the next year, so to say the pressure is on me and [associate editor] Sana Amanat is putting it lightly. I know how strongly the fans of the cosmic characters feel,” Wacker said. “That said, Brian and Jeph are committed to hitting this right and have been working their substantial rear ends off. Even more importantly though, Steve McNiven, John Dell and Justin Ponsor on ‘Guardians’ and Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Marte Gracia on ‘Nova’ are all turning in the work of their careers, so I’m not nervous about the book not reading or looking great.”

For the Guardians, protecting Earth doesn’t mean setting up shop here or staying within the confines of our solar system. The team’s new mission will still take them out into space and the far off corners of the universe. “They’re still roaming, because even though they’re protecting Earth, they’re not in orbit above the planet doing circles. If something like a Badoon attack force was heading towards Earth, they’d go out and meet it head-on. So they’re not hanging around the solar system all the time watching Earth with binoculars or something like that.”

Tasking the Guardians with protecting our planet also gives Bendis a way to tie together the cosmic corner and main sections of the Marvel Universe in a clear and immediate way. “There are lot of people who don’t read the cosmic books because they don’t feel like they’re connected to what’s going on in the Marvel Universe, even though if you read them you see that they are. There was a definite feeling though that, ‘They’re over there in this corner.’ A lot of people who read the books actually kind of like that too,” Bendis stated. “I liked that it was untouched, but I wondered if there is a way to tell these stories and have them connect directly to what’s going on in the Marvel Universe. I think we came up with a pretty interesting idea that will have the Guardians specifically guarding Earth from all comers for a very important reason. That will engage Tony Stark and other characters from the Marvel Universe to be part of their adventures. It’s a lot of fun to write.”

Writing the adventures of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” means combining the super heroics of the Marvel Universe with the space opera and science fiction genres. It’s not the type of material Bendis is known for, but the writer has told intergalactic tales in the past and is enjoying the chance to stretch his sci-fi writing muscles on a regular basis.

“For people who are trying to wrap their heads around me doing a space book, I have done stories like this a couple of times, but never in the guise of, ‘Here is a book that takes place in outer space.’ The majority of the ‘Illuminati’ book I wrote with Brian Reed took place in outer space and there have been a few other books I’ve done as well like ‘Halo,'” Bendis explained. “So it’s a great deal of fun, but really we’re using that setting to discover these characters and how they interact and why they’re a team. That’s the stuff that really gets me excited.

“This book will have plenty of action. I love writing that, but I think in the book itself we will have a lot of quiet time to enjoy the characters as well,” Bendis explained. “What I like about a book taking place in outer space, and you see this in shows like ‘Star Trek,’ is there’s a big set piece and then they have to travel to the next one. That gives you time to have characters get into trouble with each other or do things like speak their mind. That’s a lot of fun.”

Fans of Bendis’ work on the Avengers franchise of titles know the writer routinely wrote stories that balanced intense action sequences with deep character moments. So in many ways “Guardians of the Galaxy” will feel like a Cosmic Avengers book. In fact that’s how the creators involved view the series. “‘Cosmic Avengers’ is the term we’ve been using. It’s an odd assortment of characters whose backs are against the wall, trying their best to protect the universe — specifically Earth,” Wacker explained. “The odds are against them at every angle and their reaction to that is what’s interesting.”

In the “Marvel NOW! Point One” anthology, readers will get a sneak peek at Bendis and McNiven’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” in a tale telling the extended origin of the team’s leader, Star-Lord. “This is going back to what I said about not many people knowing Peter Quill’s origin or understanding what he wants as a character. Even Dan Slott didn’t know it. When I was talking about it at the retreat, he was like, ‘Really?’ So a few months ago I started writing the origin of Peter Quill in comic script form, but I didn’t tell anyone. I just started writing it for myself to kind of experience it,” Bendis said. “I was writing and writing, and I had a double-sized first issue when I got to the end of the origin. So I took a two page origin story in “Marvel Premier” and I blew it up to 30 pages. Not unlike when I was doing “Ultimate Spider-Man” and I took 15 pages of ‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15 and I blew up into the first few issues of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man.’

“I thought, this is why you want to read a book about this character. This is why he does all of the things he does. So I handed the origin story in to Steve Wacker and Tom Brevoort and said, ‘I don’t know where this goes, but we should show this, right?'” Bendis continued. “Everyone kind of agreed we should put this out first. It’s an origin story that makes you understand why you would read a book about Star-Lord. The #0.1 issue is an origin story, but it’s one very few people know or have experienced. You may have read about it online or seen it reprinted in places like ‘Annihilation: Classics’ where I first saw it. The ‘Marvel NOW! Point One’ story is a section of that, a tease of that story.”

Bendis has seen some of McNiven’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” pages and couldn’t be happier with the work his collaborator is doing on the title. “Steve is an amazing designer, and he’s a wonderful, subtle character actor. He really creates a world and everyone who sees his stuff loves his stuff,” the writer explained. “Steve brings humanity and gravitas that a book like this needs. There’s going to be a lot of people who have never read a ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ book who we’re trying to convince to buy this book. Hopefully they’ll buy it because Iron Man is in it or they see my name or Steve’s name. The people that do hang in there and buy a book outside of their wheelhouse will see what Steve and our inker John Dell and ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ colorist Justin Ponsor are doing. It’s a gorgeous package, and we’re very proud of that.”

“I think one of the most exciting things for me is to explore these characters for the first time. It’s really been crazy to draw a talking raccoon and a living tree! The way that Tony fits into the mix is, I think, worth the price of admission,” McNiven stated. “I hope folks give this book a chance. I think they will get a markedly different book than anything else out there in the comic world.”

Bendis added, “It’s going to be both shockingly intimate and at the same time hilariously huge. You’ll learn a lot of secrets about Earth and what it means to the Marvel Universe proper. Earth has a place in the Marvel Universe and we’ll learn a lot more about that going forward. Plus, we’re going to get to know the characters very passionately.

“We’re also going to get a lot of cool appearances from new villains and some Earth bound villains you have not seen in a cosmic setting before. So I’m very excited for that as well. Plus, HOW ON EARTH COULD THIS BOOK POSSIBLY TIE-IN TO ‘ALL-NEW X-MEN?’ You’ll find out very soon,” Bendis continued. “And for fans of DnA’s work, I’m a fan as well. This is an opportunity to try something new with these characters we all share this equal love for. I know change is scary, but I’m not changing the good stuff. I’m flat out stealing it. So characters like Groot will be there. He’ll sound slightly more Jewish coming out of me, but he’ll still be Groot.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy” #1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Steve McNiven goes on sale March 2013.